Lateral with Tom Scott

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

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Episode 19: 315,000 obsolete index cards

Published 17th February, 2023

Cleo Abram, Simone Giertz and 'Legal Eagle' Devin Stone face questions about confusing conveyors, flooded fields and bad-faith baseball.

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


Transcription by Caption+

Tom:What was invented by Caleb Bradham in 1903 to prevent dyspepsia? The answer to that at the end of the show. My name's Tom Scott, and this is Lateral. Welcome to our 16th heat in the Weird World Quiz Championships. The winner goes onto the quarter finals in Melbourne next month with no expenses paid. Joining us we have for the second time, Devin Stone from LegalEagle.
Devin:Hello, happy to be here. I thought Alex Horne was gonna come out and give us various tasks to complete. I may be on the wrong show.
Tom:(chuckles) For trademark reasons, absolutely not. Also joining us, Simone Giertz.
Tom:I still don't know how to introduce you. Inventor, maker, what's the right...
Simone:Inventor, breaker of things, mender of things. I run a YouTube channel about things I build. And I used to be known as the Queen of (bleep) Robots.
Tom:And we're still gonna have to bleep that.
Simone:Yeah. Go ahead, as long as you don't call me the Queen of Silly Robots. I'd rather take a bleep than 'silly'.
Tom:And finally, from Huge If True, among many other things, and from making a fusion reactor with Simone, Cleo Abram.
Cleo:Hey everybody.
Tom:How are you doing?
Cleo:Doing great. Excited to be back. Round two, let's go.
Tom:Thank you very much to all of you for joining us. If you've heard the show before at home, you'll know these are nuanced questions devised so they can be interpreted on a number of levels. And we call those levels: question, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance, and finally answer. So good luck to all of you. We start with: This question's been sent in by one of our listeners, so thank you to Sarthak Chandra. Complete the title of this Slate article from 2010: "The Big Red Word vs the Little Green Man – the international war over..." what? I'll give you that one more time. Complete the title of this Slate article from 2010: "The Big Red Word vs the Little Green Man – the international war over..." what?
Simone:Conspiracy theories?
Tom:Oh, hold on, Devin, if you think you've got this right away, and you look like you have...
SFX:(both laughing)
Tom:Hold on. If you want to take a gamble on this and sit out, and say, "You know what, I think I've got this immediately," that's your call.
Devin:Because I definitely– Well, 2010, I probably wasn't re– I might have been reading Slate at that time. But I do think I know the answer to this one.
Tom:Cleo and Simone, this one's for you.
Simone:Little green man... has to be alien, right?
Tom:I'm keeping quiet this early.
Simone:No, that was the first one that I thought. Big red, I don't know. I was immediately thinking... Yeah, the big red word. I would be like, conservative Republican, and I was like, "And aliens." And I went with conspiracy theories, which might be...
Tom:To be fair... In my head, I've now got Republicans versus aliens, like that old Cowboys vs Aliens film with Harrison Ford in it, so.
Simone:Yeah. What could be the big red word? Maybe the big red word is... menstruation.
SFX:(Tom and Cleo laugh)
Simone:The little green man being the branding mascot for a tampon company that I do not know of.
Cleo:The international... what was it?
Tom:The international war over something.
Tom:(wheezes) I don't know what that is. That sounds like a medication for having a bad cough, which apparently I have at the minute.
Devin:That's exactly what that is, yeah.
Cleo:It is. They have a little green man. They have a little green man mascot that is like a booger or something. What is the little– Maybe it's a bacterium. But he does ads for why you need Mucinex to get rid of your... your congestion.
Tom:There is unfortunately not another country that has a big red word as their mascot for decongestants, sadly. Not to my knowledge anyway, I might be wrong.
Simone:Big red word.
Tom:You will be familiar with both of these things, by the way. For very, very clearly, you will have seen these a lot.
Cleo:So little green man could be aliens, but could also be– or extraterrestrial life, but could also be like back in 2010... I don't know if he's a little man, but wasn't Al Gore, you know, doing An Inconvenient Truth, and trying to persuade everyone that climate change was, you know, something we had to focus on? I don't know when An Inconvenient Truth was.
Tom:I feel like that was earlier. I feel like that was 2003, 2004.
Cleo:Okay, good. I mean, I'm glad.
Tom:But this war has been going on for longer than that, and will go on much– Also, in terms of war... This is your journalist title/description of war. Disagreement.
Cleo:Got it.
Tom:"Differing styles" will be other ways of putting that, but that doesn't get you the headline.
Devin:I really hope I know the answer here, because otherwise I'm just sitting here looking superior.
Devin:Waiting. And I'm sitting on the wrong answer this whole time.
Simone:Yeah, watching the women do all the work for you.
