Puerto Rican Astrologer Walter Mercado Dies

Puerto Rican astrologer Walter Mercado died Saturday at age 87. His work as a flamboyant astrologer and television personality whose daily TV appearances entertained many across Latin America for decades.

Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo/AP

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Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo/AP

Walter Mercado, the popular astrologer who endeared himself to millions of Hispanic television viewers for more than three decades, died Saturday in Puerto Rico. He was 87.

Sofía Luquis, a spokeswoman for the Auxilio Mutuo Hospital in San Juan, confirmed Mercado’s death with The Associated Press and said he died from kidney failure.

Mercado was well-known across Latin America and in the United States for his horoscope readings and predictions.

His career as an astrologer began by chance when he was asked to fill in on a whim for a Telemundo program in 1969, according to CNN. Prior to becoming an iconic psychic, Mercado worked as an actor and dancer.

Mercado’s reading of the horoscope was a hit and in 1970 he began his regular broadcast segment reading horoscopes and offering predictions for Telemundo Puerto Rico, according to The Miami Herald.

The way in which Mercado delivered his predictions was just as beloved by his fans as the messages themselves. Mercado was a fan of grand colorful robes and outfits accented with gems and brooches that dazzled. With his trilled “r’s” and dramatic readings, Mercado made an art form out of his work.

Speaking about his style with The Miami Herald, Mercado once said, “I have always liked to speak to people very directly. I have used astrology to send positive messages: ‘You can do it, even if you fall, get back up again.'”

His broadcasts reached an estimated 120 million Latino viewers daily for more than three decades. Mercado’s flamboyant character stood out in contrast to much of what was being broadcast across Latin America television at that time.

At the end of his program, Mercado would sign off by saying “Pero sobre todo, mucho, mucho, mucho amor,” or “Above all, much, much, much love.”

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Whistleblower Offers To Field Written Questions About Call Trump Says Was ‘Perfecto’

President Donald Trump speaks to reporters upon arrival at the White House in Washington. He called on reporters to publicly reveal the name of the whistleblower who set off the impeachment inquiry.

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Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

The anonymous whistleblower who set off the impeachment inquiry into President Trump has agreed to answer written questions under oath from House Republicans. The offer came as President Trump called on Sunday for news organizations to identify the name of the whistleblower.

Mark Zaid, an attorney for the whistleblower, confirmed to NPR that an offer has been made to the House Intelligence Committee to open a direct channel between the whistleblower and Republicans as long as the questions do not compromise the individual’s identity. All of the whistleblower’s answers would be made under penalty of perjury.

It is not clear, however, if Republicans will take Zaid up on the proposal.

“Receipt acknowledged,” Zaid told NPR, saying House Republicans have confirmed they received the offer. “No substantive response yet.”

On CBS’s Face the Nation, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., suggested written testimony would not satisfy Republicans.

“When you’re talking about the removal of the president of the United States, undoing democracy, undoing what the American public had voted for, I think that individual should come before the committee,” said McCarthy. “He needs to answer the questions.”

Trump has also been demanding that the whistleblower sit for questioning, alleging that the whistleblower was politically motivated. That claim has been denied by the whistleblower’s legal team.

“Being a whistleblower is not a partisan job,” Zaid tweeted on Sunday. “Nor is impeachment an objective. That is not our role.”

News of the whistleblower’s offer to provide written testimony came three days after the House voted to formalize the impeachment inquiry into President Trump and set in motion a timetable for public hearings.

Since the start of the inquiry in September, House investigators have spoken to roughly a dozen witnesses about the president’s efforts to pressure the government of Ukraine.

According to a White House summary of the now infamous July 25 call, Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy for help investigating unsubstantiated allegations of corruption against former Vice President Joe Biden and his son. The president also sought assistance investigating a debunked conspiracy theory accusing Ukraine of involvement in the 2016 hacking of the Democratic National Committee — an attack U.S. intelligence has traced to Russia. The call took place as nearly $400 million in U.S. aid for Ukraine was up in the air.

