Lateral with Tom Scott

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

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Episode 2: What was measured in 'gillettes'?

Published 21st October, 2022

Brady Haran, Mary Spender and Eric Johnson face questions about a creative fire, bloodless hitmen and partly-useless products.

HOST: Tom Scott. QUESTION PRODUCER: David Bodycombe. RECORDED AT & EDITED BY: The Podcast Studios, Dublin. EDITOR: Julie Hassett. MUSIC: Karl-Ola Kjellholm ('Private Detective'/'Agrumes', courtesy of ADDITIONAL QUESTIONS: Josh Halbur, Ben Justice, Lewis Tough, Arun Uttamchandani, Eglė Vaškevičiūtė. FORMAT: Pad 26 Limited/Labyrinth Games Ltd. EXECUTIVE PRODUCERS: David Bodycombe and Tom Scott.


Transcription by Caption+

Tom:In which specific sport do you not cross the finish line, nor cross the start line either? My name's Tom Scott, this is Lateral, and we'll tell you the answer to that at the end of the show.

Three people are joining me today to hopefully show off their lateral thinking skills to some rather unique questions. Joining me today from Numberphile and Sixty Symbols and from Hello Internet and just a lot of things, Brady Haran, how are you doing?
Brady:I'm very well. Thank you for having me. I'm a bit worried though. You've got me with a newborn baby in the house. I dunno how well having a newborn baby meshes with lateral thinking. We're about to find out.
Tom:I mean, get your excuses in early. You'll be absolutely fine. I promise.
Brady:I've got more. I've got more if you need em.
Tom:Musician, YouTuber, singer, and songwriter, Mary Spender.
Tom:How are you doing?
Mary:I'm doing really well. I'm really excited to be here, so thanks for having me.
Tom:And from the Follow Friday podcast, Eric Johnson.
Eric:Hey, how's it going?
Tom:I mean, I'm going well. How about you?
Eric:Doing well. I'm just in the middle of planning my own wedding. So I hope you're all are ready for every bit of my lateral thinking to be somehow wedding adjacent. That is all my brain is occupying right now.
Tom:Lateral's the name, and also the game. We have some lateral thinking questions, and we're gonna have fun trying to find the answers. There are no prizes other than the bragging rights and the reputation.

So if you're all ready, here's your first question.

In 1988, white T-shirts with a single black stripe diagonally across them began to be sold in Italian markets. Why? I'll give you that again. In 1988, white T-shirts with a single black stripe diagonally across them began to be sold in Italian markets. Why?

That's right. We are starting you off with a fashion question. Good luck!
Eric:Well, I'll tap out now.
Brady:Do you think it's sport related? It could be sport related, couldn't it? 'Cause you know, the Italians like their sport.
Eric:Yeah, I was thinking must be music or sport.
Mary:Yeah, how long has football merchandising been around or...?
Brady:I mean, it was around then. I can't think of a team that just has a... diagonal black stripe though. The other thing that came into my head straight away were those street signs for closed roads with a diagonal black line. So I'm thinking either sport or street signs.
Eric:Is that— Are those street signs the same all over Europe? Would that be the same in Italy as it would be where you were?
Mary:Doesn't that mean the national speed limit?
Tom:I was thinking that.
Eric:Oh, is that what that means?
Brady:Yeah. Maybe that's not Europe-wide.
Tom:I mean, you are actually— I'm not gonna say you're close with that, Brady. But of the options of sport or road signs, you are definitely in the right area with the road signs.
Eric:So maybe it's what— The black stripe means something in some context, that then is being reappropriated by people. And idiot is my guess. There's some secondary meaning here that people are picking up, some established meaning that people are picking up and applying for fashion or for something like that.
Brady:You thinking like 'ban' or 'forbidden' with a vert—
Eric:That was my thought. Yeah.
Eric:Like a protest, a political statement of some kind. Something's not allowed here.
Mary:I have an anecdote about the national speed limit. When I was learning to drive, and how I was driving with my mother, practicing, age 17. And she was just like, "You really need to go faster." And I was like, "No, I'm going the national speed limit." And she was like, "What? What's that?"
Tom:Oh. Oh.
Mary:So you know... That was the moment, that was a moment where I realised, I shouldn't be learning with my mother. I mean, she's very talented at many things. But driving, maybe not. I'm wondering, when did that come in and when... I don't know. I'm trying to think of how that would be so—
Brady:You know those— You know when you come off at a junction in the UK? I dunno if it's everywhere else. In the UK... As you get closer to the junction, you have that sign that has three diagonal black bars, and then two diagonal black bars, and then one diagonal black bar. And I think— Does it mean 300 yards, 200 yards, and 100— I don't know. It means something like that.

