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Series / Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?

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"All these people want to know..."

"Well, she sneaks around the world from Kiev to Carolina
She's a sticky-fingered filcher from Berlin down to Belize
She'll take you for a ride on a slow boat to China
Tell me, where in the world is Carmen Sandiego?"
— Theme song, by Rockapella

Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? is an Educational Game Show based on the Carmen Sandiego computer games by Brøderbund, which ran for five seasons (295 episodes; 65 episodes each in Seasons 1-3 and 50 episodes each in Seasons 4-5) on PBS from September 30, 1991 to December 22, 1995 (with reruns airing until May 31, 1996). The series was a co-production between WGBH Boston and WQED Pittsburgh. Three children answered multiple-choice geography questions while pursuing a member of Carmen's gang, who had stolen a famous landmark.

Instead of playing for cash, the young "detectives" played for points, here called "Acme Crime Bucks". Halfway through the show, the lowest scorer was eliminated. The two remaining children played a game akin to Concentration, looking for the loot, the warrant and the crook, in that order. The winner of that round played the end game, placing markers on a large floor map, hoping to arrest Carmen herself and win the grand prize of a trip anywhere in the 48 contiguous United States. In the second season, this was expanded to all of North America; presumably, Hawaii was never an option.note 

Much of the show's memorability can be attributed to the terrific cast: host Greg Lee, Lynne Thigpen as Da Chief and "house band" Rockapellanote , who provided an a cappella soundtrack (including the famous theme song, not to mention all the wacky sound effects and ad-libbed quips).

In the successor series, Where In Time Is Carmen Sandiego (1996-97), the focus shifted from geography to history, and Kevin Shinick succeeded Lee as quizmaster. Lynne Thigpen was the only regular cast member in both versions.

Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? provides examples of:

  • Acme Products: The sleuths worked for the Acme Detective Agency, the agency the player of the computer games works for. Played for Laughs during the clue segments, especially when they involved guest stars. Scott Weinger was said to have come from "Acme Voice of Aladdin Net", James Avery came from "Acme Shredder Net", and Katie Couric from "Acme 'Don't Call Me Perky' Net".
  • Actor Allusion: In "Bad Day on Broadway", an episode where Double Trouble steals the Tony Awards, some footage of Lynne Thigpen's Tony Award nominated performance in the Broadway musical Tintypes is used to show the Chief's past as a musical performer.
  • Added Alliterative Appeal: The Chief was fond of this. Some episode titles had it, like "The Heinous Hockey Heist." At the beginning of every episode during the second season, she would habitually describe Carmen's gang in this way (such as "Carmen Sandiego's detachment of diabolical desperados...", "Carmen Sandiego's band of belligerent buckaroos..." or "Carmen Sandiego and her consortium of cretinous creeps...").
  • Almost Dead Guy: Some questions would be posed by having "the Dying Informant" (played by Scott Leonard) come in and gasp out clues as to where Carmen's henchman had taken that episode's loot.
  • The Announcer: Lynne Thigpen plays the Chief and also doubles as the show's regular announcer.
    • In the first season, the Chief would also announce the names of the contestants. Beginning with the second season, this role would be filled by Barry Carl. In the final season, Carl and Sean Altman traded off.
  • Beyond the Impossible: In one office sketch, the Chief is using a windmill to power the office. Naturally, once the wind stops, the power goes out. Greg's solution? Just plug in a fan and aim it at the windmill. It works, despite the fact that there was no electricity to start up the fan. Greg explains that fan because he plugged in the fan, the windmill was able to generate electricity, which in turn was able to power the fan. The Chief comments that it sort of makes sense if you don't think about it too much.
  • Big Win Sirens: A standard police siren sounded every time a match was successful. Winning the bonus round resulted in the siren speeding up and various bells and horns accompanying it. Then the newspaper headline covered reads (Gumshoe's name) Captures Carmen! From Season 4 (1994) onward, the headline illustration will have Carmen behind bars.
  • Biting-the-Hand Humor: In "The Blarney Burglary," Plastic Diver Guy refers to WGBH Boston as "that snooty PBS station that wouldn't hire me to host Nova."
  • Black Boss Lady: Lynne Thigpen as The Chief, of course.
  • Blinking Lights of Victory: When a contestant got 7/8 markers in their proper spots on the map, the studio lights would swing about wildly, with a newspaper graphic popping up on-screen with the headline "[CONTESTANT] CAPTURES CARMEN!"
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality: Kneemoi. At one point she found the experience of prison so fascinating that she ratted Carmen out so she could experience it as well.
  • Bonus Round: Here's a map of a country or continent. Place these markers on seven (eight starting in season two) locations within 45 seconds (60 seconds for two episodes with the Asia map in Season 1) to arrest Carmen and win a trip. If it's correct, the sirens will sound. If it's incorrect, the buzzer will sound. If the contestant places the markers in the incorrect place twice, another location will be read.
  • Bowdlerize: Later in-series performances of "Zombie Jamboree" were subjected to this on account of profanity.
  • Brick Joke: The intro for the "Chase" round often contained an element from another sketch earlier on. Also, during the "Training Exercise" where the contestants had to race to dig a clue card out of a trash can (first to finish got first shot over the question for 10 points), Greg's can often contained either a gag from earlier in the show or a camera (cue cut to the camera in the can).
    • In the episode "Rio Rock Wranglers", Greg accidentally overfills a measuring cup with molasses while listening to a clue included in the cookie recipe the Chief wants to make, causing molasses to spill all over the desk. It turns out that a little bit of molasses got on the portfolio later on after the Jail time challenge.
  • Call a Point a Smeerp: Acme Crime Bucks.
  • Call a Contestant a Gumshoe: Or a Sleuth if they made to the bonus round, regardless of whether or not they won said bonus round.
  • Calvinball: In one Chief's Office sketch, Greg and the Chief play a highly complicated game that involves a chess board, bowling pins, and a butterfly net. After Greg leaves, both Greg and the Chief (at different times) say, "What's the matter? Haven't you ever seen two people play chess before?"
  • Canon Immigrant: Prior to the game show, the Chief was either never seen or was a white male, but Lynne Thigpen's version of the Chief proved to be so popular that she eventually made it into newer editions of the computer games; this meant the games and game show were no longer separate entities. The cartoon, on the other hand...
  • Cardboard Prison: Done to such an absurd extent, you wonder why the kids even bothered arresting the criminals.
  • Carried by the Host: The goofy Greg Lee's chemistry with the straight-laced Chief, along with Rockapella's musical accompaniment. Without them, it would've been just another dull edutainment show.
  • Celebrity Edition: The second season premiere had celebrity gumshoes including Mayim Bialik (Blossom), Tatyana M. Ali (The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air), and Jeremy Miller (Growing Pains) playing alongside regular gumshoes.
  • Character Catchphrase:
    • "I salute you!"
    • "Do it, Rockapella!"
    • "Now, the boys down at the ACME Photo Reconnaissance Bureau have put together a few slides!"
    • "All these people want to know: Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego?"
    • "And that is not bad!"
    • "He's / she's / I'm okay!" (Generally followed some sort of amusing injury.)
    • "Go away!" (used by the Chief to get Greg out of her office)
    • "Or it was, until today!" (used by the Chief when she transitions from describing the loot to explaining how it was stolen)
  • Cluster F-Bomb: Taken as far as any PBS Kids program was willing to dare at the end of some episodes of season 1—specifically, if the program ran too short, kids could expect to hear the line "I don't give a damn" being sung several times in the span of just two or three minutes. And then the censors caught it...
  • Confetti Drop: When the crook was captured (thus winning the main game), and not if Carmen was captured in the bonus round.
  • Credits Gag: The credits sequence has the various villains of the series actually stealing the credits.
  • Crossover: Happens occasionally in regards to clue-givers, who come from fellow PBS shows:
    • In the episode "Minnehaha: The Filching of the Falls", Pat Tuesday and George Frankly from the Mathnet segments on Square One TV give out a clue to the gumshoes, followed by George's Signature Laugh. Sadly there was a missed opportunity to call them "ACME Mathnet". In real life, theme song co-composer David Yazbek was formerly a writer for Square One TV during the show's first and second seasons.
    • In the episode "The Case of the Lifted Lines", a clue was given by X the Owl and Henrietta Pussycat from The Neighborhood of Make-Believe, to which Greg replied with a "Thanks, neighbor." In real life, both shows were co-produced by Pittsburgh PBS station WQED - and yes, that was Fred Rogers holding the puppets!
  • Dance Party Ending: Every episode ended with the audience joining Greg and Rockapella on the giant map for a dance. The audience would also join in singing the theme song.
  • A Day in the Limelight: In the first season, Sean Altman would more often than not sing lead with only occasional lead performances by Scott Leonard and, very rarely, Barry Carl (who would perform an operatic aria). In the second season, baritone Elliott Kermann began to shine with his Elvis impression.
  • Deadpan Snarker:
    • Rockapella would snark in song if Round 2 started dragging.
      • "Tension's mounting!"
      • "Pressure building!"
      • "Any day now!"
      • "Nothing!"
    • Carmen sometimes falls into this as well, such as with her response, "I'd settle for a human being," when Top Grunge promised on a phone call to be an angel.
  • Deliberately Monochrome: Whenever an informant known only as "the Mysterious Woman" appeared to give a clue, everything would be filmed in black and white for a short time.
  • Didn't Think This Through: Not finding the loot, warrant and crook in the correct order during the Jailtime challenge, particularly when at least one clue has already been uncovered.
    • In "The Time Bandit", one gumshoe managed to locate both the loot and warrant on the same turn. On the very next turn, the second gumshoe disregarded this information and chose another location, uncovering Robocrook. If he had actually selected the loot and warrant beforehand, he would have won, but this mistake cost him the game.
  • Different in Every Episode: What's on the chalkboard during the Jailtime challenge.
  • Doom Doors: The sound effect plays in "Tyrannosaurus Wrecked" when the power goes out in The Chief's office because of her new windmill.
  • Downer Ending:
    • A failure in the last round is indicated by a newspaper graphic with Carmen on the front page and the headline "Carmen Escapes Again!" In the final two seasons, Carmen's head will disappear, leaving a white shadow behind.
    • There is at least one episode where the gumshoe hits the last mark in the Map Round just after time runs out.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: Some gems.
    • During Pilot #1, Rockapella wearing modern street clothes rather than 1940s fashions.
    • Greg spending entire episodes with his hat on.
    • The Chief in a green and yellow suit.
    • Different sound effects, mostly from Double Dare (appropriate, given that Greg Lee had worked on that show as well).
    • Getting answers right actually results in gumshoes losing Crime Bucks. (However, getting answers wrong costs more - the idea is that the Crime Bucks are spent on the costs of getting to that location, and if you're wrong, you have to spend more to get to the right one.)
    • The second round did not require gumshoes to find the Loot, Warrant, and Crook in that order.
    • A map that was United States only, and the markers contained state flags instead of police lights, which the gumshoes had to match with their respective states.
    • No rhyme by The Chief at the end, and no "Do it, Rockapella!"
    • 60 seconds for the bonus round instead of 45.
    • In season 1, only a single white gator and one clouded leopard got stolen. Starting the very next season, the crooks didn't just stop at one specimen when stealing animals, but instead took all of a given species. Similarly, season 1 saw only the paws of the Sphinx being stolen and only Lincoln's nose being taken off Mount Rushmore. In later seasons, the respective crooks involved in those cases would have taken the whole thing.
    • In season 2 (1992), After finishing round 2 ("Jailtime Challenge"), Greg would use a shoe as a telephone (A reference to the shoephone from Get Smart).
