I’ll be the first to admit my data collection of pop culture references made by Alan Sisto and Shawn Marchese during The Prancing Pony Podcast episodes is not perfect. I have rules about what I do and don’t record, limitations that generate errors, and the usual challenge of being human. Below, I lay out the sources of error for those wondering why a reference they were sure got made didn’t wind up on my charts somewhere.

What it looks like when I’m collating and analyzing the data.

First, a description of what I’m doing and why. It started when I tested out a podcast bingo card I made while listening to Season 2. In trying to see how hard or easy it would be to win, I started compiling lists of musical and movie references, as well as running gags and catch phrases. By the time I got to Season 3, I was in the habit of noting everything in several categories, so I started my data collection in earnest.

Kit’s Code For Collecting PPP Data (i.e., they are more like guidelines than actual rules):

I only collect data on chapter analysis episodes, where they are discussing the text currently being read (ex: for Season 5, any episode about The Lord of the Rings: Book III.) Special topic episodes (like interviews of experts, Questions After Nightfall, and Tolkien Reading Day) are not included, but anything that comes up during North Wing interviews within a chapter analysis episode is fair game. The references made in the titles of the episodes are also limited to chapter analysis episodes, and are handled separately from the episodes themselves.

I do not include “The” or “A” in my musical and movie titles. This is a recent development. I realized that I was looking for The Beatles under Beatles and couldn’t find them. I know some bands really emphasize the importance of that “The,” so I was being very careful to get the names right. I’ve since decided that it’s more important to be able to find things easily. (I could list them as “Beatles, The,” but that felt too formal.)

What counts as one reference varies. Because the guys often talk about their references when they make them, they sometimes mention the same thing more than once within a minute or two. Sometimes they riff on a band, mentioning many song titles. Other times, a reference will become a running joke within an episode, with clearly separated mentions . Unfortunately, I have no hard and fast rule to determine when a reference discussion crosses the line from being a single mention to being more than one. While I try to listen for something that expands on or extends the reference into new territory before giving additional counts, in the end, I go with my gut.

I lump together some things that are of the same nature if not the exact same wording. A classic example of this is any mention of when in the future a scene or topic will be covered. “We’ll get to that in two years,” “We’ll talk about that next season,” and “We won’t get to that for another eighteen months” all fall under “We’ll get to that in X years.

The Megaverse category is of my own defining, and therefore rather personal. When I first started this project, there were references that didn’t automatically fall into one category, like The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which is a book series, a movie, a TV series, and a radio series. I decided to make a special category for similar hard-to-class creations as megaverses: not only do they cover more than one media, they are famous enough to be recognized by most non-fans. This category constantly causes me trouble, because so many things cross over from book to film. Every season, I debate whether or not Dune should get added to this list, but so far I’ve kept it in Movies, mainly because I failed to include a book category when I began this project (see below).

I specifically decided early on not to include books referenced (like The History Of Middle-earth, Beowulf, and Leaf By Niggle) mainly because I was feeling overwhelmed already and was afraid there would be a lot of these. I did collect the numbers of any letters from The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien that got referenced, mainly to verify that 131 is the big winner. (So far, it is.) I now wish I’d done it differently. I may start collecting book data during season six, but it will be incomplete, because I don’t think I’ll have to time to go back and re-listen to all the earlier seasons just to pick up these references.

Just recently, the idea of collecting the answers to the lightning round questions in North Wing interviews was brought up, so that’s now one of my goals. I have a lot of work to do there (I only have data for two interviews so far), but I look forward to learning who is the most popular hobbit. (My favorite: Pippin.)

These are just as critical to me as Google for making sure I get things right.

The main sources of error are:

  • My ignorance, especially of popular music. While I’m the right generation to get the 80s references, I never have been up on who sang what, so getting the musical references unraveled takes a lot of Googling. Similarly, I’m not well-versed in gaming or some TV shows, but I know just enough to recognize when a reference is probably being made, and Google helps me make sure. Occasionally, I cannot figure out where something came from, so I can’t include it.
  • Missing the first reference. Because I started with the third season, I missed the start of some of the running jokes and didn’t know to record them until I heard them multiple times. Others I just missed because it didn’t occur to me that they would be a thing (like Ford of Bruinen). I now jot down anything that feels like it could become a running joke and wind up with a long list of single references that are never heard from again.
  • Memes or tropes so huge that the source can’t be pinpointed. While most of the jokes track back to an original reference, like a movie or song, there are some that are so big that even Google doesn’ t have an answer. For example, “What is this X of which you speak?” is so wide spread that the trope gurus cannot track it back to a single point of origin.
  • Not counting everything that hits more than one category, also known as inconsistency. While I always give credit to both The Simpsons and “embiggen” when embiggen is used, I usually note “start at the very beginning” jokes without also giving credit to The Sound of Music.
  • My deteriorating hand-writing. Now and then, I have to give up on a reference because I can’t read what I’ve written. (My spelling needs work, too.)
A sample of my raw data collection notes.

As I write this, I’ve just wrapped up my collection and analysis of Season 5. I’m working on Season 1 and still need to do Season 2. When Season 6 starts, it will take precedence (it’s so nice being able to get the data as the episodes release), so it may take me some time to finish back-filling.

Is there anything in The Prancing Pony Podcast episodes you would be counting that I’ve missed?

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