When I'm interviewed on call-in radio shows, often the host will start a game of "Stump the Professor." Listeners are challenged to tell an urban legend that I've never heard.
I recognize most tales that are phoned in, but even when I lose a round, I still win, since I gain a new legend for my collection.I play "Stump the Professor" with my mail, too, and lately I've lost four rounds with readers who have sent stories I'm unfamiliar with: "The Coded Cry for Help"
DEAR PROFESSOR: Yesterday I heard a story about a woman who was abducted and forced to drive somewhere. She managed to tap out "SOS" with her brake pedal, and a sharp-eyed person caught the message and called the police.
Don't you think it would be difficult to do all that brake tapping imperceptibly? Is this a legend? - C.I., ARDMORE, OKLA.
DEAR C.I.: I'm stumped by your question, since I've never heard that one before. It sounds like an unlikely scenario, but I'll keep it in mind in case I'm ever abducted in my car. "The Spiritual Dolphins"
DEAR PROFESSOR: I received a fund-raising letter from the Challenger Center for Space Science Education that contained the following story about a memorial service for the seven astronauts lost in the Challenger disaster:
"In the final moments of the ceremony, a helicopter dropped a wreath onto the ocean where the Challenger had fallen. Just as the wreath touched the waves, a group of dolphins suddenly appeared on the surface.
"Some observers said there were seven of them."
Does that sound like a legend to you? - V.C., SALT LAKE CITY
DEAR V.C.: Yes it certainly sounds like a legend, but I haven't heard the story before. I'll keep my eyes and ears open."The Painful Nose Job"
DEAR PROFESSOR: My cousin's husband told me that a friend of his was at a wedding once and saw this happen: The bride and groom took turns cutting the cake, and as playful newlyweds often do, the groom started to mash the cake into his bride's face instead of just gently feeding it to her.
As a reflex, the bride raised her hands to her face, and when she pulled them away they were covered with blood! The groom had pushed the cake so hard that he broke her nose.
I don't know whether or not it really happened at all. Have you heard it before? - C.K., CRANSTON, R.I.
DEAR C.K.: I've heard a similar story about a man brought into an emergency room with both hands cupped over his face. He refused to remove them until the doctor promised not to laugh at him.
When he took one hand away, they saw that he had a finger of his other hand stuck inside his nose. He was picking his nose while waiting at a red light, and somebody had hit his car from behind.
Like you, I thought that was true when I first heard it, but now I wonder. "Inner Golf"
DEAR PROFESSOR: As part of a pep talk for teachers that I attended, a woman promoting the values of positive visualization told this story, which sounds like a legend to me:
"An American serviceman, an avid golfer, was taken prisoner during the Vietnam War and subjected to ghastly, inhumane conditions. While many of his fellow prisoners suffered grave emotional disorders and mental breakdowns, he was able to cope with the misery of his existence by visualizing 18 holes of golf every day.
"He visualized all the drives, the putts, the fairways and the greens. As he imagined himself playing each round, he kept refining his game.
"When the POW was eventually released, one of the first things he did when he got back home was grab his golf clubs and head for the course.
"He played the best round of his life!"
Has this story surfaced in other parts of the country? - J.J., LA JOLLA, CALIF.
DEAR J.J.: You win, because I'm stumped by that question. I've never heard that story before, although recently I did hear that the governor of my state spent some of his own money for golf balls and clubs (presumably sand wedges) to send to Utah troops in the Persian Gulf.
I guess the Guv is not a believer in mere inner golf to sustain the troops' morale.