In 1996 I won a contest at the Atlantic Monthly Online "Word Games & Puzzles" site. The challenge was to pose a question, then answer it with an anagram (rearrangement of the letters) of itself. My winning entry:

Q: So—did you hear that the Holy Grail was found?
A: Ahh, yes! It was in our hot old hayloft, guarded.
Q: Was Mr. Hoffa found, too? Where?
A: Off a wharf, under some H-two-O.


Another Atlantic Monthly contest called for entrants to imagine a book whose title would be the homonym of (i.e., pronounced the same as) that of an existing book, and describe its contents. My entries:

Breathing Lessens: Dr. Kevorkian's new self-help book
Itching: compendium of soothing creams and ointments, from ancient Confucian lore
The Dancing Woolly Masters: Readers have flocked in shear numbers, and so will ewe! Learn to "hoof it" in six easy lessons.
The Comma Sutra: Punctuate in new and exotic ways for incredibly satisfying grammar.
Port Noise Complaint: New Yorker goes to authorities, registers ire over sleep lost due to foghorns and ships' whistles
Routes: Rand McNally's new road atlas of Africa
Good Buy, Columbus: explorer's shipmates encourage him to consider Indians' offer to sell Puerto Rico for a few shiny trinkets
The Write Stuff: catalog from Wolfe's Stationery
The Prints and the Popper: Mom examines smudges on kitchen appliance to find out which kid used it without permission


The editors of the Atlantic Monthly puzzle page adapted one of my ideas for another contest. The challenge was to choose a U.S. state, then write a meaningful sentence or two using only words spelled with letters drawn from that state's name. I made the following "WASHINGTON" sentences:

"A ghost with no wig has nothing to hang his hat on."
"To a saint, a hot thing in a thong is wasting a showing."
"A saint who's got to show it, ain't."
"Sigh.......Is wanting a thin waist a sin?"
"Sign on So Ho awning: 'Owing to snow, no showing this Sat. night'"
"A wino saw a ghost with two wings in a toga."
"Tho' S.H. hasn't a thing—not an iota—Ho! ho! Watson has two things to show S.H."
"Want two ingots? Saw an ingot in two!"

...and this one from the letters of "TEXAS":

"East Texas, Sat.: TEX'S EX AXES TEX"


Yet another AM contest I entered challenged readers to make up the name of an organization so that the acronym of the name would tell something about the group. My entries:

Conference of Aficionados of Tuna (CAT)
Zealous Observers, Drawers, and Interpreters of Astrological Charts (ZODIAC)
League Of Viewers Enjoying Boring Old Antiquated TV Shows (LOVE BOATS)
People Offering Laughable Inanities, Thinking It'll Change Society (POLITICS)
Mongers Of Vapid, Insipid Exercises Mostly About Killing, Explosions, Rape, and Sex (MOVIE MAKERS)
Rockers for the Annoyance of Parents (RAP)
Zoological Exotica Breeders and Raisers Association (ZEBRA)
Well-coiffed Employers of Advanced Technology, Hugely Expensive Radars—Meteorological Accuracy: Nil (WEATHERMAN)


Along the lines of the "WASHINGTON" challenge above, here are three stories wherein each word uses only the letters of the main title word, or the same letters used in the title:


Seth rode his iron horse to Erin’s. Erin—the horniest dish in the diner.
He strode into her den, dirt on his shoe. Then he trod dirt into her shrine.
“No! Not the Shinto shrine!”
He noted her ire. The shed! Hide in the shed!
She shot Seth in the shin to shorten his stride.
“Oh, Erin, no! Then this is it?”
She snorted. “No [bad word], Seth.”
..........THE END..........


Marge Grimes is grim, as is Marge’s mate, Stan. At Grimes Giant Meat Mart, it isn’t great. Marge’s Satin Raiment, Gems, ‘n’ Steaming Teas isn’t at a net gain. A mite remains? IRS agents get it! ... ‘Me, Stan Grimes, a miser?’ A strange image.
Stan is a master at gin, as is Marge. Stan gets in games at Ingmar’s; mean time Marge is seaming satin garments. A master, as is Marge ... as is Marge .... Stan gets a grin. A great grin. “Marge!”
A sting! A stage is set.... At game time at Ingmar’s, Marge is sent in.
“Stan isn’t great. Stan is resting..... Is it game time?”
“It’s ten—it’s game time. Game’s gin.”
“Gin? ‘Gin’ is a game’s name? Neat! Sit me in!”
Grins. “Mrs. Grimes, gin’s a man’s game.”
“It is? I’m as smart as a man! I am! I am!...” Great tears streaming.
“Mrs. Grimes—I meant... I mean.....Sit in, Mrs. Grimes.”
A game. “Gin!” It’s Marge!
“I get it! I’m mastering gin!”
“It’s Marge: Great Ginmaster.” Men grin.
“Marge—in a man’s game, a gin earns a ten. Get Mrs. Grimes a ten, Sam.”
“Me? I get a ten? Neat!”
“Neat. Ta ta, Mrs. Grimes.”
“’Ta ta’? I remain. Same game, gents. Game’s gin. I’m in.”
A ten game string. “Gin!”, ten times. Men are staring. Marge Grimes nets a mint.

