Lateral with Tom Scott

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

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Episode 47: Apples for General Lee?

Published 1st September, 2023

Caroline Roper, Ella Hubber and Tom Lum from 'Let's Learn Everything' face questions about condiment condition, reverse roaming and strobing satellites.

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: Vasco Casimiro. FORMAT: Pad 26 Limited/Labyrinth Games Ltd. EXECUTIVE PRODUCERS: David Bodycombe and Tom Scott.


Transcription by Caption+

Tom Scott:Lightning strikes and the moon lights up briefly. What 1998 film are you watching?

The answer to that at the end of the show. My name's Tom Scott, and this is Lateral.

Returning to the show, we have three guests all from the podcast Let's Learn Everything. And I really hope they have learned everything, because I can guarantee that some of everything is coming up in the questions today. It was beautiful chaos last time, so...
Tom Lum:(laughs)
Tom Scott:To plug the podcast this time, let's go to Ella first. Tell us about the show.
Ella:We are the three co-hosts of Let's Learn Everything. It is mostly a science podcast, where we cover a big main science topic, and we ask a little science question, but we also cover miscellaneous stuff. And we just have a real good old, fun time of it.
Tom Lum:Yeah, what was the phrase you just used, Tom? We gotta put that on the...
SFX:(group laughing)
Tom Lum:That's real good.
Ella:Beautiful chaos.
Tom Lum:Chaos, what was...
Tom Scott:Beautiful chaos, I think is what I said. And on that note, having not been introduced yet, Tom Lum!
Tom Lum:Hello, hello!
Tom Scott:How was it last time on the show? Were you— This is your second episode. How are you feeling?
Tom Lum:Feeling good, I... I feel good to rely on my co-hosts, who are all very smart. I feel like I gotta really push through this time. I feel like Ella really carried us. I gotta show...
Ella:I did carry you guys.
Tom Scott:Oh, oh!
SFX:(Caroline and Tom Lum laugh)
Caroline:Ella is not feeling competitive at all with this.
Tom Scott:This has happened twice recently, where someone has accidentally set themselves up as the villain of the episode.
Tom Lum:(laughs uproariously)
Caroline:Us three. We're teaming up against Ella, right?
Tom Lum:Well, we're gonna do— It's good, this is good for the episode. We'll do one take. The first one is cooperative, and this one is competitive.
SFX:(both laughing heartily)
Tom Scott:And the last one of the trio, Caroline Roper.
Tom Lum:Woo!
Caroline:Woo! The least competitive of the three.
Tom Scott:How did you find it last time?
Caroline:I had a lovely time. I really enjoyed... watching Ella answer all of the questions. So I feel like this time...
Tom Lum:(laughs uproariously)
Caroline:I've gotta really step it up, you know? (giggles)
Ella:I liked that too, Caroline.
Tom Lum:(wheezes)
Tom Scott:For those of you listening for the first time, Lateral is like trying to solve a Rubik's cube while riding a unicycle on a tightrope. But that makes it sound way too easy. So I'm gonna start you off with the first question, which is:

Why might a certain type of musician need a cup of rice every few years?

I'll say that again.

