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Puzzling through a radio quiz

Crossword puzzle fan Charlotte Graham earned a spot on National Public Radio's Weekend Edition Sunday. She performed well and won prizes.

© St. Petersburg Times
published November 10, 2002

SPRING HILL -- Okay, here's the deal: I'll give you two clues. The answer to the first clue starts with the letter "e." To get the answer to the second clue, move the "e" to the end of the answer to the first clue. Got it?

Now do a string of these on the telephone -- quickly, please -- as millions of people listen to you on more than 500 National Public Radio stations around the world.

That's what Spring Hill resident Charlotte Graham was asked to do on Nov. 3 during NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday program.

And she got every question right.

"They called me late Thursday to tell me I was going to be on the show," Mrs. Graham said. She was one of 500 people who solved the previous week's on-air puzzle, putting her into the drawing to be on the current week's program.

That puzzle: "The word EFFERVESCENCE is unusual because E's are spaced out in it. It has 13 letters, and E's appear in positions 1, 4, 7, 10 and 13. Now, think of a familiar two-word phrase in 15 letters, in which the letter 'R' appears in positions 1, 4, 8, 12, 15. These are the only R's that appear in them. What phrase is it?"

After "quite a few hours" letter-juggling, Mrs. Graham -- an indefatigable crossword puzzle fan -- solved the puzzle: REFRIGERATOR CAR.

"I e-mailed my answer, and they picked my name out of the hat," she said.

The call from puzzle master Will Shortz and program host Liane Hansen to actually play the game came on Friday afternoon. It was recorded to be played on Sunday.

"(The game) was longer, but they took a couple of questions out, I would assume for time," Mrs. Graham said.

She quickly answered the first challenge of the series: leader of Kuwait and bog or marsh. Answers: emir and mire.

Next: fundamental beliefs of a culture and the one yonder. Pause. "The second word is the companion to 'these,' " Shortz said.

"Those?" Mrs. Graham said slowly. That made the first answer "ethos."

"These are all crossword puzzle things," Mrs. Graham said. "'Black in poetry and radius, for example.' That one was tricky." The answers: ebon and bone. "The 'radius' thing would throw you off."

Doug and Charlotte Graham get two newspapers each morning and "have a sort of contest" to see which one of them can finish the same crossword puzzle first.

"The New York Times (puzzle) is extremely sneaky," she said, referring to the puzzles created by Shortz. "I don't often do them -- but don't tell Will Shortz that."

The rest of the puzzles went quickly, some answered before Shortz could finish saying them:

Dutch cheese/woman's title: Edam and Dame.

Something that can knock you out/yonder: ether and there.

Cupid/gift on Valentine's Day: Eros and rose.

Like sounds in a canyon/preference: echo? "Make that an adjective," Shortz coaches. Ech-o-ic? and choice.

"Echoic?" Ms. Hansen says incredulously. "I have to make sure he's not making this up, 'cause he could just say anything." Nope. It's in the dictionary.

"Liane Hansen and Will Shortz were so kind. They want you to do well," Mrs. Graham said.

The only one that almost stumped her:

Come forth or flow out/endangered sea animal with flippers: Silence. ("Hint: It has seven letters," Shortz says.) Silence. ("Also called a dugong," he adds.) Oh yes, of course. Emanate and manatee.

Last one:

Wicked and wicked. Answer: evil and vile.

For her on-air work, Mrs. Graham won a Weekend Edition lapel pin, a Merriam-Webster Collegiate Reference Set, both print and electronic, Scrabble Deluxe Edition, The Puzzlemaster Presents and a new book, Will Shortz's Favorite Crossword Puzzles from the Pages of The New York Times.

"Since I've been on the show, I've gotten a lot of interesting calls," Mrs. Graham said. One was from a resident of Toronto who has a home in Spring Hill. "He will be down in December, and he's going to call us and get together."

As for her moment of fame:

"I figure I was on 6 minutes and 37 seconds," she said. "If Andy Warhol was right, maybe I have another 7 minutes of fame to go."

-- Weekend Edition Sunday is broadcast locally on WUSF-FM 89.7 and on WJUF-FM 90.1.

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