Clarissa Tan

Yale is a mysterious place. From whispers of society parties to screams from the Bass Naked Run, there always seems to be some campus tradition that’s equal parts confusing and intriguing. 

Hi! My name is Eliza, and I’m a sophomore in Pierson College studying comparative literature. I’m one of many Yale students with puzzling backgrounds. I’m trained as a butcher, and I love tofu. I’m Jewish, and my mom’s last name is Church. I’m American, and I went to an international school for 10 years. I quote Proust just as much as I quote Season 8 of Love Island. 

I know all too well that there’s a lot more to people, places and things than meets the eye. And that’s why I love Yale. You can never fully understand everything going on here, but you can try! And that’s what Enigma, this column, is all about — digging deeper into these pressing questions and providing much needed answers.

These columns usually begin with some kind of jaunty joke about life at Yale, but today, I’m leaving the lede a little bare. This is a serious matter! I’m going to take you behind the scenes of ENIGMA, and tell you the origin story of the column, the step-by-step writing process and the ideas that got scrapped.

So much brews underneath our university, unseen by the casual observer. As a student, you can only look beneath and beyond so many mysteries yourself — everyone has tasted the secrecy, whether at a wild club initiation or in a highly competitive seminar. I was inspired to pitch ENIGMA so I could make a wide array of hidden truths more clear, colorful, and accessible to any reader.

In this spirit, I whipped up a Google Slides presentation for my editors, complete with five potential stories to explore. The first three articles I wrote came directly from the slides: “Who the hell is on aux in Commons?” “Will the Beinecke really suffocate you?” and “Do ‘Woads Scholars’ actually exist?” 

Those two garnered lots of clicks and praise. This is because they fit into the initial ENIGMA formula perfectly. Here’s how I go about investigating:

Step 1: Come up with an idea and ask around (off the record) to see if people are interested in learning more. If people are enthusiastic about it and say some variation of “I’ve always wondered about that!” or “I would definitely read that article” then you’re on the right track.

Step 2: Search the internet and the YDN archives, gathering all public knowledge about this enigma. This will help you describe the concept and its context to an unfamiliar party. For instance, it would help a Yale professor or parent to know the layered etymology of the term “Woads Scholar” before diving deeper into their potential existence. Are there any questions you can’t answer online? Those are the ones you’ll be asking, and the gaps you’ll be filling later.

Step 3: Ask around, on the record this time. Talk to students and get the most casual quotes possible. Email experts if you need something factual, and then put your own humorous spin on what they say. If you’re looking into the history of a place, go there! Run straight to the source, and don’t look back.

Step 4: Accept that Step 3, the experience, will take up the bulk of your time and comprise most of the article. I’ve found that the answers to the questions I pose are usually straightforward and simple. The journey I take to find those answers — if I find any at all — is where the fun lies. 

Step 5: Reflect on what you’ve learned, and what it says about Yale as a place. What have you uncovered that you didn’t know before? How will you continue to interact with these findings? What wisdom do you have for the reader? Organize your thoughts, and wrap them all up into 1000 words to present to your editors. 

Okay, let’s take a breath. That was a lot! But I hope it gives you some insight into what goes on in these pieces.

Now, you may say, “Eliza! If you have a step-by-step manual, what’s stopping you from publishing ENIGMA biweekly like you planned?” First, let me say, I hear you. I see you. But what if I told you that the majority of my investigations proved unsolvable? 

Let’s flash back to winter break. I whipped up a color-coded spreadsheet chalk full of ideas. So many ideas, in fact, that there was an “Idea Overflow” tab of back-up options in case I needed a Plan B, all in the hopes of establishing a consistent, biweekly column. 

Yet, my presence in your inbox has lessened. What happened? Two things: one, some of my ideas fell flat, and two, I embarked on some overly ambitious investigations that are still in progress.

I’ve learned that a recipe for success must contain every ingredient. And certain ideas, unfortunately, didn’t fully rise in the oven. Here are two examples of those half-baked enigmas: 

  1. “Who the hell is a campus celebrity?” didn’t work because this title is subjective. Who you and your friend group consider famous — and/or infamous — really depends on what interests you, and most pertinently, where you live. The Franklin celebs exist in a totally different sphere than the Morse ones. The science hill baddies rarely interact with the HQ hotties.
  2. “Were famous Yalies really just like us?” would be nearly impossible to get quotes on. Sure, it’s interesting that Anderson Cooper was a coxswain on the lightweight crew team. It’s even more interesting that former president George W. Bush was the president of DKE. But I had difficulty getting alumni to go on the record, and of course, the famous Yalies didn’t respond.

And any investigation that I’m not bringing up to you right now? Either it’s not interesting enough to warrant mentioning, or it’s currently in progress. And top secret. Completely classified. 

Be on the lookout! I’m doing all I can to gather information about some of Yale’s most puzzling enigmas, just for you. It’s all for you, dear reader. Couldn’t you tell?

If you have any ideas for the next enigma I should investigate, shoot me an email at I’m always looking for more mysteries to explore.

Eliza Josephson writes personal essays for the WKND desk as a staff reporter, ranging from contemplative memoir to light hearted satire. Originally from New York City, she is a sophomore in Pierson majoring in Comparative Literature.