    • The very first episode to be shown ended with the regular CPB/Viewers Like You tag which had been in use until the end of the previous June (and the funding credits prefaced with the generic "This program was made possible by..." instead of the more familiar "This program was bankrolled by..."), and at first there were no corporate sponsors. Even the first few weeks with any corporate sponsor simply had the sponsor's name zoom in against the custom funding credits background as Lynne Thigpen said, "Corporate bucks provided by Toyota."
    • The Incredible Talking Fly was initially portrayed as a crudely made puppet on a stick before switching to an animated character.
  • Educational Song: Some of Rockapella's full-length songs used when the show ran short. There was one about the five largest islands in the world.
  • Epic Fail:
    • The episode "She Took the Notes Right Out of My Mouth" had one gumshoe answer every single question in round one wrong, including the final question of the round which she risked all 50 of her Crime Bucks.
      • This also happened in "Maternal Instinks".
    • On three occasions, a gumshoe got zero correct marks on the map.
    • The Season 2 finale "Gotta Get A Yeti" had a geographical error at the end of the first round on the final clue - the Adriatic Sea was mislabeled as the Aegean Sea on the map. The final clue's answer was in fact the Aegean Sea, but it was counted as the Mediterranean Sea. Gumshoe Tahare Campbell, who had lost the game due to the geographical error, was invited back in Season 3's "The Glacier Erasure" and made it all the way to catch Carmen in Asia.
  • Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: As hinted by the "MOM" tattoo on Top Grunge's arm.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Wonder Rat and Carmen do not think too highly of racial and gender discrimination in universities.
  • Every Episode Ending: Each episode usually ended with Greg asking the sleuth and the Studio Audience to say "Do it, Rockapella!"
  • Evolving Credits/Evolving Music: Czechoslovakia's 1992 split into Slovakia and the Czech Republic necessitated a change to the TV-edit of the theme song (specifically substituting in the second bridge from the full song).
    • The near-constant political upheaval of the early 90s changed borders and country names so much that starting in season 2, a disclaimer was added to the end of every episode to say that "All geographic information was accurate as of the date this program was recorded."
  • Fall of the House of Cards: Happens at the end of the sketch in the Chief's office in the episode "Tattoo Snafu".
  • False Teeth Tomfoolery: One of the episodes involved Patty Larceny stealing a replica of George Washington's dentures. She is understandably grossed out.
  • Filming for Easy Dub:
    • The only times the animated villains speak during the show are in the phone tap skit and when the captured crook calls to rat out Carmen. In both cases, they budget-savingly hold the phone over their mouths, allowing the same animation to be used with different dialogue in other episodes.
      • Kneemoi doesn't hold the phone up to her mouth, and it shows.
      • In Season 4 and 5, Contessa holds the phone in such a way that it does not cover her mouth, which does move when she speaks. The catch is that her lip movements don't sync up with her speech.
    • During the transition to the Map Round, The Chief doesn't start naming potential locations until the map appears on screen.
  • Finishing Each Other's Sentences: One episode featured a sketch about Greg doing this to The Chief, complaining that she was becoming too predictable.
    Chief: [slow burn] Greg—
    Greg: Go away. [flees the office]
  • For Inconvenience, Press "1": Used in one recurring office sketch in season 2.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: When Carmen and Wonder Rat express their disgust with the concept of discrimination in university admissions, a Black, female gumshoe can be seen nodding in agreement.
  • Fun with Subtitles: During the World Band Radio clues, they would use English subtitles since the announcer on the radio (usually) speaks in a foreign language; however, some clues were from English-language stations, so no subtitles were used for those.
  • Game Show Host: Greg Lee hosted the series.
  • The Ghost: Lemke, who apparently works for ACME and is usually blamed when something goes wrong (upside-down images, a prize not working correctly, etc.)
  • Golden Snitch:
    • The final clue of each round was sometimes this. Earlier clues and games awarded 5 or 10 Crime Bucks per answer, but in the final round contestants could risk, in increments of 10, up to 50. Often this resulted in the final clue being the sole determiner of the finishing order of the contestants.
    • The Concentration-esque memory game. The points from the trivia rounds no longer mattered. It was just a matter of luck and memory as far as who made it to the Bonus Round, making everything leading up to this game almost meaningless. (All that it did was to determine who was the first to choose in that second round.)
  • He's Okay: A few sketches involved Rockapella or some other informant taking a really nasty hit. Greg would assure the audience that nobody was hurt by saying this.
  • Home Game: Inverted; the game show was based off the home computer game.
  • Home Participation Sweepstakes: Viewers were asked to send in lists of what was stolen and where it was stolen from for four successive days. 5 winners were chosen at random each day to get a T-shirt.
  • Hurricane of Puns:
    • The ending theme. Seriously.
    • The Chief used quite a few of these, as well.
  • Important Haircut: In the series finale, Greg, in character as Phil the Barber, cut off Sean Altman's Jew braids.
