America’s Educational System Must Be Fixed for the Sake of Our Anagram Puzzles

Mot Hanks, Simpsons

Can YOU guess the answer? That’s right — it’s Matt Kuhn, one of the producers of How I Met Your Mother! Or, uh, close enough.

Today I exchanged emails with a loyal MCC reader (we’ll call her “my wife”) who spent part of her work day on a themed anagram puzzle, given to her as a light-hearted challenge to while away the seconds between hectic responsibilities. She received a list of twelve scrambled people or things from the 1960s and tasked with decrypting their true identities. No problem, right? Anagrams are a simple task straight out of Highlights for Children, or a weak issue of Dell Pencil Puzzles and Word Games when the writers were tired of trying.

Because her supervisors set forth no rules about what might constitute cheating, and because I know stuff, she shared the list with me so I could help her speed up the process and possibly win prizes. I like when my wife wins things because sometimes they’re shareable and I therefore also win by extension.

Three of the names on that list took us much longer than they should’ve. As a quick exercise in audience participation, see how long it takes You, the Viewers at Home, to figure out their real names before allowing your eyes to drift along further for the answers.


1. jaineicopnjl
2. jrdmneyiximh
3. ediotasowtlen

Take all the time you need. I’ll be here.

…all done? Great! Those answers, had they been spelled correctly before being scrambled, would have been:

1. Janis Joplin
2. Jimi Hendrix
3. Clint Eastwood

If you’re into spelling, and I know I am, right now you’re probably furrowing your brow at the discrepancies that likewise flummoxed the two of us. Those may be the correct spellings for each name, but what those letters actually anagram into is:

1. Janice Joplin
2. Jimmy Hendrix
3. Elint Eastwood

I’ll be blunt: this is all America’s fault.

This sort of slipshod puzzle assemblage is what happens when unskilled workers aren’t properly taught all the important entertainment industry names in school. Back in my day, we started early with the simplest names such as “Dr. Seuss”, “H. A. Rey”, and “Snoopy”. In later years we worked our way up to more complicated names such as “Shel Silverstein”, “William Shakespeare”, and “John Travolta”. By the time we graduated, we jettisoned most of that and retained only the names we saw while faithfully reading every new issue of TV Guide cover-to-cover. It required some effort, but we kept up with world around us.

Such dedication is rarer these days among the commoners who no longer know what a TV Guide is; who can’t be bothered to put forth sincere effort into their own text-based communications, let alone proofread them; who only pay attention to the celebrities and creators they want to follow, as opposed to our time-honored methods of knowing everything and everyone ever.

(Or maybe that was just my wife and myself in our respective childhoods.)

I can understand typos to a degree, not to mention apathy for famous people who don’t impress you. But here’s the thing: in my childhood, puzzles had to be fair. Puzzle magazines were an integral part of my childhood, and not just the kiddie variety that wasted valuable page space on such pointless endeavors as coloring pages, paper dolls, or tables of contents. By age four I was already solving magazine word-search puzzles with a quickness well above the level of an adult soap-opera fan. It’s my understanding that that was weird, but that’s beside the point.

In those days, you could trust the puzzle-makers to be smarter than you were. No misspellings, no typos. It was a simple yet effective symbiosis between puzzle maker and puzzle vanquisher.

The sad part of today’s experience is, I figured out the answers anyway, despite the errors…though I circled around “Elint Eastwood” for close to half an hour (in between responsibilities that pay the bills, mind you) before I concluded that a typo had to be the culprit. Up to that point, I suspected other potential answers like “It Wanted Loose” (forgotten monster movie?), “Nattelie Woods” (which I wouldn’t put past them), or “Lee Tonti Oswad” (if we assume that “Tonti” might be Cherokee for “Harvy”). What was meant to be pleasantly challenging for one person became aggravating for two.

Just for more fun, let’s see how you like it, many times over. Enclosed below are additional clues for value-added unscrambling. All of these are famous names that shouldn’t be hard to see if you’re in the right frame of mind.


1. SrpnhepSliteeebg
2. Bara eytsnpSrti
3. sae hClNacgio
4. odallou rnkSBc
5. rmraKeymaeslG
6. lSsc tJanenreaho
7. rePcy iueG
8. cryo DAakdn
9. tJos doFery
10. eir HlaylarB
11. yoeicruMGTb
12. rriaenn BdraFso
13. g iCbosBny
14. mri yaCrJ
15. rre SaeieMell hcaGl

BONUS ROUND: Fictional characters. GO:

16. sSoHa oln
17. poDootSkc cr
18. zaFytee roBzh

SUPER BONUS ROUND: Secret trick-question section. GO.

19. ieEooCierw ftjlh
20. szuavQleW naelnhi

Again, take all the time you need. No hurry. Some may be easier than others if you don’t know how they’re really spelled. For obsessive spellers, this is a hair-pulling nightmare.

…added pause to help separate the answer key from the puzzle…

…and time’s up! The “answers”, all of which are misspelled as if mangling the English language weren’t no big thang, are:

1. Stephen Spielberg
2. Brittany Spears
3. Nicholas Cage
4. Sondra Bullock
5. Kelsey Grammar
6. Scarlet Johansen
7. Guy Pierce
8. Dan Ackroyd
9. Jody Foster
10. Hallie Barry
11. Toby McGuire
12. Brandon Frasier
13. Bing Cosby
14. Jim Carry
15. Sara Michele Geller

BONUS ROUND answers, each inaccurate on multiple levels:

16. Hans Solo
17. Doctor Spock
18. Fozzy the Bear

SUPER BONUS ROUND, whose trick was that both names were spelled correctly before scrambling:

19. Chiwetel Ejiofor (Serenity, Inside Man, 2012, the upcoming 12 Years a Slave)
20. Quvenzhane Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild)

In conclusion: this is why we need better teachers, stricter accountability and licensing requirements for puzzle-making companies, and/or a greater focus on pop and geek culture in our textbooks. Thank you.

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