How to Create Suspense

This week on Freakonomics Radio, we were inspired by a fascinating research paper called “Suspense and Surprise” by the economists Jeffrey Ely, Alexander Frankel, and Emir Kamenica. We speak with all three of them about what makes a particular sport suspenseful (or boring), what makes a movie thrilling (or, as in the case of M. Night Shyamalan, increasingly not), and why these things are worth discussing within the realm of economics. We'll also hear from practitioners of the art of suspense, including novelist Harlan Coben.

That’s a Great Question! A New Freakonomics Radio Podcast

Having been at the Freakonomics Radio podcast for a while now, I've noticed a trend. During an interview, you ask someone a question and, before they answer, they say "That's a great question!" Believe me, most of the questions I ask aren't that great. So what's going on here? Where did this reply come from? Is it a verbal tic, a strategic rejoinder, or something more?

That's the topic of our new episode, called (shockingly) "That's a Great Question!" (You can subscribe to the podcast at iTunes or elsewhere, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player above. You can also read the transcript, which includes credits for the music you’ll hear in the episode.)

You'll hear from the linguist Arika Okrent, who examined a few huge databases for us (including the British National Corpus and the Corpus of Contemporary American English) to see if the phrase is indeed as common as it seems.

What Do King Solomon and David Lee Roth Have in Common? A New Freakonomics Radio Podcast

This week’s episode is called “What Do King Solomon and David Lee Roth Have in Common?” (You can subscribe to the podcast at iTunes, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player above. You can also read the transcript, which includes credits for the music you’ll hear in the episode.)

The gist? It isn’t easy to separate the guilty from the innocent -- but a clever bit of game theory can help. The goal, as Steve Levitt puts it, is "to get the bad guys to come forward and tell you who they are." It’s a trick that Levitt and Stephen Dubner , in their new book Think Like a Freak, call "teaching your garden to weed itself."

In the episode you’ll hear what David Lee Roth and King Solomon have in common. Among the possibilities:

The Three Hardest Words in the English Language: A New Freakonomics Radio Podcast

This week’s episode is called “The Three Hardest Words in the English Language.” (You can subscribe to the podcast at iTunes, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player above. You can also read the transcript, which includes credits for the music you’ll hear in the episode.)

So what are the three hardest words? Conventional wisdom suggests: "I love you." Readers of this blog recently offered up their suggestions of challenging three-word phrases. In their new book Think Like a Freak, Stephen Dubner and Steve Levitt tell us that the hardest three words in the English language are "I don't know," and that our inability to say these words more often can have huge consequences.

How to Think Like a Freak — and Other FREAK-quently Asked Questions: A New Freakonomics Radio Podcast

Our latest podcast is called "How to Think Like a Freak -- and Other FREAK-quently Asked Questions."  (You can subscribe to the podcast at  iTunes, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player above. You can also read the transcript, which includes credits for the music you’ll hear in the episode.) In it, we talk about the imminent release of our new book, Think Like a Freak, and field reader questions about prestige, university life, and (yum yum) bacon. Along the way, we touch upon Michelangelo, George Bernard Shaw, and Steve Levitt's deep disdain of book tours:

LEVITT: I don’t know why but there’s something about book tours, which undo me. I just become dark.