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LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer. And it is time now for the puzzle.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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?

VARGHESE: Yes.

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.

VARGHESE: OK.

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.

SHORTZ: Yes.

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.

VARGHESE: Local...

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.

VARGHESE: Ritchie...

SHORTZ: Yes. And what's the other word?

VARGHESE: Itchier.

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)

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