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: For each word starting with "W," think of another word, also starting with W, that can follow the first to complete a compound word or a familiar two-word phrase. Example: Walk --> Way = walkway

Last week's challenge: This challenge comes from listener Peter Stein of San Francisco. Think of a job, in eight letters, that names someone who might work with actors. Change one letter in this to the following letter of the alphabet to name another person who works with actors. What jobs are these?

On-air challenge: Every answer is the name of a popular TV series past or present. For each word or phrase given, remove some of its letters so that those that remain, reading from left to right, will name the show. Every answer will use at least half the letters of the given word or phrase. For example, "Brownies" is Bones.

On-air challenge: Every answer is a made-up, two-word phrase in which the first word has seven letters. Drop its first and last letters to get a five-letter word that is the second part of the phrase. For example: Bottled water from France that is not normal is "deviant Evian."

Last week's challenge: The challenge came from listener Henry Hook. And it was a little tricky. Given a standard calculator with room for 10 digits, what is the largest whole number you can register on it?

Say Yes To The Puzzle

Mar 15, 2015

On-air challenge: "Yes" is supposed to be the most pleasing word in the English language. And if that's true, today's puzzle will be very pleasing indeed. Every answer is an anagram of "yes" plus two or three other letters.

Last week's challenge: Take a familiar phrase in the form "[blank] and [blank]." Put the second word in front of the first, and you'll name a common part of a large company. What is it?

Answer: "Room and board," boardroom

On-air challenge: Every answer today is the name of an Academy Award winner or nominee for best picture. Using the given anagram, decipher the title of the film. The films will go from oldest to newest. Example: OUTWORN (1940) (2 words). Answer: OUR TOWN

Last week's challenge: Name a major U.S. city in two syllables. Reverse the syllables phonetically to get the cost of attending a certain NBA game. What is it?

Answer: Phoenix, Knicks fee

On-air challenge: Today's puzzle is called "La La La." Every answer is a word or name of three or more syllables in which an interior syllable is an accented "la." Example: Family name of the former shah of Iran: Pahlavi

On-air challenge: For each familiar two-word phrase, use the first three letters of the first word and the first three letters of the second word to start two other words that have opposite meanings of each other. Example: Health food = HEAD, FOOT

Last week's challenge: Think of a well-known place name in the U.S. in four letters. Switch the second and third letters to get a well-known place name in Europe. What is it?

Answer: Erie, Eire

Winner: Paul Weinstock of Gahanna, Ohio.

On-air challenge: Every answer is a made-up two-word phrase, where the second and third letters of the first word are switched to get the second word. Example: Serene bivalve would be calm clam

Last week's challenge: This challenge came from listener Ben Bass of Chicago. Name someone who welcomes you in. Insert the letter U somewhere inside this, and you'll name something that warns you to stay away. Who is this person, and what is this thing?

Answer: Bell boy, bell buoy.

A Puzzle Full Of Air

Jan 25, 2015

On-air challenge: Every answer today is a word starting with the letters A-R, which you will identify from its anagram. For example, given AR plus ROB, the answer would be "arbor."

Last week's challenge: Name two animals, both mammals, one of them domestic, the other wild. Put their letters together, and rearrange the result to name another mammal, this one wild, and not seen naturally around North America. What mammal is it?

Answer: dog + gnu = dugong

Winner: Michael Kurh, Geneva, Ill.

On-air challenge: It's another geographical puzzle this week. For each familiar two-word phrase and name, take one or more letters from the start of the first word plus one or more letters from the start of the second word. Read them in order from left to right to name a country.

Editor's Note: In a previous version of this page we posted the wrong on-air challenge. The correct on-air challenge for the week is posted below.

On-air challenge: Given a clue, each response is a two-word answer with the first word starting with B-R and the second word starting with R.

Last week's challenge: Take the following 5-word sentence: "THOSE BARBARIANS AMBUSH HEAVIER FIANCEES." These 5 words have something very unusual in common. What is it?

On-air challenge: These are some business-related puzzles made for the New York Times' DealBook conference in New York last Thursday. Every answer is the name of a Fortune 200 company — that is, one of the top 200 corporations according to the 2014 list in Fortune magazine.

Last week's challenge: This week's challenge comes from listener Harry Hilson of Avon-by-the-Sea, N.J. Take the phrase "a few Texans come in." Rearrange these letters to name a geographic place. What is it?

Just Say No, N-O

Dec 7, 2014

On-air challenge: Think of the old saying: "That means no, N-O!" Every answer today is a familiar two-word phrase or name with the initial letters N and O. Example: Any place that reports on current events: NEWS OUTLET.

Last week's challenge: Bertrand Tavernier is a French director of such movies as Life and Nothing But and It All Starts Today. What amazing wordplay property does the name Bertrand Tavernier have? This sounds like an open-ended question, but when you have the right answer, you'll have no doubt about it.

