Here's the backstory.
In "ancient times," puzzles were rarely solved by computer. However, folks in Bell-Labs-derived companies had computer resources and databases few others did at the time, which made solving certain types of puzzle easy.
Our group in Bellcore often solved the puzzles in the early 90s "in private," just for fun. Sometimes, we'd log in to work immediately after the puzzle segment to see who could solve it faster.
An example of one week's puzzle was removing the hyphen in the word re-cover turns it into recover. That is, find hyphenated words that became completely unrelated words when the hyphen was removed. Excluding re- words, 3 words qualified for the answer. (A 2008-search of one colleague's 22 years(!) of email archives discovered this was the puzzle for the week of Dec 6, 1992 - close to 3 years before Richard began his NPR puzzle archive.)
Using the online Websters Unabbridged we had (for "research purposes"), we found all 3. Our colleague Marian Macchi submitted our answer, and was told on the famous Thursday call, she was the only person who got all 3 answers.
When told "you're going to be on the air!" Marian said she had just wanted to submit the answer, but not be on the air.
"Uh ... no one's ever done that. Everyone who submits wants to be on the show." But the producer said her name would be announced as the winner anyway, and we all listened that Sunday for Marian's 10-seconds of fame.
It never came.
Liane announced some other guy as being the only person to get "one of the answers," and never mentioned we found all 3.
We were steamed. Now we really wanted to get our names on the air. So, nearly each week we solved the puzzle on Unix, submitted the answers and waited for the call ... which never came.
Gradually, we realized a potential strategy: Week after week, NPR chose postcards (yes, these were the old days) on which children's classes had drawn art representing the answer, or had some decorative geegaw making them stand out from the crowd.
We needed a gimmick ... and we had it.
Our group worked on an early text-to-speech synthesizer, Orator. We would have Orator submit the answer! (The puzzle asked for 2-word phrases that could be US broadcast stations - one answer was 'whiz kid.') We mailed a cassette tape to NPR. It worked! We got the call, and director Ned Wharton asked if NPR could play the tape on the air.
We wanted the synthesizer to be the on-the-air player, but they'd already selected a human, of all things. But we each did get our treasured lapel pins. And payback for Marian not being mentioned a month or so previously as the *real* "single winner."
This raises the issue of solving puzzles with computer assistance; I'm not going to address this, other than to say some people enjoy the meta-challange of creating programs to solve the NPR puzzle.
- Murray Spiegel
Below are on-air claims for record low responses in 2008 and 2017.
---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Feb 3, 2008
Jerry asked last week if I could comment on the record for the fewest entries:
[I can't remember the last time there were so few
Perhaps Richard can search his archives.]
Since Liane started reporting the number of entries each week,
the fewest previously reported was 175 (2000-01-09). Liane
incorrectly reported that 225 was the fewest (on 2000-03-26).
So, 100 beats these results. However, before Liane was reporting
the number of entries, I do recall one week in which the on air
player was the only entrant with the correct answer. I cannot
find this report in my archives. I do vaguely recall another
time when only four entrants were correct (1995-06-25). Read all
about it at: www.taterenner.com/NPRMYEX7.htm.
UPDATED for 2017:
And on Nov 5 2017, Lulu Garcia-Navarro said that week's 52 answers must be an all-time record for fewest answers.