Lateral with Tom Scott

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

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Episode 42: Giant concrete balls

Published 28th July, 2023

Annie Rauwerda ('Depths of Wikipedia'), J. Draper and Geoff Marshall face questions about rumbling roads, sacred snacks and keyboard quirks.

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: Emil, Hugo Bush, August Sappho, Michael Nebesny. FORMAT: Pad 26 Limited/Labyrinth Games Ltd. EXECUTIVE PRODUCERS: David Bodycombe and Tom Scott.


Transcription by Caption+

Tom:Which key can often be seen in-between F and G on a keyboard? The answer to that at the end of the show. My name's Tom Scott, and this is Lateral.

On today's show, we have three guests who are uniquely qualified to make you laugh, think, and question your life choices. And I will let you decide which one of them is which. We start with: from his own YouTube channel, transport and train expert, Geoff Marshall.
Geoff:Hello, Tom. Thanks for having me. Yes, hi. How are you?
Tom:Thanks for being back on the show. Last time I accidentally referred to 'train station' instead of 'railway station' in his introduction. What's the difference? What's the— Why will nerds get angry at me about that? And they're gonna get angry about that description as well, aren't they? (chuckles)
Geoff:No, it's fine, no. We're all nerds, that's fine. Nerds are great. If you're in a pub full of nerds, and you bring up the "Is it a train station or a railway station?" That's pretty much the discussion gone for the whole evening.
Geoff:It's just, it's a thing. And, I'm on the railway side. It's either, you're on 'railway station' or "It doesn't matter. Words are just words." And some people are like, "No, it must be railway." So I would go with 'railway station' if you want to look cool and credible.
Tom:(wheezes) I'm not sure I want to look cool and credible, Geoff. I'm not sure I ever looked cool and credible in my life.
Geoff:No. (wheezes) Sorry!
Tom:You're not meant to agree!
Geoff:I didn't mean to agree so quickly.
SFX:(both wheezing)
Tom:Well, next up... Next on the list, next on the list to roast me. We have from the Depths of Wikipedia, which is her Twitter and Instagram and TikTok and a lot of other places. We have Annie Rauwerda. Thank you for coming back on the show. How are you doing?
Annie:Hello. I'm very excited to be here.
Geoff:You've got a cat?@5
Annie:I do have a cat here who has come to hang out on my lap. And whisper me answers.
Tom:If there's any sudden purring on the audio, That is either the train going by Annie's window or the cat just making a growling noise in the background. Last time, Annie, we asked a question about someone you've written a Wikipedia article about. How many have you written?
Annie:A few dozen. So there are people out there that have written thousands. I'm not one of those. I wish, maybe someday. But here and there, if I find something that's not covered that really should be, that has coverage, I'll just quick write up a Wikipedia article. But I can't take true credit for them because then all sorts of other people come and make it lots better.
Tom:Also making our show lots better... How's that for a segue? Was that smooth enough?
Jenny:It's very smooth.
Tom:I'm just getting a look from the producer. Never mind. We're also joined... from the London History Show and her own tours of London and her own TikTok. We have returning, J. Draper. Jenny, how are you doing?
Jenny:Hello. Good to be here. Yes, I'm very well. Thank you. Thank you for having me.
Tom:And no cat with you in your room?
Jenny:Ah, sadly not.
Tom:You've been doing tours of London for a while now. When you transitioned to TikTok, was it sort of, "I'm gonna take people around" or was it just, "I'm gonna show off this thing"?
Jenny:Oh, so I was actually studying... When I started TikTok, I was studying to get my tour guiding qualification. And it so happened that the world shut down for some sort of global event for two years and all my exams—
Tom:Oh, yeah, I remember that.
Jenny:All my exams were suspended, and I was like, I'm gonna forget everything that I've revised unless I start, you know, writing it down or recording it in more ways. So it was, it started off as just me trying to remember bits of trivia for my exam.
Tom:Well, good luck to all three of you. On this show, we have no GPS and no set destination. So let's embrace the detours and the dead ends, and see where the conversation takes us. We have three questions. Fasten your seat belts. Here's the first.

A listener question sent in by Hugo Bush.

Faced with falling church attendances in the 1950s, the Antwerp-based company Belgica managed to save their business by halving the number of units sold, adding dye, and finding younger customers. How?

One more time.