SFX:(group laughing)
Tom:I can tell you that this–
Cleo:Get him, Simone!
Tom:This started in the late 1970s.
Simone:Is when the war started?
Tom:I mean, war is a strong term, but this couldn't have happened before then.
Simone:Is it– could it have– could it be... nuclear something? Nuclear reactors, what else happened in the '70s? Abortion rights.
Devin:It's clearly over dancing, right? The disco came out, the green men were dancing.
Simone:Disagreement... green man...
Tom:If you wanted a formal date for when this started.
Tom:Then it would be when the Little Green Man was made an ISO standard in 1985.
Simone:ISO Standard? As in, like...
Tom:International Standards Organisation.
Simone:The Little Green Man was made an ISO standard. Wow, I feel like once we get the answer to this, I'm gonna feel so stupid and be like, "I didn't know that."
Tom:I've had plenty of questions like that. I've had questions where I just absolutely kick myself.
Cleo:I know what all these words mean separately.
Tom:You're both in the US, right? You're both in– or North America at least.
Tom:You'll be much more familiar with the Big Red Word than the Little Green Man.
Cleo:Oh, is it metric versus... ...imperial?
Tom:That is closer. It is a war of standards, and a war of designs.
Simone:Of designs.
Tom:Devin's just sitting there nodding.
Devin:I'll say as an aside, around the same time, Slate published an article saying that you shouldn't have two spaces after a period. That... I vehemently disagree with.
Tom:Oh, we are going to war over this one, Devin.
Devin:Yeah, yeah. That is a standard that I do not agree with. And I think Slate should be burned to the ground for publishing that article.
Simone:So is it Fahrenheit versus Celsius in any way?
Tom:It kind of is, in terms of geographic distribution, yeah. There aren't many countries that use the Big Red Word.
Simone:The little green man, could it be a dollar bill? No.
Cleo:Okay, I still dunno what the big red word is, but let's think of all the stuff America does that's different than the rest of the world.
Simone:Yeah, and as a Swede who lives in the States.
Devin:So there's a lot.
Cleo:Yeah, you're– Simone, you're gonna be great at the imperial. Our plugs are weird.
Tom:You'll have seen both of these then in public buildings all over the place.
Cleo:Both the Big Red Word and the Little Green Man?
Tom:Depending on which country you're in.
Simone:Yeah, so it has to be... It's not a unit of measure.
Simone:But it's a standard for a product of some sort.
Tom:Yep, absolutely.
Simone:Is it like CE certification versus something?
Tom:It's an ISO standard versus the American standard.
Cleo:Okay, I'm thinking of like when you see a sign, you could either see a big red word on the sign, or you could see an icon that's a little green man. I have no idea what the Little Green Man icon means. Or what the big– Exit! Exit versus Little Green Man–
Tom:There we go!
Tom:You're absolutely there. That's it. Devin, what have you got? Your camera is not focusing on your screen, Devin, but I will take your word for that, that it is on there.
Devin:Yeah, exit signs.
Simone:What? Wow, I can't believe that we got there.
SFX:(others laughing)
Simone:Yeah. From aliens to... Oh, wow! Wait, so which one's standard where? Oh, we have Green Man in Europe, right?
Tom:Yeah, so basically everywhere... everywhere outside North America, your exit sign will be a green sign with a man running out a door. And sometimes, the man is white on green. But that was the original design in 1970s in Japan was green man exiting. America, "EXIT". Big red word.
Devin:Yeah, because America is of course going to assume that you speak English.
Tom:Yeah, I was in Quebec the other week and it says "SORTIE", which...
Devin:Heh, right.
Tom:Because it has to be legally in French. So you would think they would use the international standard, but no. North America just has a big red word that says "EXIT".
Simone:Wow. Good point to Cleo.
Tom:So yes, the title of the Slate article was "The International War Over Exit Signs." Our first guest question of the show comes from Cleo. What have you got for us?
Cleo:This is a question that was sent in by David Fichtmueller. In the basement of a Massachusetts office building, there's a collection of 315,000 index cards. Each card has two things typed on it. One would make sense to you, and the other probably wouldn't. What is the purpose of this index? Alright, here's the question one more time. In the basement of a Massachusetts office building, there is a collection of 315,000 index cards. Each card has two things typed on it. One would make sense to you, and the other probably wouldn't. What is the purpose of this index?
Tom:If I say the word Dymaxion, does that mean anything here?
Cleo:Okay, I don't know what the word Dymaxion means.
Tom:Okay, no, that's fine, 'cause that will be on there. So, I was nearly gonna step back from this question. There was a thing called the Dymaxion Chronofile, which is Buckminster Fuller. The famous, the guy... I hate to– The guy who invented the Epcot ball. And I'm sorry to the estate of Buckminster.
