Lateral with Tom Scott

Comedy panel game podcast about weird questions with wonderful answers, hosted by Tom Scott.

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Episode 13: A glassware tax affair

Published 6th January, 2023

Cleo Abram, Simone Giertz and 'Legal Eagle' Devin Stone face questions about colossal chains, prudish paintings, and golden goblets.

HOST: Tom Scott. QUESTION PRODUCER: David Bodycombe. EDITED BY: The Podcast Studios, Dublin. EDITOR: Julie Hassett. MUSIC: Karl-Ola Kjellholm ('Private Detective'/'Agrumes', courtesy of ADDITIONAL QUESTION: Devin Stone. FORMAT: Pad 26 Limited/Labyrinth Games Ltd. EXECUTIVE PRODUCERS: David Bodycombe and Tom Scott.


Transcription by Caption+

Tom:Why does the University of California, Berkeley have parking spots marked "NL Reserved"? The answer to that at the end of the show. My name's Tom Scott, and this is Lateral.

I've been joined by three people who we've recruited from a fertile ground for guests: a support group for procrastinators. Ready to avoid editing their next video for 45 minutes or so, we have Devin Stone from the YouTube channel LegalEagle.
Devin:Happy to be here. Easy for you to say.
Tom:(laughs) You try saying support group for— (stammers) See? It's impossible! Support group for procrastinators. It's impossible. How are you doing, Devin?
Devin:Well, just happy to be here. Thanks for having me, Tom.
Tom:Thanks for being on the show.

Also, Simone Giertz. Inventor, maker, how do you describe yourself these days?
Simone:Board member of the support group for procrastinators. Yeah. Also known as SFP.
Tom:Sure, that works for me.
Devin:I'll see you at the meeting.
Tom:And finally, booked by complete coincidence onto the same show as the person she's making a nuclear fusion reactor with, Cleo Abram.
Tom:How do I describe you? Video journalist? What's the best way for someone who is literally making a fusion reactor with Simone?
Cleo:Video journalist, amateur... Wannabe engineer. It all works.
Simone:All around amazing, solid human.
Tom:Well, thank you very much to all of you for being on the show. Good luck for the next 40 minutes or so. Our show is like an epic quest with three intrepid adventurers, trudging through uncertain terrain to find the Yeti. But the only things abominable here are the questions. So good luck, here's the first.

Michael Mannion from Staffordshire, UK, has a large illustration from Where's Waldo? on his ceiling. Why?

I'll say that again. Michael Mannion from Staffordshire, UK, has a large illustration of Where's Waldo? on his ceiling. Why?

