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WAIT WAIT: death, in her book "Stiff" and sex, in her book "Bonk." Her latest is about preparing human beings to travel in space and weirdly, it has three words in the title. It's called "Packing for Mars." Mary Roach, welcome to WAIT WAIT.

MARY ROACH: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

: Thank you. Thank you for being here, great to have you. So let's talk about your choice of topics 'cause you like writing about uncomfortable things. Your first book, "Stiff" - which was hilarious and great - is about what happens to dead bodies after you're done with them.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

: And you looked at cadavers, and so on and so forth. And then in the book "Bonk," you looked at the scientific study of sex, which involved people in uncomfortable positions - quite literally.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

: What draws you to these topics?

ROACH: I have the mind of a 12-year-old boy...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ROACH: ...as far as I can tell.

: Mary, having read your books, I could take that to mean that you actually have one sitting on your shelf, because I know you keep it around.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ROACH: No, that's just the head, Peter, not the mind.

: Oh, sorry, excuse me, that was removed. But no, you - and of course, in your latest book - I should not neglect - "Packing for Mars," which is about humans in space, you've spent an awful lot of time talking about, shall we say, the elimination function.

ROACH: Well, yes. Yes, that's - thus the 12-year-old boy angle, but it's a fascinating topic, is it not?

: Oh, I can't get enough of it, myself.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

: So how did you - I mean, how do you pick your topics?

ROACH: Well, its got to have a little science, it's got to have a little history, a little humor - and something gross.

: Right.

ROACH: So that pretty much leaves sex, dead bodies and poop.

: There you are.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ROACH: After this, my career is done.

: Right.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

: What was really interesting to me about this book is - because it made me, as your books always do - is it made me think about something that I had not thought about before, which was exactly how much planning and preparation has to go into sending people into space. And to me, among the most interesting parts of the book is the testing of the psychological experience of being in space.

ROACH: Yeah, the - I mean, talking about five, six people in a little, tiny room for weeks, months, years at a time. I mean, can you imagine anything worse?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

PAUL PROVENZA: That doesn't sound unlike parts of tonight's show.

: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

: Well, one of the things that you write about is sort of the space travel version of "Cabin Fever," where people locked in the small space together for weeks at a time can get very, very hostile towards each other.

ROACH: They get very hostile. But here's the thing: They can't take it out on each other because they - you know, that makes the situation worse. They depend on each other for survival, so they turn it inward and then they get sort of depressed. And I interviewed this cosmonaut, Alexander Levaken. I said, did you get - he was up on Mir for six months - I said, did you get really depressed? And he said, Mary, there were times when I wanted to hang myself, but of course, it's zero gravity.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ROACH: And you can't...

PROVENZA: Why don't they do this program like "Survivor," where they get to vote somebody out of the capsule?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ROACH: I think that would be a great idea for a Mars mission. I think they should do a reality show.

: I want to ask you about two things. First of all, sex in space: You say there has been none, and there will be none.

ROACH: Yeah.

: They've decided not to allow couples in space.

ROACH: They don't allow married couples in space. NASA does not, no - that's true.

PROVENZA: If you wanted to send some people up that weren't going to have sex, though, wouldn't a married couple be the perfect candidates?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

: The other thing you write about at some length in your book is the extraordinary science and preparation and technology that goes into using the restroom in space, because it turns out that we - as you point out - are evolved to do that sort of thing here on Earth, with gravity.

ROACH: Yes. Yes, gravity is your friend because gravity gives you good separation.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

: Between you and what you're trying to rid yourself of.

ROACH: Yes, this is the holy grail of the NASA waste- management team, good separation. Because without gravity, the - okay, I'm going to use a NASA euphemism for you: contributions.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ROACH: Okay. The contribution to the toilet, it just kind of hovers; it doesn't fall.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ROACH: You don't have the plop. So you need to encourage the - here's another one: ejesta. Another favorite euphemism. You need to encourage the material, the ejesta, the contributions, to go down into the toilet some other way, so they use air flow. It's basically - you are sitting on a shop vac.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

PROVENZA: I don't know why we don't bring some of that technology right back here to the good, old U.S. of A.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

: Yeah, Tang worked out so well; why not shop-vac toilets?

PROVENZA: Velcro was very big. This could catch on.

: Yeah, that's terrifying.

ROACH: But then they need to test the toilet, too. That's when it gets really scary.

: They test the toilet?

