Today we’re talking about a BIG GAME–it’s big because you can build big things in it, and it’s big because a huge number of people play it. It’s Minecraft! Guided by our expert, Anne Ladyem McDivitt, we explore why Minecraft is so cool, and how big it really is. Plus we got some help from you, our listeners! (Even cooler: we’ve got actual Minecraft music, from C418. Thanks, C418!)

Guest bio: Anne Ladyem McDivitt

Anne Ladyem McDivitt is an Assistant Professor and the Digital Humanities Librarian at the University of Alabama. She is the author of the first book in De Gruyter’s Video Games and the Humanities series, Hot Tubs and Pac-Man: Gender and the Early Video Game Industry in the United States. Her research focuses on the history of video games, including the video game industry and media, with a particular interest in gender. You can follow her at or on Twitter @anneladyem.



In this episode, we visit one of the most iconic national parks in the United States: Yellowstone. Megan Kate Nelson talks to us about how Yellowstone came to be a park, as well as how all the amazing geothermal features and animals came to be in the area.

Guest bio: Megan Kate Nelson

Megan Kate Nelson was born and raised in Colorado; she is now a writer and historian living in  Massachusetts. She earned her BA from Harvard University in History and Literature and her PhD from Iowa in American Studies. She taught at Texas Tech, Cal State Fullerton, Harvard, MIT, and Brown before leaving academia to become a full-time writer in 2014. 

Her most recent book, The Three-Cornered War: The Union, the Confederacy, and Native Peoples in the Fight for the West, was published by Scribner in February 2020. This project was the recipient of a 2017 NEH Public Scholar Award and a Filson Historical Society Fellowship, and was chosen as a Top Ten History Book of 2020 by Smithsonian Magazine, and a 2020 Best Book in Civil War History by Civil War Monitor. In March 2022, Scribner will publish her next book, This Strange Country, which tells the story of the creation of Yellowstone National Park in the context of Reconstruction.

Dr. Nelson is the author of two previous books: Ruin Nation: Destruction and the American Civil War (Georgia, 2012) and Trembling Earth: A Cultural History of the Okefenokee Swamp (Georgia, 2005). She writes about the Civil War, the U.S. West, and American culture for The New York TimesWashington PostThe AtlanticSmithsonian MagazinePreservation Magazine, and Civil War Times. Her column on Civil War popular culture, “Stereoscope,” appears regularly in the Civil War Monitor



In this week’s episode, we’re talking about something that’s big and also true—from a certain point of view. We’re kicking off an intermittent series called Big If True in Literature and Culture with a discussion of ents, giant tree-people in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series. We learn about what they are, what they do, and why they’re so cool.

Guest bio: David Montgomery

David H. Montgomery is a Minneapolis-based journalist and podcaster. Currently he works as a data reporter with MPR News, using data and visualizations to cover politics and COVID-19. He is also the host of The Siècle podcast about France’s overlooked history in between Napoleon and World War I. He graduated from Grinnell College and enjoys the Chicago Cubs, board games, and overthinking everything.

Extras News

Why do we make Big If True?

When we tell people about Big If True, we usually get one of two reactions: “Wow! What a fun bonding experience!” or “Wow! Why did you start doing that?”

So I figured I should try to answer that question.

Why do we make a podcast at all?

Big If True is our second podcast. Last year, before the pandemic, we started a podcast about words as a way to make learning new spelling words fun. Maybe we caught the bug then. After that, I started podcasting much more when my college classes went online in March 2020. So I started using podcasting for education. We sort of joked about restarting Spellcast, that first show, but we never did.

Fast forward to fall 2020. Online school was going on. Maggie was sitting in front of a computer from 9:00am to 4:00pm nearly every day. She was struggling to find the joy of learning. The isolation and frustrations of online school were starting to get to both of us. We started listening to kids’ podcasts, off and on, as a way to do something educational that wasn’t on a screen. But then we thought, Why don’t we make our own?

So we decided to do it.

Why do we make a show with this theme?

Honestly I don’t remember exactly how we hit on this theme. I think I used the phrase “Big if true” in a conversation, which led us down the rabbit hole of thinking about things that were big, and also true. So then I think I suggested that this would be a fun thing to talk to other people about.

It seemed like the possibilities were limitless, because if we wanted to explore the truth about big things, we could define “big” very expansively–big in size, big in impact, big in staying power….really, we could stretch the premise to fit almost anything we wanted to talk about. It could be about history, science, pop culture, literature, really anything.

