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A SPRINKLING OF CLUES LEADS COLUMNIST TO THE SECRET OF THE ELUSIVE `GROOK'

If you don't already know, hang with me and by the end of this column I'll tell you what a "Grook" is.

For now, however, the story begins like a medieval murder mystery.It was 2 a.m.. I was lying in bed reading a book by a New England monk named David Steindl-Rast. Every few pages he'd take a break, triple-space, and stick in a funny little rhyme. The rhymes read like English haiku poetry. Odd, the way Ogden Nash is odd, yet profound - like the book of Proverbs.

And they were scattered randomly around like droppings from the Bird of Paradise.

Each rhyme was followed by a name: Piet Hein.

A few days go by.

Now I'm on Cannery Row in Monterey, Calif., doing stories on John Steinbeck. Several journalists are interviewing a woman who runs a small Steinbeck museum.

"We've had several famous people here," she says. "We had the immortal Danish poet Piet Hein come by."

"Piet Hein?" I say, "you're kidding."

A reporter nudges me. "Right, pal," he whispers, "like you know Piet Hein from Henny Penny."

I decided then it was time to get to the bottom of things.

No book stores in Salt Lake City carried Hein's books. No writers I spoke with could place his name. Finally I went by the Salt Lake City library. It took me a minute to stumble through all the computer commands, but I found one listing for Piet Hein.

PIET HEIN, it said: GROOKS 1, GROOKS 2, GROOKS 3 - 839.81 H468gr. IN.

With some help from a Dewey Decimal expert, I soon had my hands on a bunch of Grooks. On the back cover of "Grooks 1" was a note:

A grook is a short, aphoristic poem, accompanied by an appropriate drawing revealing in a minimum of words and with a minimum of lines some basic truth about the human condition.

Grooks were created originally during the Nazi occupation of Denmark. They began life as a sort of underground language just out of reach of the understanding of the Germans. They have since become one of the most widely read forms of composition in the Scandinavian - and English - languages.

So now you know.

And the master of the Grook was a Danish scientist named Piet Hein - a man who wrote essays, poems, did sculpture and designed two board games for Parker Brothers: SOMA and Super-Egg. Hein has passed on, but his Grooks live on. Not long ago they prompted the normally sober literary critic Louis Untermeyer to exclaim: "There is nothing like a Dane."

I've included an example of Grooks here.

And the funny thing about Hein's Grooks, I've found, is there's one for everybody.

This one seemed to be aimed right at me:

Long-winded writers I abhor,

and glib, prolific chatters;

give me the ones who tear and gnaw

their hair and pens to tatters:

who find their writing such a chore

they only write what matters.