Sunday, June 11, 2006

The 26 Questions Nobody’s Ever Asked

Okay, now this is a complete and utter waste of time, even by my standards, which is pretty low in the gutter of time wasting, especially for a professional procrastinator such as myself. I mean, really, I’ve got much more important things to do this weekend but entertain myself with dumb questions; why, just on Friday I landed three more assignments that will net me around twenty-five hundred ducats in tax-free income (if you’re reading this and you represent the good and gracious folks at our much appreciated IRS bureau, of course I plan to add them to my Schedule C tax form next April… so put down the audit and step away from my 1040). The problem with me—well, one of the many problems with me—is that I can’t seem to let go of something once I get an idea, once something gets in my head; it consumes me, and it seems that the more stupid and outlandish the idea, the more time I spend trying to bring it to fruition.

Case in point: A couple of weeks ago, I laid awake in bed around three in the morning thinking about the relationship between numbers, their products and the sums of those products from 1 through 10, and I got so involved with thinking about it that I had to get up out of bed, get a piece of paper and try to see if I could solve it. What I was looking for was a mathematical pattern that related all of the multiples of each number to one another. Did you know, that when you multiply 9 by 4 it equals 36? Well, 3 plus 6 (the numbers used in 36) equal 9, and it is this way for each number multiplied by 9: the sums of the individual numbers of the product equal 9. It’s a grade school trick that isn’t that spectacular, but I wanted to see if it worked on other numbers as well. I discovered that it it does to a degree, but the pattern is less obvious. For example, 6 x 1 equals 6 and the sum of 6 and 0 is six. 6 x 2 equals 12 and the sum of 1 and 2 is 3. 6 x 3 equals 18 and the sum of 1 and 8 equals 9. This pattern, 6, 3, 9 repeats itself three times for each set of products through 10. While working through the numbers, 1 through 10, I found that each number has its own pattern: 5 equals: 5, 1, 6, 2, 7, 3, 8, 4, 9 and 5. That doesn’t seem like much of a pattern until you really look at it to discover that ever other number is one more than the two numbers before it.

So, now you understand my madness sometimes. But now, to the point: These are 26 stupid questions I thought up over the course of the last couple of weeks or so that nobody on the face of this planet or any other has ever uttered before, and really this is just an exercise to show the diversity of the language, that the 26 letters we’ve whittled down to using over the last 10,000 years or so have a surprising range of possibilities. If you only wanted to make four-letter words (and a lot of people do), you can use the 26 letters to build exactly 456,976 possible words, including zxuk and kofr, among others. For comparison’s sake, most people have a vocabulary of only 50,000 words or so, and the vast majority of them are five- to six-letter words.

Fresh from reading John Man’s Alpha Beta: How 26 Letters Shaped the World, I put together a little exercise that caught my attention one night while I crafted together a sentence using alliteration, one of my favorite poetic tools.

In respect to our forbearers who decided that we needed 26 letters (representing a confusing array of around 70 sounds), I decided to base my 26 questions on the letters of the alphabet, one for each letter—but you saw that coming, right?—and do you have any idea how hard it is to remember a silly question over the course of two weeks, not to mention 26 of them. Of course, I made it that much more difficult with the attempt at alliteration where possible (articles and prepositions excluded, of course).

Don't worry, you're not alone: sometimes even I think there's something wrong with me.

A: Are the anxious ants anticipating the annual anniversary of Arbor Day?
B: Would a billion bites of barbecued beef basted in bricks of boullion better block your bowels?
C: Which combination of critters create consummate collection of crafty confiscators, a clique of cats or cluster of crabs?
D: Can the darkest doorknob in the drawer draw the dreariest dividend at the dump?
E: If every elf in England enjoys escorting enchanting empresses, what else entertains elves?
F: Should five formerly fat friends favor food flavored in fired-up fragrances for free or for a fee?
G: How is Gordon’s garrulous great-grandpa going to greet the gerent of the georgic guild?
H: Hindered by heavy hula hoops and hefty halos, how high can Henrietta the hamster hop?
I: Is Isabelle incredibly inconsiderate or impetuous in incidences that indicate an impropriety?
J: Can Janice judiciously justify the jingling junk on her journey?
K: Should kings kick kiwis to kaisers while kangaroos keep kerchief-clad koalas in kennels?
L: How did lazy Larry Linttrap lose the lease on his last lucky laundromat?
M: How many meandering mothers in the March marathon magnanimously matriculated most masterfully?
N: Would Neanderthal nobility not notice a number of nice nick-knacks neatly nickel-plated by a neighborly nurse?
O: Can the outspoken Order of the Ostentatious Orangutans organize an outing to the overwrought orphanage?
P: Can a pirate with a peg leg perform a perfect pirouette?
Q: How quickly can a quixotic queen quietly quadruple her quantity of quant quail in a quarter-hour?
R: Will the ruinous rain rupture the ramparts of Randy’s rumpus room or will they run to remote ruts in the real estate?
S: Should salient salivating salamanders skip social soirees to slurp slushy soups?
T: Is the telltale time to traverse a toll by train a travesty or a testament to talent?
U: Will understanding the uncompromising Ubangi ultimatum undermine our ultimate undertaking of unbuttoning the unusual umbrellas?
V: Is vying for the violins of virtuosos a vacuous vocation or a very virtuous venture?
W: Why won’t wallabies walk to work while their wives winter in Wales?
X: Does Xavier’s xylophone exhibit xenophobic xylographs next to the Xerox?
Y: Did yonder young yes-men yawn on Yom Kippur yesterday while yearning to yield to Yiddishism?
Z: Is a zesty zero the zenith of Zen for a zany zookeeper on a ziggurat in a zigzagging zephyr?

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