I did deliberately translate that, because it's Where's Wally? 'cause it's British, but... We've got three people from North America. It's Where's Waldo?.
Cleo:That did make it significantly—
Devin:Why wouldn't you...
Devin:put Where's Waldo? on the ceiling? I think that sounds like a great idea.
Cleo:Yeah, because that would be awesome.
Tom:To be fair, I should have started the question with "Where's Wally" and just made you all figure that one out first. It's like step one of the question.
Devin:You have to take a lift to his bedroom... where he's got Where's Wally? on the ceiling. Cuz he used to keep him in the boot of his car. I don't know, I'm trying to come up with British-isms.
Simone:I wanna say, yeah. Either... insomnia or weird fetish.
Cleo:I was gonna say.
Cleo:Weird fetish. I was not thinking weird fetish, but I was thinking insomnia. Like if you're lying in bed... Just an ineffective insomnia tool, 'cause your eyes are open.
Tom:When you said he took the lift, Devin, in my head there was like a scissor lift in this room, that you have to take, like up to the top of the Sistine Chapel or whatever it is for this enormous Where's— No, it is just an illustration that you can see at ground level. At regular size.
Simone:But wait, so is it, was it in his bedroom?
Simone:No? Okay.
Tom:I just said ceiling.
Simone:Okay, just the ceiling.
Devin:Ah, oh, good clarifying. And to clarify, to Simone's point, is Waldo fully clothed in this ceiling mural?
Tom:Yes, and that was the most loyally phrasing of that sentence possible.
Simone:I think also it's like... If he's not wearing his stripe shirt, it's like, "Yeah, you couldn't find Waldo because he was naked."
Tom:Is he Waldo anymore at that point? Who knows?
Simone:Does he need a reason though? That is the main, my main critique of this question, because that seems like it could just be something that you would do, and you don't need a good reason for it.
Cleo:Coming soon, wallpaper from Giertz.
Tom:Oh, but you'd have to build a thing that tiled that, wouldn't you? You'd have to make a looping Where's Waldo?
Devin:Well, you would have to. It would just get extremely expensive if you have to, you know, paint every single unique panel of wallpaper.
Tom:This feels like an AI thing. It feels like someone could make like an infinite Where's Waldo? with that, but you would also have to train it to not put more Waldos elsewhere in the picture.
Devin:Yeah. Is this guy obsessed with Waldo? Is he a collector of some kind?
Tom:No, there is a purpose to this. That was a question you asked a little while back. There is definitely a reason it's there.
Devin:A non-sexual reason.
Cleo:Is this kind of like a Sistine Chapel situation for kids? Like are we, is this a group environment, like a museum, or is it his personal ceiling?
Tom:It's neither of those. This is at a place of work. But yes, it is for visitors.
Cleo:Does he work at the company that makes Waldo? Whatever company that is.
Tom:Not quite. Well, actually, no. I don't know why I said, "not quite." Not even close, sorry.
Devin:Seemed like there was something there.
Simone:He has experienced a life of neck problems, that he wants other people to be able to relate to it. So he put this thing that people have to look up and then he's like, "Does your neck hurt? Yeah, deal with it. I've had 34 years of this."
Cleo:He's an eye doctor and it's a test.
Simone:Oh... Oh!
Cleo:He's a brain doctor.
Simone:A dentist, dentist!
Tom:There we go. That's it.
Tom:Absolutely right, Simone. Yes. That is a—
Simone:A dentist, really?
Tom:Yep. Spot on.
Devin:Nicely done.
Tom:It's... so you're right. People are lying down and looking up, and that is a distraction for them as he pokes around in their teeth. He is a dentist.
Simone:Honestly, I feel like we should have gotten there earlier.
Simone:That's, yeah.
Tom:It's always worth saying the silly things out loud. Like, he's not an eye doctor, that wouldn't be on the ceiling. And then that's the clue that gets you in, yep.
Devin:Yeah, because who doesn't enjoy being distracted from people working on your teeth by getting incredibly frustrated by not being able to find Waldo on the ceiling at the same time?
Simone:Yeah, 'cause he's not wearing a shirt.
Tom:When I was a kid, the dentist I went to just had a poster on the ceiling that was, "Whose are these smiles?" And it was like six photos of celebrities, which was vaguely interesting the very first time you go there. And then it was exactly the same for many years.
Simone:I feel like dentist appointments would be one of the few things where I'm almost like, "Yeah, I'd put on an Oculus Rift for that."
Simone:I'd be distracted by being in VR.
Tom:You couldn't move your head around though. You'd just...
Simone:Yeah, no, that's true. Any dentists and gynecologists, I would be happy to wear an Oculus.
Cleo:Put something on the ceiling, please.
Simone:Yeah, just... I don't wanna be here right now. Just let me escape.
Tom:I mean, I feel like the solution could also just be a TV screen, but also, I'm not sure I'd want the TV screen of Damocles mounted up on my head, ready to crash down at any moment.
Cleo:Right, right.
Tom:So yes, Michael Mannion from Staffordshire is a dentist, and has a Where's Waldo? illustration on his ceiling.

The next question comes from one of our guests. As always, I don't know the question. I definitely don't know the answer. Simone, we're gonna start with you. What have you got?
Simone:So, in 1805, Francisco Goya completed the painting, La maja vestida, of a reclining young lady. The first version of the same woman, painted a few years earlier, had an important difference. At any one time, only one version was put on display by the original owner. Why?