Why do we make our show with this format?

Our first show had been just us talking, but this seemed like a great opportunity to talk to other people who knew a lot more than us. Neither of us has a ton of time to do exhaustive research about a lot of different things, but even our research wouldn’t be as good as talking to experts. Plus, we decided that we wanted this show to be for other people, not just for ourselves. We really want other people to get invested in the show, and we think experts are a lot more interesting to listen to than we are.

We listened to a lot of shows, for kids and adults, to decide how we wanted to do it. We determined that we wanted it to be for kids around Maggie’s age, or a little older. We don’t necessarily prefer shows for kids that have a lot of bells and whistles, special kooky voices, weird anthropomorphisms, and things like that. Plus that kind of stuff takes a TON of time and effort. So we decided we’d go with a more journalistic approach. Some music, some sound, but mostly just us and our experts. This approach would make our show more interesting for both kids and their parents.

We also decided that we wanted to give our listeners something specific to listen for, so each episode has a “quiz question” at the beginning. We try to make those questions pretty much impossible to know just off the top of your head, so you really do have to listen to the show to find out the answer.

We also decided that each episode would have a call to action at the end: something a kid could do to further their thinking about whatever topic we were discussing.

Finally, we (or I) knew that we couldn’t make a podcast without show notes. In our show notes, we always include a guest bio, because we want people to learn more about our amazing guests. We also include a full transcript, because we care a lot about accessibility and want our show to be enjoyed even by people who can’t listen to it for any number of reasons. And then we also include other fun stuff, like websites, videos, and other ways kids can get involved.

Why do we want people to listen to our show?

We’re not in this to make money or be famous or anything like that. But we talk to some PRETTY AMAZING PEOPLE, and we want as many people as possible to hear them. We think our show is perfect for upper elementary and middle-school students, but we know that there are some adults who really love it too.

We also try to make our show a good length to use in a classroom, as a center activity or guided practice activity. We just did an episode that’s purposely meant for that use, and we’d love to do more—teachers, if you have a topic you want us to cover, just let us know and we’ll see what we can do!


The News

A special edition of Big If True: Today we’re talking about big news companies: who they are, what they do, and how they make sure what they’re telling us is fair and accurate. We’ll hear from two experts: Yoni Appelbaum, a senior editor at The Atlantic, and Steve Inskeep, the co-host of several shows at NPR.

Guest bios

Yoni Appelbaum

Yoni Appelbaum is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he oversees the Ideas section. Appelbaum is a social and cultural historian of the United States. Before joining The Atlantic, he was a lecturer on history and literature at Harvard University. He previously taught at Babson College and at Brandeis University, where he received his Ph.D. in American history.

Steve Inskeep

Steve Inskeep, photographed for NPR, 13 May 2019, in Washington DC.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR’s Morning Edition, as well as NPR’s morning news podcast Up First.

Since joining Morning Edition in 2004, Inskeep has hosted the program from New Orleans, Detroit, San Francisco, Cairo, and Beijing; investigated Iraqi police in Baghdad; and received a Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award for “The Price of African Oil,” on conflict in Nigeria. He has taken listeners on a 2,428-mile journey along the U.S.-Mexico border, and 2,700 miles across North Africa. He is a repeat visitor to Iran and has covered wars in Syria and Yemen.

Inskeep was hired by NPR in 1996. His first full-time assignment was the 1996 presidential primary in New Hampshire. He went on to cover the Pentagon, the Senate, and the 2000 presidential campaign of George W. Bush. After the Sept. 11 attacks, he covered the war in Afghanistan, turmoil in Pakistan, and the war in Iraq. In 2003, he received a National Headliner Award for investigating a military raid gone wrong in Afghanistan. He has twice been part of NPR News teams awarded the Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Silver Baton for coverage of Iraq.

Inskeep is the author of Instant City: Life and Death in Karachi, a 2011 book on one of the world’s great megacities. He is also author of Jacksonlanda history of President Andrew Jackson’s long-running conflict with John Ross, a Cherokee chief who resisted the removal of Indians from the eastern United States in the 1830s.

He has been a guest on numerous TV programs including ABC’s This Week, NBC’s Meet the Press, MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell Reports, CNN’s Inside Politics and the PBS Newshour. He has written for publications including The New York TimesWashington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and The Atlantic.

