Mystery Guest

Nov 17, 2017

We spoke to Chloe Swantner, who practices an unusual craft. Can you solve the mystery before Ophira and Jonathan figure it out?

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OPHIRA EISENBERG, HOST:

While Giacomo and Leah get ready for the final round, it's time for us to play a game. This is mystery guest. A stranger is about to join us on stage. Jonathan and I have no idea what this person does or what makes them special. But our puzzle guru Art Chung does.

ART CHUNG: That's right, Ophira. You and Jonathan will work together as a team to figure out our mystery guest's secret by asking yes or no questions. Mystery guest, please introduce yourself.

CHLOE SWANTNER: Hi, there. I'm Chloe Swantner. And I ply an unusual trade here in the city.

JONATHAN COULTON: You ply an unusual trade?

EISENBERG: A ply? Is this trade something you have to train for?

SWANTNER: Yes.

EISENBERG: Yes, OK.

COULTON: Are you a performer of some kind?

SWANTNER: Nope (ph).

EISENBERG: Are you making a physical product?

SWANTNER: Yes.

CHUNG: Yes.

SWANTNER: Yes.

COULTON: It's not a product of the mind?

(LAUGHTER)

SWANTNER: No.

COULTON: No. Do you work with your hands to make this thing?

SWANTNER: Definitely.

COULTON: You're sort of an art - artisan...

SWANTNER: Yes, yes, yes.

COULTON: ...Crafty thing.

SWANTNER: Crafty.

COULTON: Is there a particular substance that you need to make this - these things?

SWANTNER: Definitely.

COULTON: Definitely.

EISENBERG: You have a glint in your eye right now. So this substance that you use is clearly unique and interesting. Is it Mercury?

(LAUGHTER)

COULTON: Is it uranium?

SWANTNER: No.

EISENBERG: Is it an element?

SWANTNER: It is.

EISENBERG: All right.

SWANTNER: Or it's not an element.

CHUNG: No, it's not. It's not a scientific element.

SWANTNER: It's not a scientific element.

EISENBERG: It's not a scientific element.

COULTON: So it's a compound of some kind. It's some atoms. Disparate atoms linked together in molecules.

EISENBERG: But maybe - does this mean it's synthetic?

COULTON: (Laughter) Probably is synthetic. I don't know. That's a good question.

CHUNG: It is a synthetic situation?

SWANTNER: Not usually.

CHUNG: You know, it's a trade.

EISENBERG: Yeah, it's a trade.

CHUNG: You might also characterize it as a craft.

COULTON: Are their fibers involved? Your yarns...

SWANTNER: I don't want to mislead you. No.

CHUNG: Not primarily.

COULTON: Not primarily.

EISENBERG: What else are crafts?

COULTON: Oh, glass. Is there glass?

SWANTNER: No.

EISENBERG: OK.

COULTON: OK. Would you make things out of wood?

SWANTNER: Indeed.

COULTON: OK, we did it, everybody.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: Would I have this item in my house?

SWANTNER: Yeah.

EISENBERG: OK. Like, do you make cuckoo clocks?

SWANTNER: No (laughter).

COULTON: Furniture of some kind?

SWANTNER: No.

COULTON: Is it art?

SWANTNER: No. Well, no. It's functional.

COULTON: It's functional.

EISENBERG: Functional, functional, OK. Are you making the actual structure of a house?

COULTON: Are you making things that are tools or utensils?

LEAH BERKOWITZ: Yes. And I think you are pretty familiar with this tool.

CHUNG: Oh, she's giving hints as she speaks.

EISENBERG: Do you make guitars?

SWANTNER: Very close, yes.

COULTON: Do you make some kind of musical instrument?

SWANTNER: Yes.

EISENBERG: Very close.

COULTON: Are you a luthier?

SWANTNER: Yeah.

COULTON: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

CHUNG: So Chloe is the co-founder of Brooklyn Lutherie, a restoration repair shop for stringed instruments like guitars and violins. But in addition, Chloe builds custom violin family instruments on commission. She's currently building a mandola, which is related to the mandolin.

EISENBERG: So I imagine you play instruments.

SWANTNER: I do, yeah.

EISENBERG: And then what was the trajectory in your career path that led you to want to be, you know, to be making them and restoring them?

SWANTNER: I'm from a family of people who work with their hands. And so that was attractive alone. I met a luthier while I was going to college. And I just was really attracted to how portable the trade could be, actually. It's all hand tools. And, yeah, the fascination began there.

EISENBERG: Through the restorations that you do, has anyone brought you something that you were too scared to work on because of its value or maybe it was just so far gone?

SWANTNER: So far gone, I would say.

EISENBERG: Yeah.

SWANTNER: We get some really intriguing instruments through our shop. I've never been too scared because of value or anything. But we do - yeah, we do have to say no to nightmare cases.

(LAUGHTER)

SWANTNER: Yeah.

COULTON: Somebody brings in a violin that's been run over by a car. You're like, I can't.

SWANTNER: Something like that, yeah.

EISENBERG: OK. And how long does it take for you to make a - I'm trying to think. What...

CHUNG: Like a violin?

EISENBERG: Yeah, how about a violin? That's, like, a big deal, I imagine.

SWANTNER: It's pretty time-consuming. I guess if I was doing it full-time, five days a week, it probably would take me three months to build a violin.

COULTON: Wow.

SWANTNER: Probably people are faster.

(LAUGHTER)

SWANTNER: But, no, it's really involved. It's really involved.

COULTON: Honestly, Chloe, it's just a few pieces of wood.

(LAUGHTER)

COULTON: And then you put the pegs on and the wires. It's not hard. It doesn't seem that hard.

SWANTNER: You know, from firewood to, like, a varnished violin, yeah.

COULTON: Oh, right.

SWANTNER: Yeah, yeah.

CHUNG: And what's the hardest thing about building a violin?

SWANTNER: Probably just the, like, titillation of not knowing what it's going to sound like until you're completely finished I think is the hardest part, yeah.

EISENBERG: Fantastic. Everyone give it up for our mystery guest, Chloe Swantner.

(APPLAUSE) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.