Lateral with Tom Scott

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

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Episode 31: The genius of cheese slices

Published 12th May, 2023

Brian McManus from 'Real Engineering', Sarah Renae Clark and Nicholas Johnson face questions about timely treatments, perceptive painters and bisected badges.

HOST: Tom Scott. QUESTION PRODUCER: David Bodycombe. RECORDED AT: Podcasts NZ Studios. EDITED BY: Julie Hassett at The Podcast Studios, Dublin. MUSIC: Karl-Ola Kjellholm ('Private Detective'/'Agrumes', courtesy of ADDITIONAL QUESTIONS: Sam, Andrei Tuch. FORMAT: Pad 26 Limited/Labyrinth Games Ltd. EXECUTIVE PRODUCERS: David Bodycombe and Tom Scott.


Transcription by Caption+

Tom:In chess, what is white's first move in the 'Ammonia opening'? The answer to that at the end of the show. My name's Tom Scott, and this is Lateral.

Hello and welcome to the podcast where we turn conventional wisdom on its head, shake it up, and see what comes out. Personally, I'm expecting two nickels and a bubblegum wrapper. On today's show, we have: magician, author, and podcaster Nicholas J. Johnson.
Nicholas:Thank you very much. I love that introduction.
Tom:Welcome back. This is your second time on the show. How are you doing? How did you feel about the last episode?
Nicholas:I felt okay. I was worried about embarrassing myself, and I feel like I may have, but I did it in a way that was true to myself, so that's okay.
Tom:(chuckles) Next up we have artist and YouTuber, Sarah Renae Clark.
Sarah:Hi, nice to be here again.
Tom:Welcome back. I know this won't work in audio. I'm just really impressed by the background behind you, which I assume is your own drawings and work.
Sarah:It's— yes, it is, but it's actually all stickers. It took two full days to make and cut out with a machine and put up like a jigsaw puzzle, and it was a nightmare, and I'm never doing it again.
Tom:And if you'd like to see that, you can go to her YouTube channel. Lastly today, but definitely not leastly, we have from Real Engineering, Brian McManus.
Brian:Thank you. It's good to be here again. I feel like I need to add a few titles onto my name.
Brian:Just YouTuber.
Tom:(chuckles) I mean, I get to say YouTuber and podcaster now, but I got introduced as broadcaster and presenter a while back. I'm like, "Oh, I like that. That sounds a lot fancier."
Tom:What do you go with other than YouTuber? Because that doesn't sound right for somebody who does so much about engineering.
Brian:I— It depends on who I'm talking to. I don't like introducing myself as a YouTuber in general.
Tom:I don't think anyone does.
Brian:You're gonna get one of two reactions. They're either gonna be really interested in asking you more questions and who you know
Tom:and usually how you make money.
Brian:Yeah. Or they're gonna think you're a complete idiot.
SFX:(others snickering)
Brian:I'm like, it's a lose-lose. So I usually just say... when I get asked at immigration, I say I'm a documentary filmmaker, and I feel like that's the most accurate version of what I do.
Tom:So please welcome documentary filmmaker Brian McManus.
Brian:Shall also feel a bit of a lie. I'm a YouTuber. (laughs)
Tom:On this show, we're all about thinking so far outside the box that it becomes a tiny speck in your rear view mirror. So we start with question one.

Why did the University of Liverpool's library have to tweet a warning, featuring a photo of a plastic-wrapped slice of cheese?

I'll say that one more time.

