Lateral with Tom Scott

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

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Episode 40: Swimming without water

Published 14th July, 2023

Anna Ploszajski, Scott Manley and Bill Sunderland face questions about cheffy shortcuts, red ropes and pricey papers.

HOST: Tom Scott. QUESTION PRODUCER: David Bodycombe. RECORDED AT: The Podcast Studios, Dublin. EDITED BY: Julie Hassett. MUSIC: Karl-Ola Kjellholm ('Private Detective'/'Agrumes', courtesy of ADDITIONAL QUESTIONS: Leo, Mike Salter, Miriam Cronberg, Marcus Kontiokari. FORMAT: Pad 26 Limited/Labyrinth Games Ltd. EXECUTIVE PRODUCERS: David Bodycombe and Tom Scott.


Transcription by Caption+

Tom:Why are trainee chefs taught to touch their cheek, chin, nose, and forehead in that order? The answer to that at the end of the show. My name's Tom Scott, and this is Lateral.

Joining us today are three guests who are currently touching various parts of their face in various orders. First, joining us for the first time on the show, we have storyteller, material scientist and engineer, Anna Ploszajski.
Anna:Hello! Very, very happy to be here.
Tom:Welcome to the show. Thank you for being here. I have to ask, are material scientist and storyteller connected here? Is that part of what you do?
Anna:Yeah, absolutely. So I started out my career as a material scientist. I was researching hydrogen storage materials, which if anyone has seen the Glass Onion movie, you will be well acquainted. And because I was researching hydrogen, my friends and family basically thought that I was building hydrogen bombs. So I got very interested in public engagement and science communication early on to try and dispel the myths that I wasn't actually building bombs. (laughs) I was trying to solve the energy crisis.

And then that led me onto everything from stand-up comedy to writing. And it's all pulled together by the idea of storytelling and telling a good old tale about science.
Tom:Also telling good old tales about science, and I think having a very different reason for hydrogen storage, we are joined by someone who asked me to describe him as 'internet rocket nerd', Scott Manley.
SFX:(both laughing)
Tom:You had to do the 'Hello'.
Scott:I had to do the 'Hello.'
Tom:Has that catchphrase got a little bit old now? Are you still happy with doing that at the start of every video?
Scott:I'm still happy doing that at the start of every video. I noticed now that ChatGPT knows who I am. If you ask for the style, it does the 'Hello' and the 'Fly safe'.
Tom:Oh dear.
Scott:It actually dates to the '90s, with a friend in— I knew at university who would greet everyone like that, and it just sort of became the easy way to get me into a video recording state.
Tom:And I'm assuming hydrogen storage, kind of a big thing with what you're dealing with at the moment.
Scott:Well, it depends on the type of rocket. But yeah, you know, talking about hydrogen bombs, like Apollo 13, it was actually the oxygen and not the hydrogen that exploded. So, yeah.
Anna:There you go, myth busting all 'round.
Scott:Yeah, fuel cells. Not always the hydrogen that explodes.
Tom:And our last guest is returning, one of our regulars, and one half of Solve This Murder, Bill Sunderland.
Bill:I'm back, baby! I'm ready to think laterally.
Tom:(laughs) Thank you. That is the name of the show. Thank you for dropping it in there.
Tom:Now... the other half of your podcast, Dani, she was on recently and wrote some of her own questions. Are you bringing your own questions today? Or are you letting her take that accolade?
Bill:Now, you're hitting the dynamic of our relationship on the head. Dani has prepared, she has written, she's created something lovely. I have had that given to me by your question writers, and I thought that was fine. So, I don't have anything prepared. I'm with pre-written questions, and I'm fine with that.
Tom:Well, as our guests are about to find out, Lateral is a bit like playing jazz: improvisational, unpredictable, and occasionally going off-key. But if we do hit a bum note, we'll just claim it was intentional and that it's avant-garde. So with that, I will start you off with question one.

After basketball star Donnell Cooper took a routine test, he received some surprising news that earned him a two-year suspension from the game. What was it?

So I'll say that one more time.

After basketball star Donnell Cooper took a routine test, he received some surprising news that earned him a two-year suspension from the game. What was it?
Anna:Well, I guess we can assume that this is a medical test. Is that a fair assumption, do you think?
Bill:I don't know if it— It's definitely the assumption the question wants us to make. And maybe that's justified, or maybe it's a deliberate little, "I never said medical!"
Tom:And the old hand starts helping the new players through.
Scott:Yeah, maybe he's a college player and took an exam and was basically kicked outta college.
Bill:Oh, I love that. The idea that just the test is so unrelated, and it's just, "Oh, you failed this test. You've been kicked out for two years. When you come back, you can play again." I think that's a very nice little...
Scott:I mean, college basketball is huge here, I've noticed.
Bill:It's better than my first thought, which was that he got a test that went, "Oh, actually you're two years younger than we thought you were, and you're not old enough to play. Turns out you got your birthday wrong on a form somewhere. You're actually only 13."
Tom:I don't understand college sports as a thing. I mean, we've got three guests across three very different time zones here. So the only one who's actually in the US right now is Scott. I don't understand college sports. Why are these two things merged?
Scott:I have no idea. You know why? Money. There's money that can be made. And if you can promote it to the people that go to that college, you've got an audience that's built in forever more. That's why they spend money on it, I guess. And that's why it becomes a big thing. I don't know. It is kinda like the feeding thing to the major, you know, sports leagues, right? If you— All the people that play football — sorry, 'helmet ball' —
SFX:(group laughing)
Scott:They have to go to college, right? And... (laughs) So they're all technically getting degrees, right?
Anna:It's true, and forgive me if I'm preaching to the converted. I'm sitting here in London talking to people in the US about college sports. But as I understand it, it's done a huge amount for women's sports in the US, because at college level, women's sports and men's sports are funded equally. So unlike in many, many other fields, where women's sports wouldn't have had the investment, because they're funded equally at college level, which is very, very high-level sport, it means that the women's game in all sorts of different areas is really, you know, world-class.
Tom:I remember being at UConn, University of Connecticut, and their basketball program is famous, and basically the most famous thing about the school. But it's specifically the women's basketball program. And you're right, that would not happen in Europe. For the sports where those are separated.

