Startup Stories

Aug 4, 2017
Originally published on March 23, 2018 10:58 am

Did NASCAR begin as informal races between bootleggers trying to outrun the cops, or did we make that up? See if you can tell if these corporate origin stories are real or manufactured.

Heard on Kerry Bishé: Halt And Catch Science

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit


Hey, Jonathan.


EISENBERG: Our guest today stars in a TV show about computers in the 1980s. How well do you know your '80s tech? Speed round - what machine could send images of documents over a standard phone line?

COULTON: A fax machine.

EISENBERG: Yes. What then-brand-new computer featured a graphical interface and a mouse and greeted you with a smiling computer face when you switched it on?

COULTON: Oh, the Macintosh.

EISENBERG: That's right. And what game mesmerized millions despite having only six colors and a very low resolution of three by three by six?

COULTON: A Rubik's cube.


COULTON: From NPR and WNYC, coming to you from The Bell House in beautiful Brooklyn, N.Y, it's NPR's hour of puzzles, word games and trivia, ASK ME ANOTHER. I'm Jonathan Coulton. Now here's your host, Ophira Eisenberg.


EISENBERG: Thanks, Jonathan. We've got a great show for you. Four brilliant contestants are here. They're backstage enjoying rose popsicles while they wait to play our nerdy games. But only one will be our big winner. And our special guest is Kerry Bishe. She's from the AMC television series "Halt And Catch Fire." It's a drama about the tech industry in the '80s and not, as I thought, the story behind the Samsung Galaxy Note 7.


EISENBERG: Our first game is about terrible ideas that went on to be successful companies like Pomplamoose seltzer. Don't at me, LaCroix. Let's meet our first two contestants. First up, Emma Ruopp on buzzer number one.


EISENBERG: You're a theater technician and an artist assistant for the MetLife arts programs. Welcome.

EMMA RUOPP: Thrilled to be here.

EISENBERG: Thank you. And your opponent is Matt Summers on buzzer number two.


EISENBERG: You are a minister at a non-denominational church in Long Island. Welcome.

MATTHEW SUMMERS: Thanks for having me.

EISENBERG: Matt and Emma, the first of you who wins two of our games will move on to the final round at the end of the show. Let's start with a guessing game called Startup Stories. We're going to tell you the origin story of a company. You just have to tell us if it's true or something we made up. Buzz in to answer, but be careful. If you guess incorrectly, your opponent automatically gets the point. OK, here we go. NASCAR began as informal races between bootleggers trying to outrun the cops. True or false?




EISENBERG: I'm sorry, that is true. It was delivering whiskey from distillers to thirsty Appalachians during Prohibition. The drivers would modify their cars to go fast. And that's how NASCAR began, like booze Uber or something. Boozer (ph).

COULTON: Boozer. That's a million-dollar idea right there.

EISENBERG: They're the Uber of bootlegging. Yeah. That's a good idea.

COULTON: Doritos began when a salesman noticed stale tortillas in a garbage can at Disneyland.


COULTON: I mean, who among us...


COULTON: ...And thought, why not fry them up and sell them as chips? True or false?



RUOPP: That seems definitely true.

COULTON: That is absolutely true.


COULTON: I presume they did not use the ones that were in the garbage can to make their first...

RUOPP: I don't know why you would think that. That...

COULTON: Well, I mean, I guess who knows? I guess who knows?

EISENBERG: I mean, and why didn't he just go with the name garbage can chips? That would've been great.

COULTON: (Laughter) That's a good idea.


RUOPP: They sell those in Canada next to the all-dressed.


EISENBERG: All-dressed are delicious. FedEx, or Federal Express, began its life as a private car service to shuttle government employees between federal buildings in Washington, D.C. True or false?



RUOPP: True.

EISENBERG: I'm sorry, that is false. Yeah, government employees had to walk.


EISENBERG: Actually, FedEx founder - Frederick Smith is his name - came up with the idea for the company in his economics class term paper. Frederick Smith. That's his name. And he called it FedEx, not FredEx (ph).

COULTON: Not FredEx. That seems like an obvious...


COULTON: Frederal (ph). Actually, it's Frederal Express.

EISENBERG: (Laughter) It's frederal - well, talk about a rebrand waiting to happen.

COULTON: Nintendo began in 1889 as a playing card company which produced a flower-themed card game called Hanafuda.




COULTON: That is absolutely true. That's right.


EISENBERG: Airbus began in 1977 making regular city buses for the residents of Paris. That business was so successful the company expanded and developed the A300, which became the workhorse of the aviation industry. True or false?



RUOPP: False.

EISENBERG: Yeah, that's false. What?


EISENBERG: This is your last clue.

COULTON: Graham crackers were named for Reverend Sylvester Graham, who believed whole-grain crackers would decrease people's sex drives. True or false?



RUOPP: True.

COULTON: That is true.


COULTON: I should say it is true that that is what Reverend Sylvester Graham thought. I'm not sure if we have any data on whether or not whole-grain crackers decrease your sex drive.

EISENBERG: Puzzle guru Art Chung, how did our contestants do?

ART CHUNG: Well done, Emma, you're one step closer to our final round.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE DB'S SONG, "A SPY IN THE HOUSE OF LOVE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.