Trump has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing or a “quid pro quo.”

“The whistleblower gave a very inaccurate report about my phone call,” Trump said on Sunday. “My phone call was perfecto.”

In recent days, Republican allies have escalated their attacks on the impeachment process, decrying a process they say is unfair to the president and lacking in transparency. Some of the president’s allies are also now openly speculating on the identity of the whistleblower.

On Sunday, Trump pleaded with the news media to disclose who the whistleblower is, arguing that the person’s account of Trump’s call with the president of Ukraine is incorrect.

“They know who it is. You know who it is. You just don’t want to report it,” Trump told reporters. “And you know, you would be doing a public a service if you did.”

Federal law protects whistleblowers in the intelligence community from retaliation and shields their identity, as long as they follow procedure to ensure that classified information is not divulged.

The whistleblower’s legal team has maintained that disclosing their client’s name places the individual and their family in physical danger.

Since the whistleblower’s complaint was filed, the whistleblower and the person’s legal team have received death threats, according to Zaid.

House Democrats involved in the impeachment proceedings have said that the whistleblower’s testimony is no longer critical to the inquiry, since the account has now been confirmed by former White House aides and other witnesses before the three committees leading the investigation.

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Saudi Aramco, World’s Most Profitable Company, Will Make First Public Offering

President and CEO of Saudi Aramco Amin Nasser and company chairman Yasir al-Rumayyan at a press conference in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia on Sunday. The privately-owned oil giant announced it will IPO next month.

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The world’s most profitable company will make its first public stock offering next month, in what could be the biggest IPO ever.

Saudi Aramco, the oil giant owned by the Saudi government, said on Sunday it will sell an unspecified number of shares, thought to be between 1% and 3% of the company. It did not specify a price range.

The company’s initial offering will be on Saudi Arabia’s Tadawul exchange. “We are proud of the listing of Aramco,” said CEO and President Amin Nasser said. “It will increase our visibility internationally.”

It has taken years to get to this moment. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said in 2016 that he wanted the company to go public in 2017, and that it would be valued at $2 trillion. But getting its books ready has taken until now, and bankers have advised that the valuation should instead be around $1.5 trillion.

Aramco supplies about 10% of the world’s crude oil. In 2018, the company made $111 billion. That’s more than J.P. Morgan Chase, Facebook, ExxonMobil and Google parent company Alphabet put together, as CNBC pointed out.

The firm’s finances have long been guarded, but it began sharing its numbers in preparations for the IPO.

Its disclosures show that it costs Aramco $2.80 to get a barrel of oil from the ground, which it can then sell for $62 per barrel, according to The Guardian.

“It produces oil for so much less than anyone else out there,” says Ellen Wald, author of Saudi, Inc., a book about the history of Saudi Arabia and Aramco. “I mean in the United States a fracking company is lucky if it can break even at $50 a barrel.”

That’s just one part of what makes Aramco so profitable. The company also benefits from investments it has made in its infrastructure, which makes it cheap to pump its oil. Then there’s the accessibility of its oil reserves.

“These are the largest conventional oil resources on the planet,” Wald says.

The public offering is part of an effort by the crown prince to diversify Saudi Arabia’s economy and make it less dependent on oil. The move comes less than two months after Aramco’s oil facilities were attacked by drone strikes, which for a time halved the country’s oil exports. Yemen’s Houthi rebels claimed responsibility, but Saudi Arabia pointed the finger squarely at Iran.

Those attacks, among other geopolitical issues, have raised questions about the safety of an investment in Aramco.

Credit rating agency Fitch recently downgraded Saudi Arabia’s rating from A+ to A, citing “increased geopolitical and military tensions in the Gulf region,” in addition to “the vulnerability of Saudi Arabia’s economic infrastructure, and continued deterioration in Saudi Arabia’s fiscal and external balance sheets.”

Aramco chairman Yasir al-Rumayyan downplayed those concerns at a press conference Sunday.