I will drag it back to the question and say that it... It's not an academic test. He did not fail a college test. It was a lovely guess, and you're right, Bill. That's exactly the sort of thing that the question writers would throw.
Bill:Yeah, that's how you always get us.
Tom:(chuckles) It's not an academic test.
Anna:Oh, I thought that was so clever.
Bill:I thought we were done. I thought we were vamping for time, the entire time. I thought you'd hit the nail on the head.
Scott:Driving test? What other test could it be?
Bill:Yeah, I mean, it could be a medical. We've sort of glossed past medical, but is there a medical test? I mean, look. Can we get it outta the way and just say, Hey Tom, was he using banned substances and then just got a suspension for the drugs he was taking?
Tom:Yeah, he did. That was the reason for the suspension. But that wasn't surprising news to him. He knew that.
Bill:Yes, 'cause I was gonna say that wouldn't be— Okay, so what's a surprising substance that you could take?
Scott:Some obscure substance, yeah.
Bill:There was a big thing with this, with— I remember with tennis—
SFX:I didn't get that. Could you try again?
Bill:Oh, I said there's a big thing with tennis.
Tom:(laughs) Sorry! I appreciate, Bill, that you heard Siri barging in there. And just, as asked, just started over again. That's lovely.
Bill:Well, you know, I gotta be polite. AI's gonna take over the world. You gotta get in there early.
Scott:I mean, I work with Siri professionally, so...
Bill:But there was a thing in tennis... five years ago maybe, with a lot of female tennis players. And there was controversy over they were taking something that was performance enhancing... but not banned because there was some medical justification for it, and there was debate over, "Oh, are you taking it for your asthma, or are you just pretending you have asthma to get..." So maybe there's something that has a separate effect. Like this person was taking some kind of drug for an unrelated thing, and they went, "Oh, do you know technically that's a performance enhancer? Get out! You're outta the game! No aspirin! It keeps you blood pumping so you can play better."
Scott:Too much coffee?
Bill:Too much coffee, you're so fast.
Tom:He was trying to avoid detection. He was using a banned substance, and he was trying to avoid detection.
Scott:I think he probably had a fake urine bag in his jacket or something, right? And they caught him. It was leaking or something like that. You know...
Bill:Or is it that he borrowed urine from someone, and they were also taking a different or the same performance enhancing drug, and it's like, "Why didn't you tell me? I was using this urine to cheat!"
Tom:You're so nearly there. You're so nearly there. It's just the words 'surprising news'. And it might help to think about who's—
Bill:And then the doctor jumped out from behind a table and went, "You're out!"

And he went, "Oh my god! I thought I'd done, Don." Next question.
Tom:It might help to think about whose urine he might have borrowed. Or— (laughs)
Bill:Snoop Dogg.
Tom:There's a 'taking the piss' joke in there somewhere, and I can't quite find it.
Anna:Oh, did he borrow a women's urine, and was told that he was pregnant?
Tom:Yes, spot on, Anna.
Bill:There you go!
Scott:Yes, yeah.
Tom:Not only that, he borrowed his girlfriend's urine. So he found out that he was going to be a father and also he was banned from basketball for two years on the same day.
Bill:What a lovely story.
Anna:What a day. What a day.
Scott:What a story.
Tom:Each of our guests has brought a question with them. I don't know the question. I definitely don't know the answer. And we start today with Bill.
Bill:Alright, so this is a listener question. It was sent in by Mike Salter. So thank you, Mike.

At the 1924 Olympic Games, Jean Jacoby from Luxembourg took home a gold medal for Rugby, even though he hadn't set foot on a rugby pitch. An Irishman received the silver medal for Swimming without getting wet. How?

And I'll give that one to you again.