Why might a certain type of musician need a cup of rice every few years?
Caroline:Ooh, okay. I'm gonna stay quiet for a second.
Ella:I would— I mean, if it's rice-based, then I have to assume it's something to do with... I mean, they're not eating it every few years. That would be a terrible diet.
Tom Lum:Right, that would be stupid. Who would think that? That would be ridiculous if someone... if one of your co-hosts thought that.
Caroline:Oh! Oh, you sweet, sweet thing, Tom.
Tom Lum:Every classically trained soprano knows. You gotta, every few years, have one bowl of rice.
Caroline:You're only allowed one cup of rice.
Tom Lum:Uh-huh, yeah, Caroline, yeah.
Tom Lum:I will say also quickly, Tom, I have solved a Rubik's cube on a unicycle once. Not on a tightrope. This is harder.
SFX:(group laughing)
Caroline:Are they replacing an element of their musical instrument?
Tom Lum:Ooh!
Tom Scott:No, they're not.
Ella:No, I was gonna say, as someone who's dropped my phone in many bodies of water.
Caroline:Oh yeah.
Ella:Including the toilet... I know the effectiveness of rice to draw out the water.
Tom Lum:And I know moisture is very important for guitars and stuff like that. You have to have proper humidity for the wood. So my brain goes to that. But, also what's interesting is, every few years?
Caroline:And it's also only one cup of rice. I feel like if you're trying to dry out a large musical instrument, yeah.
Ella:Fill up the entire guitar with—
Caroline:(laughs) Yeah! Is it to do with retuning... or re-tightening an instrument or something? I'm thinking about like how rice might rattle on a drum if it's not tightened properly?
Tom Lum:Ooh.
Ella:Is it that? I would've thought it was something that you blow into, like a woodwind instrument.
Ella:Because that... All your saliva is getting into the instrument.
Caroline:Oh, that's a lovely thing too.
Tom Lum:That is true. Lots of brass instruments do have a spit valve. Which I also... That is contentious apparently. A lot of people like to be like, "No, it's a condensation valve!" But it's also, it's a spit valve.
Caroline:We have a piece of equipment at work, small tangent, where you blow into a tube, and then cornflour comes out at the top, and you set it on fire and it makes a cool, huge... And we recently cleaned out the tube.
Tom Scott:Ooh.
Ella:Oh no.
Caroline:Yeah, I don't— It was so bad.
Tom Lum:(stifles giggle)
Caroline:I don't think rice could've saved it, to be honest.
SFX:(both laughing heartily)
Tom Scott:You're almost along the right lines there. Although I will say, why are you blowing into it? Use a bellows.
Tom Lum:(laughs)
Caroline:You think museums in London are gonna provide us that sort of equipment? No! (laughs)
Tom Scott:Okay, you make a good point. No, I've seen that done with some explosive powder once, and it's like, yeah, it's not gonna get into your mouth. We're gonna use a bellows, but... Okay, fine, cornflour, you can.
Tom Lum:Museum employees, you can.
Caroline:Yeah, you can do what you want with them.
Tom Scott:Museum employees, graduate students. They're all kind of the...
Tom Scott:The more disposable parts of academia. I have heard a professor say that once. He's, he— I forget what testing it was, but he's like, "Yeah, we use graduate students. They're mostly disposable." I'm like, I don't think you should've said that on camera, but it's going in the final video.
SFX:(guests laughing heartily)
Ella:So did we establish what instrument it was, or will that give too much away?
Tom Scott:Honestly, you've said most of the words that are in the answer.
Tom Lum:We've also said a lot of words.
Tom Scott:I mean, that is true.
Tom Lum:It was the cornflour bellows.
Ella:Cornflour bellows?
Tom Lum:Cornflour fire instrument.
Ella:The? The.
Tom Lum:The? Is 'the' in there?
Tom Lum:A... rice.
Tom Lum:Every few years, a cup of rice. Is it for drying out? That's my main thing for that.
Tom Lum:Rattling is a thing that—
Tom Scott:Not every few years. It's some— but it's something that accumulates dust and dirt and mildew... A bit more slower than a wind instrument with a spit valve would.
Caroline:Oh, so are you putting the rice into the instrument, and then shaking it to knock dirt out?
Tom Lum:Ooh. Sort of like how you clean stuff with salt. Like an abrasive maybe?
Caroline:You know how I took the mickey out of Tom earlier for saying that you put it into a guitar or something? Is it along those lines?
Tom Scott:It's exactly along those lines, yes.
Caroline:(laughs triumphantly)
Tom Lum:You put rice in the guitar?
Tom Scott:It's an old fashioned way to clean a guitar. You put rice into the sound hole, you tape it up, you spend a long time shaking it 'round, and it will just scrape and scratch every little bit of that wood. Not enough to damage it. Enough to take off the little bits of dust and mildew that you can't easily get out.
Caroline:That's kind of clever.
Tom Lum:I will say, you know what's an absolute nightmare? Getting all that rice out though.
SFX:(Tom Scott and Caroline laugh)
Tom Lum:You know you're rattling for the next couple of weeks. Boy, howdy. If you've ever lost a pick in a guitar, you know that this is not...
Tom Scott:As always, each of our guests has brought a question along too. So this time, we're gonna start with Tom. Whenever you're ready.
