BLISTERING BARNACLES, as the good Captain might have said. Duckbilled platypuses and Bashi-bazoukas! Could the most popular television quiz show in France be rigged?
An impassioned debate is raging in the pages of the country's newspapers after the discovery by an alert viewer of a curious if arcane anomaly in last Saturday's Qui veut gagner des millions, the hugely successful Gallic version of Who wants to be a Millionaire.
"Without being an expert, I am something of a connoisseur of the works of Tintin's creator Herge, wrote Fabrice Le Dantec, a confessed addict of the betufted boy reporter's hair raising cartoon adventures, which have sold more than 175 m copies around the world.
"But I was nonetheless dumbfounded by the response to the one-million-franc question."
The question posed was this: in the adventures of Tintin, which doctor is it who tends Captain Haddock - Dr Rotule, Dr Omoplate, Dr Meniscus or Dr Tympan?
The contestant, Frederic, who went on to win a record 4m francs at the end of the show, did not know the answer. He threw the question out to the studio audience, as permitted by the rules, and an astonishing 73% of the guests, Mr Le Dantec noted in his letter to Liberation, opted correctly for Dr Rotule.
Even in a country where 44% of families possess a Tintin book, and where Tintinophile MPs go so far as to hold long debates in the national assembly on their cartoon hero's precise political affiliations, that level of response - Mr Le Dantec contended - seemed to be something more than just a happy coincidence.
Le Journal du Dimanche admitted that the accusation that the show was rigged could not easily be proved, except possibly by carrying out a national poll.
"Great Snkaes! The mystery remains", it said. "Solving it may one day be worth a lot more than 4m francs."
Written by: Kirthi Iyer