After the attacks on its oil facilities, “oil prices went up the first two days by about 20%. Then it came down by 10%,” Rumayyan said. “We have one eighth of the oil production in the world, and the oil traders saw this as a non-event. That means it is really safe. That’s what the money is saying.”

For the people of Saudi Arabia, the IPO is a huge deal.

“This is their crown jewel,” says Wald. “Many Saudis see this as an opportunity to actually invest in the incredible natural resource that was endowed to their country.”

Saudi investors will be incentivized to buy: They’ll be eligible for one extra share for each 10 they buy within the first 180 days.

But for investors elsewhere, the prospect of buying Aramco shares may be more complicated. The company is essentially owned by the Saudi royal family. In September, Crown Prince Mohammed belatedly acknowledged that he was accountable for the October 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi because “It happened under my watch,” though he did not accept responsibility. The country only lifted its ban on women driving last year, and continues to have a guardianship system that limits women’s rights.

And then there’s Aramco’s environmental record. An investigation by The Guardian found that the company is responsible for 4.38% of the world’s carbon emissions since 1965.

With all that in mind, some investors may not want their pension funds to buy shares of Aramco stock.

“People have issues with Saudi Arabia: with their treatment of women, their issues with human rights. They have issues with fossil fuels,” Wald says. “So people should be aware that this is happening and that this is something that can touch their investments, even if they don’t know it. Even if they haven’t actively decided to go into this.”

But no matter what, Wald predicts the IPO will be a historic moment.

“It will also be the first time that people get a chance to really see Aramco’s books,” she says. “It’s long been this kind of shadowy, mysterious company that has held its secrets very close to its chest. And the idea of of getting inside that and taking a look or a peek inside is really fascinating to a lot of people.”

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FACT CHECK: Is The Trump Impeachment Process Different From Nixon And Clinton?

President Trump and Republican allies have decried the impeachment inquiry process, but Democrats say they are following precedent.

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Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images

For the third time in almost 46 years, the House of Representatives has voted to begin a formal impeachment inquiry into the actions of the sitting president.

And despite criticisms from President Trump — whose press secretary Stephanie Grisham called the resolution “unfair, unconstitutional, and fundamentally un-American” — the measure lawmakers approved Thursday charts a course similar to that of the inquiries into Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton.

The process allows for the investigation led by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., to continue, with the next phase including public hearings. Up till now, most of the investigation has been closed-door depositions, involving Democrats and Republicans on three House panels — intelligence, oversight and foreign affairs.

“The process seems very fair to me,” said former Republican Rep. Tom Campbell, who served in the House during the Clinton proceedings and voted for impeachment. He called the current plan “very consistent with how the House operates in the two previous impeachment matters.”

Due process

Trump and Republican allies argue that he and the GOP do not have enough power in the proceedings. White House press secretary Grisham said that with Thursday’s vote, “Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi and the Democrats have done nothing more than enshrine unacceptable violations of due process into House rules.”

Republican lawmakers have been allowed equal time for questioning in the closed-door depositions. They will be allowed to request subpoenas and witnesses for the open hearings, but those would have to be approved by the Democrats.

Schiff will eventually turn his findings over to the House Judiciary Committee, which would begin the formal process of determining whether to draw up articles of impeachment.

House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., has laid out additional details about the minority party’s role for his panel.

The president or his attorneys will be allowed to cross-examine witness and subpoena their own, although they’ll need a majority vote or the concurrence of the chair to do so. They will also be allowed to attend all hearings of the Judiciary Committee, including any that are closed to the public.

Democrats say that these same rights were given to the minority party with Clinton in the late 1990s and Nixon in the mid-1970s.

The resolution also says that if the president “unlawfully refuses to cooperate with Congressional requests,” Nadler can deny requests by the president or his counsel, an apparent attempt to counter Trump’s lack of cooperation with requests for documents and witnesses.

Too secretive?

Another talking point for Republicans is that the investigation has been largely hidden from public view.