Tom Lum:Alright.

Outside the historic University Chapel in Lexington, Virginia, a gravestone inscribed "General Robert E. Lee" often has apples placed around it. Why?

I'll read that again.

Outside the historic University Chapel in Lexington, Virginia, a gravestone inscribed "General Robert E. Lee" often has apples placed around it. Why?
Caroline:Okay, is he thought to be a ghost, but he was also a doctor in real life? So an apple a day keeps the doctor away.
Ella:Yes. Very good.
Tom Scott:Yes. I love it. I wondered where you were going with that and...
Tom Lum:Yeah.
Caroline:(laughs heartily)
Ella:It's funny you're asking this to the three British people. Who have no—
Tom Lum:Oh yeah.
Ella:Because I think General Lee is quite a famous, if I'm...
Tom Lum:Yeah, his name.
Ella:Civil War guy.
Tom Scott:I think he's the Confederate leader.
Tom Lum:Yes.
Tom Scott:I think he's one of the Confederate leaders. So the losers in the Civil War.
Ella:The losers, yeah.
SFX:(Caroline and Tom Lum laugh)
Ella:So he's... Virginia, this is... Was this one of the... Is Virginia one of the states that was the... bad states?
SFX:(group laughing)
Ella:The losers.
Tom Scott:Oh wow. Okay. We've got three Brits trying to tiptoe around everything to do with the American Civil War here.
Tom Lum:Even worse than that, Tom, you have an American who is totally okay with telling you guys wrong information because it would be funny.
SFX:(others laughing)
Tom Lum:Virginia is actually, it's one of the last states, it's near Alaska. It was...
SFX:(others laughing)
Tom Scott:Virginia, if I remember, was one of the original colonies. So it's Northeast.
Tom Lum:Mhm.
Tom Scott:I don't know actually which side it was on in the Civil War.
Tom Lum:Not super relevant.
Tom Scott:Okay.
Tom Lum:Yeah, I think that that might be one of the— I could be wrong that that's also part of the reason why there is the West Virginia difference, is because it was along that line. So it is sort of on the border between the hard north and hard south. But that is not super relevant to this question.
Ella:Okay, because I was wondering if it was like if he was... one of the bad guys and then, but he was buried in the wrong— a different state. And it would be like a warding off evil thing, you know?
Tom Lum:(laughs heartily)
Caroline:Ooh, yeah.
Tom Lum:An apple a day keeps Robert E. Lee away.
Ella:He really liked apples?
Caroline:Is it some weird sign of respect for him?
Ella:Sign of disrespect.
Tom Lum:It is a sign of respect.
Tom Scott:Oh.
Tom Lum:I love this. This is a great question.
Tom Scott:'Cause Robert E. Lee is not getting much respect, to be honest.
Tom Scott:And probably shouldn't be. So why are they leaving apples? Wait a minute. You said in the question... Did you say it was his grave?
Tom Scott:Or did you say it was a gravestone with his name on it?
Tom Lum:Very interesting question, Tom.
Tom Scott:Okay.
Tom Lum:I did say a gravestone inscribed "General Robert E. Lee" often has apples placed around it.
Ella:It wasn't his gravestone, it was someone else's.
Tom Scott:Or it's just celebrating the fact that he died?
Caroline:Or is it...
Tom Lum:(laughs uproariously)
Ella:(chuckles snidely)
Caroline:Is it just... part of... him? Like a hand?
Tom Lum:No.
Caroline:No, okay.
Ella:It's not his grave.
Caroline:It's someone else's.
Tom Lum:Correct.
Caroline:Is he actually buried under an apple tree and then sometimes people bring him apples?
Tom Lum:That's interesting. From the tree? No, no, no. I would focus a bit more on the thinking about the apples. Who, if it's a sign of respect, who would love... an apple as a sign of respect?
Ella:Horse. It's his horse!
Tom Lum:Got it.
Caroline:Oh my goodness!
Tom Lum:The grave says, "Traveller, horse of Gen. Robert E. Lee".
Tom Scott:Oh!
Tom Lum:Visitors leave apples as an offering to Traveller, which is sweet.
Caroline:Oh my goodness!
Tom Scott:(laughs)
Ella:That's okay. That's okay. You can offer apples to his horse.
Ella:That's nice.
Caroline:We're not respecting him, we're respecting his horse.
Tom Lum:There are some notes here, and it says, the Confederate general Robert E. Lee bought his horse Traveller in 1861, and many paintings and statues depict them both together. After his skeleton was put on display for many decades...
Tom Scott:What?
Tom Lum:Traveller was buried in 1971 outside the family chapel where Lee himself is buried. Visitors leave offering such as apples and carrots for the horse.
Tom Scott:Wait, wait. General Lee's skeleton was on display? Or Traveller's skeleton?
Tom Lum:No, no!
Tom Scott:Okay.
Tom Lum:No, the horse.
Tom Scott:Because there was a—
Tom Lum:Marginally better, but still—
Tom Scott:'Cause that reference could have gone a couple places there.
Tom Lum:Mhm, there was a little garden path there. Yeah. (laughs)
Caroline:I don't know. I feel like the horse deserves more respect than that.
Tom Scott:(laughs)
Tom Lum:This is also a sweet note. The brick stable built for Traveller in 1869 still stands, and by tradition, the doors are left open so that Traveller's spirit can roam freely.
Tom Lum:"Pick up those apples."
Tom Scott:(chuckles)
Caroline:That's so nice.
Ella:Quite sweet.
Tom Scott:Alright, next one's from me. Good luck.

