**A*INS**D*U: Possibly an Easter-related CIDU, though I don’t think so

Cidu Bill on Apr 16th 2017


Perhaps it would help to know what word “**A*INS**D*U” represents, if indeed McEldowney had one in mind.

(I found one of those “cheating at crossword puzzles” sites, and came up empty)

Filed in 9 Chickweed Lane, Bill Bickel, Brooke McEldowney, CIDU, comic strips, comics, humor | 70 responses so far

70 Responses to “**A*INS**D*U: Possibly an Easter-related CIDU, though I don’t think so”

  1. Wendy Apr 16th 2017 at 04:17 pm 1

    I’m voting that it’s a nonsense word. My favorite crossword clue solver came up empty. And there are very few words that end in U.

  2. Arthur Apr 16th 2017 at 04:26 pm 2

    The word is not in my dictionary. If it exists, it’s probably a
    proper noun or jargon.

    The joke, though, has something to do with hanging a stick
    figure without due process of law.

  3. Lola Apr 16th 2017 at 05:17 pm 3

    Maybe it’s got texting spelling/words?

  4. Dave Van Domelen Apr 16th 2017 at 05:18 pm 4

    Probably not in English. Only uncultured beefwits expect puzzles to be in the same language as the strip itself.

  5. pepperjackcandy Apr 16th 2017 at 05:47 pm 5

    I think I found it! “Etaoinshrdlu.”

    I’m not kidding. That’s probably the answer.

    Thank you, Onelook!

  6. guero Apr 16th 2017 at 06:09 pm 6

    Excellent sleuthing, pepperjackcandy! I actually recognized the word once revealed, but not something I would have thought of on my own, making it a pretty devious word for a round of hangman. Speaking of which, the player is (was) down to their last guess, but that still doesn’t explain the joke.

  7. Cidu Bill Apr 16th 2017 at 06:21 pm 7

    pepperjackcandy, the poor guy never had a chance!

  8. Arthur Apr 16th 2017 at 06:30 pm 8

    pepperjackcandy for the win!

    Of course, this means if the guesser had just guessed letters
    based on their frequency of use, there would have been no wrong

  9. SpuddyBuddy Apr 16th 2017 at 06:31 pm 9

    However, looking up the “word” does shed light on “the joke”.

    It being the string of characters generated on a Linotype by running your finger a certain way, had become a way of “marking” or indicating things like type resetting needed at that point, it eventually earned “word” status.

    This means, I get why the game wasn’t finished and agree with the parting comment.

    I also think this comic deserves an “obscure geezer” tag, in addition to not really being a joke at all.

  10. Arthur Apr 16th 2017 at 07:14 pm 10

    Despite SpuddyBuddy’s comments, I still don’t really get the
    joke. But this was today’s strip. What better day to leave clues
    to a metaphorical Easter egg?

  11. James Pollock Apr 16th 2017 at 07:28 pm 11

    I don’t think the “word” being guessed for hangman is significant.

    It’s just that millions of schoolchildren used to string up helpless, innocent comic characters without any thought to whether or not they were actually guilty of anything. RIP, comic stick figure. RIP.

  12. Mark in Boston Apr 16th 2017 at 08:55 pm 12

    My uncle was a typesetter and had a practice keyboard at home. The left-most column of keys was etaoin, then next one was shrdlu and so on. Then ETAOIN and SHURDLU and so on, then more columns for boldface and even more for italic. There were LOTS of keys. I don’t think a pipe organ has as many keys as that thing had.

    I never used one of those keyboards. In 1972 I worked as a typesetter on a CompGraphic machine which had a normal typewriter keyboard, with switches and buttons for bold, italic and so on. The old Linotype machines were obsolete. They probably were still used for 20 years or so (Esquire magazine continued to use letterpress instead of offset for many years — you could tell by running your finger across the page), but I’ll bet nobody under 50 has ever used one. Or even seen one.

  13. Mike Apr 16th 2017 at 09:05 pm 13

    The joke is that ETAOINSHRDLU are the most common letters in English, in order. When I’m playing hangman, I usually use it to help decide what to guess. I didn’t know about the typesetting aspect, but I assume it’s to put the most common letters where they’re the easiest to get to?

