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Enjoy a biweekly test of verbal tomfoolery. WWW fame is at stake! Confused? Read all about Word Games in this brief introduction. Brought to you by Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon, the creators of The Atlantic Puzzler.

Back To School S-A

This contest is now closed. But enjoy!

(Click here to go directly to the winning entries.)

Okay, folks, the summer's over and we've all gone back to business as unusual.

For some of us, it's time to start writing school essays, with the theme typically having to do with our summer's adventures. We won't restrict you to that topic--but we do want you to write us a mini-essay of 50 words or fewer...

... in which *every word contains both an S and an A*!


Sam Spade's assigment was arduous: arrest several nefarious miscreants. Spade cautiously ascended tavern's shadowed stairs, saw criminals sharing narcotics. Fearless shamus's sidearm spat. Villains scattered, screaming. Spade arrested assorted scumballs.

As Spade always says: "Malfeasance scarcely pays."

Now, that may not have been immortal prose--but we found it pleasantly challenging to have to maneuver our way through the S-and-A landscape.

So if you want to play along, e-mail your 50-word S-A to CoxRathvon. You may send more than one entry, but for our convenience pack your entries into one piece of e-mail whenever possible (and please don't use attached files). We'll award 5 free AOL hours and a free book from the Atlantic Monthly's online store to the senders of our three favorite mini-essays. Making us fall down laughing is always a good strategy.

We will continue accepting entries to Back To School S-A through Friday, September 20. Winners and results will be announced on Friday, September 27.

Journalists, dramatists, historians, comedians, assorted authors--start S-Aing!

--EC and HR

P.S. If you like cryptic crosswords, visit our "Puzzles and Word Games" folder on the Atlantic's America Online message board (keyword ATLANTIC) and join the handful of rather crazed clue-writers who are already at play there! Post clues of your own and see if the gang can solve 'em!

S-A Results

(All names without @ symbols are AOL screen names.)

"S-A assignment creates ambiguities, necessitates abbreviations, also generates awkwardness. Arduous labors spawn sparse accomplishment."

So wrote contestant woontner@comteck.com, remarking on the contraints imposed by our S-A contest. And Hunny3 added:

"Participants discard essential psychological sanity."

But happily, the response to this challenge was anything but scanty. In fact, essayists were so prolific that in the interests of confining this report to a single AOL document, we have limited the number of entries to our favorite one or two per person. Hunny3 may have been right about the lunacy our assignment inspired, but most of the compositions did make reasonable sense despite the syntactical snags. (Keeping one's tenses consistent seemed to be the chief obstacle, but functioning without "and," "of," and "for" also made the going rough.)

In choosing our top favorites, we looked for writers who most smoothly rafted through those white waters of syntax--and who managed to deliver a surprise or a smile at the end of the ride. We hereby salute SSAPhD, ASBEntropy, and Ottomic for a combination of style and wit! Congratulations, winners--and thanks, everyone, for a senS-Ational turnout!

***The Winners***

Sondra Armer's essay appears easy. Initials SA start as always. Today's task: scaling mansion stairs. Arthritis aggravates escalation. Obstacles: miscellaneous cats. "Scat," says Sondra (hates nicknames). Angoras, Birmans, Himalayans, Persians scramble. Accessibility assured, Sondra (hates "Sandy" especially) saunters upwards. Longhairs reassemble. "Scat," essayist reasserts. Valueless. Grimalkins satisfactory companions? Assuredly.


*Scandinavian Archeologist Vanishes*

Archeologist Anders Halverson ascended Ararat's sandstone. Researching Noah's Ark's fables was exhausting. "Today's excavations shall cause astonishment!" Anders said, brandishing desiccated artifacts. (Usually, naysayers' laughs shadowed Halverson.) Unforeseeably, shale unstabilized Halverson's Dunhams. Landslide! Anders scrambled as death's spectral images flashed. Sadly, impassable chasms encased Noah's Ark's last remains--also Halverson's.


Santa Claus sang Christmas carols as thousands passed aimlessly amidst tables displaying latest amusements--seasonal decorations, plastic stars, trashy baubles, fantasy games. Vast masses traipsed aisles exhausted, purchasing armfuls. "Last pre-Christmas sale!" screamed placards. Alas! August wasn't past. Aspirin awaits.


***And Other Top Favorites***

Sam, Alison's antagonist, harassed Alison constantly. Sunday, Sam teased Alison. Tuesday, Sam scared Alison. Wednesday, Sam shattered Alison's glasses. Thursday, Alison's sandcastle was smashed. Saturday, Alison was assertive. Alison accused Sam. Sam's master, James, addressed Alison's uneasiness. Afterwards, Sam was leash restrained. Alison praised James; also James's spaniel, Sam.