Collette adores playing a particular table game at her beloved Paris casino. If she went to a different casino in Paris and betted the same way, her losses would only be half as bad over the long term. Even so, her decision to play at the first casino is financially rational. Why?

And one more time.

Colette adores playing a particular table game at her beloved Paris casino. If she went to a different casino in Paris and betted the same way, her losses would be only half as bad over the long term. Even so, her decision to play at the first casino is financially rational. Why?
Ella:If this is a probability based question, I'm signing out. I don't do maths, and I won't do it for you.
Tom Lum:It's my time to shine! Alright, so let's get some T distributions up, baby! Let's do this.
SFX:(others laughing)
Tom Lum:So, it's one casino in Paris. 'Cause you said if she went to another one in— a different one still in Paris, it would be different. So it's just the one. I was worried it might be a currency thing. It still might be, but it's a table game. Her odds— And there's two parts to it, 'cause one is that her odds would be better. But the other is that it's still financially sound to do this.
Tom Lum:Part of me wonders at the last half, if it's her casino and she's trying to be like, "Oh guys, it's great. I'm having a great time actually. It's super cool that I lose a lot of money." And then...
Tom Scott:Yeah, the question does say 'financially rational'. By gambling standards. If you're gonna gamble...
Tom Lum:Right.
Tom Scott:If you're gonna accept that house edge... then the losses will only be half as bad at the other casino.
Tom Lum:Half is a lot.
Ella:But the wins will be more in the current casino then. If it's financially—
Caroline:Well, is it that it's not necessarily that the wins would be... better where she currently is, but she's less likely to get pickpocketed or something like that?
Tom Lum:Ooh, or a tariff of some kind.
Tom Lum:That's interesting. I don't know how hard the 50% number is. If we should be mapping that out. If it's like a... It's like the person at the roulette table is colorblind, and so they can't tell which one is which. Also, I don't know if which table game matters. Okay, oh, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait. Can I... huge shot in the dark?
Tom Scott:Yeah, go for it, go for it.
Tom Lum:Does the time period in Paris matter? Because part of me wonders if this is like a... they play with a card without the king and the queen, like to try to be...
Ella:Oh, that would be so good!
Tom Lum:Wouldn't that be very cool? They take them out, and so maybe that affects the probability?
Tom Scott:This is modern day.
Ella:They still don't play with the king and the queen in Paris.
Tom Lum:Yeah, yeah. They still shoulder a grudge, yeah.
Ella:Yeah, does the type of game matter?
Tom Scott:Very much so. There are two tricks to this question.
Ella:Okay, so, I don't know what—
Tom Scott:Unlock one, you'll unlock the other easily. But there's a trick in the wording.
Tom Lum:So we got roulette. We got blackjack. We got poker.
Ella:I don't think it's cheating if we just list all of them.
Caroline:Yeah. (laughs)
Tom Lum:(belly laughs)
Ella:Possible games you could play.
Caroline:Wait to see if Tom can hold a poker face or not when we say that correctly.
Tom Scott:No, I can't.
Tom Lum:Oh yeah.
Tom Scott:I really can't.
SFX:(guests laughing)
Tom Scott:I have played one poker game for money in my life, and it was in Vegas. And I... It was a big tournament. I got through to like the second round.
Tom Lum:What?
Tom Scott:And that was— of like five. And it was purely 'cause I didn't know what I was doing, and played conservatively. I just didn't bet all that much. So all the people who were in like, "Oh yeah, no, put a big bet down!" just went out early. And so I got through to the second round, where there were people who were actually good at poker, and I lost very quickly and completely.
Tom Lum:Ah! Wow, that's—
Tom Scott:But I did it as a tournament, 'cause there's one buy-in, that's all you can possibly lose. And probability is, you'll lose it. But it's not like you can keep adding more money and keep losing or anything like that. I'll take the hit.
Tom Lum:That's also really interesting, the skill and probability of... of... those kind of gambling games is very interesting. We did a topic on, or a question about games that computers can beat humans at. And there are poker AIs that can do statistically better than humans, based on things like rational thinking when other people are not, and other things like that, which is very interesting. And imitating the behaviors of bluffing and stuff like that.
Tom Scott:Yeah, apparently a lot of the lower-level players in online poker are bots now. Because it's good enough.
Tom Lum:Really?
Tom Scott:That you can now have something not just send the commands, but also fake up the mouse movements, make it look like a human. That's...
Tom Lum:Ah.
Tom Scott:And they don't win against professionals. But you don't need to. You just need a table with more suckers than you.
Tom Lum:That's wild.
Tom Scott:This question, however, is not about poker.
Tom Lum:(laughs uproariously)
Tom Scott:Not about poker.
Caroline:(laughs heartily)
Tom Scott:It is roulette. It is absolutely roulette.
Tom Lum:Ooh.
Tom Scott:Yeah. I think you kind of intuited that, 'cause you made a couple of roulette references earlier on, despite not knowing the game and... yeah, it's roulette.
Ella:My mind immediately went to roulette, 'cause it is a 50-50 odd game.
Caroline:Yeah, yeah.
Ella:Generally, right? If you do black or red.
Ella:So... This— The ball— There's two balls in this roulette wheel. There's three balls. You get to throw a handful of balls onto the roulette wheel.
Tom Lum:It's an honor system roulette game. where you just kinda go,
Tom Scott:(laughs)
Tom Lum:"I was that, yeah. Trust me."
SFX:(Caroline and Ella laugh)
Ella:Yeah, that's, I was thinking that.
Tom Lum:(wheezes) Something different with the numbers? With the colors?
Ella:There's— Oh, numbers.
Tom Lum:The numbers.
Ella:Oh. Oh, there are fewer numbers?
Tom Scott:There are. There are fewer numbers on the other roulette wheel.
Ella:And there's a reason for this.
Tom Scott:There is.
Tom Lum:And the reason is...!
Tom Scott:And there's a trick in the question, so...
Tom Scott:I'm gonna give you the question one more time here. Colette adores playing roulette at her beloved Paris casino. If she went to a different casino in Paris and betted the same way, her losses would be only half as bad. Why is she still going to that first Paris casino?
Ella:Now, there's less numbers at the one she plays on.
Tom Scott:Which number gives the house its edge? What can't you bet on?
Ella:21? I don't know what—
Tom Scott:Oh, we've got three people who've never played roulette. Alright.
Tom Lum:(laughs)
Caroline:That's what we're learning here, isn't it, yeah.
Ella:I've never played roulette before, or...
Caroline:No, me neither.
Ella:Know anything about it.
Caroline:Is it zero?
Tom Scott:Yeah.
Tom Scott:And on some tables, it's zero and zero-zero. They have two on there... that the house wins all the time. It is possible to bet on the zero, but it's excluded from red and black and things like that.
Caroline:Oh, okay.
Tom Scott:It's a green number.
Tom Lum:Gotcha, gotcha. Does she say something tricky? Like she just like muffled, she's like, "Zeroze..." and then they call it, and she's like, "No, I said zero-zero actually."
Tom Scott:No, but there's something very tricky in that question.
Caroline:You said her beloved Paris Casino. Is that the name of the casino?
Tom Scott:That is the name of the casino. It is the Paris Casino in Las Vegas.
SFX:(Ella and Caroline gasp)
Tom Scott:With the replica of the Eiffel Tower. And the difference is that American roulette wheels have the two zeroes on them.
Tom Lum:Oh god!
Tom Lum:That's so—!
Caroline:That's so tricky!
Tom Scott:Yeah.
SFX:(Caroline and Tom Lum clamour)
Tom Lum:Oh, I'm thinking back to that. So that was the first thing I said. Tom, you are a liar. You have a great poker face because you watched me walk straight into that point head-first and be like, "Hmm, so it's two of them in Paris." And establish that right away.
Tom Scott:Yeah, I was— The thing is, if I'd have said anything at that point, it would've given the whole game away.
Caroline:Whole thing away.
Tom Scott:If she went to another casino in Paris, yes, the house edge would be 2.7% instead of 5.26%. But, she'd have to travel to Paris.
Tom Lum:And is that the financial difference?
Tom Scott:And that's the financial difference.
Tom Lum:(shouts) You just have to play for a plane ticket! Oh my god. That's amazing.
Tom Scott:That is the most tricksy question we've had on here in a long time.
Tom Lum:There's like three tricks in that!
Tom Scott:I feel like I should apologise for that one.
SFX:(Caroline and Tom Lum laugh)
Ella:No, no.
Tom Scott:We will go to Caroline for the next question. Over to you.

The humorous book Couplehood by Paul Reiser begins on page 145 and continues from there. It's not a mistake – the author claims it's a win-win situation. How?

I'll say it again.