But I know a woman who failed her driving test because she thought that meant... She thought that meant that was the gear the car was meant to be in. So when she got— She went to third gear, second gear, and first gear, she was just slowly coming off the motorway! That was like: No, fail.
Eric:In America, the only thing we measure in yards is football fields. Ever. Other than that. Do not use that in the American highways. I've never seen that, but that's fascinating.
Tom:I mean, you are — weirdly, somehow — dancing around the right answer to this very, very quickly. Mary, it's not about speed limits, but there was a change in the law in 1988, in Italy, about driving. You are actually very close to that.
Brady:Oh, was it a campaign to have the speed limit changed?
Tom:Not quite. I mean, the direction of the stripe was important. It was always from the driver's left shoulder down to their right.
Eric:Oh, I think I got it.
Mary:Woah, I just—
Mary:Seatbelts, wow.
Tom:You're absolutely right. Who— I think you all got that at the same time on that last bit. Yeah.
Tom:That was a whopper of a clue. Yeah...!
Mary:Yeah, that was it. That's amazing. Okay, so they weren't... I don't know. They weren't needed beforehand, or they just weren't used beforehand?
Mary:Was it European-wide?
Brady:Was it awareness basically saying, "Make sure you're wearing—" Or were people— People were wearing them to cheat!
Tom:There you go.
Brady:So they weren't getting caught.
Tom:That's the last bit. There you go.
Mary:Ohhh, my goodness!
Brady:Aahhh! So they, yeah, so they could drive without a seatbelt and look like they were wearing a seatbelt.
Tom:You are absolutely right.
Eric:Does anyone—
Tom:It was a two inch, sorta 50 mm, black line that just went from the left shoulder all the way down. And yeah it, looks exactly like you're wearing a seatbelt, until you look too close.
Eric:What a stupid waste of money.
Eric:Who cares? Just wear a stupid seatbelt.
Brady:Just wear the belt! I've heard someone say that the best safety measure they could introduce on the roads rather than seat belts would be a huge spike on the steering wheel. 'Cause if everyone was driving with a massive spike pointed at their chest, they would drive so carefully.
Tom:Pedestrians would be a lot safer. You wouldn't be going fast in a car like that. Which is fine as long as everyone has that spike.
Brady:Yes! (laughs)
Eric:This makes me think of early in COVID, when people started requiring masks everywhere. There are a bunch of folks, at least in the US. I don't know about everywhere else. but folks who spent some stupid amount of money on masks that were mesh. So they technically complied with, like on an airplane, the requirement that you have to wear "a mask". And it's like, just buy a $2 cloth mask. Why are you wasting so much money on this stupid protest? It drives me nuts.
Tom:I mean, every single time there's a change in the law for driving, for anything, there will be complaints about that. The first time a speed limit came in on British motorways, people just didn't see the point in it. There's old footage of people being interviewed. "I don't see why you can't go any speed you want."

Any time there's a change in the law, you get people who don't want it, and... this was a relatively cheap approach compared to having seat belts fitted to your car if it didn't have any.
Brady:You realise if they introduced those spikes in Italy, people would go out and buy ones that are made of pillow or inflatable ones, so they could have them in their car and pretend they've got it there.
Tom:So yes, in 1988, white T-shirts with a single black stripe were sold to try and get around the law on wearing a seatbelt.

So now it's time for one of our guests to put a question forward. As ever, I don't know the question. I certainly don't know the answer. I'm just playing along too. Eric, what have you got for us?
Eric:I got a question about seeds for you. You ready?
Eric:As well as its olives and wine grapes, the residents of ancient Greece also valued another plant — the carob. It is said that its seeds had an unusual property that led to a useful quantity that we use today. What is it?

