Meet The Expert: Jason Porath Inspired by the stories in Porath's book, we wrote a game to showcase a few of those larger-than-life women. Porath led the game, played by a member of the Ask Me Another audience.

Meet The Expert: Jason Porath

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JONATHAN COULTON: This is ASK ME ANOTHER, NPR's hour of puzzles, word games and trivia. I'm Jonathan Coulton here with puzzle guru Art Chung. Now, here's your host, Ophira Eisenberg.



Thank you, Jonathan. Before the break, our contestant Katie won her way to the final round at the end the show. We'll find out a little later who she will face off against. But first, it's time for a segment we call Meet The Expert. And today's expert is the author of the book "Rejected Princesses: Tales Of History's Boldest Heroines, Hellions, And Heretics." Please welcome Jason Porath.


JASON PORATH: Thank you.

EISENBERG: Hey, Jason. How's it going?

PORATH: It's going great. How are you doing?

EISENBERG: Very good. So, Jason, you worked as an animator at DreamWorks, which is where you had the idea for this blog that would eventually become the book. But tell me about the lunchtime conversation where the idea started.

PORATH: Yeah, when "Frozen" came out, there were a ton of really terribly written articles that came out about it. And one was 12 Reasons the "Frozen" Girls are Bad Role Models. And we're like, oh, if they're bad role models, we can come up with way worse ones. Like, what is the worst idea for a Disney princess you can come up with? And out of that conversation, the worst one we came up with was Nabokov's Lolita.


PORATH: It was such a terrible idea. I just wanted it to exist in some form or another, so I drew it. But I also tossed out a bunch of historical figures that nobody ever heard of - at the table, at least. And I'm like, I want those to exist, too, so I started drawing it. It went viral, and here we are.

EISENBERG: And it's this beautiful-looking book that looks like a children's fairytale almost looks. And it's beautifully - like, the drawings of all the princesses are - you know, and it looks something like something you would want to read your kids.

PORATH: Yes, but...


PORATH: ...There's significantly more beheadings than your average kids' movie, so I put in a lot of content warnings like you'd get in a movie.

EISENBERG: And so can you read any of them to your children?

PORATH: Oh, yeah. I mean, the first 30 percent of it, 35, is, like, sort of PG, and then it sort of goes towards PG-13. It's around the order of a Greek mythology. So if you're down with Zeus coming down in weird animal forms and getting freaky with women, then, you know, that's worse than what's in my book, I would say.


EISENBERG: Well, we're going to hear more about these princesses because you are going to help me with an ASK ME ANOTHER challenge.

PORATH: All right.

EISENBERG: So we have actually chosen a lucky member from our audience to be a contestant for this challenge. Let's welcome Rebecca Peterson (ph).


EISENBERG: Hey, Rebecca.


EISENBERG: Hi. You're visiting from Atlanta, Ga.


EISENBERG: Well, nice to have you.

PETERSON: Thank you.

EISENBERG: And let me see. What do we know about you? Oh, how about this - you bought a pet pig in college on a whim.


PETERSON: That is true. Her name is Angela. She has a bad attitude.


EISENBERG: Your game is called Two Truths and a Lie, Rejected Princesses Edition. We're going to give you two true facts and one lie about a historical woman featured in Jason's book, and your job is to pick the lie. Here we go.

PORATH: Julie La Maupin d'Aubigny was born in France and 1670. What is not true about her?

EISENBERG: She disguised herself as a man to give dueling demonstrations, became an opera singer in Paris before she was 20. She was friends with Voltaire and is said to have inspired his book "Candide." Or C - she had a female lover; when her lover was banished to a convent, she joined the convent, burned it down so they could run off together. Which one is not true?

PETERSON: I'm going to say A, that first one.

EISENBERG: That she describes herself as a man to give dueling demonstrations and became an opera singer in Paris before age of 20. Jason, what say you?

PORATH: Sorry, that actually did happen. And she did burn down a convent to bang a nun.


PORATH: I don't think she ever met with Voltaire. She was basically the closest, I think, humanity has ever produced to a real-life Bugs Bunny.

PETERSON: Oh, my gosh.


PORATH: She's kind of amazing.

EISENBERG: Yeah, she sounds like a friend. All right, let's go to your next one.

PORATH: All right, Mariya Oktyabrskaya was this tank driver born in 1905 in the Crimean Peninsula. She was the first woman to win the Hero of the Soviet Union award for fighting in World War II. Tell us the lie.

EISENBERG: Is it, A, she disguised herself as a man to join the Red Army, B, she used her own personal savings to buy the tank she drove, or C, that her tank was called Fighting Girlfriend?


EISENBERG: Which was the lie?

PETERSON: I'm going to go with C, fighting girlfriend.


PETERSON: She's giving me the look.

PORATH: Sorry, you're incorrect.


PORATH: She never disguised herself as a man. When - she was a Soviet when her husband was killed by the Nazis. She sold all their belongings, bought a tank, named the tank Fighting Girlfriend and started killing Nazis.

PETERSON: Oh, my God.


PORATH: She needs her own movie.


EISENBERG: All right, your final question.

PORATH: All right, Katie Sandwina was a circus performer born in Austria in 1884. Which of these facts is not a fact?

EISENBERG: A, she met her future husband when she was 16 when she beat him in a wrestling contest, B, she could lift a horse, or C, she retired from the circus and eventually became one of the first female U.S. congresswomen.

PETERSON: I'm going to go with congresswoman.


PORATH: That's actually - you're correct.

PETERSON: Yes (laughter).


PORATH: So Katie Sandwina was known as the lady Hercules. She did, in fact, beat her husband. He was like, oh, I can - he was a circus performer, an acrobat. She was 16 at the time, I think. And as he described it, the next thing that he remembered after entering the ring was just seeing the blue sky as she was carting him off...


PORATH: ...On her shoulder. They later married. She was an active suffragette - or suffragist, at the time. And yeah, she never ran for Congress but talked with rather a lot of them. She was a very well-known figure and dispensed a lot of sort of motherly, like, new-woman-type tips to magazines as to how to raise kids.

EISENBERG: And, Rebecca, guess what. You did great.


EISENBERG: Matter of fact, you won.


EISENBERG: Congratulations, you've won a signed copy of "Rejected Princesses." Everyone give it up one more time for our expert, Jason Porath.


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