Lateral with Tom Scott

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

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Episode 55: Octopodes in trees

Published 27th October, 2023

Rowan Ellis, Katie Steckles and Dani Siller ('Escape This Podcast') face questions about periodic poles, silly signs and iconic icons.

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: Jake Mellor, Christophe Latinne, James Hamilton, Patrick Lind, Dallas. FORMAT: Pad 26 Limited/Labyrinth Games Ltd. EXECUTIVE PRODUCERS: David Bodycombe and Tom Scott.


Transcription by Caption+

Tom:Where would you find symbols representing 'yes', 'no', 'point of view', and 'sheet of paper'?

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

Welcome to the podcast that obeys Newton's third law, because for every question, there is an equal and opposite solution! Sorry, I'm being told that needed more gravity. Here to show us our kinetic potential, we have—
SFX:(group cracking up)
Tom:I'm sorry! I don't write this! We start with: from Escape This Podcast, Dani Siller.
Dani:Yeah, hi. I'm out. I'm done.
SFX:(both giggling)
Tom:How are you doing, Dani? We saw you a few episodes ago.
Dani:Mhm, yeah, I think I'm feeling on. I had a wonderful time last time, as always. And so there's a lot to live up to for all of our guests today. And so I hope you guys can do it.
Tom:You are one of the old hands at the show now. That sounded much, much more harsh (laughs) when I said it out loud. It wasn't intended as anything other than a compliment. What advice would you give to the newer players?
Dani:Exactly the same advice that we give to people on our show as well: The stupid solution is probably the correct one.
Tom:Also joining us back from the Queer Movie Podcast, and from her own YouTube channel, Rowan Ellis.
Rowan:Hello! How are you doing? This is your...
Tom:second time in a few episodes here. Are you getting back into the groove of the show?
Rowan:I'm getting back into the swing of it. I'm heavily relying on the comic relief factor that I can bring, rather than necessarily the answers.
Rowan:But I trust in my fellow teammates today.
Tom:Well, the last one of those fellow teammates is Katie Steckles, maths communicator. This is your second time on. How was it last time?
Katie:Okay, I think, yeah. It's sort of that thing where you think, oh, this can't possibly be right. And then you say it, and then it is. So, fingers crossed for that again. Yeah.
Tom:Well, good luck to you all. Our questions are more inelastic and rigid than the toughest physics exam. We don't give out points here, so I can guarantee you the final score will be absolute zero. And I'll start you with this:

A question sent in by both James Hamilton and Patrick Lind. Thank you very much.

In 2008, Mykal Riley made a single basketball shot. Hundreds, maybe thousands of lives were saved as a consequence. How?

In 2008, Mykal Riley made a single basketball shot. Hundreds, maybe thousands of lives were saved as a consequence. How?
Rowan:Was it a charity event or something? A raising money thing or a sponsored basket throw from really far away? Some crazy shot out of a helicopter or something?
Dani:And then just having that sort of money could then have stuff done with it. It feels like a good first sort of thought area.
Tom:It really does, to the extent that... I know we don't have QI klaxons on this show.
SFX:(group laughing)
Tom:But the very first clarification note I have here, the very first clue is, it wasn't anything to do with raising money for charity. I'm sorry Rowan.
Rowan:Ohh! You know, I had to be... had to fill that role for us, the Alan role.
Tom:It is, of course, a little bit more lateral than that.
Katie:Was the basketball shot made by throwing a basketball into a basketball hoop?
Tom:Ooh. Oh, yes. You know what, I'll give you that. Normally we don't go in for straight questions and answers. But you know what? I will narrow down the vast quantity of things that are not basketballs and not basketball hoops for you.
Katie:Okay, so it's an actual basketball shot.
Rowan:That could have been a horrendous comedy disaster movie, where it was like, we need the best NBA player to get this basketball into the volcanoes.
SFX:(others laughing)
Rowan:Let's go, stop, you saved so many lives.
Dani:Extreme Lord of the Rings.
Katie:Like throwing a rubber ball in a stopper into something that was about to spew acid out all over everyone, or... I don't know.
Tom:Oh, that's such a good movie, though. That's so good!
SFX:(guests laughing)
Rowan:It's like Space Jam 2.0.
Tom:I was about to say that's Space Jam 3, isn't it? That is...
Tom:The final shot is he just has to dunk into the volcano.
Dani:And you just reminded us that there has been a Space Jam 2.
Tom:Yes, sorry about that. (chuckles)
Rowan:Okay, so, not charity and definitely basketball.
Dani:No, and I'm already lost. Outside of it was just such a good shot that thousands of people's morale was lifted that much.
Dani:I'm not sure where to go from here.
Tom:Yeah, 'cause I guess there's a couple of routes with this one, where it could be something very specific like charity and deliberate consequence. Or it could be, oh yeah. The fates happened to align, and months down the line, this thing happened. It is...
Katie:Is there something like, the shot meant that the basketball game went into extra time, so a load of people didn't leave the stadium for an extra half an hour later than they would have done, and there was something that they would have had some kind of disaster if everyone had left early?
Tom:Occasionally, I just get to lean forward into the microphone and just go... Yes. Yes, absolutely right. It sent the game into overtime. The lives saved were the people at the game.
Tom:I mean, you've basically got it. Does anyone wanna take a...
Katie:All I'm missing is the actual thing that happened.
Rowan:What was the— Is the date significant?
Katie:Is what was the—
Tom:It's 2008. This was Mississippi State playing Alabama at a college basketball game at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.
Rowan:Okay, I mean, Atlanta, I feel like, it's the States. So it could be any natural disaster, potentially. Like a hurricane or a tornado or something blowing through.
Tom:Yeah, it's a tornado.
Tom:Simple as that. Congratulations between you all. Yeah, this was a tornado that passed within 200 yards of the dome.
Tom:Ripped off some of the exterior panels. There is incredible footage of this as the commentators try and work out what's happening. But yeah, hundreds, possibly thousands of people would already have been outside.
Tom:When the tornado hit. Except that shot went in, and the game went into overtime.
Katie:Oh, wow. That's a real Sliding Doors thing. If you just think, if that had happened differently, yeah.
Tom:Alabama went on to lose the game, so there is that.
SFX:(guests snickering)
Tom:We go straight on then to our guest questions. As ever, all of our guests have brought a question. I don't know the questions. I don't know the answers. We're going to start with Dani.
Dani:Alright, I think this one's a tricky one. Let's see what you think of it.

