Copyright © 2019 jsd

– Spellouts –
Messages with One Large Letter per Poster

1  Overview

The basic idea is to have a set of fairly large posters (22×28 inches), with one letter apiece. Given enough people, we can spell out messages, as shown in figure 1. This is called the spellout method. Some examples of typical messages can be found in reference 1.

Whereas the original Indivisible Guide emphasized sending messages to members of congress, we can use spellouts to send messages directly to voters. Politicians will get the message indirectly. We make sure of that by sending them photos.

Figure 1: Example Spellout

2  Instructions for Card-Holders

  1. Each poster has a capital letter on one side and a lower-case letter on the reverse. So make sure the correct side of your poster is facing the audience. Compare your poster to your neighbors.

    Also make sure your poster is not upside-down. Some letters (lHINOoSsZz) are almost symmetrical, but if you turn them upside-down it throws the baseline off. Again: Compare your poster to your neighbors.

  2. In the interior of each word, the posters should overlap by a couple of inches. This region of overlap is called a joint. A single hand can hold the joint between two letters. The rule is: Grab the joint. You can see this being done in figure 1 and even more clearly in figure 2. This is what makes it possible for each person to be responsible for two letters (except sometimes at the beginning or end of a word).
    Figure 2: Another Example
  3. Everybody should please hold their hands at the same height, at least on a word-by-word basis; otherwise the letters will be non-vertical, which is unnecessarily ugly.
  4. Minor point: If you have a wide letter (such as a “w” or any capital letter) next to a narrow letter such as an “i”, it looks better to arrange the joint so that the narrow letter is behind the wide one.
  5. Anybody who is not holding a sign should ask the sign-holders if anybody wants to be relieved. Holding signs is more work than you might have imagined, so it helps if people take turns.

3  Recommendations for the Master of Ceremonies

Overall, spellouts require more preparation, cleverness, and teamwork than it may appear. It helps to have a “Master of Ceremonies” (MC) or “Director” who is in charge of choreographing the spellouts and making sure there are no mistakes. It’s hard to do this while holding letters. Here is a list of things the MC should consider:

  1. Expect to switch messages several times during a rally. While people are holding one message, the MC can be composing the next message.
  2. Arrange to get pictures. The photographers need to be on the far side of the street, in order to get a good view of the scene.

    Each time you switch messages, make sure the photographers know, so that you get a complete set of photos. This is not entirely trivial, because there will be communication issues. Cell phones may be helful. A headset may be necessary to make the phone usable in noisy/windy outdoor conditions.

    Implore each and every photographer to send you the pictures. Hand out flyers and/or business cards with instructions on how to send pictures.

  3. If at all possible, arrange for a photographer and/or some other person on the far side of the street to help you compose the scene and check for mistakes. Again: There will be communication issues.
  4. Holding letters is more work than you might have guessed. People will need a break every so often. It helps to have extra people standing by. Every so often, ask if anyone needs to be relieved. Anybody who is relieved should be encouraged to go view the spellout from a modest distance. Rationale: When you are part of the spellout, you can’t really appreciate the overall effect.

    Similarly, if you have more than the minimum required number of people in the interior of a word, it means that some people will have one hand free. This allows them to wave at folks who pass by. It also allows them to switch hands, so they are much less likely to get tired. Furthermore, if they use both hands, they can free up a neighbor’s hand. They can take turns giving each other a free hand.

  5. Roughly speaking, each person can hold two letters. More precisely, a N-letter word requires at least (N+1)/2 people (rounded up, if necessary, to a whole number of people). Calculate this on a word-by-word basis, not a message-by-message basis. Mnemonic: You can think of the +1 in that formula as accounting for the space between words.

    For example:

    length     number
    of word     of people
    1     1
    2     2
    3     2
    4     3
    5     3
    6     4
    7     4
    8     5
    N     ⌈ (N+1)/2 ⌉
  6. It is good to have more than the minimum number holding each word. That way, some of them will have a free hand. This allows them to switch hands, so they don’t get tired so quickly. Also, it allows them to wave at passersby. Anyone who has a free hand should offer to grab one of their neighbor’s joints, so the neighbor can get a break.
  7. Therefore, when passing out letters, to a first approximation hand out two letters to each person. (At this point, they won’t quite know what to do with them.) If at the end of a word, the last person gets one letter, that’s fine. If the last person gets two letters, call up an extra person.

    Then, after the letters are passed out, go down the line from left to right, showing people how to grab a joint.

  8. Beseech people to leave adequate space between words. For some reason, people have a tendency to bunch together, even when they shouldn’t.
  9. Check for misspellings.
  10. Check for bOgUs cApitalIzation. Beware that people are slow to realize that the posters are two-sided. Except for initialisms (such as “ACA”) it is usually better to typeset words using Tasteful Initial Capitals, the way a newspaper would typeset a headline. Rationale: lower-case letters are easier to read. They were invented for this reason.
  11. Check for upside-down letters, because this throws the baseline off.
  12. Wind is an issue. A 5 mph wind is no problem; 10 mph is about the limit. Gusts are annoying but tolerable if they are not too frequent. You may need to have a supply of weights to put on the piles of unused letters, to keep them from flying away.
  13. The posters are not waterproof. Protect them from rain, irrigation sprinklers, et cetera.
  14. The letters that are not being used at the moment should be kept semi-sorted, in six piles, namely:
    A  –  abcde
    F  –  fghij
    K  –  klmno
    P  –  pqrst
    U  –  uvwxyz
    !  –  digits and symbols

    The rule is “A-F-K-P-U-bang” which refers to the earliest letter in each pile, as specified in the foregoing table. Within each pile, it is not necessary to keep the letters strictly sorted.

    Keeping the letters semi-sorted is a good compromise: When putting letters into piles, this is about six times easier than a full sort ... and when picking letters out of the piles, this is about six times more convenient than having them completely unsorted.

    Most of the sign-holders don’t need to know about semi-sorting, but if you can train a couple of helpers it makes the work go quite a bit quicker.

    If you see a letter in the wrong pile, move it as soon as you can. Otherwise you’ll never be able to find it when you need it.

4  Constructing the Font

The entire stack of posters is called the font. There is a certain amount of work that needs to be done once per font (not per rally or per message).

  1. I have a perl program that calculates how many letters of each kind are needed. This is calculated by considering a long list of possible messages. Since letters can be reused from message to message, only about 100 posters are needed to spell out almost any message you can think of, including some rather long and complex ones, as in figure 1.
  2. To construct the posters:

5  References

Photos of various spellouts:
Copyright © 2019 jsd