“It is, by any definition, a process that is an attempt in secret, in the basement of the Capitol, to unseat a duly elected president of the United States,” said House Republican Conference Chair Liz Cheney on Thursday. “It’s unlike anything we’ve ever seen before.”

But both the Clinton and Nixon investigations had a mix of closed and open phases.

Independent counsel Kenneth Starr’s investigation into Clinton also used closed-door interviews and grand jury proceedings that were not open to Congress until later.

The Nixon investigation was a bit different. It started out as investigation into the Watergate break-in, noted Thomas Alan Schwartz, a professor of history and political science at Vanderbilt University.

“So there were, of course, the very famous Watergate hearings in the summer of ’73 that went on at great length that were sort of a national obsession,” he said. “And the question, you know the famous Howard Baker question: ‘What did the president know and when did he know it?’ “

After the Watergate hearings ended, though, the Judiciary Committee also conducted several closed-door hearings as it proceeded with impeachment.

Key differences

Campbell, who now teaches law at Chapman University, says one difference between the process this time and when Clinton was impeached was the information lawmakers had.

In 1998, he says, House members voted to authorize an impeachment inquiry only after they received the Starr report. Starr investigated, among other things, whether Clinton lied about the affair he had with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

“So in that sense,” Campbell said, “every member of the House had available to her or him the findings of this special prosecutor. Now, in this case, that’s not so — unless one refers to Robert Mueller’s report.”

Another difference, looking back to the Watergate era, is the political climate.

“This president retains a very strong support within his party in a way that Richard Nixon really lost or did not have that same degree of loyalty,” professor Schwartz says. “He also has a media platform that Nixon did not have — the media environment was very different.”

The bipartisan nature of the Nixon impeachment inquiry had evaporated by the time Clinton was impeached.

Michigan Democrat John Conyers argued against impeaching Clinton on the House floor at the time, saying, “I am witnessing the most tragic event of my career in the Congress — in effect, a Republican coup d’etat in process.”

The era of partisanship and polarization present then is still very much present today, as evidenced by Grisham’s charge that “the Democrats are choosing every day to waste time on a sham impeachment — a blatantly partisan attempt to destroy the President.”

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In A Remote Arctic Outpost, Norway Keeps Watch On Russia’s Military Buildup

Norwegian Pvt. Ivan Sjoetun sits in the border post where Russian land can be seen out the window. The post is in the far northeast corner of Norway and offers a commanding view of this starkly beautiful area some 250 miles above the Arctic Circle.

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Claire Harbage/NPR

There are precisely 525 stairs from the icy waters of the Barents Sea to the top of the observation post in the far northeast corner of Norway, along the Russian border. It’s a steep climb, but once you reach the apex, there’s a good chance one of the young Norwegian conscripts manning the outpost will have a platter of waffles — topped with strawberry jam and sour cream, a Norwegian favorite — waiting.

These waffles were made by Sander Bader, 19, in the observation post where he and other privates stay while they keep an eye on the Russian border activities.

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Claire Harbage/NPR

The border post, OP 247, offers a commanding view of this starkly beautiful area some 250 miles above the Arctic Circle. To the east, on the other side of the border, is a Russian observation post and a coast guard facility. Directly ahead, across the Barents Sea, is the small Norwegian island of Vardo, which houses a U.S.-funded military surveillance radar system.

“Apparently it’s annoying the Russians a lot,” says Capt. Sigurd Harsheim, commander of Jarfjord border company, because the radar installation helps keep an eye on Russian movements in the High North. “Basically you have good control of the entire Barents Sea and everything around it … and I think part of the irritation is that it’s American built.”

There’s good reason recently to keep a line of sight on Russia, whose sheer land mass overwhelms the seven other Arctic nations. Warming temperatures are opening up shipping lanes and uncovering the polar region’s abundant natural resources. And now several nations are engaging in a military buildup of the Arctic. Russia is upgrading its military capabilities with new fighter jets and navy vessels, and its submarines are pushing farther into the North Atlantic. Norwegian military officials say Russia is also carrying out cruise missile tests and live-fire military exercises. That is forcing its neighbor, Norway, and other NATO members to rethink their military strategy in the region.

