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The Cockroach Cure – The Atlantic

The Cockroach Cure – The Atlantic


A week before Christmas in 1983, two chemists at Yale University made a breakthrough that they thought could change the world. “It was like opening up a door and seeing a light,” one of the scientists, Stuart Schreiber, later told The New York Times. The pair had produced a substance, periplanone-B, that sends the male American cockroach into a thrashing, sexual frenzy.

What if this were used to build a better trap—a cockroach honeypot that lured bugs into a dish of poison? The implications were mind-bending. Cockroaches were overrunning U.S. cities in the 1980s—more than 2 billion lived in New York alone, according to the Times—and there was no good way of getting rid of them. Sprayed insecticides barely worked after decades’ worth of insect evolution. “Roach Motels” (glue traps, more or less) did next to nothing to prevent an infestation. My own family, like others living in apartments throughout New York City at the time, could only shrug at the roaches darting from our cupboards and crawling on the bathroom floor. I remember that my best friend’s parents had a gecko living underneath their fridge, supposedly for natural bug control. No doubt it was a fat and healthy lizard. The roaches were still legion.

So of course scientists producing a new roach attractant in a lab made the papers. Alas, the periplanone-B solution was just another failed idea—one of many bungled forays in a never-ending war. The bugs kept on marching through our homes, as they always had; they kept on laying all their hidden eggs. Yet again, the cockroach earned its reputation as the animal that could never, ever be wiped out.

But even as this disappointment faded, something unbelievable was just about to happen. A true miracle in roach control was already under way. In this episode of Radio Atlantic, I speak with Hanna Rosin about a neglected achievement in the history of pest control.

Listen to the conversation here:

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The following is a transcript of the episode:

Hanna Rosin: This is Radio Atlantic. I’m Hanna Rosin. A few weeks ago, one of our science editors, Dan Engber, said he had a story to tell me. It’s a little weird, definitely gross. But it’s amazing. Here it is.

[Break]

Rosin: Well, first close the door behind you. Hey.

Daniel Engber: Hello.

Rosin: What’s up?

Engber: So I have a story about a scientific discovery made in very recent times that no one thought was possible, which changed the lives of millions.

Rosin: Ooh.

Engber: But no one remembers it.

Rosin: Wow. That sounds … fake? (Laughs.) Do you want to tell me what it is?

Engber: Sure. So this is a story of a forgotten solution, but also of a forgotten problem, and that problem is cockroaches.

Rosin: Cockroach—what do you mean cockroaches are a forgotten problem? I feel like I saw one recently.

Engber: Right. You saw one—one cockroach. In the 1980s, there were a lot of cockroaches everywhere. Cockroaches were like a national news story and almost like a public-health emergency. So there would be articles with various levels of alarmism about how the risk of being hospitalized with childhood asthma was three times higher in kids who were exposed to cockroach infestations.

There were stories about how cockroaches could carry the polio and yellow fever viruses.

Rosin: Okay. So cockroaches everywhere. Cockroaches bad for your health.

Engber: Cockroaches everywhere. Cockroaches bad for your health.

Cockroaches in the nation’s Capitol.

[News reel]

Tom Brokaw: Congress certainly has its hands full these days with the deficit, the MX, Central America, and now debugging.

Engber: So this is an NBC Nightly News story with Tom Brokaw from the spring of 1985, which is a very important moment in the history of cockroaches.

Interviewee: It’s very serious. The problem: They’re in our desks. They’re under tables. They’re everywhere.

Journalist: Some members of Congress are trying valiantly to fight back. Congressman Al McCandless has installed this black box in his office. It exudes a sexy scent, which attracts female roaches, which are then roasted by an electric grill.

Engber: I mean, I think just in that short clip you hear how completely helpless we were to deal with the cockroach problem. We were trying everything.

Rosin: Yes, it does have a “throw spaghetti at the wall” [feel]. Like, this is the nation’s Capitol and we can’t—we don’t really have an answer, nor is anyone pretending to. It’s just like, They tried this. They tried that.

Journalist: Congressman Silvio Conte, dressed to kill today, proclaimed a war on Capitol cockroaches. A company from his home district has donated 35,000 roach traps to the Capitol. But Conte said more help than that is needed.

Silvio Conte: And I want to appeal to the president of the United States. I am certain that President Reagan wants to get rid of as many troublesome cockroaches who are running around the halls of Congress as possible. So please join me in this war and squash one for the Gipper!

