What a Long, Strange Trip It's Been

Mar 20, 2020
Originally published on March 20, 2020 3:46 pm

Jonathan Coulton guides us there and back again in a music parody game about ill-fated journeys throughout history.

Heard on Larry Owens: Sunday In The Park 6 Feet Away From George.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.


Hey. Just a note that this new episode was actually recorded in late February. We are all now in our homes working on new episodes, and our special work-from-home version will be coming to you very soon. Thanks.


JONATHAN COULTON: This is NPR's ASK ME ANOTHER. I'm Jonathan Coulton. Now, here's your host, Ophira Eisenberg.


EISENBERG: Thank you, Jonathan. Before the break, we met our contestants, Sarah and Gillian. Sarah, in college, you were known as the girl who twisted her ankle playing pingpong.


EISENBERG: I love your stories. I love every single one of your stories. I'm just telling you that right now. Why were you known as the girl who twisted her ankle playing pingpong, I mean, other than I guess that happened?

SCHNORRENBERG: Yeah, yeah. I twisted my ankle playing pingpong. No, like, a week before I started college as a freshman, I was playing pingpong with my family. It was, like, a weird variation where we were running (laughter). And I fell, and I twisted my ankle. And I was on crutches when I started. And I was a dumb 17-year-old who when they asked, why are you on crutches, I told the truth.


SCHNORRENBERG: And I didn't realize that it wasn't going to, like, be a good look till, like, a year later. And, like, I found out that people were, like, oh, you're the pingpong girl (laughter).

EISENBERG: But they knew you. But they knew you.

SCHNORRENBERG: I wish they didn't.


EISENBERG: All right. Gillian, you might be single-handedly keeping the greeting card industry alive as on any given celebration, you give multiple cards to the people that you're celebrating. How did this start?

GILLIAN THOMAS: One year, when I was much, much younger, my mother couldn't make a decision among all of the various birthday cards, and so she just bought six.


THOMAS: And so now we do that for every single holiday.

EISENBERG: Oh, that's so sweet.

THOMAS: It's - yes. I get really weird looks on Mother's Day and Father's Day from the...

EISENBERG: Oh, because you're buying multiple - yeah.

THOMAS: Yeah. The cashiers - you can just see the gears kind of turning. Like, what's your situation?


EISENBERG: And do you just say, would you like a Mother's Day card - to give one to them?

THOMAS: (Laughter) I just say it's complicated.

EISENBERG: It's very complicated.

This music parody game is called What a Long, Strange Trip It's Been. Gillian, stay in the lead, and you are in the final round. Sarah, you need to get more points, or you'll get to the free hotel breakfast, and all they'll have is that turny tube of cornflakes.


COULTON: Here we go. So ring in and tell me who I'm singing about. You can earn a bonus point for identifying the original song or the artist who made it famous. Are you ready?

THOMAS: Ready.



COULTON: Just want to make sure. (Singing) While circumnavigating so low in a plane, almost made it around. I left New Guinea and - oh, no - disappeared and have never been found. I don't have a joke for this.


COULTON: Gillian, yes?

THOMAS: Amelia Earhart?

COULTON: Yeah, that's correct.


EISENBERG: That's right. Like most women about to turn 40, she was never heard from again.


COULTON: For a bonus point, can you name the original song or artist?

THOMAS: I could not.

COULTON: That's - I didn't do a very good job with it is why. It's Aretha Franklin, "Freeway Of Love."


COULTON: Everybody's like, what? Really?


COULTON: Didn't sound anything like that. Here's your next one. (Singing) Though I explored for quite a while, I never found the freaking Nile. You finally found me after six long years. Yes, it's me, Stanley, you presume.


COULTON: Gillian?

THOMAS: Oh, my God.


THOMAS: Yeah, I was just faking it. I don't know.

COULTON: You're just faking it? Thought it might come to you, and it didn't.


COULTON: OK. Sarah, do you know the answer?

SCHNORRENBERG: I think his name starts with an L. He's that English guy who went down to, like, Victoria Falls. But it's like L-E...


SCHNORRENBERG: Lewis? Levinson?


COULTON: Sorry, it is neither Lewis nor Levinson.


COULTON: It is Dr. David Livingstone.


THOMAS: Oh, yeah.

COULTON: Famous Dr. Livingstone, I presume.


COULTON: There's no bonus point, but that was Vanessa Carlton, "A Thousand Miles." Woo. Vanessa's in the audience tonight. She's very excited.


COULTON: (Singing) Stuck on a snowy mountain. We're out of food. We took the Hastings Cutoff. I ate a dude.


COULTON: Gillian.

THOMAS: Shackleton?

COULTON: I'm sorry. It's not Shackleton. Sarah, do you know the answer?

SCHNORRENBERG: Why do you keep naming explorers who I've heard of whose names I can't remember? They're that family who, like, were going Oregon Trail.