*Amorous Antics*

Personae: Ishmael, mystical shaman

Agnes, distraught damsel

Oscar, bashful swain

Scenario Summary:

Ishmael markets aphrodisiacs. Agnes purchases sample capsule. Agnes adores Oscar, stealthily administers purchased stimulant. Oscar reacts passionately, clasps Agnes enthusiastically. Alas, Paradise vanishes hastily; anguish replaces ecstasy. Amorous escapade unleashes astounding superabundance. Agnes has quadruplets!


"Cease, Scallywag!" Sally screamed as lads dashed hastily, snagging Sally's snakeskin Harrod's satchel. "Constable! Escaping snakeskin satchel snatchers!" Dashing as Olympians dash, James arrested said scallywags. Instants passed, as James safely reinstated Sally's satchel.

As curtains started sealing, Constable James egotistically smacked Sally's backside. Playhouse patrons arose, praising stars.


Samsa, asocial, sallow-aspected Slovak insomniac, ascended stairs, straightened ascot, sat abashed, casting sideways glances towards especially miserable repast: salty sardines, ashy tasting sausages, oversteamed spinach, sauteed asparagus patties, sandy salad. "Alas!" says Samsa, "Basic Kafkaesque saga."


Masked bandits trashed Macdonald's yesterday. Authorities accused teenagers; squad cars chased several skinheads discarding greasy wrappers as spectators gasped. Maneuvers, roadblocks snared villains. Easy-going magistrate slapped social outcasts' hands; said parents compensate restaurant, swallow thousand hamburgers as fast as franchise makes megabucks.


Shazaam! Shaquille O'Neal's flashy basketballs crash glass backboards. Fans gasp. Teammates toast classy season stats. Shaq talks trash as soda sales soar, boasts increase, starts Lakers salary wars. Cast as star, Shaq saw measly parts... was fiasco.

Morals: Sad acts always erase past ways, past ways always erase sad acts. (GARROBMIL)

HEADLINES: Iraq's Saddam asks arms sale, seals deals, swaps fast easy cash wads, bans vast sea wars, also passes laws as mass scam, bars soda, hams, oats, slaw, also peas. Pays hash, SAM bases soar. Rash SWAT teams swarm sandy spa, snare, stab Shah, sack same. Plans MIA's Xmas swap.


*Coast Guard's Search Locates Masticated Salesman*

Spinnakers raised, several barbarous knaves sail towards Harry's semiannual island bash. Last year's salute towards spanking was sensational. Absolut-blasted, hashish-wasted satyrs visualize insatiable banshees, scanty sarongs. Singapore Slammers chase cares. Easing towards disaster, Fasbinder (distant relations) splashes overboards. Ignoramus! Dashing afterwards, distraught Anders screams "Shark!" Sang-froid abounds.


Last Saturday, Isaac Asimov saw undesignated star, almost obfuscated, alongside Mars. "Astounding!" stargazer gasped. Hastily, Asimov transmitted message, addressing Palomar's Observatory. Astronomers answered, disavowing awareness. Isaac consummated conversation, searched appellations, discarding unsuitable alternatives. "'Asimov's Asteroid' appears satisfactory," Isaac said. Disastrously, star disappeared Sunday. Observation? Haste makes waste.

(BabsG XADA)

Scholastic alumnus gatherings: spectacular bash! Lapsed associations restarted afresh. Softball games. Flashes. Thunderblasters. False alarms cause evacuations. Thanks as calmness transcends class banquets. Dances as darkness spreads. Sunday breakfast. Last conversations. Departures.


*Presidential Assessments*

Washington, Adams, Adams, Madison, Jackson, Hayes, Harrison, Harrison pass essay exams. Also-rans ask Congressional aides' assistance passing legislation admonishing assignment taskmasters. Translation: politicians always raise taxes.


Bastille Day's celebrations almost always satisfied Paris aficionados. Sadly, last year's galas aroused acrimonious admonitions. "Insanity," screamed Fast Jacques, slavering masterfully. "Parisian palates, gastronomically speaking, absorb tastes easily. Sanction elastic pants as napkins. Please." (Jacques was reasonably considerate). Alas, baseless charges unassailed, France's neatest festival was summarily scratched.


Saturn awakes as spacecraft lands. Androids disembark.

Saturn watches as salacious androids assess planet's females, shapely as sausages.

Saturn plans as randiness abounds. Spacefarers chase beauteous, scaly inhabitants.

Saturn acts as atmospheric disaster squashes distasteful aliens.


