Fact Bag

Oct 9, 2020

Just when you thought the show was over, Fact Bag appears with a new, random question for Ophira Eisenberg and Jonathan Coulton to puzzle over. What was the first message sent over the internet?

Heard on: Zachary Quinto: Spock-tober.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.


All right. So before we wrap things up for the day, we have time for one quick round of Fact Bag. Here's a question. Jonathan and I will try to figure this out. Jonathan, on October 29, 1969, a UCLA professor and a student sent the first-ever electronic message via computer to a programmer at the Stanford Research Institute. What was that fateful first message?

JONATHAN COULTON, BYLINE: But this is the first electronic message. So, you know, the question is, did they think about it? Did they realize what a momentous occasion it was? And did they - some sort of stentorian, you know, some important phrase, or was it just like, hi, let me know if you get this?

EISENBERG: Or was it that thing, like, I don't know if you do this, but if I want to test a printer, I write, like, how's it going? And I just send it to all kinds of different printers to see where it prints out.

COULTON: Like maybe they sent...


COULTON: You just print to all printers?

EISENBERG: Yeah. Like if I'm in office, someone says, yeah, you can use a printer. And then I don't know which one. And I don't know where they are, so I'll just send...

COULTON: Print to all.

EISENBERG: So I'm just saying, like, did they know that that was going to be the first message or was it like, it works, send the message?

COULTON: Was the cat - it was the cat walking on a keyboard. It's just garbled text.

EISENBERG: OK. So let's see. This is 1969. And we're in UCLA. So just get yourself in that brain frame.


EISENBERG: It's October 29, two days before Halloween.

COULTON: Right. Halloween in '69 at UCLA.

EISENBERG: (Laughter) Right. So maybe it's just boo.

COULTON: (Laughter) Boo. Groovy, man. Maybe it was...

EISENBERG: But they're computer programmers, so then get that in your head.

COULTON: Right. New communications text protocol. Who dis (ph)?

EISENBERG: (Laughter).

COULTON: You know, the classic computer programmer thing, the first thing you do when you're learning a language is you make a program that says, hello world.

EISENBERG: That's right.

COULTON: So maybe it was that - hello world.

EISENBERG: I like Hello World. And my alternate would be boo.

COULTON: Boo. I hope it's boo. Let's see what it is.

EISENBERG: OK. Let's find out. Oh. It's lo as in L-O. Sounds like it got sent before that person finished.



EISENBERG: Yeah. It was just laugh out ugh (ph). Just laugh out.

COULTON: Laugh out. Well, that's what they said in the '60s. Laugh out, man.

EISENBERG: (Laughter) Laugh out, dude. They would not have said dude. OK. So yes, the message was supposed to be login, but the system crashed after the letter O.

COULTON: (Laughter).

EISENBERG: The full word went through an hour later.

EISENBERG: Well, that was Fact Bag. And that's our show. ASK ME ANOTHER's house musician is Jonathan Coulton.

COULTON: Hey, my name anagrams to thou jolt a cannon.

EISENBERG: Our puzzles were written by our staff, along with Kate Villa, Cara Weisberger and senior writers Eric Feinstein and Karen Lurie, with additional material by Emily Winter. ASK ME ANOTHER is produced by Travis Larchuk, Nancy Saechao, James Farber, Rommel Wood and our intern, Sam Yellowhorse Kesler. Our senior supervising producer is Rachel Neel. And our boss's bosses are Steve Nelson and Anya Grundmann. Thanks to our production partner, WNYC.

I am her ripe begonias.

COULTON: Ophira Eisenberg.

EISENBERG: And this was ASK ME ANOTHER from NPR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.