“It turns out that kneading bread is a fraud. It doesn’t do what people think, and you don’t have to do it.”
That’s a quote from Nathan Myhrvold, author of the forthcoming five-volume “Modernist Bread,” who goes on to explain that the gluten proteins that bakers think they’re massaging into place will actually align all by themselves in the presence of water.
And it’s the first of several science lessons presented in the Season 2 premiere of the podcast, “Tell Me Something I Don’t Know,” hosted by Stephen J. Dubner. The game-show format introduces audiences to a panel of three judges — a mix of comedians and brainiacs — and then welcomes contestants to try to wow them with obscure facts. There’s a real-time fact-checker on hand to prevent anyone from making stuff up.
The winner of each episode is determined by the live studio audience, and this season, the New York-based show is going on the road. So Washingtonians will have a chance to vote when the podcast tapes at Sixth & I on March 6 and 7. (Tickets and more info at sixthandi.org.)
Although contestants are allowed to offer up an “IDK” — short for “I don’t know” — from any field, they tend to have a scientific bent. For instance, the Season 2 premiere features an in-depth discussion of cow lifestyle preferences: Several experiments (including some using a bovine Fitbit-equivalent) have shown that cows don’t mind staying inside during the day, but they’d much rather be outside at night.
Or, got any idea why the 1972 Clean Water Act is causing the New York City shoreline to collapse? Another contestant explains that the unpolluted water is now allowing creatures that had fled to come back home. That includes marine borers, which feed on wood. Because wood is the foundation for much of the city’s shoreline, that means roads and parks are in trouble unless someone intervenes soon.
There are also segments on tongue-ties, memory transplants and dogs’ psychological problems — all topics your science teachers probably skipped in class.