NOTE: Due to the Thanksgiving holiday, the deadline for this week's puzzle will be on Wednesday at 3 p.m. Eastern.

On-air challenge: You'll be given two words. Change the first consonant sound in each word to the same new consonant sound and you'll phonetically name two things in the same category. For example, given "soxer," and "legal," you would say "boxer," and "beagle," which are both breeds of dogs.

Making Ends Meet

Nov 9, 2014

On-air challenge: Given a category, name something whose first two letters are the first and last letters of the category. For example, given "Animal," you would say "Alligator" or "Alpaca."

Last week's challenge, from listener Sandy Weisz of Chicago: Write down the following four times: 3:00, 6:00, 12:55 and 4:07. These are the only times on a clock that share a certain property (without repeating oneself). What property is this?

On-air challenge: A series of names of famous people will be given. For each name, change either the first or last letter of the last name to a new letter, and rearrange the result to name a country.

Last week's challenge: Last week's challenge came from listener Mike Reiss, who's a writer for The Simpsons. Name a well-known TV actress of the past. Put an R between her first and last names. Then read the result backward. The result will be an order Dr. Frankenstein might give to Igor. Who is the actress, and what is the order?

On-air challenge: Every answer today is the name of a popular prime-time TV series from this century, on either broadcast or cable. Identify the shows from their anagrams. For example, OBLIGE + V = BIG LOVE.

Last week's challenge: Take the first four letters of a brand of toothpaste plus the last five letters of an over-the-counter medicine, and together, in order, the result will name a popular beverage. What is it?

Answer: Pepsodent + Ricola = Pepsi Cola

Winner: Brendan Pimper, LaHabra, Calif.

On-air challenge: The word cho means "beautiful" in Korean and "butterfly" in Japanese. Every answer is a familiar two-word phrase or name based around "cho." Specifically, the first word of the answer starts with C and the second word starts HO.

Last week's challenge: Think of a 10-letter word that names an invention of the early 20th century, which includes an A and an O. Remove the A. Then move the O to where the A was, leaving a space where the O was, and you'll name a much more recent invention. What is it?

On-air challenge: There are clues for two words. Add a long A sound at the end of the first word to phonetically get the second one. For example, the clues "baby cow" and "sidewalk eatery" would yield "calf" and "cafe."

Last week's challenge: Name a famous actor best known for tough-guy roles. The first five letters of his first name and the first four letters of his last name are the first five and four letters, respectively, in the first and last names of a famous author. Who is the actor, and who is the author?

On-air challenge: Given a five-letter word, insert two new letters between the second and third letters of the given word to complete a common seven-letter word. For example: Amble - Am(ia)ble.

Last week's challenge: This three-part challenge comes from listener Lou Gottlieb. If you punch 0-1-4-0 into a calculator, and turn it upside-down, you get the state OHIO. What numbers can you punch in a calculator, and turn upside-down, to get a state capital, a country and a country's capital?

The Puzzle And The Pea

Sep 14, 2014

On-air challenge: Every answer today is a word or name with an accented syllable "pee" — spelled in any way — but always occurring inside the word, never at the start or end. For example, one saying the same thing again and again would be "repeater."

Last week's challenge: Think of a word starting with T. Drop the T, and phonetically you'll get a new word that's a synonym of the first one. What words are these?

Answer: Twirl / whirl

Winner: Brian Gillis of Evanston, Ill.

On-air challenge: Every answer is a familiar two-word phrase in which the two words start with the same consonant or pair of consonants. Given rhymes for the words, you name the words.

Example: Given "stubble checker," you would say, "double decker."

Last week's challenge from listener Peter Gwinn: Think of a word that means "to come before." Replace its last letter with two new letters to get "someone who comes after you." These two words are unrelated etymologically. What words are they?

On-air challenge: Every answer this week is a made-up two-word phrase, in which both words start with 'S' and they're anagrams of each other.

Example: Identical line where two pieces of fabric are sewn together = SAME SEAM

Last week's challenge: Name a world leader of the 1960s (two words). Change the last letter of the second word. Then switch the order of the words, putting the second word in front. The result will name a hit song of the 1990s. Who is the leader, and what is the song?

On-air challenge: Every answer is a made-up, two-word phrase, in which the first word has 5 letters. Drop its last letter and read the remaining 4 letters backward, and you'll get the second word of the phrase.

Example: A Scrabble piece used by a select group of people = ELITE TILE

Last week's challenge from American puzzlemaker Sam Lloyd: You have a target with six rings, bearing the numbers 16, 17, 23, 24, 39 and 40. How can you score exactly 100 points, by shooting at the target?

On-Air Challenge: Given a sentence, change one letter in one word to make a new word which completely reverses the meaning of the sentence. For example, given "The singer is not coming on stage." Changing the "T" in not to a "W" in the word "not" makes the sentence, "The singer is now coming on stage."