Science Marches On

Our panelists answer multiple-choice questions about the winners of the Ig Nobel prizes, awarded this week.

CARL KASELL, host: From NPR and WBEZ-Chicago, this is WAIT WAIT...DON'T TELL ME!, the NPR News quiz. I'm Carl Kasell. We're playing this week with Luke Burbank, Paula Poundstone and PJ O'Rourke. And here again is your host, at the Chase Bank Auditorium in downtown Chicago, Peter Sagal.

PETER SAGAL, host: Thank you, Carl.

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SAGAL: Thanks, everybody. In just a minute, Carl is awarded the Nobel Prize for his contributions to the Rhymic Sciences in our Listener Limerick Challenge. If you'd like to play, give us a call at 1-888-Wait-Wait, that's 1-888-924-8924. Right now, panel, it's time for the game we call?

KASELL: Science marches on.

SAGAL: The IgNobel Prizes were awarded last week for what's called improbable research. These real prizes recognize real acts of important scientific research around the world. We're going to ask each of you about one of the winners. Get your question right, you get a point.

All right, PJ, you're up first. The IgNobel Physiology Prize went to a team of European researchers who made an important discovery about animals. Was it which of these? A: that turtles, unlike us, do not suffer from contagious yawning?

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SAGAL: B: That kangaroos, not unlike us, are always losing stuff in their pouches. Or C: that dogs lick themselves like that just to make you uncomfortable.

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PJ O'ROURKE: I'm voting for the turtles.

SAGAL: You're right, it was the turtles.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

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SAGAL: The study was called "No Evidence of Contagious Yawning in the Red-Footed Tortoise." So now you know, if your tortoise is yawning, it's probably just bored.

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SAGAL: All right, Paula, one prize went to a Japanese team who invented something amazing. Which of these? A: a reinforced manlier kimono called the Kimanoh.

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SAGAL: B: the Wasabi Alarm, an alarm that awakens people with a pungent horseradish cloud. Or C: a translator which makes Japanese commercials make sense to non-Japanese people.

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PAULA POUNDSTONE: Wow. Maybe C.

SAGAL: No. It was the Wasabi Alarm Clock.

POUNDSTONE: Whoa.

SAGAL: It's meant to wake you up if there's a fire or other emergency. Odd, because if there's one thing that qualifies as an emergency, it's a pungent Wasabi cloud blowing in your face.

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LUKE BURBANK: I'll take smoke inhalation.

O'ROURKE: Yeah, really.

BURBANK: For the block.

POUNDSTONE: And the smell of the Wasabi would wake you up?

SAGAL: Yeah, apparently that's the idea.

POUNDSTONE: Huh.

SAGAL: It's the Wasabi Alarm Clock.

POUNDSTONE: Wow.

SAGAL: All right. Luke, this one is about the Biology Prize winner. Which of these amazing discoveries about insects is real? A: that certain male beetles regularly mistake beer bottles for female beetles and try to mate with them. B: that mosquitoes have a sophisticated Yelp-like system for rating different human's blood. Or C: that spiders, surprisingly, also find spiders to be creepy.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BURBANK: I'm going to go with B.

SAGAL: You're going to with B, that mosquitoes have a sophisticated Yelp-like system for rating different human's blood?

BURBANK: I've read the comments on Yelp and I feel like some of them were written by single-cell organisms.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: There you are. No, the answer was actually A, the beetles occasionally mate with beer bottles, mistaking them for female beetles.

BURBANK: Which is weird because humans use beer bottles to make mating mistakes...

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SAGAL: That's true.

BURBANK: With other humans.

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O'ROURKE: And so, in a way, the whole animal kingdom is kind of linked together.

SAGAL: Yeah. The study was called "Beetles on the Bottle," and was either flattering to beer bottles or unflattering to female beetles.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: So, panelists, thank you for your playing. And to the IgNobel Committee, thanks for bringing recognition to these important works of science.

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