  • Incredibly Lame Pun: Idiosyncratic Episode Naming aside, this show went nuts with this trope!
  • "Kick Me" Prank: In the episode "Feckless Felons of Fenway", Greg sticks a "Kick Me" sign to a cameraman's back before getting a clue and then kicks said cameraman before going back to give the answer choices to the gumshoes.
  • Large Ham: Both Rockapella and Greg Lee to some degree. The Chief has shades of this, too.
  • Leitmotif: Not a musical version, but every member of the Rogues Gallery had Rockapella perform a unique version of singing their name whenever they were revealed as the villain of the episode.
  • Limited Animation: All animated segments, involving the villains or otherwise, were done very cheaply. But, of course, we kids were too caught up in the antics of Greg, the Chief, and Rockapella, - oh yes, and learning geography - to really notice or care all that much.
  • List Song: The Theme Song lists countries throughout the world where Carmen has been spotted.
  • Location Song: See above example.
  • Luck-Based Mission: The concentration game they played as Round 2.
  • May I Borrow a Cup of Sugar?: Discussed Trope. The Chief's story at the end of the "Photo Recon" segment of "The Great Wall Haul" is about how she once asked this question to a neighbor of hers but was ignored.
  • Message in a Bottle: A clue found in the filing cabinet in the episode "The Case of the Cribbed Crater" comes in this form.
  • Monumental Theft: On the low end, Carmen and her crew took things like the Titanic, the Pyramids of Giza, and the Great Wall of China. It’s a lot less egregious here since they show how V.I.L.E. managed to perform these thefts, but it still required some suspension of disbelief (like Eartha Brute and Double Trouble both managing to steal the Empire State Building and the World Trade Center without any equipment). Watch the show to see the high-end Monumental Thefts.
  • Mook–Face Turn: Immediately following Round 2, the winning gumshoe got a phone call from the apprehended crook which revealed where (i.e., on which map/continent) the winner would be searching for Carmen.
  • My Greatest Second Chance: In the second season finale, "Gotta Get a Yeti", gumshoe Tahare Campbell was incorrectly ruled to have answered the final clue incorrectly (a fact the show acknowledged in the episode's end credits), which in turn resulted in his elimination from the game at that point. He was invited back in the following season's "The Glacier Erasure", and took full advantage, ultimately capturing Carmen in Asia.
  • Nintendo Hard: The Surprise Difficulty was in the bonus game, where the contestant carried around posts and marked off countries on a giant floor map — starting from the north side, which made the map appear upside-down to the contestant. Even if you knew all the answers, the fact that they needed exact placement (seriously, the posts didn't work if they weren't perfectly on top of the target), the actual shuttle running and keeping the things from falling over, coupled with a brutal time limit, made it extremely hard to win. Usually, one double-miss meant Carmen could safely escape.
    • And also when they changed it from seven to eight markers necessary to win. One of the reasons was apparently that PBS, being PBS, really couldn't afford to keep paying for many grand prize wins.
      • Ironically, every season after they changed to 8 markers had more grand prizes awarded than Season 1 (even when they added bodies of water as potential locations in Season 4).
    • The Africa map in particular is generally believed to be the hardest of the maps, due both to its high country tally and the fact that many kids are simply not that familiar with its geography compared to the other continents. Victories on the Africa map did happen, but they were rare.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Some of the informants were impressions of celebrities, including:
    • A talking clam who talks like Woody Allen
    • An antler-less moose (voiced by Barry Carl) who sounds like Ed Wynn
    • A Stool Pigeon who happens to speak like Edward G. Robinson, see?
    • A talking fly sounds very much like Peter Lorre
    • A Western-themed shrimp named and speaking like Prawn Wayne
    • A sneaker that talked like Jackie Mason sometimes and Andrew Dice Clay other times
  • No Honor Among Thieves: The Mook–Face Turn phone call that preceded the Bonus Round. The Contessa even references this trope by name.
    Contessa: Honor among thieves? Surely you jest! If I'm going to prison, I'm taking Carmen with me!
  • Non-Lethal Warfare
  • Noodle Incident: Greg is forbidden from playing practical jokes on the Chief after an unexplained incident involving a hair dryer and nine ferrets. It still makes them shudder just thinking about it (whatever it is).
  • Onion Tears: The members of Rockapella shed (presumably) fake ones during the "Word on the Street" clue in the episode "The Great Wall Haul".
  • Opening Narration:
    Chief: All these people want to know...
    Rockapella: Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?
  • Our Founder: The portrait of the Chief's great grandmother Agnes Acme has this trope name printed word for word underneath it.
  • Overly Narrow Superlative: When then Senator Joe Biden made a cameo, he said he was trying to get Greg named Detective of the Year, but it got taken all the way down to Somewhat Notable Detective of the Next 12 Minutes.
  • Painting the Medium: On one episode, the Chief showed Greg a camera-switching device. When Greg started playing with it, he switched to a shot so wide it exposed the studio surrounding the office set.
