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Ask Me Another
Thu October 3, 2013
Kurt Andersen: Literary Romantic
Kurt Andersen has written for film, television and stage, was Time's architecture and design critic, co-founded Spy magazine, curated a Smithsonian exhibit, wrote four books (his third novel, True Believers, was published in the summer of 2012), and now hosts PRI's Studio 360, the Peabody Award-winning radio show on WNYC. In the words of Ask Me Another host Ophira Eisenberg, "How about declaring a major already?"
"It works, being a dilettante, so I keep doing it," retorted Andersen, who is coming up on his 13th year as Studio 360 host. He joined Ask Me Another at Central Park's SummerStage as a Very Important Puzzler, revealing that among the hundreds of celebrity interviews he's conducted, the most memorable was with his hero, Susan Sontag. She sent him a handwritten thank you note afterward.
Given Andersen's credentials, it was no easy task to find a worthy opponent for his trivia match. But we managed to find someone right from the heart: his wife. Herself the author of two books, including It's Always Personal: Emotion in the New Workplace, Anne Kreamer joined her husband to play a game called "Married, Not Married." Given clues to a certain literary couple, this couple had to both identify the characters and tell us whether or not they were ever married.
OPHIRA EISENBERG, HOST:
So to get things started, I'm going to bring on our first VIP, our very important puzzler. He's the host of PRI's Studio 360, which is produced by our partners at WNYC. He is one of my radio heroes, the one and only Kurt Anderson
KURT ANDERSON: Hello, Ophira.
EISENBERG: Now Kurt, let me get something straight. You've written for film, television, stage, countless magazine features, New Yorker, New York Times, Time magazine's architecture and design critic for eight years, co-founded Spy Magazine. You curated an exhibit at the Smithsonian, four bestselling books, three novels, one nonfiction, and you host a Peabody Award-winning weekly radio show. How about making some decisions, you know, declaring a major already?
ANDERSON: You know, it works, being a dilettante, so I keep doing it.
ANDERSON: I do my best. I do my best.
EISENBERG: And you've been doing Studio 360 now for how many years?
ANDERSON: Twelve, 13?
EISENBERG: Twelve, 13, and during that time, of course, you've talked to so many amazing people. You've had them on the show. Any - someone that's stood out to you as a true unexpected pleasure?
ANDERSON: Susan Sontag because she was truly my - a hero of mine, and the day before she was to come on, and we were going to spend an hour talking about war, as the war in Iraq was about to begin, and her assistant said to my producer Mr. Anderson should know that Ms. Sontag does not suffer fools. Like I wasn't scared enough already.
And so I tried not to be a fool, and it was lovely, and she is the single guest who ever sent me a written thank you note after an interview.
EISENBERG: Yeah, that means a lot.
EISENBERG: How would you - what's the best way to deal with celebrity interviews?
ANDERSON: Establish an uncanny rapport?
EISENBERG: OK, so done, I see. I get it. This is pretty easy. Well, Kurt, it's no easy task coming up with a opponent for you, someone who could match your wits, your intellect, but we managed to find your perfect match. She is an author and coincidentally your wife. Welcome, Anne Kreamer.
ANNE KREAMER: Hello.
EISENBERG: Hi, you are a writer. Your books are going great, and it's always personal. If you were to write a memoir detailing your courtship to Kurt, what would be a good title for it?
KREAMER: "Best First Date Ever."
KREAMER: Yeah, it was a blind date, and it really was fabulous.
EISENBERG: Kurt, ooh, good.
ANDERSON: It was back in the 1940s when, you know, a couple of dollars could go a long way, and you could really treat a dame right, you know what I'm saying?
EISENBERG: Anne, who do you think is going to win this game?
EISENBERG: Oh wow, interesting. Well, we'll find out. This game is titled Married, Not Married, and it's about famous fictional couples in literature. We'll describe each literary couple, and you have to ring in and tell us who they are, plus you get a bonus point by telling us whether or not they ever got married.
To give examples, as well as the occasional hint, and to keep score we have a special VIP puzzle guru, New York Times crossword puzzle editor and NPR's puzzle master Will Shortz.
EISENBERG: Will, could you please give our esteemed contestants an example?
WILL SHORTZ: Yes, he couldn't give a damn, but she thought tomorrow is another day. You would identify that literary couple as Rhett Butler and Scarlett O'Hara and that, yes, they were married in the novel "Gone with the Wind."