Why did the University of Liverpool's library have to tweet a warning, featuring a photo of a plastic-wrapped slice of cheese?
Brian:Why would you need to warn people about cheese? Like food poisoning?
Sarah:Were they using the cheese as bookmarks?
Brian:I was gonna say.
Nicholas:That's where I went as well.
Tom:Okay, all three of you immediately went to the correct answer there. Yes, you're absolutely right.
SFX:(guests laughing)
Sarah:We all win the game!
Tom:It's a photo of a slightly mangled piece of cheese with the— And you can hear the tone of voice, despite the fact that it's just the words, "This is not a bookmark." You can hear the tone that that they're going with there.
Brian:That's such a good way to get more cheese. That's a good way to get more cheese as bookmarks in a university. I feel like students would just immediately be like, "That's hilarious, I'm gonna do that too."
Nicholas:Was it still wrapped in plastic? Or was it just cheese by itself?
Tom:Yes, it is still— It's one of those Kraft Singles, Americans would call them, where you just have individual plastic wrapped slices, and you can see what's happened there. A student has needed a bookmark, is in their kitchen, and there is some cheap cheese nearby. And they've just gone, "That'll do" and then forgotten about it. But... yeah.
Sarah:It's like when you're looking at different things in the supermarket, and they have warning labels, and the warnings are very strange, but so specific that you're just going, "No, someone's had to have done that for that warning to be on the label." That's happened.
Brian:Like the three of us going for it at the same time. Immediately was just like, no, that actually makes sense.
Nicholas:I'll use anything as a bookmark, and we'll often lose money, important documents, birth certificates. Just things that have popped into a book just for a second. And then the book ends up back on the shelf. And sometimes it's a nice surprise several years later when I discover the hidden treasures.
Sarah:Oh, the cheese.
Nicholas:But never cheese.
Brian:Ah, it's Kraft Singles though. So probably still good.
Sarah:I feel like there's an unwritten line before food. Food would be the line.
Tom:So yeah, question one is meant to take a little while, but all three of you just got that immediately! The University of Liverpool tweeted a photo of a plastic-wrapped slice of cheese with the text, "This is not a bookmark."

Well, we rattled through that one very quickly. We will go straight on to the first guest question. Sarah, let's go with you first. Take it away.
Sarah:Alright, so this listener question has been sent in by Sam.

A woman was taken to a London hospital on Wednesday, 30th of July in 2008, with the symptoms of a heart attack. Had this exact situation happened a week later, she would have been 6% less likely to survive. Why?

So I'll repeat it again for you.

A woman was taken to a London hospital on Wednesday, the 30th of July, 2008, with the symptoms of a heart attack. Had this exact situation happened a week later, she would've been 6% less likely to survive. Why?
Brian:What was the exact date?
Sarah:Wednesday, 30th of July, 2008.
Tom:Okay, that is not the London bombings, okay. Because they were on 7th of July, and I briefly thought those dates matched up, and they don't.
Nicholas:So she had the symptoms of a heart attack, but not necessarily a heart attack itself. So she may not have actually had a heart attack. She just had the symptoms of one. So, chest pain, I assume, shortness of breath.
Tom:Is this a specific woman, or is this just that the odds of anyone being taken there would've decreased?
Sarah:The exact person is irrelevant here.
Brian:If it was June... If it was around the 5th or the 4th of July or something that there's probably an increase of hospital admissions on the 4th of July because of... firework injuries or something, and people being drunk and being brought in.
Tom:This was London though, wasn't it?
Brian:Oh, sorry, okay. So, is there a relevant holiday in the UK in August?
Tom:It's the August bank holiday. First Monday in August, I think we get off. I can't remember which one it is, but I don't think that'll make much of a difference.
Nicholas:Was that around the time of the global financial crisis? Is that— I'm not great with my history, but I feel like that was around that time there was a big crash in the stock market, and that might have, I mean, that always affects everything.
Tom:Hold on, is this a specific... Yeah, it must be a specific year. It must be a specific year. Is the year relevant?
Sarah:It's not the exact year that's relevant, but it was an issue in this particular decade, in the 2000s.
Brian:Yeah, so I'm thinking like, with swine flu or SARS or something... kind of coming up at the time, and going to the hospital was actually... a danger at the time that you could get infected with it?
Tom:But it feels like this is something specific that happened at the end of July every year around that decade. Is that right? It feels like that's...
Sarah:That's a good train of thought to go with, yeah.
Tom:So it must— Oh my god, it's the students. It's the student doctors being admitted, and... Isn't it meant to be a thing in every country, the new doctors arrive at a certain time.
Tom:And when that happens, suddenly you have less chance of surviving because you're being treated by the new kids.
Sarah:That is exactly right, yes. A new, less experienced cohort of trainee doctors start treating patients in London in August. So, UK medical graduates start 'Foundation Year 1' on the first Wednesday in August. These new doctors are associated with an increased risk to patients. So it wasn't specific to the heart attack. It was actually just applicable across the board. Emergency patients admitted on the first Wednesday of August had a 6% higher mortality rate than those admitted on the previous Wednesday. So in 2009, the British Medical Journal reported that a shadowing scheme was being piloted to reduce this effect. So a similar effect is actually seen in the USA in July, but only in teaching hospitals.
Tom:So for the first few days, they send someone senior around with them. Just to make sure...
Sarah:Yes, that must be that the students aren't on their own, I think in the first few days when they start, which is probably a good idea.
Tom:Because it's not necessarily about competence, 'cause the new kids are all brand-new trained. They've got the knowledge in their heads. It's not about whether they're good. It's about whether they know what to do in these circumstances. Whether they know the hospital procedures under pressure for the first time.
Nicholas:I've been to hospital twice in the last couple of years with... Once with the symptoms of a heart attack, and once with the symptoms of a stroke, and there's... You go, as soon as you have those symptoms, they go in, and you get the— There is this very tight system that everyone knows what they're supposed to do, and there's no hesitation. There's no— It doesn't matter whether, you know, what you actually say. If you have these symptoms, you just get put into this very, very well-rehearsed system where everyone involved, from the guy at the door who, you know, doesn't... to the nurses, to the doctors. It's just straight in. And I can imagine having someone on their first day, not a hundred percent sure, or maybe, you know, I'm in an RN and just adding a few extra seconds to the...
Nicholas:To the situation. And that could be life and death. I didn't have a heart attack or a stroke, by the way. It was... First time, I strained a boob muscle. One of my lats, I think is what it's called.
SFX:(others giggling)
Nicholas:From trying to lift something. And the second time I cannot tell you, because it's an embarrassing ailment. But it's worse, more embarrassing than the boob ailment.
Sarah:As opposed to the first one?
Nicholas:No, the first one is fine. Not the second one. But both times, the doctors are like, "No, you did the right thing. I don't care if it's a strained boob. If you've got chest pain, you come and see me."
Tom:Yeah, I never had heartburn until I was in my early 30s, so I didn't know what it felt like or anything like that. And if you've never experienced that before, and you wake up at 2 am with that chest pain... You end up in hospital and yeah, they said exactly the same thing to me. "We don't care. You came in. You did the right thing. Because the alternative is worse." And never mind that it was, you know, someone turned up at 2 am on a Saturday night. They just, "Yep, you're in the pipeline now. We know what we're doing."

