january 8, 2004  
Volume 97, Issue 54  

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Back in the days of Carmen Sandiego

Mark Polishuk

Opinions Editor

Gazette file photos
WHERE 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 be useful.

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, Kurt Cobain.

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 semester.

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.



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