Astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson Plays Not My Job
CARL KASELL: From NPR and WBEZ-Chicago, this is WAIT WAIT...DON'T TELL ME!, the NPR News quiz. I'm Carl Kasell. And here again is your host, at the Chase Bank Auditorium in downtown Chicago, Peter Sagal.
PETER SAGAL, HOST:
Thank you, Carl.
SAGAL: Thank you everybody. This week, it's nothing, nothing but gear heads, nerds and poindexters. It's an all-science show, because we figure there's nothing you guys like more than realizing you're not as smart as you thought. Am I right?
KASELL: We begin with Neil deGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist and head of the Hayden Planetarium in New York City, who joined us, along with Kyrie O'Connor, Charlie Pierce and P.J. O'Rourke.
SAGAL: And we started by asking him about his vendetta against what was our ninth planet.
SAGAL: We're so glad to have you. Among other things, we immediately want to get right to this. We want to take you to task. You were one of the eminent astronomers who decided that Pluto wasn't a planet anymore, aren't you?
NEIL DEGRASSE TYSON: Well, it wasn't quite...
(SOUNDBITE OF BOOING)
TYSON: I hear the Pluto lovers out there.
KYRIE O'CONNOR: It's a big Pluto crowd.
TYSON: I bet most of that crowd does not know that there are six moons in the solar system bigger than Pluto. That takes out half the crowd right there.
SAGAL: Oh, they're looking sheepish and embarrassed now. Let me tell you.
O'CONNOR: I think if any crowd would know that, this crowd would.
P.J. O'ROURKE: Mickey's dog is still pissed.
TYSON: I got to tell you something about the dog that bothered me.
TYSON: Why is it that Pluto is Mickey's dog, but Mickey is not Pluto's mouse?
SAGAL: That is...
O'ROURKE: And where does Goofy fit in, right?
TYSON: So I called Disney; I got the answer. You ready for this?
O'ROURKE: Oh, OK, yeah, all right.
TYSON: If you went around butt-naked, then you could be owned by someone who wears clothes.
SAGAL: Is that the real answer?
TYSON: That's the answer. And so Mickey wears that bowtie.
SAGAL: That's it? The entire social hierarchy is based on the bowtie?
TYSON: Otherwise, you don't speak. So Pluto doesn't speak. But Goofy wears clothes and he speaks. So there it is.
O'ROURKE: I am so glad I wear clothes.
SAGAL: You got a fair amount of hate mail, though, when you made this decision about Pluto.
TYSON: Yeah, in fact, it was so bad, there was like hate mail from third graders, you know.
SAGAL: Oh, that's harsh, dude.
TYSON: In fact...
O'CONNOR: Hate mail in crayon.
TYSON: In crayon. It would have said...
O'ROURKE: I hat you.
TYSON: It was like, Dr. Tyson, you did - what did you do to our favorite planet? And they would draw crayon pictures of it so I knew what it looked like, so we could put the exhibit back together.
SAGAL: One of the things we keep hearing about - and we're so glad you're here because we were worried. We heard this latest iteration of this was just this week. We hear that there's this asteroid. It has a 1 in 45,000 chance of smashing into the Earth in about 20 years or so.
TYSON: Yeah, that's right.
SAGAL: Is this like a worry? Should we be building ships like on the movie "When Worlds Collide?"
TYSON: But message end item...
SAGAL: Should we be sending Bruce Willis into space in slow motion?
TYSON: Not Bruce Willis, but I'll get you somebody else. No, so, the asteroid is called Apophis, which is - it's named for the Egyptian god of death and darkness.
SAGAL: Now, you see, that's the problem right there. You give it a name like that, you're just encouraging it.
CHARLIE PIERCE: What do you want to call it? Tiffany?
SAGAL: Yeah, exactly.
PIERCE: Ariel, I mean...
TYSON: Yeah, we didn't name that one Bambi. No.
SAGAL: No. All right, but tell us about this asteroid.
TYSON: We found it was headed for Earth before we named it, let me clarify that point. But it'll have a close approach on Friday the 13th in April of 2029. And this thing is the size of the Rose Bowl, and it'll come closer to Earth than our orbiting communications satellites. It'll be the biggest closest thing ever to come to Earth.
And depending on its trajectory in that passage, it will tell us whether it will hit us seven years later, in 2036.
SAGAL: Oh, wait a minute.
O'ROURKE: I'm doing some arithmetic here.
SAGAL: All right.
O'ROURKE: I'll be 89. I'm out of here, you know.
TYSON: Well, here's what you do...
PIERCE: I've got an idea, how about we predict a way to blow up the asteroid?
TYSON: Well, you blow it up; all it does is blow it into more pieces that then hit in more places on Earth. So another way is to deflect it from harm's way, and we've got top people working on that problem right now.
But if the thing hits, and its center target would be the Pacific Ocean, 500 kilometers west of Santa Monica, it would create a trillion dollars worth of damage. So you have to ask what is that worth to you to not simply insure you against rebuilding your house, but to prevent the damn thing in the first place.