At the 1924 Olympic Games, Jean Jacoby from Luxembourg took home a gold medal for Rugby, even though he hadn't set foot on a rugby pitch. An Irishman received the silver medal for Swimming without getting wet. How?
Scott:They were thieves.
SFX:(group laughing)
Scott:They stole them from the winners, obviously.
Bill:But how could you steal from a swimmer without getting wet?
Anna:Yeah, swimmers are always soaking wet, aren't they?
Bill:They're always in the water.
Scott:They're awarded on the podium.
Tom:I know the old Olympics were... charitably a mess.
Tom:There's an Olympic marathon in the, I think the 1900s that is just legendarily a mess. People went off the route, people cheated. They were all massively dehydrated, 'cause there was no water along the run. Is it— But that feels more like an organisation problem in one sport, rather than being one in swimming and one in rugby.
Anna:I wonder if the year is a clue. What was going on in 1924?
Scott:Nothing, thankfully. It was before World War II and after World War I.
Anna:And if history teaches us anything, nothing happened during that time.
SFX:(group laughing)
Tom:I mean, if British history lessons teach me anything, it's that nothing happened during that time.
Tom:It's ancient Greeks, ancient Romans, two World Wars. That's it, don't talk about anything. Do not talk about the Empire. Just not gonna put that in there.
Scott:So we're confirming he didn't steal them from the winners?
Bill:Yes, I can confirm. No medals were stolen in this Olympics that were relevant to this question.
Anna:Were the medals counterfeit in some way? Were they fake medals?
Bill:Real medals.
Tom:I mean, we're doing the thing which I try not to do, where we're drilling down into keywords in the question. Bill, you've set us off on this. But you did say 'received' and not 'won'.
Bill:I could reread it if you like, and say, they also won those medals.
Scott:Did the rugby player have no legs, and therefore couldn't set any feet on the pitch?
Bill:(laughs) Yes, that's the trick. He had nobody to go with.
Tom:Rugby's a team sport. Rugby's a team sport. You don't receive the medal. Your team gets— I think everyone in turn gets a medal.
Bill:Coaches... is a very good thought. Specifically because somebody else thought of it, and gave me a clue to say to you, which is no, they were not coaches.
Bill:Someone's already waiting for you there.
Tom:Okay, but if the team wins gold... and someone was never substituted in... do they still win gold? Is this a swimming relay race where they only needed three of the relay team? That got away from me, but I'm trying to see if there's—
Bill:Yeah, they were so far ahead, they just called it. They went, don't worry about it. Don't even do the backstroke. Just move on.
Scott:Maybe we're swimming in a drysuit. Was there a swimming event that involved deep sea diving suits with the helmet and stuff? Because that's cool. That's never been in the Olympics, right?
Bill:That'd be a good picture of 1924 Olympics. Just people in full diving bell helmet things, running across the bottom of a pool.
Scott:Why is that not an event?!
Anna:You're right, 'without getting wet' sounds a bit odd, doesn't it?
Bill:It does. There's not really— You couldn't really swim and not get wet. So they didn't sort of cheat the swimming there.
Scott:Unless they're wearing this diving suit.
Bill:Unless you're wearing the diving suit.
Scott:Were there— Right! There weren't rules against all these performance enhancing garments that swimmers wear.
Anna:That's true.
Bill:You know what? I think that detracts from your performance as a swimmer.
Tom:(laughs) I was going to say!
Scott:Well, you can just run across the bottom of the pool!
Tom:I know those modern, sleek swimsuits got ruled out at some point, but I don't feel like a diving suit or diving—
Scott:Just run along the bottom of the pool! Come on.
Bill:But no, that is not the answer.
Anna:Was everyone else disqualified? Was it by default?
Bill:Again, fair question, but no, no. No rugby players, no swimmers were disqualified for this to happen.
Scott:Was the swimming pool not even working? (wheezes)
Scott:Did they drain the pool and then hold this event?
Bill:Swimming pool was working. Plenty of swimmers won medals for swimming and being wet.
Scott:Specifically for being wet, yes.
Tom:Did they win by default? Only one rugby team arrived? Only one— only two swimmers came in for that event. So he just didn't get in the pool. But he still came second?
Bill:No, no winning by default. These people won on merit.
Bill:They got there, they earned those medals.
Scott:I mean, did he just cheat and run around the pool? (wheezes) Was a marathon, was it a triathlon or something that they just—
Bill:No, didn't cheat. They performed exactly as they intended to, and they were awarded thusly.
Anna:But did they have the same name as swimmers and rugby players who actually did get wet and play rugby? And then they just got the wrong person on the podium?
Bill:Not to my knowledge, but again, no. They earned these medals. No tricks, no bits.
Tom:There's clearly a trick, or a bit here, Bill! There's clearly one.
Bill:No! Stop thinking laterally. Just...
Bill:You were right to think that the year is important. The fact that it's 1924 is very relevant to this question. Or at least that it's in that time period is relevant.
Anna:If only we were taught history.
Bill:Well, what do you know about the— Do you know anything about early Olympics in general? So the 1924 doesn't matter, but do you know anything about what the Olympics were like in the very first days of the competition?
Scott:They were in black and white.
Bill:They were messy. They were in black and white.
Anna:I don't think there were that many professional sports people, were there back then?
Bill:Oh, they were much bigger on amateurs. They really properly enforced that. There was one other thing that was a key part of these early Olympics. I will say neither of these people... were very good at sport at all. They got a gold, they got a silver.
Tom:Wait, there were art competitions.
Bill:There were art competitions.
Tom:The Olympics early on included art competitions and very, very much not-sports stuff.
Anna:There was also trumpet competitions in the earliest Olympics. Back in the Greek times, there was trumpet competitions as well.
Tom:So did they win in something else? Did they enter both a sport and an art? And won in the art?
Scott:Or did they just draw pictures of people swimming and playing rugby?
Bill:That is how they won.
Tom:Artistic impression?
Bill:He won a gold medal for Rugby... the name of the painting that won the gold medal in the 1920— A picture of people playing rugby.
Scott:So, so wait, the guy, the one that was swimming, he didn't use watercolours?
Bill:Well, he didn't get wet! (laughs)
Scott:You mix— (stammers) You can't paint without getting paint on you.
Bill:He's got some— Oh well.
Scott:That's physically impossible!
Bill:You dunno how good this guy was. Actually, fun fact. So, the Irishman... The Irishman who won silver, it was the same event. He won the silver for Swimming. It was Jack Yeats, who was actually the brother of WB Yeats, for all you Yeatsheads in the audience. There's a fun connection there, but yes.

