Tell Me Something I Don’t Know: A New Freakonomics Radio Podcast

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A few years ago, I developed a habit. If the person sitting next to me on an airplane seemed like they wanted to have a conversation, I’d ask them a bit about themselves — let’s say they worked in civil engineering — and I’d say “Tell me something I don’t know about civil engineering.” The habit became an addiction. I loved learning stuff I didn’t know, and most people loved to talk about their passions, work-related or otherwise.

Soon this addiction fueled a dream: I imagined turning it into some kind of a live game show/talk show. It would be called “Tell Me Something I Don’t Know.” There’d be a host (me), some smart judges, and we’d invite the audience members to come onstage and tell us something we didn’t know. We’d learn a bit, laugh a lot, and take advantage of all the amazing information that’s floating around in the world.

It took a while to make this dream happen but finally it did, a few weeks, ago, at WNYC’s Greene Space. You can hear it for yourself in our latest Freakonomics Radio episode, called (of course) “Tell Me Something I Don’t Know” (You can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player above. You can also read the transcript; it includes credits for the music you’ll hear in the episode.) It was, in a word, a blast (at least for me!). The contestants were great, as was the entire audience, and the judges — Malcolm Gladwell, Ana Gasteyer, and David Paterson — were sublime.

(Photo: Janice Yi)

“Tell Me Something I Don’t Know” host Stephen Dubner with, from left, judges Malcolm Gladwell, Ana Gasteyer, and former New York governor David Paterson. (Photo: Janice Yi)

The whole thing went off way better than I feared it might. If we keep doing it in some form — regular podcast, live tour, maybe even TV — I’m sure it’ll morph and evolve in a million directions. I’d love to hear any feedback you may have: pro, con, or tangential. The topics we covered were  diverse: the Civil War, tax law, art theft, bread, Eleanor Roosevelt, astronomy, and more. I’m sure that some of you, as you listen, will be saying, “Well, I knew that already.” Like the evils of pinball, or losing weight through your nose. If so, that means you’re ready to be a contestant next time we throw a TMSIDK party.

As a bonus, each of the judges told us something about themselves we didn’t know, and that was one of the very best parts of the show. You’ll learn how Malcolm Gladwell got fired from an internship with a prominent judge; how Ana Gasteyer watched Star Wars with a prominent family; and why Governor Paterson was desperate for O.J. Simpson‘s famous Bronco chase to be cut short.

Huge thanks to everyone who helped produce the show (it took roughly 1.5 villages), especially superstar Joel Meyer; Suzie Lechtenberg, David Herman, and Caroline English of the Freakonomics Radio staff; fact-checker extraordinaire Jody Avirgan; Diana Miller and Bailey Constas; Greene Space crew Jennifer Sendrow, Ricardo Fernandez, Chase Culpon, David McLean, Bill Moss, and Gaines Legare; and WNYC’s Chris Bannon and Dean Cappello. Hope you enjoy!

(Photo: Janice Yi)

Audience members line up to tell us something we didn’t know. (Photo: Janice Yi)

(Photo: Janice Yi)

Twelve-year-old contestant Malhaar Agrawal wows the judges with an astronomy factoid. (Photo: Janice Yi)

(Photo: Janice Yi)

TMSIDK’s live fact-checker Jody Avirgan (left), with scorekeeper Caroline English (Photo: Janice Yi)

(Photo: Janice Yi)

In the show’s final round, Dubner spins the Wheel of Maximum Danger. (Photo: Janice Yi)


salim

absolute winner. a game show where i learnt a lot, funny and uplifting! keep it coming....

Hatfield81

So, if we lose weight through the exhalation of CO2, and we see a teen toward taxing carbon, what will be the future tax for losing weight?

Hatfield81

DuckUApple.....*trend, not teen :-/

Sarah

Enjoyed the first episode of "Tell me something new" aired on Oct 23rd and a longtime fan of the podcast. Especially loved the "awesomeness factor" story. However, have to admit I rolled my eyes at the pinball story, the round 1 winner. Because the Oct 7th episode of 99% Invisible was about pinball machines being outlawed as games of chance until flappers were introduced. Should contestants be advised not to share tidbits from other recent and popular podcasts? If something similar happens in the future, perhaps this is something the on-stage fact checker might mention during the live recording? Then us eye-rollers could at least enjoy the "gotcha."

