Flagpole Sitta

May 24, 2012
Originally published on September 4, 2014 1:29 pm
Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.


This is ASK ME ANOTHER. I'm your host, Ophira Eisenberg, and if it wasn't for nerds, geeks and trivia buffs I'd have no friends. Next to me onstage are this week's ASK ME ANOTHER puzzle guys, John Chaneski.

JOHN CHANESKI: Hi Ophira. Hi everybody, hello, hello.


EISENBERG: And Art Chung.

ART CHUNG: Hi Ophira.


EISENBERG: We'll hear more from them later on in the show, but right now please put your hands together for our one man ASK ME ANOTHER band, Mr. Jonathan Coulton.

JONATHAN COULTON: Hello. Hello everybody.


EISENBERG: And joining me onstage right now are our first two contestants. Let's clap for Nadia Nelson and Melanie Bower.


EISENBERG: Hello ladies.



EISENBERG: Hi Melanie. I understand that you worked as a historian at the Museum of the City of New York.

BOWER: That is true.

EISENBERG: That sounds fascinating.

BOWER: It was an interesting job. I worked there for about seven years running the research department.

EISENBERG: OK. So any fact about New York that I should know that I probably don't?

BOWER: One of my favorite stories about New York has to do with Staten Island.


BOWER: One of the questions I often got was, what's up with Staten Island? A lot of people...

EISENBERG: Just why?

BOWER: A lot of people didn't...

EISENBERG: Why Staten Island?

BOWER: Why? And Staten Island actually tried to secede from New York City in the early 1990s.


BOWER: And basically what saved Staten Island and kept it part of this wonderful city is Giuliani made the ferry free.

EISENBERG: Oh, fascinating. Welcome. Thank you so much for being a contestant. And hello Nadia.


EISENBERG: Now, I understand you're on vacation.


EISENBERG: This is an amazing thing to do on vacation.

NELSON: Yes. Yes it is, and no one knows that I'm actually on this show.

EISENBERG: You mean all the people back home in Australia.

NELSON: Yes. Yes, back in Australia.

EISENBERG: But you're a big traveler obviously.

NELSON: I - my husband is American. He's...

EISENBERG: Well done.

NELSON: ... from Alaska. Yes.

EISENBERG: He's from Alaska?

NELSON: He's from Alaska. We were pen pals when we were teenagers...


NELSON: I get the sympathy vote. And we did it the hard way. No Internet, none of this Internet garbage. Stamps, post box.


NELSON: Wait, wait...

EISENBERG: Right. It builds the romance.

NELSON: Five dollars a minute to call on the phone.



EISENBERG: But you have to get together because you've invested so much time and money by the end of it, right.

NELSON: Absolutely. Yeah, there was really no choice.

EISENBERG: Fantastic. Well we have a fantastic puzzle to start off the show. Jonathan, why don't you explain what we're doing?

COULTON: Yes, so what we're going to do right now is we're going to get into my way back machine and take a ride. Way, way back to the year 1998. It was a magical time. Two crazy Stamford students founded a new company named Google. Heard of it?

Film audiences flocked to see "Saving Private Ryan." And the airwaves were filled with this song.


EISENBERG: I remember that song. That is "Flagpole Sitta" by the band Harvey Danger.

COULTON: That's right. With a title designed to make you sound as white as possible.


COULTON: So what we've done for this game is, for no particular reason, we've re-written the lyrics to "Flagpole Sitta" to be about various countries around the world.

Seemed like a good idea at the time, so.


COULTON: Contestants, your job is to tell us what countries we're talking about. So Ophira, let's do this example for them. Are you ready?


COULTON: (Singing) I was tired, I was climbing up the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Buon giorno to my friend Lisa. She wants us to go to Napoli.

EISENBERG: Yes, Lisa wants you to go to Italy, I believe.

COULTON: That is correct.

EISENBERG: The answer is Italy.

COULTON: Italy, yes.

EISENBERG: The Leaning Tower of Pisa, Napoli. OK, I get how this game works.


EISENBERG: So you've taken one song and re-written it.



COULTON: For no reason at all.

EISENBERG: I like it.

