It’s Follow-Up Friday: Importmanteau edition!

Welcome to Follow-Up Friday!

By this time, you know the drill. Follow-Up Friday is a chance for us to revisit the subjects of previous posts and bring the PuzzleNation audience up to speed on all things puzzly.

And today, I’d like to return to the subject of portmanteaus.

[Image courtesy of upenn.edu.]

For the uninitiated, a portmanteau is a word that combines two words and represents aspects of both of them. Smog is a portmanteau of smoke and fog. Spork, avionics, brunch, labradoodle, cyborg, Pinterest, webinar, glitterati, Reaganomics, sharknado…these are all portmanteau words.

It can be a handy way to coin a term for a situation that doesn’t already have a word to describe it. For instance, I like to think of that unpleasant sensation that you’re going to drop your car keys down a storm drain as “sedanxiety.” A disastrous kiss? “Liplockalypse.”

And clearly I’m not the only one who enjoys crafting new portmanteaus.

Tom Murphy, not to be confused with Tom Swifty (another big name in wordplay), set himself a seemingly impossible challenge: create a portmanteau that includes every word in the English language. A lofty goal, considering there are around 100,000 words in our dictionary.

Utilizing a keen knowledge of French grammar, he coins this project a portmantout, using the French word for “all.”

And not only does he coin a few choice portmanteaus along the way, but he succeeds in creating a single portmanteau that contains every word in the English language:

Granted, that word is 611,000 letters long, but hey, it’s still a pretty impressive bit of coding and wordsmithing.

I look forward to a future video where he says the word out loud.


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It’s Follow-Up Friday: Welsh Landmarks edition!

Welcome to Follow-Up Friday!

By this time, you know the drill. Follow-Up Friday is a chance for us to revisit the subjects of previous posts and bring the PuzzleNation audience up to speed on all things puzzly.

And today, let’s return to the subject of vocabulary and pronunciation!

[Image courtesy of Savethewords.org]

One of the best things about doing puzzles is that you get to learn new words.

Whether they’re obscure or antiquated, hip new slang, borrowings from foreign languages, or simply neat words you’ve never encountered before, these words can be a delight to encounter while solving. (Even if you’re baffled while solving and have to look them up afterward.)

But the problem with some of these words is that if you only see them in print, you might not know how to pronounce them. For instance, it took me quite a long time to connect the written word “quinoa” with the spoken word that sounded like “keen-wah.” I know I’m not alone on that one.

So, imagine, if you will, you’re on vacation in the United Kingdom, and you stumble upon this small town:

Welcome to Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, a town in Anglesey in the UK.

This 58-character place name is actually only 51 letters long, as certain character groups in Welsh are considered as one letter (LL, NG, and CH among them).

Would you be able to pronounce it? I don’t think I would!

But check out this TV weatherman, who doesn’t blink twice at tackling this mind-boggling word:

Now that’s a puzzler who won’t be daunted by some uncommon vocabulary.


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“Do nine men interpret?” “Nine men,” I nod.

I’ve written about Bletchley Park and the efforts to crack the German ENIGMA code several times now, both from a historical standpoint and a cinematic one with the recent release and Oscar success of The Imitation Game.

Bletchley Park was the home of world-class codebreakers, chess players, and crossword solvers, but as it turns out, there was one more type of puzzle that the Bletchley Park crew mastered: palindromes.

In their spare time, they had competitions to create new sentences that could be read both backward and forward — like the title of today’s post, one of my all-time favorites — and mathematician Peter Hilton was far and ahead the most gifted when it came to crafting these palindromes. (His penchant for the puzzle was even mentioned in his obituary in the British online magazine The Independent.)

Perhaps you’ve seen his most famous creation, one of the world’s longest palindromes, composed during one sleepless night at Bletchley Park:

Doc note: I dissent. A fast never prevents a fatness. I diet on cod.

From an article on Vocabulary.com:

Incredibly, the young codebreaker did not use paper or pencil while composing his epic palindrome. He simply lay on his bed, eyes closed, and assembled it in his mind over one long night. It took him five hours.

It all started, apparently, with a contest to best a well-known palindrome: Step on no pets.

Two days later, Hilton responded with the cheeky “Sex at noon taxes.”

And they were off to the races, competing to create longer and more elaborate palindromes. It’s not known how many of the Bletchley Park alums were involved — whether Alan Turing played remains a big question mark — but it’s been said that the competition, instigated by mathematician John Henry Whitehead (nephew of philosopher Alfred North Whitehead), helped spawn the golden age of palindromes.

Some estimate that more palindromes were written in the ten years after Bletchley Park’s competition started than were published across the world in the more than three hundred years that preceded them.

That’s one heck of a legacy.

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