  • The Password Is Always "Swordfish": In "Scrolldies but Goodies", Greg needs a password to unlock a trash can (which is protected by the "Garbage Club"). He doesn't know what the password is, but everyone else does...and it's actually "swordfish".
  • Phrase Catcher: Indeed. "Do it, Rockapella!"
  • Pilot: Two pilots were shot in 1991: "The Purloined Pooch" and "The Disoriented Express". What made these relatively unique was that they were aired during Season 1 (as episodes 58 and 62, respectively) with a disclaimer at the start noting that there were some differences. Among the differences...
    • Rockapella wore street clothes. They continued to do so in the first few tapings of the actual series.
    • Host Greg Lee was introduced as "The man who will lead the investigation", instead of as "Special agent in charge of training new recruits".
    • Lee also didn't have his hat off for the main game, and was standing to the right of the main monitor as opposed to the left.
    • The gumshoes started off with 125 points, and a correct guess would cost them 10 while an incorrect one would cost them an additional 5. The wagering for the final clue was 0-25 in increments of 5 instead of 0-50 in increments of 10.
    • Pilot #1 featured a ransom note from Patty Larceny (one of the crooks on the show, and the one responsible for stealing the Lhasa Apso from the East African Kennel Club Dog Show). It was never used again, being replaced by a phone tap conversation between Carmen and the crook.
    • In the final round, there would be audience members supporting the gumshoes. This trend continued in the first few tapings of the actual series.
    • In both pilots, it didn't matter which order the gumshoe had to find the loot, warrant, and crook in for the final round. As long as he or she found them in one turn, that was all that mattered. By the time production began on the actual series, it was changed so that the gumshoe had to find them in the right order, as police officers do the same thing in real life when looking for a stolen person, place, or thing.
    • In both pilots, the gumshoe sending the crook to jail wasn't used at all. Instead, it just cut to Greg and the winning contestant at the final round.
    • The United States was the only map used for the endgame in the pilots, and state flags were used as markers. The likes of the maps of Africa, Europe, Asia, and North America would eventually be added to the show. One episode of the actual series was shot so early that they didn't have the Africa map ready it, and the endgame had to be filmed a few weeks later into production of Season 1.
    • In the pilots, the endgame featured sound effects from the Nickelodeon game show Double Dare.
    • Instead of "Do it, Rockapella!", the pilots used "Hit it, Fellas!"
  • Precision F-Strike: In early episodes, Rockapella would sometimes sing "Zombie Jamboree" as filler, which resulted in a rare situation where a PBS Kids program used profanity uncensored for at least some time before the censors caught on and forced bowdlerization in later in-series performances.
    Back to back, belly to belly
    Well, I don't give a damn 'cause I'm stone dead already
  • Punny Name
  • Recycled Title Two Season 1 episodes fall victim to this. The first one was "The Taking of the Tower", in which The Contessa stole the Eiffel Tower. The second was "The Taking of the Towers", in which Double Trouble made off with the Twin Towers.
  • Reset Button: No doubt a result of the Cardboard Prison.
  • Rhymes on a Dime: The Chief.
    The Chief: This is Double Trouble.
    Rockapella: Double Trouble!
    The Chief: They're not too bright, but full of tricks. Their IQs total 36.
    • The Chief on Wonder Rat: "His cape is lame, his ears are fake. His criminal career is a big mistake."
  • Roger Rabbit Effect: As Lampshaded by Greg Lee's "father"note  in "Mining Crime Station":
    Gus Lee: Listen, son, I've been meaning to talk to. Are you aware that this, uh, "Carmine Santiago" lady you've been chasing around is... she's a cartoon, son. She's not a real person. You're aware of that.
    Greg: Dad, that's how the show works.
    Gus: As a matter of fact, all the crooks are cartoons! And to put them in jail, you just pull on a chain that's connected to nothing! That is ridiculous!
  • Rogues Gallery featuring:
  • Rule of Three: In the "Detective Academy" segment at the end of the episode "The Great Wall Haul", the Chief calls 3 different potential future contestants/ACME recruits to her office one at a time to ask each of them a question. The first 2 each get their respective questions right and get a Carmen Sandiego sweatshirt while the third answers his question wrong and is given an atlas to help him brush up on his geography knowledge.
    • The opposite happens in that same segment at the end of "The Case of the Reef Thief" (first 2 kids get their respective questions wrong while the last one gets their question right).
    • Then there's the Detective Academy segment at the end of the episode "Chunnel Channel Caper," when all 3 potential recruits get the questions asked of them wrong.
  • "Sesame Street" Cred: Back when he was a senator, future U.S. Vice President and President Joe Biden called Greg in a 1993 episode.
  • Shout-Out:
    • One gumshoe did the Arsenio Hall "woof" hand motion when introduced.
    • The episode title "Mining Crime Station" refers to Shining Time Station, which ran concurrently as a PBS neighbor. Amusingly, Lynne Thigpen previously appeared in the Broadway musical Working alongside Bobo Lewis, who had a recurring role on Shining Time Station as socialite and town gossip Midge Smoot.
    • In the episode, The Unfair Exchange/Shell Shock, Pac-Man appears, giving out a clue about the National Coin-Op and Video Arcade museum.
