Happy Geek Colors

Jan 9, 2014
Originally published on May 21, 2015 10:33 am

Host Ophira Eisenberg puts designer Jonathan Adler in the puzzle hot seat for a quiz all about how certain colors got their name. Does the guy who coined the word "chambeige" know which color is named after a desert-dwelling animal that also gives its hair to make overcoats? Find out.

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Let's welcome back Jonathan Adler.


EISENBERG: Jonathan, did you get a chance to scope out our green room?


EISENBERG: Yes? Really? Do you have any suggestions?

ADLER: No, not really, actually.


ADLER: It needs work. We'll talk. I'll pray.


ADLER: It's appraise show chitty-chat we'll have.

EISENBERG: It needs work. What's your number one design tip for, let's say, a small space?

ADLER: God. You're putting me on the spot. I'd say my number one design tip is just follow your heart. Ignore any rules. Wear white after Labor Day and just have an eff it attitude.

EISENBERG: So your husband is Simon Doonan, who is also the creative ambassador-at-large for the department store Barneys, was a guest on our show.


EISENBERG: And he aced his ASK ME ANOTHER challenge.




ADLER: It's on. Bring it.

EISENBERG: OK. Did he give you any tips or advice?

ADLER: No. He would probably just give me negative tips because he wants to win and beat me. So we'll see.


ADLER: So it's on, Simon Doonan. Let's do this.

EISENBERG: So you wrote a book called "Happy Chic Colors" and in it you coin the word chambeige.

ADLER: Mm-hmm.

EISENBERG: Which is a color I plan to drink right after the show.


EISENBERG: So it's safe to say you know your colors.

ADLER: I think so.

EISENBERG: OK. Well, we're going to find out because this quiz is about the stories behind the colors. Yes. Where they come from, where they get their names, what color we should paint our living room. Perhaps chambeige. We'll find out. And if you get enough questions right, Sophie Kihm of Evanston, Illinois is going to win a special ASK ME ANOTHER prize.


EISENBERG: So the stakes are high.

ADLER: I'm puce with anticipation.


EISENBERG: The desert dwelling animal that gives this color its name also gives its hair to make overcoats.

ADLER: Camel?





EISENBERG: Now, what is the difference between camel and chambeige?

ADLER: Chambeige is a little fizzier than camel. It's like camel, a splash of champagne.

EISENBERG: All right.

ADLER: Hence chambeige.

EISENBERG: So it's sort of like a camel who's been covered in sparkles kind of thing?



ADLER: A soused camel.

JONATHAN COULTON: It's a terrible brunch drink, by the way.

EISENBERG: But you never have to pee.

COULTON: No, that's right.

EISENBERG: You could drink a thousand of them.


COULTON: This secondary color got its name from the ancient Sanskrit word for a specific fruit tree but it was not until the 1500s that the word was used to refer to the color.

ADLER: I can't even understand the question.


ADLER: Let alone - I have no idea. Hint.

COULTON: A color that was named after a fruit.

ADLER: Persimmon?

COULTON: The most obvious color that was named after a fruit.

ADLER: Orange.



EISENBERG: That is one of your top colors, right? Orange.

ADLER: It is, yeah. Sorry, orange. Sorry.


EISENBERG: You think he should put orange almost everywhere? Would you say, like, that's just a good introductory...

ADLER: Yeah. I think orange is the color of sunshine and I think, you know, it's impossible not to feel optimistic if you're surrounded by orange.


ADLER: I love orange. It's like California optimism equals orange.

EISENBERG: Ah. Right. OK. Yeah.

ADLER: Yeah.

EISENBERG: In the movie "Deathproof" Quentin Tarantino declares that it's the only liquor so good they named a color after it. What French herb infused liqueur is he talking about?

ART CHUNG: I have a hint. Your powder room wallpaper is this color.

ADLER: I hear. Uh.


ADLER: Chartreuse.


CHUNG: Yeah.

ADLER: Thank you, Art. I don't want Simon to go home and gloat tonight so I'm bringing my A game to the next question.

COULTON: This tint is most often associated with hair color and is named after the 16th century Italian artist born Tiziano Vecellio but he's better known by one name.

ADLER: Titian.


ADLER: Whoo.


EISENBERG: And for those who don't know, what color is titian?


EISENBERG: Yeah, it's red.

ADLER: Titian red.

EISENBERG: Yeah. I didn't know that.

ADLER: I barely knew it. I'm calling on my old art history days.

EISENBERG: Right. Because that artist painted all these women with red hair. He loved the gingers.

ADLER: Yeah.


COULTON: This color, which is very similar to magenta, is named for a genus of flowering plant which in turn was named for a 16th century German botanist.


COULTON: Just think about all the botanists you know, limit it to German botanists.



COULTON: Cut out everyone before and after the 16th century, you've got your answer.

ADLER: Wait. This is a 16th century bot-not a 15th century botanist?

COULTON: Oh, no, no, no. I'm sorry, 16th.

ADLER: Oh, then - all right, wait. Let me rethink this because I was thinking 15th century.

COULTON: Let me just read the first part of the question again.

ADLER: Yeah.

COULTON: This color, which is very similar to magenta.

EISENBERG: And everyone wore it in the '80s.

CHUNG: And the botanist's name was Leonhart Fuchs.

ADLER: Oh, I was going to go with fuchsia.

CHUNG: Fuchsia. Yeah.

COULTON: That is what fuchsia is.

ADLER: Yeah. But, again, I was still on the 15th century. So forgive me. Totally.


COULTON: Right, right.

EISENBERG: I understand. Only seven more questions.


EISENBERG: No. On the periodic table element number 27 is? No.


EISENBERG: On the periodic table element number 27 has been used since ancient Egyptian times to color glass. Name the element and you've named this shade of blue.

ADLER: Cobalt.

EISENBERG: Yes. Exactly.


COULTON: All right. This is your last clue. Coined by its teenage inventor in the 1800s this word was created to name the world's first synthetic dye. It was named after the mallow plant's purplish flower.




CHUNG: I believe you have said you would never, ever embrace this color.

ADLER: Mauve.

COULTON: Oh, yes. Mauve.

EISENBERG: Yeah, mauve.

ADLER: Thumbs-down, mauve.


EISENBERG: All right, Art. How did Jonathan Adler do?

CHUNG: It took a village but he won.


EISENBERG: Jonathan, you and Sophie will win an ASK ME ANOTHER Rubik's cube.

ADLER: Whoo!

EISENBERG: I know. It's very colorful. It has all the colors we covered.


EISENBERG: Or just some of them. Another huge hand for Jonathan Adler.


ADLER: Thank you.


COULTON: (singing) When I think back on all the crap I learned in high school, it's a wonder I can think at all. Though my lack of education hasn't hurt me none, I can read the writing on the wall. Kodachrome, give us those nice bright colors. Give us your greens of summers. It makes you think all the world's a sunny day. Oh, yeah. I got a Nikon camera. I love to take a photograph. So mama, don't take my Kodachrome away.


EISENBERG: Jonathan Coulton. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.