Bluff The Listener

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Our panelists tell us three stories of a Venezuelan solution to traffic problems, only one of which is true.

KORVA COLEMAN, host: From NPR and WBEZ-Chicago, this is WAIT WAIT...DON'T TELL ME!, the NPR News quiz. I'm Korva Coleman, in for Carl Kasell. We're playing this week with Amy Dickinson, Mo Rocca and Charlie Pierce. And here again is your host, at the Chase Bank Auditorium in downtown Chicago, Peter Sagal.

PETER SAGAL, host: Thank you, Korva. Thanks everybody.


SAGAL: 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're on WAIT WAIT...DON'T TELL ME!.

JIM SQUIRES: Hi, this is Jim Squires from Cincinnati, Ohio.

SAGAL: Hey, Jim, how are things in Cincinnati?

SQUIRES: Lovely.

SAGAL: Lovely?

SQUIRES: Yeah, just...

SAGAL: Really, in Cincinnati?



SAGAL: I've been there. What do you do there?

SQUIRES: I'm doing a fellowship in pediatric gastroenterology.

SAGAL: Oh really, so that's tummy aches, essentially?

SQUIRES: Yeah, that's it.

SAGAL: Wow. Well, Jim, it's nice to have you with us. You're going to play the game, of course, in which you have to tell truth from fiction. Korva, what is Jim's topic?

COLEMAN: Senor Mayor, they are going wild in the streets. We must do something.

SAGAL: The drivers in Caracas, Venezuela might be the worst in the world. They drive the wrong way down one-way streets. They drive on the wrong side of the road. It's just chaos.

But the mayor of the Sucre District in Caracas came up with a brilliant solution to make the streets safer. One of our panelists is going to tell you all about it. The other two are going to lie to you, flat out. Your job: figure out which one is telling the truth. Ready to play?

SQUIRES: Yes, sir.

SAGAL: All right. First, let's hear from Charlie Pierce.

CHARLIE PIERCE: Pressed to the wall by citizens angry about the traffic problems in Caracas, the traffic engineers in that city have reached into the past to find a solution. One of the city's primary roundabouts is called Plaza de la Cabras, or the Square of the Goats. It's named for a former open air livestock and poultry market that was open on the spot from 1799 until the mid-1930s when the original traffic patterns for the city were laid out.

Now, though, working with some officials from the Venezuelan National Farm Bureau, the city is planning to reopen the market at full capacity. It is hoped that the sudden influx of cattle, sheep, chickens, geese, and, yes, goats, will cause drivers to slow down as they pass by, or to avoid the congested area entirely.

The engineers already have calculated that just having chickens laying eggs in the street will reduce traffic in the square by at least 35 percent. And that every ten goats milling about will be responsible for a minimum of 15 cars avoiding the square every hour.


PIERCE: This will not come without a cost, however. " We figure to lose somewhere between 25 to 50 sheep a week in the early days, before the motorists get used to the market being back here," explained Martin De Villagost, the head traffic engineer for the City of Caracas. "We will appreciate their sacrifice, especially around Easter."


PIERCE: Local animal rights activists are planning protests.

SAGAL: Slow down, it's a sheep. Your next story of traffic management in Caracas comes from Amy Dickinson.

AMY DICKINSON: Well, presumably city officials in Caracas have already tried every single other solution for their traffic problems, because now they've resorted to the nuclear option: mimes.

The city has hired 120 Marcel Marceau wannabes, dressed them in clown clothes and stationed them in congested areas. Their job is to give drivers the silent treatment, wagging their white-gloved fingers and basically gesticulating. So far, Caracas drivers have responded to the mimes the way most people do, by ignoring them.


DICKINSON: Of course, if drivers turn on them, the traffic mimes can always lock themselves into an invisible phone booth, you know, or climb a rope to the clouds. So far, the only good news for Venezuela is that this mass miming in Caracas has created a shortage of mimes in the rest of the country.


SAGAL: Mimes, giving people dirty looks for driving poorly. And your last story of a solution to the traffic woes there comes from Mo Rocca.

ROCCA: More stoplights, higher tolls, speed bumps, nothing has alleviated Caracas' traffic woes. Says Transportation Minister Alicia Montoya, "If we could afford security cameras at every intersection we'd be able to ticket the offenders. Identifying them is key."

And so as a last resort, the military has been called in: specifically unmanned predator drones, retired by the US military after their use in the early years of the Afghanistan war. In order to mark traffic offenders, the drones have been outfitted with Hellfire paint guns.


ROCCA: The paint gun drones are remotely piloted by traffic cops on the street. Quote, "if someone drives by me too fast," says Officer Heimi Crupka, "I blast him with red."


ROCCA: "If someone is honking too loudly, I blast him with green. And if someone is double parked, well we just blow up the car."


SAGAL: All right. This much is true, traffic in Caracas is terrible. But the problem was solved in one section of the city in one way.

Was it, from Charlie, reopening an old animal market so the animals wander around and slow down the caring drivers? From Amy Dickinson, mimes imported specifically to give dirty looks and the silent treatment and wag fingers at the misbehaving drivers? Or from Mo Rocca, surplus predator drones used to mark or occasionally blow up offending drivers?

SQUIRES: Well, those are all very attractive options, Peter.

SAGAL: Aren't they though?

SQUIRES: They really are. I think, however, I am going to go with Amy's story about the mimes.

SAGAL: You're going to go with Amy's story about the mimes.


SQUIRES: Unless, of course, you know, there's another answer out there.

SAGAL: No, no, that's the only ones we've got.


SAGAL: So you picked Amy's story of the mimes used to shame the drivers. Well, to bring you the real answer, we spoke to someone familiar with the story.

RICK WAMER: It's a kick that they would put a group of mimes out in the streets in that traffic could get hit.

SAGAL: That was Rick Wamer, director of the School for Mime Theater in Ohio and co-director of the Theatrical Mime Theater in Arizona, enjoying the story of the mimes used as traffic control. Congratulations, Jim, you got it right. Well done.


SQUIRES: Thank you.

SAGAL: You earned a point for Amy. You've won our prize. Carl will record the greeting on your home answering machine or voicemail, whatever you have. Well done, sir.

SQUIRES: Thank you so much.

SAGAL: Thank you so much for playing, Jim. Bye-bye.

SQUIRES: Thank you.

SAGAL: Bye-bye.


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