This was the Olympics for Arts. From 1912 to 1948, the Olympics awarded medals for various art disciplines, including painting. Jean Jacoby won for Rugby, and Jack Yeats got the silver for Swimming.
Tom:Next question's from me.

Fed up with using cornflakes and plaster, Frank Capra's team used foamite, sugar, water, and soap instead. This solved which post-production problem?

One more time.

Fed up with using cornflakes and plaster, Frank Capra's team used foamite, sugar, water, and soap instead. This solved which post-production problem?
Anna:I love this question. This sounds like a materials question.
Bill:They were making a bomb.
Scott:Yeah, this sounds like an Adam Savage question.
Bill:Okay, we're gonna— I think you're right. I think it's using these to substitute something maybe? What was the original, cornflakes and plaster?
Scott:Yeah. That'd be a kind of thing you would make statues from, that you wanted to break maybe?
Anna:To me, yeah. This sounds like maybe a concrete aggregate? Maybe some way of making—
Bill:Oh, for when someone in your film needs to kick a wall down. The wall is just made of cornflakes and plaster. That sounds like a good phrase. Oh, it's all just made of cornflakes and plaster.
Anna:(chuckles snidely) Because sugar, water... I dunno what foamite is, but it sounds foamy.
Bill:Foamite sounds like where you should be jumping in to tell me exactly what foamite is.
Anna:I've never heard of it. I mean, it sounds—
Bill:Is it fake Vegemite?
Anna:(laughs flatly)
Anna:Foamite? To me, that sounds like a kind of foamy, concrete type thing, but I don't know.
Bill:Yeah, it feels like something that you would just... It would just puff up and then harden in place.
Bill:And it would look really cool, and you could put a slow-mo video of it on YouTube and get a million views.
Tom:This is 'foamite' with an A – F-O-A-M. Not without an A, which means any surface that transmits a virus. Just to be clear.
Scott:Obviously, yeah, yeah. I was gonna come in with that, but yeah.
Anna:So fed up of making... with cornflakes and plaster. As if that's—
Bill:"I'm fed up of all these cornflakes and plaster!"
Scott:Maybe they're doing fake rocks or stuff in the background of sets, 'cause Frank Capra made movies.
Bill:Although— But we're missing one key element here, that if it was making a set, if it was building on— building rocks, building concrete, whatever, that's not a post-production problem, is it? Or how would that cause a post-production problem? This is a PPP that we're dealing with here.
Anna:Are we definitely talking about... 'Cause in post-production, I thought that just meant producing the materials, producing the items. I didn't think of films.
Bill:Wouldn't that be pre-production? Oh yeah, I'm thinking films.
Scott:Yeah, pre-production would be building the sets. Post-production would be editing together this mess that we're making.
Bill:It's feeding his editors. He used to just feed them cornflakes and plaster.
Bill:But that was too expensive, so he went down to foamite and sugar water.
Tom:Foamite is what is, or was used in fire extinguishers back then.
Anna:Ah, okay.
Tom:So they moved from cornflakes and plaster to fire extinguisher foam, sugar, water, and soap.
Scott:I mean, that sounds like what you would make custard pies from in movies. But I don't think you would— I don't think you would make a custard pie from plaster and cornflakes.
Bill:(wheezes) Right? That's what I'm trying—
Scott:How were these materially similar?
Anna:I think these would both mimic, if you mixed this all up, I think they'd both kind of look a bit like sick, like vomit. Is this like fake vomit?
Scott:Frank Capra's The Exorcist.
Bill:Woo. Oh, that's interesting.
Tom:You are closer with vomit than custard pies. But only just.
Anna:Ah, okay.
Tom:You're right that it's making a substance though. You're pretty much along the right lines there.
Bill:Making a substance. We're back to where we started. Which is nowhere. We've officially heard the question now.
Anna:But what could the problem be?
Bill:Yeah, what's the post-production problem caused by cornflakes and plaster? The plaster post-production problem?
Anna:Was it rats? Is it vermin getting into the sets?
Tom:No, not this. That would be a production one. This is post.
Bill:So this— So they're using this foamite solution to do some— Is it achieving something in the editing, mastering, production? They're dealing with film.
Tom:It's making that process a lot easier, yes.
Bill:Making it easier.
Tom:Not the physical film, but it's making the edit and post-production a lot easier.
Scott:Were they doing foley for sound effects, for trudging through things?
Bill:Oh! That's fun.
Scott:They used to do mud trudgy sound effects using plaster and cornflakes, and then it became something else?
Tom:It's actually the opposite of that problem.
Bill:The opposite of— Wait, hold on. How to be the opposite of sound? Light. Oh, they were using it to light everything up.
Scott:Sound cancellation.
Bill:Oh, dampening. Yes, soundproofing their booths. Booth proof.
Tom:You're edging around it! You're so nearly there. But it's a substance we're looking for. And it's an on-set substance.
Bill:But it made post-production easier.
Tom:What might you fake up with cornflakes and plaster, or with foam and sugar and water and soap?
Bill:Is it snow? And when the plaster and the cornflakes fall, it's like, "Great snow." (imitates loud crunching) And you walk around set like, "What's that? Oh, it's really cold out here!" (imitates crunching)
Tom:With cornflakes and plaster, they would have to dub all the dialogue again later, because it made so much noise as they walked around. And...
Bill:It's a Wonderful Life!
Tom:It's a Wonderful Life is a Frank Capra film.
Bill:It's a Wonderful Life!
Tom:The Christmas film that he's famous for, the snow scene there, they switched to foamite, sugar, water, and soap because it meant they didn't have crunching noises as the actors walked.
Scott:I'd still like to see Frank Capra's The Exorcist though.
Bill:"Oh, you can't vomit here. Go vomit in Bill's house."
Tom:Our next question is from Anna. Whenever you're ready.
Anna:Okay, this question has been sent in by Leo from Florence. The question is:

The British prog-rock band Jethro Tull released their fifth album Thick as a Brick in 1972. The original edition came with a spoof 12-page newspaper, pristine copies of which are extremely hard to find these days. Why?

Okay, I'll say that again.

The British prog-rock band Jethro Tull released their fifth album Thick as a Brick in 1972. The original edition came with a spoof 12-page newspaper, pristine copies of which are extremely hard to find these days. Why?
Tom:I'm assuming it's not just because newspapers age.
Bill:Yeah, it's not just, it's from the '70s.
Tom:I feel like collectors would take that into account.
Anna:Absolutely, yeah. It's not to do with the material of paper, yeah.
Scott:Yeah, I mean, you know, it's one of those things that... it would be released on vinyl and then it probably wasn't included in the CD version.
Bill:True, no cassettes wrapped up in newspaper.
Scott:As much as I love vinyl, yep.
Anna:No, so we're still looking for the original 12-page newspaper.
Bill:The thought that has jumped into my head, and it's one of those thoughts where it could well be so nothing, but I have to say it, and I hope it isn't right, is it's specifically that wording of "it's so hard to find a pristine copy of this novelty newspaper." Is it just a fake newspaper that's like, "Please use me as toilet paper. Hi, I'm Jethro Tull, just ruin this paper." Some instruction.
SFX:(others laughing)
Bill:Something that is an instruction to be like, "Hey, mess this paper up." This is this, here's the newspaper. Something about the joke. If you're in on the joke, you're gonna mess this paper up.
Scott:Or did they advertise the album in fish and chip shops?
Bill:(gasp) Oh, fish and chips.
Anna:(laughs) Good thought. As far as I know, there was no instruction of how the paper should be used.
Tom:Oh, that rules out several things. I was like, do you have to destroy it in order to get access to their gig or something like that?
Bill:Yeah, you can fold this piece of paper into an Aqualung.
Tom:Well, there was a Magic: The Gathering card years ago that was very col— they're all really, really collectible. And one of the ultra, ultra rare ones was... I think the instructions were that you had to— When you used it, you had to throw it at the table from a certain distance, and any card it landed on was taken outta the game. And there was a legendary story about someone who took this very expensive card, ripped it up, and then threw the confetti at his opponent's part of the table to take out way more cards to win a game.

And I just— collectibles and things like that... The value is based on destroying it. And I was thinking that, but no, apparently not in this case.
Anna:You're along the right lines there. The value of the collectible.
Bill:So does— Are we missing something in the little details? Is there something that everyone knows about Jethro Tull? It's like, ah, you know—
Scott:They're Scottish and he plays flute, you know?
Bill:Yeah, there's flute, named after an agriculturalist.
Tom:You said that with a certain amount of spite there, Scott.
Scott:No, no, I'm fine. Big fan. You know, ish.
Tom:Alright, okay.
Scott:My dad was a big fan of Jethro Tull.
Tom:They're just— The tone was— There was a certain amount of viciousness in that 'flute' there.
Bill:Plays the 'flute'.
Scott:Oh, no, no. My wife plays flute. I'm a ish, you know, fan-ish. She's into jazz, you know?
Bill:Well, does 'thick as a brick' play into it anywhere?
Tom:"Please wrap this newspaper 'round a brick and send it through someone's window as a message."
Bill:Throw it through a window.
Scott:Oh, yes.
Bill:The newspaper just says, "Please buy our album," and you just chuck it through the window.
Tom:Oh, so were they encouraged to paste it up somewhere as an advert for the album or something like that?
Tom:No, you said no instructions, didn't you, Anna? Sorry.
Anna:That's a very good thought, but yeah. There were no instructions as to how the newspaper should— or what should happen to it.
Bill:Did it— Was it sadly prophetic? They had a satire and then it was—- then it became true and everyone's like, "Oh no!" And for some reason they ripped the papers up.
Anna:Not quite, but you could think about what different sections... The sections of the newspaper mimicked the sections of a real paper.
Scott:Crossword section.
Bill:Unmarked, something to fill in. You're right, crosswords isn't a bad idea. A pristine one when no one's done the sudoku from 1972.
Anna:You're exactly right. But it wasn't sudoku. It was crossword, yep. The dot-to-dot and a crossword, yep. Over the years, people were— They couldn't help themselves, even though they knew it would be valuable one day, they couldn't help themselves doing the dot-to-dot. Therefore limiting its value.
Bill:The thing that would be an amazing collector's item is if you could find, "This is the Jethro Tull newspaper, and it was filled in by Mick Jagger." That would be a great piece of collectible.
Anna:That's true, that would— I think that would up its value, you would think.
Bill:Well, Mick, if you're listening and you've got one, send it over 'cause we all want it.
Tom:Karen from the Karen Puzzles channel, who's been on the show before, has just done a video on crossword jigsaw puzzles.
Tom:And some of them are just a crossword design that is also a jigsaw. And some of them... each square of the crossword is also a puzzle piece. So you kinda have to solve both at the same time to make it work.
Bill:Oh, that's very cool.
Tom:But then she's the sort of person who will happily do a 5,000 piece puzzle that's all one colour. So I do not understand that.
Anna:So it was the decimating of these puzzles that people just couldn't help themselves with. And apparently, the band spent more time designing the newspaper and the album cover than they did writing the music itself.
Tom:Next is a listener question. Thank you to Marcus Kontiokari.

