Friday March 10, 2017

You're not imagining it — Waldo has gotten smaller

Waldo — the illustrated version, not this guy — has gotten 80 per cent smaller than when he first appeared in print in 1987.

Waldo — the illustrated version, not this guy — has gotten 80 per cent smaller than when he first appeared in print in 1987. ( Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

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Ben Blatt has found Waldo.

In fact, the Slate data journalist has found every Waldo in every Where's Waldo? book published since 1987, and mapped his size and location.

"There's nothing to say that Waldo can't be half the page or a pinpoint on the page. And there's nothing to say that you have to be able to see his whole body and his striped shirt, or maybe just his eyes, his glasses and the tip of his red striped hat," Blatt told As It Happens host Carol Off.

"In the seventh book compared to the first book, he's actually 20 per cent the size that he is in the first book. So Martin Handford, the illustrator, either to trick the readers or as a treat for the readers, has made Waldo incredibly hard to find compared to the early days of 1987."

Waldo Size

Ben Blatt has tracked how Waldo has shrunk over time. (Ben Platt/Slate)

Blatt's first deep dive into the universe of the wordless children's books was for a 2013 Slate guide to finding Waldo, in which he learned that Handford tends to avoid both the centre and the edges of the page when placing the iconic traveller.

Four years later, he has revealed the newest results of his exhaustive Waldo studies, in which he has tracked not only the character's rapidly diminishing size over the course of seven books, but also Handford's tendency to hide him behind objects on increasingly chaotic pages.

"You can kind of see just by looking at the new hiding spots that a lot of times it really is just his head poking out behind something, which makes it incredibly hard to find without that marquee red striped shirt," he said.

"So in these later books, not only does Waldo get smaller, but kind of the scene gets bigger and all the characters within it get smaller as a result."

Waldo Comparison

On the left is an image from Where’s Waldo? (1987), the first ever book in the series. The image on the right is from the most recent book, Where’s Waldo? The Incredible Paper Chase (2009). (Ben Blatt/Slate)

Blatt returned to the beloved children's series after publishing his own book Nabokov's Favorite Word Is Mauve, which explores word patterns in famous authors' novels. 

"That was about searching for real but kind of hidden patterns in the text using objective analysis, and Waldo was kind of a welcome break from that, because the Where's Waldo? books are kind of the opposite, where there's absolutely no words in them," he said.

Still, he said, they are fascinating in their own way.

"There actually is kind of a lot that you can learn about what Martin Handford was thinking as he was illustrating these books," he said. 

Handford declined to comment for either of Blatt's investigations.

"I think maybe it's a bit of a secret sauce of how he prefers to keep Waldo hidden," Blatt said.