How to Save a City from Measles

Apr 04, 2005

RAY: This puzzler is historic, folkloric, biographic, authentic-- and only slightly pathetic.

I get the feeling that people get despondent and disheartened, because they send a puzzler to me and I don't use it. They think, "He doesn't care." Well, I want you to know that the puzzler we're using today was sent in by a fellow named Marty Trope -- in 1994.

TOM: He could be dead now!

RAY: It took me that long to obfuscate it. Here it is.

The year was 1962. New York City was in the grip of a measles epidemic. City officials were getting nervous. It seemed like New Yorkers weren't taking it seriously.

But, people needed to know who needed to be vaccinated and why, and, moreover, they needed to know where the vaccine was available and who was eligible. There was a lot of information that needed to be disseminated.

The public health service people were getting discouraged as the epidemic spread. Something had to be done. A meeting was called. Various strategies were presented. Finally, out of the inky shadows, emerged Edmund J. Potas, Senior Public Health Advisor.

"I have an idea," he said. He suggested a form of mass communication that had never been used before. It was a success. And this method has been used countless times ever since.

What did he suggest that day? And here's a hint: "measles."
RAY: My hint was "measles," which has seven letters--like a phone number. And Dr. Potas suggested, are you ready for this?


TOM: Get out! Where do you get this information?

RAY: I received this from a fellow named Marty Trope, who sent it in April 1994.

TOM: Let me see that letter.

RAY: See the date at the top of the letter, top right.

TOM: Oh my God. Eleven years to the day, almost. I've got to give you credit for not losing stuff!

RAY: I lost it for ten years. That's why I didn't use it. Do we have a winner?

TOM: Our winner this week is Constance Roy from Edgewood, New Mexico. And for having her answer selected at random from among all the correct answers that we got, Constance will get from us a 26 dollar gift certificate to the Shameless Commerce Division at, with which she can pick up a stainless steel Car Talk thermos which says on it, "Pure Massachusetts Crude."

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