A Malaysian business has a gate containing six differently spaced poles by its entrance. The sign above it has five numbers, ranging from '10' to '100'. What is it for?

Alright, so one more time.

A Malaysian business has a gate containing six differently spaced poles by its entrance. The sign above it has five numbers, ranging from '10' to '100'. What is it for?
Rowan:I think I might know this one.
Rowan:So I might have to step back.
Tom:You step back, it's on me and Katie.
Rowan:I might jump back in if it becomes very obvious that I don't know it, but I think I know it.
Dani:But in the meantime, just be the comic relief and the one to push them in the right directions, 'cause it's tough, I think.
Katie:So I'm imagining if you've got six poles, there are obviously five gaps between them. And if they're differently spaced, those gaps are different sizes. Maybe the five numbers at the top are somehow related. And imagining if it's a gate, it's like... these are gaps that allow you to check whether something will fit through them. But beyond that, I have absolutely no intuition for what that might be.
Tom:So if it's from 10 to 100, could this be ages of people? That seems like the kind of numbers you have between 10 and 100 is you have... I mean, yes, you can have people younger than 10, but they'd probably be with their parents. You can have people older than 100, but it seems like the kind of number where a designer would just kind of cut off and go, "Yeah, it's fine, it's above that."
Katie:I'd sort of be more on board with that if people were vastly different sizes beyond... you're a different size when you're a child. And then once you're an adult, you're just basically the same size forever, right?
Dani:Depends how lucky you are.
Katie:Well, yeah, I mean, it's... Yeah, I don't know what that would be... If it was ages, I don't know what it would be measuring. I'm imagining it's sort of a gate of if you can fit through here, then you're allowed in. But I don't know. So maybe it's not people, but maybe objects of some kind, or vehicles, or...
Tom:Did you say they were vertical poles?
Dani:I don't think I did, but they are.
Tom:Okay, 'cause I was thinking it might be some kind of, you must be this tall to ride this, or you must be this old. But again, age doesn't map to height like that.
Katie:Yeah, I mean, the numbers don't have to be ages, I guess. They could be percentages, or... different, you know, model numbers for products, or... I have no intuition whatsoever. (chuckles)
Dani:Are you kidding? For what I thought was a challenging question, this conversation could not be rolling in the right direction any more than it is.
Rowan:So, Dani... If this is what I think it is, I will ask you, when you say it's a business... the type of business is significant, right?
Rowan:Then I definitely know what it is.
Tom:Agh, okay, okay. So they are sorting people by age... into five groups between 10 and 100.
Katie:Oh, is it like a demographic thing? To match the population?
Dani:And while it's not specifically about age, there are some ways that age could factor into this, but it is not specifically separation by age.
Katie:Separation by two-digit number. (snickers)
SFX:(Tom and Dani chuckle)
Katie:Is it, what's your favourite two-digit number? And then you pick one.
Dani:I'm very interested in what sort of business that's relevant for.
Tom:Honestly, given Katie's mathematical experiments, there's gotta be something there.
Katie:Yeah. Now, I mean, now I'm the one who's thinking about a future project. Is it definitely a gate for sorting people?
Tom:I just can't get over the idea of... height separation at theme parks or something like that. It feels like it should be an entertainment business of some kind, if you're sorting people like that. I don't know why. That just feels like the sort of thing that people would put up with that for. If it's a supermarket... there's no reason to sort people.
Katie:Is it like a sporting ability thing? Is it like, you know, what's your personal best for something, and you go in the appropriate... your ability level at some activity? So that you're then placed against people who are similar category to you?
Dani:It is not. After having gone through this gate, everyone is going to the same place. And doing the same thing after.
Tom:Are they charging a different amount for each gate?
Dani:Ah, that is extremely relevant to what is going on here.
Tom:Your income percentile? You pay more if you go through the big gate.
Dani:Because of all of the fancy fur coats that you're wearing. They just know.
Tom:Hold on, hold on! That could be weight in kilograms.
Tom:10 to 100 is...
Tom:Roughly, sort of human weight distribution, or you could put sub 10 or +100 on there. That's the point where you would end a distribution curve and just say everyone under or over there counts as... child or just 100 and over, in terms of kilos. And it's— You said Malaysia, right? That's metric.
