Four Down Two Across: The Sterling Highway Out Of Anchorage

The weather here in Alaska has been gorgeous — sunny and warm. Friday’s high was around 70. Robert and I were told this isn’t normal, especially the clear skies.

We started the morning in Anchorage, where I taped my weekly NPR puzzle at KSKA, for airing nationally on Sunday. It involved a game of Categories based on the name HOMER, the town where we were headed. The player did pretty well, but stumbled badly on “Canadian Cities.” So that part of the puzzle won’t make it on the air!

After the taping we headed south on the Sterling Highway, Alaska Route 1, toward Homer, on the southern tip of the Kenai peninsula. Homer bills itself as the Halibut Capital of the World. The drive takes about four hours, with constant views of snow-capped mountains along the way. Part of the route hugs the coast, where we were told we might see whales. No luck on this day, though.

We had lunch at Suzie’s Cafe in the town of Sterling about halfway to Homer. Robert said it was the best chickenburger he’d ever had.

At 5 pm we arrived at Homer High School to play table tennis with the local club. They play in a high-ceilinged school commons in which a giant whale skeleton hangs overhead. About 8-10 players joined us. Good times.

Afterward a club member took us to the local Two Sisters Bakery (not “Three Sisters” as I mistakenly called it it on our Vine) for a seafood dinner. We had fresh halibut and scallops, caught locally. Delicious.

Regarding yesterday’s puzzle, my answer was ENCOURAGE.

Here’s a new one: Take the name HOMER. Change one letter in it and rearrange the result to spell a new word. Then rearrange those same five letters to spell another word. If you have the right ones, the two words can be placed one after the other to spell a familiar 10-letter compound word. What word is it?

Follow Will and Robert’s Trip across Alaska through next week at “Four Down Two Across.”

Four Down Two Across: The Alaska Table Tennis Club And Mendenhall Glacier

It’s almost midnight in Anchorage as I write this, and the sun is just setting. Dawn is only a few hours away. The sheer length of a June day here takes some getting used to.

Robert and I started the day with a 9 a.m. meet-and-greet at KTOO, the public radio station in Juneau. About 60-70 listeners showed up. The station manager interviewed me on a small stage, and I ended by presenting some quick oral word puzzles – which the audience answered amazingly quickly.

On our way to the airport afterward, two ladies from the station graciously took us to see the Mendenhall Glacier just north of Juneau. They said the glacier has receded hundreds of yards in recent years, but it’s still an awesome sight.

Tonight in Anchorage, Robert and I joined the Alaska Table Tennis Club, which has a lot of solid players, including the reigning Alaska state champion. Karl Augestad runs the group. About 75 people turned out. As part of an exhibition, Robert performed some trick shots, including hitting the ball behind his back, around the net and with his shoe. We also played lots of matches. I won some and lost some in singles, but Robert and I were undefeated in doubles. A reporter/cameraman from KTUU, the local NBC affiliate, filmed part of the evening for a story to air on Friday night’s 5 and 6 p.m. newscasts.
Regarding my word teaser yesterday, the answers were Juneau-Augusta-Tallahassee and Juneau-Austin-Indianapolis.

Here’s a new one: take the name ANCHORAGE and change three letters in it – without changing the order or positions of the six remaining letters – to spell a new word. At least one vowel has to change to a consonant or vice versa. Can you do it?

I don’t know if my answer is unique or not, but see what you can find.

Follow Will and Robert’s Trip across Alaska through next week at “Four Down Two Across.”

Four Down Two Across: Arrival In Alaska

A wonderful, if long, start to Robert’s and my trip to Alaska – up at 5:30 a.m. in New York City, to bed at midnight in Juneau, which is itself four hours behind New York. A busy day, too.

Tim and Phil of the Juneau Table Tennis Club met us at the airport. The drive to our hotel downtown was spectacular, even with overcast skies. Snowcapped mountains rise straight up from the edge of town. Streams cascade down the sides almost vertically. I’ve never seen anything like it.

The Juneau Empire, the local paper, had a front-page article (with photos) about our trip. And KTOO, Juneau’s public radio station, has been promoting our visit for two weeks.

This evening Robert and I put on a table tennis exhibition at a local middle school, which more than 100 people attended. Then we played with as many others as we could, separately and together, both singles and doubles.

In the car earlier tonight I thought of a puzzle: name a U.S. state capital whose last two letters are the same as the first two letters of a second state capital – whose last two letters themselves are the same as the first two letters of a third state capital. What capitals are these?

I’ve thought of two answers, which I’ll reveal tomorrow.

Follow Will and Robert’s Trip across Alaska through next week at “Four Down Two Across.”

Follow Crossword Puzzle Editor Will Shortz Through Alaska This Week

You might know Will Shortz from his work at The New York Times editing the daily crossword puzzle or maybe from his work on NPR as the puzzlemaster on Weekend Edition. Where you probably don’t know him is from the table tennis community.

In his second, or maybe third life, Mr. Shortz is, in fact, an avid table tennis player, and even owns his own club in upstate New York. He and his friend and colleague Robert Roberts manage the Westchester Table Tennis Center, spending their time organizing and hosting tournaments and developing the local community.

They take their hobby on the road as well, from puzzle tournaments to club visits around the planet, and this year Will plans to play (and film) 365 straight days of table tennis. As part of that effort, he’s agreed to take Gadling on the road for a week of his journey as he and Robert travel across Alaska. They’ll be leaving this afternoon, the fifth of June for their weeklong trip, and during the effort they’ll provide daily Vines documenting their journey across the nation’s largest state.

Check back daily for a slice of Will and Robert’s trip across Alaska, or you can follow along at the link here.