THOMAS: Oh, yeah.

SCHNORRENBERG: They're in Colorado. The ate each other. They're a family. But I could not tell you their name. The Cannibals.


COULTON: That would be a weird coincidence. But, no, that is not their name.


COULTON: The Donner Party is what we're looking for.

EISENBERG: Yeah. It's the most fun we've had with cannibalism for a long time, though.


COULTON: It's taken a while for cannibalism to become fun again.


COULTON: I think the time is finally here. That was Talking Heads' "Road To Nowhere."

EISENBERG: I think cannibals call the people they're about to eat talking heads.


SCHNORRENBERG: Very nicely done.

COULTON: Here we go. Here's your next one. (Singing) Portuguese with expertise to sail around the world by sea. Only one ship finished the trip, but there's a strait named after me.



SCHNORRENBERG: It is the Mick - guys, I am so close. It is - there is - there's a line named after him, as you've said in your song. The Mick-gellan (ph)? It's very close. It's very close.

COULTON: I can't - I'm sorry. I can't give it to you, Sarah. Gillian, do you know the answer?

THOMAS: I mean, is it Magellan?


COULTON: Magellan - yes, that's correct.


EISENBERG: I'm really sorry.

SCHNORRENBERG: What happened to me today?

COULTON: Sarah, it's like somebody cursed you right before - very specific curse.

SCHNORRENBERG: I blame Atlas Obscura.


THOMAS: It's very nice.

COULTON: That's fair. Yeah, that's fair.

SCHNORRENBERG: It is the creepy dolls, and they did this to me.

COULTON: All those horrible, cursed places. And now you can't think of anything.


COULTON: Right in the middle of a trivia game show.


EISENBERG: I would've given her that, P.S.

SCHNORRENBERG: Can you, please?

EISENBERG: No, no. No, we can't. But I just wanted to let you know.


COULTON: I went to Travis.


COULTON: And Travis is the...


COULTON: Producer Travis is in charge.

EISENBERG: Yeah, we have to pretend that there's some integrity to this thing. I know it hasn't seemed like there's much.

SCHNORRENBERG: Anything goes. You can give me a point.


SCHNORRENBERG: If I go down, I go down in flames.


SCHNORRENBERG: There's blood on your hands, Ophira.

EISENBERG: What kind of lawyer are you?




COULTON: Let's see. What's happening now?


COULTON: Oh, yeah. So Gillian got that right. For a bonus point, can you name the original song or artist?

THOMAS: I have no recollection of what happened.

COULTON: No - I...


EISENBERG: How could you go back to that?

COULTON: Who even knows what I was doing? That was Lenny Kravitz's "Are You Gonna Go My Way."

THOMAS: Oh, of course it was.

COULTON: But I played it on an acoustic guitar. I can't - here's the next one. (Singing) Left from the port in South Hampton, sailing the Titanic to NYC. We hit the iceberg. I was very helpful. Debbie Reynolds played the movie me.



SCHNORRENBERG: The Titanic. Wait, no. Don't tell me I got this wrong.

COULTON: Well, we're looking for the person that I was singing about.

SCHNORRENBERG: Oh, we were looking for the person?


SCHNORRENBERG: I assume Jack and Rose didn't actually, like, exist.


COULTON: I don't think they did. But the answer is not Jack and Rose.


SCHNORRENBERG: Good luck in the final round, Gillian.


COULTON: Gillian, do you know the answer?

THOMAS: I couldn't understand the second half of what you sang.


THOMAS: I'm sorry. I knew it was the Titanic as well.

COULTON: This game is a real winner. I'm feeling good.


COULTON: I'm feeling good about everything, every aspect of this game.

THOMAS: I'm also the oldest person onstage by about 10 years, so I couldn't hear very well.


COULTON: We were looking for "The Unsinkable Molly Brown."




COULTON: And, of course, that was "Proud Mary" that I was singing. Doesn't matter.


COULTON: OK. Unfortunately, this is your last clue.

THOMAS: No, no. We have to do...


COULTON: I also wish it could go on forever, but it cannot.


COULTON: Here we go. (Singing) Well, I was the emperor of France. And in battle, I could do no wrong till I met the Duke of Wellington and inspired a kick-ass ABBA song.



SCHNORRENBERG: Oh, did I get that? Napoleon?

COULTON: Napoleon is correct.

SCHNORRENBERG: Yay, I got one. Oh, my God.


COULTON: Now, Sarah, for a bonus point, can you name the original song or artist?

SCHNORRENBERG: It sounds familiar.

COULTON: OK. Can you be more specific?

SCHNORRENBERG: Oh, is that the one - I would walk 500 miles?

COULTON: Yes, I will give it to you. It's actually called "I'm Gonna Be" by The Proclaimers.

EISENBERG: Great job, Sarah.


EISENBERG: Great job, great job.


EISENBERG: And after two games, Gillian is moving on to the final round.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.