Sunday, March 20, 2011

NPR Puzzle 3/20/11 - Will Shortz Exacts His Revenge...

...which would be called what?  Shortz-sheeting?  Okay more on that later, but first,

Here's this week's puzzle:
Take the phrase "consumer protection laws," and rearrange the letters to name a person in broadcasting and an issue of public debate. Hints: The name of the person in broadcasting has five letters in the first name and five letters in the last name. For the issue of public debate, it's a familiar two-word phrase with seven letters in the first word and five letters in the second. What name and phrase are these?
Yes, we cheated to solve it, and yes, it is cheating, and no, we don't enter the actual contest to get on air.

But you should enter your answer in the actual contest -- and to do that, send your answer here to NPR.

Now, I mention the cheating issue because we have a few new readers, at least judging by the comments and entries in our Pick-a-Range contest (see below), and I just want things to be clear.  Also, Will Shortz (if I drop his name any harder, I'll bruise my foot) was pointing out to us that he works hard to come up with puzzles that can't be solved using computer programs like Ross's TEA.  So I told him that in the two years or so that we've been blogging about the NPR puzzle, no one has purchased Ross's software direct from this blog.  So much for flogging the product.

But we do use the software to solve the NPR puzzle, and honestly, I don't even feel guilty.  I'll explain.  Ross's software does many nifty things, including finding all the words you can make out of a longer string of letters.  He recently (oh, a year or so ago) added all the entries in Wikipedia to a dictionary -- which gives you a lot of stuff, but also people like our newscaster in this week's puzzle.  So with some relatively simple clickety-clacks, I can say I know what the answer is.  That's a good thing, because I need to know the answer to find some pretty pictures for our photo section.  Among other things.

If we submitted the answer to NPR (see above), I'd feel maybe a little unsporting.  But we don't.  (We can live without the lapel pin.  Sorry, Will, but we can.)

Oh, right -- Shortz-sheeting.  Okay, so we're here at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament in Brooklyn, which is Will's pride and joy, particularly as he started it himself before he became the puzzle editor of the New York Times.  In previous years, he's graciously greeted us in the lobby and acknowledged this blog.  So, sure, I tease him regarding the NPR puzzle, mostly because he is THE Will Shortz.  He can hardly care that someone in deeply rural Pennsylvania is less than reverential.

Bad move on my part.

I don't compete in the actual crossword puzzle tournament, but I did hang out with Ross and Henry at Saturday night's frivolities, which involved a quiz/word game competition based on The Amazing Race (courtesy of the puzzle guys on the A Way With Words radio show).  Ross and I had participated in last year's competition, and ended up in the finals -- on stage -- as the result of a fortuitous link-up with David Plotkin, a phenomenal young puzzler (currently 11th in the rankings after six of the seven puzzles in this year's competition).  This year, we had Henry in our team, plus a lovely woman named Kathy, who's been competing in the ACPT for five years.

Geography isn't a strong suit for any of us -- although I did okay with the herbs & spices sub-puzzle.  But the rest of the puzzles were amalgams of wordplay and geography.  One was a cryptic puzzle playing off the prevalence of STAN as the ending to countries' names and Stan Newman as a puzzle constructor.

Cryptic crosswords are Henry's and Ross's metier.  So who wanders up, pulls up a chair and sits to watch us but WILL SHORTZ.  Personally, I don't think Kathy noticed or cared, and Henry and Ross just plowed on, but I freaked out.  Of course I want Will to know who I am, but not to see how clueless I can be under pressure with the puzzle editor of the New York Times watching.  Could he really be punishing me for my irreverence?  Hmm.  (Maybe I should make him write a romance novel while I watch...)

Okay, that would be over the top.  (Sorry, Will.)

In other news, Ross did a nice job with his speech on Friday night on the difference between British and American cryptic puzzles.  He really was terrified of this gig five weeks ago, and by the time he got up to talk -- well, okay, so he's not a natural performer, but he was really cute and funny.  (I'm biased, but I still think I'm right.)

Photo time.  Here are some carefully disguised places associated with the two answers to this week's puzzle:  the topic and the newscaster.  The first three photos are associated with the newscaster, the final three photos have a connection to the topic of debate.

Time for ...
P I C K   A   R A N G E

This is where we ask you how many entries you think NPR will get for the challenge above.  If you want to win, leave a comment with your guess for the range of entries NPR will receive.  First come first served, so read existing comments before you guess.  Ross and I guess last, just before we publish the Thursday post.  After the Thursday post is up, the entries are closed.  The winner gets a puzzle book of our unspecified choosing.

We are in a hotel room at the Brooklyn Bridge Marriott.  We're not exactly stupid people (well, Ross's stunt this morning requiring Engineering to be called would suggest otherwise, but other than that) but we couldn't get the radio to work.  If I can get live streaming of the radio broadcast from the central time zone, I'll amend this post with the all-important information about whether anyone won.  Otherwise, it will have to wait for when NPR uploads the broadcast.  If you're reading this without that announcement, come back later on today (Sunday).

Edited to add (at 6:15 p.m.) that there were just over 2,200 entries last week -- and no one was up that high.  Also, let's all rag on Ross, who mysteriously was convinced there would be fewer than one-third that many entries.

