Lateral with Tom Scott

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

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Episode 58: Straight-line sports

Published 17th November, 2023

Bernadette Banner, Emily Graslie and Dani Siller face questions about jogging jobs, textual T-shirts and dangerous dogs.

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: Katie Waning, Andrew Esteban, Bernardo Fajardo. FORMAT: Pad 26 Limited/Labyrinth Games Ltd. EXECUTIVE PRODUCERS: David Bodycombe and Tom Scott.


Transcription by Caption+

Tom:When British people stand, but Americans run, what are they trying to be?

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

Welcome to the podcast where we take sideways thinking so seriously that we've turned this studio into a rhombus.

First to get into shape today, we start with: science communicator and the person behind The Brain Scoop, Emily Graslie. How are you doing?
Emily:Hi, I'm fantastic! How are you?
Tom:I'm great, and that was a really enthusiastic hello and introduction. Thank you! (laughs)
Emily:(giggles) That's just how I'm feeling today. I'm ready, I'm primed. Let's go.
Tom:And also joining us, one half of Escape This Podcast and one of our regulars, Dani Siller.
Dani:Hello, hello. You've already broken my brain with that intro question.
Dani:So thanks for that.
Tom:See, that came through to me, the script did, and then I realised that actually, this studio is just a completely irregular quadrilateral. None of the walls here are at 90 degree angles to each other at all. And you just, if you're watching on one of the video highlights, you just see the background. It looks, everything is slightly askew, which does feel right for this show.
Tom:Our last person today, joining us for the first time, Bernadette Banner, dress historian, historical fashion YouTuber, I don't know quite how to describe you.
Bernadette:Hi, I'm not quite sure how to describe me either, so we are off on perfect footing.
Tom:The last time I saw your channel, you were working out on the impossible task of costuming time travel, and how Doctor Who works on... or doesn't work with fashion.
Bernadette:Oh yeah, it was great fun. I always, I come from a background of costume design for theatre, so sort of melding the realities of having to costume fiction with the history of dress as we know it is... endlessly amusing to me.
Tom:Well, good luck to all three of you. As always, I've got a number of lateral hurdles for you to jump over, so strap on your mental roller skates, and let's hope no one does the splits. We start with this:

Early one morning, Steve puts on a grey T-shirt. Although it looks plain, it contains the hidden message 'YOU CAN GO HOME NOW' in large letters on the front. Why?

I'll say that one more time.

