Monday, April 20, 2015

Flash in the Pangram

Theatre Under The Stars’ Underground series recently produced a new musical called LMNOP, based on the novel  Ella Minnow Pea. (Notice the similarity!) This alphabetical drollery is predicated on the notion of a pangram, a sentence that uses every letter of the alphabet. The musical’s fictional town has a motto that is a pangram coined by its founder—The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.

This pangram, which totals 35 letters in all, repeats several letters—there are four “o’s”and three “e’s”—and the best pangrams use the smallest total number of letters, repeating the fewest.

In the musical, as letters begin to fall off the town’s motto one by one, the plot hinges on finding a new pangram, preferably shorter, which turns out to be: Pack my box with five dozen liquor jugs. It uses a total of only 33 letters.

Word buffs have come up with even shorter ones, which tend to make less sense the shorter they get. Sphinx of black quartz, judge my vow uses only 29 letters.  Waltz quick, nymph, for bad jigs vex is only 28.

If you permit proper names and abbreviations, you can come up with pangrams that use each letter only once, for a total of 26. One of these is: Mr. Jock, TV quiz Ph.D., bags few lynx. 

When I was a wire editor for a Scripps-Howard newspaper, the teletype equipment was tested every morning by transmitting a pangram that no doubt reflected somebody's political views: William Jex quickly killed five dozen Republicans. 

This week’s New York Times had an acrostic puzzle that used a different type of pangram—a sentence in which each word begins with a consecutive letter of the alphabet. The example was: A black cat dreamt every fourth goose hunted invisible jellyfish, kindly let many nice ostriches pass quickly; rather stupidly, the umbrella voted when X-raying yellow zebras.

Another one I came across makes a little more sense—but has to be punctuated as more than one sentence to be fluent:  A brave, chance dance ended Fred's girlfriend hunt. Ingrid just kissed like magic! Nearby, once privately quartered, romance secured the unfolding victory with X-rated, youthful zest. 

The Bard of Buffalo Bayou decided he could write a pangrammatic verse. Hmmmm.

            Any boy can damage eggs,
            Frighten giddy hags,
            Injure jolly kiddies’ legs--
            Meretricious nags!

            Older people quickly run,
            Seeing tawdry urban view,
            Wrecking xenophobically, 
            Yokohama’s zoo.

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