Faced with falling church attendances in the 1950s, the Antwerp-based company Belgica managed to save their business by halving the number of units sold, adding dye, and finding younger customers. How?
Geoff:Did you say church?
Tom:I said church.
Geoff:Is this a communion wine drinking thing?
Jenny:Did they make blue wafers?
Annie:Nilla Wafers?!
Tom:You're all honing in on the right sort of thing. It is Catholicism. It is wafers. You've solved the first part of that immediately. And frankly, if it's a food product around church, that was the easy part. The next part is, what did they do with that?
Jenny:So they halved the number of sales. So I'm guessing they made it more exclusive and seeming fancier? And changed the colour to make them seem fancier as well? Like made them purple or brown or something, and then sold them.
Tom:And halving the units sold is a sort of fudgy way to describe what they did here.
Jenny:They made them smaller?
Tom:They didn't add fudge. It's not that.
Annie:They doubled the size perhaps.
Jenny:Diet wafers.
Geoff:Hang on, or is it a shrink version thing? It's the same product, but less money? No, the same money but lesser product. No. Or the inverse.
Annie:What are, okay, I'm trying to think of little wafery things that have colors. Like Goldfish crackers? Sometimes you can get the color variety of those, but it's definitely not that because Pepperidge Farms is the company that makes those.
Geoff:Like breakfast cereal, you can get the multigrain... What's the hoopy cereal? It's gone outta my head.
Tom:I'm not sure there's a communion wafer breakfast cereal, Geoff. Although there's several really sacrilegious jokes that I'm just not gonna tell here, but...
Geoff:Later, Tom. Afterwards in the post chat, we'll do that.
Tom:No, no. Just to save me from being cancelled here, Geoff. No, we won't.
Tom:(chuckles) There we go. There we go, yeah.
Annie:Here I was thinking that Fruit Loops had originated as communion wafers.
Tom:Oh, you're all around the right area here. You've got it. You're just not quite thinking what actually feels like, looks like a communion wafer. There are—
Geoff:But did you also say younger audience? They appeal to a younger audience.
Tom: Yeah.
Geoff:So it's what food type appeals more to a younger person than an older person.
Jenny:Is this a new food that's been— A new brand that's been invented? They were a communion wafer company, and then they pivoted to Jaffa Cakes or Mini Cheddars or something?
Tom:They pivoted to something.
Annie:Oyster crackers?
Tom:(grumbles) You're very close. But that's not a younger audience.
Geoff:I'm old. What do kids eat? That old people don't? I don't know.
Jenny:No, this was the '60s.
Geoff:I'm still old.
Jenny:Or '50s. Excuse me.
Tom:At this point, you can have candy cigarettes in there, and it'd... No, 1950s, 1950s.
Jenny:You put it on your tongue and it just dissolves.
Tom:...Yeah! Actually, Jenny, you're very, very close now.
Jenny:They didn't actually put LSD in it.
Tom:No, they didn't put LSD in it, but that's the point of a wafer. You put it on your tongue and it dissolves.
Jenny:And it dissolves.
Tom:That's not the point of a wafer. (laughs) The point of a wafer is not that you put it on your tongue and it dissolves! I'm gonna get angry letters from Catholics. But, that's the point of the product they went with.
Geoff:What else dissolves on your tongue? Sherbet? Oreos? Oh no, it's Oreos, isn't it?
Tom:(laughs) It's not Oreos! Those aren't communion wafers, Geoff!
Jenny:Jammie Dodger?
Geoff:No, but did Oreo come up with, you know, Oreo communion wafers as a brand?
Annie:Man, that would've increased church attendance if they started giving out Oreos every week.
Jenny:That's the body of Christ flavour.
SFX:(Tom and Geoff wince)
Annie:Would you like Fruit Loops for your communion or Oreos?
Tom:The thing is, you're circling 'round the right answer. What food item for a younger audience can you make with two wafers and a little bit of something extra?
Annie:A macaroon.
Tom:It's very— It's not a macaroon. It's very close.
Jenny:An eclair? No, that's not right.
Annie:The cookie sand— I'm thinking cookie sandwiches. But that's not it.
Geoff:That's an Oreo.
Annie:I'm just talking, I'm just talking.
Geoff:I got told off for that!
SFX:(group laughing)
Tom:You didn't get told off! I'm riffing with you here, Geoff! There's a yes-and!
Geoff:I got ridiculed for that.
SFX:(group cracking up)
Geoff:Is this a British thing or is it an American thing, Tom?
Tom:They have different names in both countries, but I think pretty much all the developed world has this.
Annie:Whoa! That seems like it should be a hint.
Geoff:Go, that's a big clue, Annie, come on.
Annie:Oh, oh, oh, oh! I know it, I know it. It's a Dutch company. Because it's a big Wikipedia thing. Stroopwafels.
Tom:No, sorry.
SFX:(group laughing)
Tom:They're a Belgian company from Antwerp, by the way. So it's unfortunately not stroopwafels. It would've been regular waffles there. They're gonna be screaming at you. So I'll give you one more on this. It's two communion waf—
Geoff:Crêpes. Pancakes.
Tom:They're not big. They're not even a different shape. They're not a different size. It's just two wafers with some stuff between them that you're gonna find in sweet shops.
Tom:I've gotta give it to you. It's flying saucer sweets. Or satellite wafers in the US. It's the little things that look like UFOs, which were like 1950s, 1960s. They were in the public...
Geoff:Hang on. Don't they have sherbet inside? About five minutes ago, I said sherbet. Wind back the tape. I said sherbet.
Tom:Alright, well I didn't hear it, so it'll get quietly removed. I'm sorry, Geoff.
Geoff:Tape, wind it back.
Tom:So, yeah, it is the flying saucer or the satellite wafers, which just have sherbert or popping candy or something inside. Those were invented because they were communion wafers, and that was their new invention.
Jenny:You've been worried about us being sacrilegious. So they took their communion wafers and stuck sherbert in-between?
Tom:Yes, in the 1950s, Antwerp-based company, Belgica came up with the idea of putting two communion wafers together, putting originally some medicine in there and selling it as a pharmaceutical thing. And then realising they could just put sugar or sherbet in there instead, and they sold those as flying saucers or satellite wafers.