Tom:Is there an airline that charges based on weight? That feels like something that Ryanair would do.
Dani:That's definitely a thing in some places, but that is not what this business is. And you mentioned the idea of having plus or minuses next to the bigger or smaller ones. There is a symbol... next to these numbers. And maybe that will help specify it.
Tom:It's not weight, though, okay. It's not weight.
Dani:It's not— No, these numbers are not weight. However, dot, dot, dot.
Tom:I mean, is it a percentage sign?
Dani:It is.
Tom:Like Katie thought. Okay.
Dani:Yes, it is. You were so right so quickly on that.
Katie:Okay, so you go up to the thing, and you're like... Okay, what percent am I?
Katie:And then you go through the appropriate... you know, what proportion of me is?
Tom:I know this isn't right, but the only time I've encountered anything like that recently was at a bubble tea place that allowed you to pick your percentage sweetness, how much sugar they were going to tip into the drink. You could pick anywhere from 0–100% of sugar dosage in there.
Katie:If you're just 100% sugar, did they just give you a bag of sugar to just drink?
Tom:(laughs) I mean, it's bubble tea, so basically, yes.
Katie:Okay, yeah.
Dani:(chuckles) Now, I feel like you are honing in on it so well right now that I feel pretty comfortable with saying, hey, Rowan... what sort of business are we talking about here?
Rowan:Is it a restaurant?
Tom:That hasn't helped us at all, has it?
Tom:Why are the posts unevenly spaced? What possible... And this is a property of the people. Is it a property of the people or what they're ordering?
Dani:This is about the people themselves. They are walking through this thing, then they're going to sit down to eat.
Katie:Is it how spicy you want your food?
Dani:No, it's not so much a preference thing.
Katie:That would be amazing.
Tom:It's a property of the people, and it's not age or weight.
Dani:Well, I said that the numbers weren't weight. But, it's not irrelevant to what's going on here.
Tom:It can't be body fat percentage all the way up to 100.
Dani:That would be very difficult for someone to know offhand, wouldn't it?
Dani:And also quite unlikely.
Katie:Is it how much you're likely to eat?
Dani:It's also, that might be a little bit relevant. I would say the one last bit of information that can be good to completely solidify this, is that the poles, the space that was the biggest gap between polls, that's where the smallest number was. That's where the 10% was. And then as the gaps got smaller, the percents got bigger.
Katie:But everyone goes through and then once they're through, they all just go to the same place?
Katie:So it's the fact that you've gone through a particular one... It's the fact that they've gone through a particular gap recorded anyhow?
Tom:They must be charged a different amount.
Katie:Okay, yeah.
Tom:Yeah, there's a different ticket for each one.
Katie:So the biggest gap that's got the smallest number on it, are they charged the most money or the least money?
Dani:They are charged the most money.
Dani:Yeah, Tom, way back you mentioned the idea of height restrictions at a theme park. What other similar things could potentially be going on here?
Tom:Inside leg measurement. Shoulder breadth.
SFX:(Dani and Katie laugh)
Tom:Weight, hip size.
Dani:All, all, yes! All of these things.
Tom:Just body size.
Dani:Yes! That's exactly what it was.
Tom:Is this a buffet that charges people by how big they are?
Dani:Pretty much. They are percentage discounts.
Dani:And if you can fit through a smaller gap in these poles, you get a bigger discount.
Katie:(deep sigh) Oh my god.
Katie:That is super grim.
Rowan:It's so grim. And you two were swirling around the grimness. You were so close for so long.
Katie:I just didn't want to admit that. There's no way anyone would do that, 'cause it's awful, but... apparently not.
Dani:It seems like post-COVID, trying to entice people to come back, a whole bunch of places introduced some interesting novelty deals that were going on, and this was indeed one of them.
Tom:There's a place called the Heart Attack Grill in Las Vegas.
Dani:Of course.
Tom:Which is as... They are as inappropriate as you could get with everything like this, but I think if you're over something like 300 pounds, you eat for free.
Tom:And there's a big scale and a big number and it's... It feels a little bit like that.
Dani:Ah, fabulous. It also included, look, slightly more reasonable facts, like: the vast majority of people could fit in the 10% gap. The 100% gap, there was a 100% gap to go through. That was extremely narrow. That was probably so you could put a baby through it. It makes sense that your baby's eating free at least.
Dani:So yeah, well done. The reason that this restaurant had these unevenly spaced poles by the entrance was to offer different discounts to its customers.
Tom:Thank you to Dallas for this next question.

The Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus has been described as an endangered species of octopus that spends much of its time in Washington state forests. Since 1998, why have many K-12 schoolchildren been told to do a project about it?

And one more time.

The Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus has been described as an endangered species of octopus that spends much of its time in Washington state forests. Since 1998, why have many K-12 schoolchildren been told to do a project about it?
Dani:I'm getting American drop bear vibes here.
Tom:In what way?
Dani:In that, that sounds ridiculous. (stammers) What?
Katie:I mean, yeah, tree octopus, right? We're talking about... an octopus that lives in the sea... in a tree. Is it not a real octopus?
Rowan:Yeah, is it a project that's not actually about science? It's about doing your own research or trying to teach children something that isn't actually true?
Katie:Is the tree octopus a carrier bag?
SFX:(others laughing)
Katie:And they're trying to teach the kids about littering, and they're like, "Oh, it's a rare species of octopus."
Tom:Rowan, you're spot on. I'm just gonna give you that one straight away. I, thought this one might go quickly. The Pacific Northwest tree octopus is entirely fictional, and kids are set the assignment in order to be taught, maybe you shouldn't believe everything you read on the internet.
Rowan:I love that. That's so cute.
Tom:Unfortunately, what happens if you now Google "Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus"?
Rowan:I'm assuming it's a lot of people trying to trick these children into thinking that it is real. And so they've made a Wikipedia page that people keep taking down and putting back up again and things like that.
Katie:I was going to say, do you find this podcast?
Rowan:(chuckles snidely)
Tom:No, you find a very helpful Google result that says it's a hoax designed to teach children not to read everything on the internet and take it at face value!
SFX:(group laughing)
Rowan:Oh, I like that. That feels less vindictive than my option.
Tom:Yeah, it was set up in 1998 for that and survived a while before Wikipedia got to it, and then Google Answers got to it. And now the minute kids are assigned this, the first thing they do is ask the internet about it. And the internet tells them it's not real.

We will rattle straight on to the next guest question, then. Rowan, over to you.
Rowan:So this question has been sent in by Christophe Latinne.

Chris was going on holiday to Italy. After taking his seat on the plane, an unfamiliar man sat down next to Chris. Before takeoff, the stranger's phone rang. He answered the call, listened for 20 seconds, and turned to Chris, saying, "It's for you." Can you explain?

I'll read it again.

Chris was going on holiday to Italy. After taking his seat on the plane, an unfamiliar man sat down next to him. Before takeoff, the stranger's phone rang. He answered the call, listened for 20 seconds, and turned to Chris, saying, "It's for you." Can you explain?
Tom:Please tell me that this actually happened to the Chris that sent the question in.
Rowan:It did.
Dani:That's a fun one!
Tom:Thank you very much, Chris, that's a good one.
Katie:Yeah, that's creepy. I mean, my first question is... Was the phone that was then handed to Chris actually Chris's phone?
Tom:(laughs) I was thinking that!
Katie:Did he drop it somewhere, and someone rang it, and this other guy answered it, and they were like, "Oh, you know what'd be hilarious?"
SFX:(group laughing)
Katie:"Oh, you're in seat D7, well..."
Tom:Oh, I kind of did something similar to that once. I was in a pub, and I heard my friend, who I didn't think was there. It wasn't my friend. It was a almost perfect voice double for my friend. They just... It was like voice twins. It was perfect: accent, intonation, everything. And my friend did— this was way back, he did University Radio, so he knew what his voice sounded like.

So I did the only thing you could possibly do in that situation, which is walk over to that guy, and ask him to call my friend and say, "Hey, this is you from the future! Whatever you do, don't—" and then hang up.
Dani:(laughs heartily)
Tom:Which was...
Tom:How many times do you get an opportunity to pull that off? It was wonderful.
Tom:I was going to tell him immediately, but then he posted a load of things on social media. He was like, "I don't know what's just happened. If this is someone pranking me, please don't tell me. I live and hope that at some point, I'll be able to to make a call to my future self." I'm like, "Well, I have to set that up now."
Rowan:Well, I can confirm that it isn't Chris from the future.
Dani:Well, that's just disappointing now.
Rowan:I know.
Tom:And it's not a prank or someone setting him up for this.
Dani:Do we think that it's someone particularly external? Or do we think it's something specifically about the flight that makes it important? I don't know. Was the pilot calling?
Dani:That's not a thing that happens.
Katie:Was it the assigned seat... that Chris was sitting in?
Dani:Yeah, yeah. Something like that.
Katie:'Cause I mean, what would he have heard on the phone that would make him turn 'round to literally just the guy next to him and hand him the phone? Did they say, "Can you put me on to Chris please?" Or did they say, "Can you put me on to the guy in the seat next to you, please?"
Tom:I feel like I'm trying to work out a magic trick, and the one thing I know from that is that magic trick explanations are always really, really dull and prosaic. You don't want to know the secret. It's something really, really obvious.

