Lateral with Tom Scott

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

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Episode 14: A flaming good flight

Published 13th January, 2023

Dani Siller & Bill Sunderland ('Escape This Podcast') and William Osman face questions about crooning tunes, morning mishaps and enigmatic elevators.

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 QUESTIONS: Lewis Tough, Manuel Omil. FORMAT: Pad 26 Limited/Labyrinth Games Ltd. EXECUTIVE PRODUCERS: David Bodycombe and Tom Scott.


Transcription by Caption+

Tom:According to the joke, what element should have the symbol Ah? The answer to that at the end of the show. My name's Tom Scott, and this is Lateral.

I challenged everyone I knew to find out which among them was truly smart. And the answer as always is the ones who didn't turn up. Nevertheless, let's meet today's willing victims. We start from the Safety Third podcast and his own YouTube channel, William Osman.
William:I knew this was gonna happen. This is revenge for when you were on our podcast.
Tom:Yeah, and I had to keep pushing you away from talking about me!
Tom:This is fine. I'm gonna ask you zero personal questions on this one, William. Unless one of the—
William:They're actually the only ones I know the answer to.
Tom:(belly laughs) Also joining us back on the show, from Escape This Podcast, we have Bill Sunderland.
Tom:How are you doing? Welcome back.
Bill:I'm excited to be back. I have recorded our episodes from the last season, and have then been listening to everyone else's, and all it does is make me want to get back in here to answer some questions.
Tom:(chuckles) And finally, in a change from last time, joining us from a separate room to your co-host, Dani Siller.
Dani:Hello, yeah, no cheating this time.
Tom:Oh! Was there last time? Because you and Bill were in the same space 'cause... You host the same podcast. You were on as a pair. This time—
Dani:And we only had one webcam.
Dani:Yeah. Nope, all good. Totally clean game, just like last time. And my brain is as on as it's possible to be early in the morning.
Tom:Yes, thank you for joining us. We are across many time zones with this show, so thank you very much for being up early where you are. Being on the show is a bit like going to a party. You have the best time possible without making a fool of yourself. So let's crack on before the free bar runs out. We start with this:

The hypermarket chain Kaufland has an illustration on its packets of spaghetti. At the top, it shows a messy tangle of pasta noodles wrapped around a fork. However, the spaghetti at the bottom becomes perfectly straight. Why?

I'll give you that one more time.

The hypermarket chain Kaufland has an illustration on its packets of spaghetti. At the top, it shows a messy tangle of pasta noodles wrapped around a fork. However, the spaghetti at the bottom becomes perfectly straight. Why?

That's question one, good luck!
Bill:"Why" is such an interesting question. Like what... Like yeah, because that's how they wanted it to look. Oh, but why? Like...
William:Is it a drawing?
Tom:It's not entirely a photo. Let's put it that way.
William:(baffled laughter)
Bill:They're showing...
William:Makes me more confused!
Bill:They're showing how you can use a meatball as a plumb line. So they've connected it all to the pasta and like, "Look, it's the best pasta." You can use it when you're working at home and you—
Tom:On a construction site. If you take your pasta to lunch, you can also use it as a plumb line.
Bill:Exactly. And sales tripled!
Tom:I need to stop doing the thing where I make answers like that in my own authoritative voice. That's not at all true.
Dani:I would normally assume that when you're doing something so deliberate like that, it's because you want it to look like something else, and I go, "Oh, it's gonna be the letter of their brand." But... does Kaufland start with C or K, I assume, and it's looking nothing like that in my drawing.
Tom:It does start with a K. You're moving vaguely in the right direction now. Only vaguely, but the right kind of way.
William:Is it just because that's what spaghetti looks like when it's hanging?
Bill:Yeah, is it just, it's a photo of spaghetti.
Tom:The strands don't deviate by even a millimeter. By even a degree.
William:Okay, so it's perfectly like vertical.
Tom:It's perfectly vertical.
William:Okay. Okay.
Tom:If it wasn't that precise, it wouldn't work as designed.
Bill:And this is just on packets of— Oh, this is their logo? Is it on pasta that they sell?
Tom:It's on the pasta that they sell. It's on their brand of—
William:Dry pasta.
Bill:So I'm... like... You could have it line up, right? Like if it's dried spaghetti, it naturally, in the box, it's straight. Straight as an arrow. Beautiful, straight spaghetti. Maybe you've got the logo at the top, right? I got almost spaghetti twirled round my fork. And it's going down.
Bill:And then it lines up perfectly with, you know, the little product window, you know, the little do-do-doot of plastic. And then it's like, now it matches the spaghetti strands perfectly. Is this why? Do they have a pasta window?
Tom:I like the idea of a pasta window. I'm not— In my head, that's now just a drive-thru that does pasta. But no, in this case, it's doing something very specific, this design.
Dani:Is it doing something that we would normally expect pasta to be doing in this picture?
Bill:Like a plumb line.
Tom:It's doing something you'd normally expect the packaging to do.
William:Like text or themes or...
Dani:Ooh, text. I like that.
Bill:Well, you already suggested, Dani, the idea of like...
Dani:Yeah, the looking like a letter.
Bill:But it could be, like, the letter K does have a vertical part. It could become a spaghetti K for Kaufland. Kaufland.
William:How wide is the spaghetti hanging down across the box? Is it like the entire box width? Is it just like portions? Does it deviate into little segments, like a highway splitting?
Tom:It doesn't deviate at all.
William:So it looks like a comb. It's just a bunch of spaghetti going straight down the front of the box.
Tom:It's about maybe two inches, about five centimetres wide.
William:In the middle of the box or the side of the box?
Tom:Middle of the box, although that wouldn't make a difference at this point.
Dani:And did we specify vertical straight lines? I can't remember.
Tom:Yeah, straight down.
Bill:Is it a handle?
Tom:It's something you'd find on a lot of packaging.
Bill:Oh, oh!
Bill:Does it link...? Did we got it the same time, but if I say it first, I'm smarter.
Tom:The thing is, you've both got something, and I don't know if it's the right one, so.
Tom:Bill, we'll go with you first.
Bill:This is where I should say something completely off. "Is it because it looks like the nose of a clown?" No, does it go down and form... like line up with the barcode? Does the spaghetti become the barcode?
Dani:My picture was just starting to look a bit like a barcode.
SFX:(group laughing)
Tom:Yep, some of the spaghetti strands are thicker than others. There's the black and white lines on that illustration. It lines up and you just scan the spaghetti as your bar code.
Tom:William, you look angry at that question.
William:Yeah, 'cause it's such a good idea.
Bill:But is it like, how many times have you gone to the self checkout, and you've picked up a box and you go, "And I'll just, oh, where's the, I gotta..." And you're flipping it around and you're looking under, because you don't know where the barcode is. I'd be worried. I'd be like, well that's just spaghetti. So I'm moving on from that side and just keep flipping this box looking. Looking for the secret barcode.
Tom:There there is also a product called Barcode Vodka, not from this hypermarket chain, where they just named it Barcode and put the product barcode on the front of the bottle.
Bill:Y'know, see? Same thing. I'd go, "Clever joke, vodka. Now to look for the real barcode."
William:We know why you're buying this.
Tom:There's also the Barcode district in, I think it's Oslo, which is just a load of black and white buildings. And I tried scanning a photo of it once. It didn't work. Didn't work.
Dani:Oh, no. Why bother?
Bill:That's where an entrepreneuring cool person should create like a fun ARG. It was like you zoom out, you scan the Barcode district, it takes you to the website, barcodedistricts dot whichever country we're in. And then it's a whole big game, and it takes you all around. You've gotta buy some Kaufland spaghetti. It'll be perfect.
Tom:Yes, the hypermarket chain, Kaufland's spaghetti lines up to make the barcode.

Each of our guests has also brought a question along for this show as usual. And of course, I don't know the question. I don't know the answer. We're gonna start with Dani. What's your question?
Dani:Let's do this. Although it's a Christmas song now, Baby, It's Cold Outside was written by Frank Loesser to perform at dinner parties held at his New York home almost all year round. The song was written for a specific reason. What was it?
Bill:It's cold outside.
Dani:One more time.

Although it's a Christmas song now, Baby, it's Cold Outside was written by Frank Loesser to perform at dinner parties held at his New York home almost all year round. The song was written for a specific reason. What was it?
William:To make people stay longer, 'cause he was lonely.
Tom:To make people leave, to chuck 'em out. The thing about that song is I remember years ago, people going, it's a really creepy song. It's someone plying someone with alcohol to get 'em to stay. And then there being this kind of counter-narrative that actually it's this kind of coy, "Well, I'm not allowed to stay by social values, but I'm letting you talk me into it."
Dani:It's been quite an internet discussion.
Tom:There's many ways the song can be read. I assume it's not so he could get lucky. I'm just gonna...
Dani:Well, it's not what I have here.
Dani:Does anyone— I don't have that much history with this song. I don't know many of the words outside of, "Baby, it's cold outside."
Bill:Well, let's sing it for as long as it's legally possible, shall we?
Tom:I think I probably know all the words to it.
William:Who's it being performed by? When you said it's like... I mean, I don't know.
Tom:In my head, I have the version performed by Sir Tom Jones and Cerys out of Catatonia, which won't be a reference that lands for anyone else here. But I once heard it described as granddad seducing Minnie Mouse. Which...
William:That's horrific.
Tom:It's a hell of a version of the song that's stuck in my head, but...
Dani:It would make sense for it to be sung by the host of the party, so presumably Frank Loesser himself.
Bill:But it's like traditionally... and traditionally it is...
Dani:A duet.
Bill:Well, not just a duet. It's like a call-and-response. It's like, "I really must go." "No, don't go, stay here." "Oh, I gotta, I really should be heading out." "Nah, no, no, no, no, no, no." So...
Tom:That's brilliant. We're getting close to the copyright on those lyrics. We're gonna have to worry if we can...
Bill:"I'd like to go home now." "You can't leave." So, like... So would it have been performed by him, by himself, doing a duet with himself, turning left and right, and he's got a wig on one side and a fake mustache on the other, or...?
Dani:I hope so.
Bill:Or was it—
Tom:He's just showing off his vocal range. He's got bass and he's got like contralto in there.
Dani:I mean, is that weirder or less weird than the idea that he brought out the piano, started playing it, and one of the guests just happened to know it as well?
William:What if he was just crazy? Is this, is that, could that be an answer?
Bill:Yeah, he keeps inviting people to his house in the middle of summer and singing about how cold it is outside.
William:Was he singing to anyone, or was he just by himself?
Dani:Oh, he was definitely while the guests were there. And to make sure that I'm not throwing you off too much, you have already danced around the correct answer, one of you, in one of your jokey responses. So which one was it?
Tom:I'm gonna double down on, he just wanted people to leave. He is being just sarcastic as hell and saying, "It's closing time. Get out."
Bill:I mean, it does make sense, like it's a bit of a, "Party's over. Here's my piano. Let's... I'll sing you out." Like it's the sign.
Bill:You hear this music in the background, like, "Alright, well, we gotta go."
William:That's honestly the only thing that makes any sense to me, of what would actually happen.
Dani:And I'm glad, you are absolutely right. It was the gentle way of telling the guests that the dinner party was over and they should leave. "The evening has been so very nice. So glad you dropped in." So somehow over the years, we've reinterpreted it as the, "No, don't go." Which, it's an interesting turn for it to have taken. I wonder what he thinks of that.
William:That seems like exactly the maybe why he sung it, is like, that's the joke is it's stay, but he actually wants you to leave.
Dani:It's the super courteous thing. That's what you had to do back then. You had to say... It was like the offering someone a gift, and you have to refuse it three times before you accept it.
William:It seems like he's making fun of that, 'cause like, why would you say it's like "baby, it's cold outside," while kicking people out? Like it feels self-aware.
Dani:Ah, yeah. One of the other fun facts about this. So it was him and his wife largely who did this singing, which makes a lot of sense. The other person who was probably at all the parties knew the words. They would get invited to other parties and perform it and just be like, "Hey you know that little number you've got..."
Tom:"Yep. Off you go. Leave. It's time to go now." I don't know. I just feel like I'm adult enough now where parties like that, people can just say, "Yeah, so... yeah, it's time to go now." And I don't think anyone's offended by that anymore. Maybe I'm just in a really blunt social group.
Dani:So yes, absolutely. The song Baby, it's Cold Outside was originally written to tell their guests that a dinner party was over, and in the gentlest possible way they should leave.
Tom:Next question is from me. Here we go.

In World War II, 14 Royal Air Force airfields had the FIDO system fitted. It consisted of a tank, pipes, and pairs of rails that ran down the sides of the runway. And it allowed British and Allied aircraft to land when enemy planes were not in the skies. What did FIDO do?

I'll give you that one more time.

In World War II, 14 Royal Air Force airfields had a FIDO system fitted. It consisted of a tank, pipes, and pairs of rails that ran down the sides of the runway. It allowed British and Allied aircraft to land when enemy planes were not in the skies. What did FIDO do?
William:It allowed them to land when enemy planes were not in the sky?
Bill:Can't you always land a plane if there's not? Like when I'm flying into Sydney Airport, I'm not sitting with a pilot going like, "We're just gonna taxi for a little bit in the air. There's no enemy planes in the air, so we can't land. We just need to get a German fighter in, and then we can calmly descend to the runway." Like, why is that an issue that needs solving?
Tom:That is a really good question!
Bill:Because I can, 'cause you can land a plane.
Tom:I'm just saying!
William:Did it obscure the runway with smoke or steam or something to hide the landing strip?
Tom:I mean, in the 1940s, you still couldn't have landed in those conditions.
Dani:Yeah, I've heard some wacky things that went on during World War II about aircraft and things being concealed in strange ways. But this... this "no enemies in the air" is really throwing me.
William:Because to me, no enemies in the air would make me think that they're trying to hide. Like they're... There's something that's happening when there are enemies in the air. And by tank you mean like a reservoir, right? Not like a treaded tank.
Tom:It's kind of the other way around to that.
Bill:Oh, so it's like, usually you might be hidden, but it's like, oh, there aren't any pilots, so let's pump up that FIDO. And now planes can land in a more reasonable way.
Tom:I mean, more reasonable is a hell of a term for this. But yes, it is helping planes get back home.
Dani:Is it a fair assumption that we could, and for audio purposes, should be trying to figure out what FIDO stands for?
Bill:First In... Destroy Obviously. The first plane you always destroy. It's an enemy plane, they get in first!
William:Did the system make it impossible to land?
Tom:The opposite. It made it possible to land when otherwise it might not.
Bill:Is this the idea? You can only use it when there aren't planes around, because it's like big and obvious and like clear? It's like this is the thing that the runway is usually hidden or inaccessible, and it's like, "No planes around, pump up the FIDO." And then it's like, "Oh, okay. Oh, now it's easy. We've made it, you know, we've used the system to grab the planes outta the air and yank them to the ground with a giant gloved hand.
Tom:Oh wow. Okay.
Bill:The FIDO hand.
Tom:Until the giant gloved hand, you were right spot on there. Absolutely, this made the airfield very, very visible.
Dani:80 years ago, it was a crazy time.
William:Were the pipes filled with water or air?
Tom:That's a very good question. It would— What were those options?
William:Gas or liquid?
Dani:Now how much does disguise play into this?
Tom:Oh, not at all. It's the exact opposite of disguise. This is extremely visible.
William:If a plane landed when the system was inactive, would it crash?
Tom:Not always, no. But it was, if they needed the system, they didn't activate it, probably yeah.
Bill:Is it just a visual— Is it like they are full of gas, because they're just hugely long, runway-sized fluorescent tubes that light up, and they're like, "Babaha, welcome to the runway."
Tom:So the thing is, I'm dealing with multiple versions of English here, because when you say they're full of gas, I am tempted to give you a point, but I don't think that's quite what you mean.
Dani:Did they light things on fire?
Tom:Yes. These were full of petrol or gasoline, petroleum, diesel, whatever. This is fire. So why are they doing that?
Bill:To light up the runway.
Tom:They can do that without burning a load of fuel.
Bill:Yeah, but it's fun! You gotta have a sense of whimsy.
Dani:Were they in enemy territory? They were burning all the enemies' stolen fuel and just showing off?
William:Were they just lighting the runway on fire so you couldn't land on it?
Tom:No, remember they could use this as long as there weren't enemy planes in the air. This was a safe way of getting people home. And you've sort of said it before. It's just the opposite way round to what you were thinking.
Bill:It's usually covered in a tarp, and then they just burn the tarp and get a new one to un-disguise the runway.
Tom:You are really close, apart from the word tarp.
Bill:Okay, everyone starts shouting nouns.
Bill:It was covered in ice.
Bill:"Melt the ice."
Tom:What else might you need to burn off a runway?
Bill:Oil. Jerry.
Tom:And also what might the F in FIDO stand for?
Tom:Fog, absolutely right.
Tom:This is...
Bill:They burned the fog!
Tom:This is the Fog Investigation and Dispersal Operation. And they just set up giant, gasoline-filled tanks and tubes down the runway. And if fog moved in and they couldn't get home, well burn it off. Just heat up the air, heat up the whole thing. The fog will evaporate away, and suddenly, the allied planes can not only see the runway, but they can see the giant orange glow that's pointing them in the right direction.
Dani:Didn't occur to me that fog worked that way. It makes sense, I guess.
Tom:So they couldn't use it when enemy planes were in the air because...
Bill:It's pretty obvious.
Tom:Right! It's a big, massive target.
Bill:Where should we attack? Where are they gonna land at? Oh, giant fiery runway. That's a good target.
William:Add more fire to it.
Dani:It's interesting. I've heard so many stories. I can't even remember if they were World War II specifically, but all sorts of things about people disguising their entire armies by like putting fake villages on top of them and things like that. I really assumed that there was something weird and disguise-ish happening here.
William:I wonder how much fuel they used.
Tom:A hundred thousand gallons an hour.
Dani:Oh dear.
William:Oh my god!
Tom:Which to translate that to America is 120,000 gallons an hour, I think. 'Cause your gallons are smaller.
Dani:Oh, wow.
Tom:Like it's an enormous amount. I don't have that in metric, but the answer is just incredible amounts. Like they could see this 60 miles away.
Bill:And I think I'm fairly convinced we're actually just answering a trivia question about someone's excuse, not their reason. Someone was out there just like, "And then we're gonna take the runway. We're gonna light the whole thing on fire. It's gonna be awesome." "What did you tell the top brass?" "Ah, just said it was getting rid of fog or something. They'll believe anything. I put on the requisition form. They signed off on a 'fog system.' They set the runway on fire!"
William:It was actually a fuel transportation accident.
Tom:They do say it saved the lives of 10,000 airmen, which is a heck of a number. We had a whole petroleum warfare division, that was basically how can we use petrol to destroy stuff, save stuff, make stuff better? At one point it was rumoured they could light the sea on fire to sink German ships. It was probably mostly rumour, that, but there was certainly a lot of mythology around it.
William:That's a bold claim.
Dani:Weren't they like massive petrol shortages for some of the armies?
Bill:Now we know why!
William:I think we figured out why. We found the leak.
Tom:So yes, FIDO was the Fog Investigation and Dispersal Operation, and it lit runways on fire to burn off fog.
William:Does that really make sense though? Investigation, fog investigation?
Tom:I mean, when you need the acronym, you need the acronym.
William:They clearly started with Fido, and then just started putting words into it.
Dani:You hear all those rumours of, "Oh, why did the English Air Force do so much better at night?" Oh, it was because they secretly had radar and no one else did. No, it was the fire.
Tom:The next question comes from a guest, and this time it's William. What do you have for us?
William:Oh, yes. This listener question has been sent in by Manuel Omil.

Santiago de Compostela Cathedral has been a place of pilgrimage since the Middle Ages. It takes eight people to swing its 80 kilogram incense burner on a 65 metre rope, making it one of the world's largest. Why do locals claim it was necessary in the past?

