On-air challenge: You are given sentences with two blanks. Put a word starting with R in the first blank. Then move that R to the end to make a new word that goes in the second blank to complete the sentence. For example, given the sentence, "The door of the Indian ___ was left slightly ___," the answers would be "raja" and "ajar."
Last week's challenge: It's an anagram word ladder. For example, take the word "spring." If the last letter is changed to an O and the letters are rearranged, you get "prison." Alternatively, if the last letter is changed to an E and the letters rearranged, you get "sniper." Or change the last letter to an A and get "sprain," and so on. For this challenge, start with the word "autumn." Changing one letter at a time, and anagramming it each step of the way, turn "autumn" into "leaves." Each step has to be a common word. In how few steps can you do it?
Answer: Five is the fewest number of steps using the combination: autumn, mutual, amulet, salute, vestal, leaves; or autumn, mutual, amulet, salute, values, leaves. Many other combinations are possible.
Winner: Sherin Varghese of Los Angeles
Next week's challenge from listener Erica Avery of Wisconsin: Name a world capital whose letters can be rearranged to spell a popular and much-advertised drug. What's the capital, and what's the drug?
If you know the answer to next week's challenge, submit it here. Listeners who submit correct answers win a chance to play the on-air puzzle. Important: Include a phone number where we can reach you Thursday at 3 p.m. Eastern.
LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer. And it is time now for the puzzle.
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WERTHEIMER: Joining me now is puzzle-master Will Shortz. Good morning, Will.
WILL SHORTZ, BYLINE: Good morning, Linda.
WERTHEIMER: Will, what was last week's puzzle challenge again?
SHORTZ: Yes. It was an anagram word ladder. I said you start with the word autumn, then you change one letter at a time and anagram it each step of the way to turn autumn into leaves. And I said each step has to be a common word. And the goal was to do it in the fewest steps. Well, the answer was five steps - that is the minimum. And the answer I came up with is: autumn to mutual, amulet, salute, vestal - as in vestal virgins - and leaves. There are many other combinations that worked, and anything that worked was counted correct.
WERTHEIMER: OK. So, there were more than 500 listeners with a correct ladder of anagrams. And our winner this week is Sherin Varghese of Los Angeles, California. Congratulations, Sherin.
SHERIN VARGHESE: Thank you.
WERTHEIMER: So, Sherin, did you have the same words as Will did?
VARGHESE: The top three I remember were definitely the same. And I had values...
WERTHEIMER: So, Sherin, you got values instead of vestal?
WERTHEIMER: That was a very clever way to get there, I must say. I guess you don't get much in the way of autumn and leaves and whatnot out there in L.A.
VARGHESE: Not so much, but I am originally from New York. So, they are something I remember and miss every fall.
WERTHEIMER: And you're a big puzzle player?
VARGHESE: I am. I do the New York Times crossword every day, and I do love a good anagram when I can find one.
WERTHEIMER: OK. So here is your chance to meet the man who sets the puzzle. Sherin, meet Will, Will, meet Sherin.
VARGHESE: Hi, Will.
SHORTZ: Hey, Sherin. Well, I like your policy of solving the Times crossword every day. And, of course, I've brought a word puzzle for you today. I'm going to read you some sentences. Each sentence has two blanks. Put a word starting with R in the first blank, then move that R to the end to make a new word that goes in the second blank to complete the sentence. For example, if I said: The door of the Indian blank was left slightly blank, you would say raja R-A-J-A and ajar.
SHORTZ: All right. Here's number one: when the chef burned himself on the blank, he exploded in blank.
VARGHESE: On the...
SHORTZ: Something starting with an R.
VARGHESE: On a range and anger?
SHORTZ: That's it. On the range; he exploded in anger. Here's your next one: the traveler's blank across Asia passed through blank Mongolia.
VARGHESE: Mongolia. I'm trying to think of places in Mongolia.
SHORTZ: No, you don't need a place in Mongolia. You just need to complete the phrase blank Mongolia. Or try it on the other side: the traveler's blank through Asia. Think of a synonym of path, starting with R.
VARGHESE: Path. Route.
WERTHEIMER: There you go.
VARGHESE: Route and Outer Mongolia.
SHORTZ: Outer Mongolia is it, good. Years ago, members of the Pawnee and Kiowa tribes would blank all blank the plains. Here it is again: years ago, members of the Pawnee and Kiowa tribes would blank all blank the plains.
VARGHESE: All blank the plain. Rove and over?
SHORTZ: That's it. Would rove all over the plains, good. A blank in Southwest Arizona is just the sort of property the local news blank wants to buy.
VARGHESE: Southwest Arizona.
SHORTZ: Yeah. Think of a kind of home or a property, Spanish-style. A blank in southwest Arizona is just the sort of property the local news blank wants to buy.
SHORTZ: What would that second word be - the local news blank.
VARGHESE: Rancho and anchor?
SHORTZ: That's it. The actor who seemed distant and blank during the audition turned out to be quite the blank when he got on stage. OK. Here it is again: the actor who seemed distant and blank during his audition turned out to be quite the blank when he got on stage.
VARGHESE: Remote and emoter?
SHORTZ: That's it.
WERTHEIMER: Hey, that is very good.
SHORTZ: And here's your last one: between Madonna and her ex-husband, Guy blank, it was always the latter who was blank to get going.
SHORTZ: Yes. And what's the other word?
SHORTZ: Itchier, yes. Good job.
WERTHEIMER: Sherin, that was fabulous. And for playing our puzzle today, you will get a WEEKEND EDITION lapel pin as well as puzzle books and games. You can read all about it at npr.org/Puzzle. But before we let you go, can you tell me what your public radio station is?
VARGHESE: It's KPCC in Pasadena.
WERTHEIMER: Which is a wonderful station. Sherin Varghese of Los Angeles, thank you very much for playing the puzzle this week.
VARGHESE: Thank you, Linda and thank you, Will.
WERTHEIMER: OK, Will, give us your best shot for next week.
SHORTZ: Yes, this week's challenge comes from listener Erica Avery of Wisconsin, via the Internet. Name a world capital whose letters can be rearranged to spell a popular and much-advertised drug. What's the capital and what's the drug?
So again, a world capital, you can rearrange to name a popular and drug you see advertised a lot on TV. What's the capital and what's the drug?
WERTHEIMER: When you have the answer, go to our website, npr.org/puzzle and click on the Submit Your Answer link - just one entry per person, please. The deadline for entries is Thursday, September 13th at 3 P.M. Eastern Time. Please include a phone number where we can reach you at about that time. And if you are the winner we'll give you a call, and you'll get to play on the air with the puzzle editor of The New York Times and WEEKEND EDITION's puzzle-master, Will Shortz.
Will, thank you.
SHORTZ: Thanks, Linda.
(SOUNDBITE OF THEME MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.