  14. Judy Apr 16th 2017 at 09:32 pm 14

    perfect explanation, and yes once you explain it that way, it makes sense.

  15. Kevin A Apr 16th 2017 at 11:14 pm 15

    Right, I agree with James Pollock and explicitly add that I think the cats are referring to unseen characters in this strip that were(are?) playing the hangman game.

  16. James Pollock Apr 16th 2017 at 11:53 pm 16

    “When I’m playing hangman, I usually use it to help decide what to guess.”

    When I’m playing Hangman, I’ll ALSO use it, to decide which word to select. One without ETAOINS in it, so if you guess down the list, Mr. stickfigure meets his eternal reward.

  17. Proginoskes Apr 17th 2017 at 03:42 am 17

    @ James Pollock [15]: How about springing “syzygy” on them?

    @ Mike [13]: Yep, and/or to make them easier to grab.

    ETAOINSHRDLU is also the basis of how the “default letters” are chosen in “Wheel of Fortune” at the end.

  18. James Pollock Apr 17th 2017 at 04:54 am 18

    “How about springing “syzygy” on them?”

    No, if they guess “Z” or even “Y”, you’re in trouble. I prefer words with no letters duplicated.

  19. Heather Apr 17th 2017 at 06:02 am 19

    Thanks for the explanation about the “word”! I learned something today. :)

    But as for the actual joke, that’s just referring to the idea of the lynch mob. Taking the law into their own hands, sentencing this poor stick figure to hanging without proper jurisprudence. The word being used in the sentencing is fairly irrelevant.

    Speaking of which, why was the baby ink drop crying?

    Because his mother was in the pen, and he didn’t know how long the sentence would be…

  20. Ignatz Apr 17th 2017 at 07:24 am 20

    I like “strengths.” 8 letters, 1 vowel.

  21. Mitch4 Apr 17th 2017 at 09:51 am 21

    Mr. Shrdlu was a pal of old Qwert Yuiop.

  22. Mitch4 Apr 17th 2017 at 09:56 am 22

    And here’s a facetious question. Can you name a word in English whose vowels are exactly the five vowels of the alphabet, in order?

    (Actually there are two good answers with fairly common words. Additionally, they can be turned into adverbs with added -ly, so the question could be put in terms of six vowels in order.)

  23. MikeK Apr 17th 2017 at 10:11 am 23

    Mitch4 - Are you going to leave us hanging…?

  24. Powers Apr 17th 2017 at 10:14 am 24

    You put one in your comment, Mitch.

  25. Erich Apr 17th 2017 at 10:34 am 25

    It would be self-indulgent to congratulate myself on knowing Mitch’s answer. I prefer to be abstemious.

  26. mitch4 Apr 17th 2017 at 10:35 am 26

    Yes, Powers has seen through the misleading bit!

    For the other one, I suggest you refrain from heavy eating and drinking or other bodily indulgences.

  27. Irene Apr 17th 2017 at 10:46 am 27

    @mike 13 -
    I am wondering where your list of the most common letters originates. I agree- these are the most common letters…but not in that order. T and N more common than S? H more common than R?

    That being said- I learned something. I had never heard of ETAOINSHRDLU

  28. mitch4 Apr 17th 2017 at 10:50 am 28

    Correct, Erich! (I was typing #26 while you were answering)

  29. John Small Berries Apr 17th 2017 at 10:51 am 29

    I don’t know why [b]Mitch4[/b] and [b]Erich[/b] are stopping one vowel short of the goal. Converting to the adverbial form would do the trick for both words.

  30. mitch4 Apr 17th 2017 at 11:32 am 30

    JSB, check the parenthetical remark in my #22.

  31. James Pollock Apr 17th 2017 at 11:33 am 31

    JSB, it’s because “Y” isn’t always a vowel.

  32. Treesong Apr 17th 2017 at 11:56 am 32

    Aegiochus Areithous abstemious abstentious acheilous acheirous acleistous affectious aleikoum anemious annelidous arsenious arteriosus arterious bacterious battle it out brazen it out caesious facetious fracedinous gathering clouds half-serious have it out majestious parecious placentious trade discount trade discounts tragedious wandering soul wateringtrough wrapped in clouds wrapped in thought

  33. mitch4 Apr 17th 2017 at 12:12 pm 33

    I like that “half-serious” — goes well with “facetious”!