COULTON: It was a perfectly good song. So contestants, ring in when I've finished playing. Whoever gets more questions right will move on to the Ask Me One More final round at the end of the show. Are you ready?

NELSON: Mm-hm.

BOWER: Ready.

COULTON: (Singing) I was hungry, I had waffles, I was eating next to a Walloon. Or maybe a Flemish baboon. The chef said he was Jean-Claude Van Damme.


NELSON: Belgium.

EISENBERG: Belgium is correct.


EISENBERG: Walloons.

COULTON: Walloons.

EISENBERG: Those were those French people.

COULTON: Walloons and baboons.

EISENBERG: Walloons and baboons. Delightful, and a delightful language. So many great things.

COULTON: We're - we're also going to say nice things about each country after each clue.


COULTON: (Singing) Hangovers have memories, mine can't forget that weekend in Phuket. I bought an aspirin and took it, and hopped aboard the train headed to BKK, that's Bangkok's airport code.


NELSON: Thailand.

EISENBERG: Thailand.


COULTON: (Singing) I'm not Sikh but I still dwell, in Bangalore, so more cowbell.

BOWER: That would be India.

EISENBERG: That's right Melanie.


EISENBERG: I just get really excited when you're playing those songs because it sounds really good.

COULTON: It's a fun song, it's a fun song. Again, no reason at all to put these clues in this song.

CHUNG: It's about flags.

COULTON: It's about flags. I guess that's what it is.

CHUNG: Flag for countries.

CHANESKI: Flagpoles, oh now I get it.

CHUNG: Yeah.

This wasn't just an arbitrary thing.

COULTON: Wasn't it Art?

(Singing) Been around the world and found that all the Arctic Circle is freezing. Especially right next to Sweden. Thank God for saunas in Helsinki. Helsinki.


NELSON: Finland.

EISENBERG: Finland is correct.


EISENBERG: I love that you both had a pause. You were like heard Helsinki and I saw both of your heads kind of go to the side. Like I'm processing that information but not sure what to do with it yet.

COULTON: (Singing) Fly me into Budapest for free and then I'll probably proclaim. You da man, goulash ain't lame. Let's celebrate Liszt, Rubik's Cube and Zsa Zsa and the Danube.

EISENBERG: I believe that was Melanie.

BOWER: That would be Hungary.

EISENBERG: Hungary is correct. Who knew?


EISENBERG: Rubik's Cube, Hungary.

COULTON: Hungary.


COULTON: Rubik's Cube.

Yeah, that's.

Who knew?

EISENBERG: Now you know why it's called Rubik's.

COULTON: Now you know, yeah.

EISENBERG: There's a lot of things I'm learning.

COULTON: Learning a lot tonight. Here comes the chorus. I'm not down with Juan Peron. So I'll go read, Borges alone.

EISENBERG: Melanie, you knew it from the first line. I saw that look on your face like ha-ha-ha.

BOWER: Argentina.

EISENBERG: Argentina


CHUNG: I fear we're all tied up.

EISENBERG: We're all tied up.

CHUNG: Yeah, pretty impressive since Melanie's focus is on City of New York.

EISENBERG: All right.

COULTON: (Singing) I want to catch kiwis, with opera Dame Kiri. I want to see some hobbits, Peter Jackson, set them free.


NELSON: Did I jump the gun there a little though?

EISENBERG: Listen, there's a, this is Aussie rules.

NELSON: If I don't get this right...

EISENBERG: You're playing Aussie rules.

NELSON: I won't be allowed back in the Southern Hemisphere. It would be New Zealand.

EISENBERG: New Zealand.


COULTON: You know, I had four more lines to sing but I didn't want to insult you by singing them.

(Singing) Amadeus, Amadeus, everybody's listening to Falco. Do I care to waltz? Hell, no. I'll be up to sunrise on a walk with Ethan Hawke.


NELSON: Austria.

EISENBERG: Austria. That's where you walk with Ethan Hawke. All right, just by a slight advantage, Nadia, our visitor from afar, has won this round.


EISENBERG: You'll be moving on to our final Ask Me One More at the end of the show. Thank you so much Melanie. Let's give Melanie a hand for being a fantastic contestant.

(APPLAUSE) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.