My Own Mr. Mxyztplk

To tell the truth, I was always a pretty casual Superman fan. I only bought the comic books on snowy days, when school was cancelled and my sister and I got permission from our mother to trudge three-quarters of a mile from our house, past our elementary school (where classes had been cancelled) to a small delicatessen known to us as Bob Butt’s, where we bought a pound of sliced liverwurst, six hard rolls, and a can of cream of celery soup.

We then went to the little newsstand/tobacco shop two doors over (there were only three stores in this little row) that we called Al’s. Here we perused all of the usual kids’ magazines, conveniently placed on the lowest shelf. I have no idea what sort of salacious magazines he had on his upper shelves; I never looked. I only ever bought Mad Magazine or Superman.

Mad Magazine cost a dime. I still remember “The Sound of Mucus.” It was this dyspeptic movie satire that finally broke me of the MadMag habit, sad to say.

That rascal Mr. Mxyztplk should be here

Mr. Mxyztplk

Mr. Mxyztplk wasn’t in every issue of Superman. He was some sort of evil guy from another dimension who could thwart Superman with practical jokes. What got me was his name. He could be banished only if you got him to say his own name backwards: Kltpzyxm.

But Mr. Mxyztplk is in my newspaper every day in the form of the Jumble puzzle (by David Hoyt and Jeff Knurek). You’ve seen it: four mixed-up words to unscramble, some letters circled. Take those circled letters and form them into another word to solve a riddle, usually some sort of ridiculous pun, usually not worth solving.

Pre-stroke, the Jumble puzzle wasn’t worth my time. (Sorry, Mr. Hoyt and Mr. Knurek.) I would glance at it, just glance at it, and the four jumbled words would leap into order. RREVI? RIVER, of course. DEEWG? WEDGE, easy. DRANTS? STRAND. COTREK? ROCKET.

Post-stroke, I found I had to avoid that part of the newspaper. Staring at those nonsense clumps of letters hurt my head.

Of course, I was also avoiding the New York Times Crossword Puzzle. And not just the Sunday puzzle, legendarily the hardest one. I was avoiding all of them, even the Monday puzzle, the easiest one.

Oh, I’d tried them all, and failed them all. I’d gotten a clue or two (“Fab Four leftie”) but nothing cross-worthiness. (Paul, of course.)

I was avoiding all games, word and otherwise: card games, board games, strategy games, computer games. Actually, I’ve always avoided card games. The brain rehab therapist tried to get me interested in some online brain game sites; I refused to try them. Even when CF’s mother or my mother had Jeopardy on TV I couldn’t watch it.

This was all stuff I used to gobble like potato chips. It was my junk food. Now I couldn’t go near the stuff. It was from another planet. No, wait. Not to push the metaphor, but … it was kryptonite.

But then last week something went … kltpzyxm.

Abruptly changing metaphors:

You know that look of surprise a baby gets when something happens—the wide open eyes, the rounded mouth? That completely innocent, babe-in-the-woods look?

Surprised baby goes here!


Yeah, that one.

Or maybe that was an analogy. Anyway.

By the time I clamped my mouth shut, the letters of the Jumble puzzle had settled back into their scrambled places, but I still knew what their unscrambled order was.

YOW! KA-BLAM! BAZOOKA JOE! Oops, wrong comic strip.

I took another peek at the Jumble and my brain did it again: another jumbled Jumble unjumbled. Two out of four jumbled Jumble words had unjumbled themselves so far!

This called for a pen with which to scribble on the newspaper, easier said than done, since there are four pen-hiding cats, one pen-eating dog, one pen-squirreling son, and one pen-hoarding partner in this household, not to mention one pen mis-placing me. Not to mention approximately two dozen unsharpened pencils, despite having approximately three pencil sharpeners, including a handy desktop electric sharpener, ready, waiting, and plugged in.

Nevertheless, given this landmark event, I persevered. At last I unearthed a slightly salty yet workable Pilot EasyTouch gel pen from a forgotten summer baseball take-along bag, and confidently wrote in WHARF where it said FRAWH and MOUTH where it said TUMOH.

