Mystery Guest

Jan 13, 2017
Originally published on March 6, 2017 12:05 pm

This week's Mystery Guest, Matthew Ahn, used to hold a Guinness World Record, but as of 2017, that record has officially been nullified. Now it's up to Ophira and Jonathan to ask "yes" or "no" questions and figure out what his world record was!

Heard on Cat Cora: Her Kitchen Rules

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JONATHAN COULTON: This is ASK ME ANOTHER, NPR's hour of puzzles, word games and trivia. I'm Jonathan Coulton, here with puzzle guru Greg Pliska. Now here's your host, Ophira Eisenberg.



Thank you, Jonathan. Before the break, our contestant Virginia won her way to the final round at the end of the show. We're going to find out a little later who she will face off against. But first, it's time for a game we call Mystery Guest. A stranger's about to come on stage. And Jonathan and I have no idea who this person is or what makes them special. But our puzzle guru Greg Pliska does.

GREG PLISKA: That's right, Ophira. You and Jonathan will have to ask yes-or-no questions to figure out our mystery guest's secret. Mystery guest, please introduce yourself.

PLISKA: My name is Matthew Ahn. And I recently held a Guinness World Record.

PLISKA: Yes, that's true. But as of 2017, his record has been officially nullified.


COULTON: Oh, my...

PLISKA: You have to figure out what Matthew's world record was. Ophira, you get to ask the first question.

EISENBERG: Whoa. How you feeling?


PLISKA: A yes or no question.




EISENBERG: OK. So did this World Record stop, like, midnight of January 1, 2017?

AHN: No.

COULTON: Does the record have to do with a - some sort of physical act?

AHN: Yes.

EISENBERG: OK. Did attaining this world record require years of dedication?

AHN: No.

COULTON: Do you have a unique quality that makes you specially qualified to hold this record.

AHN: No.


EISENBERG: OK. Do you know the person that now has the world record, and are you planning revenge?

AHN: No. I think that...

PLISKA: I mean, I think we can say that, currently, no one holds the world record.

EISENBERG: No one holds it.

AHN: No one holds the record.

EISENBERG: Come on. Greg, give us a hint.

PLISKA: OK. This is a world record that is regionally specific.


COULTON: Does it have to do with you traveling to a certain number of places or...

AHN: Yes.


EISENBERG: Whoa. So would it be fair to say something like the amount of places you traveled was more than anyone else's?

AHN: No.

EISENBERG: Was it less than anyone's ever tried?


PLISKA: He's been to the fewest U.S. states.


EISENBERG: Like, is it something - so OK. So it's nothing like - you've visited, like, all the big pineapples or large buttons or...

PLISKA: Is that a yes or no question?


PLISKA: What is that question?

EISENBERG: Pineapples or large buttons? Yes or no.


AHN: No.


PLISKA: It's not pineapples or large buttons.

COULTON: Does it have to do with the distance traveled?

AHN: No.

COULTON: Does it have to do with traveling to a specific geographic location or...

AHN: Yes, I think so.

COULTON: It sounds like you don't really know.

EISENBERG: Yeah. What's your world record?

PLISKA: A specific set of geographic locations.


COULTON: Regionally specific.

EISENBERG: Regionally specific. Is your world record New York City specific?

AHN: Yes.

EISENBERG: OK. All right. We're on to something now.

COULTON: Does it have to do with buildings in New York City?

AHN: No.

EISENBERG: Does it have to do with subways in New York City?

AHN: Yes.

EISENBERG: OK. Wait a second. There's a new Second Avenue Subway, and that has screwed up your whole record.

AHN: Yes.

EISENBERG: Haha. Haha.

COULTON: Does that mean that you had to travel on subways to all of the stops on all of the lines?

AHN: Yes.

COULTON: That was the record?

AHN: Yeah.


PLISKA: Specifically - specifically in the shortest amount of time.

EISENBERG: In the shortest amount of time. So you really know how to do it.

AHN: At this point, I think so.

EISENBERG: Yeah. So are you planning on doing it again, taking into account the Second Avenue Subway?

AHN: Probably not. (Laughter) So the previous time I held the record was actually the second time. I had redone it after the Hudson Yard station opened in 2015.


AHN: So...

EISENBERG: OK. So what is the key to the New York subway system of getting around quickly?

AHN: Luck.


PLISKA: (Laughter).

AHN: No, but it actually is.

EISENBERG: Like, it's not - take one train and walk more?

AHN: So creating a route is a large part of it. I spent probably about 40 or 50 hours coming up with a good route. But the first time that I tried this, I was unsuccessful. I had about six hours of delays over the course of the run. So (laughter)...


PLISKA: Matthew, can you tell everyone how long your record - what the duration it took you to visit every stop?

AHN: So this most recent run was in 21 hours, 28 minutes and 14 seconds.

EISENBERG: Every stop.

AHN: Every stop.



AHN: (Laughter).

COULTON: Did you bring a book?

AHN: No (laughter).

COULTON: What did you do for those 21 hours? You just sat there (laughter) on the train?

AHN: So Guinness requires four different types of proof. And doing this by myself, I spent most of my time just collecting data. You're required to take a picture at every station from inside the train with the doors open.


AHN: You are required to note the time down to the second when the doors open and close at each station. You're required to have a list of witnesses, which meant that I has had to ask randos on the subway to sign a witness book.

COULTON: I do that all the time, anyway.


COULTON: It's fun. You get to meet people.


AHN: And every time I exited the subway system, I had to film every transfer to prove that I was not doing it by car or by bicycle or by skateboard. I had to be on foot.

PLISKA: There's one more question worth asking. Where did you go to the bathroom?

AHN: Ah (laughter). So there are about two dozen subway stations that still have working restrooms. So I just noted the points where I would pass them in my route.

EISENBERG: Define working.


AHN: Unlocked.


EISENBERG: Give it up for our mystery guest, Matthew Ahn.

(APPLAUSE) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.