Ben

Regarding the tidbit about a supernova being a billion times brighter than a hydrogen bomb exploding against your eyeball: a great fun fact, but maybe you should cite your sources? https://what-if.xkcd.com/73/

Beth

I have to get a job like Jordy's; I could finally use my otherwise useless googling skills for something. Super fun show!

Julie

Fantastic! Please keep doing this, I loved it!

tom allen

I have read your book (audible) and realized how right and wrong but original the thinking was. I am an avid listener of your podcast and enjoy them all. This one is especially well done and I hope you do more within this format.
In a selfish vain I have found some freaks in economics. One that I have in mind did not expose itself during the time it happened and may not have exposed itself even since. I stumbled on it from a variety of disassociated sources. I am gathering the facts and sources to someday conclude the story to novel end. But so far I have the cast of characters, winners/losers, events & motivations. We also have a ongoing unintended consequences. I still lack some critical facts.
Alcohol, Henry Ford, John D Rockefeller, The Temperance Movement and Prohibition are all included. Of course politics, money, taxes, Treasury enforcement are some side dramas that can be included. Old world technology, new technology, the industrial and agricultural revolution were all affected from these changes. I can even tie in The Dust Bowl.
I am a little too old to complete this story but someone certainly do it. History reveals itself only after the news cycle ends. Connecting facts and circumstances sometime stumble together to reveal them self like a jigsaw puzzle after enough pieces get placed in the right order. Thanks for your fine work and the sharing you do. I hope you getting your kicks and making a living at it.

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Doug Daniels

So sorry, but yuck. Tuned out after only a few minutes. Still, I admire the fact you are "stretching" the podcast "interesting facts" universe even beyond Freakonomics. It is still a knowledge base I very much enjoy.

Sincerely,
Doug Daniels
Brighton, MI

Naomi

This was a golden podcast

Isabel

This format is a lot like Britain's (and elsewhere's) QI, a TV programme about things which are Quite Interesting in a particular area. But QI benefits from using comedians and researchers instead of judges and members of public, which makes it funny *and* interesting. Also, QI have already run a lot of content similar to the content of this podcast- a British story about darts almost identical to the pin ball story, similar stuff about cows and Pluto, etc.

Riza

At ~20 minutes the white house comment, maybe I misunderstood but did he insinuate that Obama went in the white house to steal art?

Bryan Cole

You'll be happy to know that the first* result on Google for "foccacia invention Milan 1975" is...

...this very post.

* - As always, individual Google search results will vary.

Zain

According to the wiki article, Eleanor Roosevelt wrote those letters to her friend Hick, not Amelia Earheart. It also says that in the wiki article. Speed fact checking can be understandably difficult so since I had just read about Eleanor and Hick this morning, I double checked Jody and thought I'd share.

Matt B.

Great show, congrats. My suggestion is the panel needs at least one person who is more scientifically literate. This would have specifically benefited the "lose weight" segment, but more generally science is the frontier where much of our new knowledge is generated. Google and Wikipedia checks are fine, but don't replace the conceptual understanding of a trained scientist. Someone like Bill Nye the Science Guy, for example, would be excellent.

John Glasscock

I like this show because there is a chance to learn something. I thought Gov Patterson was especially witty in a nice dry way (like a good wine).

Chris

Thanks for your show. As we drove from Northern England down to the Midlands, through various traffic jams, your excellent show kept us entertained. Keep up the good work and thanks again.

NIc

Well, if you make a podcast you should listen to other podcasts. Here is your first story in SYSK http://www.stuffyoushouldknow.com/podcasts/how-pinball-works/.. if you look this up on google, the summary is about how pinball was illegal in NYC. Great research.

Kim

I have listened to every Freakonomics podcast, and will continue to do so.

I liked the whole idea of the game show, and I'm looking forward to the next one. Here are my humbly and respectfully submitted suggestions:

1. Cut out the 60 seconds of music during the final round. Maybe you could use that time to speak to the podcast audience about the next podcast you are working on

2. Maybe one economist on the judging panel? The academic aspect is one of my favorite things about Freakonomics.

3. Make the points given a little more oomph. Nobody got less than a 7, because I'm assuming the judges didn't want to seem mean....I believe an earlier commenter suggested having each judge limited to only a certain number of points to give out. That may work.

Thanks for your time....looking forward to the next podcast.