Devin:Yeah, geodesic domes, Dyson spheres.
Tom:Geodesic dome, and many, many other things besides. Kept a minute by minute index of everything he did in his life on cards. And that's stored, I think somewhere at a New England University. I'll have to research more about that, but it's not that. If you don't have the phrase Dymaxion Chronofile on that card, it's not that.
Cleo:Not that.
Simone:Wow, I can barely get myself to journal once a month.
Simone:It's impressive.
Simone:So is it– does it have something to do with language? Is it a translation? Index cards with translation for a lost language?
Cleo:The idea that one would make sense to you and the other probably wouldn't, doesn't depend on what language you speak.
Tom:Alright, and there's 315,000 of them.
Devin:It sounds like the Dewey Decimal system, where you're referencing, you know, a bunch of books.
Tom:It's not that– I can't remember where it is. There's a state which has really lax business regulations, and so all the companies incorporate there, and are basically all in one building. There's one building somewhere in New England that has, I don't know, maybe 315,000 companies registered there. Maybe they have to have a sign. Which state which state is that, Devin?
Cleo:It's Delaware, isn't it?
Devin:Delaware, yeah.
Cleo:Devin would know.
Devin:Yeah. 100 percent, it's Delaware.
Tom:Not Massachusetts.
Cleo:No, that's not it.
Simone:It is somebody's Rolodex of old girlfriends.
Simone:A busy person, yeah.
Cleo:It is not.
Simone:I'm thinking like the– To me, I think they have to be translations of some sort. Like it has to be... from, to. Like decipher something or where it's like, "Oh, what, how do I say that in if it's not this language then in something else?" That's what I was thinking, computer program.
Devin:Oh, that's a good thought. That it's the first language translator.
Simone:Yeah, but does it have anything to do with language, Cleo?
Cleo:You could speak every language, and that wouldn't guarantee that you understand the second thing on the card.
Tom:Sorry, my brain apparently has multiple stories about big boxes of files stored in university basements.
Cleo:That doesn't surprise us.
Devin:Checks out.
Simone:Nobody's shocked.
Tom:'Cause there was the Ivy League nude photo scandal. A couple of universities took nude photos of every freshman coming in for multiple years as part of some sort of research study that was really ill advised.
Tom:Yeah, if– basically... presidents, congressmen. As far as I know, they've all been destroyed now. But for a long time there was a naked photo of every single university student at these Ivy League colleges just held in a basement somewhere.
Tom:It's also, I assume, not that. (nervous chuckle)
Cleo:No, no, it's not that.
Tom:There are a lot of things stored in university basements. Also, this isn't a university, is it? It's a Massachusetts office basement, yeah. I got hung up on university.
Cleo:It's an office building.
Simone:Does the index cards have anything to do with their business?
Cleo:So, when you're thinking about language and translation, that's a good avenue to go down. Deciphering. But it's not that it would tell me in French or something.
Devin:So, I mean, since we've been talking about international standards, is it like a index of emoticons or symbols? Or hieroglyphics, or pictograms maybe?
Cleo:It's not that, but you're getting generally warmer.
Tom:The population of Massachusetts is way more than 315,000, right? It's not like one a person.
Cleo:This is a thing that would be done by a computer today.
Tom:When you said that, I was thinking they're like the Pantone colour chips, or the official colour things, but.
Simone:Yeah. It's something that computers would do today.
Cleo:Something about the words... that you would be able to read on the index cards.
Simone:So it's words to binary, or does it– No, nothing to...
Tom:It's not computers or punch cards. It's...
Simone:But it's something computers would do today.
Tom:I mean, none of us have said "library catalogue", so I'm gonna say the obvious things. It's just a library catalogue or something like that. But... agh...
Tom:Something you've done–
Cleo:Something about the words, something a computer would do today. Not something that's specific to Massachusetts or...
Tom:Oh, we're gonna kick ourselves.
Devin:It's not about the Red Sox.
Simone:Is– Would I find normal words, would like every word that I know be on this punch card and then an equivalent? Like would 'horse', would there be a punch card with the word 'horse' on it?
Cleo:Yeah, probably. Each card would have an English word on it.
Tom:So it's just a card, word, something else.
Simone:Yeah. Horse.
Simone:And it would say 'horse'.
Cleo:For 315,000 English words.
Tom:There aren't that many words, what?
Devin:Yeah, and it can't be a definition. It is not like a prototype of a dictionary, defining all of these things.
Cleo:No... But a... company that deals with words slash dictionary is very hot.
Simone:The– The–
Devin:Dictionary, thesaurus, encyclopedia.
Simone:Mary Webster, what are they called? Yeah? It's their–
Simone:Their catalog of words?
Cleo:Yeah, so, okay. The building is the headquarters of Merriam-Webster.
