OPHIRA EISENBERG, HOST:
People used to go to the theater to see opera. Now huge crowds pay money to watch live podcast tapings.
EISENBERG: (Laughter) Our next two contestants will play a game called Podcast or Fraud-cast (ph). Let's meet them. First up, Katie Fox on buzzer number one.
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EISENBERG: You're a biology lecturer at the University of Maryland. Welcome.
KATIE FOX: Thank you.
EISENBERG: Katie, in grad school, you competed in a three-minute thesis talk competition.
FOX: I did.
EISENBERG: And so what - first of all, what was the point of this competition? Did you get a grade based on it or anything?
FOX: No, the competition was for fun, although my adviser did strongly advise me to compete in it.
EISENBERG: OK. And what did you speak on?
FOX: I talked about my thesis, which focused on how cells communicate with one another in the developing zebrafish.
EISENBERG: The developing zebrafish. Glad to know that's real. And how did you do?
FOX: I did pretty well. I was a semifinalist. And a friend of mine won, so good for her.
EISENBERG: No, we're only talking about you, Katie.
EISENBERG: Good for you, good for you. That's very cool. Your opponent is Kevin Combes on buzzer number two.
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EISENBERG: You work for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. Welcome.
KEVIN COMBES: Thank you, Ophira.
COMBES: That was the reaction I expected.
EISENBERG: Kevin, you work with data trying to figure out how to improve the D.C. Metro.
COMBES: Yes, I do. My favorite way to describe my job is I'm a professional transit nerd. I sit at a computer all day with a database open. I just have this ocean of data sitting in front of me. And my job is to look at that data and say, how can we turn this into actionable intelligence?
EISENBERG: OK. And what have you come up with?
COMBES: I do a lot of work trying to figure out how many people are on station platforms or are on different trains. You know, where are we crowded? Where we are not so crowded?
EISENBERG: What can we do about it?
COMBES: Well, we put together a plan for a station improvement and maybe, you know, about a decade later, we might be able to do something about it.
EISENBERG: Got it. OK, good.
EISENBERG: Realistic. OK. Remember, Katie and Kevin, the first of you who wins two games will move onto our final round. Let's go to your first game. Your game is about real or fake podcasts, otherwise known as real or future podcasts. Jonathan and I will describe a podcast. And you tell us - is it something we made up, or is it a real, established podcast? We'll go back and forth, so no need to ring in. And here we go.
Katie, "Step By Stapp," two hosts argue that every song ever written by Creed frontman Scott Stapp was influenced by an episode of the '90s sitcom "Step By Step."
FOX: Well, it sounds like it would be great podcast, but I have to say fake.
EISENBERG: That is real. That is real.
EISENBERG: In a recent episode, the hosts perform an original musical about the formation of Creed...
EISENBERG: ...Called "Creed (The Band) The Musical."
EISENBERG: Remember when a fleeting thought wasn't a podcast?
JONATHAN COULTON: Yeah.
COULTON: Kevin, "Infinite Jesters" follow the journey of two men who spend years attempting to read David Foster Wallace's encyclopedic novel "Infinite Jest." Real or fake?
COULTON: No, that's fake. I'm sorry.
COULTON: It's a good idea, though.
EISENBERG: Katie, "The Pen Addict" - friends talk about pens and writing accessories on this weekly podcast that's been running for more than five years. Real or fake?
FOX: Oh, I don't know - real.
EISENBERG: It is real. Oh, it is real. The fact that it's not called "Pen Pals" is of issue for me.
COULTON: Yeah (laughter). Kevin, "This Week In Parisitism," which is a podcast about eukaryotic parasites - real or fake?
COULTON: I'm sorry. That's real.
COULTON: People love parasites. There's a lot of parasite news that happens every week.
EISENBERG: It's infectious.
FOX: I would listen to it.
EISENBERG: Yeah, right. Katie, this one's called "There's A Nap For That." It reviews a different type of nap each episode, from power naps to catnaps to coffee naps to wet naps. Real or fake?
EISENBERG: That is totally fake. Yeah, that is fake. That is fake.
COULTON: Kevin, "Sleep Whispers" - this is a podcast of quote, "whispered ramblings to help you relax and fall asleep." Real or fake?
COMBES: Well, if it's real, I would listen to that. So I'm going to say real.
COULTON: Yeah, it's real.
COMBES: Hey, I got one.
EISENBERG: These are your last clues. Katie, "Ask A Clean Person" - an expert offers tips on how to clean things like blood and pit stains and offers opinions like this one - Swiffer sheets are glorified paper towels. Real or fake?
EISENBERG: Totally real. Absolutely real.
EISENBERG: The podcast has given the dubious honor of worst stain in the world to tumeric stains.
COULTON: Kevin, "The Sound And The Fury" - panelists play clips of sounds that they can't stand to hear...
COULTON: ...Like nails on a chalkboard or squeaking Styrofoam. Is that real or fake?
COMBES: I'm going to go with fake.
COULTON: Yeah, you're right. That's fake.
COULTON: Puzzle guru Art Chung, how did our contestants do?
ART CHUNG: Nice job, Katie. You're one step closer to our final round.
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EISENBERG: Are you collecting petition signatures to become a contestant on ASK ME ANOTHER? Well, that's not how it works. Drop that clipboard, and go to amatickets.org, and we'll send you a link to our contestant quiz. Coming up, astronaut Chris Hadfield plays a game about winter sports. And it turns out the only thing more terrifying than space travel is doubles luge. I'm Ophira Eisenberg, and this is ASK ME ANOTHER from NPR.
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