More than 500 stairs are built into the side of the mountain where the Norwegian military observation post is located near the Russian border.

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Claire Harbage/NPR

“[The Russians] are rebuilding the Northern Fleet, building new submarines; they’re flying more; they are exercising more in the northwest of Russia with their battalions,” Norwegian Defense Minister Frank Bakke-Jensen tells NPR.

A number of countries crowd the Arctic. Marked here are Porsangermoen, a Norwegian military camp; Vardo, an island in Norway where the U.S. has funded a military radar system; the Norwegian observation post 247 that overlooks Russia; and Kola Peninsula, the home of Russia’s Northern Fleet.

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Sean McMinn/NPR

The center of Russia’s Arctic military activities is the Kola Peninsula, in the far northwest of the country, next to Norway. “Out on the Kola Peninsula … you’ll see that … they’re modernizing and rebuilding and also building new facilities,” says Maj. Brynjar Stordal, a spokesman for the Norwegian Joint Headquarters. “There’s a lot more activity and more new equipment. And we also see that the tactics are becoming more advanced.”

Capt. Sigurd Harsheim stands at the base of the mountains where the observation post sits. Russia is steadily building up military bases and its nuclear arsenal in the Arctic.

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Claire Harbage/NPR

The heavily militarized Kola Peninsula is also a base for the Russian navy’s Northern Fleet, says Thomas Nilsen, a journalist who covers the region for the Independent Barents Observer online newspaper, based in Kirkenes, Norway.

“This is the home of the nuclear-powered submarines. This is the home of the [Russian] Spetsnaz special marine forces,” Nilsen says. He says the Kola Peninsula is also a key training area for Russia’s new weapons such as nuclear-powered cruise missiles and the nuclear-powered underwater drone.

Nilsen says Russia’s buildup is due in part to its deteriorated trust with the West and to protecting military assets in the High North, including its natural resources. Ninety percent of Russia’s natural gas exports come from Yamal Peninsula in the Arctic.

“We always have to remember that for Russia, the Arctic is economically and enormously important,” Nilsen says. “So the Arctic has a much stronger role in Russia’s national thinking than in any of the other Arctic states, including Norway.”

The Russian government, meanwhile, has long expressed concerns about NATO’s expansion near its borders. In June 2018, the Russian Embassy in Oslo complained that a Norwegian request for more U.S. troops “could cause growing tensions, triggering an arms race and destabilizing the situation in northern Europe.”

Still, the extent of Moscow’s aggression in the region has taken Western nations by surprise. In the years after the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War, the U.S. and NATO shuttered Arctic bases and moved weaponry and other assets out of the region. The Arctic region was peaceful, as Russia stopped being a concern, says Col. Joern Erik Berntsen, the commander of Norway’s Finnmark Land Defense. That changed in 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea.

Two privates walk on the mountain just outside the border post.

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Claire Harbage/NPR

“The operations in the Ukraine was kind of a game-changer for NATO and for us,” he says. “The security situation in the world has definitely changed; we are more or less back where we were before the fall of the wall.”

Berntsen says after Russia’s actions in Crimea, Norway needed to reexamine its security situation. It went on a buying spree, acquiring submarines from Germany and dozens of F-35 fighter jets from the United States. Norway is also rebuilding and rearming some of its own bases.

One of those is Porsangermoen, the world’s northernmost military camp, set among rolling hills and ponds in the county of Finnmark. In October, about 1,400 Norwegian troops carried out military exercises at the camp. There was snow on the ground, and a cold wind sliced through layers of clothing. Part of their training was how to fight under winter conditions.

Snow falls on artillery battery near the Porsangermoen military base, where soldiers participate in military exercises in northern Norway. It is the world’s northernmost military camp.

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Claire Harbage/NPR

“Fighting during winter conditions is probably the hardest you can do,” says Platoon Commander Lt. Benjamin Thompson. “That demands a lot of training.”