Santiago de Compostela Cathedral has been a place of pilgrimage since the Middle Ages. It takes eight people to swing its 80 kilogram incense burner on a 65 metre rope, making it one of the world's largest. Why do locals claim it was necessary in the past?
Tom:I get angry when we get a question that I should have done as a video. Like, I wanna see this 65 metre rope and an incense burner with the weight of a person. Like, that's incredible.
Dani:How far do we think that incense smell would go?
Bill:Oh, it go every— sorry. I would just like to point out, The thing that I'm freaking out about the most is... that makes it one of the largest incense burners. Surely you'd be the top by a mile just like, this takes eight people to even get this incense burner swinging. So yeah, that's pretty big. It's kind of alright, you know, in top 10. Like that's, we have a lot of incense.
Tom:I'm also trying to work out if they swing it like they... like you ring a bell. Like is there a rope pull on the ground, and they're, wow, okay. Why on earth would that be necessary?
Dani:I mean, when I think the Middle Ages, and you've got something that creates a big smell, I assume you're covering up the smell of death in some way.
Bill:I would say there's probably a more reasonable smell, isn't it? Right, if it's, because I don't think many people are getting there and just dropping dead straight away. It is the Middle Ages. You never know.
Dani:That's what everything has ever shown me.
Bill:But this is a pilgrimage site, right? So you've got people in the Middle Ages who haven't showered in 40 years, because last time they showered, someone got the plague, and they don't, and then now it's bad for you. Who have walked like 20 days, and then arrived at a cathedral and gone, "Oh, I'd just like to come to Mass now, please." That is the smelliest human being who has ever lived. You need, I would say a 65 kilo, eight person incense burner to get the smell off that smelly Middle Ages man.
Tom:No, they just took the person and put them in the incense burner, and just kind of swung them back and forth. No, that would have the opposite effect. I was trying to see if that was some sort of... I was thinking that was gonna be some sort of cleaning thing, but what that, that would actually do is just spread the smell. That would be the opposite.
Bill:Yeah! We got an incense burner who just put a dirty man inside. Everybody!
Tom:What we've got is that incense burner as a giant swing and just a fire hose, and I've just invented a new theme park ride, never mind.
Dani:Now I think this is completely valid. I think it's a great idea. Where is this place? So we got a little bit of a place name, but I wasn't clear on like exactly what country it was in. And so would that have been the most efficient way of cleansing these people's disgusting pilgrimage smell? Or should you have just dumped them in the sea, because the sea is right there?
William:I'm not sure it was about efficiency. Or practicality. By today's standards, at least.
Tom:So whereabouts is this? This is Spain, Portugal?
Dani:It sounded Spanish.
William:Santiago de Compostela, Spain. Yeah, that sounds...
Dani:They're like eight Santiagos, aren't there?
William:It is the endpoint of a popular pilgrimage route.
Tom:And is that important to the answer here? Like this is, there's large groups of people turning up and...
Tom:Did they all bring their own incense? And they just had an enormous surplus of incense, and just kept burning bigger and bigger piles?
Bill:That'd be like, you rock up, you finish your pilgrimage, you're like, "Add my incense to the incense pile." And then they add it to the pile, and the pile gets too big.
William:Okay, you guys pretty much have gotten the answer. Do you want to pick what you think it is?
Tom:Oh man.
Bill:I'll put my vote for, in an effort to relate to the kids... The priest got onto the incense, and he swung in and he said, "You know who else swung in like a wrecking ball to break the the traditions of the Pharisees? It's a young man named Jesus Christ."
Tom:I wanna put my vote in for a surplus of incense. Dani?
Dani:I think I really like the idea of people stank too much.
William:People stank too much.
Bill:Yes, those stinky boys.
William:So it was a way to remove stench and illness. After a long, long, stinky pilgrimage.
Dani:So they had the real reason, and the "real reason", and made them less sick, yeah.
Bill:But that was such a big— Can we— Let's just transition and talk about stuff that people on the internet already know. Like the smell thing was so big back in the Middle Ages, right? That's why like plague doctors wore the flowers in the end of their big old bird beaks.
Dani:That's why I assumed it was death.
Bill:Well, yeah, but it's just that feeling of "Well, bad smell equals disease." So if you get rid of bad smell, you get rid of disease. You can cleanse the place. As long as you can't smell the miasma, you'll be fine.
William:Maybe they should hold anime expos at the cathedral.
Dani:It is now making me realise, based on knowing what the real answer is and how those people, you know, they actually made it into the church, presumably, to get this effect. Whereas I was picturing the church blasting incense all over an entire town to clear every possible corpse smell over this entire...
William:I think they sort of maybe might be doing that. The incense burner, known as Botafumeiro, smoke expeller. Well, that's what it was known as. It was said to be used to remove the stench and supposedly illness from pilgrims that had walked many, many miles to the cathedral. Each performance cost 450 euros to put on, and the rope has to be changed roughly every 20 years. I wonder how they found that out.
Tom:At some point, a giant incense burner flew through the cathedral, took out a stained glass window, and three bystanders.
William:It might not be the biggest, but it sure was the fastest.
Tom:Next question is back to me. Here we go.

