I recently went to one of the local cinemas to catch a viewing of The Phantom, one of my childhood comic strip heroes. When I purchased my ticket, I received a nifty Phantom ring embossed with the likeness of a skull. “Wow!” I said. “This is really neat!” I put on my new Phantom ring, and within two days, the skin on my finger turned a shade of gray-green that looked decidedly unhealthy. And it wouldn’t wash off. It took about three days to disappear after I removed the ring. What is it, Matt? A curse from some ancient kingdom? A sign? Or is it something with a natural explanation? — Emery J. Cummins, San Diego
It’s a sign that your Phantom may be a superhero, but he’s a cheap superhero. I’ll guess your nifty ring appears to be silver. If so, the Phantom has given his faithful fans junk jewelry made of what’s variously called gun metal, German silver, or nickel silver. It’s an alloy of nickel, copper, and zinc that in the finished piece looks like dark silver, but never polishes to the bright sheen of sterling. It doesn’t oxidize like sterling, but cheap versions can tarnish badly in contact with skin acids and perspiration. The tarnish dyes your finger that sickly gray-green. (If the ring is gold-colored, you have basically the same problem, but with a different alloy.) Anyway, your digits are in no danger. But if you really get off on this second-childhood thing, coat the inside of the ring with several layers of clear nail polish.