[Music]

Engber: But, you know, listening to all this kind of has an almost, like, a dreamy quality for me because I actually lived through this myself. Like, I was a child of the cockroach ’80s. I had cockroaches in my house all over the place too, and it’s almost, like, hard to remember how pervasive they were.

[Music]

Engber: So I grew up in New York City.

Rosin: Where?

Engber: In Morningside Heights.

Rosin: In an apartment?

Engber: In an apartment.

Rosin: Okay.

Engber: So, middle-class families in the 1980s in New York City had a lot of cockroaches, as I can say from personal experience—just a number of cockroaches that I think is unimaginable to younger people, to my younger colleagues here at The Atlantic.

Rosin: Against my—really, like, every fiber of my being, I’m going to say, “Paint me a picture.” (Laughs.)

Engber: They’d be all over the place all the time, like, in full view, in day, in night. Um, certainly if you went into the kitchen at night and turned on the light, they would scatter. It wouldn’t be like you’d see individual insects; you’d see, like, a wave pattern.

You and your brother, let’s say, might be taking the Cheerios out of the cabinet. And open it up, and pour it into the bowl, and cockroaches would come out with the Cheerios, which I think sounds really terrifying to today’s New Yorker. But at the time it was just, like, Time to get a new box of Cheerios.

There’s really this feeling that it was, like, a natural phenomenon—like an endless sense of being enveloped in roaches. Like, it was an atmosphere of roaches or an ocean.

You’re speechless.

Rosin: Just to weigh in, I do 100 percent relate. I grew up in an apartment in Queens, and exactly your memory. The only difference is that it was cornflakes and not Cheerios, but they were everywhere.

Although, you know what’s weird? I can’t seem to remember if they freaked me out or not. Like, did they freak you out? Did you scream when you saw cockroaches or call for your mommy? What did you do?

Engber: So, I don’t think we were that squeamish about them. In fact, I know we weren’t squeamish, because the other thing I remember vividly was my brother and I would play with the cockroaches. We would use our wooden blocks and build, like, obstacle courses, sort of, and try to do cockroach Olympics.

Rosin: Did you actually touch them with your fingers?

Engber: I mean, it’s kind of hard to imagine that I didn’t, but it must be the case. I mean, like I said, there’s sort of a dreamy quality to all this, where I almost doubt my own memories. And so just to do a kind of a gut check, I wanted to call my brother.

Daniel Engber: First of all, did we have cockroaches in our apartment growing up?

Ben Engber: We had a lot of cockroaches in our apartment growing up, and I, being a little bit older than you, remember it extremely clearly. But it still seems somewhat fantastical, the prevalence of cockroaches in our life.

Engber: Okay, so first I asked him about the cereal.

Rosin: Okay.

Ben Engber: I loved Rice Krispies. And they used to have, like, a slightly over-toasted Rice Krispie that was, like, a darker brown.

Daniel Engber: Yeah, the occasional brown one.

Ben Engber: The brown one. And I definitely remember a lot of arguments about whether something was an over-toasted Rice Krispie—a small over-toasted Rice Krispie—or a roach doody. And we would frequently have these arguments.

Rosin: (Laughs.) He’s, like, completely chill about the roach-doody-for-breakfast situation.

Engber: If only it was just the Rice Krispies, Hanna.

Ben Engber: We had the special medicine cups. They were sort of, like, plastic, hollow spoons.

Ben Engber: And I remember one time, Mom poured whatever it was, probably Dimetapp or something like that, in and I saw something swimming in it.

Ben Engber: I was like, There’s a roach in there. I swear there’s a roach in there. And then she held it up to the light, and there was nothing in there. I didn’t want to take it. Finally she convinced me. I drank the whole thing.

I felt the roach crawling around all over my mouth.

Rosin: Oh, God!

Ben Engber: And I spit it all into the sink. And, uh, she said, Oh, there was a roach in it.

Roaches were just everywhere in our lives. So if we were constantly, like, throwing out something just cause a few roaches walked over it, we wouldn’t have anything.

Engber: So that’s how we lived, but here’s the important part from that conversation with Ben.

Daniel Engber: Do you remember if that was in apartment 44? I forget when we moved from apartment 44 to apartment 43.

