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AWADmail Issue 15

February 13, 2000

A Compendium of Feedback on the Words in A.Word.A.Day and Other Interesting Tidbits about Words and Languages

    This compilation is based on the puzzler sent during Jan 31 - Feb 6, 2000. Check out the archives for Jan and Feb 2000 to try it yourself.

Here is a day-by-day report of the contest from last week.

Day 1: catacomb
The Guess-the-theme contest was announced. The challenge: figure out the common idea amongst the week's words and be the first to do it. "Catacomb" was the opening word of the week. With just one word out it would seem quite impossible to deduce the theme--or quite easy, judging by the number of guesses that arrived that day.

Christian Lynbech (chlATtbit.dk) noted it well when he sent this: "The joys and wonders of connecting a single point with a straight line. My guess is: Words containing, or relating to, cats."

The theme sent by the greatest number of readers that day: words from Edgar Allan Poe's The Cask of Amontillado. Other speculations: words with animals, words about the underground, words with multiple meanings....

Day 2: rotund
The theme was successfully cracked! Early that morning there was a message with the solution in my mailbox. What is the right answer? You'll know at the end, but meanwhile let's continue and see what was on others' minds.

Assuming the word rotund hinted at rotunda, some gathered the theme to be architecture, others believed it White House, Library of Congress, cathedral, and so on.

Day 3: facade
Let's face it, some had been trying too hard to find a pattern. Here is an entry whose author is best left unnamed: "I think the theme this week is: things that describe the outside of something that has a different sort of inside--a surrounding of sorts."

Jim Whitefield (jimwhiteATtenet.edu) conjectured that the theme was "words that describe King Louis, 15th (he is buried in the catacombs beneath Paris, was fat and carried the facade of a married man--he was gay)." If there were a prize for the the most creative entry it would have gone to Jim.

A number of people noticed that there were no descenders so far while others found that the vowels of all words were in alphabetic sequence.

Here is a sampling of theme bets that arrived with no visible means of support: Groundhog Day, a winter walking holiday around London, death, Vatican.

Ken Ballinger (kballingerATmcps.k12.mt.us) of "Hellgate High School (no kidding)" writes, "A student in my English 3 - Advanced Placement class thinks she has the solution to the word mystery of the week. Eliza Goode believes the link between the three words is architecture. The rest of the class agree with her. Is Eliza's guess correct? Thanks for adding excitement and adventure to our class." No, but it was a good guess. And you are welcome.

Day 4: perambulate
As we continued toward the end there were more data points and a wider choice of topics for identifying patterns. On the other hand, it became harder to fit all the words into a single theme. Reminded me of attempts to plot a nice graph that obeyed all the laws of chemistry in high school lab.

Janeil Henderson (hendeskjATmip.net) didn't want to leave anything to chance in her quest for world-wide fame. She covered all the bases: "Hopefully I've hit on the theme somewhere. Things that an object or person could go through; Human body related; Having to do with walking; Latin origin; Buildings."

Won Kim (wkimAT6jones.com) asked, "Could it be things about ghosts? They come from catacombs; they can be rotund like Casper the Friendly ghost; they often have a facade of being scary, but can be really friendly (plus their frontal side can be deceptive); plus they perambulate where they died, or something, and definitely on foot."

Tony Scully (tony.scullyATtokem.fi) ventured within microns of figuring out the theme but missed it when he sent: "Each of these words contains a computing term:
cataCOMb: COM, Internet address suffix.
ROTund: ROT, rotate, basic form of encryption.
faCADe: CAD, computer-assisted design.
peRAMbulate: RAM, random access memory."
Right approach, wrong result. Still, he deserves an honorable mention.

Day 5: precipitation
Two popular theme suggestions, "words from Latin," and "architecture," continued to pour in like rain in Cherrapunji.

A few other samples:
Here is a theory from Ken Clark (kclarkATboston.com): "I think this week's words have to do with politicians and their campaigning.
catacomb: this is where they keep all those skeletons they had to move out of their closets at home
rotund: as many of them are
facade: all of them have this
perambulate: all of them do this in order to shake those hands as well as their own money-makers
precipitation: all of them are in `headlong fall or rush' to tell you how they're going to save the country".

Day 6: salvage
Lots and lots of random exegeses save a few correct ones were put forth. I felt like a psychologist performing a mass word association test.

Day 7: exhilaration
Ah, at last: the elation of getting all the words! Wayne Torman (waynetoATemail.msn.com) reckoned the theme was the Titanic, "It ended as a buried catacomb, full of dead people. It was certainly rotund and had a beautiful facade. It perambulated the ocean, but also people perambulated upon it. It had a definite headlong precipitation to the bottom of the ocean, not to mention that it happened during a fog and rammed into a precipitated iceberg. It was salvaged many years after sinking, and finding it and making a movie about it have created a great deal of exhilaration." I think I now know how Hollywood screenwriters come up with some of those scripts."

As the week came to an end with no apparent link among the words, theme suggestions tended toward wild guesses.

There is, however, a well-defined theme that ties together last week's words, and that theme is: kangaroo words. These are words that carry a little joey--a smaller word with similar meaning and in the right character order--within them.
catacomb (tomb)
rotund (round)
facade (face)
perambulate (ramble)
precipitation (rain)
salvage (save)
exhilaration (elation)

The winner is Julio Costa (costajulioATyahoo.com) of South Africa whose message was the first to arrive with the correct answer. Sue_DavidsonATexe.com.au, and Anand_SantanakrishnanATmastercard.com, are the first and second runners up. All three identified the theme as early as Tuesday.

Ritzman Legrue (er28ATemail.byu.edu) has another explanation for why these words are called kangaroos. "My 8th grade English teacher called them kangaroo words because by jumping on some letters and skipping others, in the order they appear in the word."

If you have been paying attention, you may have discovered that the word perambulate has the distinction of having three generations within it:
perambulate -> ramble -> amble, as the kangaroo, joey, and grand-joey.

Thanks to everyone who joined in the fun and sent their guesses, wild and tame. There were over 600 messages with one or more guesses about the theme, 70 of which had the right answer. (If you wish to read the results of last year's guess-the-theme contest, please see AWADmail 12).


What is the word where la is the middle, is the beginning, and the end?
(Hint: this word is in the title of writer Robert Louis Stevenson's most famous work.)

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