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Not My Job: We Quiz Cosmos Expert Neil deGrasse Tyson On Cosmetology


One of our favorite guests is scientist, talk show host and raconteur Neil deGrasse Tyson. He joined us just a few months ago to talk about how he likes to relax.


NEIL DEGRASSE TYSON: Thank you, thank you.

SAGAL: Great to have you. You are perhaps a hero - no, not perhaps, definitely a hero to the great, as you like to put it, geek-iverse (ph), all the science geeks and nerds and science-fiction readers. And you seemed to spend a lot of time stamping down our fantasies - there aren't aliens; Pluto's not a planet - that sort of stuff.

TYSON: Well, no, it's a reality check on your fantasies. And there's plenty else to fantasize about. I'm not totally closing the doors on all of your fantasies. You know, there's black holes and what - could there be wormholes? Could - might there be a multi-verse? These are all fascinating frontiers. What is the nature of dark matter and dark energy? And what was around before the universe? And do we have access to higher dimensions? So..

FAITH SALIE: Don't stop. Don't stop. Keep going, Neil.


SAGAL: Now, one of your famous incidents or contributions to pop culture was when you criticized the movie "Titanic," now a few years old...

TYSON: Yeah.

SAGAL: ...For showing the wrong stars in the sky after the ship sank. And it's interesting because while they were drowning, none of the people noticed that, but you did. And I appreciate that. And famously, when James Cameron redid the film, he added some effects; he changed the stars. But do you do that a fair bit? Do you go to movies and, like - well that couldn't happen?

TYSON: See, I think I'm misunderstood when I post these comments about films. So here is Kate Winslet sitting on - you know, laying on this plank. The ship is down. She let her boyfriend drown. They didn't even try a second time to get him to float on that with her, so I'm angry by that. I think...


SAGAL: I - you know, I admire you personally and professionally. I ain't never going to the movies with you.


TYSON: No, no - let me tell you - no, I'm going to tell you - hear me out for why.

SAGAL: All right.

TYSON: So there she is looking up at the night sky. And the night sky's not only wrong, which I noticed in an instant, but later, on closer analysis, I revealed that the left half of the sky was a mirror reflection of the right half of the sky. Now that - now, excuse me, please. That's not only wrong...


ADAM FELBER: It's lazy.

TYSON: ...It's lazy.

SAGAL: Right. You are getting - you are getting kind of agitated.

MAZ JOBRANI: No, I don't blame him.

SAGAL: And I am just going to say...

TYSON: No, no. But I am not the most annoying person to bring to a movie 'cause I basically hold it in and write about it later or tweet about it. The most annoying people to bring to movies - and I think we all agree - are those who read the book first.

SAGAL: Oh, yes.


TYSON: Get them all out of the movie theater.

FELBER: Objectively true.

SAGAL: We are the worst.

TYSON: I don't need to hear - oh, that character wasn't developed right. Oh, they left out a - shut up already. Leave me alone. Stay the hell home.

SAGAL: (Laughter) One last question - as perhaps the nation's best-known astrophysicist or scientist of all kind - of any kind, do you agree that planetarium shows are much better when you're high?


TYSON: Maybe that's not the right question. Maybe the question is - is everything better when you're high?


SAGAL: All right. Neil deGrasse Tyson, is everything better when you're high?


TYSON: Just - in all seriousness, personally, when I'm in the dome and I'm looking up - or...

SAGAL: Yeah.

TYSON: ...More realistically, when I'm on a mountaintop looking up at the universe, there's a certain euphoria that descends upon me...


TYSON: ...That I'm betting that any other chemical version of that, it will just pale relative to the real thing. So I derive my high from the highest things there are, and that is the observable edge of the known universe.




SAGAL: I will do that. I will go to a mountaintop. I'm going to do it in Colorado just to have a backup.


TYSON: Good one. I caught that.

SAGAL: Thank you. Thank you, sir. Thank you, you're smart.

JOBRANI: Were you on one of those mountaintops looking up when you were like, wait a minute, the "Titanic" doesn't work, the movie?

TYSON: No, I knew the sky. I didn't have to, like, recheck the sky after it. I got it in my head.

SAGAL: He knows it. All right.

TYSON: Who do you think you're talking to?

SAGAL: We can...

JOBRANI: I'm sorry. I'm sorry.


SAGAL: Anyway, we could, in fact, talk to you all day 'cause it's so great. But Neil deGrasse Tyson, we have asked you here to play a game this time we're calling...

BILL KURTIS: How About a Bob? It'll Frame Your Face So Nicely.

SAGAL: You are a famed expert on cosmology, but what do you know about cosmetology?



SAGAL: Answer two of these three questions about hairstylists and other spa experts from around the world, you'll win a prize for one of our listeners, the voice of our scorekeeper Carl Kasell on their voicemail. Bill, who is Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson playing for?

