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Bluff The Listener

CARL KASELL: From NPR and WBEZ Chicago, this is WAIT WAIT...DON'T TELL ME!, the NPR news quiz. I'm Carl Kasell. We're playing his week with Tom Bodett, Kyrie O'Connor, and Roy Blount Jr. And here again is your host, at the Chase Bank Auditorium in downtown Chicago, and filling in for Peter Sagal, from Slate.com it's Mike Pesca.



Thank you, Carl. Thank you. 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 air. Hi, you are on WAIT WAIT...DON'T TELL ME! Who's this?

LEWIS MUNDT: This is Lewis from Minneapolis.

PESCA: Hey, Lewis, thank you for joining us.


PESCA: What do you do up there in Minneapolis besides shiver?

MUNDT: Not much. Sometimes I make it to work. I work in the Education Department of a large literary arts nonprofit center.

PESCA: Really?

ROY BLOUNT JR.: Literary arts nonprofit center. Isn't that redundant?


MUNDT: It depends on the fiscal year.

PESCA: It's nice to have you with us, Lewis. You're going to play a game in which you must try to tell the truth from fiction. What is the topic, Carl?

KASELL: Come with me to the most magical place on Earth.

PESCA: Forget Buckingham Palace or the pyramids at Giza. No one's going there anymore. This week we read about a new tourist destination attracting people from all over the world. Guess the real site, and you'll win the eighth wonder of the world: Carl's voice on your home answering machine or voice mail.


PESCA: First up, Roy Blount Jr.

JR.: Centuries ago, sensation seekers in London would drop in on Bedlam, the hospital where insane people were locked up, to watch the lunatics howl and bang their heads against the bars. I don't know of any tourist destination quite like that today, but if that sort of thing interests you, check out Manhattan night court in downtown New York City.


JR.: Every night there, about 70 folks who have just been nabbed for various offenses are arraigned. Some are granted bail; others denied it. And more and more spectators, reported the Associated Press this week, are coming to see the show. Night court, unlike the Empire State Building or glimpses of Donald Trump, is, quote, something that feels really underground and unique, says Regis St. Louis, the incongruously named author of Lonely Planet New York.

This week a visitor from Ranfurly, New Zealand, was surprised to see that she was sitting near people in handcuffs. Now it might take handcuffs to you or me to sit through most Broadway shows today, but this was downtown. These people were waiting to learn whether they would spend a head-banging night in jail.

PESCA: NYC night court as a tourist draw, that from Roy Blount Jr. Your next story of a new tourist attraction comes from Kyrie O'Connor.

KYRIE O'CONNOR: Dave's Convenience Store in Hookset, New Hampshire, looks like an ordinary quickie stop until you see the grammatically challenged sign in the window: the home of Smell the Ham. And then you go inside, and there's an elaborate pink shrine worthy of a saint's relic. In the middle of it is a dried, grayish piece of deli ham covered in clear plastic.

A glance at the guest book shows the ham has been sniffed by tourists from Canada, Japan, Brazil. Oh yeah, they all smell the ham, says David Bettincourt(ph), the proprietor and owner of the ham. The question asks itself: Why? In 2004, Dave says, he picked up the piece of then-fresh ham and sniffed it. As he did, a mail truck crashed through the front of the store, missing him by inches.

I'm not a religious man, said Bettincourt, so I credit the ham.


O'CONNOR: Since then the ham has become a legend. Brides stop by to smell the ham on the way to the church. The high school girls' basketball team has been undefeated since they all ham-sniffed last year.


O'CONNOR: And Dave sold a winning lottery ticket to a ham sniffer last year, as well. Dave doesn't question the ham's power; it's one of life's mysteries.

PESCA: A helpful, almost holy, ham from Kyrie O'Connor. And your last story of a new attraction worth the trip comes from Tom Bodett.

TOM BODETT: Watch for that pothole on Route 9 used to be a warning to drivers. These days it's an invitation for visitors to southern Vermont to witness a road hazard so infamous it has become a destination all its own. The sleepy little village of West Brattleboro, known mostly for its left turn lane, is on the main route to some of Vermont's busiest ski resorts. The weekend parades of BMW crossovers and Escalades from New York and New Jersey have created a pothole of such frame-wrenching, tongue-biting proportions that people are now stopping to have their pictures taken beside it, and not always for insurance purposes.


BODETT: A shrine of expensive, bent and ruined alloy rims is taking shape on the shoulder, and a Volvo wagon with two flat tires and some kind of goo on the dashboard has been abandoned a short distance away. State maintenance crews have either given up on fixing it, or they think it's funny to watch because the famous Route 9 pothole only gets bigger and uglier as the weeks go by.

This week Secretary of the Agency of Natural Resources Deb Markovitz(ph) responded to a petition that the pothole be preserved and turned into a state park by saying simply that might be the stupidest thing to cross my desk all winter, and that's saying something.



PESCA: OK, Lewis, OK Lewis I know you're hurrying out to AAA to get a triptych for each of these three attractions, but you can only go to one. You've got Roy's NYC night court as an attraction. You've got Kyrie's heaven-sent ham, and you've got Tom's particularly popular pothole. Which one is real?

MUNDT: As much as people in Minneapolis have come to revere their potholes this season, I am going to go with Roy's story about NYC night court. I've seen people turn up for some weird things.

PESCA: All right. To find out the correct answer, we spoke to someone familiar with the real story.

REGIS ST. LOUIS: Tourists have climbed to the top of the Empire State Building. They're looking for something unusual, so why not go to night court?


PESCA: That was Regis St. Louis, the author of the Lonely Planet Guide to New York City, explaining why New York's night court is the new Broadway. Lewis, you nailed it. Way to go.

MUNDT: Well thank you so much.

PESCA: And you have also earned a point for Roy Blount Jr., and you've won the prize. Carl Kasell will record the greeting on your answering machine. Lewis, thank you for playing with us today.

MUNDT: Thanks for having us on.

PESCA: All right, take care.

MUNDT: You too, bye. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.