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Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Anagram Times Q&A with Mark Spurlock

If some researcher decided to scan the brains of people making music or anagrams, I wouldn't be surprised to learn that both activities occupy the same part of the brain. A number of reporters for The Anagram Times are musicians. Earlier we featured a Q&A with Jeffrey Barnes. Today we interview another musician/anagrammer: Mark Spurlock, who plays in a band called Doctor Squid.

Q How did you get into anagrams?

A Subconsciously really. A friend of mine once told me, because I'm quick to make puns, that he thought my brain jumbled/rearranged/subverted everything I heard before I'd actually comprehended its actual meaning. At some point I noticed myself doing this for words on signs too and just decided it was fun. To this day if someone tells me the name of something and asks me for it again later, there's a good chance I'll unintentionally answer with an anagram of the correct response.

Some time after this started, I began playing anagram games with my friends (whether they liked it or not). For example, instead of calling "shotgun", the passenger seat in my car went to the first successful anagram of whichever word I called out. The best part was that on tricky ones, we'd sometimes just stand around the parking lot for 10 or 15 minutes before anyone got it. Or sometimes they'd all give up and I'd make them pile into the back. You know, tough love.

Q One other Anagram Times reporter (Jeffrey Barnes) is a musician and part of a band. Do you think there is something about anagramming and music that explains that they show together often?
A It's possible. I think more so than just playing music, anagramming is similar to musical improvisation and songwriting. Especially pop songs. I think (because it's hard to know for sure) writing good songs involves playing upon hidden structures, rearranging things in clever ways, and just being sneaky. It's not exactly the same process, but I could easily see songwriting and anagramming working out the same brain region. While we're at it, I feel like some forms of humor are similarly related.

Finally, my bandmate Larry wrote a song called "Take A Look". I don't know what it's about, but I like to imagine it's about anagrams and that fits pretty well. You can hear it here.

Q Do you remember the first anagram you made?
A The first one I remember noticing accidentally was "Hampton"->"Phantom". The first time I remember sitting down to make anagrams, I was bored in philosophy class and decided to do the names of my friends. "Chadwick T"->"Dick Watch"... Whatever that means. Gotta start somewhere.

Q Do you have a favorite anagram?
A It might be a bit plebeian, since I found it on Wikipedia, but I've always loved this:

[In] 1975, British naturalist Sir Peter Scott coined the scientific term "Nessiteras rhombopteryx" (Greek for "The monster {or wonder} of Ness with the diamond shaped fin") for the apocryphal Loch Ness Monster. Shortly afterwards, several London newspapers pointed out that "Nessiteras rhombopteryx" anagrams into "Monster hoax by Sir Peter S".
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Just goes to show, no matter how ugly and unpronounceable a name you choose, some meddling anagrammatist will always be able to turn it against you.

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 hands.
A When I complete an anagram, I don't usually feel thrilled or proud so much as mischievous. For some reason it just feels like getting away with something naughty, which is a great feeling. Of course there are times, after working on a particularly hairy one, when you just feel relieved to be done with it.

Q Some people use anagrams for divination. Do you think there's a mystical angle to anagrams?
A "Yeshua ben-Miriam"->"I am a hubris enemy"
I think that would be really interesting, and fun to try, but I can't say I think there's anything in it. As you note on your site, "If you torture words enough, they'll confess to anything.". I wouldn't want to see anagrams being admitted as evidence in court...

If we're just talking about mysticism though, sure, why not? An anagram is as good as a tarot card or a constellation. There are probably some great fortune teller anagrams out there.

Q What do you do in your non-anagram life?
A Chiefly, I belong to the band Doctor Squid. We play tremendously catchy rock/pop music and it's by far the most wonderful thing I do. I sign all my anagrams as "Squidrock.com", my band's site, just on the chance that someone will check it out and listen to some music. Aside from that, I do web design and programming work to pay the bills, and hang out with my friends whenever I can.

Q Approximately how long do you spend on an anagram?
A It depends on the anagram. Some are 5-10 minutes, some take an hour or more. I have a pretty unsophisticated method, which basically involves typing and deleting individual letters in Microsoft Notepad. Its very labor intensive and prone to error, so I wouldn't necessarily recommend it. It's worth noting that I definitely have a breaking point, at which I give up, condemn the source text to hell, and go find something tasty to cheer myself up.

Q Anything else you'd like to add?
A Regarding anagrams as divination:
"Anything else you'd like to add?" -> "Additionally, heed sky tongue"

Listen to Mark Spurlock and his band's song On My Way. And check out some of his recent anagrams for The Anagram Times:

Pope breaks wrist in fall during Alps vacation
Google's New Operating System to Take on Microsoft
Conan O'Brien makes debut on The Tonight Show

Have questions, comments, or suggestions? Post them below. Also enjoy Q&A with these master anagrammers:

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