Early one morning, Steve puts on a grey T-shirt. Although it looks plain, it contains the hidden message 'YOU CAN GO HOME NOW' in large letters on the front. Why?
Emily:I think I know the answer to this one, so I'm not gonna say anything.
Tom:Okay, if you think you know it, step back. This one is for Bernadette and Dani.
Bernadette:Oh gosh, this is not my period of study.
Dani:It's clothing! Have you heard of hidden messages clothing in your field of study?
Bernadette:Well yes, you could embroider things into linings and seams and things, but I've not quite heard of that being done on a T-shirt.
Dani:The first thing that came to my mind when I pictured grey clothing with secret messages, as always in my life, I went straight to a Simpsons episode. Where they're wearing— They've been forced to wear grey school uniforms, but then when the rain hits, all of the grey runs, and they become super colourful, and it heals their broken spirits. But I wouldn't call that a secret hidden message, exactly.
Emily:I mean, it's secret, it's, you know... Maybe it's an affirmation that those kids that those kids didn't know they needed, and then in a time of anxiety, they're like, "Oh, well, there we go. That was a surprise to me, too."
Dani:I mean, you know what? It's better than anything that ever happened to me in school when my very white school uniform shirt got wet.
Tom:I'm just remembering those kind of Global Hypercolor T-shirts from the '90s. Which were kind of... I can't remember what they actually reacted to. I just remember one person having them, and then everyone suddenly wanting to kind of touch and move the T-shirt around so it changed colour.
Emily:It was solar-activated, right?
Emily:Yeah. So I had one of these when I was a kid, a child of the '90s.
Emily:I think mine, I had a couple. One had dolphins on it that I got in Florida. The other one was from NASA. And it was one of those things where they are plain. And then you walk into the sun and something about solar activation changes the color of it. I think it might be kinda similar to mood rings?
Dani:That's exactly what you were making me think of.
Dani:A full-body mood ring.
Bernadette:This reminds me of that dress from 2015 that no one could decide on the colour of.
Dani:Oh no.
SFX:(group cracking up)
Dani:Is this the place to rehash that argument?
Bernadette:I don't know, we probably haven't thought about that in a few years.
SFX:(group chuckling)
Tom:Global Hypercolor was... I think that was the brand name. I seem to remember that was the brand name. I don't know why I'm being so specific about it. But yeah, it reacts to either heat or sunlight. But basically that was because it was heat. It was just reacting to which bits of it were hot and cold.
Emily:So, I used to work at the Field Museum of Natural History, and they always were trying to figure out... you know, if you get a visitor badge, they wanna prevent you from being able to leave the museum and come back and leave and come back. So they actually had name tags that were also solar-activated that had your name on it.
Dani:(cackles softly)
Emily:And if you left the museum, the name tag would turn purple so that you couldn't come back in.
Dani:Oh, that's crafty.
Emily:Right? And that was some interesting technology.
Tom:I assume they'd make it responsive to the sun or something like that, so it'd just age over 24 hours? Or maybe it was just inside a sealed case, it'd react to oxygen, and you ripped it open to give it to a visitor. But that's, I think... Just putting it on thermal papers are probably a cheaper way of doing it.
Emily:Yeah, I think that's what it was. And then they stopped doing it. I guess they decided that wasn't... so then they just went back to plain name tags. Maybe they were just cheaper. Or maybe they didn't really care if visitors were coming in and out of the museum.
Dani:They realised it was better for them to look really busy, even if the people weren't paying quite as much.
Emily:(laughs heartily) There you go!
Tom:Well, I know a lot of the national museums in Britain are free by law. I think if something is a national museum in the UK, it has to be free to enter. So they just want to make sure they count every person that goes in there. They'll hustle you for donations. There's lots of upcharges and things like that. But they are, but there's always someone on the door who wants to make sure that they count every single person going in that building, so they can then get the stipend they get from the government for them.
Tom:None of this has any relation to T-shirts, but you did sort of get quite close quite early there.
Dani:Interesting. So it got really hot and really cold, and the clothes may have changed, or some other external condition made the clothes reveal something that they don't always reveal, do we reckon?
Tom:External to the clothing, certainly.
Dani:That's an odd specification.
Tom:It's very odd, isn't it? I was really specific with that.
Bernadette:Does this have anything to do with uniforms?
Tom:Ooh, no. Of the things to pick up about Dani's horrifying story about her childhood, uniform was not the right word in that sentence, but somewhere else was.
Dani:Alright, what did I go with? Simpsons. Probably wasn't specifically about that. Rain? Does that feel like a likely one, do we think?
Tom:You're getting closer there. But the message is, "You can go home now."
Dani:Who do we think this is addressed at? I can't even remember if the question specified.
Emily:I don't think so. I think it was just a person leaving with a grey shirt.
Tom:Mhm, and at some point, that's gonna start showing that message.
Bernadette:What does the early morning have to do with it?
Tom:Might be a bit of a routine here. (laughs) Emily's just got this look of glee on her face! You might get to give the answer here, because we've got all the pieces. It is something to do with the T-shirt changing and getting damp. And it is a routine that you might have a grey shirt on for in the morning.
Bernadette:Going to the gym, exercising.
Tom:Yes. Spot on, Bernadette. So, what's the full story here?
Bernadette:Did he sweat?
Dani:Yeah, you put on your grey shirt, you get on your treadmill or whatever your favourite thing is, until you have sweated so hard your shirt changes.
Dani:And that's your permission to leave.
Tom:That is exactly it.
Tom:The shirt reveals 'YOU CAN GO HOME NOW' when it is soaked through, presumably with the gym-goer's sweat.
Bernadette:(laughs) Wow, that was a leap.
Emily:I saw a picture of that on my social media feed, and I just thought it was absolutely brilliant because that would motivate me. I'd be running and be like, "Oh gosh, dang it!" (laughs) "I guess I'll run faster."
Tom:Each of our guests has brought a question with them. As ever, I don't know the question, and I definitely don't know the answer. And we're going to start today with Emily. What have you got for us?
Emily:This question has been sent in by Katie Waning... okay.

After the successful reintroduction of puffins to remote islands in Maine, some of the birds started to behave like flamingos. Why?


After the successful reintroduction of puffins to remote islands in Maine, some of the birds started to behave like flamingos. Why?

And I just have to say, the picture that they sent along with this is so adorable. It just made my heart... Oh gosh, I love puffins so much.
Tom:They're puffins, of course, they always look adorable. It's impossible not to.
Dani:They're one of those birds that you don't think is actually real. Really? How could they be? It's like a toucan.
Emily:Right? Yeah.
Dani:I don't really believe in toucans. They're too cartoony.
Emily:(laughs) Having seen toucans, they act cartoony too.
Emily:But they're oddly vicious. So I was in Costa Rica, and they have at one of these eco lodges, a platform with bananas on it, and they throw bananas on it every morning. And you have all different kinds of tropical birds coming to it. And they have aracaris, which are like toucans, but they're a little bit smaller. And the toucans are huge! You don't understand, these are... turkey-sized animals! And I guess you're all in the UK, so I don't know if you know the size of an American turkey. But, you know, it's about this... with a big, you know...
Tom:It's a big ol' bird.
Emily:(laughs) It's like this! But the toucans would come down from the canopy. And I saw one pick up an aracari in its bill and throw it and be like, "Get outta here!" It was wild! I was like, this is not the Fruit Loops mascot of my childhood.
SFX:(group laughing)
Bernadette:Every once in a while, I feel like you're reminded just how... strange and sort of dinosauric the whole species of bird is.
Tom:I know there's a place in New Zealand with birds called kea. And I was not able to film the kea gymnasium, because...
Tom:The problem was that the kea were getting bored, and just kind of stealing things off cars and just destroying cars. And then they built a gymnasium for the kea. And the kea then got bored of it after a while, went back to tearing things off cars, so the gymnasium had to be taken down. So I was like, "Oh, I'll go and film the kea gym." No, the kea have got bored of it.
Emily:Oh, no! Are these those parrots?
Tom:I think the parrots are kākā. I think the kea— There's a lot of weird birds there.
Dani:Anyway, what were the weird birds we were meant to be focusing on again?
Tom:Oh, yeah, toucans. No, puffins. Puffins behaving like flamingos.
Emily:Puffins, yes.
Dani:Right, okay. What do we know about flamingos? What do flamingos do? Are there flamingos in Maine? Is that a place where flamingos normally hang out?
Emily:No, not at all.
Bernadette:But where did they come from? Did they come from a zoo or...
Tom:Oh, were they— That's a good point. Were they introduced, or did some puffins just end up there?
Emily:"After the successful reintroduction of puffins to remote islands in Maine, some of the birds..."
Bernadette:They just had a holiday in Florida or something.
Tom:Or were hunted to extinction, possibly.
Dani:I hear we do that to some animals.
Emily:Don't get me started.
SFX:(Tom and Emily laugh)
Tom:So it's a reintroduction project. The puffins come back in and, okay, so the obvious thing about flamingos is that they're standing on one leg.
Tom:But I feel like there's a lot of other things about flamingos.
Dani:And what would cause completely different birds who had not seen flamingos to start doing that, except that half of the ground was really sharp or hot?
Dani:Which seems unlikely.
Tom:So I know some waterfowl like ducks and geese will stand on one leg for heat regulation, just 'cause the water's very cold, and they can just tuck a foot into their body and keep that warm. But I feel like puffins are kinda built for that temperature. That doesn't seem like a thing that would...
Tom:...cause them to do that just 'cause they've been reintroduced to Maine.
Emily:Yeah, you've got the action of the puffin doing... That's a critical part of it, is the behavior. But the behavior's not motivated by the behavior that is why flamingos do it.
Tom:Honestly, I'm not sure why flamingos do it either.
Dani:No, is that a regulation thing? A temperature regulation? I hadn't thought about it.