KURTIS: Jean Bentley of Bristol, Tenn.

SAGAL: All right, here's your first question. I guess at this point we say, let's see how smart you really are.



SAGAL: Cosmetologists, despite what you may think, are no pushovers. When a robber tried to rob the women taking classes at a Louisiana beauty school in 2006, how did those students respond? A - they beat him up with curling irons, B - they did the old hairspray and cigarette lighter trick, chasing him away with bursts of flame, or C - they put a cop's hat on a wig stand and scared him into leaving?

TYSON: Wow, I don't know why a beauty salon would have a cop's hat and the curling irons are not deadly unless they're still plugged in and they're hot. So I'm not quite sure about that. But I don't know who remembers anymore that you can ignite spray cans - plus there aren't really any spray cans anymore 'cause that was destroying the ozone layer. So I'm - actually, I'll have to go with they chased him with the curling irons.

SAGAL: My God, he did it with science. You're right.


SAGAL: The most amazing thing I've ever seen. So that was very good. Next question - the hot new spa treatment over in Bali is which of these? A - you are covered with house paint, which is allowed to harden, and then peeled off, taking toxins with it, B - the python massage, in which snakes crawl all over you - it's exfoliating, or C - instead of hot rocks, hot lava is dripped onto your back.

TYSON: Oh, wow, OK, so the only kind of lava that exists is hot. Just (laughter)...


TYSON: And it is hot enough to - it's way hotter than hot wax or even the hot rocks. It would basically vaporize a hole through your body, so it'd be a one-time treatment.


TYSON: I would say - and paint doesn't peel unless it's acrylic paint, so maybe it is acrylic paint that they're using, not oil paint. So let me say yes, it would be acrylic house paint, which, when it dries, peels very nicely. So let's go with that.

SAGAL: Ha, ha, we fooled you. It was the python treatment.


SAGAL: I actually - I...

TYSON: The python.

SAGAL: The python treatment, yes. It costs about 50 bucks. If you're in Bali, you can go for it. This is very exciting. If you get this last one right, you win. Let's say you don't like snakes - well, just jet on over to Thailand where you can get what? Is it A - a one-hour foot massage from an inmate at the Chiang Mai Correctional Institution, B - a haircut from a skilled artisan wielding a power saw or C - a manicure from a monitor lizard trained to love the taste of fingernails?

TYSON: Wow. Monitor lizards are pretty gnarly creatures. I would go with the monitor lizard. That's just weird enough to be true. No?


SAGAL: There - I'm at a conundrum because you're wrong. But if I tell you you're wrong, would it destroy your career and credibility? Would this be, like, your Waterloo? Like, he was doing so...

TYSON: (Laughter) I love being wrong 'cause that means in that instant, I learned something new that day.

SAGAL: You did. Well, in that case, I'll let you know 'cause you enjoy it, that, in fact, the answer was the inmate. The one-hour foot massage. You can't train a monitor lizard to chew on fingernails. Come, now.


TYSON: You know, animals - who - you know, I've seen animals eat worse. So...


SAGAL: In fact, this is - Chiang Mai Correctional facility is for women in Thailand. And this is one of the things they do for rehabilitation and job training. You can go in there, get a massage. The reviews on TripAdvisor say it's quite lovely. So how did - Bill, how did Neil deGrasse Tyson do on our quiz?

KURTIS: This is very, very interesting. You need two right answers out of three to win. Actually, Neil, you just got one.

TYSON: Oh, wow, OK. So that's how the arithmetic works on this one, OK.

SAGAL: Yeah, pretty much.


KURTIS: You know, nobody goes away empty-handed. And we're honored to have you...

TYSON: But somebody's not getting a Carl Kasell...

SAGAL: I have to say, this is a strange moment because, as listeners know, I usually like people to win, and I often give hints. But I was so pleased by the idea of fooling you that - Neil deGrasse Tyson - so, like, by doing this, I therefore, by the rule of succession, become the smartest person in the world.


SAGAL: I have slain the dragon. You know, it's like...

TYSON: So I look - I look at it differently. I look at had I gotten all three right...

SAGAL: Yeah.

TYSON: ...I would've learned nothing. But having gotten two wrong, I learned two things today.


SAGAL: There you go.

KURTIS: There's a lesson.


SAGAL: Neil deGrasse Tyson is the Emmy-nominated host of National Geographic's "Star Talk." Dr. Tyson, thank you so much for joining us.

TYSON: Thanks, guys, for having me.

SAGAL: Such a joy, as always, to talk to you.


SAGAL: Awesome time. Thank you so much.

JOBRANI: Thanks so much.

SALIE: Bye, Neil.

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SAGAL: This is NPR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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