Change is Fun: Ask Me Another

Hi, Ask Me Anotherers, Rubik’s Cubists, Ophira Eisenburglars, JoCo-Conspirators, and Art Chungulators. You’ve probably noticed some format changes on new episodes of Ask Me Another.

The new format, now featuring colorful index cards

These changes include reducing the number of contestants, changing the final round to a “penalty shootout,” and introducing a new game called “Mystery Guest.” Also, we’re recording the show in full-body spandex suits, for improved aerodynamics.

What Hasn’t Changed

Before we get to the changes, here’s what’s not changing: Our puzzles, word games, trivia and song parodies are still as clever and fiendish as ever. Our VIPs (Very Important Puzzlers) are still amazing celebrity guests. Our contestants are still endearingly quirky and smarter than we are. And Jonathan Coulton still insists on hiring a squad of grizzled ex-Navy Seals to protect his guitar.

1. Reducing the Number of Contestants

We used to cast 8–10 contestants per episode. Each contestant had the chance to play one game. That’s a lot of contestants to meet in each episode.

To compare, an episode of Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me features three telephone contestants. The Price is Right features nine contestants, but only six get on stage. 1 vs. 100 features 101 contestants, but that show was crazy.

In our new format, we’re casting four contestants per episode. They’re split into two pairs, and each pair plays a “best of three games” match.

Reducing the number of contestants allows for better Instagram layouts

For starters, we wanted to give listeners a better opportunity to connect with our contestants. With the larger group of 8–10, we often ran into situations where we’d briefly meet a fascinating person who would then immediately vanish from the radio. Maybe the contestant was too slow on the buzzer, or maybe the game wasn’t a good fit — in any case, they’d be whisked away from the stage, never to be heard from again.

We want our contestants to shine as brightly as we know they can, which is why we’re giving them the chance to compete in at least two games each.

You can hear this play out in our first show under the new format, with VIPs Gillian Jacobs and Kate Micucci. In this episode, listeners get better acquainted with all of our contestants, including new fan-favorite, Scott:

Another practical reason for reducing the number of contestants was that introducing each new pair took a significant amount of airtime. NPR audience surveys confirm most listeners want to get to the games sooner.

Under this new format, we hope listeners will more easily enjoy following the contestants’ individual journeys throughout each episode.

2. Final Round: “Penalty Shootout”

Our final round used to be a “spelling bee” featuring 4–5 contestants. We’ve switched to a “penalty shootout” featuring the final two contestants.

Our puzzle guru uses this app, designed by Patrick Conway, to keep score during the new “Penalty Shootout” final round.

While the spelling bee had its fans, it had the potential to run short, sometimes making for an unsatisfying finale. We know our listeners like to play along with the show, and we want to guarantee they’ll consistently hear more questions in the final round.

3. New Feature: Mystery Guest

We’ve introduced a new recurring game called “Mystery Guest.” This is a “What’s My Line” or “20 Questions” style game where we turn the tables on Ophira and Jonathan. In this game, the puzzlers become the puzzled — tasked with figuring out the mystery guest’s secret.

So far, we’ve featured a cook who brought a new food trend to America and a park director who found an interesting way to get rid of overgrown weeds. And we have more awesome mystery guests lined up, so stay tuned.

Thanks For Listening!

NPR’s Ask Me Another staff and the great team at 90.7 WMFE at our March 2016 Orlando road show

Our new episodes going forward will follow this format. Of course, most reruns we air for the next year will be shows taped using the old format, so you’ll hear a mix of both for a while.

We hope you enjoy these changes. As always, we appreciate hearing your feedback. We do read all of it, and it does keep us up at night.

We objectively have the smartest, most attractive and all-around best listeners in all of radio and podcasting. We’re here because of your support.

Thank you, and we look forward to seeing you one day on the Ask Me Another stage, competing to win an $8 Rubik’s Cube.

Much love,
Ask Me Another’s Games Editor, Travis Larchuk

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