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Eric Shackle Writes: Ars Magna

Anagram enthusiast Eric Shackle tells of a documentary film which has just won an internatiponal award.

The title of the flm? Ars Magna, Latin for Great Art. And Ars Magna just happens to be an anagram of the word anagrams.

An eight-minute film about anagrams has won the American Documentary P.O.V. Short Film Award at this year's Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Film Festival in Toronto. Its title, ARS MAGNA (Latin for Great Art) is an anagram of the word ANAGRAMS.

It features two of the world's best anagrammers, Anu Garg and Cory Calhoun. As someone long fascinated by this form of word play, I first wrote about them nine years ago. http://wordsmith.org/anagram/article-sydneymorningherald.html

I praised Cory, who was then a 22-year-old student at Western Washington University, for having composed what I thought (and still think) was the world's best anagram, based on Hamlet's famous soliloquy:

Original phrase (Shakespeare). : To be or not to be, that is the question, whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune."

Anagram: In one of the Bard's best-thought-of tragedies, our insistent hero, Hamlet, queries on two fronts about how life turns rotten.

"Believe it or not," Cory told me by email in 1999, "I created that anagram phrase without any aid from a computer program. I started by arranging all the letters in a more or less alphabetical order, then thought of several Shakespeare-related words. I created a list, then (as I often do with anagrams) let the letters 'speak to me', as to what word would go around the mainly Shakespearian words.

"All along, I tried to yield a phrase that made a direct comment about the play itself. Often, and much to my fright, I'll look at words and phrases and almost instantaneously come up with an anagram of it. For example, I once saw the word Spectrum on a car, and Crumpets sprang to mind."

Today Cory, now 31 and living in Seattle, is a man of many talents and interests. He describes himself as an anagrammatist, puzzlesmith, designer, writer and artist. He says on his Web site: http://www.myspace.com/coryscalhoun

I'm currently living in West Seattle with my gorgeous wife Miriam. We're both arts majors; my day job is chef at the Essential Baking Company; hers is HR operations at Tommy Bahama. That is, until A) I get a publishing deal, B) she gets a gig in either nutrition or music, or C) both.

I've got eclectic tastes and embrace my inner geek. I make crossword puzzles and anagrams ... belt out karaoke with the gang, scrutinize and revel in the latest "Lost" theories, and rock out to the odd TMBG track.

Anu Garg, the India-born Wordsmith who founded the global newsletter A Word A Day http://wordsmith.org/awad/, has long been intrigued by the magic of anagrams. "They never lie," he quipped several years ago.

Researching the web in 1999, I discovered to my surprise that the letters spelling ANAGRAM GENIUS could be shuffled to show that his NAME IS ANU GARG. That was confusing, as William Tunstall-Pedoe, a clever Cambridge (UK) software developer and entrepreneur, runs a commercial Web site called Anagram Genius, and markets software with that name. http://www.anagramgenius.com/

Anu also lives in Seattle, with his wife and daughter. In addition to composing his daily newsletter, he writes books about words, and designed and runs the Internet Anagram Server. Tap in your name (or anyone else's) and in a flash you'll see myriad anagrams using those same letters. http://wordsmith.org/anagram/index.html

Anagrams have provided amusement for many centuries, and in numerous languages. Thousands of clever anagrams in English are listed on hundreds of Web sites. Here are a few favorites:

Elvis = Lives
Eleven plus two = Twelve plus one
New York Times = Monkeys write
Dormitory = Dirty Room
Mother-in-law = Woman Hitler
The Detectives = Detect Thieves
Schoolmaster = The Classroom
Presbyterian = Best In Prayer
A Decimal Point = I'm a Dot in Place
The Countryside = No City Dust Here
Listen = Silent
A Telephone Girl = Repeating "Hello"
The Morse Code = Here Come Dots

And here's a classic anagram composed years ago by Steve Krakowski, that has just become topical again: "That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind." Neil A. Armstrong = A thin man ran; makes a large stride; left planet, pins flag on moon! On to Mars!

"Ars Magna" starring Anu, Cory and his lovely wife Miriam, was produced earlier this year as an entry in the International Documentary Challenge. http://documentarychallenge.org/

One hundred and twenty-two film makers from 16 countries set out to make a documentary in five days. "Ars Magna" is travelling on the festival circuit and will be screened at the Northwest Film Forum in Seattle on July 10.

To view it now, click here. http://www.pbs.org/pov/shorts/shorts_arsmagna.html


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