What do Cecil B. DeMille, Mortimer Adler, have in common with Brandon Jennings?

What do the following have in common?

To keep the game interesting, please do not post an explicit answer. Instead, give another example.

(And yes, Googling is allowed.)

Stafford Cripps
Courtney Love
Cecil B. DeMille
Sidney Hillman
Bruce Reed
Mortimer Adler
Clifford Alexander
Percy Weasley
Gordon Ramsay
Spencer Tracy
Neville Chamberlain
Howard Stern
Russell Crowe
Darcy Burner
Stuart Eizenstat
Lesley Rosenthal
Dudley Moore
Murray Rothbard
Clinton Rossiter
Brandon Jennings

Update I thought this might be too easy – with “Percy Weasley” as the giveaway – but it seems instead to be too hard.

Someone asked for a hint. The commonality can be stated in a single sentence, and will be obvious once perceived.

First hint: Syntactic, not semantic.

Second hint: Andy Sabl and James Wimberley have an unfair advantage.

Second update Answer below the fold.

“People whose given names are the names of English or Scotch noble families.” Dominic Murphy got it; I restricted my examples to families ennobled before the Revolution of 1688, but that wouldn’t have been obvious. Toby provides four more excellent examples. And yes, “Ashley Montagu” deserves extra credit.

It strikes me as remarkable that so many common English given names originate in aristocratic surnames; I have always found Jewish “Sidneys” and “Mortimers” and “Stuarts” faintly amusing.

Thanks for playing! Hope the game didn’t prove too annoying.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

107 thoughts on “Contest”

  1. Sorry, but I’ll wait for some other brave commenter, one who actually understands these instructions, to go forth before I attempt to play.

    1. JanieM: That is exactly who I meant. My shot in the dark, off the wall guess was “success at a young age”. Both of my choices not only had that but also died very young. Mark has apparently rejected that, however, and I have no other guess above the “two ears and one nose each” level.

  2. Ken D. — hmmm. “Success at a young age” wasn’t my guess as to the category.

    We’ll see!

  3. Here’s a stab at three more:

    Joyce Carole Oates
    Ryan Giggs
    Hilary Clinton

    Let me know if I am on the right track.

  4. I think these will work:

    Ronald Reagan
    James A. Garfield
    Henry Ford
    Norman Schwarzkopf
    Lewis Carroll
    Jimi Hendrix

  5. could we all have a hint in the comments section (with a spoiler alert in the comment in front of it, for those who don’t want a hint … and another before you reveal the secret?) I’d like to keep playing, but despair of success.

    Or better yet, put a new post “Hint for the puzzle in an earlier post” and place the hint in the comments?

    I know I’m asking for the world here

  6. I can’t think of a hint that doesn’t make it too easy. However, I will give you a meta-hint. There is already a hint.

  7. “Existence in the real world” is not even what they have in common; Percy Weasley is fictitious.

    Rather than a direct hint, can we have the names of a few people who would not make the list?

  8. On further review, JanieM, I think you had it. Harry Truman, LeBron James. Some mildly creating Googling does help. And my previous guesses were not 100 percent wrong.

  9. I suspect that the commonality I discovered is not the one that Mark intended, but it’s still there:

    John Grisham
    Christopher Dean
    Tony Blair
    Harper Lee
    Mary Landrieu

  10. Wow! This was much harder than I thought. I figured “Percy Weasley” was a giveaway.

    Hint: syntactic, not semantic.

  11. I’ve finally figured it out. SPOILER ALERT! READ NO FURTHER IF YOU WANT TO FIGURE IT OUT FOR YOURSELF! The answer is: nothing. They have absolutely nothing in common. Mark is just trying to drive us all insane.

    1. Good guess. But not correct. Their commonality can be stated in one brief sentence, and will be utterly obvious once perceived.

  12. Other examples would be Marshall Mathers ( aka Eminem), the Welsh comic actor Windsor Davies, and P.G. Wodehouse (first name Pelham).

    1. We have a winner! Though Windsor Davies doesn’t quite count, Dominic has clearly grasped the rule. Congratulations!

      1. That’s unfortunate. If Windsor Davies doesn’t count than both of my theories (one with “Paris Hilton” and the other with “Huntington Hartford” must be wrong, too.

  13. I noted that Percy Weasley did not exist, showing us that existence is not a criterion for entry. I still think it reasonable to ask for names that violate the inclusion rule. After all, when they teach syntax, they illustrate its principles with examples of word strings which violate syntactic rules. Well-formed sentences, back in the day, could run something like this: “Dick told Spiro to remind J. Edgar to bring the Vaseline.” Then “Dick told Spiro to to remind bring J. Edgar the Vaseline” violates syntactic rules.

    I think that these names are likely to make the list:

    Beauregard Q. Snerd
    Bethany Hamilton (sorry, dave schultz; I cannot see why she does not belong).

    But unless Mark provides us with examples which violate the rule, we are left without enough information to go on.

    “Ed Whitney” may violate the rule, but I am not sure.

    1. Fair request. Yes, “Ed Whitney” violates the rule, as does “Mark Kleiman.” Indeed, all the guesses above – save Dominic’s – violate the rule.

  14. I am not sure if the contest is over or not, nor am I sure just how Mark would phrase the winning algorithm. I solved it — I think — thusly. I selected “Brandon Jennings” and “Mortimer Adler” as two people on the list likely to have very little in common and jointly googled them. The first hit — after five or six referring back to this contest — is what I think is the answer.

    1. After reading your comment, I did the same Google search and if I got the same results as you, I think that was the wrong answer. Dudley Moore and Clinton Rossiter don’t fit the common element.

      Mark: Would Paris Hilton be a good answer?