One more time. As well as its olives and wine grapes, the residents of ancient Greece also valued another plant — the carob. It is said that its seeds had an unusual property that led to a useful quantity that we use today. What is it?
Tom:I mean, I immediately looked at Brady on this question. Because I just assumed this is gonna have come up in a Numberphile video sometime. "There's some ancient Greek
Brady:It sounds like it doesn't it?
Tom:quantity-causing plant" sounds like exactly the sort of thing you'd have covered at some point.
Brady:You would think so, but it's not immediately jumping into mind. But yeah, you think it's gonna be some measurement, isn't it? Some kind of... One of these, you know... "There are 38 carob seeds, weighs the same as this" or some saying that we use today maps back onto it.
Tom:I was thinking like barley corns or something like that. But that's a different plant and a different measuring system, and we don't use it today, so it's a terrible answer. But it's something.
Brady:What do carob seeds even look like?
Tom:Honestly, no idea. I— Honestly, I'm not even sure what a carob is.
Eric:A hint that may help is that it's thought that the seeds were similar in size. I can't tell you what they look like, 'cause I have not looked this up, but they were similar in size.
Tom:So it's gotta be something that's used...
Brady:Similar in size to each other, or similar in size to something else?
Eric:To each other.
Brady:So they could be used as a standard unit. You could trust them to always be the same.
Tom:So okay, what do you...?
Mary:I'm thinking out the box just in terms of... This is completely wrong. One seed equating to millions of other seeds, like a sunflower or something like that, where it's...
Mary:I dunno. Would that then...
Brady:Yeah? a quantity?
Tom:You've gotta have... 1,000 of these equals... I don't know, 'cause... So all the...
Brady:Oh—! Oh, I think—
Tom:Oh, Brady, that's a look on your face.
Eric:Brady's got something.
Brady:I think I might have it.
Tom:Oh, go for it. Go for it.
Tom:No, you g— You can't be that enthusiastic and not—
Brady:I'm not sure enough, right, that I'm right. That I think I can put it out there. There's a good enough chance that I'm wrong, but I think there's a really good chance this is where the notion of carats come from. 24 carats, using carats as a measurement. 'Cause it sounds like carob. And carats are a very small unit, aren't they? Of weight.
Tom:About the weight of a seed.
Eric:Is this the point where you put in a little ding-ding-ding sound effect?
Eric:As you have gotten it exactly right.
Tom:Oh, well done!
Eric:It was thought—
Eric:And carob seeds were consistent in weight, or so they thought, and thus provided a good measurement for travelling traders in the Mediterranean. And the word 'carob' became 'carat' over time. The weight of 0.2 grams to one carat was standardised in 1907.
Mary:That is amazing. That's fascinating.
Tom:So is that for gold or for diamonds or for both.
Eric:I guess, isn't that for both? I'm not entirely sure.
Tom:I've only just realised that you have... Diamonds are measured in carats, right? I'm not making that up. And you have 24 carat...
Eric:Yeah. A typical carob seed weighs roughly the same as a one carat diamond.
Tom:So you have 24 carat gold as well. And I've only just realised—
Brady:That's to do with purity though, isn't it, with gold? It's not to do with the mass, it's to do with the purity of the gold. When you have 24 carat gold, not about how heavy it is.
Tom:So is that a different measurement, or is that a weight of—
Eric:Or perhaps it just started with diamonds, and because it's also jewelry, they said, "Well, people know this."
Brady:It's probably the blend because— it's probably the blend. I think maybe 24 carat gold is just pure gold. And then if you blend the gold with something else to make it like, 18 carat, it means it's got some silver in there or something else. I don't know.
Tom:I have been told that the diamond and gold carats are basically two different measures with the same name.
Mary:Oh how, perfect.
Eric:So yeah, the carob plant had seeds that are the source of what we now call a carat for measuring diamonds and indirectly gold as well.
Tom:Congratulations, Brady, on that sudden flash of insight. That's lovely. Let's...
Brady:I know, I didn't keep calm, did I, when I realised? I had these convulsions of excitement.
Tom:Alright, next question. And this one's from me.

In which common commercial product do 25% of the contents have no effect? I'll say that again. In which common commercial product do 25% of the contents have no effect?
Eric:25% of the contents. So it's not the product is 25% ineffectual, but 25% of it is just filler.
Tom:As all the questions here, it is very precisely phrased.
Brady:'Cause I would've thought... most.... I would've thought lots of products, there was lots of stuff
Brady:not having an effect.
Brady:I would've thought basically in most— I mean, obviously in most medicines, most of them, like in a pill, only a tiny fraction of the massive pill has got the effective medicine in it.
Tom:Now, you have got us on a technicality there.
Mary:You're thinking very scientifically. I'm just thinking about crisp packets and how they're mostly empty, but maybe more so than 25%.
Eric:I think I know what this is, but I'll hold my time for now.
Tom:Oh, do you think you've got this, Eric?
Eric:I think I do.
Tom:Okay. In that case, when one person just thinks they know the answer to this, Eric, you can... We're not gonna ask you to formally write it down, but you take a step to the side here. Mary and Brady, this one is for you then.
Eric:Alrighty then, I got nothing better to do.
Tom:Brady— Yeah, you are getting us on a technicality there. Let's say 25% of the items in it have no effect.
Tom:We're not looking at the level of atoms here. We're looking at the level of...

I once nerd-sniped an entire table of techies. But it seemed like a really interesting question. What's the cheapest thing you can buy one million of? And we worked out the rules. It had to be 1 million exactly. Like you couldn't say— You couldn't buy a bag of sand and say it's several million grains of sand. It had to be like... You couldn't buy a few toilet rolls and say, "Oh, it's so many sheets." It had to be like, the number they were sold in had to be exact.

And I will spare you the literal hours of argument that spilled out onto the internet. It's transistors. Turns out its transistors from China, which cost less than a penny each.