The humorous book Couplehood by Paul Reiser begins on page 145 and continues from there. It's not a mistake – the author claims it's a win-win situation. How?
Tom Lum:What this makes me think of is the— Is it the idea that... you're starting this relationship midway through? 'Cause I always think about... I think that there might have been a movie that did this, where it's like, you know, the whole rom-com does it until they actually are in a relationship, and then it just like credits ends. But it's like, hey, what happens after that? So part of me is like, maybe this is implying that—
Ella:Yeah, like how you skip the awkward start of the relationship.
Tom Lum:Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. And now you're like, you're starting again, starting a new thing. Is that not it, Caroline?
Tom Scott:I'm trying to think of any other books that have done weird page numbering things. I'm stuck on... No, that was— Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time was chapter numbers. There's, I'm sure, a couple of the Thursday Next books have done meta-textual stuff, but I can't think of anything that just starts at 145.
Tom Lum:One of my favorite stories that a previous guest on the show, Cleo Abram. We had... I was doing a live with her, and she was telling me a story of how she read the book Snowpiercer. I believe it was Snowpiercer, or maybe it was Snow Crash, and...
Tom Scott:Those are two very different books. Was it about a train, or was it about a hacker?
Tom Lum:I think it was Snow Crash. And so, she got a misprint though, where the pages were out of order, but she thought that was part of the gimmick.
Tom Lum:And so she was like, "Oh, I get it. It's like, oh, that's cool. I'm the hacker. I have to figure it out." It took her 20 pages to do this, and I could not believe that she...
Ella:Ah, very good.
Tom Lum:But—
Ella:Is it—
Caroline:There is nothing tricky happening in this book. There are no blank pages or anything. After the introduction, the first page is number 145.
Ella:Did he write it with his wife? And they couldn't decide on where to stop the book. So...
SFX:(group wheezing)
Ella:They settled for the middle.
Tom Lum:"We'll split the difference, happy?!"
Tom Scott:Wait, is the— Is it the second book in the series, and pages 1 – 144 are the previous book? Where it's not on couplehood. It's on trying to find a partner.
Tom Lum:Singlehood.
Caroline:(giggles) No, it's not anything like that.
Tom Lum:Is 145 a specific number?
Ella:Oh yeah. Is it meaningful? Is it a date or a—
Tom Lum:Yeah.
Tom Lum:No, it isn't? It's just like a middle of the book. 'Cause it feels like it's just a middle of the book number.
Tom Scott:Because things I've written down in front of me. I've written 12² + 1, and I've written ADE
Tom Lum:Oh, Tom! (sobs)
Tom Scott:Because I've been translating it into letters or anything like that. No, okay, fine. It's an arbitrary number. Great, wonderful.
Tom Lum:(hyena-laughs)
Ella:Oh, so in Roman numerals, it doesn't say anything?
Tom Scott:Nope. No.
Tom Scott:I hadn't done Roman numerals.
Tom Lum:Oh my god. I love your codex brain.
SFX:(Caroline and Ella laugh)
Tom Lum:That's so funny.
Ella:Is the number meaningful in for love or relationships?
Ella:The number isn't meaningful. There isn't a previous book.
Tom Lum:Starts in the middle of the book. It's like the book is... And the numbers go up, right?
Caroline:Yeah. They go up in a normal order from that.
Tom Lum:It's a comedy book, so I imagine— or it sounds like—
Caroline:It is a humourous book, yeah.
Tom Lum:It's a humorous book. So I imagine it's gonna be like... maybe it's like you throw away the first half, 'cause it's normally not very good. Is it a metaphor about relationships?
Caroline:It's not even that complicated.
Tom Scott:(laughs)
Ella:It's just a misprint.
Caroline:No, it's not a misprint.
Tom Lum:Did they want to just seem like they had a lot more pages than they thought?
Caroline:Oh wait, Tom, say that again.
Tom Lum:They just wanted to make the pages seem like it was like a 300-page book, when it was actually like 150 page?
Ella:They got commissioned to write a longer book, and they, but they didn't produce it, so they had to lie and say that it had more?
Caroline:It wasn't necessarily for such... nefarious reasons.
Tom Lum:Did they want it to end on page 420 or something funny?
Caroline:No. (laughs)
Ella:So it could be sold as a novel, and not a short story or something?
Caroline:It's so the author can claim to have written a longer book. It is a win-win situation though. So how do you think
Tom Lum:Yeah, that's interesting.
Caroline:...the reader could benefit from this?
Ella:They can say they've read a longer book. Like, that's it.
Tom Scott:(laughs)
Caroline:Pretty much, yeah. (laughs)
Tom Lum:Just to make the book seem more erudite, that you're reading, and you're halfway through, and you're like, "Oh, they're on page 264."
Caroline:Yeah, literally, that's what it is. So, Reiser claims that the reader can start reading for two minutes and truthfully say, "I'm on 151, and it's really flying. It just sails, baby." (giggles)
Tom Lum:Oh my god!
Caroline:He continued on to say, "You'll feel like you're accomplishing something. And I get credit for writing a bigger book. Everybody wins, and it costs us nothing."
Tom Lum:Dang it, that's...
SFX:(both laughing)
Tom Lum:I'm also surprised people haven't done that before. That's a great idea.
Tom Lum:Honestly.
Tom Scott:Next one's from me. Good luck, folks.

[Seaman] Nathan Winn is a tour guide working in Virginia. Interviewed in 2015, he says that – on a typical day – he walks about five miles... backwards. Why?

One more time.