A native of Carmel, Indiana, Inskeep is a graduate of Morehead State University in Kentucky.


Whale Sounds

In this episode, we’re exploring the sounds of the ocean—specifically, the sounds made by the biggest animals ever to live: blue whales.

Guest bio: Dallas Taylor

Dallas Taylor is the host and creator of Twenty Thousand Hertz, a lovingly crafted podcast revealing the stories behind the world’s most recognizable and interesting sounds. Dallas is also the Creative Director of Defacto Sound, where he has led thousands of high-profile projects ranging from blockbuster trailers and advertising campaigns to Sundance award-winning films and major television series. Dallas is a sought-after speaker at conferences, a regular contributor to major publications, and a respected thought leader on the narrative power of sound. Follow him @D_LLAS.


Give us your best ent sound!

We’re developing an episode of Big If True about ents, the tree-people from JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series. And we want your help, kid listeners!

Use your parents’ phone’s voice memo app to record yourself making your best ent sound. Give us some good “Hroom hoom!” or whatever your favorite ent sound is! And make sure you say your first name at the beginning of the recording.

Once you’ve recorded your voice memo, you can send us an email with the file. Write us at

If you send us a sound, we may use it in the show!


Aircraft Carriers

In this episode, we’re learning about the biggest ships in the navy: aircraft carriers! Find out what it’s like to live on this gigantic ship and also fly off it at tremendous speed!

Guest bio: Cdr Carlton McClain

Commander Carlton McClain

Commander Carlton McClain, a native of Florence, SC, graduated and received his commission from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1997 with Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering and earned his naval aviation wings in February of 2000.
McClain’s operational assignments were Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron (VAW) 123, USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN71) and USS Enterprise (CVN65); Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron (VAW) 125, USS Carl Vinson (CVN70); and served as Assistant Air Officer, USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN72).
McClain’s shore assignments were Pilot NATOPS Officer at Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron (VAW) 120, the E-2/C-2 Fleet Replacement Squadron; Carrier Airborne Early Warning Weapons School Operations Officer at the Naval Strike and Air Warfare Center; E-2D Operational Test Director at Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 1 during Fleet introduction of the E-2D Advanced Hawkeye. He completed an overseas tour as Airspace Manager/Air Defense Officer, Commander U.S. Navy Central Command, 5th Fleet. He currently serves as Officer In Charge, E-2D Fleet introduction Team.
McClain has participated in Operations Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom, Mountain Resolve, Unified Response, New Dawn, and Inherent Resolve. He has accumulated over 4,700 flight hours and 368 carrier arrested landings. His personal decorations include Meritorious Service Medal (2), Air Medal (5), Navy Commendation Medal (3), and various unit and individual awards.

(Commander McClain spoke to us as a private citizen; his views do not necessarily reflect the views of the United States Navy.)


Giant Clams

In this episode, we explore the truth about giant clams—and their skills as farmers and sunlight-diverters! Our guest Alison Sweeney tells us about where giant clams live, how they get so big, and why they glow!

Guest bio: Alison Sweeney

Dr. Alison Sweeney is Associate Professor of Physics and Ecology & Evolutionary Biology at Yale University. Before going to Yale, Alison Sweeney was associate professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Pennsylvania. Alison’s group focuses on the mechanisms by which novel materials arise in natural evolution, and the mechanisms by which evolution finds novel routes to self-assembly. She was a postdoctoral scholar and research scientist in the group of Dan Morse at the University of California, Santa Barbara, focusing on marine biophotonic materials. Sonke Johnsen at Duke University advised her Ph.D. work on the evolution of squid optics. (Bio from Yale University)


The Internet

Our show today is all about the technology that makes this app–and this podcast–possible: the Internet! Justine Sherry, a computer scientist at Carnegie Mellon University, takes us through what the Internet is and why we use it for so many things.

Guest bio: Justine Sherry

Justine Sherry

Justine Sherry is an assistant professor at Carnegie Mellon University. Her interests are in computer networking; her work includes middleboxes, networked systems, measurement, cloud computing, and congestion control. Dr. Sherry received her PhD (2016) and MS (2012) from UC Berkeley, and her BS and BA (2010) from the University of Washington. She is a recipient of the SIGCOMM doctoral dissertation award, the David J. Sakrison prize, paper awards at USENIX NSDI and ACM SIGCOMM, and an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship. Most importantly, she is always on the lookout for a great cappuccino.