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Bluff The Listener


BILL KURTIS: From NPR and WBEZ Chicago, this is WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME, the NPR news quiz. I'm Bill Kurtis. We are playing this week with Negin Farsad, Paula Poundstone and Mo Rocca. And here again is your host, whose jokes have so far been 24% effective...


KURTIS: ...Peter Sagal.



Thank you, Bill. Right now, it is time for the WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME Bluff the Listener game. Call 1-888-WAIT-WAIT to play our game on the air.

Hi, you are on WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME.

BRYCE MAIL: Hi, this is Bryce Mail (ph) from Gillette, Wyo.

SAGAL: Oh, Gillette - I've been there. It's really beautiful. What do you do there?

MAIL: I'm a school nurse at a local elementary.

SAGAL: Oh, wow. Now, we've talked to a lot of teachers recently who were dealing with doing everything through Zoom. How do school nurses do their work through Zoom?

MAIL: We are in class right now.


MAIL: I'm looking on the positive side. I have a drastic reduction in my cases of lice this year from all the social distancing.

SAGAL: Oh. Well, that's good news.

NEGIN FARSAD: (Laughter).

MAIL: Good news. Yeah.

SAGAL: Well, Bryce, it's a pleasure to talk to you. You're going to play our game in which you must try to tell truth from fiction. Bill, what is Bryce's topic?

KURTIS: Let sleeping dogs lie.

SAGAL: Sometimes, what's unearthed should be re-earthed as soon as possible. This week, we heard about someone unlocking a mystery from history - and maybe they shouldn't have. Our panelists are going to tell you about it. Pick the one who's telling the truth, you'll win our prize - the WAIT WAITer of your choice on your voicemail. You ready to play?

MAIL: Yes.

SAGAL: All right. First, let's hear from Mo Rocca.

MO ROCCA: Tomorrow morning, when you wipe the sleep from your eyes, consider this - that sticky stuff you're wiping away is the reason you have a roof over your head. In a report commissioned by Home Depot, a group of evolutionary biologists have concluded that the world's very first houses were made from stones bonded by a mortar made from eye boogers. Ironically, these ancient eye boogers...

FARSAD: (Laughter).

ROCCA: ...Were produced by early Bedouins, a nomadic people. These desert dwellers roamed the Sinai - which is, of course, the root of the word sinus. Indeed, it was in the nasal cavities of these Bedouins...

FARSAD: (Laughter).

ROCCA: ...Where particles of sand inhaled during the day would at night churn with even finer bits of lime and camel milk reflux to produce a thick construction-grade eye booger sludge, which each morning was siphoned off into desiccated goat bladders, the knapsacks of their day, and carried on the backs of Jews to the nearest service area on the Silk Road, where they were sold to Mongol contractors on their way to Europe to build the cathedral at Chartres and Buckingham Palace.

Meanwhile, in the Americas, the ancient Pueblo Indians of what is today New Mexico spent their days sucking in red clay dust and discharging super-muddy eye boogers. And that's who we have to blame for the architecture of Santa Fe.

SAGAL: Mo Rocca talking about the surprising discovery that the earliest buildings were made from what he calls eye boogers. Your next story of why the past should stay there comes from Paula Poundstone.

PAULA POUNDSTONE: You may recall the late Professor William L. Roethje's (ph) 1992 archaeological dig through a landfill that yielded, among other things, the discovery of intact 40-year-old hot dogs. Soon thereafter, many communities found what they thought was a solution in collective composting. Current student members of the Tucson Garbage Project at the University of Arizona have continued the project by doing deep dives into compost. The only thing they found that didn't break down was sauerkraut.

It wasn't really gross until I found this kind of string thing. Everything else broke down into dark, rich mulch, but I found this stuff that looked like an animal's intestine or something, and it smelled. Just thinking about it makes me gag, says student Riley Burn (ph). We can be together for outdoor excavating, but we make our presentations over Zoom because of the virus, of course. So I took some of our find, I rinsed it off, and it looked just fine. The only thing we didn't know was, how did it taste after what was likely 20 years? So on Zoom in front of my class and professor, I took a big old forkful, chewed it up and swallowed it.


POUNDSTONE: At first, I thought there was something wrong with her Zoom - like it froze or something, says Professor Frank Delano (ph). She just fell right out of her box. She was there, took a bite, and then she wasn't. Of course, we got the EMTs over there as quickly as we could. She was fine. She just fainted.

I tried some of the 20-year-old sauerkraut myself. Of course, it tastes awful, but there's nothing wrong with it. Sauerkraut just tastes awful. Turns out Riley Burns just doesn't even like sauerkraut. She's smart.

SAGAL: The discovery that sauerkraut that's been rotting in the ground for decades tastes just like sauerkraut. And your last history mystery comes from Negin Farsad.

FARSAD: If you're like me, you sometimes find yourself wondering, what did a sewage grate smell like in 1723 Vienna? Or maybe you ask yourself, what odor did the Great Plague have? Did it smell like regular plague, or was it actually great? Wonder no more - a new project will be cataloging and recreating the scents of Europe from the 16th to the early 20th century.

The Odeuropa project, as it's called, will identify and categorize the most common scents of daily life - scents like that kid in London with the soot on his face selling newspapers, or like the aristocratic ladies of Dusseldorf with powder on their face on their way to buy more powder to put on their face, or, perhaps more commonly, the smell of horse crap filling the streets of Scotland, mixed in with spilt pints of lager and discarded haggis.

Luckily for most of us, the Odeuropa study stops before the current pandemic, which mostly smells like the thing I ate this morning being pumped back into my nostrils by my mask. And no olfactory historian should be subjected to that.


SAGAL: All right. Somebody made a discovery or is attempting to make a discovery that maybe they shouldn't have. Is it, from Mo Rocca, the terrible discovery that the earliest buildings in the Sinai were made from eye boogers; from Paula Poundstone, somebody who dug up and ate ancient sauerkraut to discover it really didn't taste any worse than it normally does; or from Negin Farsad, an attempt to recreate the smells of medieval Europe? Which is the real project in the news?

MAIL: I think it is Negin's story of the Odeuropa.

SAGAL: OK. So your choice is Negin's story. Well, we talked to someone on the inside of this study.


WILLIAM TULLETT: I'm going to be putting together an online historical encyclopedia of smell outlining the sort of smells that were key to the European past.


SAGAL: That was Dr. William Tullett. He's a lecturer in history for Anglia Ruskin University and a researcher in the Odeuropa project. Congratulations, Bryce. Yes, of course, you got it right.


SAGAL: You've won a point for Negin, and you've earned our incredibly valuable prize for you, a voice of your choice on your voicemail. Congratulations.

MAIL: Thanks. It was great.

SAGAL: Thank you.

FARSAD: Thank you, Bryce.

SAGAL: Take care, Bryce.

MAIL: All right. Bye.


ERIC MERCURY: (Singing) And I can smell that funky music on down the road, yes I can. I can smell that funky, funky music... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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