The Prisoner’s Restriction

A prisoner has a limited supply of paper and wants to conserve space by avoiding any letter that extends above or below the line (b, d, f, g, h, j, k, l, p, q, t, or y). How far can he get?

Pretty far, it turns out. Writer Ian Monk came up with this:

a russian con’s economic missive

we were once seven con men, we are now seven cons. as communism was over we saw easier success in american consumerism, i.e. crime. in a moscow inn, we swore: — seven is one, so one is seven … soon we came across a scam. our main man wove us a nice wee earner: — we own a zinc mine. since our russian economic crisis came in, our income’s never risen. we can cram ice in our mine’s veins, raise rumours re our ice mine’s immense resources, con morons we are mere zeros. as soon as career men see our ice, we win ’em over. once we’ve won ’em over, we receive numerous ecus or euros. as soon as we’ve our monies, we serve ’em arsenic in wine. we can even recommence on numerous occasions. … our scam was a success. our asses never saw sense. we were euros in. we saw our main man serve our vicious wine mix … a near miss .. our arsenic was mere mouse venom. some asses were survivors: — summon a coroner, someone swore. — or a nurse. — or some rozzers. so we ran. we swam across a river. as soon as no one was near us, we wove our monies in wee canvas cases we wore in our arses. we ran on. in vain … someone saw us on vanavara’s main avenue. a commissioner, nine rozzers, seven airmen, six cia men overcame us. we were sworn in. we are now in moscow in irons in room nine. as soon as someone receives or sos, come … run … save us … since no one’s ever come across our economies, our ransoms are even now in our arses.

Good Boy

In 1990 François Caradec invented “poems for dogs.” A pet’s name is hidden phonetically in each verse; like a dog whistle, it goes unnoticed by the master but makes the dog sit up. Here’s a sample written for Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s cocker spaniel Flush:

My mistress never slights me
When taking outdoor tea.
She brings sweet cake
For her sweet sake,
Rough, luscious bones for me.

Flush was already a bit of a literary celebrity — Barrett Browning composed two poems about him, and Virginia Woolf made him the hero of a whole novel, Flush: A Biography, in 1933. In 1843, after Flush was briefly held for ransom, his mistress wrote, “Oh, and if you had seen him, when he came home & threw himself into my arms … in that dumb inarticulate ecstasy which is so affecting.”


This self-describing (and otherwise pointless) sentence contains exactly 95 spaces, 66 apostrophes, 1 open parenthesis, 1 close parenthesis, 40 commas, 1 hyphen, 1 period, 4 ‘0’s, 13 ‘1’s, 9 ‘2’s, 7 ‘3’s, 8 ‘4’s, 5 ‘5’s, 4 ‘6’s, 4 ‘7’s, 4 ‘8’s, 4 ‘9’s, 2 ‘O’s, 2 ‘T’s, 12 ‘a’s, 2 ‘b’s, 10 ‘c’s, 7 ‘d’s, 21 ‘e’s, 3 ‘f’s, 4 ‘g’s, 8 ‘h’s, 13 ‘i’s, 7 ‘l’s, 5 ‘m’s, 16 ‘n’s, 12 ‘o’s, 10 ‘p’s, 8 ‘r’s, 53 ‘s’s, 9 ‘t’s, 2 ‘u’s, 2 ‘w’s, 3 ‘x’s, and 3 ‘y’s, including a single Oxford comma.

(Thanks, Chris.)

Words and Numbers


1 B
2 Hs
3 Rs
4 Os
5 Ts
6 Ls
7 Es
8 Is
9 Ns

At least two numbers produce similar results in Spanish:



(Thanks, Claudio.)


In 1853, a writer to Notes & Queries observed that the third line of Gray’s Elegy can be transposed 11 different ways while retaining its sense:

The ploughman homeward plods his weary way.
The weary ploughman plods his homeward way.
The weary ploughman homeward plods his way.
The ploughman, weary, plods his homeward way.
The ploughman weary homeward plods his way.
Weary the ploughman plods his homeward way.
Weary the ploughman homeward plods his way.
Homeward the ploughman plods his weary way.
Homeward the ploughman weary plods his way.
Homeward the weary ploughman plods his way.
The homeward ploughman weary plods his way.
The homeward ploughman plods his weary way.

“It is doubtful whether another line can be found, the words of which admit so many transpositions, and still retain the original meaning,” he wrote. Forty-two years later, the editors of Miscellaneous Notes and Queries proved him right, filling four pages with 252 transpositions:

Plods the ploughman, weary, his homeward way.
His weary way the homeward ploughman plods.
Homeward plods his way the ploughman, weary.
His homeward way the weary ploughman plods.
The weary ploughman homeward plods his way.
The homeward ploughman, weary, his way plods.
The weary ploughman plods his way homeward.
Plods the weary ploughman his way homeward.
Weary, the ploughman plods his homeward way.
His way homeward plods the weary ploughman.
Plods, weary, the ploughman his way homeward.
Weary his way plods homeward the ploughman.
The ploughman, weary, homeward plods his way.
His way plods homeward the ploughman, weary.
Homeward, weary, the ploughman his way plods.

They even offered a year’s subscription to any reader who could add to the list. I can’t tell whether anyone took them up on it — perhaps they were too tired.


An ignorant Yorkshireman having occasion to go to France, was surprised on his arrival to hear the men speaking French, the women speaking French, and the children jabbering away in the same tongue. In the height of the perplexity which this occasioned, he retired to his hotel, and awakened in the morning by the cock crowing, whereupon he burst into a wild exclamation of astonishment and delight, crying, ‘Thank goodness! there’s English at last!’

Tit-Bits From All the Most Interesting Books, Periodicals and Newspapers in the World, Dec. 10, 1881