There was a company I worked with a while ago who makes surgical rehearsal models from MRI scans. So they 3D print your abdomen, if you're gonna do surgery, so a surgeon can practice on an actual physical model. And if, you know, the research they're quoting is right, your surgeon's experience makes quite a big difference to survival rates. Because ultimately the only way you can practice for some operations is on actual cases. And there is nothing you can do about that. There's nothing anyone can do about that. Just... sometimes you gotta roll the dice, which is a horrible way of phrasing it. But there's no way to have someone rehearse on doing a procedure other than doing the procedure.
Sarah:That's why hopefully in the next few years, more technology will come out. And even your VR, as VR gets better, the medical field will hugely benefit from that kind of technology as well.
Nicholas:Surely psychologically as well, the different— It doesn't matter how, if you have the most incredible VR or model, just knowing that it's a real person must play a role in how well you do or don't perform a particular surgery, I'd imagine as well.
Tom:I have a feeling I'm gonna get some complaint letters from doctors about this episode, but never mind.
Sarah:So in summary, a new, less experienced cohort of trainee doctors started treating patients in August.
Tom:Our next question is from a listener. Thank you to Andrei Tuch.

In Estonia, there is a circumstance where the law says you must not wear a seatbelt, and you can't drive between 25 and 40 kilometres an hour. What is that circumstance?

I'll say that one more time.

In Estonia, there is a circumstance where the law says you must not wear a seatbelt, and you can't drive between 25 and 40 kilometres an hour. What is that circumstance?

