Ask Me Another
10:42 am
Fri August 2, 2013

Breaking It Down

Originally published on Wed November 27, 2013 5:06 pm

To mark the final season of the TV show Breaking Bad, we've based this game on its opening credits, in which elemental symbols for Bromine (Br) and Barium (Ba) help spell the show's title. House musician Jonathan Coulton asks contestants to spell words using more symbols from the Periodic Table.

Plus, Coulton competes this round with a cover of "Particle Man" by They Might Be Giants.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

OPHIRA EISENBERG, HOST:

So let's welcome our first two brave contestants, Avidan Ackerson and Susannah Locke.

(APPLAUSE)

EISENBERG: Avidan, you're a software engineer and you consider yourself a scientific baker.

AVIDAN ACKERSON: That is correct.

EISENBERG: What does that mean?

ACKERSON: It means that wherever possible, I try to conduct experiments in my kitchen then inflict the results upon my friends.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: OK. What is a recent concoction?

ACKERSON: Let's see. I did one recently about milk substitution where I made four to eight different muffins, three batches with different substitutes and one with milk. And asked my friends to rate which one was better, which they thought was actually milk.

EISENBERG: OK.

(LAUGHTER)

JONATHAN COULTON: That sounds like a really fun party.

(LAUGHTER)

ACKERSON: That was a Sunday morning.

EISENBERG: I'm happy you still have friends. Susannah, you write for Popular Science and you are a world expert on robots, lasers, and poop.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: How do these things relate?

SUSANNAH LOCKE: I have, for some reason or another, stumbled upon stories about people using poop for creative means. As we're trying to be more eco-conscious and get energy out of renewable resources...

EISENBERG: Yes.

LOCKE: ...waste is a wonderful source of energy. So you can take any kind of waste - and I've seen many, many inventors and humanitarians trying to take waste, human waste, other waste - as long as you can dry it and burn it, you've got energy.

(APPLAUSE)

EISENBERG: Thank you, Susannah. And our first game is called Breaking It Down. Jonathan.

COULTON: Yes. This game is inspired by the TV show "Breaking Bad," which, if you haven't seen it, is the heartwarming tale of a high school chemistry teacher...

(LAUGHTER)

COULTON: ...who uses his skills to become a successful entrepreneur.

(LAUGHTER)

COULTON: The show's opening credits use symbols from the periodic table of elements to spell out the Br and Ba in the title - bromine and barium. So in this quiz every answer is spelled out by combining two symbols from the period table. John Chaneski would you give us an example?

JOHN CHANESKI: Sure. If I combine sodium, which has the symbol Na and phosphorous, which is P, I get the word N-A-P, nap. Which is what I will take right after the show.

COULTON: The winner of this round will move on to our Ask Me One More final round at the end of the show. Here we go. Combine neon and oxygen and, whoa, you get this character from "The Matrix" films.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

COULTON: Susannah.

LOCKE: Neo.

COULTON: Neo is right.

(APPLAUSE)

COULTON: It's the Ne from neon and the O from oxygen. Combine sulfur and helium to get a feminine third person singular personal pronoun.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

COULTON: Avidan.

ACKERSON: She?

COULTON: She is right. Uh, you are right.

(APPLAUSE)

COULTON: She is right. It's confusing.

EISENBERG: Sulfur and helium. That's a blond with a very high voice, yes?

COULTON: That's right.

(LAUGHTER)

COULTON: Combine arsenic and phosphorous to get this creature that supposedly killed Cleopatra.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

COULTON: Avidan?

ACKERSON: Asp.

COULTON: Asp is right. As for arsenic and P for phosphorous. Combine copper and boron to get an adorable baby tiger.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

COULTON: Susannah?

LOCKE: Cub.

COULTON: Cub. You got it.

(APPLAUSE)

COULTON: Copper, Cu for some reason.

EISENBERG: It's before they knew how to spell it. That's why.

COULTON: Yeah. They didn't know what they were talking about.

(LAUGHTER)

COULTON: It was the olden days.

EISENBERG: It was the olden days. They didn't know how to spell anything.

COULTON: Combine xenon and sodium to get a character played by Lucy Lawless.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

COULTON: Susannah?

LOCKE: Xena.

COULTON: Xena.

(APPLAUSE)

COULTON: Combine francium and gold to get an adult German woman.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

COULTON: Avidan.

ACKERSON: Frau?

COULTON: Frau. That's right.

(APPLAUSE)

COULTON: Combine cobalt and tungsten to get this animal which you should not buy if you can get the milk for free.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

COULTON: Avidan.

ACKERSON: Cow?

COULTON: Cow. That's right.

(APPLAUSE)

COULTON: Again, tungsten, W.

EISENBERG: Yeah. What's that about?

COULTON: Dumb scientists. Do you know why that is, John Chenaski?

CHANESKI: It used to be wolfram.

EISENBERG: Oh, because it-yeah.

COULTON: Oh. That doesn't make any sense, either.

CHANESKI: I know.

(LAUGHTER)

COULTON: Combine argon and potassium to get this face melting artifact from an Indiana Jones movie.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

COULTON: Avidan.

ACKERSON: Ark.

COULTON: Ark. You got it.

(APPLAUSE)

COULTON: Combine actinium and einsteinium to get some playing cards that are a pretty good hand in poker.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

COULTON: Avidan.

ACKERSON: Aces?

COULTON: That's right.

(APPLAUSE)

COULTON: Actinium and einsteinium, two imaginary elements.

(LAUGHTER)

COULTON: All right. This is your last clue. Combine bromine and astatine to get this term for a child whose army parents are constantly moving.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

COULTON: Avidan.

ACKERSON: Brat?

COULTON: Brat. You got it.

(APPLAUSE)

COULTON: John Chenaski, will you tell us what happened in that game?

CHANESKI: Avidan ran away with that one. Nice work, Avidan. You're going into our final round. Congratulations.

(APPLAUSE)

EISENBERG: Thank you so much, Susannah.

(APPLAUSE)

EISENBERG: Jonathan, can you play something a little elemental?

COULTON: I shall, I shall.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PARTICLE MAN")

COULTON: (singing) Particle man, particle man, doing the things a particle can. What's he like? It's not important. Particle man. Is a dot or is he a speck? If he's underwater does he get wet? Does the water get him instead? Nobody knows. Particle man.

(APPLAUSE)

EISENBERG: Jonathan Coulton. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.