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Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Anagram Times Q&A with Russ Atkinson

In his former life as an FBI agent, Russ Atkinson chased white collar criminals and rapists and everything in between. Now retired, he chases letters and tortures them until they cough up the anagrams he wants. Read on for a special Q&A with The Anagram Times's crime reporter Russ Atkinson.

Q How did you get into anagrams?
A I've always enjoyed wordplay, witty dialogue, puns, palindromes, etc. My interest in anagrams probably increased after I became active in the American Cryptogram Association (ACA) in the 1970s. Many of the cipher types they use are transposition types, in essence anagrams of the entire plaintext, so anagramming is a useful skill for the ACA. In 2007 I served as ACA president in 2007-2008. But even before that, as early as high school, I enjoyed crosswords and acrostics. My mother subscribed to The Saturday Review where there was a double-crostic at the end of every issue. Acrostics are in effect very large anagrams, of course. I still do them. I especially love the cryptic acrostics, those with tricky clues, many of which contain anagrams themselves.

Q Do you remember the first anagram you made?
A Sorry, no.

Q Do you have a favorite anagram?
A The Anagram Hall of Fame on your site is full of classics, but I can't pick a favorite from those. There are too many. Of the ones published in The Anagram Times, perhaps SHARK'S BITES HARM US is my favorite because it is short and has no forced or gimmicky words. Shorter anagrams are the most elegant in my opinion.

Q How do you pick a news headline to anagram?
A I look at headlines on the Bing or Google News pages. I try to pick a story with a quirky or humorous element to it, but sometimes a headline strikes me as having a good word or phrase possible for an anagram. I don't really have a system.

Q Describe the moment when you are working on anagramming a phrase and the last few letters just fall into place and you realize that you have an outstanding anagram on your hand.
A It's that fist pump "Yes!" moment, very much like when you get that impossible cryptic acrostic clue or solve a tough geocaching puzzle.

Q Approximately how long do you spend on an anagram?
A If I can't come up with something I like within 20-30 minutes, I usually move on to something else, but I've spent most of a day on one and given up. On some of the longer ones, like the one I did on the Republican candidates, I may stop after a few hours and pick it up the next day.

Q What do you do in your non-anagram life?
A I'm a retired FBI Agent. That usually draws a joke or a gasp. I have a blog where I often include my anagrams and other wordplay as well as book reviews. Now I write mystery novels (The Cliff Knowles Mysteries). My most popular novel, Cached Out, has an anagram as a critical clue. I also enjoy running, geocaching, playing guitar, and reading.

Q Some people use anagrams for divination. Do you think there's a mystical angle to anagrams?
A Not a bit.

Q Anything else you'd like to add?
A My wife and I do the Daily Jumble and Super Quiz in the morning paper every day. I usually can do the Jumble words and final answer in my head, which my wife can't, but she usually beats me on the Super Quiz.

Selected anagrams from Russ Atkinson: