Puzzling through Lewis Carroll’s Polymathic Genius

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 04/22/13


Wonderland Award winners with Dean Catherine Quinlan and judges. Photo by Anne-Marie Gregg 

USC graduate student Andrew Woodham took first prize in the ninth-annual USC Libraries Wonderland Award competition for “A Reflection on Lewis Carroll.” Judges chose the 3-foot by 4-foot 64-word crossword puzzle from a field of 42 imaginative submissions by students from USC and other participating institutions.

Woodham, a Ph.D. candidate at the Keck School of Medicine at USC, accepted the award at a ceremony in Doheny Memorial Library on Friday, April 5. His win marks the first time in Wonderland history that one student has earned the top prize in two consecutive years.

Woodham’s award-winning entry in last year’s competition, “Queen Victoria of Hearts,” celebrated one facet of Lewis Carroll’s polymathic personality: his mathematical genius. His entry this year celebrates another: Carroll’s linguistic playfulness. Far exceeding the trickery of a typical newspaper crossword, Woodson’s puzzle challenges the player with puns and archaic English words. The solution to “wrongly understood the Queen,” for example, is “MISRED,” and Woodham used the Middle English “STED” in place of our modern spelling, “stead.” He also incorporates a doublet, a word game invented by Carroll.

After devising the puzzle, Woodham created a four-foot-tall model that, as a concession to the game’s level of difficulty, offers its players hints. Each white square in the crossword’s grid features a hinged door that when opened reveals the correct letter.

Based on the strength of the submissions, judges awarded a total of five prizes—three more than planned. The other winners were Michael Chasin, a USC undergraduate student who won second prize for his short story “An Inquiry Into the Madness of Adelaide Rook”; Eileen Tai, a USC undergraduate student who won third prize for her artwork “Wonder Bucks”; Styles Akira, a doctoral student at the USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism who won the Jabberwocky Prize for his sculpture “The Duchess of Wonderland”; and Lindsey Jones, a master of liberal studies student at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, who won the Dormouse Prize for her game “Alice Chess.”

In welcoming the crowd to the ceremony, Dean Catherine Quinlan of the USC Libraries recognized the inspirational support of the annual competition’s founder, Linda Cassady.

“This entire competition embodies the playful spirit and vision of Linda Cassady,” Quinlan said. “Since founding this event in 2005, Linda has been the guiding force that makes this award possible, so very inspiring to our community, and so delightfully different and surprising every year.”

Earlier in the day, the USC Libraries partnered with the USC Dornsife Department of English to host “The Curious World of Jim Kincaid,” a daylong conference celebrating the career of Jim Kincaid, USC’s Aerol Arnold Professor of English and a Wonderland Award judge since the competition’s inception. Scholars from universities across the country assembled in Doheny Library to toast—and roast—Kincaid, who retires this semester after 26 years at USC.

Several distinguished judges joined Kincaid in assessing the submissions: Wonderland Award founder Linda Cassady; Francis Bonahon, professor of mathematics and chair of USC Dornsife’s mathematics department; Institute for Figuring co-director Margaret Wertheim, who recently completed her term as the inaugural USC Libraries Discovery Fellow; and Angelica Carpenter, an author and former curator of the Arne Nixon Center for the Study of Children’s Literature at California State University, Fresno.

The Wonderland Award is an annual multidisciplinary competition showcasing the creative and interpretive talents of students from USC and other Southern California institutions as they transform the life and writing of Lewis Carroll into new creative and scholarly works. All student submissions become a permanent part of the G. Edward Cassady, M.D., and Margaret Elizabeth Cassady, R.N., Lewis Carroll collection, which George Cassady donated to the USC Libraries in 2000 and from which students draw inspiration and raw material for their Wonderland entries.

The libraries already have begun planning for the 10th anniversary of the Wonderland Award in 2014. For more information about the award and the Cassady Lewis Carroll Collection, visit www.usc.edu/libraries/wonderland.

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