EISENBERG: And the winner of this round will not only have bragging rights at the dinner table, but he or she will move on to our Ask Me One More final round at the end of the show.
EISENBERG: Jonathan, you're going to help me with this game.
JONATHAN COULTON: Yes I am.
EISENBERG: Here's your first question: This star-crossed pair was depicted in the first film ever shot here in Central Park, way back in 1908. Everyone knows that lovers by any other names wouldn't smell as sweet. Who are they, and were they married?
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
ANDERSON: Romeo and Juliet?
EISENBERG: Why that is correct. Are they - were they ever married?
EISENBERG: I'm sorry, they were married.
ANDERSON: Oh really?
EISENBERG: They were - it was just short of - just lasted five days, and then they...
ANDERSON: It ended badly.
EISENBERG: And then they died, yeah, exactly. That's how you get out of a prenup.
COULTON: She's smart and witty but tends to judge people at first impression. He's antisocial and aloof but stinking rich, and it is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife, sure. Who are they, and were they married?
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
ANDERSON: I gave you time...
ANDERSON: Mr. Darcy and what's her name, Emma?
COULTON: No, I'm sorry, that's incorrect.
ANDERSON: Oh well.
COULTON: Anne, do you want to...?
KREAMER: Oh, I forget. I'm sorry.
COULTON: You don't have to apologize to me. The answer is Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy.
KREAMER: From "Pride and Prejudice."
COULTON: "Pride and Prejudice," that's right.
EISENBERG: Pride and Prejudice, by the way, are the names right now of two twin contestants on "Toddlers and Tiaras." Did you know that?
KREAMER: You're joking.
EISENBERG: I am joking, thank God.
ANDERSON: One of my favorite programs. It is one of my favorite programs, yeah.
EISENBERG: Well, then, you'll probably get this one. He was a scarred child with a great, horrible destiny. She was the smartest and cleverest witch of her age anyone had ever met. They had many misadventures in boarding school together. Who are they, and were they married?
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
KREAMER: Harry Potter and Hermione Granger, and they were not married.
EISENBERG: Yes, that is correct.
COULTON: Here's a little musical clue.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
COULTON: (Singing) We're knights of the round table, we dance whenever able, do routines and chorus scenes with (unintelligible). We dine while here in Camelot, we eat ham and jam and Spam a lot?
EISENBERG: Together, this pair basically ruined Spamalot, I mean Camelot, with their adulterous love affair. It turns out the round table was more like a love triangle. Who were they, and were they married?
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
ANDERSON: Guinevere and Lancelot.
EISENBERG: Correct. And were they married, or were they not?
ANDERSON: No, certainly not.
EISENBERG: No, that is correct.
EISENBERG: Guinevere was married to King Arthur only, and Lancelot had a thing with Merlin, I think.
COULTON: Just a brief dalliance.
EISENBERG: He's an able French nobleman and a soldier with a nose for poetry. She was a beautiful mademoiselle with a soft spot for sweet talk. Who are they, and were they married?
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
ANDERSON: Cyrano and Roxanne.
EISENBERG: That is correct. And were they married?
ANDERSON: Does it really matter?
EISENBERG: It doesn't really matter. They had a thing. Did it work?
EISENBERG: Correct, that is right.
KREAMER: Good job.
EISENBERG: Which is good because they were cousins.
ANDERSON: Yeah, yes, and...?
EISENBERG: All right, got it.
COULTON: All right, this is your last clue. In another Shakespearean play, he was a Roman who liked bacchanalias. She was an Egyptian queen with a thing for snakes. Who are they, and in the play, were they married?
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
KREAMER: Cleopatra and Mark Antony.
COULTON: Yes. Were they married? In the play were they married?
COULTON: That's correct, well done.
COULTON: Mark Antony was married to Fulvia and then Octavia.
ANDERSON: And Eddie Fisher. One of them married to him, I think.
EISENBERG: Will, how did our contestants do?
SHORTZ: It was neck and neck, but Kurt won by one point.
KREAMER: I predicted this.
EISENBERG: By one point, Kurt, you will be moving on to our Ask Me One More final round, that is so exciting to me.
ANDERSON: I'm very excited, Ophira.
EISENBERG: That's going to be a great showdown. Thank you so much, Anne. How about a hand for Kurt Anderson and Anne Kreamer? Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.