The Great War Invention

Mar 06, 1999

RAY: Ha! We're back. You're listening to Car Talk with us, Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers, and we're here to discuss, of course, cars, car repair and the new Puzzler.

TOM: Is this one of the pairs that you had --

RAY: Well, you know, I --

TOM: -- two and two?

RAY: Yes, I had --

TOM: You were going to mix and match?

RAY: -- pears, oranges --

TOM: Yeah!

RAY: -- tangerines, and I thought I might just sprinkle in a few others in between the pairs. What, do you think I should just go --

TOM: No, no, no, I think we're sick and tired of Roman numerals.

RAY: You are, huh?

TOM: Yeah. I wouldn't leap ahead, I would leap-frog.

RAY:: I have many in the Roman numeral collection, so I won't go to Roman numerals, and I'm not even going to go to the other pair of Puzzlers, I'm instead going to do an historical-folklore Puzzler.

TOM: Ah! These are the best.

RAY:: I'm going to set the scene.

TOM: Oh, I love these.

RAY:: OK. I'm not sure I have all the times and dates and names and places right, but --

TOM: Doesn't matter.

RAY:: -- it's close enough. Well, here it is. The time: World War II. The place: England. In a secret laboratory, a small group of scientists is working on a project. They have made a discovery! Something that they know will greatly aid in the Allied effort against the Germans.

TOM: Wow!

RAY:: This is big stuff, now, pay attention. This is a huge discovery. Furthermore, they know that their discovery will also benefit mankind for years to come, and could easily turn the tide of the war.

TOM: Wow!

RAY:: In with this group is a German scientist who has escaped the clutches of the Nazis, and he's collaborating with this group --

TOM: Is he opening up a soup kitchen?

RAY:: And they are working on a project that was abandoned by a Scottish scientist more than 10 years earlier. And they have reignited the whole process here, so to speak. And then they are on the verge of something big, and they finally, after one disappointment after another, they finally have success. And one of them cries out, Eureka! And the other one says, You don't smell so good yourself! And they know that they have something big here, and they apply to the British government for a grant. Now the government, of course, is in the midst of waging war on more than one continent. I mean, all kinds of stuff is going on --

TOM: Sure!

RAY:: -- with England, and the grant comes through: 50 pounds.

TOM: No?

RAY:: These guys say, "Fifty pounds?" I mean, everyone knows --

TOM: Kiss my tuchus!

RAY:: -- Everyone knows that 50 pounds is about half of 100 pounds, and isn't going to go very far, even in World War II England. So they realize the only hope of getting their product, so to speak, involved in the war effort, is to leave England and go to America where they can hope to engage the help of some philanthropic organization or maybe the United States government. You're paying attention? This is intrigue --

TOM: Whoo! Whoa, man! This is great!

RAY:: This is high finance, all kinds of stuff!

TOM: Yeah!

RAY:: So, anyway, they decide to leave England. But leaving England and going to America is dangerous --

TOM: Of course!

RAY:: -- Because the U-boats are out there.

TOM: Yeah, they could take the Titanic!

RAY:: No. So, in order to make their way safely from Europe to America, they decide to go to a neutral country: Portugal.

TOM: Of course.

RAY:: They go to Lisbon, where they hope to catch a boat to America which will be safe from the U-boats because it's flying the Portuguese flag, and Portugal is neutral. However --

TOM: Do they bump into Humphrey Bogart there?

RAY:: They do. Yes.

TOM: And Elsa?

RAY:: Ilsa.

TOM: Ilsa.

RAY:: Ilsa Mund. They go to Lisbon. Now, Lisbon, even though Portugal is a neutral country, Lisbon is a hotbed of spies --

TOM: Intrigue. Oh, wow!

RAY:: -- Saboteurs and the like. And they know that if their discovery gets into the wrong hands, it could have dire -- there could be dire consequences.

TOM: Are we almost to the end?

RAY:: Come on, you're interrupting so much!

TOM: It's only a three-hour show!

RAY:: All right, we'll jump right in.

TOM: No, no, this is great!

RAY:: You've wasted another perfectly good --

TOM: This is great! I'm thrilled here!

RAY:: They know that if their discovery falls into the wrong hands, it would be severe.

TOM: Yeah. So, they need to hide it.

RAY:: They need to hide it, and they take their discovery -- are you ready for this?

TOM: Yeah.

RAY:: They hide it on --

TOM: On?

RAY:: -- On their clothing.

TOM: What?

RAY:: They hide their discovery on their clothing, and they make their way to America, and the rest, as they say, is history.

TOM: Wow!

RAY:: And what is, what was this discovery, that --

TOM: Well, yeah, I know --

RAY:: It could easily have been regarded --

TOM: Something that is on your clothing and is undetectable? And not noticeable?

RAY:: Chicken soup.

TOM: It's got to be mustard.

RAY:: What is this discovery that could easily have changed the whole tide of the war?

TOM: And was able to be hidden on the clothing --

RAY:: Not even.

TOM: -- On the clothing.

RAY:: On their clothes, and the hint was, chicken soup.

TOM: Oh. That was a hint?

RAY:: Well, so to speak.


TOM: I got it! They invented the boutonniere! Now, how did that benefit mankind? Think about all the proms that you have gone to bare-chested!

RAY: That's right.

TOM: Wow! The boutonniere, hunh? Am I right?

RAY: Close!

TOM: Well, it wasn't the whoopee cushion.

RAY: Well, what they discovered was, they discovered something that aided the war effort, and they knew, as most military students knew, that the greatest cause of fatalities in warfare is not the actual gunshot wound, but it's the ensuing infection. In fact, most people die on the battlefield because they get a minor wound but a major infection, and the infection kills them.

TOM: Yeah.

RAY: And the work they took up had been started in the '20s by a Scotsman named Alexander Fleming, I believe.

TOM: How well we know him!

RAY: And what he had discovered by accident was penicillin. But he could never do anything with it because he couldn't develop a strain of it that was reproducible. But these guys had, and when they had the penicillin mold, rather than carrying it in little petri dishes, they decided that if they were apprehended by Nazis...

TOM: They rubbed it on their clothes.

RAY: They had it on their clothes so that when they got to America, they could do a little scraping. And that's in fact what they did, and, of course, it saved many lives. It allowed soldiers who got wounded to go back in and get killed.

TOM: Now, wait a minute. If they were going to do that...

RAY: Yes.

TOM: And rub it on their clothes, it was going to smell bad, probably. Why didn't they...

RAY: Scientists always smell bad.

TOM: But why didn't they go through France? Then no one would have noticed!

RAY: They would have, but France, unfortunately, was not a neutral country.

TOM: Was occupied at the time.

RAY: But the hint I had given last week was chicken soup, which everyone knows is Jewish penicillin.

TOM: Oh! Of course! I didn't get that hint.

RAY: Well, I knew you didn't, because you didn't get anything! You didn't remember anything!

TOM: Whoopee cushion and the boutonniere were my two guesses.

RAY: Do we have a winner at least?

TOM: We do, wow! Yeah. Get this, the winner is--what a coincidence!--the winner is Malaise Lindenfeld.

RAY: No kidding?

TOM: Malaise!

RAY: How apropos!

TOM: What a strange name! She's from Coconut Grove, Florida.

Get the Car Talk Newsletter