a weblog of wordplay by Eric Harshbarger
THE MAD ANAGRAMMIST
Last week I compiled a list of about 300 anagrams. Now, wait, before you say, "Eric, get a life/girlfriend/whatever", you should know that I was getting paid to compile this list. Yes, with my days as a professional LEGO mosaicist waning, I have recently begun a job which exploits my love of puzzles, wordplay, and the like.
(I'M DAMN GREAT AT SHAM)
Not to name any names at this point, but I am currently working for a company that is very puzzle-centric, and the first item on the to-do list that they handed me was to find, create, and organize a long list of anagrams. This was right up my alley.
Now, there are many resource out on the Internet which can help one rearrange letters from one word or phrase into other words (The Internet Anagram Server, for example). But just creating a list of words from an original word (or words) is not what the "art" of anagramming is all about.
No, there is technique, there is subtly, and there is creativity which should not be set aside for the convenience of a lexicon crunching computer program.
That's not to say that I didn't use computer aides in my endeavor, it's just to say that it took a lot more than simple programs to get good results.
A decent anagramming program, when given, say, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE", can quickly spit out any number of groupings of words using those letters:
A HEADING SILT TURVY
A HEADING LIST TURVY
A THREADING IVY LUST
A THREADING IVY SLUT
And while A THREADING IVY SLUT almost makes sense (a promiscuous Havard seamstress, maybe?), it really takes a human touch to find the best rearrangements. The problem, actually, is that a computer program will usually throw back way too many possibilities... hundreds, thousands,... hundreds of thousands. Most of them, pure garbage. One has to wade through all of this flotsam and jetsam and try to find the BEST combination of words.
Clever perception helps, and liberal use of punctuation is an anagrammist's best friend. With a bit of playing around -- some with a computer cruncher, some with a simple text editor, and, yes, even some with good old paper and pencil -- better anagrams will usually emerge.
Forget A THREADING IVY SLUT... with enough perseverance you may eventually come up with:
TV? YES, DARN IT, I LAUGH!
Much better, IMHO.
That is a pretty nice one. The most important quality it has is a relevance to the original word or phrase. While the amount of humor in Saturday Night Live is always debatable, at least the anagram makes nice references to both television and laughter.
I've found that anagramming short phrases is often trickier than longer ones. This is, no doubt, due to the fewer number of letters you have to work with. It's a rare thing to be blessed with something as beautiful as
ENRAGED = ANGERED
ELEVEN PLUS TWO = TWELVE PLUS ONE
Those two are classic anagrams which have been popular for quite sometime (the list I compiled was of anagrams of my invention as well as other well known transpositions).
Brevity often also outweighs relevance as far as quality is concerned. Sometimes it's just cool to see that one or two words rearrange perfectly into one or two other words. For example, I don't think this famous guitarist has a sleeping disorder, but it certainly is neat that
ERIC CLAPTON = NARCOLEPTIC
Likewise, I would never venture a guess at the religious affiliation of pop stars, but isn't it intriguing that
BRITNEY SPEARS = PRESBYTERIANS = PRIESTS NEARBY
Again, these are well-known anagrams. My task was to go beyond the commonly acknowledged ones and try to create some new ones. I could only hope to achieve the same quality.
I am quite proud of a few. I think
RESTAURANT = EAT... RATS! RUN.
is cute. And being a fan of Carroll's stories, I was pleased to create this lengthy one:
ALICE'S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND = A CLEVER LEWIS TURNS ODD AND INANE.
Unfortunately, three of the most clever also run the risk of offending some, so if you have thin skin, you may ignore:
ROMAN POLANSKI = ASK MINOR ON LAP
FRANCIS FORD COPPOLA = A FLACCID SOP FOR PORN
SODOM AND GOMORRAH = "GODDAMN!" HOMOS ROAR.
(my apologizes to film directors and everyone of same-sex orientation... but you have to admit, those are pretty good).
In the end, my favorite one actually turned out to be much less controversial. What can you do with the phrase SPAGHETTI AND MEATBALLS?
I'll give you some time to think about it.
It took me about a week to compile my list (and I'm still adding a few every now and then -- ABBEY ROAD = O! DEAR BABY!). The trickiest part was simply thinking of what to anagram. By the end I was relying on familiarity with certain groups of words rather than relevance or elegance. To that end I started using anything that seems coherent when I tackled the Chemical Elements (YTTERBIUM == I'M BUTTERY?), Mythology (APHRODITE == I'D TOP HERA, and the quite good: JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS = O! ATHENS GRADS ON A JAUNT.), and countries of the world (ARGENTINA == NEAR GIANT?).
I'm not going to list all of the ones I created (not even all of my favorites) -- my employer, after all, wants to keep them somewhat secret, for now.
But here's my anagram for SPAGHETTI AND MEATBALLS. I actually like the dish very much, but I couldn't help but smile when I rearranged the letters (by hand, on scratch paper) to form:
GET THIS BLAND PASTA MEAL.
See what you can come up with...
[4 July 2006]