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Real Science Or Sci-Fi?

Our panelists answer questions about things that seem like science fiction but are actually science nonfiction. (This segment originally aired on Sept. 1, 2012.)

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CARL KASELL: From NPR and WBEZ-Chicago, this is WAIT WAIT...DON'T TELL ME!, the NPR news quiz. I'm Carl Kasell. And here again is your host at the Chase Bank Auditorium in downtown Chicago, Peter Sagal.

PETER SAGAL, HOST:

Thank you, Carl.

(APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: You know, one of the things we like to do on our show is keep you prepared, not for natural disasters but for unnatural disasters. It's the stuff you don't expect that's going to get you in the end.

KASELL: For example, you definitely want to be on the watch for tiny Irish people who promise you gold.

SAGAL: Paul, the celebration of St. Patrick's Day this week reminds us that many in Ireland are sick and tired of the stereotypes people have about the Irish. In fact, last week a team in Ireland opened a museum to rehab with the image of one particular sect of Irish society. Whom?

PAUL PROVENZA: The Druids.

SAGAL: Close but no cigar.

PROVENZA: The alcoholics.

(LAUGHTER)

PROVENZA: The famous...

FAITH SALIE: No, he said one particular sect. He didn't say...

PROVENZA: Oh, I'm sorry, I'm sorry.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: No, I mean, they're- much like Druids they are magical. They're smaller.

PROVENZA: Oh, the leprechauns?

SAGAL: The leprechauns, yes.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

PROVENZA: Right on, OK.

SAGAL: Dublin's $6.8 million National Leprechaun Museum wants to reeducate people about leprechauns.

CHARLIE PIERCE: Oh, look, there it is.

SAGAL: Exactly.

PIERCE: Down there.

SAGAL: The original leprechaun comes from 8th century Irish folklore and it's a far cry from the cute little guy, you know, saying top of the morning on your St. Patrick's Day card.

PROVENZA: Or on your cereal box.

SAGAL: Exactly. It turns out the original leprechaun or the OL, as they like to call themselves...

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: ...is a sometimes sinister magical creature. For instance, the 8th century leprechaun's Lucky Charm cereal was also magically delicious. But instead of having pink hearts and yellow moon marshmallows, it was filled with actual hearts and rat poison.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: And the legend went, if you manage to catch him at the end of a rainbow, he would give you syphilis.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Here's a question about an unnatural danger that was so grave that President Bush warned us about it in a State of the Union speech. Charlie, concerned about the threats that our nation faces at this difficult time, a group of Republicans in the Senate have introduced a bill to ban what?

(LAUGHTER)

PIERCE: This is my favorite senator, Senator Sam Brownback who introduced a bill with a number of co-sponsors to ban human animal hybridism.

SAGAL: It's fact, yes.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

PIERCE: This is called locking the barn after the centaur has been stolen.

SAGAL: Yes.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: It's not to say...

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: ...it's not been a good week for the Republicans in terms of the Latino vote. They're also kissing the mermaid vote goodbye this week.

PIERCE: However, Democratic Congressman Dr. Moraeux is in opposition.

SAGAL: Human animal hybrids will be banned. Overseas you see scientists refusing human DNA with that of cows and other animals to forward medical research because it's totally awesome.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Imagine if they could combine you with a pig, you'd have bacon 24/7.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: But Sam Brownback of Kansas, as you said, he introduced the legislation. He says creating human animal hybrids is a violation of human dignity and challenges, the definition of what it means to be human. So under the proposed law, mermaids, mermen, centaurs would be banned, or at least they'd have to use separate entrances at restaurants.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: On the other side, Democrats said this is ridiculous. It solves a problem that doesn't exist and everybody should just calm down. And then Henry Waxman quietly gave himself a cat bath.

(LAUGHTER)

KASELL: There's one danger that looms above all others. I refer, of course, to the robot apocalypse.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Bo, there's a new U.S. military robot being developed. It's called the energetically autonomist tactical robot, or EATR, e-a-t-r, EATR. It's capable of seeking out biomath energy from the environment to power itself. This week the maker of the robot had to formally deny widespread reports that the robot would use what as fuel?

MO ROCCA: Human flesh.

SAGAL: Exactly right.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: The EATR robot is designed to go on long-range, long-term military missions. It's eco friendly, it's independent and that's all super unless it feasts on the flesh of man.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: As Fox News and a number of blogs suggested it would. In response to such concerns, the CEO of the company which makes the robot said, and I quote him, "We completely understand the public's concern about futuristic robots feeding on the human population but that is not our mission.

(LAUGHTER)

KASELL: Boy, I feel better.

SAGAL: Yeah.

PIERCE: What if it's...

SAGAL: At this time, he did not add.

PIERCE: ...what if it's only feeding on cellulite?

SAGAL: Well, that would be maybe good.

PIERCE: It'd be like a kind of liposuction.

SAGAL: Yeah, take care of your cankles for you, that would be fun.

(LAUGHTER)

PIERCE: Because liposuction isn't very sexy but to have a robot suck it off of you.

(LAUGHTER)

ROXANNE ROBERTS: It'd be kind of like a personal Roomba.

SAGAL: Now Fox News, which uncharacteristically got quite hysterical about this, the EAPR engine might be used in vehicles including ambulances. It seems like the worst possible application...

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: ...of an engine fueled by people. You're hurt and the EMTs roll you into the back. They close the doors, they rush you to the ER. And they get there and they open up, all that comes out is a burp.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: And when the robots finally come to kill us, we'll remember ruefully that we started them off small. Roxanne, what is being hailed as a major breakthrough in robot technology, a team from the University of California Berkeley has taught a robot how to do what?

ROBERTS: To kiss.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: No.

ROBERTS: I would consider that innovation in robotry.

ADAM FELBER: Nice Sci-Fi twist there.

(LAUGHTER)

FELBER: What is kiss?

SAGAL: Something presumably more useful than that.

ROBERTS: OK. I'm going to need a hint then.

SAGAL: They'll be stationed outside of driers.

ROBERTS: They'll be stationed out - fold the laundry.

SAGAL: Close enough, pair socks.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

SAGAL: Finally, an innovation that will make a difference in our lives. You know...

FELBER: That would make a difference in my life.

SAGAL: Yeah.

FELBER: I waste entirely too much time pairing socks.

ROBERTS: Wait, wait, wait. Can I just make a small point?

SAGAL: You may.

ROBERTS: All right. I sent my 18-year-old to college and I bought him 24 pairs of exactly the same socks.

SAGAL: Yeah, that's a good thing.

ROBERTS: Because if you buy all the same socks this is not an issue.

SAGAL: Well, you have to...

FELBER: Right now some scientists are listening to this show in Berkeley and crying right now.

(LAUGHTER)

FELBER: You just solved something that they just spent $50 million of stimulus on.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Well, you know what the problem is. You know what it's like. You get the laundry out of the drier and you confront the huge pile of unmatched almost but not quite identical socks and you say to yourself, just sell the house and walk away.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: It'll be easier. But technology to the rescue. A team of programmers taught the robot to identify, pair and fold together a single pair of socks in just 15 minutes.

(LAUGHTER)

ROBERTS: I'm just going to ask the guys, how many different color socks do you have?

FELBER: On me at this moment?

(LAUGHTER)

FELBER: Two.

(LAUGHTER)

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