Tom:What the–
Tom:So, but it can't be like their list of words and definitions. So what's the other thing on the cards?
Simone:A QR code.
Cleo:That's the question.
Cleo:Very close, getting closer.
Devin:Oh, shoot.
Tom:Etymologies, cross-referencing what the–
Simone:Something computers would do today.
Cleo:Here's another clue. It's not an additional fact about the word. You could derive the second thing from the first thing. Tom's brain is breaking.
Tom:I'm really, really...! I should know this! I studied linguistics for god's sake. I should know there's an index card system under Merriam-Webster for... I just, I cannot think of this, of what unknown thing about words...
Cleo:Be dumber.
Simone:Be dumber. It's in all caps. Yeah.
Cleo:Close, so close! Be that level of dumb.
Devin:The spelling.
Simone:The spelling of it. The... if it's a noun. It's not an additional fact. It's it mirrored?
Devin:How it– It's not–
Simone:Wait, what?
Cleo:It's it backward.
Simone:Why, why, Merriam-Webster? Why would you do us dirty like this?
Cleo:The answer is, this is the backward index of the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, which allows you to find words with the same ending. It is helpful for rhyming things.
Tom:Oh, I hate this question!
Simone:But why do they have it on printed out index cards? I don't get it.
Cleo:Because they had it before the 1990s.
Tom:Because if you needed to go in and say "all the words that end in I-N-G-S," you had to go in and you need an index starting S-G-N-I and...
Simone:This feels like a Tom Scott video, if nothing else.
Tom:Yes, it does, and that's why I'm angry about this question!
SFX:(others laughing)
Devin:Tom should've known this. He studied linguistics.
Simone:Yeah. And loves archives.
Tom:Yeah, no. It turns out there's another thing full of index cards in an American basement that I didn't know about.
Simone:Wow. You are a disappointment for your own personal brand.
Tom:Oh, I know that. I know that.
Devin:There's a basement somewhere that has Buckminster Fuller's entire Dymaxion diary, but it's backwards so that he can cross-reference the last part of his diary first.
Simone:I can– That would take such– I feel like we could have guessed for a million years and not got into that.
Cleo:So the answer is the backward index of the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, which allows you to find words with the same ending. This is an index that is sorted alphabetically by the second backward word.
Tom:Alright, back to me for this one. In some industrial processes, conveyor belts were used to convey hot ashes or foundry sand. In 1957, B.F. Goodrich patented a simple improvement that allowed the belt surface to cool down for a lot longer. What was the difference? I'll give you that one more time. In some industrial processes, conveyor belts are used to convey hot ashes or foundry sand. In 1957, B.F. Goodrich patented a simple improvement that allowed the belt's surface to cool down for a lot longer. What was the difference?
Devin:Wow. I mean, B.F. Goodrich was famous for rubber and tires.
Tom:I didn't know that.
Simone:Wait, so was the conveyor belt... Did he invent the conveyor belt where it goes in under? Or did it not go– Maybe it just went round and around before. But now he has like, oh, it actually goes in under, and that gives it more time to cool off?
Tom:It was the same size, same speed. You didn't need to buy more belt for this. 'Cause that would be the obvious solution, is you just keep it running for a long time, going through stuff.
Simone:Yeah, he made it longer. Crazy invention.
Devin:Did he convert something from rubber to metal? So he invented the sort of escalator, or the moving walkways in airports, so it's a metal grate that can rotate around itself?
Tom:No. No extra parts required.
Cleo:The goal was to keep it cool when it's doing hot things, right?
Tom:It allowed the surface to cool down for longer, yeah.
Simone:And it runs at the same speed, there was– Was there any change of materials?
Simone:No extra parts?
Tom:No extra parts required.
Simone:Not even like just putting a fan on it? Yeah?
Tom:No. These are all great solutions, but they're not B.F. Goodrich's patent.
Devin:Oh, I was gonna say he ran it faster, and created, you know, more air turbulence, but...
Simone:Did he change the environment that he had it in? Like put it– No? 'Cause that wouldn't be an invention either.
Tom:I mean, we've got a brainstorming session for anyone with hot convertor belts here, but it's none of these things.
Simone:So was the invention somehow having to do with the coal or the material itself?
Tom:I know, I realise I'm meant to give suggestions and improve things, but I'm just gonna say no to these. They're all good suggestions. They're not what he did.
Cleo:So he didn't change the speed of anything. He didn't add another part. He didn't swap out the materials that was made of, and he didn't change the cool or the hot things.
Tom:Mhm. It was a very simple improvement, but was enough to get patented.
Cleo:Did he change the distribution of the hot things, so it was sort of...
Simone:Further apart, or no?
Devin:He prayed really hard and used the power of Jesus to cool it down.