Periodicals customarily advertise false menopausal indications: bifocals, deafness, constipation, grayish hairs, sedentary activities (soap operas, solitaire)... False!

Transplanted Floridians (AARP's advocates) share stimulating conversation, vivacious companions, sharp calculations, snappy dances, aquatics, marathons, passion!

(Facts? ...Occasional flashes, naps, Aspercreme, bandaids.)

Constantly savoring celebrations!


Swallowing candies, pastry, mayonnaise, salty cashews, pistachio shortbread, custard, caused spreading backside, stomach, haunches. Nowadays, unenthusiastically masticating unsavory vegetables, pasta, unseasoned seafood, raisins, unsalted snacks. Also, painstakingly, adjusting calories, decreasing grease grams, increasing calisthenics, fasting, absorbing antioxidants, vitamins... unquestionably escaping disrepair!


*As Sap Rotates*

Tears splash across placemats. Sally states sadly, "Sam makes pancakes sans sugar. Claims disease escalates as monosaccharides increase. Flapjacks ALWAYS taste strange."

Marsha sympathetically answers: "Forswear despair! Nutrasweet acts as satisfactory stand-in!" Sally's ecstatic.

Sam arrives. Sally exclaims, "Sweetheart, breakfast's saved!" Embraces husband passionately. Aspartame saves situation.


Sally saved newspapers. As papers stacked, aisle space was cast aside. Sally's newspaper castle assumed astonishing scales, ascending astronomically across frames, against glass. Alas, last Sunday's newspaper was Sally's last. Sally was squashed!


Yesterday, Las Vegas newspaper accounts said Sands casino managers raised cash stakes as Charles Anderson, shady deals master, escaped. Speaking fast, as always, administrative assistant Sandy James said, "Several players' bankrolls decreased drastically as separate shakedowns saw gamblers' dreams shattered. Desperate measures shall satisfy scare dollars, as assorted rates increase."


Assorted observations Saturday:

Bartenders sweat as anonymous auditors search cash drawers (various reasons); as usual, bar's standards satisfactory. Small waitress sails past saying, "Sodas, cocktails, cigarettes, cigars?" Patrons' cocktails (Manhattans, margaritas, daiquiris, martinis) almost always mask sad attitudes. Scattered conversations across tables ceased as Nashville stars sang several bluegrass ballads.


Sebastian Shaw capsized last Thursday amidst crashing waves. "Please assist!" screamed Shaw, collapsing. Cautiously, Shaw ascended several masts systematically. Several sailors pass as ambidextrous seamen. Whales blasted aqueous streams, awestruck catfish scattered, amused manatees assured Shaw. Steadfast, Sebastian escaped adversity. Shaw was saved!

As was always loquaciously said, "Cast aside absurd deliberations. Stand stately; assume trash happens!"

(Stuck NJ)

Patsy Anderson makes sassy remarks towards smashed patrons, masking nasty sarcasm as marvelously tasteless satire. Artistically aesthetic, Patsy has assumed said stance because aggressiveness allows audiences hilarious roars against antagonistic sauced parties. (Also Patsy appears masterfully assertive.)


*Saturday, last August*

Searched Sahara sans sandals. Wasn't smart. Screamed shamelessly. Saw oasis... shade! Scrambled towards salvation as several small armadillos scampered alongside. Sadly, oasis was delusional manifestation. Saved Sunday instead, as smarmy salad salesman astride stallion makes mistake. (Fantasized armadillos as hardshell vegetables!)


*Coastal Snapshot*

Sand spatters as plastic spatulas spread grains skyward. Adults seaside, essaying babyish behaviors--shameful, ageist attitudes disappear! Days pass as talents waste, beaches sapping stamina. Astrology has answers: planets' phases, seasonal changes cause idiosyncrasies.


*Sara's Sagas*

Sara's spacious sedan passed Maine's crustacean traps, Pennsylvania Station, Florida's swamp, Louisiana's bayous, Arkansas' Ozarks, Dakotas' nasty Lands, Utah's salty sea. Sara purchased Virginia's hams, Georgia's peaches, Alabama's banjos, Idaho's potatoes, Washington's salmon, California's sun-glassed raisins. Nevada's almost armless bandits snatched Sara's last dollars.


Sara, scanning shoal charts, leads whales towards sea sailing across San Francisco Bay's waters. Sara crashes against Alcatraz's walls. Singularly situated sycamore branches sway, grasping Sara, casting Sara ashore. Sara watches swarming, famished ants traverse trails towards tasty tarts. Aphids shearing leaves disappear as Sara nears. Aviso astern! Sara's saved!


