the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Very Vague Dispatch from L.A. – #6

Today, I went to a cafe for lunch, hoping to cheer myself up. I ordered a chinese chicken salad and coffee.

This cafe has a cute gimmick. They print a scrambled word on the bottom of the “special menu” each day. If the customer can unscramble it, he can win a free dessert. Most patrons don’t bother playing. Some spend their entire meal scribbling on their napkin, trying to decipher it. I took one glance at the scrambled letters — and immediately saw that it spelled “unpreparedness.”

“Is the answer — unpreparedness?” I asked.

“Yes,” said the waiter, but he seemed uneasy with me.

“Did you hear the answer from another customer?” he asked.

“No, I just figured it out. I’m usually not that good at this, but I figured the root was “ness.” And maybe my mind is so unscrambled already with stuff going on in my life, that it was easy for me.”

“Did someone leave the answer on the menu?”

“No, I just figured it out!”

“In one second?!”

At this point, the patrons to either side of me where eavesdropping, and shaking their heads at my immorality, as if they had just encountered Bernie Madoff stopping off for a quick bite before going to prison.

“So, you really figured it out?” the waiter asked again.

He clearly thought I was a fraud, much like the policeman thought of the young Indian winner of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” in “Slumdog Millionaire.”

With no proof of my deception, the waiter was forced to give me a brownie at the end of the meal.

It was a minor victory.


  1. Super Mega Dad


    People are just so untrusting these days, they just assume you are ripping them off. That’s pretty sad.

  2. Miguelina

    Hmm. You were unprepared and look what it got you – a free brownie. Maybe “unpreparedness” is the key. (That probably only makes sense to me. Sorry. Just thinking out loud.)

  3. Jody

    I just had a weight watcher chocolate ice cream sandwich – yummy – just like your brownie!

  4. Tuck

    See…life is full of sweet surprises…keep the hunger going!

  5. maggie, dammit

    This used to happen to me all the time in middle school when it was close to a holiday and the teachers didn’t want to do anything anymore so they’d hand out those mimeographed word finds and I would find all the words right away and they always thought I cheated and I never understood why I was being punished for doing what they asked.

    I think I’ll go play Word Challenge now (on Facebook. Best game ever for nerds.)

  6. Amy Nathan

    You need to eat in restaurants with harder puzzles or smarter people.

  7. AnnieH(the other Annie)

    Let me get this straight–they’re mistrustful of you because you’re smart?? I thought the Bush years were over.

  8. sizzles

    Minor victory is still a victory

  9. Whit

    What an ass. The server, not you. I hope the brownie was good.

  10. Jennifer H

    Admit it. You’ve been playing Word Challenge.

    I hope the brownie cheered you a bit.

  11. better safe than sorry

    i love those word games, you either get them right away, or you spend hours not getting them, it’s how your brain clicks i think.
    enjoy that brownie!

  12. patois

    You can tell us the truth. We’re prepared for it. Who did you hear it from? Is there some blogger who posts the word of the day each day?

  13. churlita

    Weird that he would question you so hard. Who cares if you heard it from someone else. If you had the right answer they should honor that.

  14. Annie

    Wow, how weird is that server, who cares. I am glad you got that brownie and I hoped it helped cheer you. XOXO

  15. Momo Fali

    Egads. You can’t even win something that’s rightfully yours without putting up a fight anymore. Neil, I’ll bake you a whole pan of brownies just for the hell of it.

  16. Danny

    That’s the kind of crazy thing that would have flown me into a blind rage. I hope you didn’t give that guy a good tip.

  17. TC

    Apparently, that waiter’s never played Word Twist on Facebook. Dude. All I DO these days is scramble and unscramble words. It’s an addiction!

  18. Noel

    uyo redsvede het winboer

  19. plain jane

    What a victory indeed.

    One Sunday morning I was listening to the Will Shortz Puzzle of the Week on NPR & the answer just popped into my head. Turns out it was supposedly a hard puzzle. A mini but satisfying victory.

  20. 3boys1mommy

    word scramble, distrust, brownies yada yada, have you voted for my header yet?

  21. Stacey

    Awesome. I’m going to gather up the Word Twist addicts to have a meeting there. I’m sure your waiter will love us.

  22. katie

    Not so cute a gimick afterall

  23. brettdl

    Next time stand up and yell, “the scrambled word contest is a fraud.” Perhaps you will get your whole meal free.

  24. headbang8

    @ Noel.

    Got it instantly. You’ll have to do better than that. I’m not sure how, though. There’s only so many ways* you can scramble the word “the”.


    A post that doesn’t involve Sophia, or a woman who might replace her. This is progress.



  25. dianeinjapan

    Come on. You are clearly a genius.

  26. schmutzie

    This reminds me of Harvey Pekar. I like that.

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