Wednesday, January 4, 2017

2016 Holiday Challenge: Results for Challenge 4, Book Titles

The final challenge, and the most open-ended of the challenges this year, was Challenge 4:
Like You'd Understand, Anyway. That's the title of a 2007 book of short stories by Jim Shepard. It's an unusual title because its shortest word is four letters long. Can you think of any other published books (fiction or nonfiction) in which the shortest word in the title is at least four letters long? The more words in the title, the better.
I should say that when I published this puzzle, I didn't know of a better answer than Like You'd Understand, Anyway. But I was confident that my readers would do better, and they did! I'll list the best answers I received, but first let me settle some ambiguities that various readers asked me about via email.
  • What qualifies as "a book"? Higher-quality answers will appear in the Library of Congress. But at the very least, there has to be an ISBN assigned.  
  • In Fahrenheit 451, the numeral 451 counts as a single "word" of three "letters." Other non-letter characters like ampersands, asterisks, etc., are handled similarly.
  • Sometimes it's hard to decide what "the title" of a book is. For example, I have an edition of The Hobbit that shows the title on the cover as The Hobbit, but then the inside title page adds Or There and Back Again in smaller font underneath. In such cases, I decide what "the title" of a book is by relying on the Library of Congress. They use a markup scheme called MARC to log books in the collection. According to this scheme, "the title" consists of the contents of MARC data field 245, subfields (a) and (b). For the case of The Hobbitlooking at the MARC data tells us that the title is seven words long. For subtitled books that aren't in the Library of Congress, we'll include the subtitle because that's the pattern we tend to find in MARC.

Without further ado, here are the best titles I received for Challenge 4, listed alphabetically within word count. Some of these were submitted by more than one reader. My two favorites are in bold: these get the job done without using subtititles—and they're fiction, where we don't expect to see so many examples. 

Whose Science? Whose Knowledge? Thinking from Women's Lives, by Sandra Harding

Your Healthy Journey: Discovering Your Body's Full Potential, by Fred Bisci

California Dreaming: Reforming Mathematics Education, by Suzanne Wilson

Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, by Douglas Adams

Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer, by Ben Katchor

Last Stand: America's Virgin Lands, by Barbara Kingsolver

Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls, by David Sedaris [1/12/2017]

Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned, by Wells Tower

Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher, by Bruce Coville

Letter from Birmingham Jail (rare book illustrated by Faith Ringgold)

Miss Julia Takes Over, by Ann Ross

These Happy Golden Years, by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Willie Masters' Lonesome Wife, by William H. Gass

Finding these examples isn't easy! Some of the submissions I received arose from clever strategies, such as looking at 19th century books, and noticing that self-help books tend to have long titles with phrases like "Finding Your Inner."

Reader Ronda was the first person to send a published book title of at least four words with each word at least four letters long. And reader Beth K. won this year's drawing. Congratulations, both—a copy of Word Games 5 is on its way to you!

That wraps up the 2016 Holiday Challenge! Thanks for participating this year. My best wishes to everyone for a happy and healthy 2017.

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