And I will say that it does involve you being in a car driving. Before anyone immediately comes in with the pedantic answers there. This is a driving situation.
Nicholas:I mean, I'm not sure how you would get to 45 kilometres per hour without first going through 25 to 40 kilometres an hour. So I feel like maybe there's— It's a stretch of road where... you know, where you are already driving at that speed. You know, above 40 or below 25. And you cannot slow down or speed up. Is it the movie Speed?
SFX:(others laughing)
Tom:Just the Estonian version of that?
Nicholas:Yes. (chuckles) The bus that couldn't slow down, yeah.
Brian:I was thinking it's like... driving on an ice lake of some sort. And they don't want you to wear the seatbelt, because if the ice breaks, you wanna be able to get out of the car quickly.
Tom:Man, all my questions this episode are just being absolutely knocked out to the park.
Sarah:That just makes so much sense! Because if you go too slow, you'll probably fall in. If you go too fast, you'll crack the ice.
Tom:No, not quite. In fact, I will ask that. It's the other way round. You can't drive between 25 and 40. You can drive under 25.
Tom:You can drive over 40. But you're not allowed to do that. So yes, Brian, you're right. The reason you're not wearing your seatbelt is because you're driving on an ice road, and should something go wrong, you wanna be able to get out of the car quickly. But why can't you drive those speeds?
Sarah:Is that then to do with the revs of the engine heating up the engine? No, 'cause that'd just change the gears, if you could just go in a different gear.
Tom:This question appeared on my desk, by the way, just before this episode. And I was like, "Oh, I didn't get to do a video on that." This is many, many years ago. I went with some friends specifically so we could tell this story, drive on the ice road, get all this information out. And it was a warm winter that year, and that just did not freeze. Just... The ice road was just ocean.
Nicholas:Didn't you also have one where you went to Iceland to...27 was it a volcano? And you just had a terrible—
Tom:There have been many times where I've gone somewhere in Europe, and the thing just hasn't worked. Thank you for, you know, stabbing me in the heart with that as well.
Nicholas:But this one was so terrible, you made a video about it. I'd seem to remember the experience was so bad at—
Tom:Twice now! Twice. I went to Iceland the first time to try and do a story on the new volcano they had. And then it stopped the day before I arrived. And like, it's fine, we'll do the story about all the infrastructure around it. And then I got very bad food poisoning. So that wasn't a great trip. It's fine. I went back a couple years later when it started exploding again, and it stopped on the morning my plane landed.
Tom:I apparently have a superpower where I can go places and stop volcanoes. So if anyone does want a volcano stopping, I will happily accept plane tickets.
Nicholas:You should— Were you travelling between 25 and 40 kilometres an hour when you arrived? 'Cause that might have been the issue.
Tom:If I was doing that on the plane coming in, we've got problems.
Sarah:So what happens in between those speeds?
Tom:Why wouldn't you wanna drive between 25 and 40 kilometers an hour?
Sarah:That feels like an engineering question.
Tom:That is 100% an engineering question.
Brian:I'm not an ice engineer, goddammit.
Sarah:Well, Tom just gave us... I don't know if it's a clue or just completely irrelevant, but he did point out that the road isn't always ice, 'cause it was melted when he was there. Does that help us at all?
Brian:Well... Don't drive, you're not gonna be driving on water. So I think that's...
Sarah:But like the road isn't ice all year, so... It has the opportunity to melt.
Tom:One of the things I obviously didn't get to talk about was that there is an investigation and surveying team who go out. Because as soon as the ice road forms, all the locals want to use it. You know, is the ice— "Ah, that looks thick enough, we'll be fine." So they have to go out there with testing equipment to start marking it out, and blocking people from taking it too early in case they crash through.
Nicholas:Is it, I mean, I'm just thinking like, this is like a James Bond film, you know. I think where you go across the ice very, very slowly, and then if it starts to crack, you speed up and take off fast as you possibly can while the ice is cracking underneath you. And you know... the Russians are falling into the water behind you.
Tom:I have a feeling that was Die Another Day, and that the ice was actually being melted by a giant laser from orbit.
Nicholas:You're right.
Tom:I'm not entirely certain that's relevant here.
Nicholas:Is the ice being melted by a giant laser from orbit?
Tom:(laughs uproariously)
Nicholas:Is the car invisible or visible?
Tom:Why is apparently my gesture for 'giant laser from orbit' holding two fists in front of me like I'm holding a broomstick? I dunno why I'm doing that.
Nicholas:It's a good...
Tom:There is a reason. There is something the car does between 25 and 40 that works with the ice.
Brian:It's anti-lock braking or something?
Tom:I mean, you are kind of along the right lines there. You're more along the lines with ABS. What does that do?
Sarah:Now, my dad will be ashamed of me because he's told me this so many times. He's an ex-mechanic.
Tom:Does no one here know how anti-lock brakes work?
Brian:I've read it so many times, and I'm not an automotive person. I don't make videos about cars for a reason.
Sarah:My dad's probably told me this 15 times. He would be so disappointed right now.
Tom:My producer – the question editor for this – has just pinged up going, "Oh, I don't know either." Sorry, I will stop being exasperated. This is one of those things that I genuinely thought was common knowledge and apparently isn't. I apologise to everyone listening.