    • One of the locations during the second round is the Sulu Sea.
    • Greg occasionally gets info from a roach (OK, a guy in a roach suit) in a roach hotel (it's a lot fancier than a roach motel). The roach's name? Kafka.
    • In "Tyrannosaurus Wrecked", the third time the loot (the dinosaur sculptures in Alberta, Canada) is found, one of the Rockapella members shouts "WIIIIILLLLLL-MAAAAAAA!". Unfortunately, since it sounded nothing like Fred Flintstone, it took a minute for Greg to get the joke.
  • The Show Must Go On: In "Cheetahs Never Win", the crook of the day was Contessa. The final clue of the first round was hosted by Jason Zimbler, who erroneously gave mention to Robocrook instead of Contessa. Once the clue was finished, Greg claimed that Contessa was a master of disguise.note 
  • Signing-Off Catchphrase:
    • After a consequential Real Life geographical shift during the first season: "All geographic information was accurate as of the date this program was recorded."
  • Snark-to-Snark Combat: Done between Greg and Rockapella on one Round 2 instance:
    Rockapella: (after a wrong pick) Nothing!
    Greg: Thank you!
    Rockapella: Save it!
  • Something Person: Acme Man, a superhero with lame powers like turning sugar into salt and diet cola into regular cola.
  • Spell My Name with a "The": Subverted with Contessa. While everyone else just called her Contessa, Greg had a habit of adding "The". It makes sense, since contessa is Italian for "countess" instead of being a real name.
  • Stock Footage: Footage of unusual ways of travel were used in Seasons 3-4 as a transition from ACME HQ to the final round.
    Greg: Wow! How can we afford this cool monorail, Chief?
    Chief: Three words, Greg: "Viewers Like You"!
  • Stock Sound Effect: The foghorn sound is used when a gumshoe who won the 2nd round pulls the chain to put that villain into jail.
  • Taking Her With Me: Often, the Mook–Face Turn of the criminal is because they don't want to go to jail while Carmen Sandiego gets off scot-free. See No Honor Among Thieves above for an example.
  • Think Music: Two songs, both performed by Rockapella - "How much you wanna risk?" during the wagering portion of the game, and "Where do you wanna go?" as the winning contestant wrote down his desired trip destination if he captured Carmen. They're the same melody, though.
  • Timed Mission:
    • The map.
    • The memory game they played as the second round: when it came to a player's turn, they were on a 10-second shot clock before losing their turn. Subverted, though, since it didn't come into play much, and the round continued until someone won.
  • Title Theme Tune: "Do it, Rockapella!"
  • Transatlantic Equivalent:
    • A French-Canadian version debuted in 1995 (right around the time the PBS series left first-run) and ran until 1998. It pretty much copied the PBS series, including a localized version of the main theme done by their own version of Rockapella and all the same animation (therefore the same items were stolen by the same- albeit renamed- crooks as in the original); just watching the credits will provide the bittersweet proof that PBS couldn't keep a good show down.
    • Malaysia also had its iteration of the game, with a whole different story. Di Mana Joe Jambul (Where Is Pompadour Joe) is about the titular Lupin III Expy (with a pompadour, too) and his cohorts who do regular crimes instead of stealing landmarks. Two teams of three kids help the detective (and her police badge mascot) hunt down the goons. Most of the WitWICS gaming elements are there, including the map-marking bonus round, each episode featuring a different continent/region of Earth.
    • A New Zealand version of the show was also made that aired in 1996, using the American series as its base for stories, clips and questions. References to Czechoslovakia remained in this version of the show even though the country had split into Czech Republic and Slovakia three years before this version was recorded. Local band, the Chemistry Boiz replaced Rockapella for this version, although Rockapella can still be heard in the outro song's backing and bridges.
  • The Voice: One of the informants is a booming voice (played by Barry Carl) only represented by a pointing finger, heavily implied to be God.
  • Whammy: In Jailtime Challenge, there are shoeprints (which means nothing there) and their turn is over. Also, since the rules of Jailtime Challenge require that the loot, the warrant, and the crook must be found in that order, finding them out of order is just as much a whammy, since that generally meant the gumshoe would have to deliberately pick a location with nothing behind it to avoid revealing another piece of the puzzle for the other player's benefit.
  • What Would X Do?: Greg sometimes asks this of ACME founder Agnes Acme when looking at her portrait.
  • Wholesome Crossdresser: In earlier seasons, the agency's upstairs neighbor, Mrs. Pumpkinclanger, was played by Rockapella's Barry Carl in drag.
  • Why We Are Bummed Communism Fell: The run of this show on PBS coincided with a period of extremely-short map shelf life, which made the Asia and Europe maps in the final round particularly difficult ("Turkmenistan! Tajikistan!") and forced the Chief to end the show with a disclaimer that "All geographical information was correct as of the date this program was recorded!" (along with the recording date, very rare for a game show to air on purpose) in case some other former Yugoslav republic declared independence while the episode was in the cutting room. In fact, it's been said that the first season wasn't rerun at all because of it, though it has yet to be proven as a fact.

