ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT
Back in the days of Carmen Sandiego
Gazette file photos
IN THE WORLD IS CARMEN SANDIEGO? She’s here, in The Gazette.
Clockwise from left: Carmen strikes a pose, kids search for the elusive
Carmen and Carmen looks evil.
“Do it, Rockapella!”
One of the staples of after-school viewing in my preteen days was the legendary
PBS program Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego? It combined the elements
of a game show with the fanciful notion that knowing geography could actually
Geography major: Hey!
Don’t worry, I’m in arts. Anyway, the premise was that in each
episode, Carmen Sandiego, the trench coated international crime lord, sent
one of her gang members to steal a world landmark. The three preteen contestants
had to answer geography questions in order to follow the crook around the world
and eventually track them down. In order to advance to the final round, the
chase of Carmen herself, the players had to recover the loot, get the warrant
(damn this bureaucratic red tape) and then catch the crook. The final player
then had to identify eight locations on a continent in 45 seconds in order
to catch Carmen and win a trip anywhere in North America.
A simple description, of course, doesn’t do justice to how fun the show
was. The actual game was often interrupted for skits involving the host, Greg
Lee, and the chief of ACME CrimeNet, played by the late Lynne Thigpen. The
contestants were also given clues from various wacky characters like a rapping
grandmother, a talking clam and even the occasional celebrity guest. One guest
was, I kid you not, Dr. Dre; because, when you think of the perfect guest for
a PBS kids show, you should look no further than the man straight off the fucking
streets of CPT.
If Mr. Chronic was on the side of good, then you knew that Carmen’s
gang had to be a particularly dastardly bunch of miscreants. The lineup included
Patty Larceny, Top Grunge, the Contessa and Robocrook. You may think this crew
doesn’t sound imposing, but look at their bounty. Some of their stolen
items included all of Antarctica’s penguins, the Internet (someone call
Al Gore), the Eiffel Tower, the South Korean alphabet and the Edmonton Oilers.
This kind of stuff puts al-Qaida to shame. I mean, how do you steal the Eiffel
Tower without anyone noticing?
Pierre: Henri, do you notice anything different about le skyline today?
Henri: Non, mon frere. Now let’s eat our croissants, hon hon hon.
And then there was the immensely catchy theme song performed by Rockapella,
the barbershop quartet who sang throughout the show and gave clues to the contestants.
Between these guys, the Be Sharps and Chockful of Nuts (from NewsRadio), I
am amazed barbershop music never made a comeback in the ’90s. Damn you,
The show was so popular in my fifth grade class that my tablemates actually
gambled on which villain would appear on the show each day. We each picked
a different crook, bet a small object (a pen, eraser, etc.) and whomever had
the correct guess took the entire bounty. It was my correct guess of Patty
Larceny that once won me a kickass Crayola stencil, something I still remember
to this day. In a related story, I can barely recall what classes I took last
It’s tough to top a kids show that is both entertaining and educational
at the same time. The only flaw might be that a kid may grow up thinking all
policemen sing, but hey, I’m sure some cop somewhere has whistled a tune
while beating a perp with his nightstick.