Tom:(laughs) Devin, as the lawyer in the room, I have to ask if you could patent that?
Devin:No, I don't think so.
Tom:I feel like you could try to patent that, and it would get turned down.
Simone:What could possibly have changed, if he didn't change the environment? He didn't add anything. He must have subtracted something. Must have removed something.
Tom:Weirdly, still no.
Simone:He didn't change the material.
Cleo:Was it about the people using it? Was it the people... something about the way that it was used?
Tom:It just allowed the belt's surface to cool down. This is a horrible question. There's nothing to glom onto here and get a... It's one of those questions where afterwards it seems incredibly simple, but actually no one thought of it, which is probably why he managed to get a patent on this.
Cleo:He put it in a fridge.
Tom:That's definitely extra parts.
Simone:He– Oh, yeah.
Cleo:He blew on it. There's just one guy going (exhales)
Simone:Yeah, it's great. Patent that guy.
Tom:In theory, this could have also made the belt last a little bit longer.
Devin:Did he make the belt thicker?
Tom:No, you could use the same belt for this, but you're getting closer with that. It's about the belt, and how it worked.
Simone:Yeah, so it's about the belt itself. The belt itself changed.
Tom:Something about that changed, yes.
Cleo:He turned it off at night.
Simone:Yeah. Was it just that he had a bigger... So the conveyor belt has barrels in it. Did he... remove those in some way? So there was nothing under the belt? Like the conveyor belt itself was hollow?
Tom:Not quite, but there's certainly some kind of geometrical trickery going on here.
Simone:Yeah, so he made a belt, instead of it being solid, it was like a grid or something. So...
Devin:He poked holes in the belt, so that there was airflow.
Simone:Yeah, air holes or airflow.
Tom:That might still tear it apart. There's some of the belt going unused here. How might you be able to use a whole extra bit of the belt?
Cleo:He made it go– He put it on an angle.
Tom:Oh, you're getting closer and closer now.
Cleo:He made it go around in one flat circle, like a turntab– like a belt at an airport, as opposed to going over like a long tire on a...
Tom:You are really close.
Cleo:On a tank.
Tom:You are really close. It's a geometrical change to the belt.
Simone:No, so instead of having a conveyor belt that kind of goes like a train track just in circles, the belt itself goes in under the table. So like the surface that rolls around, it goes in under the table. Similar to like at a cashier.
Tom:It was already a belt that was doing that.
Simone:But instead of it being a belt that goes around, it was just barrels that rolled.
Tom:That's still a change– It's a really simple change, and I can't– It's deeply frustrating. It's a geometric change to the belt that means you're getting basically twice the surface for free.
Devin:They ran in on the inside of the belt as well.
Tom:How would you do that?
Devin:Oh! You run it as a Möbius strip.
Tom:You run it as a Möbius strip.
Devin:So you invert one side. Aaaah!
Tom:You make a belt with a half twist in it, so that you have a Möbius strip conveyor belt.
Simone:That was not as, "Oh wow. That is gonna be so simple." No, that is...
Devin:I think that is technically non-Euclidean, which means it's not a geometric thing. I think that was a–
Tom:(laughs) Oh, it's definitely Euclidean. That is definitely Euclidean, Devin.
Simone:Get him, Devin! I wanna criticize this question for us not getting it.
Tom:It's deeply frustrating, but the patent in 1957 was for... I don't think it was exactly called that, but it was a Möbius strip belt. So that as it goes 'round, there's a half twist in it, and so you are using both sides of the belt. Well, you are using all the surface area of the belt, which now only has one side, because geometry.
Devin:That's a really good idea.
Simone:Yeah. It still hurts my brain. I need an animated GIF to see this.
Tom:I can't easily demonstrate this in audio, but yeah, if you get a strip, put a half twist in it, link them up and trace your finger around, you'll go all the way around the outside and inside, and so you got twice the belt. That meant that it could cool down. So yes, B.F. Goodrich's patent was for a Möbius strip belt, so the surface had much longer to cool down, because you got twice the surface basically for free. Our next question comes from Devin, all yours.
Devin:Alright your question is: From 1979 to 2007, the residents of this North American town, Naco, would hold a famous volleyball match. In the early years, the ball was in danger of bursting. The annual tradition stopped when conditions became too difficult to play. Why? Let me read that one more time. From 1979 to 2007, the residents of the North American town, Naco, would hold a famous volleyball match. In the early years, the ball was in danger of bursting. The annual tradition stopped when conditions became too difficult to play. Why?
Tom:That's a very carefully phrased question, 'cause it says North American. Didn't say United States, said North American. So I think that's like question longform for Canada. I think this is gonna be Canadian. Which means I think we're up in the Canadian North.
