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The Quiz

Headline Obfuscation

by Michael Swaine

Generic image illustrating the article




American headline writers take the prize for writing cryptic phrases. No spy, programmer, or politician can match them. Why American specifically? Because they are aided in their campaign of obfuscation by the polymorphic overloading of English words.

Just about any English word can be coerced into a part of speech its mother never intended. You can pretty up your sentences with adjectives turned into verbs, make a funny by turning an adjective into a noun, accept our invite to make a noun of a verb, or turn it around and verb a noun. Turn an exclamation into a verb and you’ll surely wow them, and if you’re willing to jiggle gender as well, you can him a her, in the process turning a pronoun into a verb. You can knob it all the way up to ludicrous.

Now add to this confusion the not-helpful practice of leaving out most of the articles and other short words in your writing, and you have a fair description of what headline writers do routinely:

Promulgate obfuscation.

The headlines at the head of this issue’s quiz, however, are fake. We designed them just for this quiz, and we designed them carefully. Hidden in these four headlines are several things that should be meaningful to any software developer.

Can you find the hidden meaning in the four cryptic headlines?

Because we’re sure it won’t help you, we’ll tell you that we used Wolfram Alpha to construct this quiz.

Solution to Last Issue’s Quiz

Don Knuth graduated in 1960 from Case Institute of Technology, and currently has no email address. Mitch Kapor graduated in 1971 from Yale, and was a radio DJ. Charles Simonyi graduated in 1972 from UC Berkeley, and is a space tourist. John Backus graduated in 1949 from Columbia, and had a metal plate of his own design in his head. Tim Paterson graduated in 1978 from University of Washington, and drives a Porsche.

No one could be expected to know this, but the title of that quiz, “The Mystery of the Five Programmers,” was my recycling of a title I used once before. It was the title of my first published puzzle, a logic puzzle in the form of a mystery story, published on the back page of InfoWorld in 1981. It kicked off a series of such puzzle stories that featured the puzzle detective Mr. Usasi and appeared weekly for a couple of years.