In 1805, Francisco Goya completed the painting, La maja vestida, of a reclining young lady. The first version of the same woman, painted a few years earlier, had an important difference. At any one time, only one version was put on display by the original owner. Why?
Cleo:One was his current wife, and one was his previous wife. Or one was his mistress.
Simone:Same woman.
Cleo:And so he would only display... Same woman.
Tom:I like the idea though. It's whoever's his favourite at that moment. La maja vestida. I assume that's just gonna be like "reclining lady", but I do not speak the language.
Simone:And also you do not speak my pronunciation of the language.
SFX:(group chuckling)
Devin:Is the... Is the style of the painting important in any way?
Devin:Okay. Striking out.
Cleo:Is the lady clothed? I'm just curious.
Simone:There might be something there.
Devin:I think with Goya, probably not.
Tom:I feel like Devin would've phrased that in the loyally way, as opposed to...
Devin:"She got her clothes on or what?"
Tom:(belly laughs) So my initial thought was if you've got... If you've got something that is switching back and forth. And maybe this is just cause we're filming this like end of 2022, I was thinking like king and queen. That maybe there's something in the background for whether it's a king or queen on the throne. And so it's got like, I dunno, the dates or the country, but like, the gender of the monarch change, and the painting has like king in the background. They needs to change it now they change it back depending on... I've been rambling a long time and no one said yes, so I'm just gonna assume I'm wrong on this one.
Simone:It's more of a 'from one day to another' type of swap.
Devin:Is it seasonal? One is for, you know, the winter, one is for the summertime?
Tom:I was trying to work out if anything changed between like 18... It's a few years early, so like 1800 to 1805. What changed around then?
Devin:I'm sure nothing happened.
Cleo:But does it change once, or does it change back and forth repeatedly?
Simone:Back and forth repeatedly.
Cleo:Okay, so I like the king and queen thing, but if it's day to day... It's not a night and day situation, is it? They wouldn't change a painting based on that.
Simone:I mean... No. No.
Tom:It was a few years apart for the painting. So the original lasted for a few years, and then they decided to start changing it. Oh!
Devin:Okay, actually. It's the same woman. So I'm thinking maybe it's his wife or his mistress, and in one she's fully clothed, and in the other she's not fully clothed, depending on whether that woman is residing in the house in which it's displayed,
Tom:Or the place where it's displayed.
Simone:Ding ding ding!
Simone:Yeah. It is not depending on if she is there, but rather on who is coming, and how PG do you want it to be.
Simone:So one is of the lady fully naked. And that was the original. That was the Maja desnuda, which is the "Naked Woman" I think. And then they painted a second version of it, where she's fully dressed, and you could actually switch back and forth. And apparently in the 19th century, it was common to have clothed and nude versions of the same artwork, which could be swapped if you wish to share the blushes of any visitors.
Tom:I mean, that's just the... That's just the old-fashioned equivalent of having an Instagram profile and a private Instagram profile.
SFX:(group laughing)
Tom:"Which one are you getting friended on? Oh, it's that one! Okay, right, fine."
Devin:Yeah, the very first instance of a Finsta.
Cleo:Yeah. Devin has the basket here, but I will take the layup, because I asked if she was unclothed, just out of curiosity.
Simone:No, you did, and I was like, "Dig further, you got it! You got it, Cleo!" Not that I'm partial. But also I kinda wish that instead of doing two different paintings, they would've just sewn her some clothes that they could hang up on it.
Devin:I think it would've been really easy. You just take a small piece of wood, paint it black, and then just hang it on the objectionable parts of the painting. Just have the black bar.
Tom:And then it gets to the 20th century, and you've got that sort of thermochromic paint, and you just put a little heater behind it, and just click, the painting...
Simone:Oh, I think that would be such a cool project though, to have a blurred bar, and you could put that over paintings. So you could just put it, yeah.
Devin:Like a lenticular.
Simone:And like blur different parts of it. I feel like that would be a fun, that's like a good commentary on how we censor things, and how censorships have changed throughout history. I'm gonna write this down.
Devin:Yeah, I think you have your next video idea.
Simone:Yeah. (chuckles)
Devin:Self-censoring paintings.
Simone:So the reason that Francisco Goya painted two versions of the same painting was because one of them was fully dressed, and one of them was fully naked. And depending on who visited your house, you could swap out between the two.
Tom:Back to me for the next question. Good luck folks.

In Lakehurst, New Jersey, there is a loop of yellow chain that is 72 feet long by 15 feet wide. But it should be about 11 times larger. Why is it there?

One more time.

In Lakehurst New Jersey, there's a loop of yellow chain, 72 feet long by 15 feet wide, but it should be about 11 times larger. Why is it there?
Devin:Has anyone been to Lakehurst, New Jersey, first of all?
Devin:I'm sure it's beautiful.
Simone:I... Did the lake grow? Like, so it was supposed to go around the entire lake? But then there was a lot of downpour and the lake grew? No. Ooh, animal welfare. There was some animal, and technically you need a much bigger pen for their wellbeing.
Devin:It sounds like there's just one link of chain. And it's a yellow link of chain. So like a one—
Tom:Oh, no, a loop of chain. Not a single link, but loop.
Devin:Yes, right, right, right. Okay. But it's not like a chain link fence or something like that?
Tom:No, it's just a loop of chain.
Cleo:Is it on the ground?
Devin:Oh, it's on the ground.
Cleo:Okay, so on the ground implies not underwater, and not like around a building super high in the air, okay. So it's just lying there.
Devin:I mean, given that we're talking about New Jersey my mind immediately goes to giant places of pollution, Superfund sites, and that you need to cordon this area off, because there's nuclear waste and... they got funding and, you know, they only got enough funding for a 72 by 11 chain link.
Tom:You're a New Yorker, right Devin?
Devin:No, no, I'm in DC.
Tom:Okay. I'm just wondering what the opinion of Jersey was.
Devin:Not high, not high.
Cleo:It's the legal policy analysis. They must have applied for a permit, and then they didn't get it.
Simone:Well, wait, why would you have a chain? So it's not even like a little bit up in the air? It's just laying on the ground?
Tom:Yeah, 72 feet by 15 feet.
Simone:It's not there to keep something in or out?
Cleo:And it's also not a circle.
Devin:Well, it's a loop. Not necessarily a circle.
Cleo:Right, but it's in a rectangle. It's 72 feet by 15 feet, is that what it was?
Tom:Yeah, but it's a loop. So I'd call it more of a an oval-ish shape.
Devin:I mean, the last time I saw a chain link on the ground, was for mountain climbing. So you secure it as you go up a mountain. I don't suppose, is it a safety thing like that?
Tom:The thing you've the thing you've kind of skipped over is that it should be 11 times larger, roughly.
Simone:I wonder, is there... is it like a miniature of a sports field or something, or... or they (bleep) up the rules of soccer? I don't know, like...
Cleo:Also 72 by 15 is really big already, and it should be 11 times larger.
Simone:It should be 11 times larger?
Simone:What is 11 times 72?
Tom:Roughly 800 by 160. Very roughly.
Devin:So that's quite a bit larger than a football field.
Devin:A football field would be 300 feet long.
Tom:If you wanted to make this full scale, it would be utterly impractical.
Devin:Is it a— Okay, so is it a miniature of something?
Tom:It's a to-scale of something, yes. A full size version of this would be utterly impractical. You're absolutely right, Devin. You said it'd be larger than a football field, and yeah, it would be. So this is to-scale, to commemorate something.
Simone:But did they, when they made this, was it the right scale, or like, was it one to one with the original, but then the original grew?
Tom:No, no.
Devin:Is the color yellow important? So that—
Tom:No, that's just so people don't trip over it.
Cleo:Okay, wait, he just said it's to commemorate something.
Tom:I did. I was wondering if anyone was gonna pick up on that!
Devin:Oh, shoot, shoot.
Cleo:It's to commemorate something. They built a small thing to commemorate a larger thing.
Tom:That was about an 800 by 160 foot oval in New Jersey.
Cleo:Is it a submarine or a ship of some kind?
Tom:Oh, oh! I'm smiling. Anyone who's guessed it will know why I'm smiling, because I can literally say, no, the opposite of that.
Cleo:Is it a rocket?
Devin:It's probably a rocket.
Simone:An airplane?
Devin:Yeah, or airplane.
Simone:What's the opposite of a submarine?
Devin:Like a Zeppelin, like a blimp.
Tom:So why would you commemorate something like that?
Cleo:Is it the Hindenburg?
Tom:Yes, it is!
Tom:That is the commemoration site of the Hindenburg. They built—
Tom:They wanted to build a giant outline of the crash site that is utter impractical, just as you said, Devin. So they built one to-scale, and there is a loop of chain that is 1:11 scale of the Hindenburg, in a field in New Jersey.
Cleo:I am kicking myself because I actually did know—
Devin:Is New Jersey responsible for the Hindenburg crash?
Cleo:It's where the Hindenburg crashed. I did know that actually.
Simone:Yeah. Well, Cleo, you are the MVP of this so far. Yeah.
Tom:So, yes, Lakehurst, New Jersey has a loop of yellow chain, 72 feet by 15 feet. It's on a concrete slab with a plaque on it. It marks the crash site of the Hindenburg.

