“For a considerable period in Latin transcripts there were no gaps between words either, if you can credit such a madness. Texts from that benighted classical period–just capital letters in big square blocks–look to modern eyes like those words-search puzzles that you stare at for twenty minutes or so, and then (with a delighted cry) suddenly spot the word “PAPERNAPKIN” spelled diagonally and backwards. However, [this method] had its defenders at the time . . . Cassian argued that if a text was slow to offer up its meaning, this encouraged not only healthy meditation but the glorification of God–the heart lifting in praise, obviously, at the moment when the word “PAPERNAPKIN” suddenly floated to the surface, like a synaptic miracle.” (Eats, Shoots and Leaves, 76)

Lynne Truss–beloved Guru of Grammar and Protector of Punctuation–makes many excellent points in her hilarious and terribly informative book on the practice–no, art–of punctuating a sentence. I picked this quote today because it reminds me of puzzles and why I often have a scrunched up forehead and cocked sneer on my face.

Word searches are one of the only puzzles I will be determined enough to finish. Why? Because I know I can do them.

I have realized something over the years. I have a set way of doing things. Not everything. But some things. For instance, I don’t like to change my shower routine. It makes sense. I’ve even thought out the reasons why shampoo comes before soap and conditioner before face wash. I’m sure that in the private (though amplified) space in my shower I am certainly edging on brilliance. Also, I can’t eat a bowl of cereal without trying to make all of it at least a bit moist first. I take my spoon and push the flakes/pieces/squares down into the milk as best I can in a somewhat orderly fashion. I don’t like my Cheerios flying everywhere willy-nilly, you see.

It’s the same thing with word searches. Take the word “Obsessive” for instance (because it seems mildly appropriate for this entry): I start at an edge, probably in the corner, and I take a column all the way down, letter by letter. I look first for “O”. Then, if I find an “O” I begin looking at all the letters to which it is directly connected, circling them with my eyes. If any of them is a “B” then I continue on that line hoping “S” and the remaining letters will appear. I will go row by row–up, down, and up again–one at a time until I come to the end.

If the word I am looking for is not found, then I await the miracle of “PAPERNAPKIN”. When you slowly unglue your eyes from a tight cluster of letters and let the piece of paper think that you’re not looking (I’ve seen my cats do this), the miracle is often observed. The word “Obsession” will pop seemingly off the page out of nowhere. And if I’m truly lucky it does a little jig for me and I laugh with delight. Notice the slight tinge of mental instability in this post. I’m hoping your eyebrows are half as high on your foreheads as they should be.


9 thoughts on “PAPERNAPKIN

  1. I agree with you on the moistening of the cereal. But it really depends on how slow of an eater you are and how much you pour. If you are a fast eater or have only poured a small amount you can moisten everything to start. If you are a slow eater or have poured a lot, you might only want to moisten a portion of the cereal at a time or the cereal towards the end will get soggy.

  2. I think there is somewhere, you just have to find it. “All human actions have one or more of these seven causes: chance, nature, compulsion, habit, reason, passion, and desire.” :)

  3. I love Lynne Truss. I just realized the other day that she has OTHER books too. One of the books is called Talk to the Hand: The Utter Bloody Rudeness of the World Today or Six Good Reasons to Stay at Home and Bolt the Door. How can that be beaten?

    Oh, and I’m similarly obsessive about my word searches, but I search with 2-3 words in mind each time (in alphabetical order, of course!).

  4. I saw that book on the shelves when I bought this one! I want. But I’m going to try to find it for cheap on Amazon first. I can’t believe I paid normal Borders price for E,S&L.

    Matt: word on the sprayer thing! It could be like a shower head for milk jugs… “milky mist” or “breakfast rainshower”


  5. Even more fun: take a mouthful of milk, lean over the bowl, think of something funny, et voila! Your very own milk sprayer! And it’s free! Works with any liquid. With practice, you’ll be able to hit the bowl right from the fridge!

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