Patently Obvious

Apr 3, 2020
Originally published on April 3, 2020 6:54 pm

Comedians Naomi Ekperigin and Andy Beckerman, hosts of the podcast Couples Therapy, name everyday items as described by the item's patent.

Heard on Debra Messing & Paul F Tompkins: Show Yourself Some Grace.

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JONATHAN COULTON: (Playing guitar). This is ASK ME ANOTHER Play From Home Edition - NPR's hour of puzzles, word games, and rubbing against a bare wall and pretending it's a person. I'm Jonathan Coulton. Now here's your host, Ophira Eisenberg.


Thanks, Jonathan. Yep, this week we're not only viewing our homes as bunkers but we're using the Internet to play games with couples we know who are also stuck at home. So we're online right now with the hosts of the podcast Couples Therapy, Andy Beckerman and Naomi Ekperigin. OK, so you were saying earlier that, you know, a little healthy competition would be a good thing for your relationship right now.



EISENBERG: Before going into this knowing that you were playing a couple games, did you guys set up anything like, if you win, you have to clean up around here on day 36?


EKPERIGIN: Andy really could have used that to his advantage. I mean, as of now, you know, he's the one who keeps this place looking decent. He keeps the trains running on time.

BECKERMAN: (Laughter) So wait, hold on. Now I'm Mussolini?

EISENBERG: (Laughter)

EKPERIGIN: It was meant to be a compliment.

BECKERMAN: I feel like this is - this is a strange Rorschach test for our relationship.

EISENBERG: (Laughter)

EKPERIGIN: Don't embarrass us in front of company.


EISENBERG: All right. So we have another game for you. It's called Patently Obvious. We're going to read you an excerpt from an actual U.S. patent for a common object...


EISENBERG: ...or piece of technology, and you're going to tell us what device or piece of technology we're talking about.

EKPERIGIN: Oh my gosh.

EISENBERG: Yeah. All right. Let me - let me give...

EKPERIGIN: (Laughter)

EISENBERG: ...the first one a shot. OK, Naomi. This 1866...


EISENBERG: ...patent for an improvement in velocipedes describes a machine that consists...

EKPERIGIN: (Laughter)

EISENBERG: the arrangement of two wheels, one directly in front of the other, combined with a mechanism for driving the wheels.

EKPERIGIN: You mean a bicycle?


EKPERIGIN: Oh, I'm so excited I got that.

EISENBERG: So this patent was 1866. The first bicycle, basically, was seen in 1700s Paris and was known as the wooden horse.

EKPERIGIN: That's, like, intense.

EISENBERG: The wooden horse.

EKPERIGIN: I gotta go hop on my wooden horse.

BECKERMAN: I'm doing a triathlon on my wooden horse.


COULTON: All right Andy, here's yours. This 1998 patent describes a document ranking method that is scalable and can be applied to extremely large databases such as the worldwide web.

BECKERMAN: A search engine like specifically Google, I guess.

COULTON: Google. Yeah, that's right. That's referring to the PageRank algorithm of course.

EISENBERG: Can you guys believe that Google won out to Ask Jeeves?

EKPERIGIN: (Laughter)

COULTON: I mean, Ask Jeeves was much friendlier. He has a much friendlier vibe.

EKPERIGIN: I can tell Jonathan's got butlers because he's got so many guitars on his wall.


COULTON: Yeah, I have a couple of butlers. I have a guitar butler. I have a...


COULTON: ...wall butler.

EISENBERG: Well, I thought each guitar comes with a butler, right. There's like a...


EISENBERG: ...different.

COULTON: (Laughter) Yeah.

BECKERMAN: (Imitating butler) Sir, I've cleaned...

COULTON: At my level, yeah.

BECKERMAN: ...Your Jazzmaster.


EISENBERG: I've been talking with him over Zoom and I've seen one of them come in and just dust them. It's really weird.


BECKERMAN: Tune it to drop D and get out.


EKPERIGIN: Tune it to drop D, oh lord.

EISENBERG: All right, Naomi. This patent from 1983...


EISENBERG: for a spatial, logical toy built up of a total of 18 toy elements forming a solid. Six or nine of those elements can be simultaneously rotated.

EKPERIGIN: I don't know but I'm just gonna say Legos (laughter).

EISENBERG: OK, how about rotated? Did that help you? Rotated.

EKPERIGIN: Oh. Oh. Oh. A Rubik's Cube.

EISENBERG: Yes. Yes indeed.

EKPERIGIN: Wooo (ph).


EKPERIGIN: Wooo (ph).

EISENBERG: Supposedly, no matter how messed up a Rubik's Cube is, you can solve it in 20 moves or less...


EISENBERG: ...which I know Jonathan Coulton is very good.

BECKERMAN: I can solve it in two.


BECKERMAN: Yeah you take off all the stickers...


COULTON: (Laughter)

BECKERMAN: ...And then put them back on in the right way.

EKPERIGIN: (Laughter)

EISENBERG: Have you...



COULTON: I guess that counts as two moves.

BECKERMAN: That's the Kobayashi Maru of Rubik's Cubes.



BECKERMAN: What is wrong with me today?


EKPERIGIN: Wait, was that a Star Trek reference?

BECKERMAN: That was. A show I've barely seen. Why do I know that reference?

EKPERIGIN: If anybody listening wants to airlift me out of here...

COULTON: (Laughter)

EKPERIGIN: ...To their home...


EKPERIGIN: ...I will be at the window. I will be at the north-facing window (laughter).

COULTON: All right, Andy. Filed in 1903, this patent is for a simple mechanism for removing snow, rain and sleet from the glass in front of the Motorman.

BECKERMAN: The Motorman.

EISENBERG: Motorman, yeah.

COULTON: The glass in front of the Motorman.

EKPERIGIN: (Laughter)

BECKERMAN: A D-List Marvel superhero.


BECKERMAN: Windshield wipers.

COULTON: (Laughter) Yeah, that's right - windshield wipers.

EISENBERG: 1903 yet, no one has figured out how to make the speed right for light rain.


EISENBERG: You know, it's either like with whiplashing or that just screeching sound. Well guess what?


EISENBERG: It's a tie.


BECKERMAN: We're perfectly suited for each other, Naomi.

EKPERIGIN: We won't get divorced.

EISENBERG: You're perfectly suited.

BECKERMAN: Our entire relationship hinged on this.

EISENBERG: What a pleasure. Thanks for joining us...

EKPERIGIN: Thank you.

BECKERMAN: Yeah thank you so much.

EKPERIGIN: Thank you guys.

EISENBERG: Your hilarious selves...

BECKERMAN: Genuinely an honor.

EISENBERG: ...brightening our afternoon.

EKPERIGIN: It was so good.

EISENBERG: So have a great rest of your month.


COULTON: Slash year, who knows?

EKPERIGIN: Slash year - slash see you in 2021. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.