Friday, 11 September 2015

memory games

I’m fortunate that I’ve only ever had to commute to work for two short periods: from Highbury in north London, where I lived at the time, between 1979 and 1981; and from Sai Kung in the eastern New Territories to Aberdeen on the south side of Hong Kong Island, between 1985 and 1987. Nowadays, most people fill these utterly empty minutes by fiddling with a tablet or smartphone, but in those days, there were no Angry Birds, no Candy Crush, to while away the time, and although I no longer work, let alone commute, I still employ the same strategy to pass the otherwise empty minutes whenever I travel on public transport.

The idea is to construct the longest possible sentence using only words that begin with the same letter. No word may be used more than once, a dictionary or thesaurus may not be consulted, and the sentence cannot be written down (hence ‘memory games’) as it grows longer. I can no longer remember the exact sentence I came up with at the time, although I do recall that it involved ‘alarmingly aggressive alligator armies’, but I would say that the longest possible sentence uses words that begin with the letter A—there are several conjunctions and prepositions beginning with this letter—so for the purposes of this post I’m going to use the letter O.

The sentence will grow in stages, but the obvious place to start is with the main verb and its subject. The existence of the conjunction or means that the subject can be a list, and the verb should be transitive to allow for an object. This is my proposed starting point:
opticians, optimists or onlookers offer opinions…
Obviously, each of the four nouns needs an adjective to complement it:
obese opticians, obsessive optimists or ordinary onlookers offer orthodox opinions…
This can be expanded by adding adverbs and a preposition:
only outrageously obese opticians, obstinately obsessive optimists or otherwise ordinary onlookers offer orthodox opinions on…
I won’t go through all the iterations, but this is what I eventually came up with:
Originally, only outrageously obese opticians, obstinately obsessive optimists or otherwise ordinary onlookers offered orthodox opinions on officially organized operations, occasionally opposing oppressive orders of obnoxious oafs.
Remember, you shouldn’t be writing anything down or consulting a dictionary if you try this game. To do either of these is to render the exercise pointless. You may think that it’s already pointless, but when you’re crammed so closely to other people that it’s impossible to do anything other than think, what are you going to do?


  1. Another game is to compose a passage of coherent prose, as long as you can manage, without using the letter "e".

    1. I’ve tried that one Peter. In theory, it should be possible to continue indefinitely unless you impose other restrictions, such as not being allowed to use the same word twice.

      By the way, I’m planning to post details of two other similar games in the coming weeks.

  2. I have always thought that people who play Candy Crush are rather sad when they could be reading about history or philosophy or praying for the wellbeing of Syrian regugees, for example

    1. I’m inclined to agree Peter, although my little game could also be considered trivial.


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