Will Shortz

NPR's Puzzlemaster Will Shortz has appeared on Weekend Edition Sunday since the program's start in 1987. He's also the crossword editor of The New York Times, the former editor of Games magazine, and the founder and director of the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament (since 1978).

Will sold his first puzzle professionally when he was 14 — to Venture, a denominational youth magazine. At 16 he became a regular contributor to Dell puzzle publications. He is the only person in the world to hold a college degree in Enigmatology, the study of puzzles, which he earned from Indiana University in 1974.

Born in 1952 and raised on an Arabian horse farm in Indiana, Will now lives near New York City in a Tudor-style house filled with books and Arts and Crafts furniture. When he's not at work, he enjoys bicycling, movies, reading, travel, and collecting antique puzzle books and magazines.

On-air challenge: This week's puzzle involves brand names of foods at the grocery. If I asked you to take "Dole" (as in pineapples) and rearrange the letters to name an ore deposit, you would say "lode." What anagrams do each of the names conceal?

No Time To Be Bashful

Oct 20, 2013

This week we have a celebrity edition of the Puzzle. Comedian Paula Poundstone is taking on our challenge. Poundstone is also a regular panelist on NPR's Wait Wait Don't Tell Me.

On-air challenge: Today's puzzle is an insider's test. Every answer is a familiar two-word phrase or name with the consecutive letters T-E-S-T. Specifically, the first word will end with -TE and the second word will start ST-. For example, given "sheer force," you would say "brute strength."

On-air challenge: For each given category, name things in the category starting with the letters R, H, Y, M, E. For example, if the category were "chemical elements with names ending in -ium," you might say: radium, helium, yttrium, magnesium and einsteinium. You can give the answers in any order, and any answer that works is fine.

On-air challenge: Every answer is a made-up, two-word phrase in which each word has two or more syllables. The first vowel sound in the first word is a short "e." Change that short "e" to a short "a" sound, and phonetically you'll get the second word of the phrase. For example, given "energetic backwoods father," you would say "peppy pappy."

Close, But No Cigar

Sep 8, 2013

On-air challenge: Each of the following answers is a made-up, two-word phrase in which the two words are homophones, and both words start with the letter C.

Last week's challenge from listener Henry Hook of Brooklyn: Think of a well-known celebrity who goes by a single name — the last two letters of which are alphabetically separated by only one letter (like A and C, or B and D). Replace this pair of letters with the one that separates them, and you'll have a common, everyday word. What is it?

Shh! Listen Carefully

Sep 1, 2013

On-air challenge: Every answer is a familiar two-word phrase with the consecutive letters of S-H-H. Specifically, the first word in the answer will end in SH, and the second will start with H.

Last week's challenge: Think of a business that's found in most towns. Its name consists of two words, each starting with a consonant. Interchange the consonants and you'll get two new words — neither of which rhymes with the original words. What business is it?

Answer: Car wash

It's All Greek To Me

Aug 25, 2013

On-air challenge: You're given some sentences. Each sentence conceals the name of a language in consecutive letters. Name the language. Each answer has five or more letters.

Last week's challenge: The Roman numeral for 38 is XXXVIII. What is special or unusual about this Roman numeral that sets it apart from every other Roman numeral that can be written?

Answer: If every possible Roman numeral were listed in alphabetical order, XXXVIII would be last.

Winner: Joseph Kuperberg of Pittsford, N.Y.

Easy As ABC

Aug 11, 2013

On-air challenge: Every answer is an anagram of a word that has the letters A-B-C in it.

Last week's challenge: Name a foreign make of automobile. Cross out several letters in its name. The remaining letters, reading in order from left to right, will spell a food that comes from the country where the car is made. What is the country, and what is the food?

Answer: Mitsubishi, sushi

Winner: Lindsy Schwantes of Waite Park, Minn.

First Names First

Aug 4, 2013

On-air challenge: This week's puzzle is called "What's in a Name?" Every answer consists of the names of two famous people. The last name of the first person is an anagram of the first name of the last person. Given the non-anagram parts of the names, you identify the people. For example, given "Madeleine" and "Aaron," you would say "Kahn" and "Hank."

Last week's challenge: In three words, name a product sold mainly to women that has the initials N-P-R. The answer is a common phrase.

On-air challenge: This puzzle is supersonic. Every answer is a familiar two-word phrase or name that has the consecutive letters S-S-T. Specifically, the first word will end in S-S, and the second word will start with T. For example, given, "A situation in which people speak on top of each other," you would say, "cross talk."

On-air challenge: Every answer is the name of a famous person, past or present, with five letters in the first and last names. One letter in each name is changed to make a new word. You name the people.

Last week's challenge: In the phrase "clothes closet," all the letters of the second word can be found inside the first. Think of another two-word phrase that means a place to keep clothes in which all the letter of the second word are found inside the first. The first word has nine letters, the second has six.

On-air challenge: You're given a series of clues, and every answer is the name of a U.S. state capital.

Last week's challenge: Rearrange the letters of INDIA and BELARUS to name two other countries. What are they?

Answer: Sudan, Liberia

Winner: Eddy Chandler of Piedmont, Calif.

On-air challenge: You're given the three-word names of famous people. For each one, you get a clue to a familiar three-word phrase or title that has the same initials as the person. Name the phrase or title. For example, singer Billy Ray Cyrus has the initials B-R-C. And B-R-C are also the initials of the phrase "Blue ribbon commission."

On-air challenge: For the Sunday before the Fourth of July weekend, every answer is the last name of a U.S. president, which comes from their anagrams. For example, "shrub" without R is "Bush."