  34. Winter Wallaby Apr 17th 2017 at 12:12 pm 34

    If you like word puzzles, here’s another one.

    There are three common words in the English language that end in “gry.” If you are familiar with word puzzles, you are already angry with me for bringing up this stupid, stupid puzzle. So if you are hungry, what would you rather eat: a raven, or a writing desk?

  35. Winter Wallaby Apr 17th 2017 at 12:18 pm 35

    Irene #27: Letter frequencies will depend on things like what texts you choose to select words from, whether you only use root words, etc. . . However, the list here is pretty close to the one from wikipedia, differing only at the “u”: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Letter_frequency#Relative_frequencies_of_letters_in_the_English_language

  36. Olivier Apr 17th 2017 at 03:07 pm 36

    So, should I translate ETAOINSHRDLU as EAISTNRULODM in French ?

    WW@34 : “I eat what I see” ;)

  37. Boise Ed Apr 17th 2017 at 03:51 pm 37

    I do love the example that Wikipedia uses. I miss the old linotype machines; Rube Goldberg would have been proud of them. I regret that I never got to use one myself.

    Olivier [36]: Did French linotype machines have different keyboards than American ones?

    Heather [19]: :-)

    Very clever, mitch4 [22]. Will Shortz should use that on NPR sometime, phrased as you did.

  38. B.A. Apr 17th 2017 at 05:53 pm 38

    “facetiously,” of course, also includes the the famous “and sometimes y.”

  39. Pete Apr 17th 2017 at 06:18 pm 39

    My favourite word to play in hangman is indivisibilities.
    Someone guessing ETAOINetc will see the following:


    I love seeing their faces when that happens.

    (Actually, I haven’t played hangman in about 30 years, but that’s what I used like doing)

  40. Mark in Boston Apr 17th 2017 at 08:32 pm 40

    Are any of you familiar with “Gadsby,” a book by Earnest Vincent Wright?

    Here is a paragraph of it, from which you can understand why I bring it up:

    “If Youth, throughout all history, had had a champion to stand up for it; to show a doubting world that a child can think; and, possibly, do it practically, you wouldn’t constantly run across folks today who claim that “a child don’t know anything.” A child’s brain starts functioning at birth; and has, amongst its many infant convolutions, thousands of dormant atoms, into which God has put a mystic possibility for noticing an adult’s act, and figuring out its purport.”

  41. larK Apr 17th 2017 at 09:44 pm 41

    Someone wrote a whole BOOK without “e”? I’m impressed, even if it does seem somewhat unreadable based on your paragraph…

  42. larK Apr 17th 2017 at 11:58 pm 42

    And I guess the the title page must have said “by Mr. Wright”…

  43. mitch4 Apr 18th 2017 at 12:19 am 43

    One book rooted in alphabetic and linguistic formal manipulations but which is actually very enjoyable to read is “Alphabetical Africa” by Walter Abish (not affiliated with the aforementioned OuLiPo).

    I’s a slim book of 52 short chapters. In the first chapter, every word begins with the letter ‘A’ (in either case); in the second chapter, each word begins with ‘A’ or ‘B’; in the third, each word begins with ‘A’, ‘B’, or ‘C’. And so on, until any word is admissable for Chapter 26.

    The feeling of an expanding world and enhanced possibilities is remarkable. There are some landmark moments, such as the ‘I’ chapter, when 1st-person statements abruptly appear, and the narrator sort of tries to explain away his previous reticence about self-revelation of that sort.

    Then the allowed word-initial letters begin shrinking away, in the reverse of the order they appeared. So ‘Z’ is gone, not such a big loss. But wait, we know there is worse to come, losses are imminent. Thus we work our way back to ‘A’ alone.

  44. Proginoskes Apr 18th 2017 at 03:54 am 44

    @ WW [34]: The reason that that riddle is so annoying is that it’s being told WRONG. The correct way to tell it is:

    Think of words ending in -GRY. Angry and hungry are two of them. There are only three words in the English language. What is the third word? The word is something that everyone uses every day. If you have listened carefully, I have already told you what it is.