Emily:Yeah, it is. So, there is an environmental impetus for flamingos to do it. It's a little bit, I'll redirect it a little bit more, and try to think of bird reintroduction efforts. Like, what are some of the techniques that researchers would use to try and introduce—
Tom:Oh, oh, hang on. Are they... Are they wringing the bird's legs?
Emily:So you have the behavior. It's... So it's, the tucking of the leg is important, but it's not... It doesn't have to do with banding, and it doesn't really have to do with the environment. But it does have to do with some of the other techniques that researchers would use to reintroduce animals.
Tom:I thought you were going to say it does have something to do with Maine. It's just the state of Maine.
SFX:(guests laughing)
Tom:It's just a legal requirement in that part of the US that birds have to stand on one leg, and it's just enforced.
Emily:There you go. You got it, hit it. Bullseye, Tom.
Tom:Yeah. (laughs)
Dani:They just really like hopscotch up there.
Bernadette:It's one of those ancient laws that survived from the American equivalent of the medieval times where you can't carry ice cream in your back pocket, but you have to stand on one leg in the summer or something.
Tom:Yeah, it's fine. You're allowed to shoot a Scottish puffin from within the boundaries of York with a crossbow. That's how it works.
Emily:(cracks up) It's like, you guys were the lateral thing, and then the graph of this just went eeeh!
SFX:(group laughing)
Dani:We're just sharing with you everything we know about America right now.
Emily:I know, I love it! I love it.
Tom:And I'm apparently sharing everything I know about waterfowl, which isn't much, and not relevant to puffins.
Emily:But it is though, but it is. The behavior is critical.
Dani:Yeah, what else do researchers do?
Bernadette:Oh, when they handle the puffins, do they pick them up by a leg or something?
Tom:(mournful laugh)
Dani:And it just hurts afterwards?
SFX:(group laughing)
Emily:It's not that. It's... If you... If you think about puffins, they are adorable, they're just pure. Just think of them as being so pure and sweet, and they don't know what they're doing. They've never really been a puffin before. They've never seen other puffins act. They're just trying to figure out who they are.
Tom:Wait, are they just picking it up from another bird? There's another bird out there that stands on one leg, and they're like, "Alright, that is a bird. I am a bird. And thus, I will stand on one leg."
Emily:Yes, but you are so close.
Tom:What bird in Maine will stand on one leg a lot?
Dani:I thought for a second, I went, oh, I do know one other bird that notably stands on one leg. And then I realised I was thinking of lawn flamingos.
Emily:Yeah, you actually got really close with that.
Tom:With lawn flamingos?
Emily:Yeah, yes.
Dani:I don't believe you.
Emily:You're... yeah, yeah. You just gotta run with it.
Bernadette:Oh my god, oh my god. They had lawn flamingos in their lawns.
Emily:So they're not lawn flamingos. But they are decoys.
Tom:They're not like hunting decoys, are they?
Emily:(snickers) They are.
Tom:The only reason I know this is because years and years and years ago, I met someone who was volunteering with a charity called Ducks Unlimited in the US, which from my naive view is like, oh, they're protecting wetlands and wildfowl. Yes, so they've got hunting grounds that they can shoot the ducks and... Do some of the decoys... They're just a duck on a stick, right?
Emily:Yeah, yeah. Well, so that's what— Exactly, the researchers were like, how could we encourage other puffins to resettle here? So they made decoys, but that were puffins. Puffin decoys.
SFX:(Tom and Dani groan)
Emily:But the puffin decoys, the way they were mounted was by a single stick in the ground. And so when the puffins started coming back, they're like, "Do we stand on one leg too?"
Dani:Oh, poor little sweet birds!
SFX:(both sobbing)
Emily:They were just trying to be like the decoys!
Tom:And there's a whole fashion trend started for puffins. That's a... I wonder if they'll ever meet other populations of puffins and start spreading that behaviour.
Emily:I don't know, and it's one of those things, after there are a number of generations, and they have to, you know, they'll eventually phase out the decoys, I imagine. Will that just be a trend that continues? And none of the puffins know why.
Tom:Next one's from me. Good luck, everyone.