But... We're talking that kind of, when I say 25% of the contents, I am talking in terms of the products in it, and not the atoms that make it up.
Brady:I was— the worst thing is I was like, I've become that guy. "Well actually, technically."
Brady:And I wasn't even trying to be that guy, which makes it even worse that I'm that guy. 'Cause that means I'm naturally that guy.
Tom:It is literally your job.
Brady:Yeah. Mary, I feel like the 25% must be key. There must be something very significant about a quarter. I feel like that's important, but I have nothing more.
Mary:I'm hooked on the idea of, is it something that's added to then... Oh, no.
Mary:25 percent.
Brady:25% of the product... of the... have... Was it no effect?
Tom:No effect, yeah.
Eric:If my guess is right, and I don't know if it is, but I think Brady mentioned pills earlier, and that's what had me thinking.
Tom:Yeah, Eric, you got it exactly off that, and you're definitely in the right area.
Mary:And it's definitely not like the air in the packaging.
Tom:No, it is very much the products that are in there. Exactly one quarter of the products in that packet have no effect. And you are so close, and I have the feeling this is...
Brady:Ohh! Is it...
Tom:something you either know or you don't.
Brady:Oh, I've got an idea too. But mine's a bit more out there. Or maybe it's not. Maybe I've just got it.
Tom:Oh, go for it. Go for it.
Brady:Is it a product that has holes in it? Like, Polo mints or something where like... where...
Tom:If this was a hot or cold thing, you just walked right into the cold freezer. That's just... You were so close. It's lovely, but no. If these were Polo mints, I mean first of all, they taste better. But also, no, we are counting the hole as part of the single item there.
Brady:That's air. Alright, that would count, yeah. What's something you eat or buy where one in four are pointless?
Tom:I mean, you are reducing the fraction a bit there. It's not one out of four. It's... a bigger number than that. It's seven out of 28. Eric is nodding along 'cause he knows he's got it right here.
Brady:Seven out of ten...
Eric:Feels good, man.
Mary:Wait, it's not something like Smarties or something, where it's like 28 Smarties and a cheap—
Tom:No, well, there are 28 of these in a pack, and they are pills, and seven of them don't work. And if you don't know, you don't know. Eric, this one's on you.
Eric:Birth control.
Tom:Exactly right. In a 28-day pack of birth control, seven of the pills have no effect. But they are there to remind you to take the daily tablet.
Mary:Well, that's a reveal on my part.
Tom:I mean... awkward!
Eric:I was always the worst player on my quiz bowl team. So this feels really good to get something before other people. It's a new feeling for me.
Brady:Did you actually pull a packet of birth control pills up and show them at the camera?
Eric:No, it's a Post-it where I wrote down my answer earlier.
SFX:(group laughing)
Brady:Oh right. I thought you were holding up a packet of birth control pills. That is impressive.
Tom:I should clarify, so this is not a giveaway, this is not all pills. This is obviously not all methods of contraception. There are plenty of pills where you do actually take one every day no matter what. There are a decent amount of brands, particularly the older ones, that work that way just because it's easier to have a routine to take one every day, and you are less likely to forget. Also some of the fancier brands also include multivitamins and things in what are meant to be placebo, so you still take 'em anyway.

But yes, there are a lot of brands of contraceptive tablets where you take 21 regular pills and seven placebos, just as a reminder.

For the next question, we go over to Mary. This one's on you. What have you got for us?
Mary:Okay, so in 1991, a man lost his house and possessions in a large fire that spread through the Oakland Hills in San Francisco. As a direct result, he developed one of the biggest creative successes in history. What was it?
Eric:As a result of the fire.
Brady:What did it do? It took out his house, did it, did you say?
Mary:A man lost his house and possessions in a large fire that spread through the Oakland Hills in San Francisco in 1991.
Eric:And it led to him having what exactly? It led him creating...?
Mary:He developed one of the biggest creative successes in history.
Tom:Oakland, California. This is too early for the studio fire, isn't it? There was a famous fire that took out a lot of the archives of... one of the music publishing companies, but I feel like that's LA, not Oakland, which is near San Francisco, and I don't feel like—
Eric:Yeah, there was a fire in LA many years ago at Universal.
Tom:That was it, it was Universal, Universal's backlot, wasn't it?
Eric:Right, and it also destroyed the King Kong Ride or something like that. Some part of the theme park as well, yeah.
Brady:It's the word, 'creative' or 'created' has foxed me a bit here. 'Cause part of me thought, "Oh, has this led to some invention that is to do with fire alarms or fire retardation or something like that?" But creative makes me think, did he lose all his stuff, or did this person lose all their stuff and come up with some new idea, artistic idea about being possession-free? Or did it... Was it some form of backup? 'Cause it's— There's a— 'Cause it's in San Francisco, there's a good chance it's techy.
Tom:I was thinking that with Oakland.
Brady:Did that result in coming up with some kind of backup?
Tom:Yeah, if it's gonna be—
Eric:The detail's in there for a very specific reason.
Tom:If it's music and creative, it would be somewhere in LA or the hills around there, but Oakland Hills.
Brady:What year was it again, Mary?
Eric:Huh. 'Cause my initial thought was like, "Oh, if it's East Bay, maybe it could be Pixar related." But Pixar was already around by then. They were already making short films by then, and...
Tom:Is this the reason why Hewlett-Packard were in a garage, 'cause the house was burned down or something like that?
Brady:It's backup related. It's backup related. So it's gonna— It's—
Brady:It's about backing up or protecting your possessions, I reckon.
Eric:Oh, okay.
Mary:Shall I chime in? Shall I chime in?
Brady:Yeah, go on, go on.
Mary:Give you a clue? You're along the right lines in terms of the tech industry, because obviously that is what San Francisco is known for. But I think the word 'creative'... So backups aren't particularly creative, are they?
Tom:Okay, could it be...? No I was— I was immediately— So two things came to mind. Firstly, there's a backup provider called Backblaze, but I'm guessing that's not—
Eric:That's what I thought too.
Tom:That's not gonna be— That's not a creative thing.
Mary:It's not quite as sexy.
Tom:I'm trying to think about... There's no companies named after fires or anything like that. There's no Burning...
Mary:How old is everyone here?
Tom:Late thirties.
Mary:33. So yeah, I'm 32. So we were all born around the same time.
Tom:Let's see, early nineties.
Mary:So it was created in 1991.
Eric:I mean, the only other tech thing with fire that comes to mind is Firefox, the browser that I normally use, but that also doesn't feel quite right.
Eric:That's still not technically creative.
Tom:That got its name from... It was originally Phoenix. Which would be a better name for this, but it's far too late for 1991. And they changed their name, 'cause they got sued. Or threatened to. So '91, Oakland, California. Man!
Brady:Do you think it might be a game? Is it a game? Did someone come up with a game, a computer game, or a video game?
Mary:I will say you're very warm. Very warm there.
Tom:I mean, so is his house and possessions.
Eric:In the fire.
Brady:What's a game that's fiery and fire related, and that you would think of as a result of losing all your possessions?
Tom:Why am I thinking SimCity? I...
Eric:Oh, well in SimCity, you can start a fire that burns down the city. So this could be...
Tom:Oh yeah. That's what I used to do when I played SimCity. It's the right year.
Mary:Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding.
Mary:Yes, a computer game.
Brady:SimCity, alright.
Mary:The Sims.
Tom:Oh, I— Oh, The Sims!
Brady:The Sims.
Mary:Yeah, The Sims in general. So Will Wright, creator of The Sims, had already had significant success with titles such as SimCity, SimEarth, and SimFarm. However, when his house burned down, it convinced him of the pleasures of setting up a new home.

Which I will say, I spent all my childhood just creating homes and then... slowly murdering people every so often.
SFX:(group laughing)
Mary:But mainly, building homes.
Tom:I feel like that must have come outta my head. There's no way I pulled Sim City from nowhere there. I must have read something years ago about that, and that was sitting in the back of my head, waiting to make that link.
Eric:Did Will Wright ever build a swimming pool in his backyard and then remove the ladder? Because... If he has a real world story related to that too, then I'm a little bit scared.
Mary:Because he did force everyone to do that as part of the creative process, because of the gravestones.
SFX:(group laughing)
Mary:It's so dumb.
Tom:Wait, oh. Because of course you have to have that in The Sims and... Wait, was SimCity earlier than '91?
Mary:So, I think so. Originally launched in the year 2000, The Sims franchise has sold over 200 million units. So I guess it was created in 1991, but...
Eric:But SimCity came first.
Brady:Yeah. I was playing SimCity in the early nineties. I was definitely playing at '92, '93, I think. I loved that game. But then obviously, I wasn't into having my stuff broken though. And occasionally in Sim City you would have an earthquake that would destroy your city. But there was a— And that was unacceptable to me.

But luckily, there was a cheat you could put in at the start, where you put some code in, and you would then get a huge earthquake that would happen, and that would be the last earthquake you would ever experience. So you would make the earthquake happen at the start, and then you could just build happily without fear of natural disaster.

I don't want my stuff broken. I want my— I've planned this city.
Eric:I was obsessed with the first Sims game. I didn't keep up with the sequels. They've kept on going. I think they've been putting them out, updates and new games, consistently since 2000.

But I just found out a couple days ago, apparently there is lore in The Sims. Like the characters in the game, I guess the stock characters who you can populate your house with. I think they all have deep lore where over the course of games, if you dive into the character descriptions, there's stuff about 'this person actually hates this person' and 'this person cheated on that person'.

And I just— I kinda love the fact that they had this blank check to keep on making these games that everyone loves. So someone in the studio was just like, "You know what, I'm just gonna write a bunch of fanfiction about..."
Mary:Or just using their personal life as inspiration somewhere.
Tom:If you were a developer, you would put the people you hated in as people who have terrible personality traits and die. Or is that just me? That might just be me?
Eric:A hundred percent.
Mary:I've literally been writing a web series about my life recently. I'm not sure it'll ever see the light of day, but just... you know when something's happened in your life, that you're like, "If I wrote this down, no one would believe me."
Mary:It's like that, I bet, in The Sims. Oh my god. The power, the power we have.
Brady:I was doing a podcast with a friend of mine. And we were doing this fictional thing, we were in this fictional environment, where we were talking about this fictional sport. And we have this friend of ours who was always... quite fashion conscious and a little bit vain. We love him, but that was one of his personality traits. He was really into clothing.

So in this fictional universe, we talked about how all the uniforms of the sports players have been designed by this 'special fashion designer' who was flown in, and we named the fashion designer as this guy. And this guy happened to listen to the podcast, and he didn't mind it. He was quite flattered by it and he knew it was done with affection.

But he was listening to it with his young son. And a week later, they took his young son to this really posh school that they wanted to enroll him in. And to enroll him in the school, you had to do an interview, so the heads of the school could see his boy, and make sure he was of sound character. And when they said to him, "So what do you know about your father? What job does your father do?" he said, "My dad's a fashion designer for sports teams."

And he's not, he's in recruitment. But the little kid listening suddenly, like it became real. And it caused him some problems later in life.
Eric:If my father were in recruitment, I definitely would never retain that information either. So I don't blame that kid at all.
SFX:(group laughter)
Mary:So in 1991, a man who happened to be Will Wright, creator of The Sims, lost his house and possessions in a large fire that spread through the Oakland Hills in San Francisco and resulted in the computer game that we all know and love, that sold over 200 million units, and was launched in the year 2000.
Tom:We've got one more question to come from Brady. But before that, last big one from me.

In 1960, Theodore Maiman defined the strength of these in terms of 'gillettes'. What are they?

I'll give you that again.

In 1960, Theodore Maiman defined the strength of these in terms of 'gillettes'. What were they?
Eric:How do you spell 'gillettes'?
Tom:G-I-L-L-E-T-T-E-S. Exactly like you'd expect.
Brady:Like the razor. Like the razor.
Tom:Exactly like the razor.
Mary:Immediately thinking the razor, yeah.
Brady:Is it something— Now, we have to think here. Is it something that didn't have a measurement before 1960? So was it a new technology that required this measurement, or was he just replacing a measurement of something already that you could measure the strength of?
Eric:I mean, it could be maybe electric razors. Were those new in 1960, or something else?
Brady:Strength though. It's gotta be the str— What's something you have to measure the strength of? If it was an electric razor...

Let's just ask. Tom, are you gonna tell us if it's razor related or not? Because we're just gonna go around in circles here.
Tom:There were certainly razors involved in this, but it's not to do with how sharp they were.
Mary:So not how sharp they were. How—
Brady:Is it— Is it the— Could it be your hair, like your facial hair? How hard is your facial hair to cut?
Tom:I mean, if you need more than one Gillette razor to take on facial hair, I feel like you got a Superman beard going on there.
Brady:Yeah, okay.
Mary:What about a haircut in terms of a #1, #2, #3, #4?
Tom:Oh! It's...
Mary:Like the razor heads.
Tom:For the first time, I get to say it's a great answer, but it's not right. That would've been a lovely answer. Unfortunately, it's not that.