    Hint: This only works when you say it aloud; it depends on blurring the use/mention distinction.

    Answer (in ROT13 encoding): ynathntr

  45. Kilby Apr 18th 2017 at 04:21 am 45

    @ Proginoskes (44) - I think the second sentence in your version is supposed to read “The English language has only three such words.

  46. Pete Apr 18th 2017 at 06:55 am 46

    And the correct answer is gryphon, cause you didn’t specify which end.

  47. James Pollock Apr 18th 2017 at 07:40 am 47

    “I think the second sentence in your version is supposed to read “The English language has only three such words.“”

    It’s worded correctly. However, it is punctuated incorrectly, because that would give away the correct answer. Written correctly, the second sentence is:
    There are only three words in “the English language”.

    “And the correct answer is gryphon, cause you didn’t specify which end”

    The riddle, does, in fact, specify which end. GRYPHON doesn’t match the pattern -GRY. It matches the pattern GRY-.

    There is another variation on this riddle where the correct answer is “what”. It goes like this:
    Can you solve my riddle? There are words in the English language that end in -gry. One is hungry and another is angry. What is the third word. Everyone uses this word every day.

    The riddle of this type that I learned as a child goes like this:
    “Railroad crossing, look out for the cars!” Can you spell THAT, without any R’s?

  48. zookeeper Apr 18th 2017 at 10:59 am 48

    Best 15 minutes I’ll spend all day.

  49. Winter Wallaby Apr 18th 2017 at 11:00 am 49

    Proginoskes #44: I’ve heard many different variations on what the correct wording of the puzzle is supposed to be, and the resulting answer - your’s, Pete’s, and about a dozen others. I find them all annoying. None of them are satisfying, and none of them work when the puzzle is transmitted by text.

  50. Olivier Apr 18th 2017 at 11:48 am 50

    Boise Ed @37 : I didn’t think about checking. Here it is : http://www.pointypo.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/musee_imprimerie_nantes_16.jpg
    The correct translation of “etaoinshrdlu” (picture here : http://gds.parkland.edu/linotype/images/ClavierLinotype_20041006-163300.jpg ) then is “elaoinsdrétu”.

  51. Olivier Apr 18th 2017 at 11:52 am 51

    larK @41 : several someones wrote books without the letter e. Georges Perec did it too, his book is entitled “La disparition”.

  52. Olivier Apr 18th 2017 at 11:54 am 52

    Mitch4 @22 : this is fun ; yea, IOU (too bad the order is incorrect).

  53. mitch4 Apr 18th 2017 at 01:39 pm 53

    Olivier, thanks for bringing up Perec in #51. There was an English translation … well, version … of “La disparition”, called “A Void” and written by Gilbert Adair. I know I read it, at the time a reading / writing group I was involved with was exploring the aforementioned OuLiPo, but I don’t remember much of it.

    Perec’s novel La disparition, translated into English by Gilbert Adair and published under the title A Void, is a 300-page novel written without the letter “e,” an example of a lipogram. The English translation, A Void, is also a lipogram. The novel is remarkable not only for the absence of “e,” but it is a mystery in which the absence of that letter is a central theme.

    That’s from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oulipo . (Sorry, my pasting did not capture the bold and italics correctly.) We also read Queneau’s Exercices de Style and Cent Mille Milliards de Poèmes, both of which have English translations — Barbara Wright did Exercises , the 10^14 Poems I’m not sure of, but perhaps Harry Mathews? There have been musical compositions derived from that, too.

    (Queneau is an interesting writer apart from OuLiPo efforts — probably best known for Zazie dans le metro and Le chiendent which I believe I read in English as The Bark-Tree but now seems listed as Witch Grass.)

    Harry Mathews, a prominent American “member” of OuLiPo, wrote a trilogy of disturbingly metafictional novels, and a collection of stories, including “Country Cooking” which was a big hit with that reading group. And gave rise to the “which you will have already started cooking in its firepit the previous day” trope for satirizing tech manuals which do not take things in order.

  54. mitch4 Apr 18th 2017 at 01:56 pm 54

    I notice that none of their own writings, nor Wikipedia etc., use the capitalization style I was using above in writing OuLiPo. I’m sure I saw it somewhere, but stuck with it because I wanted to see in it a little tip of the hat to classical Chinese poet Li Po.

