CHEYENNE — Twenty-five years of listening to NPR’s “Sunday Puzzle” prepared Marion Yoder for the phone call of a lifetime.
She was picked out of the 2,100 people who emailed in their correct answer for the qualifying puzzle challenge three weeks ago, and was given the opportunity to play a word game live on the air with NPR radio host Will Shortz the following Sunday.
Every week, there is a new qualifier, as well as a new kind of puzzle featured on the show. The one Yoder solved was submitted by listener Michael Shteyman of Freeland, Maryland: “Think of a popular tourist attraction in two words. The second, fourth and sixth letters of the second word, in order, spell the first name of a famous author. The last four letters of the first word spell the author’s last name. Who is the author, and what is the tourist attraction?”
Yoder managed to come up with the answer, Ayn Rand, whose name came from the tourist attraction Grand Canyon.
“I was lying in my little bed doing the puzzle at 6 a.m. on Sunday, about a week ago, and it just popped into my head,” she said.
She joked with Shortz on the show that she was stricken by a stroke of great insight. He laughed along with her and said it was genuinely impressive.
Not only did Yoder manage to qualify, she also won the complicated and quick-witted puzzles that were thrown at her on the radio show.
The game Sunday, Nov. 7, gave her two words each round, and she had to drop the letter in each of them to leave two words that were in the same category. The first example from the host was “drill” and “stage,” which became “dill” and “sage,” both herbs.
She flew through nearly 10 rounds of this kind of brainy madness in just six minutes, earning her a Weekend Edition lapel pin, puzzle books and games.
Although the prizes were an exciting element, Yoder said her favorite part was talking with Shortz over the phone. He took the time to chit-chat with her before and after the show, and they exchanged kind words.
She said he was charming, and told her he knew she’d be good when he heard that she did crossword puzzles. This was a compliment, since she considers him the king of crossword puzzles, but it’s not where her passion lies.
“I don’t do the crossword puzzle,” she stated matter-of-factly. “I do the Jumble.”
Besides working on the Jumble, Yoder is constantly finding ways to strengthen her community in Cheyenne. She practiced law for four decades, and now, in retirement, she’s a full-time volunteer at the library, Botanic Gardens and hospital gift shop.
One of her fellow volunteers at the library, Pete Sokolosky, actually won the Sunday Puzzle more than 20 years ago. He had to mail in written answers on a postcard to get on the radio, and triumphed with his own lapel pin to show for it. When he found out Yoder had won the Sunday Puzzle just like he did, he gave her his own Weekend Edition pin as a placeholder until she receives hers in the mail. She said this was just one of the many acts of kindness and moments of connection she’s had since she played.
“I’ve been hearing from people I haven’t seen or heard from in years and years,” she said.
She said she never thought her appearance on the show would draw so many people together. Her friends brought her flowers, made her a crown and were ready to celebrate. A woman she barely knew, but had spoken to at the grocery store earlier that week, even reached out to give her a call and say congratulations.
“It’s just been so fun,” she gleefully expressed. “It’s been fantastically fun.”
And she plans on continuing the joy and the games with her next goal: to get on “Jeopardy.”