The next question comes from Devin. What have you got for us?
Devin:This question is from me, actually. And...
Tom:Oh, we've got we've got someone writing their own question. This is gonna be fun.
Devin:So a congressman and lawyer, Clement Vallandigham, was defending Thomas McGehan in a murder trial. McGehan was accused of shooting a well-known tough guy, Thomas Myers. Now, how did Vallandigham get his client acquitted?

So the question is:

Congressman and lawyer Clement Vallandigham was defending Thomas McGehan in a murder trial. McGehan was accused of shooting a well-known tough guy, Thomas Myers, in the stomach. How did Vallandigham get his client acquitted?
Tom:(laughs) We've got... Wow, okay. Did I need to write the names down there, Devin? Should I have been paying attention to the names that were in there?
Devin:Not really. I think you just need to know that they're sort of old timey names. And I'll let you know that this was a very unique defense.
Simone:God intervened. Something.
Devin:You might say that.
Cleo:Okay, so...
Tom:Wow, that's a strong start.
Devin:But also it's not that close.
Simone:No, but did it have— Did the acquittal have anything to do with religion and...
Tom:What year was this, did you say?
Cleo:Was it a natural disaster?
Devin:It was not a— there— no natural disaster. The saying that God intervened might be... less helpful than helpful. This is at the end of the 19th century.
Tom:Hooh, so there's not much to go on here. It's just—
Simone:Yeah, but there was no superstition, anything where it was like, "Oh, it was a demon that pulled the trigger" or...
Devin:The victim, Thomas Myers, was shot. So McGehan was accused of shooting this guy.
Simone:The injury actually ended up helping him, because he had had knee pain his entire life. He got shot in the knee, and he got magically cured. So... He got acquitted, 'cause it actually ended up being helpful.
Devin:The victim did die.
Simone:Oh, okay. He wanted to die anyway.
Tom:Something's kind of crawling up from the depths of my memory here, which sounds terrible. Which is that... did they like test the firearm in the courtroom or something like that? I've got a weird memory about a story of a gun being taken into a courtroom and fired at someone, so they could prove it wasn't done that way. Something like that?
Devin:A gun was brought in... for demonstration purposes, yes.
Cleo:Was it brought into a courtroom, or was it brought into, like, this was an early movie set?
Devin:There are differing accounts. Some say it was in the courtroom, some say it was outside of the courtroom. But there is a reason why this is a very unique defense that has never been tried again.
Tom:Oh, okay.
Simone:The gun was faulty and triggered by itself?
Devin:That was the argument that was being made, yes. So that's the argument that the lawyer, Clement Vallandigham was making.
Cleo:And what is the question? The question is...
Devin:So the question is, why was the lawyer's defense successful in defending this guy accused of murder? And the argument that he was making was that the victim shot himself.
Tom:Hold on, so the defendant was holding the gun, was pointing it at the victim. But the... hah.
Cleo:But the defense was that the victim shot himself?
Devin:Correct, correct. So not necessarily clear that it was the accused murderer's gun.
Cleo:Oh, the defendant didn't properly store or clean his gun, and so when it was used as a demo... it was his fault that he got shot with it and died?
Devin:It wasn't the defendant that... didn't know how to handle the gun. But someone else did a really bad job of handling what turned out to be a loaded firearm.
Simone:They were just cleaning the gun and collaborating on it. They were doing something together with the gun that was not the intention of...
Tom:The victim's pet hamster jumped on the gun and accidentally fired the trigger.
Devin:I'll give you a clue that... So the victim was shot, but the gun might have been shot later on. At a different time by perhaps someone else.
Cleo:Oh, he didn't die of the same gunshot wound?
Devin:I'd focus more on the lawyer. How was he able to create this defense?
Cleo:The lawyer shot him.
Devin:The lawyer did not shoot the victim, no.
Cleo:The lawyer shot the defendant, and so—
Devin:He didn't shoot the defendant either.
Tom:The lawyer shot the judge and just decided, and through some weird technicality in American law, that actually that that settled the...
Devin:Yes, according to the Second Amendment, if you shoot the judge, then the defendant is free to go.
Tom:You can't say that in your authoritative lawyer voice, Devin. Someone will take that out of context.
Devin:You're so close. Who else is possible to have been shot other than—
Cleo:The judge shot him. The lawyer shot the judge. Wait, how— The lawyer shot the judge. The lawyer shot the victim.
Tom:I'm drawing network diagrams in my head, and it's not working!
Simone:Did anybody get shot in the courtroom?
Tom:Did the lawyer shoot himself?
Devin:The lawyer shot himself.
Devin:Yes, so it— So in the process of demonstrating that it was possible that the victim actually was taking the gun out of his own pocket and shot himself and perished, the lawyer, Clement Vallandigham, was trying to demonstrate that this was possible. This is in, you know, at the end of the 19th century. So you have, you know, one of those Colt revolver sort of things with a hair trigger. And in the process of demonstrating that it was possible the victim, in pulling it out, shot himself, pulled the gun out, shot himself in the stomach, because he didn't know he was dealing with a loaded firearm. And as a result of demonstrating that not only was that possible, but it can lead to someone passing away. In this case, the lawyer, who died several days later.
Tom:Oh good grief!
Devin:The defendant after several retrials was acquitted and was set free.
Simone:Oh, wow.
Cleo:I can see why this has not been tried again.
SFX:(group laughing)
Tom:That was one of those questions all the clues you said made sense, and we just had to stumble towards the one connection there.
Devin:There are a lot of people who would like to see lawyers try this defense. But sadly no one else has done it. The answer is that Vallandigham was demonstrating how it might have been the case for Myers to draw his gun from his pocket and accidentally shoot himself in the process and shoot himself in the stomach. And while Vallandigham was performing this demo, he'd forgotten about his own partially loaded gun, which he'd been using to test things. And when he pulled the gun out, he accidentally squeezed the trigger and shot himself in the stomach, demonstrating that it was indeed possible for the victim to have shot himself. The lawyer perished a few days later.
Tom:Next question's from me. Here we go.

In 1805, the scientist Alexander von Humboldt was working in France. He imported a large number of specially-made glass tubes from his native Germany. How did he find a way to avoid the large import duty on scientific equipment?

I'll give you that again.

In 1805, the scientist Alexander von Humboldt was working in France. He imported a large number of specially made glass tubes from his native Germany. How did he find a way to avoid the large import duty on scientific equipment?
Simone:He put them in his butt! I'm sorry.
SFX:(others laughing)
Simone:Just had to get that outta my system.
Tom:No, thanks Simone.
Cleo:How many?
Tom:Just as a PSA for people: Do not insert glass tubes into your body. Don't recommend it. I feel like that's a recipe for disaster there. I appreciate starting with the lowbrow there, Simone.
Tom:Great start.
Simone:I just needed to get it out of my system. He stored food in them? And used them as food storage? Or was like, "Oh, this is just jam." I think we got jam in them.
Tom:They weren't disguised as anything other than glass tubes. He didn't add or subtract stuff.
Devin:Oh, so he didn't fill the tubes with anything?
Tom:Although, great way of doing it. And you're sort of along— You're vaguely in the right lines there. There's clearly some shenanigans going on. But it wasn't just disguising them as jam jars. 'Cause then you've gotta clean a load of stuff.
Devin:How large are these tubes? Are these, you know, when you think of a test vial, you think of like something kinda long and skinny. I think that... (chuckles) something that might fit in one's behind.
Tom:(laughs) I don't actually have the answer to that here. So, you know what, we're gonna say they're about that size, Devin, that works. That would be a valid answer to this question.
Cleo:I was immediately thinking something about electricity or something about a very early computing tool or something. Like, we did use glass vials in like early... obviously electricity, but also computing.
Simone:Yeah, that's a bit or a byte, but that seems early. That seems early for it.
Tom:I will say he did get the manufacturer to seal the ends of the tubes and add a label.
Simone:But you say he didn't add anything or subtract anything, but there was some sort of disguise.
Tom:Yeah, they were capped off and labelled, but there was nothing... He didn't shovel jam into them or anything like that.
Simone:Yeah, yeah, yeah. But he did manage to make them look like something else that wouldn't incur important duties.
Tom:They looked, they just looked like glass tubes.
Devin:Yeah, so okay. I think the trick is then finding a use that a glass tube would be used for. So you could call it something other than scientific equipment, but it's still the same thing. So like if you called it fluorescent lights or something.
Cleo:And crucially, like not import duty.
Tom:Yeah, so if you're importing any sort of scientific equipment, anything like that, that would get taxed.
Simone:But if it was in another category, it would not get taxed. So if he said, "Oh no, these are Christmas ornaments"...
Simone:He could skirt around it?
Tom:No, they'd still get taxed.
Cleo:Is the justification that they were French already? That he was importing something from Germany that was like, not from Germany, and so therefore it wasn't an import?
Tom:Oh, no, definitely getting colder there. You... Oh, you're dancing around the right thing, and there's... There's not much more I can say without giving it, which is frustrating.
Cleo:Air. This is nothing. This is just air.
Cleo:His facial expression is telling me something. Okay, so there's air in the tubes.
Tom:You're very— So what did that label say?
Devin:Storage container.
Tom:Cleo, you basically got it.
Tom:Yeah. The label said "German air", "deutsche luft." And he claimed that he was importing German air into France.
Simone:Oh, wow.
Cleo:Why wouldn't air be subject to an import tax?
Tom:No one's charging for air. As the story goes, the customs officials said, "He's importing air. There's no duty on that." And like the old story of the— You know the story about the guy who was stealing wheelbarrows?
Tom:No one's heard that one? There's an old story about someone who, every evening, he leaves the factory with a wheelbarrow full of dirt. And they check through the dirt. There's nothing there. "Oh, okay, on you go." No, he's stealing wheelbarrows. It's...
Tom:Old story. This is the same thing.
Devin:Well, I mean, they say that that's the reason for the "Is a hotdog a sandwich?" controversy is because sandwiches are, you know, taxed at a different rate than other kinds of food stuffs. Same with cake and bread. And Subway sandwich was running into this problem that their sandwich buns are so high in sugar, that they were actually classified as cake, which is taxed at a higher rate than bread. And so Subway was saying, "No, this isn't cake. This is bread." But they had to pay an excise tax because of the high sugar content.
Tom:Yeah, the... Yeah, the old British version of that is Jaffer Cakes. I dunno if anyone knows what those are. They're like little, well, according to the tax laws, they are cookies, I think. I can't remember which way round it goes, with like jam in them and chocolate covered. But they are labelled as Jaffer Cakes, and one of those is subject to tax and one of those isn't. And there was a long court case about that in the UK about which category they fall into.

Scientist Alexander von Humboldt, working in France, imported a large number of specially made glass tubes cheaply, by sealing them up and putting on a label that said "German Air."

Our last guest question of the day then comes from Cleo. Whenever you're ready.