    Czechoslovakia was actually named in the theme song. It ceased to exist during the show's run, necessitating a change from "Chicago to Czechoslovakia and back!" to "Chicago to Czech and Slovakia and back!" (emphasis ours). And in later seasons, the whole verse was changed to "Botswana to Thailand, Milan via Amsterdam, Mali to Bali, Ohio, and back!" Rockapella used both the outdated verse and the new one in an extended version whenever they performed the song live and on albums.

    The second round (the part with the Concentration game) of "The Spot Lifter" took place in Leningrad, U.S.S.R. By the time the episode aired, the city had been renamed St. Petersburg for three months. In fairness, the U.S.S.R. itself did still exist when the episode aired... but just barely — the episode aired on a Monday (December 23, 1991), while the U.S.S.R. ceased to exist that Thursday (December 26).
    • One almost has to wonder if part of the reason the show's focus switched from geography to history for Where In Time Is Carmen Sandiego had something to do with this, since history, being history, is much less vulnerable to stuff like this.
  • World of Ham: Amusingly enough. Every episode was Greg vs. The Chief vs. Rockapella.
  • World of Pun: ...What, too easy?
  • You Wanna Get Sued?: In "The Checkmate Checkout", the Chief mentions that Cupertino, California, is home to a famous computer company. However, because they're on public television, they cannot say the name of the company, but then takes one bite out of a Macintosh apple to imitate the company's logo.

Do it, Rockapella!


The Big Bug Bug-Out

Top Grunge steals all the bugs from the Amazon rainforest

How well does it match the trope?

5 (9 votes)

Example of:

Main / ImpossibleTheft

Media sources: