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Bluff The Listener

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 Adam Felber, Tom Bodett and Maeve Higgins. And here again is your host at the Chase Bank Auditorium in downtown Chicago, Peter Sagal.


Thank you, Bill. Thank you, 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.

EMILY GORMAN: Hello, this is Emily from Norfolk, Va.

SAGAL: Hey, how are things in Norfolk?

GORMAN: Twenty-seven degrees, which is probably a lot warmer than what you guys have in Chicago.

SAGAL: Seems balmy to me.


SAGAL: What do you do there?

GORMAN: I work in assisted living for those with Alzheimer's and dementia as a care aide. And I'm finishing up studying to be an assisted living administrator.

SAGAL: Well, bless your heart. And I mean that unironically.


SAGAL: It's great to you have you with us, Emily. You're going to play our game in which you must try to tell truth from fiction. Bill, what is Emily's topic?

KURTIS: You blinded me with science.

SAGAL: As we all know, science fairs are a cutthroat competition in which future scientists vie to see whose parents can make the best science fair project for them.


SAGAL: This week, the nation turned its eyes to Lexington, Ky., where the Millcreek Elementary School staged its annual fourth-grade science fair. And that science fair had a surprising winner this year. Our panelists are each going to tell you who it was, but only one of them is telling the truth. Pick that right person, and you will win our prize, the voice of anyone you might choose on your voicemail. Ready to play?

GORMAN: I am ready.

SAGAL: All right. First, let's hear from Adam Felber.

ADAM FELBER: The science fair at Millcreek took a topical turn this week when the winner, 10-year-old Melissa Jeleno (ph), unveiled her high-tech creation, an automated Twitter bot named Mean Girl. Melissa gave her hideous progeny a profile picture and a flimsy bio and turned her loose on Twitter. Mean Girl's programming was simple. She'd reply to a random person's tweet with 1 of 200 mean but vague responses, like, that's so offensive. You suck. Or why are you so triggered, snowflake? Or LOL, you are so stupid. If Mean Girl got a response, she was programmed to reply back with another insult, sometimes quoting her new enemy and adding not or nuh-uh. Or I am so totally reporting you. Bye-Bye. The goal was to see if any adults online would fall for her silly prank and get in a Twitter war with Mean Girl.

As of last month, about 432,000 users have done just that. In fact, Jeleno was shocked to find that not only did adults respond to the childish bait. Some of them were locked in virtual combat with Mean Girl for hours or days. One woman, a lawyer from Tulsa, exchanged more than 350 bitchy barbs with Mean Girl, not even noticing when her foe started repeating her automated responses. The project captivated everyone at the fair, where Melissa set up a laptop, so the kids could watch adults throwing Twitter tantrums at Mean Girl in real time. For her part, Melissa's less than overjoyed about the results. Quote, "I learned a lot," she said, "including a bunch of new words I'm probably not supposed to know."


FELBER: But as for her takeaway, quote, "I used to worry about becoming a grownup," she said, "but now I know there's really no such thing." Melissa's still not sure what she wants to do with her talents down the road, but she says, I'd like to meddle in at least one national election.


SAGAL: Young Melissa programmed a Twitter bot that was able to lure hundreds of thousands of supposed grownups into angry conversations about nothing. Your next story of science versus comes from Maeve Higgins.

MAEVE HIGGINS: Frank Miller, an 11-year-old scientist and student, took top prize at the Millcreek Elementary science fair with his invention, flavored braces for teeth. His project, Flavored Braces - Putting the Mmm in Metal Mouth...


HIGGINS: ...Makes the sometimes painful, often uncomfortable rite of passage more appealing for kids. His catchphrase - nobody wants braces on teeth. Everybody wants treats on teeth. Might be clumsy but he's a child, remember, and it works.


HIGGINS: Using all-natural essences and oils, he successfully developed a number of flavored beta braces, including bubble gum-flavored train tracks and avocado-flavored retainers. Frank himself played guinea pig - his own preference is a sophisticated combination of toffee and sea salt flavors. Responding to a question about his youth, the inventor had this to say - I guess I've always felt older than my age because my name is Frank, which is clearly not a child's name.


HIGGINS: The road to the top prize was not easy. Problems included an unfortunate early experiment where his top teeth tasted like orange juice and his bottom teeth tasted like toothpaste.


HIGGINS: Dr. Emmy Talabee (ph), a local orthodontist, was ambivalent - unhappy about this latest wave of orthodontic enthusiasm, but I can't help feeling this could lead to more kids who don't need braces actually getting braces because they want the feeling of hot chocolate in their mouth all of the time.


HIGGINS: I mean, who wouldn't? Frank's response - she's just jealous because she didn't think of it. Adults really suck.


SAGAL: Frank with the flavored braces. Your last story of the nerd champion comes from Tom Bodett.

TOM BODETT: Ten-year-old Ace Davis of Lexington won the fourth-grade science fair with his ambitious entry, Is Tom Brady a Cheater? As Brady heads to his 67th Super Bowl thinking he was finally in the clear on the whole Deflategate controversy, he is faced with damning scientific evidence assembled by the intrepid Ace Davis that he did, in fact, gain a distinct advantage by de-inflating his footballs during the 2014 season. Using randomly selected study subjects from his immediate family, Davis had them toss footballs filled with varying degrees of pressure to see which ones went the furthest. Why the NFL investigators didn't think of this is anyone's guess.


BODETT: Test results proved incontrovertibly that low pressure in a football makes them fly further and are easier to catch. Having answered the question, is Tom Brady a cheater? - Ace Davis now goes onto the Kentucky District Science Fair Finals while the disgraced Brady slinks off to Atlanta, Ga., and, no doubt, obscurity.


SAGAL: All right. So one of these three bright kids in Kentucky won their fourth-grade science fair with a project. Was it, from Adam, little Melissa who created the Mean Girl Twitter bot? From Maeve - Frank who came up with the notion of flavored braces? Or from Tom Bodett - the impish Ace who set out to prove - and did - that Tom Brady was a cheater?

GORMAN: So as much as I wish the first one were true because I'd want to see how many times Donald Trump engaged with the Mean Girl bot...


GORMAN: ...I do believe I saw this on my Facebook feed with the Tom Brady story.


SAGAL: I think Facebook has foiled us again. You can't believe anything you see on Facebook. You know that, right?

GORMAN: That's very true.


BODETT: It's fake news.

SAGAL: You're going to go with Tom's story of the Tom Brady is he a cheater project. To bring you the correct answer, we were able to speak with the budding, young genius.

ACE DAVIS: Tom Brady's a cheater. It doesn't take a scientist to know that.


SAGAL: That was Ace Davis.


SAGAL: ...The winner of the Millcreek Elementary School science fair...


SAGAL: ...Sharing with us his scientifically proven conclusion that Tom Brady cheats.


BODETT: I love it. Ace Davis. He's got a future - this kid.


GORMAN: Definitely.

SAGAL: Congratulations. As is obvious, you got it right. Tom was telling the real story, so you won by picking him.


SAGAL: That means Tom earns a point. But more importantly, you win our prize, the voice of anyone you might choose.

GORMAN: Awesome. Thank you guys so much.

SAGAL: Congratulations. Thank you. Thank you for the good work you do.

GORMAN: Thank you.

SAGAL: Thank you. Bye-bye bye.


JIM OWEN: (Singing) Hell yes, I cheated, even though it was wrong. Hell yes, I cheated. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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