Anti-lock brakes work by turning the brakes on and off and on and off very, very quickly to avoid locking up.

So they— you're right. This would probably have the same sort of effect as driving between these speeds.
Sarah:Well, that would potentially just the stopping, almost the stopping and starting effect on the ice would potentially damage the ice then, wouldn't it?
Tom:Yep, it sets up vibrations and resonances in the ice. If you are driving at those speeds, that is about the speed at which the ice will want to crack underneath as you send that kind of pressure wave through it. So you're fine driving under 25. You're fine driving over 40. But in between, you can sorta maybe cause the ice road to explode a little bit, which isn't ideal.
Sarah:They should just say not over 25. I feel like that's just easy.
Tom:Yeah, but if you do that, people will break the speed limit, and then you've got a problem. Also, this is like a 12 mile ice road. You really want to go a bit faster than that.
Nicholas:It reminds me of— there's the study into the safest floor of an apartment building to drop a cat from.
SFX:(others wheezing)
Nicholas:Or let's say, sorry, I'll rephrase that.
Brian:The ground floor?
Nicholas:The safest floor for a cat to fall.
Tom:Here's the thing. I know exactly the study you are talking about.
Nicholas:Yeah. So there is a point where if it's too low... I think it's like the first floor is okay, but the second floor, it doesn't have time to stretch out its... you know, getting into a position where it can slow its speed, and so it'll get hurt. But there's a range of floors that if the cat falls, it's more likely to survive that's not actually at the bottom. That sort of reminds me of that.
Tom:This was in New York City, if I remember rightly. And just to be clear, they tested it by going to veterinary hospitals and asking people with cats what floor it fell from. They did not take the cat and place it out the window.
Nicholas:That we know of.
Tom:So yes, in Estonia, if you're driving on an ice road, you must keep your seatbelt unbuckled, and you cannot drive between 25 and 40 kilometres an hour. 'Cause it sets up resonances that can damage the ice.

We'll go to Nicholas for the next question. When you're ready.
Nicholas:Okay. I love this one. I'm a big fan of this person.

Hugh Troy caused a crowd to be fascinated when, in 1935, he put a velvet lined display case on a table. Why did it contain a lump of corned beef in the shape of a human body part?