[Seaman] Nathan Winn is a tour guide working in Virginia. Interviewed in 2015, he says that – on a typical day – he walks about five miles... backwards. Why?
Caroline:Facing the crowd.
Ella:Yeah, surely. You just walk backwards when you're talking to the...
Tom Lum:Yeah.
Caroline:If that's not it, I'm gonna be really angry.
Tom Scott:Well... yes. He has to face the crowd. But tour guides don't usually have to do that all the time. Like for five miles? Like, you'd turn around. You'd have the crowd follow you. You'd go to the next spot. No, this is continuous. He is always walking backwards during his tours.
Tom Lum:Now, Tom, is this actually Virginia? Or is this the Virginia Casino in Las Vegas?
SFX:(group laughing)
Tom Scott:I didn't know there was a Virginia Casino in Vegas.
Tom Lum:Yeah, no, it's great, and they have a giant version of the Robert E. Lee memorial out there.
Tom Scott:Oh, that's why. We got two Virginia questions in this show. Yeah.
Tom Lum:(laughs)
Tom Scott:I was wondering what landmark you were going to go to for Virginia.
Tom Lum:Obviously, it's the apple grave. Everyone knows. Apple horse grave.
Tom Scott:Yeah, it's the horse grave. Everyone knows that.
Ella:Tom Lumperson.
Tom Lum:Mhm?
Ella:Do you know anything about what is in Virginia that is interesting?
Tom Lum:♪ West Virginia, Mountain mama ♪
Tom Lum:♪ Take me home, country roads ♪
Tom Scott:That's West Virginia.
Tom Lum:Yeah, it is.
Caroline:(laughs heartily)
Ella:You know, are they famous, you know, for their constantly backwards-moving travelators? And so he always has to be walking... In the wrong direction?
Caroline:Is it him that's walking, or is he riding something?
Tom Scott:He is walking, yeah.
Caroline:He is walking, okay.
Tom Scott:And you are most of the way there. There is a landmark in Virginia. And if you knew what that was, the rest of the question would solve itself. There is a reason why this tour guide has to walk backwards.
Tom Lum:Oh, really? It's a Virginia landmark.
Caroline:If he looks at it, will he turn to stone? Like Medusa?
Tom Scott:(chuckles) Yeah the Medusa site in Virginia.
Tom Lum:The old Virginia myth, yeah.
Caroline:It's just as famous as the apple horse grave.
Tom Scott:Yeah, yeah.
Caroline:Right? Duh.
Ella:Is he restricted to walking backwards?
Caroline:Is he not allowed to look at it for some reason? Based on gender or something like that?
Ella:Oh, is religious reasons he doesn't look at it?
Tom Scott:No, you got it early. It's to keep an eye on the crowd.
Ella:Oh, 'cause they're gonna do something.
Caroline:Are they gonna pinch something?
Tom Lum:Steal? Is this Charlie and the Chocolate Factory ?
Tom Scott:(chortles) Oh.
Tom Lum:Is this Willy Wonka? He's like, "You can't fool me again! I lost so many kids last time."
Caroline:Or is it to stop people from leaving things behind?
Ella:Oh yeah, it's like a national park and they...
Tom Scott:It is all of these reasons. I mean, not the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory one.
Tom Scott:And to be fair... if you set Charlie and the Chocolate Factory here, it would be genuinely awful in so many ways. And I will come back to that when you solve where it is, 'cause I wanna drill down on that a little.
Tom Lum:Oh, I can't wait. Oh, I can't. Is it a dangerous place, like a mining facility or something like that?
Ella:If it's to steal— stop people from getting lost or from stealing... or then—
Caroline:And to stop people from putting things there.
Tom Lum:Is it near the Capitol maybe? Is it related to DC?
Tom Scott:Yeah, Virginia is right next to Washington, DC.
Tom Lum:Is it like the tour of the White House?
Ella:The Oval Office, yeah.
Tom Scott:Yeah, now you're getting very close now. I think it might have to be Tom the American that puts the final piece in here. But you're in the right area. Physically, metaphorically. He's keeping an eye on the crowd as they go 'round this site.
Ella:Metaphorically an eye?
Ella:A metaphorical eye.
Tom Lum:What in DC would make a horrible Charlie and the Chocolate Factory ?
Ella:Also, when I asked you, Tom, if anything was in Virginia, you could have said Washington.
Tom Scott:Whoa, Washington's not in Virginia. Washington is not a state. There are the 50 states, and then there is Washington, DC separate. Absolutely not a state.
Ella:Oh, is it? I really—
Tom Lum:And I also associate it more with Maryland a little bit. 'Cause it's sort of in the— on the border between the two, I believe. Right, Maryland and Virginia?
Tom Scott:Yeah, so this is not in DC. So it can't be the White House. Can't be the Capitol building.
Tom Scott:It's just over the Potomac River.
Tom Lum:It's a monument of some kind? It's not the graveyard, is it?
Tom Scott:It's very much a restricted site.
Tom Lum:The Pentagon?
Tom Scott:Yes, it's the Pentagon.
Tom Lum:Yes!
Tom Scott:He is a tour guide at the Pentagon. Which is why that would make a terrible Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
Tom Lum:Oh, yep, uh-huh, yeah, no!
Tom Scott:The whole Department of Defense war weapons. That's just a really bad Charlie and the chocolate Factory , that is.
Tom Lum:(hyena-laughs)
Tom Scott:Yep, [Seaman] Nathan Winn, interviewed in 2015. Genuine name, genuine tour guide. Tour guides at the Pentagon have to walk backwards, so they can keep all their guests in vision at all times, because there are a lot of secret areas around there.
Ella:So it's like a rule, they have to do it then.
Tom Scott:Yeah.
Ella:That's crazy.
Caroline:I don't think I can walk backwards for more than a minute. That is such a skill.
Ella:Their calves must be absolutely hench.
Caroline:Oh my goodness, yeah.
Tom Lum:I hear they also do that at the Pentagon Casino in Las Vegas. For authenticity.
Tom Scott:You are actually allowed to take photos during the tour. It's just that they keep an eye on you, in case you are taking a photo off through the doors that you might be trying to poke your head through.
Tom Lum:(wheezes)
Tom Scott:There is one tour route.
Caroline:Oh my goodness.
Tom Scott:And you are only allowed to go on that tour route.
Tom Lum:This is so stressful, I cannot imagine.
Tom Scott:Ella, we haven't had your question yet. So whenever you're ready, go for it.
Ella:Yes, so thanks to Vasco Casimiro for sending this in. And the question is:

In Turkey, some cafes refilled their Heinz ketchup bottles with a cheaper product. What minor change to the bottle allowed customers to know that they were getting the real thing?

I'll say that one more time.
Tom Lum:Whoa.
Ella:In Turkey, some cafes refilled their Heinz ketchup bottles with a cheaper product. What minor change to the bottle allowed customers to know that they were getting the real thing?
Caroline:Is it some kind of tag or seal on the cap, so that when you screw it off...
Tom Lum:Yeah, is it a marker on it or...
Tom Scott:Here's how paranoid I am about these questions, 'cause it's the last one in the recording block now. We've been doing a load of these. We've just had the Paris question. And I'm reading it, and it's like, what minor changes did they make? Were they refilling them with mustard instead of ketchup, and they went transparent? Is "the real thing" a reference to Coca-Cola, and actually they were refilling them with Coke?
SFX:(group laughing)
Tom Scott:I'm drilling down on every word now!
Tom Lum:You need to take, you gotta take a lateral break, Tom! You're gonna be around, looking at ketchup everywhere. You're like, "There's gonna be something different!" So, is it— Is the thing that changes about it what is distinctively different? Because of what they add to it? Or is it a seal or the label that they add on top of it to be like, this is real?
Ella:It's a change to the bottle. It's not to the ketchup itself.
Tom Lum:Interesting.
Tom Scott:So either it's a marker that people can look at to see that this is... this has not been tampered with.
Tom Lum:I'm also thinking about how there's glass and plastic bottles of ketchup. And how there are some that are upside-down already, so that when you can do that—
Tom Scott:But you can still refill an upside-down bottle of ketchup.
Tom Lum:Can I ask, is it like, maybe it's clear as opposed to being opaque or something like that?
Ella:I think all ketchup bottles are clear now, aren't they?
Tom Lum:Yeah, but if you wanted to fake it, you could just be like, "Oh, just trust us."
Caroline:Is it something to do with the ability to refill it? Is there something in the way to stop you?
Tom Lum:What would you cut ketchup with?
SFX:(group laughing)
Tom Lum:Water, I guess. Corn syrup, if it's the US.
Ella:It's not about cutting ketchup, but... you know, they're putting an alternative in, in these cases.
Tom Scott:Because that's a problem. This is some obscure knowledge. The vinegar you get in British fish and chip shops. So you get salt and vinegar with your fish and chips. And it's normally like big thing of salt, big bottle of vinegar. Except a lot of the time, that is not real vinegar. It is like synthetic.
Tom Lum:What?
Tom Scott:It is just ethanoic acid, some flavour and some colourings. It's really cheap substitute vinegar.
Tom Lum:What?
Tom Scott:And they get that, and they have to water it down. It just comes as this concentrate. There's a couple stories of them accidentally putting the concentrate out there and burning customers.
Tom Lum:Oh!
Caroline:Oh my goodness!
Tom Scott:But what normally happens is they cut it with too much water. So sometimes if you're in England, you're like, "This vinegar just really doesn't taste of anything." Yeah, they've just put too much water in there to cut it further. And you're just basically just... moistening your chips with water. It's not a pleasant thing.
SFX:(guests groan, laugh)
Ella:This is actually really good knowledge for the British people.
Tom Scott:Yeah.
SFX:(guests laughing)
Tom Scott:So I did a video on that years ago, but I didn't realise that sometimes, it gets watered down too much. So, I'm not happy with that video at all, because if I was making that video these days, I would get an actual bottle of the concentrate and run experiments like, how much can you water down— I am writing that idea down. If by the time this episode has come out, there's a video about how much can you water down vinegar before people notice...
Tom Lum:We gotta beat him to the punch, guys.
Tom Scott:Yeah, you've gotta.
Caroline:Well, you know, there was like, William Osman did the... What was it, how many... How much wood chip could you put into...
Tom Scott:Oh yeah.
Tom Lum:(wheezes)
Tom Scott:Rice Krispie Treats. It was wood dust...
Caroline:Yes! Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Tom Scott:In Rice Krispie Treats.
Tom Scott:And he went from 0 to 100%, and it turns out, 25% wood dust, you don't really notice it. It's just a bad Rice Krispie Treat.
Caroline:I feel so bad for his partner who had to try them. Just, oof.
Ella:To put us slightly back on track, it's not about watering down the ketchup at all. It's about being able to tell... if they knew they were getting the real thing.
Tom Scott:So there's a warning that says this ketchup should slide out at this speed. You need to hit the underside of this ketchup bottle 50 times before anything actually comes outta the damn thing.
Tom Lum:It's like a, yeah, like a physics test. Like when people swirl soju
Tom Lum:and stuff like that. You have to shake it. If you shake it, does it make a different sound?
Ella:It is, in its way, a test, I would say.
Caroline:Is it some sort of... You know how like we have universal indicators for— Oh, oh. Is there something in it that changes colour if it's not real ketchup?
Tom Scott:Or...
Ella:No, not quite.
Tom Scott:Or they just print the colour the ketchup should be on the label. And if you refill it with a different one, it's different.
Tom Scott:You've gotta compare that the label matches up.
Tom Lum:What?
Caroline:No way!
Ella:That's it. That's exactly it. They just changed the label border to the Heinz ketchup colour.
Tom Scott:Oh, that's clever!
Ella:So you could do a precise colour match. The label actually read, "Is that Heinz? Check with the colour of the label."
Tom Scott:That's clever.
Tom Lum:Wow.
Tom Scott:That's very clever.
Caroline:That's really clever.
Tom Lum:That is really clever.
Ella:But you know, I would be spending time, if I was gonna use fake at all, I'd be spending time, to try changing the colour of my ketchup in the back room.
Tom Scott:Yeah.
Ella:Testing different food dyes.
Caroline:Instead of printing money, we're printing out new Heinz ketchup labels with different colours on them to match.
Ella:Oh yeah.
Tom Scott:I wonder if they can trademark the ketchup colour. 'Cause Coke have trademarked their red. It's illegal to make a ketchup that is Heinz red. You've gotta... They can't do that. Surely they can't do that.
Ella:No. Well, if corporations can do anything, then they'll try.
Tom Scott:Yes, they will.