    I was a little shocked the other day when reading some notes on the poems used as the texts for Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde because I thought I recalled that one or two must be by Li Po, and he wasn’t being mentioned. Well, later figured out he was in there, but there is now a different preferred Westernized spelling, Li Bai. (And four of the poems are attributed to him.)

    For any who were not already familiar with OuLiPo and have not yet checked out that Wikipedia link, the name is a sort of acronym of the French Ouvroir de littérature potentielle or “Workshop of potential literature”.

  55. Olivier Apr 18th 2017 at 02:06 pm 55

    Harry Mathews looks promising : thanks Mitch4 !

  56. Milt in Alabama Apr 18th 2017 at 03:27 pm 56

    It’s etoainshrdlu the sequence of letters occurring by frequency in the English language.

  57. Mark in Boston Apr 18th 2017 at 09:36 pm 57

    I was about 5 when my mother told me this:

    Mom: Would you like to hear one hundred jokes?
    Me: Yes!
    Mom: OK. Joke number 1. Shut Up and Trouble were in a boat. Trouble fell out. Who was left?
    Me: Shut Up.
    Mom: Well! I won’t tell you the other 99 jokes.

  58. James Pollock Apr 18th 2017 at 10:18 pm 58

    Pete and Repete were sitting on a fence. Pete fell off. Who was left?
    Pete and Repete were sitting on a fence. Pete fell off. Who was left?
    Pete and Repete were sitting on a fence. Pete fell off. Who was left?
    Pete and Repete were sitting on a fence. Pete fell off. Who was left?
    Pete and Repete were sitting on a fence. Pete fell off. Who was left?
    Pete and Repete were sitting on a fence. Pete fell off. Who was left?
    Pete and Repete were sitting on a fence. Pete fell off. Who was left?
    Pete and Repete were sitting on a fence. Pete fell off. Who was left?
    Pete and Repete were sitting on a fence. Pete fell off. Who was left?
    – Remy Charlip.

  59. mitch4 Apr 19th 2017 at 12:40 am 59

    Hunh, didn’t even put it into moderation! Just dismissed it!

    Hunh, well I apparently can’t paste and post, but will give you a link, for Sonnet by Ron Padgett, 1942. https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/nothing-drawer

  60. mitch4 Apr 19th 2017 at 12:42 am 60

    Poet reading it, on YouTube — with a little discussion too.


  61. mitch4 Apr 19th 2017 at 12:48 am 61

    No, 1942 was his birth year, not when this poem was written, or published.
    Also ought to correct my mis-remembering that it had more of a title, like “Looking for the other cufflink”.

  62. Boise Ed Apr 19th 2017 at 01:08 am 62

    mitch4 [59]: And the purpose of this “poet’s” twaddle is? Or is it just the equivalent of John Cage “music”?

  63. James Pollock Apr 19th 2017 at 01:26 am 63

    “And the purpose of this “poet’s” twaddle is?”

    Sometimes a deadline sneaks up on you.

  64. Proginoskes Apr 19th 2017 at 03:28 am 64

    @ Kilby [45]: No; that ruins the riddle, and that’s one way that the incorrect version probably got started. I typed what I meant and I meant what I typed.

    @ Winter Wallaby [49]: That is one of the reasons why it has to be said out loud.

    Since James Pollock gave you the hint, you should compare the two sentences below:

    There are three words in the English language.

    There are three words in “the English language”.

    The first sentence is false, because the English language contains more than three words. The second sentence is true, because we’re counting the number of words in *the phrase* “the English language.” Both sound the same when you read them.

    Here’s another example:

    Does it take longer to read “the Bible” than to read the Bible?

    No … “the Bible” (the phrase, remember?) is only two words long. The Bible (the actual book) is considerably longer than two words.

  65. Kilby Apr 19th 2017 at 05:18 am 65

    @ mitch4 (43) - There is a series of books by Zé do Rock, in which he progressively “streamlines” standard German spelling, going far beyond what the official “reformed” rules put into practice. Each chapter introduces one or two new concepts, and by the end of the book, the result (which he calls “Ultradoitsch”) looks very strange, but if you’ve followed along, it’s still readable.

