THE PANALPHABETIC WINDOW
by Howard Bergerson
Word Ways, 1980
Several yeara ago at a noisy nightclub a male friend invited me to join him at his table, and introduced me to a girl who was with him, named Xan Xu, with the information that she had made TV commercials for the Seven-Up company.
"My friend Howard knows things about words."
"Oh really! Like what?"
Within seconds I had irretrievably committed one of my great social blunders. "Oh, for example, I know something about THE UNCOLA which is--uh--interesting."
"What is it?"
"It's not really interesting," I said, sweating profusely and trying to beat a hasty retreat.
"Oh come on!" she insisted.
"Okay," I gulped. "If you number the letters of THE UNCOLA from one to nine, you can rearrange them to 9 6451 2783." I waited miserably while the two of them counted on their fingers and marked on a napkin with a pen. Xan Xu figured it out ahead of him and crumpled the napkin, leaving my friend--who will remain anonymous--mystified.
"What are you going to do with this item?' she asked.
"I thought I'd send it to some girlie book."
"Oh." She stared at me and her eyes smouldered.
"Yeah. You kow, like Playboy..." I squirmed and mopped my brow. Then a strange thing happened. Xan Xu, I realized, was most justifiably unfriendly--but I hardly noticed the meanings of her words as she spoke, though I listened aghast:
"Well, about porn, I can say definitely that although I loathe junk like that myself, I don't propose to question other people's right to it, because, in my view, if sexy magazines and X-rated movies are what they want instead of the real thing, more power to them!" And with that she betook herself and him from my presence, out to the dance floor.
"My God!" I shouted inwardly as I walked home through a midnight thunderstorm, "the panalphabetic window! The narrowest panalphabetic window freely occurring in nature that I have ever seen or ever hope to see! The probability of such an event must be infinitesimal!"
Slowly I walked home, mulling over the incredible logological properties of Xan Xu's parting shot. To believe in its existence would beggar the faith of a fundamentalist preacher!
At home I began searching out some of my old notes on the panalphabetic window. There is no window in "The Raven" or "Intimations of Immortality"; in these, W is the last letter that occurs in order. "The Deacon's Masterpiece" gets through the Y, but no further. Ditto "Il Penseroso." "L'Allegro," however, has a window,and so does "Paul Revere's Ride." Gray's "Elegy" has the narrowest window I found, one of 88 lines, beginning with the words shall burn in the 21st line. In general, even the tightest naturally-occurring panalphabetic windows I had found were quite broadly sprawling, and I had certainly never turned up anything to compare to that minuscule slot in Xan Xu's flabbergasting announcement.
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