So, if I were trying to do this as a magic trick... the way I would do it is I would have a couple of stooges, and the person would be unknown to Chris. But there would be someone else on the plane who would set all this up.
Tom:That's still a prank. You said it wasn't a prank. That doesn't...
Rowan:It's not a prank, but there are some interesting elements that you've just brought up about who knows who in this scenario.
Katie:I mean, what I want to know is... How are you answering your phone if it's in airplane mode, 'cause you're on a plane?
Dani:Tsk, tsk.
Katie:But, that's just me and my, you know, extreme... (snickers)
Tom:They hadn't taken off though, right? He just sat down. This must be still boarding.
Rowan:Yeah, they've just sat down. They're on the ground.
Tom:Okay. There must have been someone... who knew both of them. The explanation I've got, the really dull, prosaic explanation for this, is that a friend of both of them... has seen them both board the plane and sit down together... and wants to make contact with Chris for some reason. But that doesn't make sense, 'cause the sight lines don't work. You'd have to know where someone was sitting down?
Dani:(stammers) What if Chris is a secret twin? So the unfamiliar person who sat down recognised them without knowing them?
Rowan:So I can tell you that the person who was on the phone... who called up the stranger, Chris doesn't know them.
Dani:I don't even remember how much it specified. Were these normal passengers? This isn't secretly, "Aha, Chris is the pilot!"?
Rowan:Nope, these are normal passengers.
Dani:Oh boy.
Rowan:That would've been fun.
Katie:Is the fact that the plane's going to Italy relevant?
Dani:That was a hesitant no. Yes.
Rowan:I would say it's... I would say for the purposes of you answering the question, it isn't relevant. But when I get to the solution, there might be some— We might have some commentary.
Tom:Hold on, hold on. The guy in the next seat didn't say, "It's for you, Chris." He just said, "It's for you." Did it— Was whoever was on the other end of that trying to talk to Chris, or were they just trying to talk to... whoever's next to that person in the seat?
Rowan:So, the person on the phone... is trying to talk to Chris.
Tom:Aagh! I keep having these moments of insight that are completely wrong.
Katie:I was gonna say, it'd be really cool if it was someone who rang them and was just like, "My friend is really a nervous flyer. Can you please look after him on this flight?"
Katie:(laughs) You know?
Tom:I was thinking something lovely like that. Like, "My friend has trouble flying and trouble reaching out to new people, and I've just got this nice arrangement that, when they sit down, the phone rings, they go, 'It's for you', and that diffuses all the..." No, it's not that. Okay, fine.
Rowan:So, I will say, this person doesn't say, "It's for you, Chris." But specifically, Chris is the person they want to talk to, and the fact that Chris is sitting next to this stranger is relevant.
Tom:Chris is listening to this and laughing. Thank you, Chris, but this is...
SFX:(both laughing)
Rowan:I think it's also worth noting that the conversation that the stranger has on the phone before turning to Chris, it's not just someone saying, "Hey, can you just pass me to the person beside you?" It's a 20 second long explanation. So there is something to explain about what's going on here.
Katie:Is it, did the person on the phone give a description of Chris, and then the person who sat next to him looked around the plane and was like, "Oh, it's literally just this guy here," and then handed it to Chris for that reason?
Rowan:No, the fact that Chris is sitting next— the person on the phone knows that Chris is sitting next to this stranger.
Tom:And this isn't a prank. It isn't a reality television stunt. It isn't... It's not like the joke's on Chris here.
Rowan:No, and in fact, the end result of this conversation he's about to have will end with Chris's flight being much better than he probably thought it was gonna be when he sat down.
Tom:This is a wild guess out of nowhere. But I remember a story from years back that someone had left... a large sum of money in their will to whoever happened to be the last person in the queue at a particular post office at a date and time, to be left as a mystery. So, they just spent so long in their lifetime queuing at this post office that they just created this weird lottery that at some point, at some unknown date and time, someone would walk into this post office and hand an envelope to the last person in the queue with a lot of money in it.

