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.

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: Today's puzzle is a game of categories based on the word peony. For each category, name something in the category beginning with each of the letters P-E-O-N-Y.

Last week's challenge: Name something in five letters that's nice to have a lot of in the summer. Change the last letter to the following letter of the alphabet. Rearrange the result, and you'll name something else that you probably have a lot of in the summer, but that you probably don't want. What is it? (HINT: the second thing is a form of the first thing.)

On-air challenge: Two clues will be provided. The first is for a brand name that ends in the letter S and sounds like it's plural. Change the first letter to spell a new word that is plural and answers the second clue. Example: tennis shoes, places to sleep; the answer would be Keds and beds.

On-air challenge: Today's puzzle is called "Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes." Every answer is a word starting with the letters "ch," and your clue will be an anagram of the word.

Last week's challenge: Name a famous actress of the past whose last name has five letters. Move the middle letter to the end to name another famous actress of the past. Who are these actresses?

Answer: Greta Garbo/Eva or Zsa Zsa Gabor

Winner: Craig Moreland from Okemos, Mich.

On-air challenge: Two clues will be given for two five-letter answers. Move the middle letter of the first answer to the end of the word to get the second answer. Example: A weapon that's thrown; a tire in the trunk. Answer: spear/spare

The Missing Link

Jun 29, 2014

On-air challenge: For each set of three words, find a word that can precede each one to complete a familiar two-word phrase or name. The first word in each set will name an animal. Example: turtle, spring, office. The answer would be box — box turtle, box spring, box office.

Last week's challenge: Think of a 10-letter adjective describing certain institutions. Drop three letters from this word, and the remaining seven letters, reading left to right, will name an institution described by this adjective. What institution is it?

On-air challenge: Today's puzzle is geographical. Every answer is the name of a river — identify it using its anagram minus a letter. Example: Top minus T = Po (River).

Last Week's Challenge: Name part of a TV that contains the letter C. Replace the C with the name of a book of the Old Testament, keeping all the letters in order. The result will name a sailing vessel of old. What is it?

Answer: Viking Ship

Winner: Jay Adams of Monticello, Fla.

On-air challenge: The theme of today's puzzle is May. Every answer is a familiar two-word phrase or name in which the first word starts with MA and the second word ends with Y. Example: Alcoholic beverage made from fermented mash: Malt Whiskey

Last Week's Challenge: Name a famous actress of the past whose last name has two syllables. Reverse the syllables phonetically. The result will name an ailment. What is it?

Answer: Sarah Bernhardt — heart burn

Winner: David Hodges of Collingswood, N.J.

On-air challenge: Every answer is a five-letter word. You will be given a clue for the word. Besides describing the answer, the clue will also contain the answer in consecutive letters. For example, given "It's near the planet Mars," you would say, "Earth."

Last week's challenge Mike Reiss, a writer for The Simpsons: Name a famous actor or actress whose last name ends in a doubled letter. Drop that doubled letter. Then insert an R somewhere inside the first name. The result will be a common two-word phrase. What is it?

First In, Last Out

Apr 27, 2014

On-air challenge: For each word provided, give a word that can follow it to complete a familiar two-word phrase. The first two letters of the provided word should be the last two letters of the answer. Example: Red Square

Last week's challenge: Name certain trees. Also name something that trees have. Rearrange all the letters to get the brand name of a product you might buy at a grocery or drug store. What is it?

Answer: Firs + Leaves = Life Savers

Winner: Nils Thingvall of Lafayette, Colo.

On-air challenge: With spring in the air, it's a fitting time for a flower puzzle. Find the flower answer using its anagram, minus one letter. Example: R-I-S-H-I, minus H, is "iris."

Last week's challenge from listener Louis Sargent of Portland, Ore: Name a well-known American company. Insert a W somewhere inside the name, and you'll get two consecutive titles of popular TV shows of the past. What are they?

Answer: Westinghouse; West Wing, House

Winner: John Rowden of New York

On-air challenge: For each geographical place provided, change one letter to make a new, common word that has a different number of syllables than the geographical name. Note: The answer word can have either fewer or more syllables than the geographical name.

Example: Lima = limp, limb, lime (for some of the names, multiple answers are possible)

On-air challenge: A series of paired words will be provided. For each pair, think of a third word that can follow the first one and precede the second to complete a familiar two-word phrase. Every answer starts with "W." Example: Open and Awake; Answer: Wide.

Last week's challenge: This puzzle was created by Will Shortz for an event held recently at the Museum of Mathematics in New York City. Take the name of a classical Greek mathematician. The letters in his name can be rearranged to spell two numbers. What are they?

On-air challenge: For each five-letter word provided, insert two letters after the first letter to complete a familiar seven-letter word.

Last week's challenge: The challenge came from listener Harry Hillson of Avon-by-the-Sea, N.J. Take the first name of a nominee for Best Actor or Best Actress at last Sunday's Oscars. You can rearrange these letters into a two-word phrase that describes his or her character in the film for which he or she is nominated. Who is this star, and what is the phrase?

On-air challenge: Today's puzzle is called "Let's." Every answer is a familiar two-word phrase or title containing the consecutive letters L-E-T. Specifically, the first word will end in L-E and the second word will start with T.

Last week's challenge: Write down these six words:

  • Cupid
  • Yoo-hoo
  • Eyeball
  • Entrance
  • Seafood
  • Wiper

On-air challenge: Every answer is the name of a famous person with four letters in his or her first name and four letters in the last. For each person, you'll be given initials and an anagram of the full name. You name the person.

Last week's challenge: Name a famous entertainer: two words, four letters in each word. You can rearrange these eight letters to spell the acronym of a well-known national organization, and the word that the first letter of this acronym stands for. Who's the entertainer, and what's the organization?

On-air challenge: Today's puzzle is called "One, Two, Three — Flip!" The answer will come in the form of two words, and for each word you'll get a clue beforehand. Reverse the order of the first three letters of the first word to get the second word. Example: Cavalry sword and more villainous = SABER, BASER.