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Bluff The Listener

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BILL KURTIS: From NPR and WBEZ Chicago, this is WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME, the NPR news quiz. I'm Bill Kurtis. We're playing this week with Dulce Sloan, Faith Salie and Luke Burbank. And here again is your host, broadcasting from inside the wet mouth of a humpback whale...

(SOUND OF HUMPBACK WHALE VOCALIZING)

KURTIS: ...Peter Sagal.

PETER SAGAL, HOST:

Thank you, Bill.

FAITH SALIE: (Laughter).

DULCE SLOAN: Ew.

SAGAL: Right now, it's 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.

LAUREN RUEM: Hi. This is Lauren Ruem (ph). I'm calling from Boston, Mass.

SAGAL: Hey. How are things in Boston, one of my favorite places?

RUEM: Things are very good here right now - nice weather. Who can't - you know, who doesn't love the summer in the Northeast? It's kind of like the spring everywhere else.

SAGAL: It's true - except with black flies. And what do you do there?

RUEM: I'm a professor of psychology.

SAGAL: Wow. Well, that's really great.

SALIE: So what's your favorite personality disorder?

RUEM: Well, I'm actually not a clinician. I'm a social psychologist, so I study things like racism and other types of prejudice and discrimination.

SLOAN: Well, what's your favorite hate group?

(LAUGHTER)

SLOAN: I'm partial to the Klan just because they got the best costumes.

SAGAL: Lauren, welcome to our show. You're going to play the game in which you must try to tell truth from fiction. Bill, what is Lauren's topic?

KURTIS: Crisis averted.

SAGAL: The eyes of the world were on Europe this week as Presidents Biden and Putin tried to quell escalating tensions. And then the eyes of the world glazed over because it's all pretty boring these days. So we're going to look back at how they used to solve global crises in kind of a more interesting way. Pick the panelist who's telling the truth, and you'll win our prize, the voice of your choice on your voicemail. Are you ready to play?

RUEM: Absolutely.

SAGAL: All right. First up, it is Dulce Sloan.

SLOAN: In 1991, a new book arrived in bookstores in China, causing a national crisis. Adults were missing work. Kids were leaving school because they were all trying to figure out "Where's Waldo?" It all started simple enough. A father in the Chengdu province saw how popular the book was with kids, so he decided to dress as the book's namesake and walk through markets and parks, so the kids would have a chance to find Waldo in real life. What he didn't know was that his sweet gesture would take on a "Pokemon Go" level of popularity.

Thousands of Waldos hit the streets. Factories were losing shifts. Soldiers were going AWOL. And kids were skipping school because everybody was out looking for Waldo. The Chinese government pleaded with people to end the game but to no avail, so the Chinese government created the National Office of Children's Book Characters, so only authorized and licensed Waldos were allowed in the streets, and the Waldo search could be regulated. And to make sure that the game came to an end, the licensed Waldos would go out in the middle of the street and go, I'm right here, every two hours. Now go to work.

SAGAL: A "Where's Waldo?" crisis in China solved by China making their Waldos official employees of the state. Your next story of a crisis contained comes from Faith Salie.

SALIE: In June of 1996, Chuck Elward (ph) and his crew were fishing for Arctic char and walleye pollock in the Bering Sea when a small Russian naval ship began issuing orders for them to evacuate or be fired upon. All I could think of was to yell, nyet, he says. But that didn't work, so we started blasting the "Macarena" at them. The Russians retaliated aggressively by also playing the international hit. Finally, Elward and the Russian commander rode to meet each other and agreed on terms. Send your best dancer to the bow. Winner gets the fish.

Thus, on that white night in '96 did a burly, bearded fisherman named Tonk Stewart (ph) wiggle his hips and do all that arm choreography as patriotically as he could while an unnamed, wiry Slavic sailor in uniform gyrated for his motherland. Tonk was the uncontested winner when he ripped off his flannel shirt and went rogue, performing what Elward can only describe as the world's first twerk. Both vessels returned to their home waters without incident.

SAGAL: A crisis showdown between Alaskans and the Russian navy solved by a dance contest. Finally, your last story of someone stopping an international incident comes from Luke Burbank.

LUKE BURBANK: It's a scientific fact that the best part of any "Columbo" episode was that moment when Columbo, having asked all his questions, would take a long pause and then say, oh, sir, just one more thing - because that's when the case was about to be cracked. Well, it turns out Peter Falk himself did one more thing in the 1970s to preserve peace in Romania. As was pointed out this week on Twitter, back in 1974, Romanians were so obsessed with "Columbo" that when the national TV network ran out of episodes, citizens took to the streets, accusing their government of hoarding them.

This led to the truly weird moment where Peter Falk was brought into a hotel room in New York by the CIA and Romanian diplomats to record a message explaining that there were, in fact, no more "Columbo"s to watch. The plan apparently worked. A revolution was averted. While the CIA eventually authorized Falk to write about the event in his memoir, there is still no word on if they're finally ready to let Angela Lansbury from "Murder, She Wrote" divulge her role in the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Here are your choices, Lauren - from Dulce Sloan, the government of China solved a craze for people trying to find out where's Waldo by making Waldo an official employee of the state and telling him to reveal himself; from Faith Salie, a potentially violent dispute between a fishing fleet and the Russian navy in the Bering Strait solved by a dance-off; or from Luke, how Peter Falk himself had to intervene and save Romanian society by letting them know that they were not, in fact, hoarding "Columbo" episodes. Which of these is the real story of a crisis averted?

RUEM: As much as none of these seem to be possible, I feel like the last one has got to be it.

SAGAL: OK. That's your choice. Well, to bring you the correct answer, we were able to bring you some archival tape from history.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PETER FALK: You should understand that the Romanian government bought every "Columbo" show available. You see - the problem is that the people don't believe the government.

SAGAL: That was, of course, Columbo himself, Peter Falk, talking to David Letterman back in 1995 about the great "Columbo" crisis in Romania and how he himself was brought in to avert it. Congratulations, Lauren. You got it right. You earned a point for Luke. You've won our prize, the voice of your choice on your voicemail. Congratulations.

RUEM: Thank you so much.

SAGAL: Thank you for playing.

RUEM: Have a good one.

SAGAL: Bye-bye.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CRISIS")

BOB MARLEY AND THE WAILERS: (Singing) No matter what the crisis is, doin' it, doin' it, doin' your thing. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.