In this case, the razors were not the thing doing the cutting. But you are right that it's something being cut.
Mary:The razors aren't doing the cutting.
Brady:Lawn mowing, lawn cutting, lawn...?
Tom:I mean, earlier on, Brady, you did say whether it was something that was new and invented, or whether it was quantifying an old thing. This was a brand new thing. He was defining the strength of something that did not exist before, around 1960.
Brady:Alright. That rules out lawn grass.
Eric:I wonder if's something like horsepower being used to measure the power of an engine. Like, I wonder if it's something that's not exactly grooming related. But something to do with the motion of a razor is similar, or the effect is similar, like yeah, lawn mower, or...
Brady:It's probably something that's doing cutting, maybe, but strength. So it's not measuring sharpness. It's measuring strength, right?
Brady:What's something that was...
Brady:...invented in the sixties, that you then used to cut things? What suddenly needed cutting in the sixties? Or what—?
Eric:I have a guess.
Mary:Yeah, what new technology was invented to cut things?
Eric:In the fifties, that's — at least in the US — that's when everyone was getting obsessed with lawn care, right? All the people moving out to the suburbs gotta take care of their lawns, and you get a weed whacker to take care of those unsightly weeds on the edge of the lawn.
Brady:I wouldn't really draw a line between a weed whacker and Gillette razors, though. That seems like a long bow.
Tom:I mean, this did actually involve literal Gillette razors.
Eric:Oh. Oh, that changes things.
Tom:Yeah. This was defined in terms of Gillettes.
Brady:Ah, so...
Eric:Literal Gillette razors.
Brady:Was it something that was invented, and then to test how strong it was, you see however many Gillette razors took to cut it?
Tom:Yes. Absolutely right.
Brady:Then it became its thing.
Tom:And that's a big logical jump there. Like that just got brushed under as we were talking about it. But yes, that's a big key part of this. It was how many Gillette razors that could be cut through.
Tom:Now why they used Gillette razors, I don't actually know.
Brady:Is it, like, lasers?
Tom:Yes, it is!
Tom:Absolutely spot on. I dunno where that came from all of a sudden.
Brady:Yeah, I don't know, I don't know.
Eric:Cutting through metal.
Mary:Cutting through, rather than cutting with.
Brady:Alright, so that was—
Eric:I bet those razors are, to Tom's earlier point about 'what the cheapest thing you can get a million of?' I bet those are very cheap to buy a lot of in quantity. So if you wanted to test the strength of a laser, maybe that's how you find out.
Tom:They were just the razor blades. So yes, I think you're absolutely right, bought a lot— They are a metal thing that you can buy cheaply in bulk.
Brady:And they come discrete units. So you could pile ten, or you could pile 20 or 30, and then fire the laser and see how deep the laser goes or...
Tom:That's actually a really— What we've just done there is worked out a lot of stuff that isn't anywhere near my notes, but you're absolutely right. Yeah, one Gillette is about 1.5 joules, which is several billion times less strong than modern lasers.
Brady:So I made a video once about, I think at the time, it was the most powerful laser in the UK, and definitely, it was one of the most powerful lasers in the world. And they said, "We're gonna turn it on for you, we're gonna use it for you." And they showed me the system, and it was this incredible place. It was this— It was almost the size of— It was bigger than a sport stadium, it felt like. And there was all this infrastructure and mirrors in one room to fire the laser. And then the laser went into this other room where it actually did the firing, which it was this huge bunker with huge bricks and blocks and lead lining. And I was so impressed by it, and I did all the filming beforehand.

They said, "Okay, we're gonna fire the laser for you now, Brady. You gotta go off into the safety room and we're gonna press the button."

And they press the button. It just went click. And it lasted about a fraction of a second. Nothing happened. And they said, "It's done."

And we went into the other room and I'm like, "What happened?"

"Oh, it worked. It did it. We fired the laser."

It was the most disappointing, anti-climatic thing you've ever seen.
Tom:There's a lot of big science stuff like that, that I have occasionally got invites to film. I'm like, "It's great. It's really cool what you're doing. But what you've got is a gray box attached to a computer that goes beep."
Tom:But yes, the very first measurement of laser strength was in 'gillettes', because that was how many razor blades the beam could cut through.

One guest question left, and its Brady's turn. What do you have for us, Brady?
Brady:I'd like to take you all to 2013, when a Chinese man called Mr. Feng hired professional hitmen to kill his 23-year-old son, Xiao. Despite this becoming public knowledge, he was never charged with a crime. What was going on?

So in 2013, a Chinese man called Mr. Feng hired professional hitman to kill his 23-year-old son, Xiao. Despite this becoming public knowledge, he was never charged with a crime. What was going on?
Mary:Ooh, I do love a bit of true crime. How did I not know this story?
Brady:Yeah. This has suddenly become a true crime podcast. I love it.
Mary:There are so many things that are in the public domain, that are criminal, and yet no charges are filed, or no charges are put to the person. So...
Eric:I think I know what this is. I think I—
Tom:Oh, you— Are you doing this again? Are you gonna try and claim a second one here?
Eric:I'm gonna write it down. I'm gonna write it down. But I have a hunch. I have a very good hunch.
Tom:It's on you and me, Mary. Alright.
Mary:Well, this is where I'm going to start writing it down, and then just wait 'til the end, let you just handle it by yourself.
Tom:Yeah. Yeah.
Mary:And then scribble it out when it's wrong.
SFX:(group laughing)
Brady:Yeah, that's right.
Mary:If he wasn't charged, then maybe he didn't go through with the murder.
Tom:Is this not— Is this real? This isn't fiction? This isn't a story or... something from a soap opera?
Mary:Oh. Oh. Maybe it's...
Brady:It was not fictional.
Brady:But me saying it's not fictional may be misleading you. But no, it's not— He's not a movie character or anything like that. But that's a hard question to answer.
Tom:Okay. So some—
Eric:If my guess is right, I can see why Brady is waffling on that answer there.
Tom:Some aspect of this... Some aspect of this wasn't real. We've been told a lot of things in this question, and there's something in there that doesn't make sense. Did he...
Mary:So not a movie character. The murder didn't actually happen.
Brady:Well, actually that's not true.
Mary:So the murder actually happened.
Brady:The murder actually happened many times.
Tom:Okay? So I was thinking, was the son already dead, or something like that. And for some legal reason, hiring the hitman is not a crime if if it couldn't be carried out. But I think that's still conspiracy to commit murder in most jurisdictions. I don't claim to be an expert on law, let alone Chinese law, but I feel like...
Brady:Let me give you another clue. The father was very frustrated with his son, and wanted to resolve a domestic issue.
Mary:So he wanted to teach him a lesson by murdering him over and over.
Tom:And this isn't like a metaphor. This isn't like a game of Go, or something like that, that's...
Brady:He wanted to modify his son's behaviour.
Tom:How old is this son? 'Cause if the son's five or six, and it's a kid...
Brady:The son is 23. What might a 23-year-old be doing that the father wants to modify?
Tom:I mean, I've got some jokes, but...
Brady:Let's not go there.
Mary:Playing too many computer games?
Mary:So was he being killed over and over again in a computer game, in a simulation?
Tom:Is this another— Have we got two video game questions in one thing?
Brady:We have indeed. You have nailed it. As did... Eric I believe.
Tom:I mean, we can't quite see that.
Brady:Who's now holding up his— Eric—
Tom:Oh, is this— Is this bloody World of Warcraft?
Brady:I don't know what game it actually was. Eric's holding up his pack of contraception pills again.
Mary:I can't believe I finally—
Brady:He obviously got it right, but...
Mary:I'm just glad I got there eventually on one of these questions. So I'm very proud of it.
Brady:You got there.
Tom:I was nowhere near that.
Brady:Mr. Feng was worried that despite his son getting good grades, he preferred playing games at home and he wasn't going out looking for a job. So he hired professional gamers to hunt down Xiao online in his favourite games and make his life a misery. However, since Xiao could see the usernames each time he died, he worked out what was going on.

