Friday, August 08, 2008

JUMBLE Editorial Policy as a Mirror of Modern Society

I like to do the JUMBLE puzzle in the newspaper, located on the comics page. JUMBLE, that scrambled word game. As time goes on there seem to be fewer and fewer comic strips I care to read ( a definite exception being Mutts by Patrick McDonnell, which I never skip), but every single day for the past twenty-some years I have taken the JUMBLE challenge.

I don't bother with the last part of the puzzle, in which you have to arrange certain highlighted letters from the first part of the puzzle in order to form some funny, punny phrase. I prefer to do the first part of the puzzle on sight and never write anything down.

The daily puzzle consists of four words to unscramble, while the Sunday puzzle is comprised of six longer words. I figure out each scambled word in about one second or less, although there are some that take longer to register and a few that stump me entirely. By the way, unscrambling a word in a second is no measure of intelligence but rather just a matter of recognition and familiarity; after twenty-blank years, I've seen all the words already!

In all my time I have seen the puzzle writer make only one mistake, but it is a recurring mistake that pops up about once each year. Here, I'll let you have a try. Go ahead and unscramble the letters CMIANA. I'll wait over here quietly.

Now if you came up with the word maniac as your solution, good for you. That's exactly what the puzzle writer was hoping you'd come up with. But what if you came up with caiman, a different but perfectly fine word? The puzzle writer says you're wrong, that's what. Look and/or listen here.

For a JUMBLE to work properly, there must be exactly one word that the given letters unscramble into, but that is not the case with CMIANA. Three separate times in three different years I wrote a letter to point out this correction, hoping that CMIANA would be taken out of rotation and JUMBLE would be perfect forever after. Well, one time I received a reply consisting of equivocal mumbo jumbo from a junior assistant editor at The Chicago Tribune, and another time I received a flier from JUMBLE, Inc. apprising me that a plethora of JUMBLE-related merchandise was available for purchase. Unfortunately, I have come to accept that my correction is unwanted and I don't write letters about it anymore. Does it speak well or ill of society when those in charge choose to ignore the indisputable corrections of their constituents?

And another thing. Through the years the solution to the daily JUMBLE puzzle has historically been printed in the following day's newspaper. Last month, though, something new was tried; the answers to the day's puzzle were printed the same day and, in fact, on the same page. It is not within my purview as to whether this was a nationwide experiment or if it was a bright idea concocted by another junior assistant editor at The Chicago Tribune.

The experiment/bright idea lumbered along for one or two weeks, but then came another change. Effective immediately, an annotation explained, the answers to that day's puzzle would be printed on a different page, a few pages away. Now what does this transition say about our society? Are we a city/nation of cheaters who can't be trusted even to think through a thoroughly inconsequential game without peeking at the answer?

The revised experiment/bright idea slammed to a screeching halt after one or two more weeks. Again effective immediately, another annotation explained, the answers to the daily JUMBLE puzzle would once again be printed the following day. The game was returned to the status quo ante bellum. The whole episode was nothing more than a tempest in a teapot, much like this blog post.


At 9:36 AM, Blogger Jumble Jeff said...

Dear Brain,
First of all, thanks for being such a loyal Jumble player. There are many life-long Jumble players out there and we certainly don't want to take anyone for granted. I've only been part of the puzzle since March (as the cartoonist) so I can't speak as too much of an authority on the inner workings of how your concerns were handled. However, now that I am part of the Jumble world I do look for comments and concerns from our players. I believe that the word MANIAC has been kept in the rotation or on the list, if you will, because it would be considered an "ordinary word". The word CAIMAN, even though it can be made by those letters, is far from an ordinary word. I believe the instructions, written long before I came along, tell players that the letters will unscramble to form an "ordinary word". I don't have any love for the word "maniac" but I don't think it needs to be removed because of caiman. I will mention this to my partner Make Argirion and see what he thinks.
As far as the answers being printed on the same day as the puzzle, that would be up to the particular paper that you read. When the Daily Jumble puzzles are put online for the papers to download they are only formatted with the answers for the previous days puzzles. The Sunday and Kids Jumble are the exception, they come with the answers for the puzzle and the paper places where they like. If a paper changed when and where the answers are, that is their decision, not ours.
Just for clarification, The Chicago Tribune doesn't have anything to do with Jumble. Yes they thankfully run it in their paper, however the puzzle itself comes from Tribune Media Services. They are related in the sense that they are all part of the Tribune Company, but they are indeed completely separate entities.
I hope this helps answer your concerns for the puzzle. Once again, thank you so much for being a loyal player. Please do me a favor and time from time take a peek a the cartoon. I'd hate to be drawing them for nothing. All the best,
Jeff Knurek


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