Ask Me Another
9:10 am
Thu May 15, 2014

How Now, Brown Cow?

Originally published on Fri May 16, 2014 2:47 pm

If you've ever wondered about the origins of the phrase "How now, brown cow," we can't help you. But just for kicks, we wrote a game in which every answer rhymes with "cow." How now, kung pao?

Plus, hear house musician Jonathan Coulton cover They Might Be Giants' "Cowtown."

Heard in Episode 317: Puzzle Hard

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

OPHIRA EISENBERG, HOST:

From NPR and WNYC, live from the Bell House in Brooklyn, New York, This is ASK ME ANOTHER. I'm Ophira Eisenberg, your host for this next hour of puzzles, word games and trivia. And get ready to party hard because this week's VIP is the musician and performer, Andrew W.K.

(APPLAUSE)

EISENBERG: And now let's welcome a man who always parties responsibly, our one-man house band, Jonathan Coulton.

JONATHAN COULTON: That's right. Stay in school, kids.

(APPLAUSE)

COULTON: Hi, everybody.

EISENBERG: Now, this game is called How Now, Brown Cow. And if you've ever wondered where does that saying come from, look no further because nobody cares.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: But we do care about our contestants. Joining us, we have Jean Xin and Jim Naugle.

(APPLAUSE)

EISENBERG: I'm very glad to have you here. Jonathan, I love it when we put some of the smartest people that apply to be on our show in the silliest games that we have ever written.

COULTON: Right.

EISENBERG: Because I understand Jean studies intelligence, literally.

(LAUGHTER)

JEAN XIN: Yes. I'm a brain and cognitive science major and double in management science at MIT. So that's what I do.

EISENBERG: Yeah. There you go.

(APPLAUSE)

JIM NAUGLE: I'm out.

COULTON: Sounds pretty smart.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: Now Jim, you're very smart too, physical therapist and former sports medicine doctor.

NAUGLE: Not doctor. I worked at a sports medicine clinic...

EISENBERG: Come on, just work with me.

NAUGLE: OK. I was a doctor.

(LAUGHTER)

NAUGLE: I was the chief doctor.

XIN: M.D.-Ph.D., right?

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: Yeah. Like I'm saying, the brainiacs.

COULTON: Yeah. So congratulations you guys, all of your schooling is about to pay off.

(LAUGHTER)

COULTON: Because, you know, play a game about brown cows.

EISENBERG: Brown cows. All right. Well, this is a silly game. It's called How Now, Brown Cow. Jonathan?

COULTON: Yes. Well, what we're doing in this game is we have assembled a list of things other than brown cows that it makes sense to talk to...

(LAUGHTER)

COULTON: ...as much as it makes sense to talk to a brown cow. Anyway, they all rhyme with brown cow. And let's go to our puzzle guru Art Chung for an example, because I have failed to explain this game in any way.

(LAUGHTER)

ART CHUNG: Yeah. I think we need an example after that. So what do you say to a popular dish in Chinese restaurants whose name literally means palace guardian? You would say, how now, Kung Pao, chicken.

(LAUGHTER)

COULTON: Or shrimp.

CHUNG: Or shrimp, to be fair, shrimp.

COULTON: But you do have to start each answer with how now, as if you were talking to this thing. OK. You ready? It's going to be fun. All of your training is going to come to play right now. What would you say to a Hawaiian barbecue?

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

COULTON: Jean.

XIN: How now, luau.

COULTON: That's exactly what you would say.

EISENBERG: Yeah.

(APPLAUSE)

EISENBERG: Jim, you got it? You're like...

NAUGLE: I'm catching up.

(LAUGHTER)

COULTON: What might you say to the seeds of a tree used to make dark chocolate?

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

COULTON: Jim.

NAUGLE: How now, cocow?

COULTON: That's right.

EISENBERG: Yes.

COULTON: How now cocow.

(APPLAUSE)

COULTON: Alluding to a type of breed, it's what Martha Stewart might say to her dog, Genghis Khan II. What...

EISENBERG: Yeah. That's right. That is the name of her dog.

COULTON: A type of breed of dog.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

COULTON: Yes, Jim.

NAUGLE: How now, chowchow?

(LAUGHTER)

COULTON: How now, chowchow is absolutely right.

(APPLAUSE)

COULTON: Her dog is a chowchow.

(LAUGHTER)

COULTON: And I'll just explain this to Jean. That rhymes with brown cow. You see what's happening?

XIN: I'm floored.

COULTON: Yeah.

XIN: They never taught me that.

(LAUGHTER)

COULTON: It's a complicated game. What do you say when you arrive in prison, a.k.a., the cooler, the locker, the slammer, the big house.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

COULTON: Jim.

NAUGLE: How now, whosgow?

COULTON: Yeah.

EISENBERG: Yeah.

(APPLAUSE)

COULTON: What do you say to an ice cold bottle of the self-proclaimed number one Chinese beer in the United States?

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

COULTON: Jim.

NAUGLE: How now, Tsingtao?

COULTON: Yes. I think you got the pronunciation a little wrong, but...

CHUNG: Yes. It's close, we'll say Ching Dow.

COULTON: Ching Dow. That's right. Now I got it wrong. Yes, you're right.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: They are the self-proclaimed one number one beer. That is like clearly from their website.

COULTON: That's right. It's their idea.

EISENBERG: That's not even a title.

COULTON: They didn't have time to do any sort of survey.

(LAUGHTER)

COULTON: What do you say to the Berlin neighborhood found in the name of the 1980s band who sang "True?"

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

COULTON: Jim.

NAUGLE: How now Spandau?

COULTON: That's exactly right.

EISENBERG: Yeah.

(APPLAUSE)

COULTON: Spandau Ballet. Yeah. All right. This is your last question. Though it would be difficult to say it to him now, is what you might say to a grumpy old man from "Grumpy Old Men."

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

COULTON: Jim.

NAUGLE: How now, Matthau. Walter Matthau.

COULTON: Yeah. That's right.

(APPLAUSE)

COULTON: Art, what happened in that game?

CHUNG: To the winner I'd say, how now, Jim Naugle?

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: Congratulations, Jim.

XIN: Congratulations.

(APPLAUSE)

EISENBERG: Jim, we will see you again at the end of our show.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "COWTOWN")

COULTON: (Singing) I'm going down to Cowtown. The cow's a friend to me. Lives beneath the ocean and that's where I will be, beneath the waves, the waves. And that's where I will be. I'm gonna see the cow beneath the sea.

(Singing) The yellow Roosevelt Avenue leaf overturned. The ardor of arboreality is an adventure we have spurned, we've spurned. A new leaf overturned. It's a new leaf overturned. So I'm going down to Cowtown. The cow's a friend to me. Lives beneath the ocean and that's where I will be, beneath the waves, the waves. And that's where I will be. I'm gonna see the cow beneath the sea. Gonna see the cow beneath the sea.

(APPLAUSE)

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