Last week's challenge: Write down these five words: "aide," "heart," "tough," "gelatin" and "emanate." There is something very unusual they have in common. What is it? And what's another word with this property?

Answer: mite, item

Winner: Gig Moineau of Newton, Mass.

On-air challenge: Every answer is a familiar two-word phrase or name in which the first word starts SI and the second word starts with T. For example, given "unadorned set of facts," you would say, "simple truth."

Last week's challenge: Name a movie in two words — five letters in each word. Both words start with vowels. Take one letter in the first word, move it two spaces later in the alphabet, and rearrange the result. You'll get the second word in the movie's title. What movie is it?

Answer: After Earth

On-air challenge: Every answer is a familiar two-word phrase or name in which the first word starts with H-A and the second word starts with T.

Last week's challenge: From listener Al Gori of Cozy Lake, N.J. Name a famous American man — first and last names. Change the first letter of his first name from T to H. The result will sound like a term for an attractive person. Who is it?

Answer: Ted Turner; head turner

Winner: Vernon Cole, Brownsboro, Ala.

On-air challenge: For each given category, name something in the category where the first letter is also the first letter of the category. For example, given "Military Ranks," you would say "Major."

Last week's challenge: Name a geographical location in two words — nine letters altogether — that, when spoken aloud, sounds roughly like four letters of the alphabet. What is it?

Answer: Aegean Sea; Indian Cay

Winner: Terry Thacker, Greenville, S.C.

A Brand-New Word

Apr 7, 2013

On-air challenge: Every answer is a well-known commercial name that spells a regular word or name backward. Identify the brands. For example, given "laundry detergent" and "work in a magazine office," the answer would be "tide" and "edit."

Last week's challenge: Name something in four letters that you use every day. Add the letters O, H and M, and rearrange all seven letters. You will name something else you probably use every day. This seven-letter thing is usually found near the four-letter thing. What are they?

Take Your Pics

Mar 17, 2013

On-air challenge: Every answer is a familiar two-word phrase or name in which the first word starts with the letters P-I and the second word starts with C. For example, given "One of 27 compositions by Mozart" you would say "(Pi)ano (C)oncerto."

Last week's challenge: Think of two familiar three-word sayings in which all three words are the same length. The middle word in both sayings is the same. In each saying, the first and last words rhyme with each other. What two sayings are these?

From A To Z

Mar 10, 2013

On-air challenge: Every answer is a word containing an A and a Z. Given anagrams of the remaining letters, name the word. For example, given "leg," the answer would be "glaze".

Last week's challenge: Eight people are seated at a circular table. Each person gets up and sits down again — either in the same chair or in the chair immediately to the left or right of the one they were in. How many different ways can the eight people be re-seated?

Answer: 49

On-air challenge: You will be given some words starting with the letter R. You name a proverb or saying that contains each one.

Last week's challenge from listener Gary Alvstad of Tustin, Calif.: Name a well-known movie in two words with a total of 13 letters. Each of the two words contains the letter C. Drop both C's. The letters that remain in the second word of the title will be in alphabetical order, and the letters that remain in the first word will be in reverse alphabetical order. What movie is it?

On-air challenge: In honor of Presidents Day, every answer is the last name of a U.S. president. You will be given a word or phrase that is a president's last name with two letters changed. You name the president. For example, given "Carpet," the answer would be "Carter."

The Answer Lies Within

Feb 10, 2013

On-air challenge: Every answer is a three-letter word that ends a familiar two-word phrase. You will be given the first word of the phrase. You provide the three-letter word that ends it. And the three letters in your answer will always be found, in some order, inside the first word. For example, given "Arctic," you would say "Air."

On-air challenge: In recognition of the Super Bowl, the key word is "yards." You will be given some categories. For each one, name something in the category beginning with each of the letters Y, A, R, D and S. For example, if the category were "Girls' Names," you might say Yvonne, Alice, Rachel, Donna and Sally.

On-air challenge: Given three three-letter words, give a three-letter word that can follow each to complete a familiar six-letter word. None of the words in a set will be related in meaning. For example, given "dam," "man" and "sew," the answer would be "age," which results in "damage," "manage" and "sewage."

On-air challenge: Every answer is a word that can be formed from the letters of "Christmas." You'll be given two words as clues. The first one can precede the answer word, and the second one can follow it — in each case to complete a compound word or familiar two-word phrase. For example, given "forward" and "madness," the answer would be "march" (as in "forward march" and "March Madness").

On-air challenge: Every answer is a six-letter word containing "QU" somewhere inside it. You'll be given anagrams of the remaining four letters. You name the words (No answer is a plural or a word formed by adding "s.").

Last week's challenge from listener Adam Cohen of Brooklyn, N.Y.: Name two articles of apparel — things you wear — which, when the words are used as verbs, are synonyms of each other. What are they?

Answer: Belt, sock

Winner: Jeanne Kelsey of Lamberton, Minn.

On-air challenge: Every answer is a familiar three-word phrase in the form "____ of ____." The letters in the first and last words of each phrase are rearranged. You give the phrases. For example, "Cat of Dog" becomes "Act of God."

Last week's challenge from listener Henry Hook of Brooklyn, N.Y.: In a few weeks something will happen that hasn't happened since 1987. What is it?

Answer: A year with no repeat digits (1987, 2013)

Winner: Darren Dunham of Santa Clara, Calif.

Being Initially Famous

Nov 18, 2012

Special Note: Due to the Thanksgiving holiday, the deadline for this week's puzzle is Wednesday by 3 p.m. Eastern.

On-air challenge: Each clue is a two- or three-word description of a famous person in which the initial letters of the description are also the initials of the person. For example, given the clue "Motown great," the answer would be Marvin Gaye.

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