    P.S. Thanks to JP @47 & Proginoskes @64 for pointing out the quote marks. I’ve decided that I don’t care for riddles that depend on misdirecting the victim.

  66. mitch4 Apr 19th 2017 at 10:24 am 66

    Well Ed (#62), I take that Ron Padgett video as something like a middle-successful band, suitably proud of the solid work they’ve done in a variety of styles and emotional tones, faced with fans always requesting their one early hit — which they regard as something of a novelty song.

    Then there are a number of strategies they can adopt. Give in, shut up, and play it all the time. Disown it, stonewall, and never play it. Play it pretty often when requested, don’t disguise that you don’t hold it as your top achievement, and go ahead and enter some defense and explanation now and then.

    And I think that third one is what Padgett is doing. His discussion in this clip is about the repetition — and makes a pretty good point, that these lines are identical only when looked at visually, in print. When recited aloud — a very popular and valid mode for poetry these days — the lines will differ, either on purpose for effect, or despite yourself.

    I was interested in this when I first read it (in Randi Liff’s “New York School” class) for the issues it raises about forms. t has 14 lines and he says that lets him call it a sonnet. Well, sure; poets can call things lots of ways. But is it “really” a sonnet? And does that matter?

    Okay … The line has a strong rhythm, but it’s not iambic nor pentameter. The rhyme scheme .. well what do we really require when we say for instance a stanza is in ABBA rhyme scheme? Is it enough that lines 1 and 4 rhyme, and that 2 and 3 rhyme? Or do we also require that the rhyme on 1&4 must differ from 2&3? So maybe Padgett’s alleged sonnet does not fit any of the traditional rhyme schemes; or OTOH fits all of them, automatically. And in that latter case, do we then say it’s Petrachan and Shakespearean and whatever else we want? Or that it wouldn’t really be Shakespearean since it lacks the underlying semantic / emotive structure of statement-development-turn?

    And then “does it matter?”. Probably not. But there is something interesting, maybe just cute, to how the bare fact of 14 lines plays off our format expectations and makes us want to agree to seeing it as a sonnet.

    [For anyone who has not bothered following the links to either the printed-out text or the YouTube video of the author’s recitation of it, here’s a description: The poem consists of fourteen identical[-looking] instances of the line “Nothing in that drawer.”]

  67. Winter Wallaby Apr 19th 2017 at 11:14 am 67

    Proginoskes #64: Yes, I understand the puzzle (or to be precise, your variation of the puzzle, since, as I said earlier, there are about a dozen variations). I just think it’s a bad puzzle.

    Kilby #65: “I’ve decided that I don’t care for riddles that depend on misdirecting the victim.”

    Yes. The link at my original comment at #34 expresses how I feel about the quote-based explanation. (OK, maybe it’s a little harsh, but it’s the xkcd hat guy).

  68. Boise Ed Apr 19th 2017 at 10:23 pm 68

    Kilby, thanks for taking the time to explain where you’re coming from on that. I don’t really buy it all, but I now see your PoV.

  69. James Pollock Apr 19th 2017 at 10:40 pm 69

    “There are three words in the English language.
    There are three words in ‘the English language’.
    The first sentence is false, because the English language contains more than three words.”

    Actually, both statements are true. You are finding statement #1 to be “false” because you are supplying words that are not there.
    It does NOT say “there are ONLY three words in the English language” or “There are EXACTLY three words in the English language”, which would be false. It says there are three words in the English language, and there are.

    “I’ve decided that I don’t care for riddles that depend on misdirecting the victim.”

    All riddles depend on misdirecting the victim.

    “what do we really require when we say for instance a stanza is in ABBA rhyme scheme? Is it enough that lines 1 and 4 rhyme, and that 2 and 3 rhyme? Or do we also require that the rhyme on 1&4 must differ from 2&3?”

    Words do not rhyme with themselves, so there are, in fact, no rhymes in this “sonnet”.
    (A more modern riff on this type of “identical variation” can be found in various standup comedians who do jokes wherein “dude” forms most of, if not all of, a conversation between two people.)

  70. Proginoskes Apr 20th 2017 at 04:09 am 70

    @ James Pollock: Fair cop … I should have used “only” as well …

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