Team Grimes sing. Gin—it’s a great game.


I sip tea at Seth's. He states, "I hate pasta" . . . as he heats the spaghetti.

Is this a gag? "Ah, Seth — spaghetti is pasta. . . ."

"Ah. This spaghetti? The pigs eat it."

Aha. The pigs. "Sheesh. Pigs, Seth?"

"Pigs. I get pigs as pets."

"I see," I sigh, as I see . . . paté?

"Eh, Seth — is that paté?"

Seth is aghast. "Paté??! Paté is geese!" he seethes. "That's pea patties!"

Aha. Seth pities geese. I get sheepish. As Seth sees this, he states, "Sasha, at age eight, I ate haggis. 'This is the tastiest haggis, Papa!' I state. . . . Papa teases, 'Ha ha, Seth, that haggis is Pippi, the sheep!' I gag, 'Pippi?? I ate Pippi???' I hate that. I hate that I ate a pet. . . . That is the past, Sasha. As I see it, a pet is a pet!"

Seth gets the spaghetti, heaps it. "See that gate, Sasha? Get it." I get the gate, pass it . . . a path . . . I see sties! The eight pigs see Seth. "Hi, Pete!" Seth states as he pets Pete. "The hastiest pig gets the spaghetti! The peppiest pig is the happiest pig, eh, Pete? . . . This pig? She's Patti. She eats pasta, pie, pita, . . . Aggie sips Pepsi — she gets gas the easiest. . . . That's Tip. He's the hippie pig: eats hashish ashes, gets high!"

As I see this — Seth, his pigs, the spaghetti — I get it. I get it! I pass the test!

Click here to read a short play in a similar style, written in my honor by noted professional puzzlers Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon.


And finally, a script for a kids' show, with the ridiculous (and ridiculously rigorous) requirement that the letters of each word must be in alphabetical order! ......


Elmo: Hi! I’m Elmo. I’m forty. I host Mr. Buzz. I’ll bet Mr. Buzz is in his cell now.... Hi, Mr. Buzz! “Bee-sy”?

Mr. Buzz:xxxxABCDEFG,
xxxxxxxxxxxxI’m “bee-sy, bee-sy,” bein’ a bee.
xxxxxxxxxxxxI’m hip! I’m hot! I buzz as I fly!
xxxxxxxxxxxxNow I’ll bow as I go by.

Elmo: Ho, ho, Mr. Buzz! Now, is Abel in his den? Abel’s my chimp. Hi, Abel! ... Now I’ll be! Is it Hissy? Hi, Hissy! Hissy is an adder. Hissy is in a box. Hiss, Hissy! ... Ah! Hi, Bossy! How now, cow?

Bossy: Moo! Moo! I’m Bossy, a cow. My best ally is Betty, a filly.... As an ally, Betty: P.U.! Dirty, dirty, dirty! Dirty floors, dirty air, ant hills. A hint, Betty: Allow air in.

Betty: “As an ally”?! Ally, my foot. Oy—I’m beggin’ for an ego boost now. Boo hoo—

Elmo: Bossy! Betty! ... Oops—eggs in my coop—I’ll go now.



Here are some of my palindromic creations, with commentary. These were submitted to Michael Donner, editor of the incredible compendium I Love Me, Vol. I. Mr. Donner kindly declared them "gems."

“All in a vat tub: ...Mmmmmm! Butta Vanilla!” (at Mrs. Richman’s Creamery)
“All, I trot on 'Año Tortilla.'” (a thoroughbread yearling)
“All, I trot on. O, no! No tortilla?” (Could have sworn I packed a lunch!)
“Anna, manna?” (Or, as the French might sing, “It rains ‘pain’ ... Ees from heaven!”)
“DE: 'Do not sob: Boston ODed.'” (Drug Enforcement breaks the bad news about Olympic athlete Ralph.... He could be jumping to a conclusion.)
“Enol abalone” (marine life contaminated with an organic compound)
“G-Gal, F. Flagg” (Fannie’s experience with hidden cameras comes in handy)
“Mary had a DA, Hyram.” (Crooks on the lam—better watch out!)
"Sonar U. of four años” (the Monterrey institute has been at its “location on the sound” that long?)
“SSE nixes sexiness” (on the other hand, NNW is all for it)
“Zen E.C., nip a pince-nez!” (Eric “One-Hand” Clapton, you need glasses!)
“Zion: no 'Iz'” (“Israel” is spelled with an “s,” not a “z.”)
“Zo, Oz!” (Mr. Mourning of the Miami Heat, meet Mr. Jordan, the Washington... Wizard!)
“ZZZ? OD on No-Doz!.... ZZZ? OD on No-Doz!... ZZ.......” (repeating advertising message in lights)



"Without opening my mouth, I'll match the pitches of the two lowest guitar strings," said Tom humbly and humanely.

"Would you be available to sub for me at the school for the deaf?" asked Tom significantly.

"I'm a banana, I swear," said the fruit fly.

......The preceding are a few of my better efforts. I have dozens more.............

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