Nursery Rhyme News

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Nursery rhymes from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries are sung to children, yes, but often contain thematic elements that are fairly dark—beheadings, bridge collapses, and more. In this game, host Ophira Eisenberg and house musician Jonathan Coulton suppose the actual events that these rhymes might be based on, and deliver clues to contestants in the form of fictional news reports.


Let's say hello to our next two contestants, Amy Passiak and Kevin Maroney.


EISENBERG: Amy, you are a classics major, and you work in art conservation. Kevin, you publish the New York Review of Science Fiction.


EISENBERG: Here is my first question for you, Amy. This is not a quiz, just curious. What is your favorite nursery rhyme?

AMY PASSIAK: Jack be nimble, Jack be quick. It's really the first one I can think of.

EISENBERG: Yeah, that's a good one, OK, right?

JONATHAN COULTON: That's a great one. That is a great one.

EISENBERG: How does it go?

PASSIAK: Jack be nimble, Jack be quick, Jack jump over the candlestick.

EISENBERG: Yeah, weird, right. Yeah, and then what happens? I don't think anything.

PASSIAK: He lights his pants on fire maybe?

COULTON: I'm not sure anything happens after that. I don't know.

PASSIAK: It gets - the candle gets taller, I'm pretty sure.

COULTON: It does? That's very strange.

PASSIAK: I'm pretty sure. He has to keep jumping, like the Olympics of candlesticks.


EISENBERG: Jack all of a sudden is a professional. I had no idea. OK, well done. Kevin, what is your favorite nursery rhyme?

MARONEY: I have to go with the cow jumped over the moon.

EISENBERG: The cow jumped over the moon, that's a good one.

MARONEY: Hey diddle, diddle and all that.

EISENBERG: How does it go?

MARONEY: Hey diddle, the cat and the fiddle, the cow jumped over the moon. The little dog laughed to see such a sight, and the dish ran away with the spoon.

EISENBERG: That's right.


EISENBERG: And I'm pretty sure the dish was dating the fork, so there's a little controversy there at the end. Yeah, there's some stuff going on. All right, that was an important little exercise because this game is called Nursery Rhyme News. In this game we're going to give you fictional news reports that will describe the inspiration for popular nursery rhymes. You have to tell us what nursery rhyme we're talking about. Mary, could you give us an example?

MARY TOBLER: You might say look out, a giant cannon has fallen off the castle wall. Royal forces, including all the king's men, are working to repair. And that headline may have been the basis for the nursery rhyme Humpty Dumpty.

EISENBERG: So these headlines are based on actual theories behind the historical origins of these nursery rhymes, but nobody knows for sure. Was there an old lady who lived in a shoe? Perhaps it was just a studio apartment. We will never know.


EISENBERG: Here we go. After 300 years, say goodbye to the wool tax of 1275, which has been finally been repealed. No more worrying about three bags full. Yes sir, yes, sir, now you can have 10.


MARONEY: Baa, Baa, Black Sheep?

EISENBERG: Correct, Kevin.


COULTON: Traffic downtown is a mess this morning thanks to King Olaf II of Norway, who has destroyed the main thoroughfare over the river Thames. Take the Tube, my fair lady.


PASSIAK: London Bridge is Falling Down?

COULTON: That's right.


EISENBERG: Well done, Amy. Here is a developing story. Three upstanding local businessmen got so excited ogling maidens at a morally dubious fair exhibit they jumped in the tub.



PASSIAK: Scrub-a-dub-dub, three men in a tub?

TOBLER: We'll take it. I think that's close enough.

EISENBERG: OK, we're taking Scrub-a-dub-dub?


PASSIAK: So that's what I learned in Michigan.

COULTON: You said scrub-a-dub-dub in Michigan? See in Connecticut we said rub-a-dub-dub. What's hiding in your pie? Well, at one English monastery it was thumbs, plums and stolen deeds meant to bribe King VIII.



PASSIAK: Is it Georgie Porgie?

COULTON: No, I'm sorry. He was all about the pudding pie.


MARONEY: Four and 20 blackbirds.

COULTON: Both pie stories.

MARONEY: There are a lot of them.

COULTON: There's a lot of pie in these nursery rhymes. Everybody's eating pie all the time and getting each other clean.


COULTON: Does anybody in the audience know which pie we are talking about? Little Jack Horner, that's right. This is your last question. And now for the trend report, Ophira, what's hot and what's not for the Queen of Scots?

EISENBERG: What's hot: popes. What's not: cheating husbands. We're live with Mary's lady in waiting, all in a row.



PASSIAK: Mary had a Little Lamb?

EISENBERG: No, that is, I'm sorry, incorrect. Kevin?

MARONEY: I'm going to stick with my classic, Mary, Mary Quite Contrary.

EISENBERG: Yes, you got that.


EISENBERG: Speaking of Marys, how did our contestants do?

TOBLER: They did wonderfully. We have a tie. So here is your tiebreaker. Are you ready?

MARONEY: No - oh wait, yes.

TOBLER: All right. French revolutionaries rejoices. King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette tried to leave their castle to fetch some drinks and lost their heads in the process.


MARONEY: Jack and Jill?

TOBLER: Yes, Kevin's correct, Jack and Jill.


EISENBERG: That was a close game. Nice work, both of you. Kevin, you will be moving on to our final round at the end of the show. Thank you so much, Amy, well done.


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