Neil, Gamin': The Author Is Quizzed On Gilbert & Sullivan When he was nine years old, Neil Gaiman won a newspaper contest about Gilbert & Sullivan. See how much he remembers about the duo's 19th century operettas...and whether he can sing his answers.

Neil, Gamin': The Author Is Quizzed On Gilbert & Sullivan

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Please welcome back our very important puzzler, Neil Gaiman.


EISENBERG: Neil, we ask two things from our VIPs. We ask them to tell us what kind of quiz they would like, and then we ask them to give us a prize that we will give the grand winner of the show. Now, your prize that you gave us is a pot of honey, but not just any honey.

NEIL GAIMAN: No, it's honey from my hives in the Midwest.

EISENBERG: You're a beekeeper.

GAIMAN: I am a beekeeper.


EISENBERG: How long have you been a beekeeper?

GAIMAN: I've been a beekeeper since about 2007 when I read my first articles about colony collapse disorder and thought everybody should have a hobby that could kill them. And...


GAIMAN: So that was mine.

EISENBERG: And it looks clear and quite beautiful.

GAIMAN: It is very, very pretty summer honey.

AUDIENCE: Does it turn you young again?

GAIMAN: Does it turn you young again? I could lie.


EISENBERG: Now, for your quiz, you admitted an amazing fact to us that when you were nine, you won a newspaper quiz that was about Gilbert and Sullivan.

GAIMAN: Yes, Art phoned me up and asked me strange personal questions. And somewhere in there, I have no idea how it came out, I admitted to having - the only competition I have ever won in my life - apart from getting three questions right on "Wait Wait Don't Tell Me" - but they were true or false and God they were easy - was actually at the age of 9 winning the Gilbert and Sullivan competition in the local newspaper in Sussex, England.

EISENBERG: What did you get? What was your prize?

GAIMAN: My prize was two tickets to a local production of "Patience" in the local school and I went along. And being a snotty little 9-year-old, I was not terribly impressed with the productions. It wasn't up to...


EISENBERG: They were like two stars by the way...


EISENBERG: ...Two stars. All right, we'll see how much you remember about 19th century operettas. Now, if you get enough questions right here, Rebekah Miller of Lewisville, Texas, is going to be getting an ASK ME Another anagram t-shirt. You winning is going to give someone...

GAIMAN: There are stakes.

EISENBERG: ...Else a prize. That's right.

GAIMAN: I'm sorry, Rebekah.


JONATHAN COULTON, BYLINE: So we're going to start with a little musical clue here. I'm going to replace some words from what is probably the most famous Gilbert and Sullivan song, the "Major General" song. Your job is to sing the correct lyrics.

GAIMAN: Oh, dear God. Hang on, you did - you used the word sing there.

COULTON: Yeah. Whatever approximates that for you in your world. You can - you can mumble them or - it's fun. I'm not going to hold...

GAIMAN: I'll text them to you.

COULTON: I'm not going to judge you on your singing, just your correctness.

GAIMAN: OK, go for it.

COULTON: All right. (Singing) I know our mythic history, King Arthur's and Sir Caradoc's. I answer hard acrostics, I've a pretty taste for paradox. I quoted elegiacs, all the crimes of Heliogabalus, in conics I can floor peculiarities parabolas. I can tell undoubted Raphaels from Gerard Dows and Zoffanies. I know the croaking chorus from "The Frogs Of Aristophanes." Then I can hum a fugue of which I've heard the music's don afore, and whistle all the airs from that TV show, "Mary Tyler Moore."

GAIMAN: (Singing)And whistle on the airs from the infernal nonsense, "Pinafore."



COULTON: Lovely.

EISENBERG: And just to be clear, but all the rest of the words, those were the original words?

COULTON: Yeah, I guess.

EISENBERG: Wow, that's - yeah. In 1881, Gilbert and Sullivan's manager Richard D'Oyly Carte built the Savoy Theatre in London to showcase the dynamic duo's operas. An interesting fact about the Savoy is it was the first public building in the world to be in lit entirely by what?

