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Where's Waldo? And Who's Wally?

Since I moved to London, I've gotten used to things being just a bit different: Sure, there's the whole accent thing and the driving on the other side of the road and the insertion of u's where they hadn't been before, but I mean the much more subtle differences "“ like Waldo.

With his trademark red-and-white striped shirt, his knit cap topped with a pom-pom, glasses and walking stick, Waldo has wended his way through virtually every country on every continent, through time and space and imagination, the sets of Hollywood movies and the pages of beloved books.

And Where's Waldo? you ask? Everywhere. His books have sold more than 50 million copies worldwide and have been translated into over 25 languages, and as a character, Waldo has become an icon, appearing on TV shows such as The Simpsons, Friends and Frasier. Waldo even made it onto the cover of Rolling Stone.

But here in the UK, Waldo is Wally.

And, shockingly enough, Waldo was actually Wally first "“ and he's British. Wally was the brainchild of Martin Handford, an illustrator born in the Greater London neighborhood of Hampstead. Handford said that growing up, his earliest influences were large-scale cinema epics, the kinds of movies with large crowd scenes, which he would then try to recreate with pen and paper.

wheres_wallyAlready a known illustrator who specialized in crowd scenes, Handford was asked to put together a book of his work "“ and voila! Wally was born, a visual tie-in that kept continuity from scene to scene.

Eventually, after publishers bought the book, Wally evolved into the bespectacled bumbling traveler we now know: In a typical book, Wally/Waldo carries his trademark walking stick, in addition to 11 other items that are designed to help him on his travels: kettle, mallet, cup, backpack, sleeping bag, binoculars, camera, snorkel, belt, bag and a shovel. Waldo, however, isn't particularly good at keeping track of his items and so, on each page, he loses one, requiring the reader to help him find it. To find him and his lost item, readers are tasked with visually sorting through vast scenes, often rife with visual puns and humor (sometimes a bit risqué humor at that).

The book series launched in 1987 in the UK, with Wally as its titular character; later that same year, the series was launched in the US, where Wally was introduced as Waldo. The series took off, becoming a sensation within only a few years and eventually morphing into a TV series in both the US and the UK, a comic strip, several video games (including one due out this September from Ubisoft), and even a few magazines (in the UK and Australia, Wally went on weekly adventures to new countries, which he reported on his children's geographical and cultural magazine, Wally's World).

By 1997, when the publishers of the books came out with Where's Waldo? The Wonder Book, the Waldo world also had several new characters to find: Woof, Waldo/Wally's faithful canine companion; Wenda, Waldo's girlfriend and the "one who takes pictures," according to the introduction to The Wonder Book; Wizard Whitebeard, whose magic allows the apparently jobless Waldo to travel as much as he does; and Odlaw, whose mean disposition, black-and-yellow striped clothing and slick mustache make him the villain in the Waldo-verse.

The intrepid traveler had even by then sparked some controversy "“ Waldo was spotted on the American Library Association's list of 100 most frequently challenged books, after wandering through a beach scene containing a nearly topless sunbather.

But not only has this international man of mystery gotten lost in scenes across the world, but so has his original identity. Continuing the pattern started with its introduction to the US, Wally got a new name and it seems, a new attitude with every country he was introduced. In some countries, Waldo retained the whimsical "˜w' in his name: For example, in Germany, he's Walter ("Wo ist Walter?") and in Norway, he's Willy ("Der hvor er Willy?"). But in France, he became Charlie ("Ou est Charlie?"), in Denmark, Holger and in Israel, Effi. According to Wikipedia (and therefore not entirely to be believed), American Waldo is a hipper, more "tech-savvy" traveler, while British Wally is a bit of a dork.

These days, Waldo and Wally (and Walter, Willy, Charlie, Holger and Effy) have been popping up in some pretty interesting places "“ and in some cases, in incredibly large numbers. This April, students at Rutgers University earned a Guinness Book of World Records distinction for the most number of people dressed as Waldo in one place.

google-waldo

In 2006, Waldo met with a bit of misadventure: According to Internet lore, he appeared in a field of corpses, with an arrow through his head, in a single frame of the theatrical release of the film Apocalypto. And that's not all: Now that Google Streetview has canvassed more of the earth, Waldo/Wally was recently seen at 77 Putney High Street in London; in 2008, Google Earth made a 55-foot tall version of Wally on top of a building visible; he's been found in some pretty atrocious fanfiction on the Internet; and he even made an appearance at this year's ComicCon, flanked by two scantily clad Waldettes.

Word also has it that we might be seeing more of Waldo in the near future "“ Universal has recently acquired the rights to the Where's Waldo? franchise and plans to make the beloved if plot-less books into a live action family film.