All our guests have brought a question with them. I dunno the question. I definitely don't know the answer. We will start with Geoff. Whenever you're ready.

When Matthew Luhn started his new job in 1992, he screwed his shoes to a wooden rectangular board, got onto his office desk, and then leapt off. Who had just employed him?

I will read that again.

Matthew Luhn started his new job in 1992. He screwed his shoes to a wooden rectangular board, got onto his office desk, and then leapt off. Who had just employed him? It's brilliant.
Tom:My first thought is... It can't be, 'cause this was 1992, but my first thought was Red Bull, and this is just a really good marketing campaign for them. 'Cause they— I feel like extreme shoe nailed... jump from a height is probably a thing they'd have done or would've done. You know, they put a skate park under a hot air balloon. They've done a load of— It was either that or Jackass.
Annie:I like the idea of a Red Bull stunt done in an office where it's like,
Annie:"Escape corporate life and turn everything into your skate park." Speaking of skate parks though, I think it could be a skateboarding company or a snowboarding company like Burton. Or a wakeboarding company? Something where you're boarding. But I can't think of any skateboarding companies off the top of my head. Vans, like Vans off the wall?
Jenny:Tony Hawk?
Tom:There's loads of things like that. What was the name, Matthew Luhn?
Geoff:Matthew Luhn, 1992. The year is a clue.
Tom:Wait, how did he— Is he attached, like, nailed? How did he connect his shoes to the board?
Geoff:I've got a picture here that you can't see, but so there's a wooden board. Yeah, like a skateboard. The shoes are nailed to it, and then he then obviously put his feet inside the shoes, so his feet are rigid on the board, and then jumped off.
Tom:I just had a flashback to something I haven't thought about in years, which is an advert that terrified me as a very young child. And it was an advert for some sort of glue. And I can't remember the details of it, but they stuck— So I'm sure there were loads of safety precautions. You couldn't see it was not actually done that way. But they super-glued a stuntman's shoes upside-down to a board, and then dangled him out over shark-infested waters or something. Clearly these days, that's a stunt with a load of safety precautions. As a four or five year old child, that genuinely terrified me! It was one of those things you watch on television, and it just, as a child, scares the hell outta you for some reason.
Geoff:Yeah, Tom, back me up on this. There was also a guy in a white jumpsuit stuck to a board. It was to do with super-glue or something. And they dangled him over a volcano.
Jenny:Is it No More Nails?
Tom:I don't know. All I know is that there's some horrible childhood television trauma bubbling up in the back of my brain now.
Tom:I'll search it on YouTube later. It's clearly not relevant to the question, but that's just gonna go and just gimme the shudders for a while when I go up and look it up.
Geoff:Go down the YouTube rabbit hole later of old 1980s adverts. Yeah, that's always fun.
Tom:Some archivist will have put that up on the internet somewhere.
Geoff:Yeah, yeah.
Tom:Probably with an obnoxious watermark over it.
Geoff:Yeah, you've— Sorry, tangent, anecdote. You've seen the one where John Noakes, Blue Peter, climbs up Nelson's Column in Trafalgar Square without any safety harness! And you're like, "Oh my god!"
Jenny:It's not just that though. The cameraman. The cameraman is doing it.
Geoff:It's terrifying!
Jenny:With a 1980s camera, one hand on the ladder.
Tom:Apparently he had to do it twice, because the first time, the film didn't work or something like that, they had technical problems.
Geoff:That's insane!
Tom:Just to fill in for people who don't know, Blue Peter is a magazine programme for kids. Like, here's interesting stuff in the world. It's one of the things that inspired me. And I was a bit too old. I didn't see the footage from this until years later. But one of their presenters was working out how they clean Nelson's Column, the big column in Trafalgar Square. And yeah, it turns out they just... before harnesses were a thing, they just went up on ladders, including one where you have to climb... dangling backwards on a ladder. And if you don't do it right... You fall.
Geoff:You're dead.
Tom:And they just kind of took him up there. And there's a camera guy doing it backwards. I assume none of this is relevant to the question, Geoff.
Geoff:No, but he's kinda..
Geoff:Well... (chuckles) And, it's been five minutes now. Annie said something like...
Tom:Yeah, sorry!
Geoff:She said to skateboard. It's nothing to do with skateboarding.
Tom:And it's far too early for Jackass or anything like that, okay.
Geoff:And I don't know when, what year Jackass was, yeah.
Tom:That would've been early 2000s.
Geoff:Shoes nailed to board, jumps off desk. He then proceeds to walk and crawl and 'run' around the office like this... whilst he's being videoed. So he's being filmed.
Jenny:Has he been hired by Pixar... and he's being one of the little Army guys?
Geoff:(bewildered cough)
Tom:Oh my god! Yes, of course!
Geoff:Yes, exactly that!
SFX:(Tom and Geoff laughing hysterically)
Jenny:Cause I thought—
Geoff:How did—
Jenny:I thought of the Army guys ten minutes ago before the tangent, but I was like, that's not from 1992.
Annie:Jenny, what?!
Geoff:(wheezes) That's— You've just—
Tom:It is! That's 1994, '95, Toy Story came out. So they would've been starting development in it back then.
Geoff:You've nailed it.
Tom:Like his shoes.
Geoff:Like his shoes. That's freaky that you got— Well, I had more clues lined up.
Tom:Thank you for holding off on that until we got through the tangents there. That's fine.
Jenny:I didn't know. I didn't know that was gonna be right.
Geoff:Yeah, Jenny, I want you on my pub quiz team. (stammers) You're my new best friend. Come to all quizzes that I now go to and we'll win.
Jenny:Fine, as long as we have someone for the sports round, I'm all good.
Geoff:Would you like to know some of the more details?
Jenny:Yes, please.
Geoff:In 1992, Matthew Luhn was employed by Pixar. He was one of the first 12 animators employed by Pixar to work on their first animated film, Toy Story. And his first assignment was to animate the little green Army Men. So to do that, he rigged up this shoe contraption and videoed himself and played it back to get the animation correct. That's brilliant. (chuckles)
Tom:Next up, we have a listener question from August Sappho. Thank you very much.