Ben Engber: That was after. No, that was after it was solved, because we moved when I was 12 or 13, and it was, it was done by then.

Daniel Engber: Um, when you said that by that time the cockroach problem was solved, what’s your, what’s your memory of the solving of the problem in our home?

Ben Engber: Very simple: uh, Combat.

Engber: So, remember when I told you that the problem we forgot was roaches? This is the solution we forgot: Combat.

Rosin: Wait, you mean the Combat roach trap? Like, that little plastic disc where the roaches go in and then they die or something? Like, that’s what this is about?

Engber: Yes. That is the amazing American invention that we have all forgotten.

Rosin: The thing that sits in aisle 13 on the top shelf, that’s the amazing invention?

Engber: The thing that should be sitting in a museum.

Rosin: (Laughs.)

Engber: The people who invented Combat are American heroes. They did something—I mean, you have to think about the fact that the cockroach was and is a symbol of indestructibility, right? This is the animal that’s going to outlive us after a nuclear war.

Rosin: Uh-huh.

Engber: This is an—if you’ve ever seen WALLE, it’s a postapocalyptic Earth. All that’s left is a robot and a cockroach.

Rosin: Uh-huh.

Engber: It’s the animal that cannot be killed. And then in the 1980s, we did it. I think it’s fair to say that it solved the problem, and I don’t mean solved it completely and eliminated cockroaches forever, but really took a huge problem and made it much smaller. And that wasn’t just true in my apartment, but across the country. In fact, I found evidence that that is exactly what happened.

And so, I just was fascinated by the question of, Who did that?, and what it means that we don’t even really fully remember that it happened.

Rosin: Wait. There’s a who? Like, there’s a person who did that?

Engber: Yeah. Let me introduce you to a very important figure in the history of cockroaches.

Rosin: Mm-hmm.

Engber: Who has a catchphrase, and his catchphrase is “Always bet on the roach.”

He’s, um, a member of the pest-management hall of fame.

Are you familiar with Pi Chi Omega, the fraternal organization dedicated to furthering the science of pest control?

Rosin: Uh-huh.

Engber: They have an annual scholarship called the Dr. Austin Frishman Scholarship.

Rosin: Ah. Wait, are we gonna hear from Austin Frishman himself?

Engber: Dr. Cockroach.

Rosin: Wow. Okay.

Daniel Engber: Hi. Dr. Frishman?

Engber: And so, I got him on the line, and he turns out to be sort of, like, a cockroach mystic almost.

Rosin: What is that?

Engber: Just, any question you ask, you might get an answer like this.

Frishman: I want you to picture a landfill, and it’s snowing. It’s about 28 degrees out, okay? And you’re there with seven or eight men, and you’re digging away at the snow because you’re teaching them how to bait on a landfill. Alright?

Frishman: And then out of the snow in that cold comes American roaches running up, bubbling up—five, 10, 15, 60, 100, 200 from the smoldering heat down below.

Rosin: I love this man. He makes it seem, like, biblical. So where does this cockroach mystic, Dr. Frishman, fit into this story?

Engber: You know, Frishman is in the story almost from the very start. In 1985, and in the lead up to 1985, Frishman had been hired by a company called American Cyanamid. And American Cyanamid researchers had this product that they were selling for use in controlling fire ants.

Rosin: Mm-hmm.

Engber: And the researchers in their, you know, industrial-products division were aware of the fact that this fire ant poison worked on cockroaches. And, in fact, they used it in the lab to control cockroaches.

Rosin: Their own cockroach problem?

Engber: Yes. Yeah, they put it in peanut butter, and they put it around the lab, just so they could continue to do their work on fire ants.

Rosin: Mm-hmm.

Engber: Um, but then the company was, you know, making this effort to try to figure out, Well, can we repurpose some of our industrial products for a consumer use? And so forth. So, you’ve got a hot, new roach-control product. Who do you call?

Rosin: Oh!

Engber: Austin Frishman.

Rosin: Yes. Austin Frishman.

Frishman: And I said, “Well, it’s going to be difficult, and it may not work.” And they said to me, “Listen. Do you want to do the project or not?” I said, “No. I’ll do it just so you know what we’re up against.”

Engber: Okay, so everything we had up until that point were these, you know, these insecticides that we’d just been using for years. And the roaches had just developed resistance to them. Even if you, you know, you killed 99 percent of them, the ones you didn’t kill would have some mutation that protected them or they’d have a thicker shell or something, a thicker exoskeleton, and they’d survive and reproduce. And now your insecticides weren’t working anymore.

