Tell Me Something I Don’t Know (Ep. 183)

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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)


We do not lose weight through the nose. We do breathe out some of the carbon dioxide and water vapor. A lot of the converted water and carbon dioxide converted into bicarbonate also leaves us in urine. Breathing faster however is not at all sufficient for losing weight. There is some exercise involved in moving the diaphragm up-and-down. But primarily we must increase the metabolism of sugar and fat into carbon dioxide and water through energy burning by working our other muscles. Also a lot of heat is created during this. We therefore sweat lose water weight this way as well via evaporation and perspiration. That guy gets about a two for me

Will McLeod

Hey Eric. Check out my post on It might add some clarity. We do in fact breath out the vast majority of the mass we lose when fat is metabolized. Let me distinguish metabolized fat (weight loss) and sugars and water that we constantly replenish. When you sweat, you primarily lose water and some toxins (urea). These are never stored in fat, and fat does not become sweat. Also, recent research has traced the metabolic pathways of water through radio dyes. The water that is metabolized from glycolysis entirely comprises water vapor lost through the lungs. None of it is urinated or lost through sweat. This is a common point of confusion because many textbooks never make this distinction.

Again, a simple way to intuitively confirm this is to weigh yourself before bed, and when you wake up. I fluctuate by 1-2 lbs. This would be a full quart of water I'd be sweating (a gallon weights 8 lbs). Try pouring a quart of water into a folded towel (or bed) and you will find that it will not evaporate in an 8 hour span. Also that wouldn't account for any of the Carbon atoms (which weight much more than Hydrogen atoms). The vast majority of the actual weight comes from Carbon, and that Carbon is eliminated when we exhale. This video from Veritassium might be of interest:

Finally, I believe I did clarify that simply breathing more will lead to passing out and that really, the only way to sustain rapid breathing is exercise. If I led people to believe that hyperventilating would lead to weight loss, I apologize. Your point about muscles breaking creating CO2 and H2O is an interesting point to consider. Where do those chemicals go after the muscles create them? The blood. And where does blood flow after leaving the muscles? The heart. And where does it flow after that to refill on O2? The lungs! I promise, it is true that we lose the vast majority of weight through our nose.


Ryan Brown

I think the confusion comes from the fact that the breathing part is just the last step in a long chain of events. The metabolic processes that our cells use to extract energy from complex molecules (fat -> glucose -> ATP) result in simple molecules being created (mostly CO2 and H2O). Those molecules are excreted by our cells into our bloodstream. The CO2 is then exhaled out of our lungs. The H2O is absorbed into our bloodstream. From there, it's used for all the things that water is used for in our body. Some of it's sweated out, some urinated out, and some breathed out.

Just breathing faster won't cause us to lose weight any faster. In fact, it causes over CO2 levels that are too low. Since the brain stem regulates the rate of your breathing based on CO2 levels in the blood, when those levels drop you stop breathing automatically. This can lead to decreased blood oxygen levels resulting in passing out. The only reason we breath faster when working out is that our cells are using more stored chemical energy in the form of sugar. To do that they need more oxygen and produce more CO2. The buildup of that CO2 in the bloodstream then causes you to begin breathing faster.


Chris Piane

Let me tell you I was in such a pissy mood this morning! It was raining hard. I was stuck in the worst GWB traffic. In fact, it took me 2 hours to get to work because that's how bad traffic was. But your game show brought a smile to my face and it lifted my spirits. So I think you're definitely onto something here. There might be some bugs to work out. It could probably stand to be a shorter, tighter program. But overall I loved it!


Loved the story about the awesomeness factor! Recently I was doing a dumb buzzfeed quiz for "What Disney Character Are You?" and my husband wanted to try it too. I got Spunky Sidekick, and he got Silly Talking Animal. But then we each took the test for the other, without knowing eachothers' previous answers. I got The Prince when answering for him, and he got The Princess when answering for me. If that doesn't prove the awesomeness factor (7 years into our marriage), I don't know what could!

Chris Tantillo

Love the game show! Love Freakonomics!

Will McLeod

I want to say thank you for having me on the program. I had a great time. I posted some helpful details and diagrams around my fact "losing weight through your nose" on my blog Please take a look and follow me on twitter (@wmcleod) for more science riddles or to keep up with keenhome. Thanks!


I enjoyed the show. Looking forward to witnessing how it does indeed involve.....

Paulo Saiz-Navarro

Fascinating! Love the panel, the contestants, the stories. This has become an immediate "must listen!" Looking forward to more!


Reddit often works from your "tell me something I don't know" concept. Have you sampled it?

Willborg the Hippo

If you could edit out the fluff, (like all the clapping for everything), that would be nice.

Michael Kozakiewicz

I have been listening to the Freakonomics podcast forever. If I ever missed one, I'd be surprised.

For the first time in my memory, I quit listening before the end of the podcast. The "Tell Me Something I don't Know" format did not grab me. I don't plan to listen to another podcast that has this format.

Jason Elliott

I really enjoyed this episode while on my way to work this morning! Regardless of the fidelity of some of the stories, I thought everything was incredibly interesting.

Alex in Chicago

Here is something you don't seem to know:

Episodes without Steve Levitt defeat the purpose of the podcast.


I am a huge fan of the Freakonomics podcast. This show was a little disappointing. It seems that people could've come up with more interesting topics. I would also suggest shortening the game to 30 minutes. Thanks for listening, Mary

Mike J.

I've been subscribed for a while but this is my first response on the site. I just listened to the Tell Me Something I Don't Know episode and loved it!! The audience was great, the judges/contestants rocked, and Dubner was charming as always. Keep these coming!


Well, Stephen, that's probably the best podcast i've heard so far! Thank you.
I haven't finished listening to it yet, but i though i already owe a big thank you ;-)
It is fun, it has some interesting (and somewhat useful) information - as always - and it has Gladwel, one of my favorite authors and speakers. I couldn't have asked for more.
Keep it up

Say hello to Steven, wish he was also present

Nathan Hunter

It seems to me that the judges didn't have much incentive to be critical of the entries. They had nothing to lose by giving scores of 8-10 to every entrant, and had strong social pressure not to put down facts. Perhaps on future TMSIDK judges would have a budget of points they could allocate at the end of a round as a way to avoid point inflation. There was also very little reasons to call out facts that people already knew, but I don't have good ideas on how to resolve that. Perhaps polling the audience as to who already knew the fact?


I like the game show and learning things I don't know. However, I care a little less about what the panel thinks of the answers, which was half the show. Can't you just be more honest about how arbitrary the scores are and make them up like the show QI?

Charles J.

This was a great podcast! It was interesting, funny, and very educational!