In February 2014, a flurry of various mobile phones were offered on eBay for around $1,000 more than identical phones of the same models. Why?

One more time.

In February 2014, a flurry of various mobile phones were offered on eBay for around $1,000 more than identical phones of the same models. Why?
Jenny:So they're identical. So this isn't like, you know, the keyboard spells out 'fart' or something. They're identical.
Tom:(chuckles) I like how that was your go-to for what the...
Jenny:Wait, like there'd a misprint on them? (giggles)
Tom:No, these are identical.
Annie:So I'm clearly not very good at knowing when my answers are correct and when they're not. So I'm not trying to do another false positive, but I do think I know it, so...
Annie:Does it have to do with an app?
Tom:It does, so... Annie, I will ask you to sit out for this one. Having given several of my clues in one word there to Geoff and Jenny.
Annie:I was the perfect age to care about this thing a lot.
Geoff:There are limited-edition apps, which only sell so many units. And then it stops. So was it, a company provided a phone with an app on that was a limited-edition?
Jenny:Was this when iTunes put out... U2's album as standard on all their iTunes and you had to buy— They were buying one without the album on it?
Tom:Oh, no. But I know someone who still has that on their phone and cannot get rid of it.
Tom:Because there's a web page you can go to, to have it removed from your Apple account. But that doesn't work with two-factor authentication. So unless you did that in the first six months, you genuinely cannot remove it from your music library. It's still there!
Tom:It just follows him from phone to phone to phone!
Geoff:One of my favourite online memes is someone's created a mock-up, a picture of Bono sneaking into someone's room late at night with a vinyl collection and inserting the album. And it's like, "If you don't own iTunes, here's how we're doing it!" I'm thinking there's a terrible world – which we do exist in – where there was a limited-edition phone years ago from Nokia where...
Tom:Sorry. Capitalism, I think is the...
Geoff:Yes, there we go, yes.
Tom:Scarcity, yeah.
Geoff:Where you could pay for a really expensive phone. And the idea was it was the rich person's lazy man phone. And you got this phone, it was limited-edition, and you rang it and there was an operator on the other end of the phone that was there to help you with whatever you wanted. So I can't help think, it's not that app that cost a million pounds just for the sake of it to prove how rich you were? Was it, and it was on the phone?
Tom:In this case, no. It was a regular phone. They were paying about $1,500 for a phone that should have been going for about $500.
Jenny:So it was like, I've never heard of this, but you know when you used to text any question to a number, but they had a personal person just for them?
Tom:Yeah, there was a couple of concierge apps, I think on various phones, and one that just had a magic concierge button where they... And frankly, if you've got that amount of money, you probably already have a personal assistant, So you don't need a magic concierge app. Amazon's tablets had that for a while. If you needed customer support on it for something with your Amazon account, they just had a magic button that would video call someone to help you set up your device. But this is not that. This is an app.
Jenny:An app that's worth a thousand dollars.
Tom:It wasn't officially limited-edition. Or at least, it wasn't sold as that.
Jenny:There was a mistake in one version of the app, and it got updated. So these have the old version on it, where in the app, it spells out 'fart' and... (cracks up) And that's what you're paying the extra thousand dollars for.
Tom:The app wasn't available anymore. It had been removed.
Jenny:What got taken down in 2014?
Geoff:Is it your Emojli app, Tom?
Tom:Actually, that is about the right date. I can't remember when Emojli— I set up a thing with a friend that was a... emoji-only messenger about then and...
Tom:Never build an app. It's a terrible, terrible idea. It was nothing but customer support hassle. We made no money from it. It was just a complete pain in the ass. We did shut that down, but we also shut down all the backend systems that went with it, so it wouldn't have worked anymore. And I suspect this is either something you remember the news story about or you don't.
