Our old friend, Des MacHale – Mayo’s gift to the city by the Lee – has been to the publishing house again. Already the author of over 60 books on subjects as diverse as Kerryman jokes, Lateral Thinking, the life of George Boole and the film, The Quiet Man, his latest foray is into the compilation of a book of word puzzles.
The eminent Professor of Mathematics, who taught for 40 years at University College Cork, has a penchant for the humorous and the quirky which belies his chosen career as a tutor of what some call the dismal science. But his latest book, disarmingly announced as a series of puzzles ‘to intrigue and delight both serious and casual word puzzlers’, could just as easily be labelled as a demoniac challenge to the peace of mind of those who like to test their wits at less-challenging daily crossword level.
Des MacHale and his Scottish collaborator, Paul Sloane, have delved deep to come up with the chapters of anagrams, palindromes, punctuations and little-known words that would make for ideal table quiz material. And for those of us whose stock in trade are words and words and words, we can learn much that is new about remarkable words in the English language.
So light relief, and a respite from the intricacies of political threesomes and foursomes and coalition permutations, the column thought it just as well to test the acknowledged erudition of our readers by way of the MacHale/Sloane word challenge.
If then you are asked the name of which capital city starts with three vowels, you can skip to the solutions to confirm, as you knew all along, that it is Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso. Or, on being asked to name the five European capital cities beginning with the letter V, you would rhyme off that they are Vienna, Vilnius, Valletta, Vatican City and Vaduz.
As you know, somebody who never laughs is called an ‘agelast’, while the term for summer hibernation is ‘estivation’. The official term for the condition of your foot falling asleep is ‘taresthesia’, while the medical name for winking is ‘nictation’.
And here’s one to throw into the conversation in the pub – what word describes an arrangement of five objects in a square, one at each corner and one in the middle? The word, you will tell them is ‘quincunx’ (but please do be careful with your pronunciation).
If palindromes happens to be your thing, you will know of old that the Irish town with a palindromic name is Navan, that the famous pop group with the same trait is ABBA, and their No 1 hit was SOS; a deeper colour is ‘redder’; to decorate your room again is ‘repaper’; and the first thing Adam said to Eve was ‘Madam I’m Adam’, to which came the palindromic reply ‘Eve’.
But what about two words starting with ‘he’ and ending with ‘he’. You are right: ‘headache’ and ‘heartache’. And the only word containing five successive vowels? Right again! It’s ‘Queuing’.
And finally, a few tailor-made for the table quiz. The name of the plastic piece at the end of a shoelace? An aglet. What are the spots on a dice called? Pips. The longest word that can be formed with just two letters, each of which may be repeated, is ‘deeded’. Only one day of the week has an anagram – it’s Monday, with ‘dynamo’ as the anagram. The only English word ending in ‘mt’ is ‘dreamt’. And the only four-letter word with three syllables is ‘area’.
And the tie breaker, back with classroom humour. What word starts with an ‘e’, ends with an ‘e’, and contains just a letter. ‘Envelope’, of course.