A police force of 300 slaves used to walk around the agora of ancient Athens every few weeks. Why did they carry ropes stained with red paint?

One more time.

A police force of 300 slaves used to walk around the agora of ancient Athens every few weeks. Why did they carry ropes stained with red paint?
Anna:What does Agora mean again?
Bill:It's like the marketplace. It's like the central markety area, I think okay is the agora. So they're wandering around, everyone's there doing their business to go buying... ancient Greek food. And they're walking around with ropes that are stained with red paint being like, "Whoa, if you don't behave, I'm gonna whip you!" And you're gonna get all red! Oh, you don't want to get all—"
Tom:The character work started, Bill. At some point the character work always starts.
Bill:"D'oh, what are you doing? Oh, you taking one pot and replacing it with a slightly different pot? The only things that exist in ancient Greece? Well, I'm gonna get you!"
Scott:Isn't it the slaves that usually get whipped, rather than do the whipping?
Bill:Ah, they're the Irony Brigade.
Scott:Oh, the Irony Brigade.
Bill:Oh, they were like, "Hey, if we're gonna be police, can we all agree to hold red ropes?" A rope stained with red. That could have been.
Anna:I don't know.
Bill:Yeah, would— Is it— Is it like a pr— Do you reckon— And I'm not asking you, Tom. So, just don't jump in.
Tom:I wasn't going to.
Bill:I know you want to.
Tom:It's early in the question. I've learned not to do that.
Bill:Do you reckon it's a practical... "We're gonna use these ropes that have red paint on them to achieve a purpose as we police this agora?" Or think it's like, "Yo, we're the Red Ropes, and we're gonna getcha. Don't you mess with us Red Ropes." Do you think it's a symbol, or is it a tool?
Anna:I wonder, I guess the question that's in my mind is who has... whose idea is this, right? Was it the person— Did somebody ask the enslaved people to do this, or was it their own idea?
Tom:I did a little bit of research on this question, and all I can sum up is, it's complicated. It doesn't map to any modern concepts.
Bill:Alright, there we go.
Anna:Okay, well that—
Bill:Let's get our brain into some ancient concepts.
Tom:That is not relevant to the— It's not particularly relevant to the question. It's just that I looked at the history there and went, "Oh, that's just, yeah, I'm not gonna try and explain that at all." It is not weird in ancient Greece that there was a police force of slaves, apparently.
Bill:Cool. So it's just why would someone policing the agora, why would a group of people policing the agora need rope? Red ropes?
Anna:Yeah, what were they policing? We suggested thieves.
Scott:I mean, would they just go around and hang a red rope on everyone that paid their market fees?
Bill:Oh, they give out the red ropes.
Scott:So they'd give them out? Red ropes to say, "Hey, okay, you're legal for this one."
Bill:You're under—
Scott:Yeah, you're under our protection.
Bill:That's not too bad. Tom, would they start the day with more red ropes than they would finish the day?
Tom:No, they would have exactly the same number of red ropes, but...
Scott:Would they use 'em for crowd control?
Tom:Crowd control there, Scott. Those are good words to use.
Bill:Could you mark people in the crowd who are— You've got red paint on a rope. Could you just be like, wha-chang onto the back of their toga? Why not, whatever they wear. And be like, "Keep an eye on this guy. I hit him with a red rope." So everyone can be like, "That guy's trouble. That guy is trouble."
Tom:You're along the right lines there.
Bill:Okay. Somebody drag me the rest of the way down this line, and we'll get to the end of the question.
Tom:The ropes are being carried horizontally between the slaves.
Tom:They're not just holding the rope.
Scott:And they're using this to move people around?
Anna:Yeah, moving people around.
Scott:So it's like holding hands, but holding ropes.
Bill:So they've become a little corral.
Scott:You're sweeping people in and out.
Tom:You're nearly there, Scott. You're very nearly there.
Scott:I mean, would the slaves just literally be like the red velvet ropes that separate the people? You're on this side, the people are on this side, you know. The rich people are on this side, the poor people are on the other side.
Bill:It was all abolished. Someone came out and said, "I've invented wooden posts." "Why do we need wooden posts? We have perfectly good slaves to do the holding!" "No, I'm saying it's cheaper to put a wooden post in the ground." "I'll never be—"
Scott:Yeah, the rich people can walk through the crowd surrounded by their slaves with the ropes. "Yes, you shall not cross this line."
Tom:They were trying to improve democracy.
Bill:Oh, so are they separating voters into— or they're making sure, you go in on one side of the slave line, and you come out the other and they pen you away? They corral people trying to convince people to vote for them? They say, "Get outta here. We're a wall."
Tom:Yes...? I'm gonna give you that one, Bill. That's pretty much what's going on. So, why the red paint?
Anna:Oh, is it because they wanted only— People were only allowed to vote once. And so once you had voted, you got branded with the red paint.
Tom:Yeah, you're very close. This is going into the monthly and then later quarterly meeting called the Ecclesia, where all the common people were supposed to go to debate and argue and vote on things.
Bill:Was it– Is it the opposite? You get the red mark if you didn't turn up?
Tom:And that's the last piece of the puzzle. If you didn't go in, you would have to dodge as you walked around town, people holding red ropes that would mark you with red paint...
Tom:As someone who was shirking your civic duty.
Bill:I love it.
Anna:They should do that today for people that don't vote.
Bill:See, I live in Australia. I don't even understand the concept of people who don't vote, Anna. We all do it down here.
Tom:If you had a red mark on you, you would be fined. So it was compulsory voting, compulsory attendance there. And there were people going 'round with red ropes to mark people who were trying to dodge their civic duty.

