RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. This is Weekend Edition from NPR News. To your battle stations, people, because it is time for the puzzle.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
MARTIN: Joining me now is Will Shortz. He is, of course, the puzzle editor for the New York Times and WEEKEND EDITION's puzzle-master. Good morning, Will.
WILL SHORTZ, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.
MARTIN: As you know, Will, we are breaking format this week - kind of, right?
SHORTZ: Yeah. We're in the middle of a two-week challenge, which I will remind everyone of in a moment.
MARTIN: All right. This week, we have a celebrity edition of the puzzle. And our victim is not an unsuspecting listener. Taking on our challenge is comedienne Paula Poundstone. She joins us on the line now. Hey, Paula.
PAULA POUNDSTONE: Hey, how you doing?
MARTIN: Doing well. Thanks so much for doing this.
POUNDSTONE: Oh, it's nice to be here. Thanks for having me. I'm so excited to have another program on which I can seem like a total idiot. This is expanding my foundation that I've already begun to build on WAIT WAIT...DON'T TELL ME. So, this put the final nail in the coffin.
MARTIN: Oh man. So, for the handful of people who don't know out there, you are a regular panelist on WAIT WAIT...DON'T TELL ME. I kind of feel like that that's a quiz show. Like there's a parallel with puzzling. I think it's good prep.
POUNDSTONE: Yeah, yeah, that's what's this is.
MARTIN: I understand you and Will share an abiding passion for the sport of table tennis.
POUNDSTONE: Well, I play ping-pong, which I know offends table tennis people. But the way I play it, it shouldn't...
MARTIN: It shouldn't be called - it doesn't rise to the level of table tennis.
POUNDSTONE: Right. That's exactly right. It should not rise to the level of table tennis. I have parties several times a year where we play in my backyard and I have the machine that shoots the balls at you.
MARTIN: Oh, that sounds pretty hardcore.
POUNDSTONE: Yeah. I have a lot of bruises all over my body.
MARTIN: So, let's play the puzzle together. Does that sound good?
POUNDSTONE: Yeah. I like to talk about ping-pong 'cause that way I further delay my immolation - is that the right word?
MARTIN: We'll see. Let's be a little more optimistic than immolation. Let's see. OK. Let's do it. Will.
SHORTZ: Paula and Rachel, this is a good two-person puzzle. I'm going to name some things that are in discrete categories. If you were to list all he things in the category alphabetically, the one I give you would be second in the list. You tell me the thing that would be first alphabetically. For example, if I said Doc D-O-C, you would say Bashful, because Doc is the second of the seven dwarves alphabetically and Bashful is the first. Got that?
POUNDSTONE: Ooh, do I ever. It's part of my DNA.
MARTIN: All right. Let's go.
SHORTZ: Number one is Jupiter. What is the only planet ahead of Jupiter alphabetically?
SHORTZ: Earth is it. Good job. Number two is: Monday. What comes before Monday?
SHORTZ: Friday. Good job. Here's your next one: Aries A-R-I-E-S.
SHORTZ: Aquarius. Good job. Center fielder.
MARTIN: Center fielder.
MARTIN: Ah, good.
SHORTZ: That's it. Antarctica. And we're going for continents. And it's not Europe or Asia or North or South America. Which leaves - and it's not Australia either.
POUNDSTONE: What's the matter with me. I like to wallow in my incorrectness. I'm getting some of it on my elbows right now.
SHORTZ: Do you know this one, Rachel?
MARTIN: What is it?
SHORTZ: Oh, I'm going to have to tell you - it's Africa.
MARTIN: Oh, no.
POUNDSTONE: Oh, for heaven's sake. Of course.
MARTIN: F - it's F.
POUNDSTONE: What was I thinking?
MARTIN: F comes before N, geez. All I could think of was Asia.
SHORTZ: OK. Put that one behind you. Here's your next one.
POUNDSTONE: And I thought he's spelling it wrong.
SHORTZ: Can we edit...
POUNDSTONE: Yeah, I think we have to edit this. Definitely. There's no question. You know what? I got scissors right now.
SHORTZ: Here's your last one: Columbia - and we're looking for Ivy League schools.
POUNDSTONE: Oh yeah, and I did so well with the continents. Columbia, and we're looking for Ivy League...
SHORTZ: I'll give you a big hint: it's in Rhode Island.
SHORTZ: Yep. You got it.
MARTIN: Paula, that was excellent.
POUNDSTONE: You know, I've had it with Africa.
MARTIN: Paula Poundstone. Her new CD is called "I Heart Jokes." Paula tells them in Boston. Paula, it was so fun. Thanks so much for doing this.
POUNDSTONE: Well, thank you very much.
MARTIN: OK. Will, as promised, we had that two-week challenge. Remind us what it is.
SHORTZ: Sure. Take a seven-by-seven square grid. Arrange the names of U.S. cities or towns in regular crossword fashion inside the grid so that the cities used have the highest possible total population according to the 2010 Census. For example, if you put Chicago in the top row and Houston in the sixth row, both reading across, and then fit Atlanta, Oakland and Reno coming down, you'll form a mini-crossword. And the five cities used have a total population, according to the 2010 Census, of 5,830,997. You can do better.
As in a regular crossword, the names must read across and down only. Every name must interlock with at least one other name. And no two letters can touch unless they are part of a name. What is the highest population total you can achieve? And please include the names of the cities, in order, across and down with your answer.
MARTIN: When you've got the answer, go to our website, npr.org/puzzle and click on the Submit Your Answer link - just one entry per person, please. And we're in week two of this challenge, so our deadline for entries is this Thursday, October 24th at 3 P.M. Eastern Time.
Please include a phone number where we can reach you at about that time. And if you're the winner we will 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.
Thanks so much, Will.
SHORTZ: Thanks, Rachel.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)