Bad Ideas From The Past Sometimes even the smartest people get things wrong. In this game, contestants answer questions about things that some of history's supposedly great minds once thought were true.

Bad Ideas From The Past

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JONATHAN COULTON: From NPR and WNYC, coming to you from The Bell House in beautiful Brooklyn, N.Y., it's NPR's hour of puzzles, word games and trivia - ASK ME ANOTHER. I'm Jonathan Coulton. Now here's your host, Ophira Eisenberg.



Hello everybody. Hi. Great to see you. Right now, we have four brilliant contestants that are waiting backstage. And soon, they will be on our stage playing our nerdy games. And one of them will become a big winner. Speaking of winners, Jonathan, I know that you have been up for a lot of awards this year.

COULTON: I had a good year. That's true.

EISENBERG: Jonathan was nominated both for a Tony and an Emmy.

COULTON: Yeah, it was very exciting.


COULTON: Thank you.

EISENBERG: I just want to let you know that things are going pretty good for me too in the awards thing.

COULTON: Oh, that's great.

EISENBERG: Well, there's this. See this, everybody? This is a picture of a dog - not my dog. This is a pug that is four months old that just placed first in the Puppy Pug Nationals. And the owner has named it Ophira Ask-Me-Another.


EISENBERG: I just want to let you know that right now. This dog...

COULTON: Very nice.

EISENBERG: ...Won the Puppy Nationals - pug division. For three- to six-month-old dogs. It's pretty amazing.

COULTON: Do you think that they think your last name is Ask-Me-Another?

EISENBERG: (Laughter) Yeah. We have two amazing guests on our show. We have, from "The Daily Show" and "Crazy Rich Asians," Ronny Chieng is going to be on our stage.


EISENBERG: From "Six Feet Under" and "Dexter" and Broadway, we have Michael C. Hall coming on the stage.


EISENBERG: Yeah, very exciting. I think Michael C. Hall has had a pretty interesting career, right? On "Six Feet Under," he played a funeral director. On "Dexter," he played a murderer. I think he should continue with this backwards circle of life and for his next role, play, like, a doula.


EISENBERG: Or if it's a guy, is it a dude-la (ph)?

COULTON: It's like a dudad (ph).

EISENBERG: Dudad (laughter). Dudad - I like that.

COULTON: (Laughter).

EISENBERG: Midterm elections are coming up - you guys excited?

COULTON: (Laughter).

EISENBERG: I know. But it's going to be OK. Brooklyn bars are going to be doing voter drink specials, just so you know. You got to know that they're going to have some good puns. I want to have a polled fashioned. I want a Bloody priMary.


EISENBERG: That's what I want to see. I want a Long Island absentea (ph).


EISENBERG: That would be great, with a Singapore swing vote - why not? Can have a democra-sea (ph) breeze? Delightful.


EISENBERG: Tropical.

COULTON: Tropical and topical.

EISENBERG: (Laughter) Pina collusion.


EISENBERG: I know. All right, you guys are fantastic. Let's meet some contestants and play some games, everybody.


EISENBERG: Our first two contestants will play a game called Bad Ideas From The Past. Mine was named Gordy.


EISENBERG: Let's meet them. First up, Lauren MacDonough - you were part of a world record to create the biggest flower made of humans...

LAUREN MACDONOUGH: Yes - yes, I was.

EISENBERG: ...At the Rochester Lilac festival.


EISENBERG: OK, so how many people came together to create the flower?

MACDONOUGH: Oh, thousands and thousands - like tens of thousands came. I don't have the exact number (laughter).


MACDONOUGH: But it was a lot of work to put together.

EISENBERG: And did you beat the world record?

MACDONOUGH: We beat the world record, but I think the next year, we got beat out by somebody in, like, the Netherlands...

EISENBERG: The Netherlands - sure, sure.

MACDONOUGH: ...Or somewhere - the tulip or something. I don't know (laughter).

EISENBERG: So when you ring in, we're going to hear this, Lauren.


EISENBERG: Your opponent is Avi Zacherman. You're a avid board game collector. And you've been playing the same board game with a group of friends for 2 years.


EISENBERG: And what kind of game is it?

ZACHERMAN: The easiest way to describe it is, you go out. You hunt monsters. You harvest their body parts for weapons, and then you hunt more monsters.

EISENBERG: Yeah, sounds super fun.


COULTON: I love it.

EISENBERG: When you ring in, we're going to hear this.


EISENBERG: Lauren and Avi, whoever has more points after two games is going to go on to our final round. Now, this is a guessing game called Bad Ideas From The Past. Jonathan and I will read multiple choice questions about things that people once thought were true. Here we go.

COULTON: In the not so distant past, people didn't understand how terrible cigarettes are for you. Which of these is a real Camels ad slogan from the 1940s? A - Camels, more fun than a carrot and less fattening.


COULTON: B - more doctors smoke camels than any other cigarette. Or C - for softer lips, suck on this.


COULTON: Lauren.


COULTON: B - you're right. More doctors smoke camels. That's right.


EISENBERG: Which of these is a real less-successful Thomas Edison invention? A - a telephone to talk to dead people. B - the first spin pop, the lollipop that electronically rotates for you to achieve full lick coverage with minimal effort. C - photographs that showed the subject aging, like in "The Picture Of Dorian Gray."




EISENBERG: A is correct - a telephone to talk to dead people.


EISENBERG: He was almost right. Now you - on your phone, you get ghosted. So...


COULTON: It's pretty much the same thing.

EISENBERG: Pretty much the same thing. In the mid-1800s, what idea about our solar system did French mathematician Urbain Le Verrier promote? A - the moon is a cold star, which is why the temperature on Earth tends to go down at night. B - he believed in the existence of a planet called Vulcan in between Mercury and Venus. Or C - moons are the real planets, and we're all being played.




EISENBERG: That is correct.


EISENBERG: He believed in the planet Vulcan.


COULTON: Aristotle was an MVP when it came to bad scientific theories. How did he think gravity worked? A, some objects are just naturally more attracted to the center of the universe, which is, of course, the Earth. B, the pressure of the air around us is keeping everything from flying away like invisible compression shorts for the planet. Or, C, creatures with lower intelligence float away, which is why birds fly, squirrels climb trees, but humans are stuck on the ground.


COULTON: Lauren.


COULTON: A - you're absolutely right.


EISENBERG: Jan Baptista van Helmont was an influential 17th-century chemist in Belgium. Where did he think mice came from? A, Anaheim.


EISENBERG: B, mice are the physical manifestation of lustful thoughts. Or C, if you place a dirty shirt next to some wheat and wait 21 days, the wheat will turn into a mouse.




EISENBERG: C is correct. Yeah.


EISENBERG: Yeah. He thought the stinky fumes from a dirty shirt would somehow turn wheat into a mouse.

COULTON: It does seem a little bit like it's based on anecdotal evidence.

EISENBERG: (Laughter) Yeah, exactly.


EISENBERG: Great first game, both of you. Lauren is in the lead.


EISENBERG: Our next game is about gibberish song lyrics. Lauren, if you could wake up to any song every day, what would you choose?

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