Geoff:I know you haven't said an actual brand of phone. You just said phone, smartphone. I'm thinking, is it Apple-specific? Is it iPhone, or is it Android?
Tom:iPhone, Android. I think it was available on both, but it wouldn't really matter at this point.
Tom:Now, Annie, they've set it up. You tap it into the goal.
Annie:Are you ready? Are you ready?
Geoff:Oh, no! I feel like we're close. Another minute, we might get there.
Tom:Alright, you're very close. I'll give you one more. It is a 2014 craze... that then went away.
Geoff:It's not the app of, it's a virtual tamagotchi or something, is it?
Tom:Annie, tap it home.
Annie:Flappy Bird.
Jenny:You can't get Flappy Bird anymore?
Annie:Oh no, you're so late to this news! I'm so sorry this is how you had to find out.
Jenny:You— How can you— What— Why isn't Flappy Bird still going, what?
Tom:Yeah, his name was Dong Nguyen. He felt guilty that he was earning $50,000 a day on something that people were finding so addictive that it was affecting their lives. So with a day's notice, he said, "I'm taking the app away. I'm removing it from sale." 10 million people downloaded the game, and then it vanished. And just for a brief period in 2014, people put their phones on eBay and sold them because that phone still had Flappy Bird.
Geoff:Was there ever a crowned Flappy Bird champion? Who was the winner of Flappy Bird? Who had the high score? Who had the all-time high score on Flappy Bird? Is that unknown? Is that a thing?
Tom:I don't know. I know it went back on sale, because immediately there were a thousand clones of it. He was just using basically off-the-shelf assets. The game is not a new game mechanic. It had existed for ages. He just happened to hit a magic formula at the right time. So... after a thousand people cloned it, he put the original back up. My favourite variant, by the way, is Flappy Wordle or Flappy Birdle.
Tom:Where you have to solve a Wordle, but your key presses cause the bird to flap. So it is this horrible nightmare of a game that I got to enough points to get past some milestones. Just like, I'm never touching that again.
Annie:If you were 15 when this happened, then this is your truth.
Jenny:I mean—
Annie:This is like a traumatic event.
Tom:I'm sorry. That was a sentence that just made me age like the guy at the end of Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade. Just, just dust! Just absolute withering dust. Thank you.
Annie:You should boot me. You should banish me for this.
Tom:And thank you to our producer. The Flappy Bird world record is 9,813 points.
Geoff:What? No way. Mine was like 23.
Jenny:Props to him for giving it all up though. He's like the Jonas Salk of apps.
Tom:I don't get that reference. Should I get that reference?
Jenny:Oh, sorry, he— (stammers)
Geoff:(wheezes) You're too old, Tom.
Jenny:No, no, definitely not. I might be wrong, the producer can check me, but I believe Jonas Salk was the person who patented the polio vaccine and then gave it away for free.
Annie:They have a polio vaccine now, guys! Yay!
Annie:Tom's just learning about this.
SFX:(group laughing)
Jenny:Yeah, I just learned about Flappy Bird.
Tom:Don't patronise me!
Jenny:And Tom just learned that there is a vaccine for polio.
Annie:He's like, yes!
Jenny:Finally, I'm getting rid of this iron lung.
Geoff:(laughs heartily)
Tom:Yes, the mobile phones— Thank you, youngsters(!) The mobile phones were put on the electronic auction site, eBay, for 1,000 downs, because they contained Flappy Bird.
Geoff:Oh, Tom, you know the Beatles split up, right?
Tom:Our next question...
SFX:(group snickering)
Tom:Our next ques— Annie, you know what? You can let the oldsters have this next question. Why don't you give us one and see if we can work our way through this with our walking frames?
Annie:Alright, well sit back, relax, grab some prune juice.
Jenny:Speak up, dear. I can't hear you.
SFX:(group laughing)
Tom:It's all right. Matron will be along in a minute.
Annie:Well, sorry, I'm too busy multitasking with my Flappy Bird game on my phone. Are you ready for the question?
Jenny:Here for it.
Tom:Yes, dear.
Annie:(cracks up)