And... I feel like this is the last will and testament of a frequent flyer who knew that seat and sent someone there to go, whoever's there in that seat next to them, they're going to get some money in the will.
Rowan:I wish that was the answer, Tom. Absolutely not.
Rowan:It's— I think— This isn't a clue I've— that's technically written down for this, but I think it's interesting to note, the person who's calling is also calling from the plane.
Dani:What, I wondered that. I wondered if when you said it was gonna make Chris's flight better, is it, oh, does he know someone in first class who's going to pull him up? But you said that they don't know each other. Oh, there's too many strangers.
Tom:(finger snap) Oh! No! No, you're r— (stammers) It's that.
Katie:What? Yes?
Tom:The person calling is... the partner or friend of the person who received the phone call. They're up in first class, and want to trade seats.
Rowan:You— Okay, so it's not entirely correct, but you essentially get it. It was the stranger's wife asking if he wanted to swap seats.
Tom:(claps, sighs heavily)
Rowan:But what's really cute is... It's cute because this is this clue, the idea of... Chris's flight was made much better, much more pleasant by this situation. It's very cute 'cause obviously Chris has sent this in, because what actually happened was that the person on the phone was this stranger's wife, but she was sitting next to Chris's wife in another row somewhere else in the plane. They'd gotten talking to each other and realised that their partners were both sitting next to each other. And so she rang to be like, "Hey, we can just swap seats, and we'll actually get to sit with each other for the whole flight."
Rowan:So the fact it was going to Italy is really only relevant because it's potentially, if this is from an American, for example, that was a long flight to just be doing with a stranger. So they had now...
Rowan:got to spend eight hours with their spouse, which made the flight much more pleasant.
Dani:That's remarkable. I mean, it's no million-dollar will being left to whoever sat in that seat, but it's pretty great.
SFX:(Tom and Rowan laugh)
Rowan:Chris is now like, "God, the flight could've been so much more pleasant with these alternate answers."
Tom:Good luck with this one, folks.

A large electronic message sign displays: "Who hates ___ ___? Raise your right foot." What phrase goes in the blanks?

And one more time.

A large electronic message sign displays: "Who hates ___ ___? Raise your right foot." What phrase goes in the blanks?
SFX:(others laughing)
Tom:"Who hates hands? Raise your right foot."
Dani:I think that was a Jerry Seinfeld bit, you know, 30 years ago or whatever, where he said that when you're mad at someone, giving them the finger is too easy. If you really want to show that you're mad at them, give them the foot.
Tom:(laughs) Yeah, but how are you just gonna get your middle toe to do that?
SFX:(Rowan and Dani giggle)
Tom:I don't think my toes bend that way.
Katie:Who hates conventional survey methods?
SFX:(group laughing)
Rowan:Okay, so I guess, clues wise, electronic sign, that could be on a billboard. That could be an instruction sign, something...
Katie:Maybe an advert for a movie or a product or something that, you know, it's a fun joke about whatever it is.
Tom:Just so you're clear, it's two words we're looking for. There's two blanks.
Dani:I'm wondering, because I agree with you, that sounds outdoorsy, and that would be the sort of thing that cars would go past. It seems like a terrible idea to try to control whether people are lifting their feet for non-driving safety related reasons.
Dani:But is it something about certain people who drive a certain way? Perhaps people who put their right foot down too much?
Tom:There we go.
Dani:That's car words.
Tom:I saw the light go on just there. (chuckles)
Dani:I drive a lot.
Tom:(laughs) Wait, does anyone apart from me in this call have a driving license?
Dani:Oh, yeah, I do. I just don't enjoy it that much.
Tom:Okay, okay.
Dani:And, you know, I know all the big driving words.
Rowan:I'm pretty sure I explained to you when we last saw each other and were jousting, I am gay and therefore don't drive.
Rowan:So I was very much, Dani, you really were doing the Lord's work here, bringing the knowledge to this call.
Tom:I'll tell you what, I got a few comments on that video. Partly from people who didn't get the joke, and partly from Subaru lesbians. So...
SFX:(Dani and Rowan laugh)
Rowan:I know, I was really, I'm so sorry to them. They do not get enough representation. So, okay, the right foot. Is that the brake one or the go one?
Katie:That's the go one. (snickers) That's the go-ey button, yeah.
Rowan:So if you're taking your foot off, then you're slowing down. You're not— So, I feel like it's a— I mean, car crash might be a little bit extreme for a phrase.
Katie:I'm trying to think what two words it could be. Road deaths or, you know, wasting fuel? 'Cause it's more fuel efficient if you drive slightly slower under certain circumstances?
Dani:Just, who hates speedy bois?
SFX:(Rowan and Tom laugh)
Dani:Again, I know all the right words for this.
Dani:(cackles softly)
Tom:I mean, you've nearly got it. It is more lighthearted than road deaths.
Dani:More lighthearted than speedy bois.
Tom:A little more accurate for speedy bois. It's something that a lot of people hate.
Katie:Traffic jams? That's two words. In my capacity as a mathematician, I can confirm.
SFX:(group laughing)
Katie:So if you're going slower, you're less likely to... I mean, have an accident, right? Fender benders?
Rowan:I love to put safety first. So I always just think about preventing car accidents. So now I'm like, oh, also, I guess there are other things to be careful about in cars.
Dani:No, I mean, that's basically all I can think about. I like the idea of the sort of smaller ones. I like the idea of...
Rowan:(gasp) Oh!
Dani:tailgaters and that sort of thing. Oh, you've got something.
Rowan:Is it a speed camera thing?
Tom:Yeah, I'll give you that. Speeding tickets.
Dani:Oh. (sputters) Yeah, okay.
Tom:"Who hates speeding tickets? Raise your right foot." is a joke that's appeared on quite a few American big variable message signs. The big LED letter displays over roads. That is one of the jokes that keeps showing up around the US on some of those signs.