Early one morning in 2021, a German man fell down his stairs and broke his back. This led to him winning a large payout in court, despite the accident being nobody's fault. Why?

One more time.

Early one morning in 2021, a German man fell down his stairs and broke his back. This led to him winning a large payout in court, despite the accident being nobody's fault. Why?
Bill:I've got it.
Tom:Oh, here we go.
Bill:Here it is, you ready?
Dani:You actually got it?
Bill:Yeah, here it is.
Bill:"You owe me a hundred million dollars, Herr Nobody. Your stairs are so poorly kept. Herr Nobody, you must give me all the money for falling down your precarious stairs." "I will give you nothing! I am Herr Nobody! I give nobody anything, by which, I mean, I give myself everything." (imitates barking)
Tom:I appreciate both the pun and the character work, and I refuse to 'yes, and' you on that!
Bill:Yes, and! Yes, and! And introducing Tom Scott as Herr Nobody.
Tom:Nein. Carry on.
Dani:Still going with the classic riddle of nobody gets a capital N.
Tom:Yep, yeah.
Bill:"If you'll excuse me, I'm going to this... I'm going to the opera with this skeleton now. For he has nobody to go with."
Tom:Yep, we're good, we're good.
William:That feels like the answer it would be, is this is a proper noun, no?
Tom:No, no, it isn't.
William:It's not? It's actually nobody?
Tom:The only person who's faulty was really was him tripping up and slipping. But that's not really a fault thing. That's just, it's an accident.
Dani:Did it say... I already lost it. Did it say that it was his stairs or some stairs?
Tom:Yeah, yes, they were the stairs in his own home.
William:Can he sue himself?
Tom:No, the defendant was a company.
Dani:Was it a stairs company or something seemingly unrelated to stairs?
Tom:It was actually his employer.
William:It's his stairs, as I'm assuming it was his house. He owns the house.
William:He's not living on his employer's property.
Tom:Yeah, there's no trick wording in this question or anything like that. You have all the facts. Well, you have a limited subset of the facts. There's no sneaky things in there to get you.
William:Was it early morning, he's going to work?
Dani:Yeah, it was 2021. Was he in lockdown, and it was technically his workplace?
Tom:Yeah, you've got it. Basically, he was on his way from his bed to work in his home office, and there was a lot of technicalities. Why was it important that he usually skipped breakfast?
Bill:Oh, because his... he keeps all of his bread at the top of his terrible staircase, and that's the only thing that's up there. He's like, "There's no reason I go up my stairs, but you forced me to eat breakfast. Those are my bread stairs!"
William:He could have been going to get breakfast, but he was actually going to work.
Dani:Yeah, I would totally believe it, that if he had been going to the kitchen, then that wouldn't count as being on work time. But because he went to the office instead, ha-ha-ha.
Tom:You got it.
William:Did he actually win, no.
Tom:He was commuting along an insured route, and the court of appeal said that yes, his employer's insurer was liable, because he was commuting from home to his workspace.
Dani:Oh man.
Bill:That's fantastic.
Dani:This definitely won't make the final edit, but these sorts of things get into really weird places. And we had one in Australia not that long ago, where it was a big case of a woman. I can't remember if she was a politician or something. But she was claiming workplace compensation, because she was in a work hotel, and had had a sex injury from a sex worker that she had hired.
Bill:Did she win?
Dani:I believe she won.
Tom:Yes, a German man in 2021 fell down his stairs while commuting from his bedroom to his office, and the court eventually ruled that yes, he was eligible for work compensation because of that.

Our last guest question then comes from Bill. Whenever you're ready.
Bill:Okay, I've got a situation for you. Try and close your eyes and picture this in your mind's eye.
Tom:I don't know why I bothered closing my eyes. Carry on.
Bill:Keep 'em closed, Tom. Be part of my whimsy.

On Friday morning, Rachel takes the elevator to the fifth floor of her office building. When she returns the next day to retrieve a forgotten coat, the same journey takes about one minute longer, even though she performs two fewer actions. Why?

And I will read it again. You can now open your eyes and exist in the physical space for the second reading.

