Mystery Guest

Jul 14, 2017
Originally published on December 8, 2017 9:59 am

This week's Mystery Guest is Zoë Greenberg, who teaches at a New York high school, and involves her students in an interesting project! Ophira and Jonathan ask yes-or-no questions to get to the bottom of this mystery.

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While Aeriel and Spencer get ready for their final round, it's time for us to play a game. This is Mystery Guest. A stranger is about to join us onstage. Jonathan and I have no idea who this person is or what makes them special. Only 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.

ZOE GREENBERG: Hello, my name is Zoe Greenberg. And as part of my job, I'm involved in an unusual New York City project.

EISENBERG: OK. Is your project something that I would go and - to see?

GREENBERG: No, not necessarily.


JONATHAN COULTON: Is it primarily science-related?


COULTON: Uh-huh.

EISENBERG: OK, science-related. I'm just going based on a lot of other people that we have met as mystery guests. Does your project have to do with rats?




COULTON: I had the same question.


COULTON: Had the exact same question.


COULTON: Does it involve some other city animal, like a pigeon or a cockroach or something like that?

EISENBERG: (Laughter) City animal, like a cockroach.

GREENBERG: A city...


COULTON: I said for instance. It's a kind of animal.

GREENBERG: I would say, yes. A city animal.

COULTON: A city animal.

EISENBERG: Is it a cockroach?

GREENBERG: It is not a cockroach, no.





EISENBERG: What are the other city animals?

COULTON: Those are the only three city animals - rats, pigeons and cockroaches.


CHUNG: Let me clarify. It's not an animal that - right, that's not, like, top of mind. But the animal part is very important to the project.


COULTON: It's not an obvious animal.


EISENBERG: It's, like, not an animal I'm keeping in my apartment.

GREENBERG: Hopefully not, no.



COULTON: Are we dealing with some kind of a mammal here, some sort of a...


COULTON: ...Furry creature? No, not a mammal.

EISENBERG: Not a mammal?


EISENBERG: So what are we down to, like, reptiles and fish?


CHUNG: Well, why don't you ask, like - right. Think about where these animals might live.

EISENBERG: Where they might live. Well, we took out people's apartments.

COULTON: Upper West Side or, like...

EISENBERG: Yeah, right, exactly.


EISENBERG: OK. I'm going to go with fish. Does your project involve fish?

GREENBERG: Not fish, but you're close.

COULTON: Some sort of aquatic animal...

EISENBERG: Thanks, Zoe.


COULTON: ...That's not a fish. (Laughter)

EISENBERG: Hey, wait a second. Does your project involve the whale watching that is happening right now in Brooklyn?


EISENBERG: Another great idea.


COULTON: Also, that's a mammal.


EISENBERG: Oh, yeah. Right.


COULTON: OK. So some sort of aquatic creature that's not a fish. I'm out of options. Mermaids?


COULTON: Are you...

GREENBERG: Also a mammal.

COULTON: Are you studying the famous...

EISENBERG: Also a mammal.


COULTON: Are you studying the famous Gowanus mermaid?

GREENBERG: Ah, yeah.


EISENBERG: All right, can I eat this animal?


EISENBERG: Oh, good.


CHUNG: And it's native to New York.

EISENBERG: OK, oysters. How about some oysters?


EISENBERG: Yeah, all right.


EISENBERG: Let's repopulate some oyster beds...


EISENBERG: ...Because New York used to be a big oyster place. Right? And they - and instead of the hot dog carts, they were selling oysters or something.

GREENBERG: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely.

CHUNG: That's it. That's it.


CHUNG: Zoe's a scientific diver for the Billion Oyster Project, whose goal is to restore 1 billion live oysters to New York Harbor. As part of her job, Zoe teaches diving at the New York Harbor School, a public maritime high school located on Governors Island.



EISENBERG: So how did you get involved with repopulating these oysters?

GREENBERG: Well, I came at it because I'm a dive instructor. So I teach high school students to become working divers in the harbor. And as part of that, I train those kids to do work on these oyster reefs, helping to install them and maintain and survey.

EISENBERG: I mentioned it briefly that I was, like, oh, all the oysters used to be sold like hot dog carts that we know now all over the city. But do you know a little bit about the history of oysters in New York City?

GREENBERG: Yes. Oysters were a major food source for the Lenape people and then for poor New Yorkers, rich New Yorkers - everybody ate oysters. It's been speculated that, at one time, New York was actually supplying half the world's supply of oysters. We used to send oysters, you know, off to Europe. You know, when Henry Hudson came, there were hundreds of thousands of acres of oysters and piles of oyster shells called middens.


GREENBERG: I know much of the streets are - a lot of the concrete is even mixed with old oyster shells.

EISENBERG: Right, yeah. I've seen that in some of the old streets.

GREENBERG: Yeah. So oysters were definitely a very important part of our history.

EISENBERG: Very cool. And what happened to all of those oysters?

GREENBERG: Well, overharvesting, dredging, pollution.


GREENBERG: Yeah, we've pretty much decimated the population of oysters in our harbor.

EISENBERG: Yeah, people is what you're saying.

GREENBERG: Yeah, pretty much people, yeah.

EISENBERG: Yeah. So now we're going to fix it.


EISENBERG: And what benefits does, you know, repopulating these oyster reefs - what benefit is that to the water or to - I don't know - the ecology in general?

GREENBERG: Sure. So oysters do a lot of things. They filter the water. An adult oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water in a day.


GREENBERG: So the idea is that a billion oysters could filter the standing body of water of New York Harbor in just three days.




GREENBERG: But oysters do a lot of things. They're reef-building creatures, right? So the reefs help to stabilize our shorelines, and they provide habitat for countless other species that live in our harbor.

COULTON: How far have we gotten to 1 billion? What are we at right now?

GREENBERG: So we've been at this for about three years or so. We have put 22 million oysters into the harbor.




GREENBERG: Yeah. And all of that is with the help of these amazing high school students and community groups. So it's pretty cool.

EISENBERG: That is fantastic.


EISENBERG: OK. So how long does this project go into the future? Is this like a five-year, 10 year...

GREENBERG: Twenty years.

EISENBERG: It's a twenty-year.

GREENBERG: So the idea is that a billion oysters by 2035. That's our goal.

EISENBERG: OK. Should you then eat those oysters or no, don't eat those oysters?

GREENBERG: Yeah, no, no, no, no.

EISENBERG: Got it. Got it. Got it.

GREENBERG: Don't eat the oysters that come out of New York Harbor, definitely not.

EISENBERG: So when I'm served Gowanus oysters, say no, say no.

GREENBERG: Yeah. Say no.

EISENBERG: Got it. Thank you so much for being on our show. And thank you so much for being part of this amazing project.

GREENBERG: Thank you so much for having me.

EISENBERG: Our mystery guest, Zoe Greenberg.

GREENBERG: Thank you.

(APPLAUSE) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.