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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 Paula Poundstone, Alonzo Bodden and Tom Bodett. And he floats like a butterfly, hosts like a bee, it's Peter Sagal.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE SOUND EFFECT)

PETER SAGAL, HOST:

Thank you, Bill. 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're on WAIT, WAIT... DON'T TELL ME.

VIDAL LOISEAU: Hey, this is this is Vidal from Austin.

SAGAL: Hey, Vidal. How are things?

LOISEAU: I'm doing great today. Got some winter weather in Austin, but I'm enjoying it.

SAGAL: That's good. That's good. I got to ask you a question. I've been to Austin many times, and I've seen the bumper stickers saying, keep Austin weird. And I'm worried because all these people from California are moving there. Is Austin still weird?

LOISEAU: I'm from New Orleans, which is a pretty weird place.

SAGAL: Oh, yes. Your standards of weird are pretty high.

(LAUGHTER)

LOISEAU: Yeah, yeah. So at the moment, Austin is the second weirdest place I've ever been.

SAGAL: All right. Well, welcome to the show, Vidal. You're going to play our game in which you must try to tell truth from fiction.

Bill, what's Vidal's topic?

KURTIS: Toga, Toga, Toga.

SAGAL: Ancient Romans were just like us. They liked loose fitting clothing, a nice big meal and naked wrestling. Our panelists are going to tell you about another way the people of ancient Rome weren't so different from the people of today. Pick the one who's telling the truth, and you'll win our prize, the WAIT WAITer of your choice on your voicemail. You ready to play?

LOISEAU: Ready.

SAGAL: All right, Vidal, here we go. Your first story of ancient Rome comes from Tom Bodett.

TOM BODETT: Researchers at the Roman collection of the Museum of London have solved a centuries-old mystery of some odd bronze coins found scattered through the old Roman city center. The coins were not currency but contain a person's initials and short common Latin phrases and abbreviations, such as ad nauseum, ex animo and ah ridere (ph), which means laugh out loud. The breakthrough came when social anthropologist Dr. Keith Shipman (ph) cross-referenced the locations of where the coins had been found with known data about the residents at these locations. In most cases, the coins were found in households with children. This is an ancient form of Snapchat, said Dr. Shipman. You can imagine Roman kids sending their attitudes around the city by messenger as they sat home bored and cold and wishing they lived on the Mediterranean like normal families. Shipman knew he was on the right track when he found several coins with illustrations of male genitalia under the phrase magnum opus. Wherever you have imago phalli, you have teenage boys.

SAGAL: Turns out Roman teens had their own primitive version of Snapchat they used to message each other all day. Your next report from Rome comes from Paula Poundstone.

PAULA POUNDSTONE: Northwestern University archaeology professor Adam Curry (ph) has made the astounding discovery that some Romans couldn't read Roman numerals. I myself can never remember what side of the V's and the X's the I's go on. There were a few years there where I had no idea what number Super Bowl I was watching. At first I was ashamed, deeply ashamed, says a reddening Curry. But when I confessed the problem to a small group of friends, one among them related entirely. That's when I began to wonder if some Romans may have struggled with that as well. Curry's first clue was in the discovery of the financial records of ancient Roman Marcus Aricles (ph), which showed that Marcus habitually overpaid his olive oil merchant, Lucius Pompey (ph), by two denarii. The final conclusive piece of support for Curry's theory came with the discovery of many torn pieces of a birthday party invitation in front of what was once the home located at 11 Via Sacra, which, when pieced together, read, please join us for Gauze's (ph) birthday party at our home at 9 Via Sacra. All these years later, one can just feel the disappointment of the guest.

SAGAL: Turns out Romans weren't very good at reading Roman numerals either.

Your last story of something we recognize in Rome comes from Alonzo Bodden.

ALONZO BODDEN: When you think of the Roman legions, you think of conquest, armor with very impressive abs and oddly menacing skirts. You probably don't think of paychecks and, of course, paycheck deductions. Archaeologists recently discovered the paystub of a legionnaire named Gaius Messias at a site in Israel. For his service to the empire, he was paid 50 denarii. But because the Legion took care of all his needs, naturally they deducted 20 denarii for food, five denarii for boots and two denarii for leather strapping, which everyone knows is a con. I mean, who has boots without strappings? There was also seven denarii for a linen tunic and, finally, 16 denarii for quote, "barley money," unquote. Barley money meant alcohol. Sure, you fought for the empire, but the drinks were on you. His deductions added up to exactly - let's see now, you carry the V, carry the II - 50 denarii. Gaius Messias was fighting for free. That's probably why he needed the barley money.

SAGAL: All right. One of these stories about a discovery from ancient Rome that makes us feel a certain kinship with those people was made recently. Was it from Tom Bodett, a discovery of a system that seemed like a Roman version of Snapchat for bored Roman teens, from Paula Poundstone - the discovery between various mistakes made that it turns out Romans weren't very good reading Roman numerals either - or from Alonzo Bodden - the discovery of a paycheck for a legionnaire that shows that they also had paycheck deductions that basically robbed them of their pay? Which of these was the real story of a discovery in Roman archaeology?

LOISEAU: Something about the government getting me to fight for free just sounds true.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: You think so? All right. You're going to pick Alonzo's story of the paystub with all the deductions found of a Roman legionnaire. Well, to bring you the real answer, we spoke to an expert familiar with the real story.

JAMES CLARK: Every single cent of his paycheck went back to the military immediately after he got it.

SAGAL: That was James Clark - he's a senior reporter for Task and Purpose, which is a military magazine - talking about the ancient Roman paystub. Congratulations, Vidal. You got it right. Congratulations.

LOISEAU: Yes.

SAGAL: Well done, sir. Yes, you win, Vidal. Congratulations, and thank you so much for playing.

LOISEAU: Thanks.

SAGAL: Have fun in Austin. Keep it weird.

LOISEAU: I'll keep it weird.

SAGAL: Bye, bye.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ROAM")

THE B-52'S: (Singing) Roam if you want to. Roam around the world. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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