*Socratic Scenario*

As Athens lazes lackadaisically amidst salutary sunbeams, Samantha salubriously massages Socrates' ears. Marvelously stimulated, Socrates languorously savors Samantha's pleasantly teasing hands.

Samantha adds various scintillating innovations--magnifies massage. Satiated, Socrates breathes abysmally, squeals sappily, retracts claws smartly, wreathes tail spirally--falls fast asleep.



Sailor falls.

Shark approaches.





Satan anticipates pleasure as Sadie panics fearsomely. Satan salivates, amassing sardonic plans.

Years past, Sadie's spiritual persona was swapped, assuring Sadie almost everlasting happiness. "Almost" was Satan's snag. Satan's contracts always cease. Sadie's happiness culminates disgracefully. Shameful understanding reaches consummation as solar flares languish.

Sadie's shade shall share Satan's sacrilegious sanctuary sempiternally!


Sally, assuredly scholastic, asked Amos, "Wasn't Ashley's essay sensational?" Amos answered, "Ashley, smashley. Essentially, Ashley's essay was asinine." Ashley, stealthy as always, was sharing apples. Ashley earns A's sharing MacIntosh apples!! Sally learns Ashley's scam. "Ashley's essay wasn't sensational, Ashley's essay was purchased," says Sally.


*Spatial Dislocations Cause Anomalous Temporalities*

Latest forays amidst transdimensional subareas display similar habitats, populations, also bureaucracies. Indications arise asserting said areas same as nowadays, save contrasted eras: yesterday, perhaps yesteryear. Emissary disregards canons, has scandalous liaison amongst forebears. Same personage procreates; analysis attests selfsame as personal grandsire. Ancestor angst!


*Aspiring Campers*

Varmints scampered. Rains cascaded. Wasps swarmed. Marshes stank. Bears accosted larders, savaged canvas. Starving campers tasted larvas, leaves, grasses--scavenged trash cans--nasty, nauseous. Leaders swear: last escapade. Parents' happiness (lads, lasses absent) dashed. Participants: Hurrahs, Huzzahs, "Again"s.


Unsavory animals, asses: always stalling, sabotaging operations; savagely mistreating oats, straw, farmers, stables; insanely stentorian, braywise; unsanitary habits, unpleasant personalities, scandalously base motivations. Massive, sapheaded obstinacy characterizes said beasts. Summation: "asinine," understandably, means scathing, disparaging comparison, scant praise.


*Lambs' Sweaty Season Diaries*

Husband's: lease; taxes; adolescents' smashed cars; state constabulary; magistrate's penalties; ascending insurance rates; seaside sabbatical; escalating charges; decreasing cash.

Maranatha's: scampering, scratching, amusing cats; small, sedate cats; unreasonable cats; cats, cats cats!

Jonathan's: females!

Adam's: lassies!

Sarah's: naps; plastic diapers; Sarah saw sunbeams.

Mama's: sanity ceases.


Patsy saw Nash as Nash stared starstruck. Shapely Susan Sarandon passed Nash's address Saturday. As Susan passed, Patsy clasped Nash's hands ecstatically; raised hands saluted Susan. Nash's salacious stare embarrassed Patsy. Saying "Shame!", Patsy slapped Nash smartly. As Nash escapes safely, Patsy waves.


CoxRathvon's latest

SA essay

strained brains.

Sample teases--

passion flares:

pleasure ceases;

search appeases.

Thesaurus passed,

pages scanned,

calls ask answers,

ideas shared.

Plans trashed--

roast unbasted,

squash untasted--

Sunday wasted!


As Sara sang unassumedly, Sasha stared ashenfaced. Sandra's daughters stayed as disparate as always, madness straining sallow faces. "Shame, shame!" Sasha screamed. Forsaking errands, Sandra sat as Sasha started ascending towards sanity. Satiated, Sasha ceased screaming. Instead, collapsing tearlessly, Sasha scanned several magazines capriciously. "Sad, sad!" escaped Sasha's strained jaws. Visionary Sara waggishly said, "Sasha's restoration arrives steady as always."


Melissa makes acrimonious allegations against several island inhabitants. Nasty applications sustain various recriminations. Sensations escalate. Sentimental residents scream resistantly, "Assassination"! Authorities scan evaluations. Motivations regardless, sensational scenario scintillates audiences. Melissa recants. Pleads unconstitutional exactness was outrageous. Asks expatriate's status.


*Strange Mansion Case*

"Allergies aside, Harrison Slattery hates cats," asserted Slattery's groundsman, "-- avoids cats assiduously." Investigator Parsons scratched hairless scalp, astounded. Slattery's mansion was cats' paradise--Siamese, angoras, tabbies.