On Friday morning, Rachel takes the elevator to the fifth floor of her office building. When she returns the next day to retrieve a forgotten coat, the same journey takes about one minute longer, even though she performs two fewer actions. Why?
Tom:I think I know this. And I have... Yeah, I'm gonna do the thing where I back outta this question. I'm gonna take a gamble, and say that I don't wanna give this one away immediately. I'm gonna step out. William, Dani, this one's for you.
Dani:I feel weirdly vulnerable with only two of us discussing now.
William:I know. Less actions took more time.
Dani:Now, my questions, first of all is one, is this a specific Rachel, or is Rachel arbitrary?
Bill:Rachel is funda— it's fairly arbitrary.
Dani:And was this an...
Bill:Not a specific Rachel.
Dani:arbitrary Friday-Saturday combination, or a specific Friday-Saturday?
Bill:Any Friday-Saturday you want.
Dani:Well, that's unfortunate. I was hoping it would be like, "Oh, it was on 9/11." I mean, I wasn't hoping, but—
Bill:Dani's always hoping for 9/11! What is wrong with her?
Tom:What, the elevator was somehow longer?
Dani:The building was, I don't know.
William:It took longer because she got on the elevator with other people. And the other people hit the buttons for her.
Dani:It could be. Oh yeah, that would explain the fewer actions. She didn't have to press any of the buttons, but then she had to wait for people. That makes sense for a Friday-Saturday.
William:Yeah, and they got off on different floors.
Dani:That's very nice and logical.
William:Is that the wrong answer?
Bill:You're... There's something kind of similar to a correct answer. But I will say explicitly, other people did not push the buttons for her.
Dani:Alright, so two fewer actions. Is button pressing one of these actions that she didn't have to do?
Bill:It definitely is.
William:So somebody was just going to the same floor. And someone was going to different floors.
Tom:There is a subset of our audience that are screaming this answer right now.
Bill:Just the really angry ones. They like to scream.
Dani:So it's peo— but other people... other people not involved at all, did you say?
Bill:Nope. No, there's no one else. No, other people didn't push the button for her.
William:But did they push it for themselves?
Bill:All themselves.
Dani:Is it likely that other people were physically present though?
Bill:Not necessary for this story.
Dani:Or does it... Completely irrelevant, okay.
William:Was the elevator overloaded, and it went slower up?
Bill:Oh man, that would be the scariest lift ride I've ever had. If you were in a lift and you're like this is just graining— This is just groaning and straining, Just like, "We could do it. No, no. Lift capacity was ten people!"
Tom:It's just one person cranking a really big winch.
William:Okay, so less actions took more time. But people didn't press the button for her.
Dani:And yet button pressing is one of the things she didn't have to do.
Bill:Button pressing was both of the actions she didn't have to do.
Dani:Oh, okay.
Bill:For people listening along at home, William's face is jumping quickly between understanding and confusion over and over again in a quick little back and forth. "Uh. Oh. Huh. No. Hm. Uh."
Dani:Mine has no risk of doing that. Does— Is the— Do you think the Saturday part is particularly salient to this? Like the fact that it was a weekend is why this is likely the case?
William:They lock out certain floors on the weekend? So the elevator only goes between two floors?
Dani:How would that not make it— How would that make it take longer though?
William:Well, I mean, to be perfectly fair, none of this makes any sense.
Bill:I will say, yeah, the fact that it is on a Saturday is an incredibly salient point.
William:What changes between Friday and Saturday for an elevator?
Dani:See, every— I have not been in that many different office buildings, but typically, like, the weekends are locked out of a lot of office buildings, and you need your special passcodes and pass swipeys to get in. You know, your pass swipeys. But that's about all I know. Is this a specific building that we're talking about in some way? Or could it be pretty much any old office building?
Bill:This, while it's not a specific building, it's sort a specific type of building, or there's a concern in this building due to the sort of people who frequent it, that maybe other buildings in different demographic areas wouldn't have.
Tom:That by the way, is an excellent phrased clue. It gave nothing away. What's really confusing, but is entirely true. I couldn't have phrased that one better.
Bill:I like having a question answerer who's actually just a supporter, who also knows and can validate my choices.
Tom:Yeah. Yeah, you're right. It's a demographic where Saturday is very important.
William:Is it religious?
Bill:It might be. By which I mean yes.
William:What religious company has an elevator?
Dani:Is Rachel Jewish?
Bill:Rachel is Jewish.
Dani:Okay. Because if you are like... if you are pretty practicing Jewish, there are certain things that you are not allowed to do on Saturdays.
Dani:Which can include, I think it includes like any sort of mechanical interactions with things, like pressing elevator buttons can be a thing for that. So presumably that's got something to do with it. How did she get there at all then? How did she not just sit there sadly?
William:Oh, she was waiting for somebody to go into the elevator?
Bill:No. You're dancing around it. You have all of the required information. Yes, Rachel was Jewish. Yes, it is forbidden for her to press an elevator button. But I will say nobody else was pressing buttons. And that is kind of why it took long.
William:Are the elevators on a timer?
Bill:Yeah, pretty much. The elevator is—
William:And so you just have to wait for it to come down, and you have to wait for it to go up. And so you can't make it go faster. So it took more time because it had to sit there and wait 'cause she couldn't tell it to go.
Bill:Well, not quite, but I think you're close enough that I'll give it to you, rather than have you flail around for the very—
William:It's on schedule though, right?
Bill:Yes, it is in Sabbath mode. And so it is knowing that the building has a lot of Jewish either residents or users, depending what the building is. It is set up on Saturdays, the door opens at the bottom, it goes to the next floor. The door opens on that floor, it goes to the next floor. No one can call the elevator, so it just is operating for anyone who possibly could take it. And that's why by doing too fewer actions, the journey took a minute longer.
William:Oh man. We got there.
Dani:I'm glad I went for Jewish instead of the other thing. Yeah, the other thing I know about Saturdays, which is kids' sports. That would've been terrible.
Bill:Yes. So the Friday-Saturday connection is the most important part. Friday is a normal day, but Saturday is the Sabbath. So when Rachel returns to retrieve her forgotten coat, the same journey takes about a minute longer, because the elevator is opening at every floor, and she's not pushing any buttons.
Tom:I once saw an advert for a Sabbath light switch. The idea being you are not allowed to cause work to happen. I'm probably phrasing that wrongly. So you can't flip a switch. It was a series of random number generator chips. So you would turn a switch off, and that switch did nothing. But then every few seconds, a series of random number generators would fire, and maybe it would check the position of that switch. Maybe it wouldn't. And then maybe it would decide to make the light on that switch, or maybe it wouldn't. But that is, that's the workaround.

