Really Hard Edition: Part 1

Aug 29, 2013
Originally published on December 31, 2014 10:49 am

This hour, revisit some of Ask Me Another's hardest games with host Ophira Eisenberg and puzzle editor Art Chung. If Nietzsche and Kierkegaard were actually hacky comedians, their jokes might sound a little like those told by puzzle guru John Chaneski in "The Philospher's Comedy Club." Find out from Art the original conceit of this game (hint: it involved people in tights), then try mashing up notable names in "Presidential Middle Names"--it may prove to be more brain-melting than enlightening.

This segment originally aired on August 30, 2013.

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From NPR and WNYC, this is ASK ME ANOTHER. I'm Ophira Eisenberg, your host. And over the next hour, we are going to try to stump you. That's right listener, smarty pants, I'm talking to you. Get ready to use more than 10 percent of your brain ‘cause this is our Really Hard Edition. Joining me in the studio is our occasional puzzle guru and puzzle editor Art Chung.

ART CHUNG: Hey, Ophira.

EISENBERG: Hey, Art. Now, I know I work with you, but I actually don't know the answer to this. What do you do, exactly...

CHUNG: What do I do?

EISENBERG: a puzzle editor?

CHUNG: Well, what I do is I lead a team of writers who pitch every game that's on the show, and we come up with games that are accessible but challenging. And it's my job to make sure that the questions aren't too hard, aren't too easy and are really fun.

EISENBERG: And how many games have we played so far?

CHUNG: We've played over 200 almost. Yeah.

EISENBERG: And some of them have been very challenging. Like this first game called the Philosopher's Comedy Club. Which, you know, it sounds hard.

CHUNG: Right. Originally when it was pitched, it was pitched as a superhero's comedy club but we thought that was maybe a little too niche for our audience. So we...

EISENBERG: Not everyone's my husband; is that what you're trying to say?

CHUNG: Not everyone knows the difference between Plastic Man and Elongated Man.


CHUNG: So we decided to make it about philosophers, and it turns out we just exchanged a lowbrow difficult game for a highbrow difficult game.

EISENBERG: Right. You made it even harder.

CHUNG: Even harder.

EISENBERG: So what we did is we took, you know, ideology, reason, rationality and imagined them as standup comedy acts. Our puzzle guru John Chaneski led this game, the Philosopher's Comedy Club.

Here are our next two contestants. Stan Lee and Charlie Esser are settling in behind their puzzle podiums. Charlie?


EISENBERG: Have you ever taken any philosophy?


EISENBERG: None at all?

ESSER: Not really, no. No, none at all. I read "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy."

JOHN CHANESKI: There you go.


EISENBERG: And you are joined by Stan Lee, who I just have to point out...


EISENBERG: Welcome. Stan Lee is not the co-creator of Spider-Man. He is a much more important person.

LEE: Actually, that's my secret identity.

EISENBERG: How about you, any philosophy in your background?

LEE: My academic adviser advised me to take intro and call her in the morning, and I majored in it for undergrad.

EISENBERG: Our next game is called The Philosopher's Comedy Club. And as a standup comic myself, just imaging this place sends chills down my spine. I can't imagine, I guess you'd find out what the sound of one hand clapping feels like, and the heckling would be out of control - Not enlightening enough. An unexamined joke is not worth telling. I think, therefore you suck.


EISENBERG: Tell me it's not going to be like that, John.

CHANESKI: No, it's going to be a little worse actually. No. Philosophers get a bad rap for being a bit boring, serious people, but in this game we find out that many of them were originally standup comedians. It's true. It was Jean-Paul Sartre who said, I just flew in from hell, and boy am I tired of other people.


CHANESKI: So, contestants, you have to identify the philosophers who just might have told the following hacky jokes. And please, try the veal. Here we go. A lawyer, a plumber and a used car salesman all die in a plane crash and find themselves at the Pearly Gates, except they don't because God is dead.