So, who do you think should play Waldo in the movie? Do you have any Waldo memories that stand out (say, the nearly topless lady in the beach scene)? Waldo/Wally turns 22 on September 21 "“ any plans to celebrate the worldwide wanderer's birthday?

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Penn Vet Working Dog Center
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New Program Trains Dogs to Sniff Out Art Smugglers
Penn Vet Working Dog Center
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

Soon, the dogs you see sniffing out contraband at airports may not be searching for drugs or smuggled Spanish ham. They might be looking for stolen treasures.

K-9 Artifact Finders, a new collaboration between New Hampshire-based cultural heritage law firm Red Arch and the University of Pennsylvania, is training dogs to root out stolen antiquities looted from archaeological sites and museums. The dogs would be stopping them at borders before the items can be sold elsewhere on the black market.

The illegal antiquities trade nets more than $3 billion per year around the world, and trafficking hits countries dealing with ongoing conflict, like Syria and Iraq today, particularly hard. By one estimate, around half a million artifacts were stolen from museums and archaeological sites throughout Iraq between 2003 and 2005 alone. (Famously, the craft-supply chain Hobby Lobby was fined $3 million in 2017 for buying thousands of ancient artifacts looted from Iraq.) In Syria, the Islamic State has been known to loot and sell ancient artifacts including statues, jewelry, and art to fund its operations.

But the problem spans across the world. Between 2007 and 2016, U.S. Customs and Border Control discovered more than 7800 cultural artifacts in the U.S. looted from 30 different countries.

A yellow Lab sniffs a metal cage designed to train dogs on scent detection.
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

K-9 Artifact Finders is the brainchild of Rick St. Hilaire, the executive director of Red Arch. His non-profit firm researches cultural heritage property law and preservation policy, including studying archaeological site looting and antiquities trafficking. Back in 2015, St. Hilaire was reading an article about a working dog trained to sniff out electronics that was able to find USB drives, SD cards, and other data storage devices. He wondered, if dogs could be trained to identify the scents of inorganic materials that make up electronics, could they be trained to sniff out ancient pottery?

To find out, St. Hilaire tells Mental Floss, he contacted the Penn Vet Working Dog Center, a research and training center for detection dogs. In December 2017, Red Arch, the Working Dog Center, and the Penn Museum (which is providing the artifacts to train the dogs) launched K-9 Artifact Finders, and in late January 2018, the five dogs selected for the project began their training, starting with learning the distinct smell of ancient pottery.

“Our theory is, it is a porous material that’s going to have a lot more odor than, say, a metal,” says Cindy Otto, the executive director of the Penn Vet Working Dog Center and the project’s principal investigator.

As you might imagine, museum curators may not be keen on exposing fragile ancient materials to four Labrador retrievers and a German shepherd, and the Working Dog Center didn’t want to take any risks with the Penn Museum’s priceless artifacts. So instead of letting the dogs have free rein to sniff the materials themselves, the project is using cotton balls. The researchers seal the artifacts (broken shards of Syrian pottery) in airtight bags with a cotton ball for 72 hours, then ask the dogs to find the cotton balls in the lab. They’re being trained to disregard the smell of the cotton ball itself, the smell of the bag it was stored in, and ideally, the smell of modern-day pottery, eventually being able to zero in on the smell that distinguishes ancient pottery specifically.

A dog looks out over the metal "pinhweel" training mechanism.
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

“The dogs are responding well,” Otto tells Mental Floss, explaining that the training program is at the stage of "exposing them to the odor and having them recognize it.”

The dogs involved in the project were chosen for their calm-but-curious demeanors and sensitive noses (one also works as a drug-detection dog when she’s not training on pottery). They had to be motivated enough to want to hunt down the cotton balls, but not aggressive or easily distracted.

Right now, the dogs train three days a week, and will continue to work on their pottery-detection skills for the first stage of the project, which the researchers expect will last for the next nine months. Depending on how the first phase of the training goes, the researchers hope to be able to then take the dogs out into the field to see if they can find the odor of ancient pottery in real-life situations, like in suitcases, rather than in a laboratory setting. Eventually, they also hope to train the dogs on other types of objects, and perhaps even pinpoint the chemical signatures that make artifacts smell distinct.

Pottery-sniffing dogs won’t be showing up at airport customs or on shipping docks soon, but one day, they could be as common as drug-sniffing canines. If dogs can detect low blood sugar or find a tiny USB drive hidden in a house, surely they can figure out if you’re smuggling a sculpture made thousands of years ago in your suitcase.

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