And I remember seeing this. It was like an— It wasn't an infomercial. It was like the website equivalent of an infomercial, which just had several testimonies from rabbis saying, "Yes, this absolutely complies with the law." In the same manner that testimonials on like, As Seen on TV products just don't really seem right somehow. But you know what? I can't— I'm not Jewish. I'm not gonna, I'm not the...
William:The premise is I would like the light to be on, not I'm turning the light on.
Tom:Right, yeah.
Bill:You're just letting it know. Hopefully it will maybe turn itself off.
Tom:Yeah, it said it's an alternative to like holding your baby near the switch, in the case that, in the hope that it sort of flails in the right direction.
William:I love a lot of engineering and design has gone into solving a problem like that.
Tom:Have you heard of the eruv? I probably mispronounced that, but E-R-U-V. In a few cities, including Manhattan There are certain things where inside your... it's a difficult word to translate, but your home area, like where you live, you are still allowed to do certain things. So the definition of that area is a wire that has strung around
Dani:Oh, yep.
Tom:entire city blocks.
William:I think I have that one.
Tom:And someone goes around just before the Sabbath to make sure the wire is intact and then text everyone like, "Yep, you're fine. This is intact."
William:I think that's something I've seen in a Tom Scott video.
Tom:It sounds like one I'd done, but it's not mine.
Bill:There's actually also another really interesting one In some Jewish communities, right, because they can't turn they, don't turn the lights on and off. And so lighting is an issue during the Sabbath. So what they do is actually have a big tank full of petroleum, and a lot of these lines that go through. And they just set everything on fire so they could see well into the night. It's good. There's no fog, no fog.
Tom:It's wonderful. At the start of the show, I did ask the audience:

According to the joke, what element should have the symbol Ah?

Does anyone wanna take a guess at this punchline? You're gonna be angry at it. We all are. Just, does anyone wanna take a shot?
William:Air. Ahh.
Tom:Air? Ahh. Oh, that's nice.
William:Thank you.
Dani:The famous element, air.
Bill:Hydrogen, because of: (shriek)
Tom:You know what, you're nearly there. It's the element of surprise.
Bill:Oh, boo! I am angry at that. You're correct.
Tom:If there was an option to throw rotten fruit, it would currently be being pushed on this screen.

Thank you very much to all of our players. What's going on in your lives? We'll start with William. What have you got going on?
William:No, I don't like plugging. Oh, okay shout out. This is actually, I'll do this plug. Shout out to turtles. Turtles, super cool. If you see one... you should, I don't know, just look at it. Shout out to turtles. That's it, that's what I got. That's what I'm promoting today.
Tom:Dani, we'll go to you. What are you promoting?
Dani:Hey, you can see both me and Bill on Escape This Podcast, where we run through audio versions of escape rooms. We solve murder mysteries on Solve This Murder. And just in my personal life, I'm learning to do Zelda speedruns.
Tom:And Bill, what have you got going on? Where can people find that podcast?
Bill:Well look, it's all the same. It's Escape This Podcast, it's Solve This Murder. I will say, Solve This Murder is our great little murder mystery show. We recently flipped the script.
William:You're making murders.
Tom:You're just murdering people.
Bill:Yeah, just in real life. But we turn it in, it's suddenly become true crime. No, usually Dani writes those mysteries, and I try and solve them as a detective. And last version we flipped it around. I wrote it, Dani tried to solve it. And it's a great little fun adventure for me. So it's nice, I got to put a story out there, rather than just trying to solve one that already existed.
Tom:I now have a fiction podcast idea in my head, where it starts as true crime and then by the end, It's clear that they actually did the murder themselves. I'm sure someone has already done that, but...
William:You already have enough projects, Tom.
Bill:Come on, Tom!
Tom:I really do. And if you want to know more about this project, you can go to and send in your own question. You can also find us at @lateralcast on basically everything, and there are video highlights every week at Thank you very much to Bill Sunderland.
Tom:Dani Siller.
Dani:Bye. You got the wrong time, Bill.
Tom:And William Osman. It's an audio show. You should say something.
Bill:He waved. He waved, everybody. For everyone listening at home, he waved to the camera.
William:I waved. Oh, I'm so sorry, everybody, I waved. I waved. Oh no!
Tom:Thank you very much folks. That's our show. I'm Tom Scott. This has been Lateral.
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