Word Games

   by David Sheskin


1. Palindromania 

At the annual meeting of the Modern Language Association my wife and I were confronted in our hotel by three surly men who forced us into a room on the top floor filled with parrots and dictionaries. Once inside Man Number 1 said: If you cooperate you will not be harmed. After which Man Number 2 said: By the time the sun comes up tomorrow you will be required to create for us 20 exceptional Palindromes. For example

Wet sanitary rat in a stew

Whereupon Man Number 3 announced: If you don’t already know it a Palindrome is a word, phrase, number or other sequence of characters which read the same backwards and forward. Whereupon my wife haughtily replied: We damn well know what a Palindrome is! Both my Husband and I are Masters of Spelling and Syntax. So Mister Smarty pants how about you try on for size

Mr. Owl ate my metal worm

After which I felt obliged to remark: Oh yes, the wife and I exchange Palindromes even when we’re making love and in case you’re interested at the moment my favorite is

I’m a lasagna hog, go hang a salami

To which Man Number 1 replied: My favorite of all time is

Satan oscillate my metallic sonatas

After which Man Number 2 said: What about

Swap God for a janitor; rot in a jar of dog paws

Whereupon Man Number 3 interjected: Without question the best Palindrome of all time is

Tarzan raised Desi Arnaz’ rat

The wife who was always trying to impress those whom she considered to be her intellectual inferiors blurted out: Bet you never heard the Palindrome Anuta Catuna which happens to be the name of the gal who won the 1968 New York woman’s marathon. That gem got a few Oohs and Ahs as well as a guffaw after which I saw fit to scribble on a pad the symbols


Saying: This is also a Palindrome. Whereupon Man Number 2 wrote down

69104036763040196 followed by 38 + 83 = 141

And said: So are these Mister Know-It-All!


As the five of us shared our preternatural passion for Palindromes things became mellower as the evening wore on and among those the group enthusiastically nominated for the Twenty Best were

Dennis and Edna sinned

Ed, I saw Harpo Marx ram Oprah W aside

Cigar? Toss it in a can. It is so tragic

Drab as a fool, aloof as a bard

Was it Elliot’s toilet I saw?

As well as three additional gems suggested by a red and yellow parrot perched

atop a lamp alongside the window.

Sex at noon taxes

Kay, a red nude, peeked under a yak.

We panic in a pew


Truth be told by evening’s end the three no longer surly men had not revealed why they needed twenty Palindromes — but twenty exceptional ones we gave them with my favorite being

Doc, note I dissent. A fast never prevents fatness. I diet on cod

So at 8 AM although thoroughly exhausted my wife and I exited the hotel room with a sense of euphoria and agreed that in all likelihood never again would we have such a jolly good time at an

MLA Convention.

2. Pangramania 


At the annual meeting of the Modern Language Association

Two joyful vixens squirted hot milk upon a caged zebra.

While boarding an elevator in our hotel

The jukebox music puzzled a gentle visitor from a quaint valley town.

My wife and I were confronted by three surly men

Her risqué gown marking a very brazen exposure of taut, juicy flesh.

Who roughly escorted us up to room number 1212.

Where once, six plump boys guzzled cheap raw plum vodka quite joyfully.

Although confused and anxious, once inside

I noted that the sex life of woodchucks is a provocative question for most vertebrate zoology majors.

Man Number 1 said: If you are cooperative no harm will be inflicted upon you — though you should be aware of the fact that

A mad boxer can shoot a quick, gloved jab to the jaw of his dizzy opponent.

After which Man Number 2 said: By midnight we need you to create 12 pangrams — such as

Prodigal lesbians from Venezuela know just exactly how to eat quiche.

Whereupon Man Number 3 announced: A pangram is a sentence containing every letter of the alphabet — for instance

Grumpy wizards make toxic brew for the evil queen and jack.

Whereupon my wife haughtily replied: We know what a pangram is! Both my husband and I are linguistic scholars, and if you need an example, how about

Oozy quivering jellyfish were expectorated by a mad hawk.

After which I felt obliged to remark: Indeed, the wife and I exchange pangrams daily, both inside and outside of the bedroom — my latest favorite being

An exquisite farm wench gave a body jolt to a prize stinker.

To which Man Number 1 replied: My favorite is

A popular belief is that fornication would be a quick fix for some overly zealous judicious governments.

After which Man Number 2 felt compelled to interject: How about

Jaded zombies acted quaintly but kept driving their oxen forward.

Whereupon Man Number 3 replied: My best of all time is

You can tell that vapid existentialist quack Freddy Nietzsche that he can bite me, twice.

As the night wore on because of the clutter in Room 1212

I was temporarily forced to zig-zag and quiver furiously around big junky xylophones.

And as things progressed into the wee hours of the morning, Man Number 1 called downstairs for room service

Barkeep! A few flaming tequila swizzles and a vodka and Ajax — hold the cherry!

Curiously, the three men who by evening’s end were no longer surly, never revealed why they needed twelve pangrams — but twelve we gave them, my favorite being

Glum, wavy-haired excon bequeaths fake topaz jewel.

In any event, a good time was had by all, and surprisingly all five of us agreed that

Puzzled women bequeath jerks very exotic gifts.

As we were ready to depart my wife asked the triumvirate

When you go back to Juarez, Mexico, do you fly over picturesque Arizona?

And when the five of us finally exited Room 1212 we could not help but notice

The July sun causing a fragment of black pine wax to ooze on a dark velvet quilt.

Now that the experience is behind us, I am not embarrassed to admit

Playing jazz vibe chords quickly excites my wife.

That the wife and I will probably never again have such a jolly good time at an MLA convention.

3. Kidnapped


A few months ago I was kidnapped by three masked men who drugged me and put in a room where I was stripped naked, gagged, blindfolded, and tied to a cold metal chair.


The next day all my restraints were removed and I observed that I was sharing the room with two other naked people — an obese middle-aged man and an emaciated elderly woman. The room was empty except for three metal chairs and a bridge table in the middle on which laid a game of Scrabble.


Over a loudspeaker an anonymous voice announced that the three of us were to play a game of Scrabble and that the winner would be set free immediately and be given $50,000 for his or her inconvenience. Whoever came in second would be set free the next day and be given $10,000 for their inconvenience. The person who came in last would remain a captive for an indeterminate period of time.


On hearing this the naked man said, “In Scrabble the highest possible score for a single word involves an 8-letter word played across two triple-word-score squares, with a high-scoring tile on the double-letter score square in between, and using a single letter previously played on a non-premium square. The scores include the 50-poiint bonus for playing all seven tiles.”


The naked woman followed this by saying, “The highest known theoretically possible score for a single play under American tournament Scrabble rules is 1778 points for joining 8 already-played tiles to form the word OXYPHENBUTAZONE across three triple-word-score squares, while simultaneously extending 7 specific already-played words to form new words.”


Needless to say I came in last. At this moment I have no idea where I am, but there is the smell of gardenias in the air and the sound of sexual debauchery coming from above. Perhaps I am in the basement of a brothel? If you should happen to come upon this message please contact the police and among other things ask them to water my plants and feed my fish.


4. scraBbled Eggs

Wearing the sheerest of negligées my lover Leva stands over my stove making me scrambled eggs while I sit at the kitchen table studying a Scrabble board.


She is unaware of the fact that I am one of the few people in the world who knows that the highest scoring opening word in Scrabble is ZXXOMMA (a genus of dragonfly  indigenous to the South Pacific) that will yield a player 130 points


In her heavy accent she says, “While my love play Scramble I make him scrabbled eggs.” Though the chemistry between us is undeniable, there is still something of a language barrier. Insofar as I have been able to surmise, she comes from Lithuania.


As I watch her display her mastery with a spatula I say, “No Leva Etaerio, it’s scrambled eggs, not scrabbled eggs.” Coincidentally, or perhaps incredibly, her last name is ETAERIO, which happens to be the most likely seven letter word to appear on a Scrabble rack, and for those who want to know is an aggregate or cluster fruit such as the raspberry.


After we finish breakfast she tries to lure me back to the bedroom, and although I am sorely tempted, I tell her that in one hour I am due at a tournament. As she hugs me goodbye and showers me with kisses, just as I am about to leave I whisper in her ear that QAY, QAID, QOPH, FAQIR, QANAT, TRANQ, QINDAR, QINTAR, QWERTY, SHEQEL, QINDARKA, SHEQALIM are acceptable words in the game of Scrabble that contain the letter Q without the letter U.


5. Palindromephilia


Last year at the annual meeting of the Modern Language Association while waiting for an elevator I could not help but notice a sign in the lobby which read A slut nixes sex in Tulsa which the fat lady standing next to me said happens to be a Palindrome which if you don’t know is a sequence of characters that reads the same backwards or forward. Adjacent to the sign was an arrow directing all interested parties to the Green Room at 3 PM for a seminar on The History and Diversity of Palindromes which it turned out I along with my Rubenesque new acquaintance had traveled thousands of miles to attend.


Those in attendance at the seminar were a curious mix of academics, religious fanatics and panhandlers fresh off the street. Towards the end of the seminar each of those present was asked to come up to the front of room and recite their favorite Palindrome. Among those uttered were

A nut for a jar of tuna

Repel evil as a live leper

Steven, I left an oily lion at feline vets

Swap God for a janitor; rot in a jar of dog paws

Do geese see God?

I’m a lasagna hog, go hang a salami

My contribution

No son! Onanism’s a gross orgasm sin – a no-no, son!

was met with tepid applause a scowl or two and to the surprise of everybody one enthusiastic Bravo! that came from the back of the room out of the rouged and rounded mouth of my new lady friend who later that evening while lying beside me in bed would confide (at the very moment I was whispering into her right ear Nurses, run! Says sick Cissy as nurses run) she was one of only a handful of people in the whole world afflicted with a mysterious condition known



which in the Dictionary of Mental Disorders is defined as sexual arousal brought about by exposure to a Palindrome.