"Dispatch says Slattery's slabmeat! Asthma!" stated Sergeant Yablonski.

Harrison's paramour's false tears streamed. Sandra, scratching several basking furrballs, squeaked, "Catastrophic."



Nature's challenges strain contestants. Malamutes' tails stream astern as racers, gazes glassy, traverse trackless snowpack. Dreamless naps cause hallucinations. Bears scare teams. Blizzards cause deaths. As last laps pass, seasoned professionals outdistance straggling amateurs. Enthusiastic applause arises as tenacious teams, exhausted, trainers surpass expectations. Alaska's Iditarod's fantastic!


As Amherst's freshman class assembled, standing aside various deans, teachers designated scholastic assignments:


Illiterates--Shakespeare's plays;

Journalism majors--sewage analysis;

Basketball candidates--campus slam-dunk games.


Sally Master's special Spanish soda crackers taste spectacular. Saturdays, Sally always watches as smart Hispanic assistants shape singular squares, assembled as substantial ecstasies. Sundays Sally says, "Sam, amass last batches! Special sea-salt applications please!"


Cigars asmoke, sailors assault screaming maidens.

"Cease instantly," says Sergeant Sam. "Tars shan't assail lassies!"

Smart roustabout sacks several seamen, sacrificing boatswains.

"Congratulations," says Sam. "Senoritas saved singlehandedly!"


Sensational safari was somewhat scary also.

Saw elephants, cats, giraffes,

As savage beasts enmass.

Natives stared as strangers shared

Nature's awesome wares.

Sensational safari... satisfied.


Sally Sanders watches as tears wash several sad faces. Sally teaches kindergarteners. Sally passes satisfying sugary snacks. Sally's survival tactics erase sadness. Happiness reappears! Sally starts class.


Shawn prepares outstanding vacations. Australia was last year's destination. "Sheilas" (alias females) sang Spanish serenades. Shallow sea treasures strangely surfaced. Eagles soared, fast across space. Shark scares, snail meals, animals' stampeding also encompassed Shawn's Aussie adventures.


As classes start, academics startle Sara. Shakespeare's classic dramas please historians' dreams. Mathematics frustrate as Sara ascends ladders, accomplishing patterns. Languages assist as extras. Arts activates Sara's special talents as classy lassy catalogs Strauss waltzes. As always, socials start campus activities.


Sally sat several years wasting starts. Sameness prevails. Changes passed unaspired, unassessed, crassly discharged as Sally stared savagely savoring several sandwich advertisements displaying classically reshaped samples causing small, sad tears passing Sally's eyelashes.

Sally arose raising revelations, resonating raptures, stating statistics as unseated Sally stands.


Goofysgal was aspiring seasonal satisfaction sans scholastic tasks (PTA's, cupcakes, fundraisers). Instead was harassed as several dwarfish relatives said "Please?...beaches, malls, amusement parks, cinemas, Please?" Disappointed was Goofysgal. Goofysgal anxiously awaits Autumn's peacefulness.


*Drama's Awesome*

Actors stand because applause was awesome. Parents flashes flashed. Parents/relatives applause.

Campers/actors swap addresses as parents assemble campers/actors bags.

Campers asleep, parents asleep, relatives asleep. Camp's summated.


Sally assumed saving cash always takes substantial sacrifice. Auspicious advertisement proclaims instantaneous asset increase. Said lass hears declarations... autonomous dreams.

Accountants advise purchasing stable annuities withstands disastrous terminations. Disregarding Dave's advisory remarks, Sally deviates against reasonable persuasion. NUMISMATIC DISASTER!

Message: squandering awesome amounts thwarts amassing treasure.


Stan sweats as waves sway sea sand across sandy beaches. Stacking sand safely Stan's pajamas assume aspiring ascension. Sea sand waters splash washing aside castles. Stan stands aside forsaken creations, secretly starving steaming submarine sandwiches. Stan walks past sea-scalloped sandlots as season changes. (Vejo829706)

Sandra Smathers assumed sarcasm was always Sam's sad sack. Sam always says: "Sandra Smathers's sadism always saves sailing, acrobatics, adventures, social astronauts, sarcastic astrophysicists, nasal hackey-sack players, teachers, sassy gals, sadists?"

Sandra saw someday Sam, as usual, sailing Stan Stanner's sailship. Sad, Sandy assumed. Sam'll stay stationary, stagnant, as always.


Alise has slammed Hans's pasty, tasty sandwiches against massive walls asking Franz's brassy wasp slave's (slatternly disaster) pardons. Fast! Alise's sabotages satisfy.


Copyright © 1996 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.