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"Car Talk" is a worldwide call-in radio program on NPR.   As of June of 2000 it's the single most popular show on National Public Radio.  For an hour a week Tom and Ray Magliozzi -- aka Click and Clack, also aka The Tappet Brothers -- entertain their ever-growing audience.  I listen to them because I was a call-in guest on their show in about 1990 and I keep hoping they'll mention me again.

I listen also because they are hilarious and thought-provoking.  They do talk about cars when people call in with car-related questions, but they also talk about whatever else they want to, which is almost always good.  One of them still operates a car repair shop, and both of them are graduates of MIT.  One of them is a professor of some sort of physics, and both of them are erudite as all heck.  And funny.  And thought-provoking.  And funny.

Be warned that "Car Talk" is shot through with running jokes, some of which go back to the beginning days of the show.  Newbies will need a couple of Saturday mornings to catch up, but it's painless.

Tom and Ray have a way of bringing out the best, or the worst -- but always the funniest -- in their call-in guests.  And it's either Tom or Ray (I can never keep them straight) who has one of those laughs that makes you want to laugh, even if you don't get the joke, which not everyone does.

The Puzzler.  Another reason I listen to them is to hear the "The Puzzler" (which, according to the hosts, takes a vacation each summer "because it gets tired").  Each week in the first Puzzler segment, Ray restates the previous week's Puzzler and then gives the answer and explains it.  In the second Puzzler segment each Saturday, Ray gives the new Puzzler.  If you send in the correct answer and your entry is chosen, you win some lousy prizes (their words, not mine).  You need to judge for yourself whether you like the puzzles, either by listening on Saturdays or by going to their Web site and reading previous PUZZLERS.

ray1.gif (5236 bytes)tom1.gif (5791 bytes)
Above: Ray and Tom Magliozzi in the studio
(shown, not surprisingly, laughing)

Four-Week Contest.  Every so often the Car Talk Guys hold a different sort of listener-participation event -- one that lasts a few weeks in a row and isn't so much of a puzzle as it is a contest to see who can come up with the best whatever, such as the best poem or the best story.  In early 1992 they started a contest to see who could come up with the best collective nouns.  (Collective nouns, also called nouns of association or nouns of assembly, are special names for groups of specific things, such as a herd of cattle or a coven of witches or a school of fish.  And now that I think of it, a litter of cats is cutely paronomasiacal)

The two examples they gave originally were "a lot of car dealers" and "a shortage of jockeys," both of which are pure and witty examples.

I entered the contest, and after the fourth week they declared me a winner of the grand prize, which was a free copy of their first BOOK, Car Talk (Dell 1991), that even to this day I find full of thoughtful advice about not just cars in particular but also how to think in general (imagine that).  And it's pretend-autographed.  And the cover letter that came with it has greasy fingerprints on it -- really.

After they announced on the air I was a grand-prize winner, they quoted the first paragraph of my letter and then proceeded to cite a few of my specific examples of collective nouns.  How much fun for me!  (But, you know, now that I think of it, I'm not sure that was the best way to use up 117 seconds of my fifteen minutes of fame.)

Anyway, you can read that letter, and from there you can listen to a two-minute wav file of the Magliozzis' on-air reaction to it.


Tom Magliozzi died on November 3, 2014, of complications of Alzheimer's Disease.  The radio show is in re-runs as of this writing, March 14, 2016.




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