Rosin: Right. So they would just keep outsmarting us?

Engber: Right. And so one of the things about this new product that made it different from the old ones was it wasn’t just a spray that you’d put in the corners. It’s actually a bait. That little, black disc had something in it that sort of tasted like oatmeal cookie that roaches loved, and they would come in and get it and then take it out.

Philip Koehler: We were filming the cockroaches, and we found that only 25 percent of the cockroaches ate the bait, but 100 percent of the cockroaches would die.

Engber: That’s Philip Koehler. He’s another cockroach expert. And what he’s talking about here is the fact that, like, this stuff would kill roaches that hadn’t even eaten it.

Rosin: Like, what do you mean? How?

Engber: Well, that’s what I asked Phil Koehler.

Koehler: It was a slow-acting toxicant that allowed transfer to other members of the colony.

Daniel Engber: Wait. They would regurgitate it? Or how does it get transferred?

Koehler: Well, there are several mechanisms of transfer. The main one would be that cockroaches will eat another cockroach’s poop. It was actually after this work with Combat baits that it became, uh, known that cockroaches actually feed poop to their young.

Rosin: Amazing. I love it when researchers are put in a position where they have to say words like poop, but just very seriously. (Laughs.)

Koehler: And there are actually other methods of transfer of toxicant as well. There is, like you said, regurgitation, where they get sick and they regurgitate some, and other cockroaches will come and feed on that vomit. Uh, there’s also cannibalism, where a cockroach will attack another cockroach and eat it. And there’s also, uh, necrophagy, where the cockroaches will eat the dead.

Rosin: Each method more charming than the next. (Laughs.)

Engber: Yeah.

Rosin: Yeah. Okay.

Engber: Vomit, poop, or cannibalism.

Rosin: This seems exciting.

Engber: (Laughs.)

Rosin: No, I mean, if I were them, this would be really exciting. Like, I’m just imagining them, you know, like in Oppenheimer, sort of sitting in their lab, like, figuring out every element of this. How are we gonna make it safe? How’s it gonna work? It’s exciting.

Engber: Yeah, they were on the verge of something big.

Frishman: We would run to the lab early in the morning to see the results from the night before, or stay up half the night and watch. And we began to see, you know, what was happening. In the beginning, I was hesitant and the whole thing. But as we began to do the work and I saw the results first in the lab, it was a breakthrough. Okay?

Engber: Frishman was among the first to take this breakthrough product, put it in a syringe, take it out of the lab, and start using it in restaurants and diners to see if it worked.

Frishman: I went into a small diner, a little luncheonette place, and a bunch of guys were sitting and eating sandwiches, and I was behind the counter, so I was down low. And I had the bait, and I saw the roaches in a crack, and I just put a little dab. And as I went to go do it, the roaches started coming out, and they were gobbling it up.

Daniel Engber: You, uh, saw in real time them come to the bait.

Frishman: I was the first person in the world. I was shaking, okay? I’m telling you, I was shaking. I still have that syringe, that original one.

[Music]

Engber: This is the moment. This is the brink of the relatively roach-free world that we live in today. Now we had the little black discs, I would say, you know, two inches across or something.

Rosin: With an entrance and an exit.

Engber: With an entrance. With an entrance and an exit.

Frishman: I had written a book called The Cockroach Combat Manual, so that’s how it got its name.

Engber: And Frishman is going to take this product on the road.

Frishman: People would write in with horror stories, and they won a prize: the product and me. And we would go into those places and knock out the population.

Engber: So, he takes this to Texas. He takes it to Georgia. They do an event at the Museum of Natural History in New York City. They go to the Capitol. Remember the Tom Brokaw report? Those are Combat traps. And then ads start appearing on television.

[Compilation of Combat advertisements]

Engber: So this wasn’t just a marketing campaign. I mean, the product really did work.

Rosin: What do you mean, it worked?

Engber: Well, cockroach numbers were going down—you can find signs everywhere. Actually, a guy I went to high school with wrote an article for The New York Times in 2004, and he reported that there had been a survey of federal buildings and their cockroach complaints between 1988 and 1999—so this is Combat rollout era—and the number of complaints fell by 93 percent.

Rosin: Wow.

