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.
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?
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.