A Silly Story

Pent up in his crag, like an erne struggling to rear his young, the ent danced a rag. "I'll cry 'Abba' at noon!" he said. "Not in any case, (well, maybe bar one) will I balk just because it's onyx!"

Someone yelled "grenade!" as soon as he sent the frag over the wall. They did not know that Iran served as a vena, carrying arms and munitions from the small dealers to the very heart of the movement. Neither Abe nor any other had spied the arba, rolling steadily beneath the neon glare, billowing in the breeze, one flap out of sync with the others. Inside sat an orphan, eating a becuna, sighing. He knew it had been a myth, that stories about cheese and the moon resulted from the terra forming a green albedo. He was like the tide, which ebbs and flows with no roof over its head. The heat made him think of her, and he longed to return to Siberia and sit and chat in a horse-drawn pung, under the moon, over the snow, she in a fur. Poor Anna, who hated curry and was tired of naan.

Suddenly, an abjurer appeared out of nowhere. "Waiter, there's a gnat in my tang," he said. "Aha!" cried the nun. "Did you try the gel I suggested? Does it irk or vex you?"

I asked the clerk about Pyrex. Though gung-ho and all that, he was new and knew nothing. I asked about the work of Carl Jung, to which he replied, "What?" He did know that 'Rule, Britannia' is as near to Arne as 'The Star Spangled Banner' is to Key.

"I envy the rail, so long and thin," she said, peering mournfully at her reflection.

"Here, fishy fishy fishy," coaxed Perry, dipping his creel again into the water. He was careful not to err and hit the reef.

"Nag, nag, nag," the grasshopper replied to the ant.


What's the point of this story? There is a (very simple) cipher called rot13 (which stands for rotate 13). The cipher takes each letter and advances it 13 steps, wrapping around when it comes to Z. So A becomes N, B becomes O, C become P, etc. 13 steps works nicely in a 26-letter alphabet, because you apply the cipher once and it's encoded, apply the same thing again and it's decoded (rot13(A) = N, rot13(N) = A), so you only have to write code for one simple function. Not very secure, but adequate for little boys playing "secret agent" or for posting the ending to a movie online so that only people that really want to read it will, while those just looking for reviews won't have it accidentally spoiled.

Anyway, a large number of the words in the story are real words whether they are encoded or not. For example, in the first line, rot13(pent) = crag.

Most interesting is gnat tang, which is a palindrome in addition to being rot13 encoded.

And where did this story come from? I downloaded a list of several hundred thousand words (the official Scrabble dictionary), wrote a few lines of code to encode each word and check if the result was anywhere in the original list, which produced a list of about 500 unique pairs, of which a small handful are actual words rather than abbreviations. Then, in the grand old tradition of students made to write sentences using the vocabulary list presented in class, I came up with a story that might almost be grammatically correct, even if it doesn't make much sense. Some of the pairs are obvious (just what is a becuna, anyway?), some are not. Can you find all 30 pairs?

Methinks I'll include it when I write the great American novel, which will have a mediocre plot but will be filled with all sorts of easter eggs like this. Then I can publish the answer key as a sequel and get one for the price of two.