Devin:I don't know, Americans are famously humble. We like to share our continents with other people in other countries. So who knows?
Simone:I'm wondering, I'm thinking like lightning storm. Having a volleyball match and a lightning storm. If the ball has risk of bursting. Or if we're going with Canadian, is... is it like a winter volleyball game, and it's a (bleep) ball of ice?
Tom:The ice is melting and they can't...
Simone:Yeah, totally.
Tom:It's in the Northwest Passage, and unfortunately it's just wet now.
Cleo:Is the answer climate change?
Cleo:For why it became too hard to play?
Devin:That is not the answer.
Devin:And it's also not in danger being struck by a hockey puck or a Canadian goose.
Simone:Is the material of the ball a significant clue?
Devin:No, it is a standard regulation volleyball.
Tom:What was the name of the town? Naco[Nay-co]?
Tom:[Naw-co] Naco[Nah-co.]
Simone:And in the early years, it was in the risk of bursting, sorry.
Devin:Yes that condition that was leading to the ball bursting did change over time.
Cleo:Are they on a submarine or in space?
Devin:No, they're in the famous North American town of Naco.
Tom:(laughs) I'm convinced that's Canada.
Devin:On land, on land.
Devin:I mean, yeah. The location of the town is important.
Cleo:Why would a standard volleyball be at risk of bursting?
Cleo:Something about pressure. That's what I was thinking.
Tom:So is it really high up?
Tom:Is this a really high-altitude town? No? Okay.
Devin:Nothing to do with pressure.
Simone:They played it with swords.
Tom:Oh, sword volleyball.
Devin:No, no. And in fact this volleyball game was a way of bringing the community together.
Simone:As opposed to swords that would split them apart!
Devin:Correct, yeah. Two houses divided, that sort of thing.
Simone:But did it, was the volleyball game standard in other ways, or did they play it with any unconventional attire or tools?
Devin:It was standard in many ways. There is one aspect of this game that was very unconventional. And it's not the apparel. It's not the size of the volleyball court or facility that they were playing on.
Simone:They played instead of a net, they played it with something else.
Devin:What constituted the net is important.
Tom:Oh! Oh, hold on. Is Naco... Is this a border thing?
Devin:Yes, it is.
Tom:You said North American. So I'm like, "Oh, it's Canada" for the question writer to be tricky. But is this one of those places where the US–Canada border goes through a town, and the teams are on either side of it? Because that's a thing that happens quite a lot.
Devin:You are very close.
Simone:But why was the ball at risk of bursting in the early years?
Cleo:Because somebody was gonna shoot it. Because it was going over the border.
Tom:You gotta pay import tax on that ball every time someone sends it over the net.
Devin:That is not correct, but that is definitely the right idea.
Tom:Or is it US and Mexico? I assumed it was US and Canada border. Is this the US–Mexican border?
Simone:But it was until 2007. So, has nothing to do with MAGA.
Devin:(chuckles snidely) It is the US and Mexico border.
Devin:Is involved.
Cleo:And the volleyball game is over the border.
Cleo:The middle of the game is the border. Cool, okay.
Devin:Yes. So... I mean, I think you've gotten almost all of it. There's only one aspect–
Tom:We haven't got the bursting. They changed the fence!
Devin:Yes, correct.
Tom:They changed the fence. It was at risk of bursting because it had spikes on top of the fence. If you wanted to spike the volleyball down the opposite team, and you were a little short, it would hit the top of the border fence and burst.
Devin:Correct. And so why would it stop in 2007?
Tom:They raised the fence?
Cleo:They built a taller fence.
Devin:Correct. They built a bigger border wall. So that they could no longer play the game. So the answer is that Naco lies on the US–Mexico border. And when the town was divided in two by the construction of the border fence itself, locals defiantly started to play volleyball over the border. And they were using the border fence as the net, and the border fence had barbed wire across the top of it. And so they had to cover the barbed wire with carpet so that the ball wouldn't burst if it got caught in it and punctured. But as security increased over the years, as it happens in the US, the height of the wall was raised. And thus you were no longer able to to play volleyball. They still do occasionally, but it's a very, very tall fence now, and it's not a regular game of volleyball.
Simone:That feels sad somehow.
Cleo:It does.
Cleo:Bring back volleyball.
Simone:In Naco. Yeah.
Devin:Make volleyball great again.
Cleo:Tom, you were right though... that North America was the key phrase.
Tom:It was, and I just forgot about Mexico, which does feel like a metaphor for something. Next one is a listener question. This has been sent in by Aiden Henson. Thank you very much. During a baseball game in 1981, Amos Otis hit a valid pitch, which slowly rolled over the foul line. It was originally ruled to be a foul ball. However, after some debate, he was allowed to walk to first base. Why? One more time. During a baseball game in 1981, Amos Otis hit a valid pitch, which slowly rolled over the foul line. It was originally ruled to be a foul ball. However, after some debate, he was allowed to walk to first base. Why?