That left me with GLEPED and NOYRED. Ignoring the obvious –ed endings (which these guys never would be so obvious about), I stumbled on PLEDGE pretty quickly, but YONDER took a few minutes. They claim the four jumbled words are ordinary words, but the only person I’ve ever heard say “yonder” is Romeo. Then again, I barely pronounce the “R” in WHARF myself so I guess we’re even.

Even though I haven’t bought a Superman comic book since those snow days in elementary school when I still ate liverwurst, I felt pretty Superman-ish having actually solved a Jumble puzzle some 17 months after a stroke. We take our small victories as they come along.

I don’t plan to leap any tall buildings in a single bound although I think my cane would give me a nice vault for a head start. The $996 arm sling might hold me back, though.


13 thoughts on “My Own Mr. Mxyztplk

  1. Thank you for reminding me of “Mr. Butt’s store” (that’s how we termed it in my house) and Al’s candy, etc. store. I too bought MAD magazines there, and the occasional comic book. Those memories are precious. Thank you for jogging them for me! I continue to be amazed at the details you so vividly write of from our childhood. It is a blessing to me to read your essays!
    Love to you–Barb Stephens-Rich

  2. And I can still picture both Bob Butts and Al so clearly in my mind, right down to Al’s cigar! Were you a bit afraid of Al? We were! And what was the name of the guy with the gas station? Everyone was afraid of him, except my mother. He loved her, and she loved him.

  3. Chris… what a milestone after a year and a half of millstones… You must have been dumbfounded when you realized what your brain had just done!! Know that we continue to think of you even if you don’t hear from us. Love to you both, from us both… C & R

    • How good to hear from you! We think of you so often, both of you, and we sang happy birthday to you, C, just a few days ago! Such a silly little thing to celebrate–the Jumble puzzle–but as you two know, you celebrate whatever you get whenever you get it! Lots of love to both of you and please please enjoy the snow for us.

  4. I am so glad. A restored or newly completed new neural pathway is exactly what I wanted to know about, today. Thank you so much for writing in such a comprehensible and fun to read way.

  5. Chris, This is a wonderful thing! It is so thrilling to hear of this breakthrough. I used to buy Superman comics religiously at Cohen’s down on Bloomfield Avenue in West Caldwell. Yep, I was just a Roosevelt School kid. Like you, I can still picture how that store looked over fifty years ago. Or “iffyt sarey oag” in Kltpzyxm. Peter

  6. Ah, Cohen’s! I used to prowl those aisles too. We used to buy pizza from a store nearby, as I recall, and I would beg to be allowed to spend a few minutes among the stationery and erasers. Makes sense that my first job would be at Ekemann’s uptown, where unfortunately I was limited to straightening the greeting cards, but could not go near all the cool pens and notebooks, because the family that owned the store (Larry Niren’s family) did not trust anyone but themselves. Eventually, they did trust me, but by then the summer was over. I think they hoped we would date.

  7. Wahoo! That was an exciting post. I’m sad to say the graphics weren’t showing, but I can’t imagine they would have improved that wonderfully delicious post. Did you know that my mom used to work for the Superman comics? She wrote some filler articles for the comic book under a male pen name, since at that time, women weren’t allowed to write for them. She has one of the comic books at home. The article is about how ice cream sodas came to be, I think. Hmm. That’d make a great blog post for me to write. Thanks for the nudge!

    • Your mom has done everything, hasn’t she? I think you need to take your mom and Hannah out for ice cream sodas and have your mom try to tell Hannah the history and then in your blog tell the story of how Hannah just did not care one bit (since she is a teenager) and then you can weave in your mother’s amazing background.

  8. Pingback: Sunday Jumble Spoiler – 03/10/13 | Unclerave's Wordy Weblog

  9. Pingback: Jumble Spoiler – 06/23/14 | Unclerave's Wordy Weblog

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