LEE: Nietzsche.

CHANESKI: Nietzsche is right, very good.

EISENBERG: There you go.


CHANESKI: Did you ever notice how the end justifies the means? What's the deal with that?


CHANESKI: Charlie?

ESSER: Immanuel Kant.

CHANESKI: Not Kant, no.




LEE: Niccolo Machiavelli.

CHANESKI: Machiavelli is right. Yes, way to go. Good steal.


CHANESKI: Take my wife, or at least the shadow of her that appears on the cave wall to which I spend my life chained, please.


CHANESKI: Charlie?

ESSER: Plato.

CHANESKI: Plato is right.


CHANESKI: What you do not wish for yourself, do not do to others in bed.



LEE: That was the Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu.

CHANESKI: Not Lao Tzu, no. Charlie, for the steal?


ESSER: That would be Hillel.

CHANESKI: No, not Hillel. Anybody here, anybody else know it?


CHANESKI: Yes, Confucius.

EISENBERG: Confucius.

CHANESKI: Give that lady one point. Very good.


CHANESKI: How many philosophers does it take to screw in a light bulb? Only one, if he acts according to the maxim whereby he can, at the same time will that it should become a universal law. Besides, it doesn't matter because the light bulb is, in itself, unknowable.


CHANESKI: Charlie?

ESSER: Bacon.

CHANESKI: Not Bacon. Stan?

LEE: Either Immanuel Kant or Ludwig Wittgenstein.

CHANESKI: Pick one.


EISENBERG: I like that idea, though.

LEE: The right one.

CHANESKI: Sorry. Flip a coin if you have to.

LEE: Kant. Kant.

CHANESKI: Kant is right.


CHANESKI: A guy walks into a bar and the bartender says "What can I get you?" the guy says nothing. He who is attached to things will suffer much, according to the Tao.



LEE: Lao Tzu.

CHANESKI: That's Lao Tzu, very good.

EISENBERG: There you go.


CHANESKI: OK. Get ready. So a guy goes to a talent agent and says have I got an act for you. It's a family and the dad realizes that achievement of his own happiness is the only moral purpose of life. And the mom, she rejects ethical altruism. And the son knows that government help is just as dangerous as government persecution. And the agent says, I love it. What's the act called? And the guy says "The Objectivists."



LEE: Ayn Rand.

CHANESKI: Ayn Rand is right.


EISENBERG: Stan, congratulations, you have won this philosophical round. Stan Lee will be continuing to our final round. How about a hand for Charlie, everybody?


EISENBERG: Now, maybe you are the kind of person that knows all the names of all the presidents and you also know how to recite them in chronological order. In which case, good for you. Well done. I like that. But on ASK ME ANOTHER we take it a step further.

CHUNG: That's right. Sometimes we'll ask you what their middle names are and then we'll ask you to mash them up with the name of another celebrity.

EISENBERG: Which is very difficult.

CHUNG: It's hard to keep two ideas in your head at the same time, which is why these mashup games are so hard. But, for example, we could say combine Chester Alan Arthur with the star of "M*A*S*H*" Alan Alda and you'll get Chester Alan Alda Arthur.

EISENBERG: That's challenging. That is the definition of challenging, I would say.

CHUNG: It was so hard we cut that from the show.

EISENBERG: But we added plenty challenging in the show with our contestants who did pretty well with this game.

CHUNG: Pretty good, yeah.

EISENBERG: And this game is called Presidential Middle Names, and it is led than none other than one-man house band Mr. Jonathan Coulton.

Let's welcome our next two contestants - Scott Sanders and Tim Kilroy.




EISENBERG: So we have two dads here that are both really into American history. All right, Tim, who is the weirdest president, in your mind?

KILROY: Jimmy Carter.


EISENBERG: The way you said it was weird too.


EISENBERG: So that's good. And why?

KILROY: He was attacked by a rabbit.

EISENBERG: He was attacked by a rabbit?


