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Mystery Guest

Aug 4, 2017
Originally published on March 23, 2018 9:58 am

What exciting business has Gary Souza's family carried on for more than 100 years? Jonathan and Ophira ask yes-or-no questions to find out.

Heard on Kerry Bishé: Halt And Catch Science

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.


While Emma and Shreyas 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 who this person is 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.

GARY SOUZA: My name is Gary Souza, and I'm part of an interesting family business that's been around for over a hundred years.

CHUNG: Ophira, you have the first question.

EISENBERG: Is this business based out of New York City?



JONATHAN COULTON: Is it based out of Chicago?


COULTON: Just - would be a terrible way to narrow it down.

EISENBERG: (Laughter) Yeah, just city by city.


COULTON: Is this business primarily involved with making something, create - manufacturing something, or...


EISENBERG: OK. Is this business something to do with a live event?



COULTON: Ooh, good. Is it entertainment-related, involving singing or dancing or music?

SOUZA: Yes to the first part.

EISENBERG: It - so it's entertainment-related.



EISENBERG: Are animals involved with this piece of entertainment?

SOUZA: I hope not.


EISENBERG: But it's happened?

SOUZA: But you never know.

EISENBERG: (Laughter) Yeah. That's live entertainment for you.

COULTON: And you - it's a family business, you said.


COULTON: Could you run this business without your family?


SOUZA: Of course my family may be listening, so I'll say absolutely not.

COULTON: No, no way.

SOUZA: But yes...


SOUZA: It could be individual, yes.

EISENBERG: Who in your family bugs you the most?


EISENBERG: That's not a yes-or-no question. OK. Do people have to pay for this event?

SOUZA: Sometimes.

EISENBERG: If I was just a normal, everyday, interested person in this event, can I come for free?


CHUNG: How about where do you think the event happens.

COULTON: Where do you think the event happens?


EISENBERG: Oh, yeah. It could be in the sky or the water.

COULTON: (Laughter) Sure.

EISENBERG: How about that?

COULTON: Do they happen in the sky?

SOUZA: Primarily.

EISENBERG: Do they have to do with hot air balloons?


COULTON: Does it have to do with airplanes?


COULTON: Well, what else is in the sky? Nothing.


COULTON: I don't know where to go.

EISENBERG: Well, how - I mean, like, trapeze, sort of. Does it have to do with trapeze?


CHUNG: So it's an event that happens...

COULTON: It's event that happens in the sky but doesn't involve airplanes or balloons. It's impossible.

CHUNG: And that you can...


CHUNG: How about when it happens.

EISENBERG: OK. Does it happen only in the summer?

SOUZA: Primarily.


COULTON: Is it fireworks?


EISENBERG: Oh, yeah. Of course.

CHUNG: So Gary is the vice president of Pyro Spectaculars by Souza, started by his great-grandfather, Manuel de Souza. The company has produced fireworks shows all around the world, including Super Bowls and the Olympics. And this year marked the company's 35th time producing the annual Macy's Fourth of July fireworks.


CHUNG: And so how young were you when you got involved in the family business? Or how did you get involved?

SOUZA: You know, it's been - I always say that it was babysitting. My - I went off with my grandpa and my - and my father. And they would actually do work, but I would just sort of putz around all day long having a good time. And at the end of the day I used to collect all the scraps. And that was - my thrill was that I could create whatever bomb I wanted and we'd go out to our little test...


SOUZA: ...Our little testing field and I could shoot my one bomb and then we'd go home. But, you know, I was very young. And there weren't as many regulations back in those days.


EISENBERG: To all of our listeners, don't gather a bunch of old fireworks together on your own and put them together. He's from a family of professionals. They know what they're doing. He had heavy parental guidance through the process. Do not think this is a green light to do what you may with fireworks just because you heard it on NPR.

COULTON: That's right.

EISENBERG: All right. This is a pretty dangerous family tradition of employment. I mean, you know, obviously you all are interested in it. And it's pretty fun to be like, hey, do you want to light things on fire, right? That's fun.

SOUZA: Yes, it is. But, you know, it started out as something that was done very primitively with just igniting a flare or a match to a fuse.


SOUZA: And now it's all done by computers. And the technology to fire all the shells - you know, it's all...

EISENBERG: So you're...

SOUZA: Done by computers.

EISENBERG: Right. So are you thankful for that innovation, or are you someone that likes to gather some close friends in a nondescript field?


SOUZA: Well, it's kind of nice to be able to actually touch the fire to the fuse because you know it's going to work. When you get into technology, it just becomes a lot more challenging.

COULTON: I've always wondered this - aren't there laws and regulations that prevent you from really stretching your wings?


SOUZA: Not really. I think actually logic prevails in most of these cases.


COULTON: There are sort of physical limits to how crazy you can get.

SOUZA: Well, yeah, there are definite limits to the size and the amount of powder and all that. And then there's just flat-out - just common sense.


EISENBERG: OK, so what new firework can we look forward to?

SOUZA: This year was pretty cool in that, you know, in the Macy's show we did big letters of USA in red, white and blue.


SOUZA: That was - that was pushing the limits on that. But I'm hoping that we're going to be able to take those, instead of projecting them horizontally, but to get them up vertically and then tilt towards you. And that's the technology we're trying to...

EISENBERG: Tilt towards you?

SOUZA: It'll just come up and just show up way up in the sky.

EISENBERG: Whoa, yeah, all right. Fantastic. I look forward to seeing more of your work in the sky. Everyone give it up for our mystery guest, Gary Souza.

(APPLAUSE) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.