Niran hits the same ball in roughly the same direction for about two hours. He then hits the same ball in the opposite direction for a further two hours. When a red light is lit, he doesn't hit the ball. What's going on?

One more time.

Niran hits the same ball in roughly the same direction for about two hours. He then hits the same ball in the opposite direction for a further two hours. When a red light is lit, he doesn't hit the ball. What's going on?
Dani:So what are we thinking? Strange sport or strange science experiment?
Emily:This makes me think of a stop-go kind of game a little bit, where it's like red light, green light.
Bernadette:Do you switch in tennis? You hit it one way, and then you switch to the other side, and you're hitting it the other way. But is there a red light that tells you to switch?
Dani:Yeah, two hours would be a while.
Bernadette:I don't sport.
Emily:I'm like, I knew way more about the puffin stuff.
SFX:(group laughing)
Emily:Sport ball, kick... I mean, I'm thinking that's a lot. That's four hours of kicking a ball. I would've just gone home. I would've been like, "I don't know why I'm doing this. I feel compelled."
Dani:Of all sports to last four hours, tennis was a good pick.
Bernadette:Oh, what's another one? Oh, like cricket, one that... that just goes on forever?
Emily:But they're kicking the ball. Was that part of the—
Tom:Hitting the ball.
Emily:Hitting. It wasn't kicking. It was hitting.
Dani:I'm kinda crossing my fingers and hoping it's not sport, and that we should try to think of some other weird situation where ball hitting makes sense.
Tom:Right up at the top of my question sheet. It's just got "Category: Sport."
Bernadette:Good luck.
SFX:(group laughing)
Emily:Back to the sport ball.
Dani:It's okay, we got this.
Emily:It kind of makes me think of... again, back to the bird stuff with me. I just can't quit it. So corvids, crows are super, super smart, and there are a few of them, researchers realized that they got really smart. They can't open these really hard nuts themselves. And so what they would do... is drop the nuts they wanted to eat in a crossing section and wait for the cars to drive over them and open them. And then when the cars stopped, they would wait for the red light, and then they would hop in the intersection and pick up the nuts, and then they knew to fly away when the light turned green.
Bernadette:So is our main character human?
Tom:(chuckles) I try not to give too many hints early on these questions, but I will confirm that Niran, our main character, is human, yes.
Tom:Although, you're absolutely right about the crows. I have a friend who, during the pandemic, it wasn't so much that they trained a flock of crows, it's like, the crows trained them. So then, after a while, they were just feeding the crows so regularly that they would leave their house, and a flock would arrive and descend to be fed. And they have so many good pictures of crows off that.

