Wordplay comes naturally to Evanston librarian Barbara Levie. She has been working crossword puzzles, playing Boggle and solving jumbles since high school. On Oct. 6 she had a chance to show her mettle to radio listeners across the country when she rattled off answers to the on-air quiz of National Public Radio’s (NPR) Weekend Edition Sunday Puzzle. She even wowed the puzzlemaster himself, Will Shortz. At one point, the crossword editor for the New York Times blurted out, “Man, Barbara, you are great!”
Ms. Levie won the chance to play on-air because she submitted correct answers to the previous week’s listener challenge. The hitch came when the Sunday Puzzle people called her. She almost did not pick up the phone because she did not recognize the number.
Luckily she did pick it up because that day’s on-air challenge was right in her wheelhouse. “It was my kind of puzzle,” she said. “Nothing about sports or TV sitcoms.”
Her quiz was titled “Find the Rhyme and the Reason.” Given five categories (rivers, animals in a zoo, traffic signs, Beatles’ songs and things to eat for breakfast), she had to name something in each category that started with each of the letters: R, H, Y, M and E. And she had to answer quickly, practically without taking a breath, while Mr. Shortz and the program host made comments.
Whether it was Rice Krispies, honey or yoghurt; route, hill or merge; the Rhine, Hudson or Euphrates Rivers, Ms. Levie was in a groove. “Oh yeah,” Mr. Shortz broke in. “You are definitely a crossword person when the first Y river that comes to mind is the Y-S-E-R.”
She had only two slips, stumbling over a “Y” animal (yak) and an “M” Beatle song (“Michelle”) – no doubt two words she will never forget.
“None of us was surprised when she won,” says Nancy Engel, a co-worker for 18 years at the North Branch Library. “Barbara is brilliant. Will Shortz seemed to think so, too, the way he was complimenting her. I listen to the show almost every Sunday, and he never does that.”
Ms. Levie won a Weekend Edition lapel pin, puzzle books and games, but it was more the love of the game that tickled her and, she said, “enjoying my 15 minutes of fame.”
Friends have been calling with congratulations and a stream of patrons at the Main and Central Street libraries have been asking to meet the local wordsmith.
Anyone interested in listening to Ms. Levie ’s radio triumph can go to NPR’s website at: npr.org/2013/10/06/229602974/find-the-rhyme-and-the-reason.