While driving on a rural road in the Philippines, Evelyn heard a low rumbling noise for a few seconds. Probably similar to the train that's passing my house right now. Her car was fine, and no roadworks had taken place. When repeating the journey a few days later, the noise had gone. Why?
Annie:One more time.
Tom:This is absolutely an alien abduction.
Annie:One more time.

When driving on a rural road in the Philippines, Evelyn heard a low rumbling noise for a few seconds. Her car was fine, and no roadworks had taken place. When repeating the journey a few days later, the noise had gone. Why?
Geoff:Was it seismic movement? Was there a rockfall? Was there a landslide happening nearby? Something like that?
Jenny:It wasn't an underground volcano— Not underground volcano, but... It's a volcanic area, right?
Tom:I was gonna try and think of Filipino stereotypes. But A) I don't have any, and B) I'm not doing those jokes, so... I don't know what that could be.
Geoff:Could it just been a plane flying overhead? Is it some kind of— what— no—
Tom:We don't have a date for this though. So it's not like an airport moved, or some historical event we could know.
Annie:Mm-mm. It's not an airplane. And it also, so in terms of date, it really doesn't matter when this happened. Because this seems to happen regularly.
Jenny:So it's something to do with that specific part of the road, because you said, when she came back, it had gone. So it's not anything wrong with her car.
Annie:Exactly, the car is fine.
Jenny:It's something with that area that's wrong? Or perhaps fine actually.
Tom:Is Evelyn important? Is the specific name important in this question, or is this just Evelyn happens to be someone from the Philippines?
Annie:Not at all. You could swap out the name for Tom if you wanted, if that makes you feel better.
Tom:Alright. Okay. I'm not sure it does, but, sure.
Geoff:Was she by herself in the car? Does it say?
Annie:It doesn't matter.
Annie:The first clue is that during the month, the location where the rumbling noise was heard kept changing.
Tom:There's an escaped animal nearby that is moving about a bit, and makes a low— It's the lesser spotted Philippines... growling tiger spider.
Tom:And... That's a horrible idea. I dunno why my brain went to tiger spider! I picked two animals that rhymed, and I don't like the implications of that. And it was just kind of hunting in the area and growling at the car. And this is completely wrong, isn't it?
Annie:It was not the tiger spider. Thankfully!
Tom:My producer has told me there is such a thing as a tiger spider, but it's just a regular spider that has some stripes on it. So that's okay. It's not some horrible hybrid from a science fiction show. We're okay.
Geoff:Can you tell me if it was an animal of any description?
Annie:Not an animal.
Jenny:It wasn't something geological, like an earthquake or a volcano?
Annie:Mm-mm. It has to do with the road surface.
Geoff:Well then, the road had been resurfaced. The maintenance crews had been along and changed something to the road surface.
Annie:Whoa, that was a big step forward. That was a big leap for mankind right there. You... you're onto something.
Geoff:It was the first road in the Philippines to be tarmacked or something. It was a stony road before.
Tom:There wouldn't be a low rumbling in different locations. My head is stuck on the musical road that I filmed at once, where it has particular grooves in the road, and it plays a tune very badly as you drive over it. But, that's not the sort of thing that moves around.
Geoff:Was it a prank? Were some kids pranking road users by putting something on the road and then moving it?
Annie:(giggles) No, it was not a prank. There are people that do this. You're right that it's people that are unauthorized, that are doing something.
Geoff:Was it some kind of protest organised by people?
Annie:It was not a protest.
Geoff:You did the eyebrow thing. Your eyes went ping!
Annie:Well, I was just thinking like, that would be an interesting way to protest. "Oh, you know, raise the minimum wage. I'm gonna remind you by putting rumble strips everywhere." But no, it was not a protest.
Tom:Wait, are these rumble strips though? Are these put down by road maintenance to warn of something that's moving around?
Annie:No, they're not put down by anyone official. It's not a road maintenance thing, and it's not anything permanent like a rumble strip. It's... It's just a thing that's more temporary.
Tom:So is it warning of something? People have put sticks down in patterns to get people to slow down because there's children nearby or something like that? Is it like vigilante road maintenance?
Annie:Oh, that would be so cool, but no.
Geoff:Is it vigilante marketing, advertising, saying our ice cream booth is coming up in half a mile's time or something? And it's to alert people to that?
Annie:No, it is not that. I'll tell you that... it has to do with the... So it's rural Philippines, the rural road in the Philippines, near a lot of farming.
Jenny:So is this like the farm animals doing— Oh, no, is there such a big hatching of... I don't know. Such a big crowd of animals that they rumble as they walk past? They shake—
Tom:Oh no, hold on. The hatching... Is that one of the places where you get the turtles going to the ocean or something like that, and animals have to cross the road, and this is a warning to drivers? That's basically the same as the 'slow down for kids' one, only with different—
Jenny:Yeah, only with turtles or...
Annie:No, that's honestly cooler than what it really is. I wish it were that. I wish everyone just stopped their cars and watched the turtles. There's a lot of— mm, I'm not gonna say it. There's a crop that's grown that needs to be... that needs to go through some treatments before it's ready for consumption.
Jenny:Oh, so they're— Is this the farmers putting their crops on the road to squidge the grape juice out, or whatever it is?
Annie:You're on the right track.
Geoff:Can we guess the crop? Is it wheat, corn, what? Grapes?
Tom:I'm just remembering, the only crop I know that makes noise is bamboo as it grows, and I don't think that's the Philippines.
Geoff:Is it corn?
Annie:It's not corn, but... in China, this system is sometimes used for corn kernels. But in the Philippines, it's something different. But it's a very basic thing that you have definitely had a lot.
Annie:Yes, it's rice.
Jenny:Rice! I don't know anything about how rice, what the rice plant. But I guess it's, yeah, I guess they were putting it down to make people... get it off the... stem? I have no idea what rice is.
Annie:I think you've basically gotten it.
Tom:Yeah, I think you've got three people who know nothing more about rice here, other than it comes in the packet at the supermarket. I think you're gonna need to fill in the gaps here.
Annie:Okay, so Evelyn, our possibly real, possibly fake person who was driving in the rural road in the Philippines had been driving over rice. And the reason that the road was covered in rice is because Filipino farmers used the road to dry out their rice crops. Surprisingly, the action of driving over the rice doesn't seem to damage it, nor cause it to spread out. After a few days, the farm workers bag up the rice for storage. And the practice was banned in 1973, but it still happens regularly.
Geoff:So you could eat rice that's been driven over by rubber tyres? That's weird.
Jenny:Gotta wash your rice, Geoff.
Annie:Well, great, that is the answer. Next time you have rice, beware. Maybe it has been driven over many times.
Tom:A listener question now, then, sent in by Michael Nebesny.