Scott, over to you for your question. What have you got for us?
Scott:Well, this listener question has been sent in by Miriam Cronberg.

In the 1950s, Jack Churchill regularly shocked fellow passengers on a London commuter train by throwing his briefcase out of the window. He'd then get off at the next station. Why did he do this?

In the 1950s, Jack Churchill regularly shocked fellow passengers on a London commuter train by throwing his briefcase out of the window. He then get off at the next station. Why did he do this?
Tom:I love this question, and I've used it for a completely different series a few years ago that wasn't Lateral. So I'm gonna sit back. Anna, Bill, this one's up to you.
Bill:He just hated briefcases. They kept giving him new ones every day. He was like, "I don't want these things! Get 'em outta here!"
Scott:Well, it was the same briefcase every day.
Anna:Okay, so same briefcase every day. So that means that when he got off, he went back to get the briefcase.
Bill:Or could he— Do you reckon he had to go back to get it? Or was there something set up there that could make the briefcase continue on to the next station?
Anna:Ah, as if it was on a rope, just out of view of the window.
Bill:Yeah. He threw it out and he— Really, he just invented very nice fishing wire. So everyone's like, "Whoa, the briefcase is gone!" He's like, "Ha, rubes, it's just on a wire. Got 'em again, Jack!"
Anna:But then why would someone do that? Just for jokes?
Bill:You know, Jack Churchill, he's a character.
Scott:He's only got one joke. He does it every day.
Tom:Having done a whole episode of a different show on Jack Churchill, he was very definitely a character.
Bill:Is there some expectation that as a human being, I should know who Jack Churchill is?
Tom:No, he's not a well-known figure, but he was certainly a character.
Bill:Good, 'cause I don't.
Anna:Me neither.
Scott:But you should know who he is. Your life is less for not knowing who he is.
Bill:So, okay, so I'm— Let's— Anna, let's do a scene. Let's paint the picture. I'm a London commuter, and you're Jack Churchill. And we're on a train.
Anna:Okay, great, yeah.
Bill:And I say, "What's that man doing with that briefcase?"
Anna:Ahahahaha... Throws briefcase out of the train.
Bill:"I'm so shocked!"
Anna:And then I feel like everyone would talk to each other and be like, "Why did that guy just throw his briefcase out the train?"
Bill:And then Jack says...
Anna:"Don't worry everybody. I'll go and get it."
Bill:And he jumps outta the window, falls to his death. A new Jack Churchill arrives. He says, "Ahahaha, I'm getting off for the next station." And it's like a Prestige bit. There's so many of them.
Anna:And then he walks back in through the door and everyone's shocked. And they raucously applause.
Bill:"It's the man with the briefcase. Oh my god. We saw him jump to his death, and now he's arrived with the briefcase! A masterpiece! Everybody give him 10 pounds, 10 pounds each!" And that's how he made his money. Are we close?
Anna:I guess back then, they didn't have podcasts, right? So what would you do on a commuter train?
Bill:(laughs) Yeah. The only entertainment was watching men throw briefcases out the window. It was all they could do back then.
Anna:(chuckles) Exactly.
Bill:It was post-war. There wasn't much going on.
Anna:There was literally nothing. Not even podcasts.
Bill:Nothing happened until Vietnam. They just had to wait. Okay, so...
Anna:Make their own entertainment.
Bill:So he throws a briefcase out a window. We're back to square one. We've had the question read to us.
Bill:What do you achieve? So he's like, "Look at this." And then presumably he gets the briefcase back. He throws— Does he— Could he know the timing of the trains really well? So he throws it out one window, into another train that's also going to the same station, and he just knows it. "Just look at this, everybody, whoa!" And then it lands to the next train, and he gets off, crosses to the other side of the platform, gets his suitcase, walks away. Briefcase, not a suitcase. He's not travelling.
Anna:I think there's definitely something in there, in the commuters, in the doing it every day, and at the same time every day. I wonder whether there was some kind of reward for finding lost property or for stuff being on the track and getting it off the track. Maybe he was trying to—
Bill:Do you think it's profiting, or do you think it's just a bit? Do you think he's just having fun?
Anna:I mean, that could be our answer. Was it just a comedy bit?
Bill:I was just doing a bit. "Hey, I'm doing a bit! Wha-choo!"
Scott:No, no, he was definitely benefiting from the results of this endeavour.
Bill:Okay, okay, so he's getting— So there's a practical reason. He's a pragmatist, Jack Churchill.
Scott:It wasn't— He wasn't getting money. It was just, practical purpose for this little stunt.
Bill:Oh, do you reckon? Okay, say, okay. I'm Jack Churchill. And I work in an office.
Tom:Here comes the character work again.
Bill:And I work in an office. And I know my office is— Is this an elevated rail? Is it the Underground, or is it an above-ground rail that we're talking about?
Scott:It's a 1950s British commuter train. Really slow.
Bill:'Cause what if, if the train goes past your office, and then you get off on the station, you walk back the way the train came, you don't wanna lug your briefcase back to the office. You go, that's my window. I'll gleam my window open. The train goes past. Wha-choo, it's in the office. I get off, turn around, walk back to the office. Briefcase is already there. If I was Jack— Now if I was Jack Churchill, that's what I'd do.
Scott:You're very close.
Bill:I'm very close. How can I be close and not right?!
Anna:Was it his house and not his office?
Bill:Ah, he's going home.
Bill:He lives by the tracks! There's a hole in his roof.
Anna:Very good, Bill.
Scott:Yes. He knew the exact point to throw the briefcase out so that it would land in his garden. And then that meant he didn't have to carry it. Didn't have to carry it from the station. And frankly, you know, if you know anything about Jack Churchill, you would think... He was not someone that shied away from work. From bold endeavours, let's say.
Tom:If I remember rightly, he's the Scotsman with the Claymore who... or the bagpipes, who ran into war with the bagpipes.
Bill:That guy, I know that guy!
Scott:Yes. Technically he's not actually Scottish, but he did play the bagpipes at 3 am, run around with a bow and arrow and a broadsword during World War II, and therefore he can be a Scotsman. I'm cool with that.
Bill:Yeah, I think that technically is what makes you a Scottish person.
Scott:Yeah. But he also, you know, after the war, he went to Australia for a while, and was a military advisor there. Came back and he was the first person to surf a tidal bore. So he surfed up the Severn for a mile. So not only— (wheezes) He was this insane soldier commando dude that did everything. Yeah, he also invented surfing on tidal bores.
Bill:And weirdly halfway up the Severn, he just threw his suitcase off the bank and he thought, I'll come back for this later.
Tom:One last order of business then. At the start of the show, I asked:

why trainee chefs are taught to touch their cheek, chin, nose, and forehead, in that order?

And every single person on this call is currently doing that. Before I give the answer, any punts from the guests?
Bill:I'll just do it over and over again. You see what's happening. What's going on here?
Tom:It looks like you're doing a very weird religious ritual there.
Bill:Yes, chef. Yes, chef. Heard, chef. Heard, chef, behind. Yes, chef. Is that it?
Tom:Cheek, then chin, then nose, then forehead.
Bill:Chin, nose, forehead. You gotta taste it, then you gotta stick your chin in it, then you gotta smell it, and then you gotta think about it, and then you serve it to the customers.
Bill:I have no idea. I don't know why chefs do anything.
Scott:I mean, these are just bits that you don't want to accidentally cut off and put in the meal, obviously. Along with fingers.
Tom:That's true.
Scott:I mean, fingers can go in, but apparently that. Oh no, you're touching.
Anna:I feel like touching your face is gen— and then touching someone else's food is generally frowned upon.
Bill:Yeah, I'd tell the chef, don't touch your face at all.
Bill:That's rule one in my kitchen. Don't touch your face.
Tom:It is a sequence. So you're going from something to another. There's something about those body parts that you should be able to feel as you go through them. Cheek, chin, nose, forehead.
Anna:Is it like a mnemonic, like C stands for crunch?
Tom:No, it is about— When I say chin, it's kind just below your lip. It's not like bottom of your chin. But cheek, just below your lip, nose, and then forehead.
Bill:The chefs are crazy.
Scott:I mean, it's different firmness of meat.
Bill:(gasp) Meat!
Scott:It's for, based on, you know, this is how cooked your steak is or something.
Bill:It's like a rare, medium.
Tom:Spot on.
Bill:Oh, that's fantastic.
Tom:Yeah, that is rare, medium rare, medium, well done for cuts of steak.
Anna:Oh, well I'm vegetarian, so I would never have got that.
Tom:I knew that was gonna be rough for at least one person on this call.
Bill:Yeah, I'm vegetarian too, so...
Tom:Thank you very much to all our players. Let's see where people can find you. What's going on with your work and your life?

We will start with Anna.
Anna:My name is Anna Ploszajski. If you Google something that sounds roughly like that, you'll probably find it. And I've got a book out, which is called Handmade: A Scientist's Search for Meaning Through Making.
Scott:Hello, it's Scott Manley here. You can just find me on the internet, primarily YouTube. I mainly talk about rocket science, space, occasionally nuclear weapons. And now that I've got my private pilot's license, I talk about flying planes.
Tom:And Bill.
Bill:Look, you can find the fun podcasts I do: Solve This Murder, Escape This Podcast. But, a project you might not know about, I also make some games. You can find, I made a tabletop role-playing game called Gateways, where you use interdimensional portals to try and pull off a heist. So if you want to Google that and try and find that, it's a great, fun game. You can get it for free and play it at home.
Tom:And if you wanna find out more about this show, you can do that at, where you can send in your own listener question. There are video highlights every week at, and we are at @lateralcast pretty much everywhere.

With that, thank you very much to Bill Sunderland.
Bill:Hey, it's me!
Tom:To Anna Ploszajski.
Anna:Thank you!
Tom:And to Scott Manley.
Scott:Fly safe.
Tom:That's been our show. I've been Tom Scott, and that's been Lateral.
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