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DC's public library has officially declared the city's best dinosaur roars

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

(Roaring). For the third summer in a row, Washington, D.C., was taken over by dinosaurs.

(SOUNDBITE OF PERSON SCREECHING)

SIMON: The D.C. Public Library announced the winners of its annual dinosaur roaring contest this week. Entries include the terrifying toddler-saurus (ph)...

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #1: (Roaring).

SIMON: ...A gigantic Tyrannosaurus rex...

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #2: (Roaring).

SIMON: ...The pterodactyl of Capitol Hill...

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #3: (Roaring).

SIMON: ...Grunts...

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #4: (Grunting).

SIMON: ...Shrieks...

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #5: (Shrieking).

SIMON: ...And the classic.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #6: Roar, like that.

SIMON: Librarian Elaine Pelton organizes the contest.

ELAINE PELTON: I will fully admit this - I am not very interested in dinosaurs. I've never been interested in dinosaurs.

SIMON: Surprising perhaps even herself, Elaine Pelton says she got the idea when she heard about a Charleston, S.C., man who advertised a dinosaur roaring contest and asked participants to call a friend of his with their best submissions. It was a prank, but Elaine Pelton thought, that's what I want in my voicemail. D.C. Public Library got about 120 entries this year. Ms. Pelton and the other judges chose 13 winners, giving points for energy...

PELTON: If somebody is particularly enthusiastic and you can tell, then that's something that we like to see.

SIMON: ...But no points for volume.

PELTON: I personally am not a fan of screaming entries. The loudness is not what's going to make or break your entry - or it might break it, actually.

SIMON: Seven-year-old Emelia Massie Lopez won best child vocals for her impression of Giganotosaurus.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

EMELIA MASSIE LOPEZ: (Roaring).

PELTON: You can tell this is something that she's really perfected. This is her thing. And it's really wonderful to watch.

SIMON: One especially tough category, Elaine Pelton says - it's toddlers.

PELTON: The category we get by far the most entries from - our baby toddler category, which makes it really difficult for the judges because you have to be - like, have conversations like, well, this toddler just really needed to step it up (laughter). He needed to step up his game.

SIMON: And the judges do reward accuracy. Elaine Pelton suggests contestants ought to try to sound more like a reptile than a mammal. And before you begin to roar at your smart speaker - OK, we know - this network has reported extensively that dinosaurs probably didn't really roar.

MATTHEW CARRANO: Roar is probably a really great sound for a dinosaur in a movie or if you are kind of having an exciting time thinking about dinosaurs. But it's probably not very close to the sound a living dinosaur would have made.

SIMON: Matthew Carrano is the curator of Dinosauria - what a title - at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. That would make him pretty much an expert, except...

CARRANO: In a very literal sense, we know nothing 'cause we don't have the ability to fossilize sound.

SIMON: It's been several millions of years since dinosaurs made whatever sound they made. But Mr. Carrano believes we can eliminate some possibilities.

CARRANO: Dinosaurs probably didn't have, for example, the specialized organ that songbirds have to make the very, you know, sophisticated songs that they do. They don't have the complicated facial muscles that mammals have. So the way we articulate our sounds to make consonants and vowels - I think that's pretty clearly beyond the physical capabilities of an animal like a dinosaur. But they also could have made sounds that we couldn't hear - too high to low, things like that.

SIMON: There are some clues in their closest living relatives.

CARRANO: Things like ostriches and emus and the kind of sounds they make, or even dinosaur cousins that are alive like crocodiles and alligators and the sounds they make. And none of those things are animals that roar or really are loud in the way that mammals are loud. Mammals do a lot of yelling.

SIMON: In case you've never heard an alligator - and really, who'd want to get close enough to converse? - or an emu, here's what they'd sound like all mushed together.

(SOUNDBITE OF ANIMAL GROWLING)

SIMON: For all anyone knows, that could be scientifically accurate. In fact, so could this (roaring). That's a species our crew calls the Scott-asaurus (ph). Now, I missed the D.C. Public Library's deadline for entries, but while we had a paleontologist on the line, we just had to ask, how'd I do?

CARRANO: I actually think it's not too bad.

SIMON: Well, thanks for the encouragement. Elaine Pelton said I was pretty reptilian - I hope she meant the sound I make - and says that she's open to changing the name of the dinosaur roaring contest to more accurately reflect science. In the meantime, she hopes people don't take it too seriously, just like we did.

PELTON: Oh, I love this contest so much. It gives people a chance to shine in something that they might not otherwise have a chance to shine in. I literally just love giving out trophies. It's just fun to see what people will do. And I love this sense when it all comes together of this global community that's really heartwarming.

SIMON: And if dinosaur roars don't warm your heart, this fall, the library will hold an evil laugh contest (laughing maniacally). That's terrible. I sound like I'm barfing.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOHN WILLIAMS'S "THEME FROM "JURASSIC PARK"") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.