The ceiling of Grand Central Terminal, New York, was to receive a 'star atlas' design for its 1913 opening. When the painters got the plans in their hands, they knew it would be an impressive sight. However, a commuter soon spotted a glaring error. What was it, and what was the cause?

One more time.

The ceiling of Grand Central Terminal, New York, was to receive a 'star atlas' design for its 1913 opening. When the painters got the plans in their hands, they knew it would be an impressive sight. However, a commuter soon spotted a glaring error. What was it, and what was the cause?
Geoff:I've gotta say it's a train station question, isn't it?
Jenny:It's a railway station question.
Tom:I believe, Geoff, it's a railway station question.
Geoff:To which I don't know the answer. So we're gonna have to work it through. I've been to Grand Central many times. Annie, I'm assuming you have.
Annie:I sure have. I have never looked up though.
Tom:Have you ever done the whispering gallery there?
Tom:There's an archway. I think it's in the basement that is a whispering gallery as good as the one at St Paul's. It's perfectly curved. But it works over a dome. So provided you've got someone to talk to, you can whisper so, so quietly at one corner of that, and it'll be heard like someone's whispering in your ear on the other side.
Jenny:That's so cool.
Annie:Ugh, next time I need to tell a secret, I'll go to Grand Central.
Geoff:So, did you say it was 19— 1913?
Geoff:They've got this design on the ceiling.
Jenny:Do they to this day have stars on the ceiling at Grand Central? I've never been.
Tom:I don't know.
Jenny:So this never got put up or...
Tom:Oh, it was definitely put up. I think it's still there, yes.
Geoff:You say stars. I'm thinking, well, is it anything to do with stars and stripes? Obviously, the USA flag.
Tom:Oh, like star atlas. I'm sure there's a formal, astronomical name for it, but star atlas, map of the sky.
Geoff:They'd done the wrong hemisphere, 'cause they're in the northern hemisphere, and they'd done the southern hemisphere or something?
Jenny:Was there a weird mistake? Has— Did someone make a conste— Did the artist make a constellation of their nan or something and try and sneak it in?
Tom:Oh, that would be lovely. Grandma Major just sat off in the corner as... You can see, there's the head, there's the body.
Jenny:There's the knitting needles.
Tom:Yep. Actually, that does sound like a constellation. We should have modern constellations.
Jenny:The three cowboys.
Tom:Yep, the iPhone.
Annie:Yeah, this one looks like Flappy Bird.
Tom:(laughs) Oh no, I like that idea. I like the idea that we just rename the constellations every century or so for whatever's currently there.
Jenny:There's Flappy Bird.
Annie:Yeah, instead of the Big Dipper, it's the selfie stick.
Tom:Yeah, yeah.
Geoff:(wheezes into cackle)
Tom:What's your star sign? Steam locomotive. We got ten years 'til we rename them again.
Jenny:In our current capitalist hellscape, they would probably all be owned by Coca-Cola and Samsung and—
Tom:Oh my god.
Annie:Oh no. Yeah, the Arena, it's gonna be like the—
Jenny:Ursa Major, brought to you by Amazon.
Annie:Oh no.
Tom:Oh, yeah, no, I can see— There you've got those stars there. They line up, they make the golden arches. Oh yeah, no, I take back the idea entirely. Let's stick with the zodiac.
Geoff:So they've made a mistake, which they obviously haven't noticed at the time.
Geoff:One person spotted it, or many, many people spotted it?
Tom:The story goes that someone told them. In practice, you don't need too much specialist knowledge. You don't have to be a professional astronomer to know this.
Geoff:Okay. And you haven't said, was it corrected? Is the mistake still there to this day?
Tom:It's still there, yes.
Tom:They gave an excuse as kind of, it's, "Yeah, we totally meant that."
Jenny:Does it have a rude word on it? Does it...
SFX:(Tom and Annie laugh)
Jenny:I'm sorry I keep bringing this up, but did it say 'fart' somewhere? It's gotta be right sometime.
Tom:(laughs) Again, I like the idea that the constellations joined up to spell letters.
Jenny:Or, you know, Ursa Major was called... some— I don't know. It had a misspelling that made it—
Jenny:(giggles) I can't think of a good pun that's a constellation and a family-friendly swear at the same time.
Tom:Pollux. That's the standard star map joke. Pollux.
Tom:It's the name of a star. Just, it's the name of a star.
Annie:It can't be south-up on accident, because in space, it's all space. Right? Is there a standard up direction?
Jenny:If you're looking from the station, it can be wrong, right? So yeah, if they've got it the wrong way 'round from what the stars are above the roof, that would be a mistake.
Tom:That was pretty much the mistake. But I'm gonna need a little bit more than that. Why would it have happened, and what exactly did they do to cause that? But you're right, big error. Something's in the wrong direction.
Jenny:Did they flip it, mirror it?
Tom:Yep. Yeah, they did. East was west. West was east. So why did that happen?
Annie:The only thing I can think of is that Manhattan, we say north and south, but really it's on an angle. But, I don't know if that would've resulted in mirroring it.
Jenny:Because the guy who designed it, designed it looking down. Instead of looking up.
Tom:You've basically got it, yeah. I'll give you that. The painters had the plans in their hands. They looked down at the plans.
Jenny:Oh no...!
Tom:They copied that looking up, and so mirrored the entire scene as they went by.
Tom:The excuse that station officials gave was that it was from God's point of view.
Jenny:I absolutely would've done the exact same thing. That, I totally would've gone, "Yep, that one goes there, that one goes there." Yeah.
Tom:So yes, the sky of Grand Central Terminal is flipped east-west because the painters held the plans in their hands and looked up at the sky.