Simone:Do I need to know a lot about baseball?
Tom:Not really. You need to know that baseball has an enormously thick and technical set of rules for every eventuality.
Cleo:The place, the thing that they were playing on was moving. So if it was rolling, and the playing field was moving, then it rolled somewhere else, but it wasn't his fault. He hit it correctly.
Tom:You're right with the second part of that. It wasn't his fault that it went over the foul line. In this case, it was a regulation game of baseball.
Simone:He hit a bird.
Tom:Not quite. You're– which–
Cleo:A bird hit it?
Tom:I've seen that video and it's awful. It has happened. Someone has taken the pitch and taken out a bird. But in this case, no. The ball was slowly rolling. You're absolutely right. There was some interference going on though.
Devin:Yeah, I mean, the famous video is Randy Johnson threw a pitch so fast, and a bird actually flew in front before the batter could hit it, and the bird just exploded.
Cleo:Oh my god.
Tom:This is not the case here. This is a ball rolling towards the foul line.
Simone:His arm fell off as he threw it.
Simone:And it went– Yeah! And it went with the ball.
Devin:So baseball has a rule that if you hit a ball... and it rolls outside of the foul line, but it's between the base and the end of the field, that's considered a fair ball. Whereas if you just hit the ball foul and it's outside of the field, that's foul. And if you hit it outside the foul line and it's inside of the base, then it's considered a foul ball.
Tom:This is why I don't like baseball.
Devin:Yeah. And I've probably gotten that completely wrong. It's hilarious.
Tom:You're moving further away. Cleo, you got very close to start off with. The ball is rolling, a thing happened.
Cleo:What can move a ball when it's rolling? It's like the movement of the plane that it's on.
Simone:The wind was blowing? It was crazy wind. It was during a hurricane?
Tom:Simone, you are actually so close with this. But all of those things would've meant the ball was ruled foul. Because it's just a thing that happened in the world. If you're pitching into a strong wind, you don't get compensation for that.
Devin:It landed on the foul line, and there was an earthquake.
Tom:That's all still part of nature.
Cleo:But is an animal part of nature? Is it an animal?
Tom:Yep, if... I mean technically yes, but not in normal thinking.
Cleo:Oh, so it's a person. Well, like streaker, a streaker ran across it. I don't know why they have to be a streaker, but...
Tom:It's right that it was a person.
Devin:A fan got out of the stands and grabbed it.
Tom:Nope. And the opposition team, it's not like the opposition team can kick the ball or in, or do anything like that, but you've said all the right things. You just need to put them into one thing.
Simone:Somebody blew on it?
Tom:Yes, absolutely right, Simone. The opposition team saw that the ball was going towards the foul line. It was very, very close. And someone got down behind it and went (huffs) and just blew it over the line. And the umpire initially ruled that that was a foul ball. And then there was a lot of argument, and they went to the rule book, and that was classified as interfering with the ball, as opposed to wind blowing it. And that was what was ruled as legal.
Cleo:Wow. Dirty, dirty tricks.
Tom:Yes, one–
Devin:They must have had some strong breath to be able to blow a baseball in any direction. I think that sounds hard. Was it the Yankees? Because they blow.
Simone:(softly) Oh my god.
Tom:So yes, this is May 27th, 1981. Seattle Mariners and Kansas City Royals. The third basement got down on all fours and blew on a baseball that was rolling along the foul line, and that caused it to cross the line. That made it a foul. And the umpires were like, "There's no rule against it." So there was a long argument and dispute. And eventually they agreed to overturn it. It was ruled in.
Tom:The baseman later claimed that he wasn't blowing on it. He was yelling the words, "Please go foul! Please go foul!" and... didn't go.
SFX:(others laughing)
Simone:Are you guys ready for another sports question? That doesn't really have to do with sports.
Tom:Oh yeah, we just had volleyball and we just had baseball.
Tom:I didn't even notice that, alright.
Simone:No, this is the sports episode.
Tom:Alright, let's go for it.
Simone:So in 1963, an Australia Rules football pitch in Coburg, Melbourne had a lot of rainwater on its playing surface. One person was able to clear the water without anyone else using a technique that was already popular in Russia. What was it? You're gonna get it a second time. In 1963, an Australian rules football pitch in Coburg, Melbourne had a lot of rainwater on its playing surface. One person was able to clear the water without anyone else using a technique that was already popular in Russia. What was it?
Cleo:It was the holes in the field. You like punch holes in the field, and that's why when you go into a field, sometimes there are those things that look like poop, but it's not actually poop. It's just like they punch into the field, and then little vertical cylinders come out, and then it drains water.