Engber: I also found a 1991 story from The New York Times—again, right in that Combat zone—and a New York City housing official is quoted as saying, “There was a time when people were horrified at roaches running rampant, and now everybody keeps saying, ‘Where did they go to?’”

Rosin: So it’s a thing. It’s, like, an actual, documented thing.

Engber: Yeah.

Rosin: And yet it’s not a huge moment? Like, there aren’t a lot of stories saying, Yay, us. We have conquered the cockroach problem?

Engber: No, there are not. There are stories about Combat success as almost like a business case study.

Rosin: Mm-hmm.

Engber: There are stories that remark upon the fact that there are fewer cockroaches than there used to be.

Rosin: Mm-hmm.

But nothing that’s like, This enormous, giant, urban problem has finally been solved by this ragtag crew of amazing scientists.

Engber: (Laughs.) Nothing of that nature.

There’s a reason why I had to introduce Austin Frishman to you as a member of the pest-management hall of fame. And you weren’t like, Oh, you mean the guy on the back of the quarter?

Rosin: Yeah. (Laughs.) Right. But why?

Engber: I mean, that is the question that has been keeping me up at night. And I have some ideas.

Rosin: Dan, you said you had some ideas about why this discovery didn’t get the credit and hoopla that it deserved.

Engber: So my brother had a good theory about this. I said, How come just our family—why didn’t we celebrate and go to dinner or something? The roaches are gone. He said, Well, it’s because we just assumed they would come back.

Rosin: Hmm.

Engber: So I think that must be part of it, right? That there was like, Oh, this new thing works. But yeah, everything works the first time you do it.

So there was never one moment where you realized that the world had changed.

Or it could be that, you know, when things change for better, we just have a tendency to just accept the new, better reality and pretend the old thing didn’t happen. Hey, that’s done. I’d rather not discuss it.

Rosin: Like, what’s an example of that?

Engber: The Spanish flu, for example. There’s a famous gap in art and literature about the Spanish flu. There’s not a great literature of this cataclysmic event in the 19-teens. You’d think there would be, but there isn’t. Why not?

Rosin: Probably because it was traumatic. And actually, you know, I think that’s similar to the experience with cockroaches. When, at least in my memory, when I was living with them, it wasn’t just, like, gross or annoying or an inconvenience. It’s really unsettling. Like, it lives as this constant undercurrent of anxiety and a sense that you just don’t have control over things. It’s like a terrible feeling.

Engber: Like a free-floating, pervasive anxiety hanging over you at all times.

Rosin: Yes. Yes.

Engber: Can we talk about the Cold War for a second?

Rosin: Uh, yeah?

Engber: (Laughs.)

Rosin: Yeah.

Engber: So, we were talking about how the cockroach was this, um, symbol of indestructibility that would outlast us in the event of nuclear war.

Rosin: Yeah?

Engber: This was—I mean, the cockroach was—in a way, a symbol of the Cold War. Like, the nuclear-disarmament groups would put ads in the newspaper with just a picture of a cockroach.

Rosin: Hmm.

Engber: To try to, you know, be like, Wake up, America. We have to disarm now, or this is the future.

Rosin: So it all just got blended in our heads—like, nuclear war anxiety, cockroach anxiety.

Engber: Yes. And then those two anxieties were being unwound at almost exactly the same time. Just to be frank, this is a highly tenuous theory, but I do want to line these things up.

So, you know, 1985, the Tom Brokaw report, the Combat is coming out. Spring of 1985, that’s also when Mikhail Gorbachev comes to power.

In fact, Silvio Conte—the congressman who on the steps of the Capitol is saying, “Squash one for the Gipper,” touting Combat traps, which are manufactured in his district—five days later he’s in Moscow for a historic meeting with Gorbachev at the Kremlin. That is considered a watershed moment in the wind down of the Cold War.

Silvio Conte: Gorbachev says, “At the present time, our relationship is in an ice age.” However, he said, “Spring is a time of renewal.”

Engber: I’m just saying the guy wearing the exterminator outfit on the steps of the Capitol, touting Combat, gave Ronald Reagan the advice to meet with Mikhail Gorbachev.

Rosin: Like, in the span of a week?

Engber: In less than a week. In less than a week he was in Moscow. And you start to see Combat traps are, you know, spreading through the country as glasnost is spreading through the USSR.

Rosin: (Laughs.)