Last guest question then. Katie, over to you.

A father with large ears and furry eyebrows. A jet with two little clouds. A large building with four windows. A club's handle, shaft, and face. Why did a US Navy manual contain these illustrations?

I'll read that again. It's incredible.
Tom:You're definitely gonna need to read that one again.

A father with large ears and furry eyebrows. A jet with two little clouds. A large building with four windows. A club's handle, shaft, and face. Why did a US Navy manual contain these illustrations?
Tom:I just tried to doodle those, and they look nothing like the things you described at all. But... okay. US Navy.
Rowan:A father... A house... Or a building with four windows. A jet with some clouds, two clouds... And what was the last one?
Katie:A club's handle, shaft, and face.
Dani:Most of the club, that sounds like.
Tom:Is that a golf club? That feels like a golf club.
Katie:I can confirm, that is a golf club.
Rowan:As opposed to a nightclub. Very different vibe.
Katie:Yeah, yeah.
Dani:Yeah, my father with the big ears and fuzzy eyebrows looks a lot like a cross between former Australian Prime Minister John Howard mixed with a panda. So that went interestingly.
Rowan:I don't— I mean, the only thing I can think of with military stuff and the word 'golf' is the alphabet. Are they symbols trying to teach people...
Rowan:something to do with the... call signs or codes
Rowan:or things they'd have to remember, something like that?
Tom:Okay, I know the phonetic alphabet. G is Golf. We've got...
Tom:Alfa, Bravo... Hotel! Yep. Alfa, Bravo, Charlie...
Dani:Golf? I'm sorry. I'm jumping all over the place.
Tom:Delta... Echo... Foxtrot, Golf, Hotel. Welcome to Tom recites the phonetic alphabet.
SFX:(Dani and Rowan laugh)
Katie:This is deeply enjoyable.
Tom:India, Juliett, Kilo, Lima, Mike.
Rowan:Could be a dad.
Rowan:Mike's a dad's name.
Tom:November, Oscar. Papa! It's Papa!
Tom:It's P for Papa.
Dani:Oh, Papa! Nyooh, interesting.
Tom:Papa, Hotel, Golf, and what's the jet with the clouds? Quebec, Romeo, Sierra, Tango, Uniform—
Dani:Is that a Delta, if it's American?
Rowan:Oh yeah, the Delta Airline.
Tom:Please tell us we're right with the phonetic alphabet.
Katie:I can confirm that this is to do with the phonetic alphabet, and you have correctly paired up the items with the letters of the phonetic alphabet.
Tom:What did you just say, Dani?
Dani:I said that Delta Airlines... could've been the plane.
Tom:Is that right?
Katie:That is right, yeah.
Katie:But why?
Tom:Is this the equivalent of those posters they put up in kindergarten classrooms with the letters and the shapes and what they look like? It's just got 'A: apple, B: bear' or something, and this is to help people memorise it?
Katie:It's kind of that, but it's not specifically about memorising which letters go with which words in the phonetic alphabet.
Dani:Ooh, that's interesting.
Katie:Because you don't need to do that, because the words all begin with the letter.
Rowan:'Cause I was about to say, is it if there's any illiteracy situations. But actually yeah, you do have to know the letters for that to work, for that to make any sense.
Tom:Is it just an aide-mémoire?
Katie:It does serve as a thing to help people learn and memorise, but what?
Tom:Papa, Delta, Hotel, Golf. P-D-H-G.
Dani:Oh yeah, I suppose that's the next thing that we have to wonder about. Were these the only illustrations that are bringing forth this message, or is this something like, all of the letters have a picture, and... this would be true for all of them, and these were just the coolest examples?
Katie:Yeah, these are four examples of the pictures that went with those four letters.
Dani:I thought you were absolutely there when you had the idea of the letters or the words or something hidden inside the pictures, which reminded me of learning Japanese. That's how you learn hiragana as well.
Rowan:Is it relevant that it was the Navy? Would this have worked if it was the Army or the Air Force?
Katie:I think so, yes.
Rowan:Okay, so it's not boats, boat-related.
Tom:Actually, yeah, 'cause why do you need the pictures? You can just put the words up. You don't need...
Dani:Yeah. I feel like I've heard this before, agh.
Tom:It took me a while to twig that you could just put a list of words up.
Dani:(Dani cackles)
Tom:You don't need it.
Tom:Unless you're trying to teach people through that weird memory trick where you, you know, create... cool visual stuff in your head, and that helps you remember, but... Why do you need the pictures?
Katie:So, I feel like if you've got— if you've done doodles of all the pictures, or if you can picture these things in your mind, that might help... 'cause they're pictures, but they're not just any picture. It's a specifically drawn picture of each of these things.
Tom:Oh wait, this is like trying to learn hiragana. It's like you said, he's got... Did you say big ears and fuzzy eyebrows?
Tom:Is that gonna look like a P? And the hotel with four windows is going to look like an H somehow?
Katie:No. Okay, so I feel like if a clue would help, I feel like given that we have an escape room designer, this is something that feels
Dani:I know.
Katie:quite escape room-y.
Dani:Oh no! I wish my pictures were better!
SFX:(Tom and Katie laugh)
Katie:Yeah, slightly weird illustrations is definitely an escape room thing, but this is something you may have come across before.
Dani:I've definitely done drawings of buildings before with their different windows and lights being on and off that ended up looking like they spelled stuff. I've done that before, but... That's oddly specific.
Rowan:Is it like, I don't know, a map, a key, some code? I don't know what else goes into escape rooms and also training manuals.
Dani:Yeah, what else, what is important besides just the fact that it is, you know, "Hotel, H"? What else is there? Is it their order in the alphabet? Something like that?
Katie:I think 'code' is probably the right direction out of the things that you've just said.
Tom:Morse! It's Morse code.
Tom:Surely. Okay, I can't remember my Morse code. I know that E—
Rowan:Are the eyebrows a dash?
Tom:The eyebrows are dashes.
Dani:(Dani gasps)
Tom:The clouds...
Tom: And isn't H four dots?
Katie:That is what H is.
Dani:Oh, wow!
Tom:So they're pictures that simultaneously represent the letter... the description of that thing in the phonetic alphabet... and its Morse code sign.
Katie:You've got a Papa that's two eyebrows and two big ears, that's dot-dash-dash-dot. You've got a Delta jet, which is a long dash with two little dots behind it, like a plane with clouds. You've got four dots for your windows on the hotel. And then your golf club is two dashes and a dot.
Dani:Oh, is that why it was so important that it was a very big building, so the windows were very small and far away?
Katie:I guess, but also a hotel, you know, rather than a house, yeah.
Dani:Well yeah, of course.
Tom:Agh! That's really annoyingly clever.
Katie:Yeah, so this is like a manual that they use to train and learn these things. And I mean, I can see pictures of the illustrations. They're adorably bad.
Katie:But I'm hoping you're also imagining them, yeah.
Tom:The last question then is the one that I asked the audience right at the start. Thank you to Jake Mellor for sending this in.

