Following the Bouncing Ping-Pong Ball

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As Baltimore, Md., hosts the North American Teams Table Tennis Championships, Weekend Edition Sunday puzzlemaster Will Shortz displays his gaming versatility. He's a long-time table tennis player, too.

WILL SHORTZ: Is this amazing? It's an entire convention floor filled with table tennis tables and table tennis players from all over the world.

LIANE HANSEN, host:

So where's your team right now?

SHORTZ: The team is right in front of us. This is Brett(ph) in the red shirt. He's born in Barbados and he's a councilor, a school councilor, in New York. Right here is Steve Horowitz, who is one of the leading - the country's leading cardiologist, and his son, Will(ph), is playing right now. He's in his mid-20s. He's a chef.

HANSEN: Really?

SHORTZ: All of us are about equal in difficulty. I am probably the weakest person on the team, but we're all very close.

HANSEN: All right. You'll have to explain to everybody. You've been playing since 2001 really. I mean, that kind of a time you played this as a kid.

SHORTZ: Yeah.

HANSEN: Why? Why? I mean, to this level, we are here at North American Championships, Will, this is - you're not just playing in your basement.

SHORTZ: Oh, there are so many reasons I love table tennis. The speed of the game, the geometry of it, both men and women play together, something where men and women can be almost equally. Very few sports that's true of. And it's also a great social game. Unlike tennis, you can actually talk to your opponent across the table or between points. So I love the social nature of it, too.

HANSEN: Who is your team playing now?

SHORTZ: We're playing a team - I'm not sure. Steve, who are we playing?

Dr. STEVE HOROWITZ (Cardiologist): Hi.

HANSEN: Hi, Steve. Introduce yourself.

SHORTZ: This is Liane Hansen.

Dr. HOROWITZ: Hi, Steve Horowitz. How are you?

HANSEN: Leading cardiologist and wicked table tennis player.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: Who's your team playing now?

Dr. HOROWITZ: We're playing a team that's one slot higher than we are.

SHORTZ: My first match this morning, I tell you, my mouth was dry. My hand was shaking. I could hardly swing my arm. But I got into it. It worked out. And I think I'm loosened up now.

HANSEN: Do you want to know how many people in America listening to you talk about how nervous you are about something? They are all going, yes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SHORTZ: You know, I can talk in front of 2,000 people. I can do the puzzle on the radio with 500 stations, and no problem at all. I come here. I turn to putty.

Dr. HOROWITZ: Yes, Will, let's go.

Mr. BRETT HARDING(ph) (Coach): You got to get down.

SHORTZ: Thank you.

Mr. HARDING: They're taking the ball.

SHORTZ: Okay.

Mr. HARDING: And so you get down and like you're sitting to be able to…

SHORTZ: Okay.

HANSEN: Goodbye.

SHORTZ: All right.

Dr. HOROWITZ: Let's go, WIll. Take this guy out, Will. Let's go.

HANSEN: Your Will's coach?

Mr. HARDING: Yeah. One of them. I'm one of the coaches.

HANSEN: So what's your name?

Mr. HARDING: Brett Harding.

HANSEN: How is he doing?

Mr. HARDING: He's doing all right. I mean, (unintelligible) the guy is this with more attacking (unintelligible). He's just kind of stand there and be more in the defensive end. And he has to place the ball directly into his back arm in order to make some place. But he'll be all right. I'm confident he'll probably win this game.

Dr. HOROWITZ: Nice, Will. That's it.

(Soundbite of applause)

Dr. HOROWITZ: That's it. That's it.

HANSEN: Arms in the air. Will Shortz. So you were playing…

Dr. HOROWITZ: Nice match.

HANSEN: …the east - the Grand Rapids East Table Tennis Club. How did you…

SHORTZ: Yey.

HANSEN: And you won.

SHORTZ: Yeah. Well, I had some great advice there after my - I lost that first game. You know, stay low. Do my game, lots of top spin. It worked.

HANSEN: How many games do you think you're going to have to play?

SHORTZ: I'm guessing that I will play about 20 matches over the course, maybe more. And, of course, each one you have to win the best three games - win three games out of five. So, a lot of games.

HANSEN: Look at the smile on your face. You're having a ball, aren't you?

SHORTZ: I am. Yes. This is - yeah, this is a great place to be.

HANSEN: Well, thanks for inviting us to come and watch you play some champion-level table tennis. Good luck with the rest of the tournament.

SHORTZ: Thanks a lot, Liane.

(Soundbite of table tennis game)

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