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The Sydney Morning Herald
April 17, 1999

Raiders of the Lost Anagram

The world's top anagram thinkers are under 35 and on the trail of a 100-year-old mystery. Eric Shackle reports.

Did Lewis Carroll, favourite author of generations of children, brilliant mathematician and word games addict, hide a secret message in his immortal nonsense poem, Jabberwocky?

Three of the world's cleverest anagram-makers have begun a global search to find out. Through their Web sites, they have asked the world's anagram fans to help them answer the question.

Lewis Carroll (1832-1898), who wrote Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, enjoyed playing and making up word games. He once coined an anagram for the then British Prime Minister, William Ewart Gladstone. Shuffling the letters spelling that name, he changed them to read Wild Agitator - Means Well. (Someone recently shuffled Carroll's real name, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, to read Old Dog Watches Nude Girls).

The world's top anagram wizards include:

William Tunstall-Pedoe, 30, of Cambridge, England - a brilliant computer consultant who lectures students at Cambridge University. In 1988, Tunstall-Pedoe started using a computer to find anagrams from words, phrases and names, developing AnagramGenius software, which he claims is the best in its field. From the AnagramGenius site, Tunstall-Pedoe e-mails long lists of anagrams of people's names, free of charge, to surfers every day.

Anu Garg, 32, who lives in Columbus, Ohio. His Wordsmith site provides instant answers to similar requests, also free.

"People wonder if my name is an anagram," Garg says. "No, it's a real name. I'm an Indian, and Anu is a word from Sanskrit, the classical literary language of India. Anu is a popular name in other languages, notably Finnish and Latvian.

"In Hebrew, it means us or we. It's also an acronym for the Australian National University in Canberra."

Garg created Internet Anagram Server (I, Re-arrangement Servant) which, like Britain's Anagram Genius, automatically supplies lists containing hundreds of anagrams based on the e-mail requests of surfers.

Entranced by "the music and magic of words", Garg, through his Wordsmith site, e-mails A Word A Day to more than 170,000 subscribers in some 155 countries. He also runs an E-Mail Address Of The Month Club. Monthly winners have included tom@mom.com, coolfemale@hotmail.com, sally@kin.com and asleep@terminal.cz

Cory Calhoun, who is 22 on Tuesday, is a college student at Western Washington University in the United States, studying graphic design and theatre arts. Three years ago, he produced this classic, which many keen judges consider the world's all-time best anagram:

Original phrase: "To be or not to be, that is the question, whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune." (Shakespeare).

Anagram: In one of the Bard's best-thought-of tragedies, our insistent hero, Hamlet, queries on two fronts about how life turns rotten.

"Believe it or not," says Calhoun, "I created that anagram phrase without any aid from a computer program. I started by arranging all the letters in a more or less alphabetical order, then thought of several Shakespeare-related words. I created a list, then [as I often do with anagrams] let the letters 'speak to me', as to what word would go around the mainly Shakespearian words. All along, I tried to yield a phrase that made a direct comment about the play itself. Often, and much to my fright, I'll look at words and phrases and almost instantaneously come up with an anagram of it. For example, I once saw the word Spectrum on a car, and Crumpets sprang to mind."

Calhoun's site proves his ability as a graphic designer - check out the calendar showing the months of the year. Looked at upside down, it still displays the same words right way up, January amazingly transforming to December, and so on.

Anagrams have a long history. In the 13th century, Jewish mystics, called Cabbalists, thought that reciting letters from the Hebrew alphabet in different orders could create human beings from dust and work miracles. In the early 17th century, France's King Louis XIII appointed a Royal Anagrammist at a fabulous salary. (An English-speaking anagrammist is someone who, if asked to name the four points of the compass, replies "Thorn, Shout, Seat and Stew").

Anagrams took a quantum leap in 1988, when the first stand-alone anagram-generating software was written. The art of producing a memorable anagram these days lies in a person's ability to extract a telling phrase from a huge volume of irrelevance; to spot a gem in a huge load of trash.

What is it about anagrams that fascinates so many people? Tunstall-Pedoe says that 12 years after first becoming interested in them, he still gets excited when he spots a new gem.

Garg says: "All life's wisdom can be found in anagrams. They never lie."

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