EISENBERG: Yeah, that is weird. I'm going to say you're right on that one. Scott, do you have an answer for that?

SANDERS: I'm going to go with Martin Van Buren.

EISENBERG: Wow, I like the way you think.


EISENBERG: And what's your reasoning?

SANDERS: Oh, his name's just weird, that's enough.


EISENBERG: Coulton, what game are we going to play with these guys?

JONATHAN COULTON: Well, this game is called Presidential Middle Names. And we are going to spice up the names of U.S. presidents by expanding their middle names to include other famous people or characters. So what we're looking for is the full expanded presidential name. For example, if I said, this president convinced his best friend Bart Simpson to break into then Watergate Hotel, you would say "Richard Milhouse Van Houten Nixon."


COULTON: So that's Richard Nixon, whose middle name is Milhous and then in the middle we have Milhouse Van Houten, who is Bart Simpson's best friend. It's a very easy game.


COULTON: OK. Here we go. After this man became the first son of a president to become president, he wrote the theme for "Sanford and Son" and produced Michael Jackson's "Thriller."



KILROY: John Quincy Jones Adams.

COULTON: That is right.


COULTON: After his predecessor resigned in disgrace in 1974, this vice president turned president led Santa's sleigh through the fog one Christmas Eve.



KILROY: I got nothing.


EISENBERG: You just wanted to ring in?


EISENBERG: OK. That's cool. Do you want to...

COULTON: Scott, do you want to ring in and say that you don't have anything?

SANDERS: I don't.


COULTON: Let me give you a hint. Can you think of a president who resigned in disgrace?

KILROY: Nixon.

COULTON: OK. Can you think of who came after that president?


COULTON: Mm-hmm. So now what we're looking for is the first name of that president.

KILROY: Gerald.

COULTON: OK. Yeah, good, great, we're doing it. We're doing it. And then, do you know who might have led Santa's sleigh through the fog one Christmas Eve?

KILROY: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

SANDERS: Oh, I know that. Yeah.

COULTON: Right. OK. Great, great. That's all components.

KILROY: Okay. Gerald Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer Ford.




EISENBERG: Right? Because both of them share the middle name Red-Nosed.


See, I thought it was "the."

COULTON: I have no idea if it's appropriate to give you a point, Tim, but I'm going to.

KILROY: Thank you.

SANDERS: No. No point.

COULTON: A five-star general and former supreme commander of NATO, this president was obsessed with the log lady, people speaking backwards in dreams, and the question, who killed Laura Palmer?



SANDERS: Dwight David Lynch Eisenhower.

COULTON: You got it.


COULTON: And Scott's on the board. High fives all around.

SANDERS: That was awesome.

COULTON: That was awesome. This president, who campaigned under the slogan "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too," beheaded two of his six wives before he died, only a month into his term.



SANDERS: Benjamin Henry Tyler.



COULTON: Not to be rude about it, but no.

SANDERS: No, that's cool.


COULTON: Tim, do you want to have a guess here?

KILROY: So, it's - I don't know.

COULTON: Audience, do you know who it is?

AUDIENCE: William Henry VIII Harrison.

COULTON: William Henry VIII Harrison. Since this president spent over 12 years in office, he had plenty of time to write the screenplays for "When Harry Met Sally" and "Sleepless in Seattle."



SANDERS: Franklin Delano Nora Ephron Roosevelt.



COULTON: And unbelievably, it is a tie score.

EISENBERG: It is a tie.


EISENBERG: This president split his time in the Lone Star State between clearing brush on his ranch in Crawford and using martial arts to fight crime.



KILROY: It is George Herbert Texas Ranger Walker Bush.

COULTON: I feel like Tim got close but he got a couple of things wrong.



SANDERS: George Walker Texas Ranger Bush.

COULTON: That is correct.


EISENBERG: Scott, well done. We will see you again at the end of our show for our Ask Me One More final round.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, "HAIL TO THE CHIEF") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.