He was later quoted as saying to his father, "I can play or I cannot play. It doesn't bother me. I'm not looking for a job. I wanna take some time and find what suits me. So you're wasting your time trying to murder me in these games."
Mary:That is pretty— I feel like that's the sort of thing I would do with the child.
Tom:I mean, Brady, you've got, what, 20-something years 'til you're making that sort of decision?
Brady:I'm already, I'm still, I'm already thinking about it. So indeed, you got there.

Mr. Feng was worried that despite his son getting good grades at school, he preferred playing games at home rather than looking for a job. So Mr. Feng hired professional gamers to hunt down Xiao online in his favourite games and make his life a misery.
Tom:I can't tell if that's lovely or just a bit worrying.

One last thing then, before I let you go: we have the question from the very start. I asked the audience:

In which specific sport do you not cross the finish line, nor cross the start line either?

Any ideas before we go, from anyone? Brady?
Brady:I dunno. I like to think of myself as a bit of a sports fan, but it's not immediately...
Mary:Something where go around in circles like ice skating.
Tom:It's not in circles, but it's more back and forth. I'm just glad Eric's not nodding and writing something down at this point.
Brady:It's got a— it's got a— It's got— But it's got a start line and a finish line.
Tom:It has a very, very solid start line and finish line.
Mary:Oh, it has a start line, sorry.
Tom:But you've gotta start ahead of the start line. And you can't cross the finish line, 'cause there's something in your way.
Mary:It's not the offside rule in football.
Tom:It's always the offside rule in football. You're also going backwards. You're approaching the finish line backwards.
Brady:Ah, is the— Ah, no. The finish line's not in Finland, is it?
Tom:What? Finnish line! That took me four, five seconds.

That one is a stumper. I'm not gonna make you go through all the Olympic sports for this.

It's backstroke swimming. Because you start in the pool, back of the start line, and you cannot cross it because you just have to hit the end of it.
Brady:Yeah, yeah. And you start in the pool so you don't jump over the finish line, like in all the other strokes.
Brady:Over the start line, yeah, yeah.
Tom:Very quick, bonus, completely nonexistent points. Any other sports where you normally win by going backwards?
Tom:Rowing is correct, yes. Also tug of war and high jump. Technically. I mean, you— If you wanna win high jump, you're going backwards. That is our show for today. Tell us what's going on in your lives, and where people can find you. Mary, starting with you.
Mary:I am, well, currently recording my debut studio album, but consistently making YouTube videos. So just is where you'll find me.
Eric:I host a podcast called Follow Friday, which you can find at But that show is currently on hiatus, at least until next year. So for now, just find me on Twitter and Letterboxd at @HeyHeyESJ.
Tom:And also there's an episode with me on there somewhere, so you can check that out. And finally, Brady.
Brady:I mean, I've got too many channels and podcasts to plug them here, haven't I, Tom? But if you wanna watch something interesting, go to Objectivity, and watch the video with Tom salivating over a space shuttle.
Tom:You're all plugging the videos with me in it. Thank you very much.

That's our show for today. Thank you very much to all our guests. If you wanna know more about the show, or you wanna submit an idea for a question, our website is You can find us at @lateralcast in all the usual places, and can also catch video highlights at

Thank you very much to Brady Haran.
Brady:Thank you.
Tom:Mary Spender.
Mary:Thank you.
Tom:Eric Johnson.
Tom:I'm Tom Scott, and this has been Lateral.
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