Where would you find symbols representing 'yes', 'no', 'point of view', and 'sheet of paper'?

Anyone want to take a quick guess before I give the answer for that?
Dani:Oh, I'm one of those people who's never learned how to use a scanner correctly. So if those would be instructions on the next scanner I use, I would love that.
Tom:(laughs) It is technology.
Tom:The symbol for 'no' is kinda what you'd expect, but the 'yes' symbol is not a tick.
Katie:Is it a picture of a rock band?
Tom:What makes you think that?
Katie:'Cause Yes is a band. (snickers)
Tom:(laughs) Okay...


There are other symbols for 'yes' that are used elsewhere.
Dani:An arrow. A smiley face. What else?
Rowan:Thumbs up.
Dani:Oh yes, that's good.
Tom:Does anyone know what the Japanese symbol for 'yes' is? You have a cross for 'no'. Does anyone know what the one for 'yes' is?
Tom:Okay, if I tell you that's a circle... does that help?
Dani:It is a circle.
Rowan:Is that— That's the controllers on a... A piece of paper is like a square.
Dani:Of course it is.
Rowan:And then the circle, the cross, and then the triangle for a point of view.
Tom:Yes, that is the four symbols on a PlayStation controller. Circle for yes, cross for no, triangle for point of view, square for sheet of paper.

Thank you very much to all our players. Let's find out what you're up to. Where can people find you? We will start today with... Rowan.
Rowan:Yeah, if you search Rowan Ellis on the internet, I will come up. I mainly do stuff on YouTube, longform video essays around queer history and issues, and also the Queer Movie Podcast, where we talk about queer movies.
Dani:You can find all our escape rooms, murder mysteries, all that fun stuff, me playing Pokémon blindfolded, at
Tom:And Katie!
Katie:I'm continuing to talk about maths all over the internet, so if you search my name, you'll find me on various different things. And yeah, I'm just, yeah. Nothing in particular to mention at the moment, but, just, you know, enjoying maths. It's a great subject.
Tom:And if you want to know more about this show, you can do that at, where you can also send in your own ideas for questions. You can find us at @lateralcast pretty much everywhere, and we are at for video highlights every week.

Thank you very much to Dani Siller.
Dani:Thank you so much.
Tom:Rowan Ellis.
Rowan:Thank you for having me.
Tom:And Katie Steckles.
Katie:Thank you very much.
Tom:That's been our show. I've been Tom Scott, and that was Lateral.
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