PIERCE: Well, or how much is it worth to invest in seafront property in Utah?
TYSON: Well, there you go.
TYSON: And we know - we would know when it would hit, so nobody has to die, except for, like, the stupid people, like the surfer who wants that last tsunami wave.
O'ROURKE: The really big one.
SAGAL: Well, Neil deGrassse Tyson, we are delighted to have you with us. We have asked you here to play a game we're calling?
KASELL: The album's sounding OK, but I think another three years and $5 million will make it even better.
SAGAL: For nearly 15 years, fans of the rock band Guns N' Roses have been waiting for lead singer Axl Rose to finish and release their new album "Chinese Democracy." As Spin Magazine said: If you purchased a kitten on the day that Guns N' Roses last album arrived in stores, it's probably dead by now.
SAGAL: We're going to ask you three questions about this now legendary recording, reputed to have cost over $13 million to produce.
TYSON: Wait, this is a recording that's not yet out?
SAGAL: Not yet out. In fact, it's supposed to come out, after 13 years of delays and promises, next week. It might get here before that asteroid. Now, if you answer to out of three of these questions correctly, you'll win our prize for one of our listeners: Carl Kasell singing "Welcome to the Jungle" on their answering machine.
SAGAL: Carl, who is astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson playing for?
KASELL: He is playing or Julie Sevig of Chicago.
SAGAL: You ready to go?
TYSON: I'm ready.
SAGAL: All right. The lineup of the band has changed through the years in preparing this record. Among those who have called themselves members of Guns N' Roses during the last decade are? A: former congressman and MSNBC host Joe Scarborough? B: a guitarist named "Buckethead," called that because he wears a Kentucky Fried Chicken bucket on his head? Or C: an 11-year-old girl playing a toy piano?
TYSON: It sounds like A.
SAGAL: So your choice is Joe Scarborough.
SAGAL: Actually, it was Buckethead, the guy with the bucket on his head.
TYSON: Buckethead, wow.
SAGAL: Yeah, his name at birth was Brian Carroll, but he calls himself Buckethead. He always wears a white mask and a Kentucky Fried Chicken bucket on his head. And despite this, he's considered one of the great guitarists in the world of rock music, although Ozzie Osbourne refused to work with him because he seemed mentally unstable.
SAGAL: All right, sir. Now, on occasion, Axl Rose generously let other people take over lead singing duties - normally his - including which of these people? A: NBA star Shaquille O'Neal, who does a rap? B: the woman Axl Rose found in his bed one morning, who sings "Happy Birthday" because it's only lyrics she could remember? Or C: opera legend Placido Domingo?
TYSON: I'm going to have to say B.
SAGAL: You're going to go B, Axl Rose, just the anonymous woman?
SAGAL: No, I'm afraid it's Shaquille O'Neal.
TYSON: Oh, man.
TYSON: Shaquille O'Neal and Axl Rose?
SAGAL: Shaquille O'Neal was...
TYSON: Now you know something's wrong with the universe.
SAGAL: Don't you think so?
SAGAL: You have one more question here. Let's see if you can maintain the honor...
TYSON: I feel so stupid.
SAGAL: Ah, the tables have turned now, Mr. Tyson.
SAGAL: It has become apparent that years of isolation living in his mansion has had an effect on Mr. Rose, as exhibited by which of these behaviors?
A: he has refused to allow anyone into the studio who was wearing the color green? B: anyone working on the record had to submit a photo which he would give to his guru for, quote, "psychic inspection?" Or C: he would only work on the recording if he said the voices in his head were singing in tune?
TYSON: Oh, man, that sounds like it's got to be C.
SAGAL: Got to be C, that the voices in his head were singing in tune.
SAGAL: In nice close harmony. No, it was the psychic inspection.
TYSON: Oh, man.
TYSON: I'm like 0 for 3.
SAGAL: You are, in fact. But the psychic inspection, you see, would reveal the person's true motives. It was reportedly required for everyone from band members to cooks.
SAGAL: So, Carl, how...
TYSON: I feel so inadequate.
PIERCE: That's OK; people on Pluto are laughing their heads off.
SAGAL: I was about to say.
SAGAL: Now you know what it's like, big guy, taken down a peg. Carl, how did Neil deGrasse Tyson do on our quiz?
KASELL: He was consistent.
KASELL: No correct answers, so no prize this time for Julie Sevig.
SAGAL: Oh. Astronomer Neil deGrasse Tyson is the director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York City. He is the author of the New York Times best-selling book "Death by Black Hole."
TYSON: My first time on the bestseller list.
SAGAL: It's very exciting for you.
TYSON: I'm like totally jazzed.
SAGAL: As well you should be.
TYSON: Thank you.
TYSON: Thank you.
SAGAL: The book is called "Death by Black Hole." It's in bookstores now. Neil deGrasse Tyson, thank you so much for being with us.
TYSON: Well, a pleasure to be stupid in front of you.
SAGAL: A pleasure to have you.
TYSON: All right, thanks.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.