Will Shortz, Maestro of the Crossword Puzzle

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Sunday, December 09, 2012

Will Shortz, The New York Times crossword puzzle editor and puzzle master for NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday, reveals the unique role music plays in his puzzles. He is the author or editor of more than 100 books on puzzles, Sudoku, KenKen, riddles and, of course, crosswords. Not limited to print, he has appeared on "The Simpsons," is the focus of the 2006 documentary "Wordplay," and even wrote the Riddler’s clues for a "Batman" movie. Holding a college degree in enigmatology, his enormous library dedicated to the study of puzzles contains more than 20,000 items.

He explains to host, Gilbert Kaplan:

— Musical words appear in the puzzle so often because, like “aria,” they are short and have a high concentration of vowels.

— Why Beethoven and Brahms can’t compete with Arne or Satie.

— The opera appearing most often: Aida.

— How certain composers lobby to be included in the puzzle.

— The musician who had an entire puzzle devoted to him: Isaac Stern.

— Musicians are usually adept at the puzzle. The all-time champion in competition is a New York pianist.

— Shortz’s favorite classical piece is Tchaikovsky’s Marche Slave.


Giuseppe Verdi: Aida. “Triumphal March.” Rome Opera Theater Orchestra and Chorus. Sir Georg Solti. Decca 478 2679.

Georg Philipp Telemann: Concerto in C minor for Oboe, Strings & b.c. Third and fourth movements. English Chamber Orchestra. Thomas Indermühle, oboe and conductor. Brilliant Classics 99677.

Giacomo Puccini: Tosca. “Vissi d’arte.” Orchestre de L’Opéra National de Lyon. Kent Nagano. Kiri Te Kanawa, soprano. Erato 0630-17071.

Thomas Arne: Alfred. “Rule Britannia.” English String Orchestra. Leeds Festival Chorus. William Boughton. Edmund Barham, tenor. Nimbus Records NI 7067/8.

Electric Light Orchestra: “Do Ya.” Epic/Legacy EK 89072.

Johann Sebastian Bach: Violin Concerto in E major, BWV 1042. First movement. English Chamber Orchestra. Alexander Schneider. Isaac Stern, violin. Sony Classical SMK 66 471.

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Marche Slave. Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra. Neeme Jarvi. Deutsche Grammophon 429984.

Comments [3]

Jon Delfin from NYC

It's very flattering to have been name-checked here. It should certainly be noted that another Manhattan theater pianist, Dan Feyer, has won the tournament (now located in Brooklyn) for the past three years. (Am I allowed to mention that this interview dates from 2006?)

Dec. 11 2012 03:11 PM


The playlist for the Mad About Music shows is included on each episode page. It's listed above. Here is the info on the "Tosca" piece you heard:
Giacomo Puccini: Tosca. “Vissi d’arte.” Orchestre de L’Opéra National de Lyon. Kent Nagano. Kiri Te Kanawa, soprano. Erato 0630-17071.

Dec. 10 2012 11:22 AM
kenny dunn from NY

I just heard a nice Aria at 9:20PM Sunday night. Tosca maybe. When i went 2 your site I could not find a simple play list of what I just heard. Wjy so difficult?

Dec. 09 2012 09:31 PM

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