POP games

A comment on my latest look at phrasal overlap portmanteaus (POPs) brought up still another game you can play with them. That makes three so far, not counting the WESUN puzzle in that posting, which adds anagrams to the mix.

Here’s the background: a POP comes in three parts, which I’ll call INIT, MID, and FIN (assigned in the obvious way). There are two source expressions for a POP (normally, both of them fixed or formulaic expressions of some kind):

Source 1: INIT + MID
Source 2: MID + FIN

The first two games involve a telescoping of the POP (to a TPOP), by the elimination of MID to yield INIT + FIN. The games differ in the kind of solution they expect.

My original game, which I’ll call Larry Kong, has the following ingredients:

Clue: a TPOP, INIT + FIN (Larry Kong)

Solution: a definition for this TPOP, using the referents of the two sources (“a gigantic gorilla with a tv talk show”, combining the referents of Larry King and King Kong); solving the puzzle means you have to find MID, but MID isn’t a required part of the answer)

Then there’s the game Fish Mixes, offered by commenter irrationalpoint:

Clue: a TPOP, INIT + FIN (fish mix)

Solution: the MID missing from this TPOP (cake: fish cake + cake mix)

And then there’s the Before & After game from the tv show Jeopardy!, which works with the whole POP:

Clue: a definition for the POP, alluding to the referents of the two sources (“a ‘Green Acres’ star goes existential (and French) as the author of ‘The Fall’ “, alluding to Eddie Albert and Albert Camus)

Solution: the full POP, INIT + MID + FIN (Eddie Albert Camus)

This particular example made it into the NYT Magazine on June 20, in a story “What is I.B.M.’s Watson?” by Clive Thompson; the title is the solution to the Jeopardy! clue, “This question-answering computer system is ready to challenge some flesh-and-blood ‘Jeopardy!’ champions”.

As Thompson wrote,

Computer scientists I spoke to agreed that witty, allusive clues will probably be Watson’s weak point [in a competition with Jeopardy! champions]. “Retrieval of obscure Italian poets is easy — [Watson] will never forget that one,” Peter Norvig, the director of research at Google, told me. “But ‘Jeopardy!’ tends to have a lot of wordplay, and that’s going to be a challenge.” Certainly on many occasions this seemed to be true. Still, at other times I was startled by Watson’s eerily humanlike ability to untangle astonishly coy clues. During one game, a category was “All-Eddie Before & After,” indicating that the clue would hint at two different things that need to be blended together, one of which included the name “Eddie.” The $2,000 clue was [above]. Watson nailed it perfectly…

A game (call it Eddie Albert Camus, or Sweet Tooth Fairies) going in the other direction, with the full POP as the clue and the definition as the solution, is part of what people do when they goof around inventing POPs for fun and then devising definitions for the results. Not as challenging as Larry Kong or Fish Mixes, but still entertaining. And where we came into this topic in the first place.

5 Responses to “POP games”

  1. Ian Preston Says:

    Chris Maslanka‘s weekly Pyrgic Puzzles column in the Saturday Guardian has contained puzzles of the “fish mix” type every week, I think, for many years. Here are examples I found online from 2004 and 2005 but he must have published a huge number over the years. He calls them “Missing Links”.

  2. irrationalpoint Says:

    Nice one, I enjoyed this. Especially the coming full circle.


  3. A portmanteau crop « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] 6/28/10: POP games (link) […]

  4. New frontiers in overlaps « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] 6/28/10, POP games (link) […]

  5. codeman38 Says:

    Just for completeness’ sake, despite the utter belatedness of this comment:

    In addition to Before and After, Jeopardy! has also used the Fish Mix puzzle under the category name “Missing Links”. Of course, now I’m curious whether The Guardian or Jeopardy! came up with that name first (or if there’s some third source that predates both!).

    There was also a short-lived game show titled Smush that involved figuring out morphological portmanteaus from their definitions. Not to be outdone, Jeopardy! has also done these under the category name “Jeoportmanteau”.

    (And yes, I will admit to having watched far more game shows than I ought to.)

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