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Date: January 28, 1999

Write a familiar joke such that the initial letter of each sentence spells out the punchline.


It was a sickeningly hot day at Marsden Boys College.

Lying down was the only way to avoid the heat; boys were scattered around the lawns like rice after a wedding. Insects buzzed like demons in the grass. Kites and kittyhawks fell dead from the trees, their bodies cooking and stinking. Even the professors preferred to sit in the shade, not moving.

Anthony Fearnsley looked down at the campus from his third-floor dormitory window.

Mental activity was nearly impossible in the heat. All classes had been cancelled. Nothing could be heard on the old campus except the hum of bugs and the low moans of prostrate boys.

The electric bells in the tower sounded noon. Headmaster Harper, unbent but deaf and slow-moving at age 70, walked across the grounds in his long formal black morning coat. Although sweat was on his brow, he showed no perturbation at the torridity. Two boys only--Fearnsley and Kent--watched his progress.

Slowly Headmaster Stephen Stewart Harper made his way toward the refectory. The heat-drunk insects observed a moment of silence, then resumed their steady buzzing. Inside Bunt Hall a stolen key rattled in an old lock. Cautiously the heavy wooden door was eased open. Kent stepped into the musty storeroom. Stagnant air mixed with resinous scents filled his nervous nostrils.

The sun did not relent. Observed from above now by only one boy, the unconcerned principal drew nearer to his destination.

Harry Kent's flashlight fell on the can and brush he had been looking for. It was a gooey horsehide glue that years had concentrated into unbelievable stickiness. Stealthily he pried the can from the shelf where it had sat untouched, and closed the door behind him.

Pranks are almost unheard of at Marsden Boys College. Respect for one's elders is almost as strongly inculcated there as proper grooming. It was thus completely unsuspectingly that the Headmaster proceeded in the direction of the dining hall. Noiselessly (and unnecessarily so, as the old man was nearly deaf), Kent crept up behind the blithe gentleman. Crepuscular shadows lurked beneath the star-crossed pair's feet. In a considered instant, Kent leapt forward and slathered the back of the old man's long morning coat, collar to tail, with the glistening brown glue. Pussywillow aments and hundreds of furious bristling insects, airborne a moment before, stuck in a flash to the viscous adhesive. Abruptly, a misstep of sorts befell the cackling Kent, and he tumbled headlong, landing squarely against the glutinous back of Headmaster Harper, sticking fast and knocking him to the ground. Lying ensnarled and disheveled in the dry grass, the two thrashed frenetically, raising an enraged whine from the horde of trapped insects but failing at mutual extrication. Suddenly, Anthony Fearnsley, who had witnessed the entire affair, appeared, casting a shadow across the two as he delivered a dry pronouncement in his plummy voice:


The Plot Against Verso

There I slouch, Delta Venezia poised to write, silver nib to creamy paper, leaning forward on the slick wooden seat inside a Starbucks satellite. How difficult it is, to find a simple café in this barbaric city, and how impossible to avoid eavesdropping upon the blaring conversations of hopeless scribbers! Resentfully, I lift my eyes to today's intrusions, a enormous man, with a trio of overlapping chins sliding from the bottom of his face, and a pencil-thin young woman, clothed, quite unnecessarily, from head to toe in vapid black. Each, facing the window of the café, turn slightly away from me, so I cannot describe to you their faces; unfortunately, they also could not notice my frosty glares. "Extraordinary," sighs the woman loudly, after a prolonged slurp of her expresso, "I still can't believe that we, like, found this diary, in the street, of this guy, like, Owen Verso, isn't it so, I don't know, neat?"

Owen Verso!

Not, surely, the very same Owen Verso that was my nemesis of twenty years, the philistine publishing magnate of Hyperion Books? The man, meanwhile, murmmurs in response to his companion,"yes, my dear, and what an amusing little journal it is, whoever this Verso fellow is; filled with funny tales of old-media industry hi-jinks: I think I shall use it as the satiric inspiration for my new hypernovel." Tingles arrest my body upon his words. Only one task lies in my path for a heaven-sent chance for revenge: the speedy purloining of this notebook (and is stealing an already stolen item thievery?...perhaps not, perhaps not). Scanning the room swiftly, I observe: an elderly gent in the corner perusing an upside-down tabloid; a colored girl, hip pressed provocatively against the curved counter while scrutinizing her tall-large-grande options (my loins stir irrelevantly); a slack-faced woman beside me, glazedly holding a heavy Danielle Steele paperback in one pale hand; and, of course, the two conversationalists, between their opposing bodies, across the checkered pattern of the table…the small bound notebook, clad in soft onyx leather. Chuckling, I can not help but smile into the wispy steam of my mocha latte, for the perfect opportunity rests before me, a plump roast on a silver platter. Reaching for my latte, I bring it slowly to my lips, breathing in slow and regular rhythm…and then casually toss the scalding liquid into the face of the hapless Steele fan. (Earnest readers of such drivel deserve no less.) Well, needless to say: chaos erupted. In the following confusion, among the screaming and stunned silence, I make my move: I grab the notebook, swerve to avoid grasping hands, and make a swift exit. Tucked securely under my arm, the prize fuels my escape, and my energy does not flag for nearly half a mile, at which I deem it appropriate to stop and rest. I speed through the volume without pause: all the salacious details I have long imagined are contained—in spades. Nebbishly, I rub my hands in glee: by skillful blackmail, I can at last force Verso to publish my magnum opus. That work unseen by so many: The Weary Edges of Endless Time.