Also, thanks to Will Shortz for mentioning Mark Goodliffe and Peter Biddlecombe who, with Simon Anthony, came over from Old Blighty to compete in the ACPT.  It was a delight to meet them (we had dinner with Mark and Simon on Friday and hosted everyone to a party on Saturday).  For me, personally, it was particularly nice to meet Peter's wife, Jacquie, who stayed through our party last night even though it was her birthday!!  (And it was one of those ends-in-a-zero birthdays, too.) 

But next week we'll be back home, where our IQ is at least average, so play Pick a Range this week.  It can't get more discombobulated than it has been today.  Here are the ranges:

Fewer than 50       
50 - 100
100 - 150
150 - 200
200 - 250
250 - 300
300 - 350
350 - 400
400 - 450
450 - 500

500 - 550
550 - 600
600 - 650
650 - 700
700 - 750
750 - 800
800 - 850
850 - 900
900 - 950
950 - 1,000
1,000 - 1,050         
1,050 - 1,100
1,100 - 1,150
1,150 - 1,200
1,200 - 1,250
1,250 - 1,300
1,300 - 1,350
1,350 - 1,400
1,400 - 1,450
1,450 - 1,500

1,500 - 1,550
1,550 - 1,600
1,600 - 1,650
1,650 - 1,700
1,700 - 1,750
1,750 - 1,800
1,800 - 1,850
1,850 - 1,900
1,900 - 1,950
1,950 - 2,000
2,000 - 2,050
2,050 - 2,100
2,100 - 2,150
2,150 - 2,200
2,200 - 2,250
2,250 - 2,300
2,300 - 2,350
2,350 - 2,400
2,400 - 2,450
2,450 - 2,500

2,500 - 2,750
2,750 - 3,000
3,000 - 3,250
3,250 - 3,500
3,500 - 4,000
4,000 - 4,500
4,500 - 5,000

More than 5,000
More than 5,000 and it sets a new record.
Our tie-break rule: 
In the event that a single round number is announced, AND two separate people picked the ranges leading up to and leading up from that round number, the prize will be awarded to whichever entrant had not already won a prize, or in the event that both entrants had won a prize already or neither had, then to the earlier of the two entries on the famous judicial principle of "First Come First Serve," (or in technical legal jargon, "You Snooze, You Lose")


Anonymous said...

My first reaction when I heard the problem was similar to that many SAT test-takers had this month when confronted with a recent SAT essay prompt that asked about reality television: But I don't watch TV! So how was I to know the name of the person in broadcasting? After all, I get all my news the old-fashioned way: from the town crier.

Therein lies the danger of assumptions. Once I decided to zero in on the name, leaving the issue for second, I was able to find the answer fairly easily. I wonder, though, whether there are other answers. It seems to me there may well be, especially if we are liberal (as in generous, not Democratic) in interpreting the issue of debate. Has anyone come up with an alternate answer?

As I was way, way off with my range last week, I'll try to atone by taking the 1000-1050 range.


David said...

Like Phil, getting the name was the trick (which, fortunately for me, came quickly). It was easy to get the public debate subject with the remaining letters.

What I want to know is how did Ed Pegg Jr. come up with this puzzle? Did he look at the phrase "consumer protection laws" and see name and subject anagrammed in the letters, or what?

I think this is harder than last week, so I'll go with 1100 to 1150.

Dave said...

David, I agree with you. How did Ed Pegg, Jr., come up with this puzzle?

I tried finding a broadcaster with five letters in the first and last names and couldn't do it using the given letters, so I worked the puzzle backwards. Even after getting the name of the broadcaster, I wasn't sure if my answer was correct until I googled it.

I'll snag the 1,500 to 1,550 slot, please.

Crossword Man said...

I assume EPJ has a program that looks for long phrases whose letters can be jumbled into two other phrases.

All three phrases in this case are in the (publicly available) Wikipedia index, so I'm guessing that might be his source of material.

The art is in choosing - out of the many possibilities that are generated - sets of phrases that have some interesting associations.

Grace said...

The debate issue was the easiest, just went over current events in my head. The left over letters spelled 2 names that could be first or last. I have never heard of the personality. (Canadian you know).Had to Google the names. Had a laugh when the employer of the person came up. This is my favorite kind of puzzle.One with a bit of a twist at the end. Is using Google cheating? Bye the way this is the first week I can not figure out any of the pictures.

Marie said...

So simple, 1950-2000 range please.

Mendo Jim said...

I don't know if this challenge would have been quite so tough if Murphy hadn't stopped by.
I got it online Saturday evening and spent some time working out my approach. I had the issue on first guess (it turned out) but could not get the name. By Sunday morning I had decided there was a chance I was looking for "a name in broadcasting" such as United Press.
Also by Sunday morning a once-twenty-year wind storm had set off a 40 + hour power outage so I couldn't check the wording.
Convincing myself it was a person, I wondered "famous" "well-known" or otherwise.
Then, sneaking onto the internet while a borrowed generator chilled my freezer and fridge, I saw enough hints to show me the way this morning when the juice came back on.
The fact that I had written down one wrong left-over letter from the issue wouldn't have made a difference if I had ever heard of the "otherwise" person.
As for how the anagrams were found, just plug the 22 letters into one of the online servers and sort through the possibilities.☺
How about 950-1000 for a mindless guess?

Grace said...

I will try 1600-1650

David said...

I'm surprised we don't seem to have more people getting the answer to this week's puzzle. I was out of town most of last week at a company function (too much beer, too little sleep) returning home late on Friday, then got up early the next morning for a full day of errands. I saw the post later that evening and even in my weakened condition Saturday night (mentally and physically), it didn't take me too long to get the broadcaster.