On the Netflix television show Love is Blind, contestants go on a series of dates where they cannot see the person that they are talking to. Great show. Throughout the program, the producers give participants distinctive gold-effect goblets to drink from. Why?
Simone:Can I say why? I have a theory about this, because in all reality shows, they're always using goblets that you can't see, and I'm thinking it's for continuity. So they never have see-through glasses, because then if they're jump-cutting between different parts of the night, you're gonna see the amount of drink jumping up and down. Is that true?
Devin:Oh, man!
Tom:Wow, okay.
Cleo:She didn't even know for sure. That was a theory.
Simone:No, I didn't know for sure.
Devin:This is great because having watched that show, though I would never admit to that in public. I was really wor— I was wondering why they were using the opaque glasses. I just assumed—
Simone:No, and I've always thought about that. I've been like, in every reality show, they have that, and I'm like, it has to (bleep) do with continuity. Like, that's the only reason I can think of.
Cleo:Yes, very— So it also is particularly problematic in Love is Blind, because they stay in these capsules with each other on either side of an opaque wall for hours. They're in there 24/7 and they're recording all the time. And you see these people staying like overnight, chatting with their potential... love mate. What do we call this?
Cleo:And— Yeah, potential partner. And so the producers were worried that they wouldn't be able to jump back and forth to different parts of the conversation to make it make sense. And so the opaque glasses— They also had an additional reason: they were aesthetically helpful to distinguish the series from other shows. There's a creator of Love is Blind, told Variety, "When you turn on the show, you know it's our show." But that's the secondary reason. Continuity is the first reason.
Devin:So also having watched international versions of Love is Blind— Again, I would never admit to that in public.
SFX:(others laughing)
Devin:It's wild, the differences between the American Love is Blind, the Brazilian Love is Blind, and the Japanese Love is Blind. Our cultures are very different when it comes to these things, and it is shocking how reserved some of these shows are, And just how outta control crazy the other ones are.
Cleo:Is it the US that's outta control crazy, or is someone crazier than we are?
Devin:I think the Brazilians are even crazier than we are.
Tom:A friend of mine watches Love Island, which is one of the UK reality shows, and they—
Devin:Oh, yeah.
Simone:A friend of yours?
Tom:Yeah. And the reason I'm saying a friend is because he ordered one of the water bottles they have. Because all the contestants get a water bottle, like one of those big, you know, sip straw things with their name written on the side. And at one point he just posted on social media, "Got my bottle!" and it's just... you spent like 20-30 bucks on just a bottle
Tom:with your name outside. It was not me. I'll let you know that now.
Cleo:Tom, I own it. I have one of those.
Tom:Two friends of mine.
Simone:I'm thinking... for the next episode, instead of being a club of procrastinators or whatever it was, we should be recovering reality show watchers.
SFX:(group laughing)
Tom:So at the start of the show, I asked:

Why does the University of California, Berkeley have parking spots marked "NL Reserved"?

Any ideas from the panel before I give that back to the audience?
Devin:I mean, given that it's Cal Berkeley, I would think that it's reserved for non-liberals. Because there aren't gonna be that many of them.
Tom:It is a two word phrase. You're absolutely right. It's not that though.
Devin:By the way, it's a real shame that Berkeley is no longer the #1 public university in the world, and that now UCLA is the #1 public university in the world.
Cleo:Wow, I didn't know that.
Devin:Where I may or may not have gone to school. That's just, I just thought I'd throw that out there.
Tom:Just gonna drop that one in. No, it is... any last guesses? It's the kind of person who California, Berkeley has quite a lot of, and they want to honour.
Cleo:Nobel Laureate.
Tom:Correct. Yep, that is reserve parking for the Nobel Laureates.
Simone:Oh my god, Cleo. MVP.
Cleo:That's amazing.
Simone:Yeah! (laughs)
Tom:So that's our show for today. Thank you very much to all the guests. Congratulations on on trekking through that. Simone, let's start with you. Where can people find you? What do you got going on in your life?
Simone:@SimoneGiertz. Inexplicably spelled S-I-M-O-N-E G-I-E-R-T-Z. Yeah, I'm on all social media platforms, but less and less on Twitter these days.
Tom:Aren't we all? Devin, how about you? What've you got going on?
Devin:You can find me on YouTube at my channel LegalEagle. If you get into some real trouble, you can find me at my law firm. But I hope everything just stays fine, And you can watch my videos on YouTube.
Tom:And Cleo.
Cleo:You can find me at Cleo Abram on every platform. But the show that I make is called Huge If True. So if you search "Cleo Abram, Huge if True," you'll find me.
Tom:And if you want to know more about this show, or you wanna send in an idea for a question, you can do that at We are @lateralcast on pretty much everything, and there are video highlights every week at Thank you very much to Simone Giertz. It's an audio show, you need to say something.
SFX:(others laughing)
Simone:Waving my hands, waving my hands!
Tom:To Devin Stone.
Devin:I'll see you in court.
Tom:And to Cleo Abram.
Cleo:I hope I don't see you in court.
Tom:I'm Tom Scott, and this has been Lateral.
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