GAIMAN: Electric lights.

EISENBERG: Electric lights.

GAIMAN: It was the very first building ever to have electric lights.


GAIMAN: It was actually - technically, it's D'Oyly Carte...

EISENBERG: D'Oyly Carte?

GAIMAN: ...Rather than D'Oyly Carte.

EISENBERG: Oh, Richard...

GAIMAN: I'm sure The Oily Cart was what his enemies called him. Oh yes, there's Oily Carte coming.

EISENBERG: D'Oyly Carte, right.

GAIMAN: D'Oyly, yeah.

EISENBERG: That sounds much more...


EISENBERG: Yeah, right, upper crust. Oily Cart sounds like yeah, he wasn't doing so well.

GAIMAN: Yeah, you'd sort of want to wipe him off your shoes.

EISENBERG: William Rehnquist, the former Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court was a big Gilbert and Sullivan fan. And in 1995, he added four gold stripes to the sleeves of his judge robe. I didn't know you could just do that. But he was copying the costume of Lord Chancellor from a local production of what Gilbert and Sullivan...?

GAIMAN: "Iolanthe."

EISENBERG: Exactly, yes.


GAIMAN: Actually yes, "Iolanthe" was my favorite. "Iolanthe" was the one that sort of hooked me on the whole Gilbert and Sullivany thing because when I was about three years old, my aunt Diane took me to a production of "Iolanthe." And it's a very peculiar story in which essentially fairies invade the House of Lords. And eventually all of the House of Lords sprout wings and fly off with the fairies. And I couldn't really understand what Lords were for, but I got the fairies all right.


COULTON: All right, this is your last clue. Perhaps appropriately for a Neil Gaiman quiz. This song is known as "The Lord Chancellor's Nightmare." And it's written for an orchestra and I'm about to play it on the acoustic guitar. So even if you get it wrong, people will be distracted by the horrible train wreck that is about to happen. Just to make you feel comfortable, I'm going to make a lot of mistakes. Here we go.

GAIMAN: That's really, really nice of you.

COULTON: Just try to be kind. (Singing) You're a regular wreck with a crick in your neck. And no wonder you snore for your heads on the floor. And you've needles and pins from your soles to your shins. And your flesh is acreep and your left leg's asleep. And you've cramp in your toes and a fly on your nose and some fluff on your lung and a feverish tongue. And a thirst that's intense and a general sense that you haven't been sleeping in clover. But the darkness has passed and it's daylight at last. And the night has been long, ditto, ditto my song. And thank goodness...

GAIMAN: (Singing) They're both of them over.

COULTON: Exactly right.


EISENBERG: It's over.

GAIMAN: It's over.

EISENBERG: You did it. Congratulations, Neil Gaiman. You have won.

GAIMAN: I lived.

EISENBERG: You live?

GAIMAN: And does the nice lady get her t-shirt?

EISENBERG: The nice lady gets...


EISENBERG: Yes, she gets an ASK ME ANOTHER anagram t-shirt.


COULTON: All right, this is a song called creepy doll. This is a song of mine. This is about a doll that is creepy. We're only going to do a little bit of it. But to make it extra creepy, we're going to have Nail Gaiman read the lyrics aloud instead of me singing it.

GAIMAN: In a creepy way.

COULTON: In a creepy way.


GAIMAN: (Reading) In a town in the woods at the top of a hill is a house where no one lives. So you take a big bag of your big-city money there and buy it. But at night when the house is dark and you're all alone, there's a noise upstairs. At the top of the stairs, there's a door and you take a deep breath and try it. And the flashlight shows you something moving just inside the door. There's a tattered dress and a feeling you have felt somewhere before.

COULTON: (Singing) There's a creepy doll that always follows you. It's got a ruined eye. It's always open. And there's a creepy doll that always follows you. It's got a pretty mouth to swallow you whole.


COULTON: Neil Gaiman, ladies and gentlemen.


EISENBERG: Jonathan Coulton, Neil Gaiman.


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