Which brings us to the final thing, the thing I asked the audience right at the start of the show:

Lightning strikes, and the moon lights up briefly. Which 1998 film are you watching?
Tom Lum:I'm thinking Frankenstein, but I don't—
Tom Scott:1998.
Caroline:Is it actual lightning, and the actual moon, or are those—
Tom Scott:Oh, they're on screen. They're on screen. This is not you watching a film, and this happens outside thru some supernatural reason.
Caroline:No, but is it lightning or is it like... a character named Lightning?
Ella:There's Lightning McQueen. It's Cars.
Caroline:Yeah, my brain immediately went to Lightning McQueen.
Tom Lum:On strike. He's on strike at night.
Tom Scott:A bolt of lightning strikes, and the moon lights up briefly.
Caroline:Okay, okay.
Tom Lum:The movie Bolt.
Ella:Now we've gotten too lateral.
SFX:(group laughing)
Tom Scott:The Lightning Casino in Las Vegas!
Ella:It can't be as simple as that just happens to be the iconic opening to an iconic film. Or can it?
Tom Lum:Lightning Moon, the movie.
Ella:I was three years old in 1998.
Tom Scott:Oh, oh.
Caroline:I would've been maybe one, maybe not born.
Tom Lum:Caroline, no, don't hurt him. Don't hurt him. He's already down!
Tom Scott:Every other episode this run, someone has just stabbed me in the heart!
Caroline:(laughs uproariously)
Tom Scott:I told, I literally told Sabrina, I can't wait for us to hurt Tom like that!
SFX:(guests laughing)
Tom Scott:Are there any podcasts run by baby boomers that I can invite three people on from? Because between Answer in Progress and you...
Tom Lum:So close to getting away scot free! And that's on the last record, on the last session, on the last question.
Tom Scott:Okay, you should know this. This is a film that... The title of it has become—
Tom Lum:Back to the Future.
Tom Scott:Has become a reference. Even if you've not seen the movie, you'll know what this is about.
Tom Lum:Lightning Moon.
Ella:Yeah, that's it, Tom. It's Lightning Moon. Well done.
Tom Lum:Lightning Moon, yeah. Lightning Moon 2: Electric Boogaloo.
Tom Scott:Well, have a think about this. If the moon lights up when there's a lightning strike, why is that happening? Why could that happen?
Caroline:It's not, is it a model of the moon?
Tom Scott:Yeah, you're getting there. It's definitely a big clue about what's going on in this movie.
Tom Lum:Animation, claymation maybe.
Tom Scott:To be fair, most of the audience watching this already know the secret that the character doesn't have. But that's a giveaway clue to the character's position.
Caroline:It's a model of the moon.
Tom Scott:It's a clue that the moon is a lot closer than it should be. That the lightning is a lot closer than it should be. That this character's world is a lot smaller than you might think.
Tom Lum:Truman Show?
Tom Scott:The Truman Show. Got it, Tom.
Tom Scott:Yeah, I never noticed this. There's a bolt of lightning in the distance, and the moon also lights up for just one frame. And it is this lovely little subtle visual effect that they added in there.
Ella:Oh, that's great. Oh, what a great film.
Tom Lum:So when Neil deGrasse Tyson watched that movie, he was like, "No, no, no. I gotcha, I gotcha, I got that. That wouldn't happen."
Tom Scott:So that is our show. Thank you very much.

Last time, Tom, you gave the plug for the podcast, and this time, we're going to Ella and Caroline. Tell us about the show and what's going on in your lives.
Ella:So we can do like a one-word back and forth thing.
Caroline:So, let's do this.
SFX:(both Toms laughing)
Tom Scott:You got 10 seconds, go.
Ella:It's a podcast. It's a really, really good podcast. We talk about science. We talk about things like the things you talk about on Lateral. Go to Find us all there. We love you. Good night.
Caroline:It's really funny. You should come and hang out with us. You will learn everything that we find interesting. So yeah.
Tom Lum:Guaranteed, you will learn everything.
Tom Scott:Thank you very much to all of you for coming on.

If you wanna know more about this show, you can do that at where you can also send in your own listener question. We have video highlights every week at, and you can find us at @lateralcast pretty much everywhere.

Thank you very much to Tom Lum.
Tom Lum:Woo!
Tom Scott:To Caroline Roper.
Tom Scott:To Ella Hubber.
Tom Scott:I've been Tom Scott, and that has been Lateral.
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