There’s a great way to get to know someone new, Stephen J. Dubner says, after the standard “So what do you do?” question. “You say, ‘That’s interesting. Tell me something I don’t know … about being a porn producer, or an animation artist or a student in Singapore,’ ” suggests Dubner, the journalist best known for his “Freakonomics” empire. “There’s something about the nature of that question that just makes people respond with generosity.”
And that’s exactly what Dubner does with his show “Tell Me Something I Don’t Know,” which he records live at theaters and makes available as podcasts. The series, which he’ll bring to Sixth and I on Monday and Tuesday for the series’ first shows in D.C., launched in November and began its second season last month.
“I would call it live journalism disguised as a game show,” Dubner says. “It could be a call-in show, it could be done much less extravagantly than we do it, but it’s really fun and feels like a party.”
Here’s how it works: Three guest panelists listen as pre-selected contestants in the audience each try to wow them with a fact that needs to be truly surprising, worth knowing and “demonstrably true,” Dubner says, meaning verifiable by a fact-checker. At the end of the night, panelists will choose a winner, and everyone goes home a little smarter.
Librarian of Congress Carla D. Hayden, comedian Rahmein Mostafavi and economics writer Tim Harford will be the panelists for Monday’s “Tell Me Something I Don’t Know” show in D.C., which has the theme of “Wannabes.” At Tuesday’s show, The Washington Post’s Alexandra Petri, former Hillary Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook and CBS reporter Major Garrett will be on hand when the theme is “Power and Politics.”
As the host, Dubner says he’s learned a lot. He shared some of his favorite facts from the show.
Cows cannot be tipped.
Zero cattle are injured or killed in the U.S. each year because they were tipped. It’s “almost impossible to do for a variety of reasons, including that cows are really big, really hard to sneak up on and don’t sleep standing up,” says Dubner, who grew up on a small farm in upstate New York.
… and they like the nightlife.
One contestant, an animal welfare scientist, shared research on cows’ preferences — where they want to spend their time — that was done by putting increasing amounts of weight on a door and seeing how much the bovine wanted access to certain places. “Turns out cows really prefer to be out at night and have a social life and sleep outdoors,” which allows them extra space and choice about whom to lie next to, Dubner says. Cows with free choice produce more milk than those forced to slumber indoors, which is the norm.
If you need to survive without food, there’s a beer that could keep you alive.
Doppelbocks, created in 1634 to sustain German monks during their 46-day Lenten fasts, are rich, malty and packed with carbs, calories and vitamins.
Hands are often conspicuously missing from Renaissance paintings.
Turns out they’re the most challenging part of the body to draw or paint, so artists used to charge a separate fee for each hand they painted. If one (or both) is placed behind a bowl of fruit or plunged into a robe, whoever commissioned the painting may not have wanted to spring for the higher cost. “I love that,” Dubner says. “Every museum I’ve gone to since, that’s the first thing I look for.”
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