  15. I haven’t figured it out, but:

    1) What do the following have in common?
    2) The commonality can be stated in a single sentence, and will be obvious once perceived.
    3) First hint: Syntactic, not semantic.

    suggest that there’s something about the names, not the people. 1) He doesn’t say “What do the following people have in common?”, 2) if it’s obvious, one wouldn’t have to know anything about, say, Stafford Cripps and Clinton Rossiter, neither of whom are household names, and 3) “syntactic, not semantic” says that it’s not the meaning of the names, but the way words (words suggested by the names) are used in language.

    Not an explicit answer (I don’t have one, anyway), but feel free to delete/ignore/mock as appropriate, Mark.

  16. I’m posting the following with Mark’s permission (because it’s apparently not the pattern he’s looking for, so I’m not spoiling anything).

    Each of the listed names contains an English noun (of three letters or more to exclude trivial one- or two-letter nouns). If you count plural forms (pence, rams), each name contains a noun that is four or more letters long.

    Mark’s list:

    Stafford Cripps — staff, ford
    Courtney Love — court, love
    Cecil B. DeMille — mill
    Sidney Hillman — hill
    Bruce Reed — reed
    Mortimer Adler — time, timer
    Clifford Alexander — cliff, ford
    Percy Weasley — sley (had to look that up, but it’s a noun)
    Gordon Ramsay — ram, rams
    Spencer Tracy — pen, pence
    Neville Chamberlain — evil (as a noun), chamberlain, chamber, amber
    Howard Stern — ward, stern
    Russell Crowe — sell (as a noun), crow
    Darcy Burner — arc, burn, burner
    Stuart Eizenstat — art, zen, stat
    Lesley Rosenthal — sley, rose
    Dudley Moore — dud, moor, ore
    Murray Rothbard — ray, bard
    Clinton Rossiter — lint, ton, site
    Brandon Jennings — brand, don

    My own examples:

    John Grisham — sham
    Christopher Dean — dean
    Tony Blair — lair
    Harper Lee — harp, harper
    Mary Landrieu — land

      1. Yeah, I thought at first it was they all have a name of Scots origin, but that doesn’t seem to be it. Also there seems to be something place- or thing-oriented about a lot of names on the list.

  17. These are all people on that NRA enemies list, right? Yes, I know Percy Weasley doesn’t exist. He was on there anyway just in case.

  18. Walker Percy
    McKenzie Phillips
    Kilgore Trout
    Bowie Kuhn
    Douglas Fairbanks
    Robertson Jeffries
    Lindsay Lohan
    McLean Stevenson
    Hunter Thompson

  19. Oops – I meant Robertson Jeffers. Or maybe I meant Robertson Davies. Doesn’t matter, they both fit the pattern.

    1. The basic thread in the recent guesses is clear. Some apparently guessed that early on; my response to this basic idea would be, “All right, but is that all? There are a whopping number of people, mostly men, who qualify.” However, Windsor Davies does not qualify, nor does the list of “Joyce Carole Oates, Ryan Giggs, Hilary Clinton.” Mark’s own examples all appear to be English in relevant part, many of a somewhat aristocratic turn, but if there is a more specific list from which they derive, to the exclusion of the above, it escapes me thus far.

      1. Mark’s own examples all appear to be English in relevant part, many of a somewhat aristocratic turn

        But if that were the case, it wouldn’t be the case that “the commonality can be stated in a single sentence, and will be obvious once perceived”. Also, Eminem can’t possibly fit the bill.

        1. I assume it was the Marshall Mathers part that fit the bill, although that doesn’t get me very far. Either the McKenzie/McLean theory is wrong, or there is another major refinement.

    2. My take was ‘left handed’, because the people on the list about whom I knew that fact, were. Oh well.

      1. I had three theories: (1) people with family names as their given names; (2) people with place names as their given names and (3) people with an equal number of pronounced syllables in their given and family names but I don’t think that’s it, either.

        I have absolutely no idea.

        1. (1) Is the answer. Specifically, those whose given names are the names of English or Scotch noble families from Stuart times or earlier.

          1. I think I can claim only half credit, at most. I never recognized the significance of the names (beyond the fact that the were people whose given names were recognizable as family names) and never understood the clue that made the solution obvious.

        1. Me. too. But J.K. Galbaith, in his memoir, strongly disagrees. The “Scotch” in “Scotch whiskey” is obviously and adjectival form.

          Here’s the note from

          In The Oxford Companion To The English Language, OUP 1992, there is an entry on “Scotch”, written by Professor A. J. Aitken, Honorary Professor, University of Edinburgh, formerly editor of “A Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue.”

          “SCOTCH: A late 16th century contraction of “Scottish”, first in Early Modern English then in Older Scots. It ousted “Scottish” as the prevailing form in England. In Scotland, the native form “Scots” predominated until in the 18c Anglicizing vogue “Scotch” became fashionable in both countries.

          In the early 19th c., however, some Scottish writers were expressing doubts about it as a supposed innovation and returning to the more traditional “Scottish” and “Scots”, while others, such as J. A. H. Murray, editor of the OED, continued to use it.

          By the early 20th c., disapproval of “Scotch” by educated Scots was so great that its use was regularly discountenanced by teachers, except for such entrenched phrases as Scotch broth, Scotch mist, Scotch terrier, Scotch tweed, Scotch whisky.

          In England and North America, “Scotch” has remained the dominant form into the late 20c, although awareness of middle-class Scottish distaste for it has been spreading. The OED Supplement, (1982) reported that in deference to Scottish sensibilities the English have been abandoning “Scotch” for “Scottish” and less frequently “Scots”, and prefer “the Scots” to “the Scotch” as the name of the people.
          Paradoxically, for working-class Scots the common form has long been “Scotch” (sometimes written “Scoatch”) and the native form Scots is sometimes regarded as an Anglicized affectation.”

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