ROACH: Okay, they have to make sure it works in zero gravity. That means you have to haul the whole thing over to Ellington Field, and load it on to one of those zero gravity planes that goes up and down, and you have 22 seconds of zero gravity to test it.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

: I couldn't perform under that pressure, no way.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

: No way.

ROACH: I talked to a guy who was on that flight, and he says so that - there was a curtain between him and the toilet. He said when we go over the top, you'd see the toilet rise up off the bottom of the plane, and you'd hear these guys going go, go, go, go, go.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

LUKE BURBANK: That sounds like the best fraternity hazing of all time.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

: Mary Roach, we are delighted to have you with us. We have asked you to play a game we're calling:

CARL KASELL, Host:

"It's Me, Mario."

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

: As I'm sure you've noticed - by the national celebrations, parades and solemn ceremonies - this week was the 25th anniversary of the release of Super Mario Brothers, the greatest and most long-lasting video game franchise of all time. So Mary, answer two questions correctly about Mario and his friends, you'll win our prize for one of our listeners, Carl's voice on your home answering machine. Carl, who is author Mary Roach playing for?

KASELL: It's a Phil Sterdt of Poughkeepsie, New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

: Do I need to reset you, Carl?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

: All right, ready to play, Mary?

ROACH: I think so.

: All right. Here is your first question: Mario was known in Japan as Jumpman, Jumpman, but he became Mario first in the United States and then the rest of the world, because - well, why? A, the discussion about what to name him was interrupted by the landlord looking for the rent, the landlord named Mario; B, one of the designers based the character on his favorite nun back in parochial school, Sister Maria; or C, one of the designers had an uncle named Mario he hated, so he wanted to drop barrels on him.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ROACH: I'm going with barrels.

: You're going with barrels - he just hated his uncle Mario so much he wanted to drop little pixilated barrels on him.

ROACH: Mm-hmm.

: No, I'm afraid it was actually A, it was the landlord. This happened in Seattle; the Nintendo USA, the designers were trying to come up with a name for the American version and the landlord, Mario Segali, comes in and says, where's my rent? And they said, aha, Mario. There you go.

: All right, two more chances. Mario faces a lot of enemies in his various games, including the Boo enemies that first appeared in Super Mario 64. These are quiet, little ghosts that will suddenly attack you when you get close. They were inspired by what? A, the game designer's dog; B, the game designer's wife; or, C, the game designer's own, legendary temper?

ROACH: I'm going to go with the...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ROACH: The wife.

: Yes, the wife.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

: Very good.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

: We quote from an account of the invention of the game: His wife is very quiet, normally. But one day, she exploded - maddened by all the time he spent at work. In the game, there is now a character who shrinks when Mario looks at it, but when Mario turns away, it will grow large and menacing.

: All right, this is great. Mary, you have one more chance to get it right. Here we go - and win the game. Believe it or not, but back in 1993, there was a live-action movie made of the Super Mario Brothers game; it was called "Super Mario Brothers." In his autobiography, star John Leguizamo says that he and co-star Bob Hoskins made it through the difficult and demanding production by doing what? A, constantly playing the game on set; B, making up elaborate back stories to explain how Mario and Luigi became plumbers.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

: Or C, drinking heavily.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ROACH: Yeah, well, the first one is too boring.

: Absolutely.

ROACH: I'm going to go with the back stories.

: They sat around and they said, so how did Mario become...

ROACH: Yeah.

: ...a plumber, and how did he earn the enmity of a giant, fire-breathing turtle?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ROACH: Exactly, you would need to do that, I would think.

: You think they created elaborate biographies for this little Italian, handlebar-mustached guy.

ROACH: Yes.

: That's your choice, huh?

ROACH: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

: Yeah?

ROACH: Yeah.

: Yeah - all right, no, it was drinking heavily.

ROACH: Oh, no.

: Have you ever seen this movie?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

: You practically need to get slammed just to finish watching it, let alone acting in it.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

: No, the movie was, in fact, the first major motion picture to be made from a video game. And it was an absolute disaster for everyone involved.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ROACH: I'm sorry, Phil.

: Well, hang on, don't be sorry yet. Carl, how did Mary Roach do on our quiz?

KASELL: Mary needed at least two correct answers to win for Phil Sterdt, but she had just one correct answer.

: Be sorry now.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ROACH: I'm sorry, Phil.

: Oh, it's okay.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

: Mary Roach is the author of a bunch of great fascinating and funny books, including "Bonk" and "Stiff." Her latest is a great book called "Packing for Mars;" go get it now. Mary Roach, thank you so much for being with us.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

ROACH: All right.

: Great to have you on the show.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

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Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me!