Weakness, the sort invoked by the purest joy, now strikes me; I reach out to a wall of a nearby bookstore to help myself stand. Only then do I notice in the shop window, the very same title, on Ms. Steele's latest work, published by…Hyperion Books. The sight of this holds me for several minutes. "O," I think, at last, "there is only one action, however tainted by passion, that can compensate for this miserable crime." Hate fires me, as joy before had sapped my force: in the last entry of Verso's notebook, dated this very day, I note a dinner appointment at the illustrious bistro Clytemnestra. One surely is aware that the only path to Clytemnestra is through the mouth of a small alley, rather dark; after the purchase of a small snub-nosed pistol, I was ready.

Later that evening. Darkness has fallen. Down in the alley I wait, huddling in the shadows among the piles of paper bound by twine, shattered glass, heaps of stinking trash... One second flies by, then another, and another. Wearily, I reflect on the sadness every writer must endure to defend a vision, a dream. Now I hear footsteps approaching; my fingers tighten on the tiny gun. Trembling with rage, I see a full-bodied figure approaching: though too dim to see his face, by the swollen belly and distinctively thick neck, it could only be… Him.

"Edgar," he says, in that odious voice of his, deep and quiet and soft. "A delight to see you; is that a Remington you point toward me? A very solid choice. Unfortunately you have been outmaneuvered." Then I feel the blow from behind; everything blacks out for a moment; there is only darkness. "How many publishers does it take to screw in a lightbulb?", that old joke, passes through my mind. Opening my eyes, I note the three smiling figures looming above me: Owen Verso, Hyperion; the corpulent Frankie Gleason, Viking; the twiggy Glinda O'Larney, Scribner and Sons. "Rest in peace, Edgar," goes Verso's quiet rumble, and then a shot, then nothing: my dream is done.


Polish notation is a way of expressing mathematical formulae. Using brackets, it was a new way of giving order to linguistics. This was a real breakthrough for mathematics. Here it was eternally altered. It allowed complex formulae to be expressed in a way that resembled ordinary language. Mathematical "syntax" would take care of itself with the help of this new structured system. In the early days of computers, it was for some reason found useful to reverse the order in which the parts of the formulae were expressed of the original polish notation. Now this theory is used all over the world. After it was discovered that early calculators couldn't use "algebraic logic" a new process was invented. RPN or "reverse polish notation" became the workable equation. Only this system worked because the order, although reversed, was fixed.

Ursula Maslovski was not capable of distinguishing color. Not only did it leave her alone in a black and white world, it left her unable to comprehend the true beauty of light's visual cacophony of color. Deepening her rejection of images, she turned to books and numbers, where brilliance was seen through text, not light. Removed from her peers, Ursula created a world of her own. Outside she saw nothing of interest. Only in her cavernous room was she truly inspired by the thrills of her own activities.

Mother, father, and siblings did not exist. Angles, shapes, and numbers were of her only stimulating thoughts. New discoveries pushed her onward in her own personal obsession.

Dissolved into her studies, by age 16, mathematics and its contextual relationship with words was all she would do. Taught by no one, she learned to grasp high concepts ordinarily only discussed in universities. Eventually this was discovered by her worried parents and was thought problematic. "Learn to communicate" her mother would often curse to her in an old polish dialect. "Leave those books to the men." Her feelings were unchanged and her brain trembled with a greed for more. In the fall of her 17th year, she left home. Money she had saved was barely enough for a train ride to Krakow, where the university and the famous Professor Sharkovsky awaited her arrival. Together they started working to develop her main areas of interest. Operative over her studies, he became her main influence in all aspects of her life. Planning their schedules together, he took her along on lectures and she became a main contributor to his theories on the dynamical systems, the theory of stability and the theory of oscillations. Eventually they became close companions, although having claimed never to be lovers, they lived years together always working towards developing higher and higher concepts. Eluding the normal activities of a young woman, Ursula was comfortable. In this world, she felt most normal and secure. Now, and only now, did she really have the full capacity to become what was her fate to become. A mathematic prodigy. Continuing to work with Sharkovsky, she began work on the theory of functional and functional differential equations, and the study of difference equations and their application. On this she made her greatest contribution. Receiving several awards and recognition for rendering clear these concepts that had been developed early on by Jan Lukasiewicz, she gained great fame and continued her studies all throughout her life. Near the end, at age 79 as she received an honorary PhD from the National Academy of Sciences she was quoted as saying, "At first I did not know ... I did not realize this was possible for someone untrained in the ordinary passions of life, and especially as a result of my putting forward my own theories, which forced me to think through the possibilities of all other aspects of life."

Eventually people further developed her ideas which came to be known not by her name, but by her nation of birth. Reverse the order in which the parts of the formulae are expressed, reverse polish notation.