Engber: And in the years that follow, we have the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union. Those are exactly the years when the cockroach populations are finally diminishing, when we’re winning the war on cockroaches and we’re winning the Cold War. It’s happening concurrently.

Rosin: So what you’re saying is our nuclear fears dissipate. Our cockroach fears dissipate. And what?

Engber: What I’m saying is it was the cockroach that took over the imagination as this thing. They made sense to stand in for nuclear fears.

Rosin: Mm-hmm.

Engber: And then going the other way, once we were free of that nuclear anxiety, we just sort of glided into a roach-free world.

[Music]

Engber: Okay, Hanna. There’s one more thing.

Um, so the roaches are coming back.

Rosin: No.

Engber: I’m sorry to say.

Rosin: What?

Engber: It seems clear that the roaches are coming back, but it has taken a really long time, right? So it’s true that they couldn’t develop biological resistance to the poison.

But then roaches did develop what’s called a behavioral resistance to the baits.

Basically, roaches stopped preferring sweet foods. So, the poison would still kill them, but they weren’t interested in the oatmeal-cookie bait in the center of the Combat trap.

So, roach numbers are slowly going up again. And if you read publications of the Pest Management Association newsletter, which maybe I’ve done recently, you can see that there’s, you know, there’s some chatter about how roach calls are increasing.

Okay, so I pulled some numbers. I went to the American Housing Survey from the federal government. In 2011, 13.1 million estimated households had signs of cockroaches in the last 12 months. In 2021, 14.5 million.

Rosin: Hmm.

Engber: So, creeping. That’s the word: creeping. The numbers are creeping upward.

Rosin: Does that raise the possibility that future generations—my children, their children—will actually have to contend with roaches?

Engber: They might. It’s possible. But I’d be lying if I didn’t say it’s also a little bit appealing in a way.

Rosin: No. Did you say appealing?

Engber: Well, okay. This came up when I was talking to my brother.

Daniel Engber: What’s the attitude of your children towards cockroaches?

Ben Engber: My children are total wusses about it. They run away and they scream. Shosh is terrified of insects.

Daniel Engber: Is she better or worse for that?

Ben Engber: I would say she’s worse for that.

Rosin: I mean, isn’t that what everyone says? Like, We were the toughest generation, and everything has gone downhill since then. I mean, I feel that there’s a little bit of that in this conversation we’re having.

Engber: Yes. That is exactly the conversation we’re having. And it’s embarrassing but true. I can’t shake it. Like, I have some pride in the fact that we did the Roach Olympics. It might be a ridiculous thing to be proud of, but I feel like we were being imaginative and fearless and having fun.

My kids are imaginative and have fun. They are not fearless.

Ben Engber: Falling to pieces at the sight of an insect does not strike me as a healthy way to attack life. As a species, we would not have made it very far if just a little filth took us out. And maybe the roachy upbringing is what instilled that in me.

Daniel Engber: So you’re pro-roach. Mom has been vindicated for feeding you a roach in medicine.

Ben Engber: Oh, yeah. Mom is absolutely vindicated.

Rosin: So the thing you’re actually nostalgic for is both freedom and maybe even a little bit of courage.

Engber: Yeah, but, you know, it’s more than that. Not only did my brother and I get to enjoy the feeling of being unafraid of cockroaches, we also got to enjoy the feeling of things getting better.

Rosin: Yeah.

Engber: An intractable problem gets solved. And I feel like that’s, you know, that’s a really nice lesson to learn, even as a kid. And unfortunately, I don’t know that my kids have had many opportunities to learn that specific lesson. So I’m nostalgic for that, too.

[Music]

Rosin: You know what, Dan?

Engber: Yeah?

Rosin: I think that it’s time that me and you and your brother go and have our celebratory dinner that we never had all those years ago. Like, instead of going to a steakhouse, we’ll just each get bowls of cereal. Bowls of cereal for everyone.

Engber: Rice Krispies.

Rosin: Yeah.

This episode of Radio Atlantic was produced by Ethan Brooks. It was edited by Jocelyn Frank, fact-checked by Michelle Ciarrocca, and engineered by Rob Smierciak.

Special thanks to Sam Schechner for his roach reporting in The New York Times.

Claudine Ebeid is the executive producer for Atlantic Audio, and Andrea Valdez is our managing editor. I’m Hanna Rosin. Thanks for listening.



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