I will read it again, 'cause there's a lot in there.
Tom:(muffled laughter)
Nicholas:Hugh Troy caused a crowd to be fascinated when, in 1935, he put a velvet-lined display case on a table. Why did it contain a lump of corned beef in the shape of a human body part?
Tom:Last time you were on the show, Nicholas, you brought a question you'd written yourself.
Tom:Is this one of yours as well?
Nicholas:I would say this is a collaborative one. I had a few questions about Hugh Troy, 'cause I'm a big Hugh Troy fan. So it's definitely one that I'm— It's got my fingerprints all over it.
Sarah:I think, given, I think— I feel like that's a clue in itself, because given what we know about Nicholas, and the fact that it's a velvet-lined display case, I'm gonna say this is an illusion. Has to be some kind of illusion performance, stage performance. Because a velvet-lined display case just screams like a stage performance with a magician to me.
Nicholas:Ooh, look, I can safely say Hugh Troy is not a magician.
Tom:So my mind went to that this is... again, purely based on your professional reputation, Nicholas! I was thinking that it was some sort of scam that someone has made up a thing and said that this is... Oh god, think of someone who was famous in the 19— Some baseball player's heart or something like that, and it's actually just a lump of corned beef. But he's selling tickets to this as "Come and see the heart that launched a thousand baseballs" or something like that.
Nicholas:Yeah, that's definitely it, yep. Yeah.
Tom:Oh, well, hold on. We got some more to work out then.
Nicholas:Oh, yeah, there's definitely more in there. But you've hit the— yeah. The sort of the, what body part it is. Why at that particular point.
Tom:The only reason you're gonna have a lump of corned beef in the shape of a body part in— I can't believe I'm saying this— in a velvet-lined case. I just realised how ridiculous that sentence was when I was saying it. The only reason you're gonna have that is if either it's something you're showing off as, "This is weird in itself," or you're pretending it's an actual human body part.
Sarah:Did Nicholas confirm it was a heart?
Nicholas:It is not a heart.
Brian:Why corned beef?
Tom:I don't know. I guess— Oh, okay, so this was 1935, which means that... I mean, a lot of people nowadays are familiar with maybe not what the inside of the human body looks like, but what computer graphic versions of blown-up people look like on TV shows. So we sort of know what hearts look like now, or body parts look like now. You know, we grow up with cutaway diagrams of humans on classroom walls. Maybe people didn't know that, and it's 1935 and he's just, "You know what? They'll believe it. It's a lump of corned beef."
Sarah:What about a liver? Do you think a corned beef could kind of look a bit like a liver?
SFX:(others giggling)
Brian:Is it relevant whether it was a male or female body part?
Tom:(laughs) Okay, I hadn't gone down that route.
Brian:That was the most political way I could ask that question.
Tom:I'm assuming this is an internal body part?
Nicholas:No, actually. It's an external body part.
Nicholas:It's not any— It's not genitalia.
Brian:Okay, thank god.
Tom:Because I was thinking it was gonna be him pretending it was Einstein's brain or something like that.
Sarah:I was thinking some guts.
Nicholas:That's, I mean, yeah, it's someone's something.
Tom:So this is 1935. So it must have been someone who... died in the years earlier, that he's exploiting the name of?
Tom:Okay. People who died in the early 1930s. That's... My brain's not got an index on this.
Nicholas:Well, look, I mean he— The person died... before 1935.
Tom:Oh. Is this— was this when... And I dunno if this was US or UK, but wasn't there a craze for Egyptology around then, and that was about when they were... I mean, I can't phrase it less delicately than 'plundering tombs'. But was this when the Egyptian mummies were being pulled out of the pyramids and being put on display, and this guy just goes, "You know what? If I put a lump of corned beef there and say it's Tutankhamun's hand, they'll believe it"?
Nicholas:So it's... The person died before 1935, but after the ancient Egyptians. So somewhere in that very small slither of time. Would you like a hint?
Tom:I did the thing where I thought I'd got it, and I was really confident and I went on for ages and I was wrong!
Sarah:I liked where you were going. I was picturing it wrapped in bandages. (wheezes)
Nicholas:It is a specific body part, and I'd say it is the most famous body part of this person. If I said, name a body part associated with this person, you would straight away name this body part.
Sarah:Picasso's ear or something.
Nicholas:Ooh, that is so close.
Brian:Was it van Gogh?
Tom:Van Gogh's ear?
Nicholas:That's right, van Gogh's ear.
Sarah:Ah, yeah. I've got the wrong painter.
SFX:(group laughing)
Sarah:Me the artist. Me the artist has got the wrong painter.
Tom:I wasn't gonna call you on that.
Nicholas:That's right, yeah. So, Hugh Troy was an early 20th century prankster, and he would go around and perform whimsical pranks in order to baffle and confuse people.

So he moved a sign that says 'Jesus Saves' in front of a local bank.

He removed all of the light bulbs from a hotel. Just went and stole them all.

And my favourite one is that when he was in the Army, he used to send in... He was working on an Army base, and used to send in reports to his superior officers at the Pentagon saying how many flies had been caught on the flypaper in the, you know, where the food was kept. And he did this so regularly that the Pentagon started to send out letters to everyone else saying, "Excuse me, where are your flypaper reports?"

So he was famous for these sort of extraordinary, you know, very, very whimsical pranks.
Tom:Two of the ones you mentioned were whimsical. One is criminal damage. There's not a fine line there.
Nicholas:Yeah, I mean, yeah. I think he might have given the light bulbs back.
Brian:That was a prank I did in college. When we went to house parties, we'd steal all the bulbs from the house.
Nicholas:There you go.
Brian:It was not very original.
Nicholas:Yeah. So he basically, he got some— Troy used beef to make a human ear, and then he put it in the display case, and put it into the Museum of Modern Art, where van Gogh's works were being displayed for the first time. And he put a little label on it that said, "This is the ear which Vincent van Gogh cut off and sent to his mistress, a French prostitute, December 24th, 1888."
Tom:My final question then. We've got one more from the guests, one more from the top of the show. But my final big question:

In 1825, a painter in Washington DC received a letter saying that his wife was gravely ill. He travelled back home to Connecticut, only to find that his wife had not only died, but was already buried. He resolved to change career and do what?