Simone:So this was less of like, "Oh, we're gonna build a pitch and improve the infrastructure of it to have it drain water" and more like a, "Oh (bleep), the team is coming on soon. We gotta figure something out real quick." And it's just...
Devin:Yeah. I mean, that's aeration and... That's, you know, generally not for like, draining.
Tom:This is just a guy going, "That's wet. I'm gonna move that."
Tom:Alright... Moses. He just kinda parted the– That wasn't popular in Russia though, was it?
Cleo:Like a leaf blower?
Devin:I mean, if the Russians are involved, I would think that they would use a giant flamethrower and heat the water up.
Tom:Ekranoplan. Just ground effect craft that blasts water out the way.
Simone:Just a pitch of boiled grass.
Simone:Yeah. Oh.
Tom:Okay. I've got so many Australia jokes. He just summoned a herd of magpies to blow it away.
Devin:He used a giant crane. And turned the stadium on its side. So everything drained out.
Cleo:He blew on it really hard.
Simone:Cleo... thing... you're hot.
Cleo:A leaf blower. He used air. (giggles) Thank you, Simone. I'll take it.
Cleo:He blew air at it... and it blew slowly, blew more and more. I mean, that would be hard to do for a whole pitch, but.
Simone:What did he use to blow air?
Cleo:A leaf blower.
Devin:A hovercraft.
Cleo:A helicopter.
Simone:A helicopter! Yes! Yes!
SFX:(others clamouring)
Devin:Oh yeah. Nice.
Tom:I should have got that. Dammit.
Simone:Yeah. After bad weather had cancelled all their fixtures the previous week, the Victorian Football Association employed a helicopter pilot to fly over the pitch. The breeze from the helicopter's rotors helped to disperse the surface water and dry out the pitch. The same technique has been used by a German football team in 2014 and an Alabama college football team in 2018.
Tom:And by cherry orchards! This is why I should have got that. There are helicopter pilots who, during the cherry growing season, are on call every morning, in case there's been rain. And they'll get a call up, and they will have to hover over cherry orchards and dry the leaves so the cherries don't crack and spoil. And I've been trying to– I've been investigating that for a while to see if I can go and film it, but it's almost impossible to go film, 'cause it's also quite dangerous. It's like a lot of low flying. And I cannot believe having been researching that this week, that my brain didn't go helicopter to dry a football pitch.
Cleo:That's awesome.
Simone:It's a given.
Devin:It's pretty obvious when you think about it, Tom.
Tom:(laughs) At the start of the show, I asked the audience this question: What was invented by Caleb Bradham in 1903 to prevent dyspepsia? Before we go, any guesses from the panel?
Simone:What is dyspeps...
Devin:Yeah, what is dyspepsia?
Cleo:I don't know.
Tom:Indigestion. But there is a clue in that name.
Tom:That's where Pepto-Bismol gets its name from. It's not quite that one.
Tom:Pepsi. Absolutely right. It was originally called Brad's Drink. And then Bradham– Bradham was a drugist, and he believed helped with indigestion, and he called it Pepsi.
Cleo:Wow. That was just absolutely, "Let me say a dumb thing." Oh my god.
Devin:So wait, is that where the name Dr Pepper comes from? That there's some doctor, and it created some dyspepsia thing, and they called it Dr Pepper?
Tom:I don't know. I know Coca-Cola was originally a tonic that relieved fatigue, but that was probably just the cocaine in it, so.
Devin:(chuckles snidely)
Tom:So that is the show for today. Thank you very much. Well done everyone on getting through that. Thank you for coming back for a second round there. Let's start off with Simone. Plug your stuff. Where can we find you?
Simone:I am @SimoneGiertz, spelled S-I-M-O-N-E G-I-E-R-T-Z on most platforms, mostly YouTube. Yeah.
Tom:Cleo, what have you got going on?
Cleo:I'm Cleo Abram everywhere, mostly YouTube and TikTok. And if you wanna watch the show that I make, it's called Huge If True.
Tom:And finally, Devin.
Devin:I'm Devin Stone on LegalEagle. You can find me on YouTube, or in real life as an actual lawyer. Do we get to meet Stephen Fry now or later? Or am I confused as to what this game show is?
Tom:So am I these days. If you do wanna find out more about the show Devin, then you can go to, where you can also send in your own questions. We're @lateralcast on pretty much every bit of social media, and you can catch video highlights weekly at Thank you very much to Devin from LegalEagle.
Devin:See you in court.
Tom:I really hope not. Cleo Abram.
Cleo:See you on YouTube.
Tom:And Simone Giertz.
Simone:See you in your basement. When you're sleeping at night.
Tom:That's worrying! I'm Tom Scott, this has been Lateral.
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