Thompson, wearing a partially white camouflage uniform, says he has also had to train U.S. troops that have been rotating into the country over the past couple of years. The U.S. has hundreds of service members, mainly Marines, stationed farther south in Norway.

Platoon Commander Lt. Benjamin Thompson at Norway’s military base. “Fighting during winter conditions is probably the hardest you can do,” he said.

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Claire Harbage/NPR

“They were struggling in the beginning but after a while they became really good and learned a lot of important things to do during wintertime to be able to survive,” he says.

Norway has lobbied the U.S. and other NATO allies for a stronger presence and more military exercises in the Arctic. Last year, Norway was the key staging ground for Trident Juncture, one of the NATO’s biggest military exercises since 2002.

Two years ago, NATO reestablished an Arctic command, now out of Norfolk, Va., and the U.S. Navy recommissioned the 2nd Fleet to counter Russian activity in the North Atlantic.

Norway’s defense minister, Bakke-Jensen, is pleased. “We have been working through NATO and with the U.S. to bring attention back to the North Atlantic, to these areas,” he tells NPR. “We are satisfied with the new command structure; we are satisfied with the command control in Norfolk.”

In September, the U.S. flew a B-2 stealth bomber over the Arctic. James Townsend, who spent two decades working on NATO policy at the U.S. Department of Defense, says the mission helped send a signal to the Russians.

“The B-2 was showing that we can fly up there and showing the Russians that we will fly up there,” he says. “It was a training thing on the one hand, but it’s also a deterrent message to the Russians too.”

Townsend, now with the Center for a New American Security, says it is important for the U.S. to know what’s going on in the Arctic, but not get spooked by Russia’s buildup.

“What we don’t want to do is to back into a military conflict or military arms race, or back into militarization of the Arctic if we don’t have to,” he says.

In October, about 1,400 Norwegian troops carried out military exercises at the camp. Part of their training was how to fight under winter conditions.

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Claire Harbage/NPR

Berntsen of the Finnmark Ground Defense says too large a U.S. military presence in the Arctic could provoke Russia. For now, he says, it is best to build up Norway’s forces and be ready to defend itself from its eastern neighbor.

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Sunday Puzzle: Cocoa

Sunday Puzzle


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On-air challenge: Today’s puzzle is called “Cocoa.” Every answer is a word or name in which an interior syllable is pronounced “co” — in any spelling.

Example: Phoenix, Arizona’s county –> MARICOPA

1. City in Washington state that shares an airport with Seattle.

2. Device that helps you read secret writing.

3. Cause of gradual loss of eyesight.

4. Symbol of plenty, or an abundant supply of good things.

5. Territory that broke into two states in 1889.

6. Giant corporation in the metals industry.

7. French president between Chirac and Hollande.

8. Extremely harsh, as laws.

9. Extremely bright, as a child.

10. Very elaborate, as architecture.

11. Formal expression of praise.

12. Metal that’s the last chemical element alphabetically.

Last week’s challenge: This challenge came from listener Mike Strong of Mechanicsburg, Penn. Think of a familiar two-word phrase — five letters in each word — that might be something you’d write in a letter. The first and last letters are the same. The third and eighth letters are the same. The fourth and seventh letters are the same. And the middle two letters are consecutive in the alphabet. What phrase is it?

Challenge answer: Yours truly

Winner: Gabrielle Sweets of Chattanooga, Tenn.

This week’s challenge: The letters C + D together sound like the word “seedy.” And the letters I + V together sound like “ivy.” Take the 18 letters in the phrase END BACKSTAGE TV QUIZ. Rearrange them into pairs, using each letter exactly once, to make nine common, uncapitalized words phonetically. Can you do it?

Submit Your Answer

If you know the answer to next week’s challenge, submit it here. Listeners who submit correct answers win a chance to play the on-air puzzle. Important: Include a phone number where we can reach you by Thursday, Nov. 7 at 3 p.m. ET.

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