Our last big question of the show, then. We go to Jenny. What do you have for us?
Jenny:So this listener question has been sent in by Emil.

In Münster, in Germany, there are three white concrete spheres, each 3.5 metres in diameter, in a grassy park. There should have been 13 more of them spread around randomly – and possibly more colourful, too. What are they representing?

So I'll read it again.

In Münster, in Germany, there are three white concrete spheres, each 3.5 metres in diameter, in a grassy park. There should have been 13 more of them spread around randomly – and possibly more colourful, too. What were they representing?
Annie:Bombs from World War II.
Jenny:Ooh, these are all good answers. But no, not quite.
Tom:And they're all wrong.
SFX:(group laughing)
Tom:I was trying to work out which atom had three things in its nucleus and 13 things— 13 electrons spinning around it. But I don't think there's an atom that has three and 13.
Geoff:Hang on. How many balls are there in pool and snooker? Is it a giant game of billiards or something?
Jenny:It is a giant billiards game, yeah. (laughs)
Geoff:Have I just got it?!
Jenny:Hole in one, to mix our metaphors.
Geoff:(cackles and wheezes) What?
Jenny:It is a giant pool game. So, yeah, in pool, there are 16 balls.
Tom:The cue ball. I forgot the cue ball.
Jenny:You forgot the cue ball?
Geoff:I don't know how I did that.
Jenny:Well done, Geoff. That was fantastic, yeah.
Geoff:No, but there's people on the internet now going, "How did he get that so—" I just, what? That's weird.
Jenny:This is an artwork by an American artist called I believe, Claes[class] Oldenburg, Claes[clays] Oldenburg. And he often makes sculptures of larger-than-life things. He has a giant ice cream cone that's on top of a building. And this one was supposed to be giant billiards or giant pool balls. But they ran outta money. And so there are only three, and they're not coloured.
Geoff:Oh, the pool balls are coloured. Yeah, and in billiards, there's only two reds and a white. Isn't there only three balls? Yeah, yeah. I just, I didn't know it. I was just workshopping it in my own head. It sounds like a game.
Tom:It's pool, not billiards, so it would've been stripes and spots. It's the bright-coloured ones.
Jenny:Yeah, you're quite right to correct me. It's pool rather than billards. I actually had to look this up while sort of researching this question. Because I'm familiar with snooker, which has I think 22 balls. And I was shocked, shocked to learn that eight-ball pool has 16 balls.
Geoff:'Cause eight each, yeah.
Tom:It's not eight each, it's seven each plus the cube ball, plus the eight ball.
Jenny:It's just 'cause the eight ball is the special one. That's why it's called eight-ball pool.
Tom:Yeah, either team can pot that. Either team? It's not a team sport, Tom. You've played— I mean, it is when you're playing it in a bar with ten people, but...
Jenny:Yeah, so these balls are supposed to be giant pool balls made by the artist Claes Oldenburg to represent a huge pool game.
Tom:Which brings us to the question I asked right at the start.

Which key can often be seen in-between F and G on a keyboard?

I hate this question.
Tom:I really, really hate it because I didn't get this, and I have just seen on the call we're on, three people put their hands up who've clearly got the trick that I didn't. All together now, One, two, three.
Jenny:F sharp.
Geoff:F sharp?
Tom:F sharp. We are talking about a musical keyboard.
Jenny:Did everyone else do the same thing I did, when he read out the question, immediately looked down at the keyboard in front of us?
Tom:That was meant to be the trick.
Geoff:I looked at the keyboard behind me that you can see in my room back here.
Tom:(chuckles) What did you have, Annie?
Annie:I confess I was completely wrong. I thought it was the little red ThinkPad... I think they call it the little nipple or something. So I was totally wrong.
Tom:There are many names for it, depending on how rude you want to be, yes. But no, it's F sharp. Thank you very much to all our players. Where can people find you? What's going on in your lives? We'll start with Geoff this time.
Geoff:Yeah, I run a YouTube channel in my name, Geoff Marshall. I do sort of travel and transport videos, visiting railway stations, and just travelling around the world and random places. Look me up, Geoff Marshall. Also on Twitter as GeoffTech.
Tom:And Jenny.
Jenny:Hi, I'm @JDraperLondon on TikTok and YouTube. You can find me doing videos about London history and British history.
Tom:And Annie.
Annie:I'm @depthsofwikipedia on Instagram and Twitter and TikTok. And, my name is Annie and I'm on Substack too.
Tom:And if you wanna know more about this show or send in a listener question yourself, you can do that at We are at @lateralcast on pretty much everything, and you can find video highlights every week at

With that, thank you very much to Annie Rauwerda.
Annie:Yay, thank you!
Tom:To J. Draper.
Jenny:Thank you so much.
Tom:And to Geoff Marshall.
Geoff:Thanks, Tom. Thanks, everyone.
Tom:My name's Tom Scott, and that's been Lateral.
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