So one more time.

In 1825, a painter in Washington DC received a letter saying that his wife was gravely ill. He travelled back home to Connecticut, only to find that his wife had not only died, but was already buried. He resolved to change career and do what?

Yeah, sorry, it's a bleak question about death there folks. Sorry to bring the mood down.
Nicholas:So I can only assume that he found this to be traumatic and wanted to stop it from ever happening again. That this was, can he— you know, is there a way to get information to people quicker?
Tom:Yes, absolutely right.
Sarah:That's where I really should have paid more attention in history.
Tom:You don't need that much history to know this. You know this name.
Sarah:Yeah, but to know when the telephone was invented. (laughs) I've got nothing.
Brian:I'm pretty sure it was after 1825.
Nicholas:This isn't– He's not— It's not Samuel Morse, is it? We're not talking Morse code and the telegraph and that kind of thing?
Tom:Yet again, completely out the blue, that is exactly the right answer. That was Samuel Morse developing the telegraph.
Nicholas:Oh, it was literally Samuel Morse?
Tom:It was literally Samuel Morse. You got the name... and the development!
Brian:This is gonna be a short episode.
SFX:(group laughing)
Tom:Yes, he was an artist working on a portrait of French aristocrat Lafayette. He received the letter, which had been sent by horse messengers. And stricken with grief, he resolved to dedicate his life to improving the speed of communication. And he ended up doing that by demonstrating the telegraph machine in 1838, 13 years later.

Brian, it's over to you rather quicker than expected, then. Whenever you're ready.
Brian:I'm always nervous pronouncing names that are in a language I don't speak, so I'm just gonna say it in a thick Irish accent. So sorry to anyone from Colombia.
Tom:Weirdly, the name is Jeff.
Brian:As a protest, the Colombian soccer team Atlético Junior decided to put only half of their club badge on their shirts. All the other leading Colombian teams followed suit. Why?

As a protest, the Colombian soccer team, Atlético Junior decided to put only half of their club badge on their shirts. All the other leading Colombian teams followed suit. Why?
Tom:I mean, the obvious question is, which half?
Brian:It's not relevant.
Nicholas:So I'd see it as either they're trying to— It's symbolic of something. And it's either they're symbolic— they're cutting off half to show that they're rejecting a part of their team, or to show that a part of their team is, you know, missing. It's either one of those, there's the two possible things that could symbolise. They wanna reject something, or something has been removed.
Sarah:Yeah, or part of their team has been rejected by society, and so they are kind of standing in solidarity with part of their team, which would—
Tom:And it's gotta be something fairly major for all the clubs to follow suit.
Nicholas:What year was this again?
Brian:20– it didn't say in the question, but it was 2019.
Tom:Way more recently than— I don't know why I thought this was sometime in the 1980s, 1990s, but...
Nicholas:So some— A group of people who have been discriminated against, or perhaps that the governing body has said are not allowed to play, and they're saying by not letting these people play, we're not a complete team, so...
Tom:Is it as simple as the women's football team weren't getting paid, and that's sort of 50% of the population aren't being able to play or something like that?
Brian:You've done it again. Well, you're very close.
SFX:(others laughing)
Brian:You're very close. It's not that they weren't getting paid.
Sarah:Very close.
Nicholas:Is it that women get paid half of what the men get paid?
Sarah:Is it women weren't allowed to play?
Brian:It may lead you to not be able to play for a certain reason. But I'm not sure if that's relevant to the answer.
Tom:Okay. Oh, we've gotta try and figure that out though. Like what in Colombia in, you said 2019?
Brian:It was 2019 and... cutting and doing half the badge was a show of support to try and help the women's team.
Tom:But it's also all the clubs doing this, right?
Brian:So it was a league-wide issue.
Sarah:Were the women not getting the sponsorships that the men were getting? But then going half?
Brian:That could've been true, but it's not the reason.
Nicholas:It's a bit depressing just to sit here and list all of the ways in which women could be discriminated against.
SFX:(group laughing)
Tom:Yeah, yeah, it really is.
Brian:Yeah. I mean, you've got the answer. You haven't got the reason why they did it.
Nicholas:So they're not getting paid. It's not to do with them not getting paid enough. It's not them not being allowed to play. I think we've guessed that.
Brian:What reasons why they might not get paid enough, other than sponsors and everything else?
Sarah:Is it that they weren't being shown on the TV or something compared to the men's sports?
Brian:I'm sure that was part of it, yeah.
Tom:Were they just getting paid much, much less, or...
Brian:I'm sure that was true too, but it wasn't the statement that— The statement was specifically designed to try and fix the issue.
Tom:I think you're gonna need to give us a hint on this one.
Brian:They were essentially trying to shame their fans.
Sarah:Only half the fans were showing up to the women's events.
Brian:That's pretty much it. And the attendance for the women's games were much lower. And the players were saying that you were not a true fan of the club unless you supported the women's team.
Sarah:I vaguely remember that, now that you mention it. I feel like I've read or saw something about that in the news a few years ago.
Brian:Yeah, I mean, it was very recent. I didn't hear about it. I'm not much of a soccer fan, but yeah.
Tom:(laughs) Sorry, I nearly— In my head, that auto completed as 'not much of a feminist'. I dunno why, I dunno why.
SFX:(others laughing)
Tom:I just, I thought that's where that sentence was going. Sorry, Brian. Just slandering you in my head there.
Sarah:I saw the reaction on Tom's face and was like... (giggles) I don't know.
Brian:That's what Tom thinks of me.
Tom:I mean, I deliberately did not at any point Include the "I'm" in that sentence, just so it wouldn't get clipped out of context.
SFX:(guests laughing)
Tom:Didn't want my face saying that at any point.
Brian:Yeah, so in 2019, the women's soccer league was about to be cancelled due to low attendances. So to shame the fans, they decided to cut the badge in half. So they were saying that you're not really a fan of this club unless you go see the women's team. So it's like you're only a half fan of this club if you're not supporting the women's team.
Tom:I was wondering why something specific would've sparked it off, and it was that they were gonna close the entire league then. They were shutting the whole thing down.
Nicholas: Did it work?
Brian:I probably should've mentioned that. Yeah, so as a result, attendance at women's games rose by over 600%. And 55,000 people attended their league final.
Tom:The last thing then. At the start of the show, I asked the audience:

In chess, what is white's first move in the 'Ammonia opening'?

Now, this is not one we sent out to the panel, because frankly it requires knowledge of both chess and chemistry.
Tom:But you know what, let's ask. Does anyone wanna take a guess at what that is? Does anyone have that domain knowledge required?
Nicholas:I think I do. I think I know it by a different— the move by a different name though. But I think it's the Amar opening in chess, A-M-A-R. And it's when you... I've forgotten which piece you move. One of your horseys. It's when you move one of your knights out into a terrible position, and it's an AM— It's known as 'A Mad And Reckless move' or something like that. And it's, so I think the ammonia one is that it stinks or it smells, 'cause ammonia stinks.
Tom:You are right about the horseys, the knights.
Tom:Which means that if you have it in chess notation, it starts with an N. Any idea what the rest of that notation might be?
Brian:That's what I was figuring that it was. And I love that I'm not the only person that refers to them as the horseys, so thanks for—
Nicholas:They're not the horseys? Yeah, the horsies and the castles and the prawns. They're the prawns at the front, yeah?
Tom:It is knight to H3, which gives you NH3 in chess notation.
Tom:Which is also... the chemical symbol for ammonia.
Nicholas:I thought it was just that it stinks as an opening move, and ammonia stinks. I thought that was...
Nicholas:Okay, that makes much more sense.
Tom:I'm pretty sure it does as well.

Thank you very much to all our players. Let's find out what's going on in your lives. We'll start with Sarah.
Sarah:You can find me on YouTube or Nebula, or just anywhere else as Sarah Renae Clark.
Tom:Brian, what are you up to? Where can people find you?
Brian:Same thing. Find me on YouTube or Nebula at Real Engineering, or you can also watch our sister channel, Real Science.
Tom:And Nicholas.
Nicholas:You can check out my recently relaunched podcast, Scamapalooza, where I talk to various exciting people about why we get fooled and deceived. You can find that at
Tom:And if you wanna know more about this show or send in a question, you can do that at We are @lateralcast pretty much everywhere, and there are video highlights regularly at

Thank you very much, and good bye from Brian McManus.
Tom:Nicholas J. Johnson.
Nicholas:See you later.
Tom:Sarah Renae Clark.
Tom:I've been Tom Scott, and that has been Lateral.
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