Packing Numbers

Leonard Gordon noted this interesting pattern in the May 1995 issue of Word Ways. The English names of the first eight positive integers (ONE, TWO, THREE, FOUR, FIVE, SIX, SEVEN, EIGHT) contain altogether 32 letters. The smallest rectangular grid into which they can all be packed, word-search fashion, is 5×5. Because some of the cells serve double duty, the 32 letters “fit” into 25 cells; the ratio of these values is 1.28. This ratio remains remarkably consistent as the list of numbers is extended — here are grids for the first 8, 9, 10, 11, and 12 numbers:

E I G H T   O N E E R H T   E I G H T F   E L E V E N S   S E V E N O W T
F O U R W   S E V E N I N   F   X   W O   I   F S O I E   F I V E E R H T
X I S   O   E I G H T W O   N I N E O U   G   O I T N V   O G X N E N I N
S E V E N   F O U R X I S   S E V E N R   H W U X V E E   U H E V L E W T
T H R E E                   T H R E E     T H R E E E N   R T N E V E L E
 8 words     9 words        10 words      11 words        12 words
32 letters  36 letters      39 letters    45 letters      51 letters
25 cells    28 cells        30 cells      35 cells        40 cells
(1.28)      (1.29)          (1.30)        (1.29)          (1.28)

Alas, the last one isn’t optimum, Gordon notes. The names ONE through TWELVE will fit into a more compact grid:

T W E L V E
F N E X S L
O F I V E E
U S G N V V
R T H R E E
O W T E N N

… and that raises the ratio to 1.42 letters per cell.

(Leonard Gordon, “Packing the Cardinals,” Word Ways 28:2 [May 1995], 116.)

Problem Solved

In 1991, botanist John L. Strother was reviewing the classification of North American sunflowers when he identified a new genus. By this time his 100-page monograph was in the final stages of proofing, and adding a new entry in the middle would require troublesome changes in the layout.

The genera were listed alphabetically, and the last one was Zexmenia. So Strother named the new genus Zyzyxia. Since this placed the new entry near the end of the article, it minimized the necessary changes, and the editor accepted the addition.

Words and Motion

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:RO(1875)_P195_HERON.jpg

In a 1778 letter, English naturalist Gilbert White captured the characteristic movement of almost 50 birds:

Owls move in a buoyant manner, as if lighter than air … herons seem incumbered with too much sail for their light bodies … the green-finch … exhibits such languishing and faltering gestures as to appear like a wounded and dying bird … fernowls, or goat-suckers, glance in the dusk over the tops of trees like a meteor; starlings as it were swim along.

Biographer Richard Mabey writes, “What is striking is the way Gilbert often arranges his sentence structure to echo the physical style of a bird’s flight. So, ‘The white-throat uses odd jerks and gesticulations over the tops of hedges and bushes’; and ‘woodpeckers fly volatu undosu [in an undulating flight], opening and closing their wings at every stroke, and so are always rising or falling in curves.”

(From Mabey’s Gilbert White: A Biography of the Author of The Natural History of Selborne, 2007.)

In a Word

http://elzo-meridianos.blogspot.com/2015/10/la-capsula-espacial-abandonada-en-mitad.html
Image: Meridianos

peisant
adj. having great weight

dissight
n. an unsightly object, an eyesore

bonification
n. the action of making something good or better

subrident
adj. accompanied by a smile

In 1959, a cement mixer rolled off a road in northeastern Oklahoma. The owners retrieved the truck, but the mixer held tons of concrete and was too heavy to move. Plans to bury it on the spot were eventually abandoned, and the disused mixer lay for decades beside Winganon Road. In 2008 Heather Thomas and her husband, Barry, decided to celebrate their fifth anniversary by finally attending to the matter — they disguised in as a space capsule.

(Thanks, Colin.)

In a Word

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Carl_Bille_-_Skibsvrag_med_en_overlevende_hund.png

thalassic
adj. of or relating to seas and oceans

dégringolade
n. a quick deterioration or breakdown, as of a situation or circumstance

supersalient
adj. leaping upon

sperate
adj. hoped for; not hopeless

Shipwreck With a Surviving Dog, by the Danish artist Carl Bille (1815–1898).

Misc

  • “Worry often gives a small thing a big shadow.” — Swedish proverb
  • Uranus was discovered before Antarctica.
  • PROTECTORATE is a palindrome in Morse code.
  • PUBLIC RELATIONS is an anagram of CRAP BUILT ON LIES.
  • If you copy this sentence, be sure to omit “”.

(The fourth is due to Mick Tully, the fifth to David Armstrong.)