There is a funny, old Bob and Ray routine in which a pair of professional kidnappers complain that modern newspapers, with their large, pithy headlines and san serif typefaces, make for poor aesthetics when you want to cut out the letters for a ransom note. “I remember back in ’56, when I put the snatch on the Mumford twins, you could still find a lot of 24-point Bodoni in the paper,” Ray says to Bob.
Fortunately ransomers still have the New York Times. Below you will find a list of headlines from Sunday’s front page. Your goal is to cut and paste as many new words as you can for use in a possible ransom note. Here are the rules:
1. Actual words (and their roots) appearing in the headlines do not count. For example, if the headline were “A SEEPING TANKER TURNS SPAIN’S BEACHES INTO AN OILY SANDBOX” you may not count “sandbox,” “beaches” or “beach” as one of your words. You may count “sand” and “box” as two separate words, however.
2. Words can begin in one word and end in the next. The word “sin” could be formed by using the last letter in “beaches” and the first two letters of “into”
3. Single letters (or one letter words) may not be used. Also, letters may not be rearranged. Words can be formed from adjacent letters only.
4. Remember you are a kidnapper with scissors and have access to only one newspaper. Once you have cut out a sequence of letters you may not use any of them again to form another word. For instance, if you counted “sin” as one of your words, you could not also make the word “aches” from the letters in “beaches” (the word "ache would be possible, however). When a word is removed from the paper, the letters on either side of it are not considered adjacent and cannot be connected. Duplicate words do not count.
5. Words may begin in one headline and end in any other. For instance, the above headline could be paired with “ENRON CONVICTIONS EXPECTED” to create the word “oxen” (by attaching the letters “OX” from “sandbox” to the letters “EN” in “Enron”). You may connect the headlines in any order you like, but you may not connect the end of a headline to its own beginning. It is not necessary to connect headlines to each other.
6. Ignore all punctuation. Kidnappers use atrocious grammar anyway.
7. You are only trying to form words. You do not have to put them together in threatening sentences or write an actual ransom note.
8. Proper nouns and slang are permissible. Kidnappers are frequently illiterate, but you are not so you’ll have to spell words correctly. All of this is at the discretion of the judges
9. Give yourself one point for every letter you use.
10. Using our two examples, a solution might include the words: as, ping, tan, urns, pains, be, aches, in, to, no, sand, oxen, Ron, con, Vic, ion, sex, pec, Ted. Total: 60 points.
Your headlines are as follows. If you want to feel like a real kidnapper, cut and paste these into your word processor and set the font style to 18-point Cheltenham:
CONCERN GROWING AS FAMILIES BYPASS VICTIMS’ FUND
U.S. AND THE IRAQIS DISCUSS CREATING BIG MILITIA FORCE
WORRIED DEMOCRATS SEE DAUNTING HURDLES
SHIITES MOURN DEATH OF CLERIC IN IRAQ BOMBING
NOW FREE TO MARRY, CANADA’S GAYS SAY “DO I?”
STATE CUTBACKS PUT SCHOOLS AND FEDERAL LAW TO THE TEST
NORTH KOREA SPURNS DISARMAMENT TALKS
In response to last week’s puzzle, “The Ransom Note,” six people submitted (unadjusted) answers with scores of more than 200 points, an impressive tally (the average entry was around 175). The judges were liberal in allowing borderline words, and even abbreviations if the entrant made a good case that a kidnapper might find it useful (arguing that a kidnapper might require the chemical symbol for Bismuth will get you nowhere; suggesting that he might want the money wired to the British Isles, on the other hand, is a winner).
After the scores were adjusted, the top six looked like this:
Brooke Saucie — 220
rpt pts — 216
S. Meredith Nepstad — 210
Arthur Swindells — 208
Nick Einhorn — 198
Ali Fahmy — 196
Brooke Saucie is the winner of this week’s McSweeney’s book.
Nick Einhorn attempted to assemble his words into an actual note. It was a valiant, if incoherent effort which required an additional page-and-a-half of explanation, part of which is excerpted below:
“…on the way to the sconce, according to the writer, Omar will pass Eric and Ira, who will be meditating. Neither Bing Crosby, a Greek statue, a snake, or a Greek vase will insult him; of course, this is obvious because vases and statues are inanimate objects, snakes cannot speak, and Bing Crosby is dead. At this point, the note goes off on a tangent…”
Christine H. included this addendum to her entry:
“We have no cultural tradition of ‘cut and paste’ in England (except during the punk music era when the Sex Pistols used it as a design for their T-shirts). Most of our criminals seem to use the tidier option of writing their notes on a typewriter (no messy glue, print marks, or clippings everywhere), which is maybe why they get caught so often — they forget that lurking around every corner is a Sherlock Holmes/detective who is so highly trained he can tell the difference between a Remington typewriter and an Olivetti blindfolded just by the sound the keys make, and that there’s a whole specialist force at Scotland Yard that can track down the individual quirks of a typewriter (such as the way a letter ‘e’ is slightly bent or the way an ‘o’ is out of alignment) to the very house where it was used.”
And Mandy Miner argued in favor of an abbreviation for “Franc”:
“…(it was) the currency of France before the European Monetary Union established the Euro. I don’t know if abbreviations are kosher for this game… but this one seems necessary, as a proper ransom note ought to refer to some sort of currency. I feel very strongly about this.”
As you should. Request granted.