But in this case, Niran is human.
Tom:But we're looking for a sport that normally takes about four or five hours to play.
Emily:I have never looked into a sport that would take longer than an hour to do.
Tom:Yeah, spot on.
Dani:Wow, well done. That would not have occurred to me.
Tom:Is it a sport? Is it a game? I don't know, and I'm not getting into that argument. This question's about the sport.
Bernadette:Oh, is he— Wait, is it— Wait, is he golfing across a road, and there's a stoplight and he has to— Well, I guess he would be going when it's red.
Tom:That is close. It's very close.
Dani:Alright, what, is there something more extreme than a road? Like he was golfing over the Panama Canal. And when a red light happened, that was 'cause a boat was going past?
SFX:(group laughing)
Bernadette:Or like one of those fog sirens.
Dani:That's how canals work, right?
Bernadette:Or if there's lightning or something.
Tom:Oh, golfing in the fog. That's a challenge and a half.
Tom:You've got most of the points here. Why would it be in one direction for two hours, and then back for two hours? That's not how golf courses are normally designed.
Dani:Unless you're really bad at it.
Emily:Or if it's, what if it's a tournament? A golf tournament and you go in one direction, and then you turn around and it's a different— Maybe they just didn't have a very big golf course. And they were like, "We gotta switch this up somehow, so go back the opposite way."
Tom:It's certainly a very limited design of golf course. Kind of snuck into quite a limited area.
Bernadette:Is it mini-golf?
Tom:Oh no, it's regular golf. Mini-golf doesn't take five hours.
Emily:You haven't played mini-golf with me, Tom!
Tom:Okay, yeah, I realised the minute I said that.
Tom:You were close with road. Not that close, but close enough. Why might there be a big red light that says, "Don't hit a golf ball right now?"
Bernadette:There are planes.
Tom:It's planes.
Bernadette:Oh my god, it's near an airfield, and they can't hit the... Why?
Tom:This is the Kantarat Golf Course in Bangkok, Thailand, and it is between two runways.
Bernadette:Oh my god!
Emily:Oh, wild!
Dani:Which came first?
SFX:(group laughing)
Dani:Someone made a bad decision.
Tom:The air force base came first in 1914. Golf course came in in 1952. And it was Bangkok's main airport until 2006. And there is a golf course in between the two runways. So why does that red light go on?
Bernadette:'Cause of the planes.
Emily:Yeah, they're like, don't throw, don't hit a ball.
Bernadette:I feel like you wouldn't want to be anywhere near a plane taking off.
Tom:I mean, there's that as well. But...
SFX:(both laughing)
Bernadette:Do they have time to get inside or get away from the winds?
Dani:I mean, have you seen some of those terrifying tourism videos of the island airports where the planes go 2m over people's heads?
Tom:No, people just look on as planes land beside them. It is two hours one way and two hours the other because the golf course is the length of the runway, out and then back.
Emily:Oh, that's fun. That sounds fun. I don't even like golf. But that kinda sounds fun.
Tom:I mean, just watching the planes for me. It's a good plane watching trip, spoiled by needing to hit a ball.

Bernadette, the next question is from you. Take it away.
Bernadette:This question is sent in by Andrew Esteban.

Matilda goes to an Australian bank with some current Australian banknotes. The cashier says, quote, "The three notes you gave me are worth a total of 19 Australian dollars", unquote. Matilda walks out with $19 contentedly. How is this possible?

Once again.

Matilda goes to an Australian bank with some current Australian banknotes. The cashier says, "The three notes you gave me are worth a total of 19 Australian dollars." Matilda walks out with $19 contentedly. How is this possible?
Tom:We have one Australian on this call. Dani, do you know this one off the top of your head?
Dani:Off the top of my head, absolutely not. I can throw out as many fun facts as we like and see which one of them turns out to somehow be relevant though. The one thing— We— So I'm sure there are some people that probably don't know much about which bank notes we do have as our normal ones, so probably worth mentioning. Our lowest current common note is the $5, and then just $5 and then $10 and then straight to $20. I assume nothing higher than that is gonna be relevant here.
Emily:$5, $10, and $20, so you don't have singles?
Dani:No, no, those are all coins. That said, I know that we also have some weird stuff where we have a fair few out-of-circulation currencies that technically can be accepted. They still count. They were never made... illegitimate currency? Illegitimate? They were never delegitimised as currency. I don't know if that plays into it.
Tom:Doesn't the Perth Mint have something like a million-dollar coin or something like that, that they cast just as a thing to show off? And it's actually worth far more than that in gold. And they just decided, "Oh yeah, that's a million-dollar coin. That's our museum exhibit."
Dani:If you tell me a story about Perth, I just have to say, "Yeah, probably." It's like, you know, when people say, "Oh, that thing that's true about Australia," and everyone else in America has to go, "Yeah, that could be true"? That's me with Perth.
Tom:Right, okay.
Emily:So the number thing confuses me. My first thought was, does this person have a sight impairment where they themselves can't see the bank note? So they need additional confirmation about what it is?
Tom:Most banknotes that aren't American have some fairly significant differences between each of them. But the British ones have different colours and sizes and big bold shapes on them as well, just so you can be sure even if you're visually impaired.
Dani:Yeah, that goes here as well.
Emily:Go figure America lagging behind accommodation for people who might need it. Anyway, don't get me started. (laughs)
Tom:I'm trying to see if I can approach this as one of those puzzles with the five-gallon jug and the three-gallon jug, and you have to make four gallons. But I don't think that works with banknotes.
Dani:Yeah, I can't see how this works with that trick that kids think that they have, where if you cut the banknote in half and then give it to the bank, they have to give you a clean one in return.
Emily:Is that a thing?
Dani:It's absolutely not quite a thing. But boy, do kids love to think that it is.
Tom:You have to have the serial number, right? To get a replacement for a broken note. I think you have to have the serial number.
Bernadette:You are kind of getting close with that.
Dani:That's interesting. I was, man, I was clearly way off. I was then going along the lines of, I dunno, there's just one particular $10 note out there that has a defect on it that makes it worth $14.
Tom:Australia decimalised at about the same time as the UK did, I think. They took a different approach to it. But they used to have pounds, shillings, and pence same as we did.
Dani:Yep. We had a handy jingle, so even I know exactly when that happened. On the 14th of February, 1966.
Tom:(laughs) Okay.
Emily:What's the jingle?
Dani:It was to the tune of Click Go the Shears, if that's a more familiar one.
Dani:It was like:

♪ Out go the shillings, out go the pence ♪

♪ In come the dollars, and in come the cents ♪
Emily:I love how you're like, it goes to the shearing, as though we have a sheep economy in the states. (laughs)
Tom:Okay, $5, $10— We've got $5, $10, and $20. We've got 3 notes and we need to make $19, and it's something... It's current money, right? You said that?
Bernadette:Current, yeah, the current banknotes. No coins, cheques, or other items of value were exchanged. Just the 3 banknotes.
Dani:But somehow our discussion of possibly cutting things was a hint relevant.
Dani:Was I wrong in my earlier assumption that we didn't need to know about higher banknotes?
Bernadette:Some higher banknotes are involved.
Emily:(laughs) I like how it's involved. "Oh, what do they have to do with the crime?"
Bernadette:Okay, so it's part of a... I'm trying not to give too much away. Yes, higher banknotes could be applied to the same situation that Matilda is encountering.
Emily:But it would still equal $19?
Tom:So she's walked in with three banknotes, and we don't know that that was $19, 'cause it doesn't say that. It just says, three banknotes. They're worth $19, she leaves with $19. So what... Are they damaged? Are they broken? Is she swapping a damaged banknote?
Tom:For new ones?
Dani:Why wouldn't it have been normal value? Why $19?
Tom:Yeah, 'cause you—
Dani:I don't think they barter.
Tom:No, 'cause at least the Bank of England, if you send in damaged notes, they will check the serial numbers. And as long as you're not trying to double claim a note... they should exchange it, but what...
Bernadette:So there is a special rule in force in Australia that pertains to this issue.
Bernadette:Does anybody know?
Tom:No, I'm trying to do maths with $5, $10s, and $20s here. Do you get less for damaged notes? There's a fee for changing them or something like that?
Dani:Oh, I didn't consider that the banks might be fee stingy. That's interesting. Yeah... I feel like the idea of exchange rates or something sounded good. If there's some $1 bank fee in that way, I wouldn't have, no, I have not... I do not know about it.
Bernadette:This rule allows for unusual amounts to occur.
Tom:Wait, if you walk in with 9/10ths of a note, because you've lost 1/10th of it, do they only give you 9/10ths of the face value when you replace it?
Tom:If you have half a note, they'll only give you half the value. You can— Can you cut Australian banknotes into fractions and then trade them for other fractions of banknotes if there's— Really?
Dani:Wait, were we the origin of this cutting banknotes in half rule? Rumour as children and it's only half a rumour?
Bernadette:The Reserve Bank of Australia allows for torn banknotes to be exchanged if they are between 20–80% intact. The value of the note is proportional to the amount still present rounded up to the nearest dollar. So, to achieve $19—
Emily:That's wild!
Bernadette:She had half of a $20 note, 80% of a $10 note—
Tom:Wait, did you say rounded up?
Bernadette:Yeah, rounded up to the nearest dollar.
Emily:That's funny.
Bernadette:She's got half of a $20 note, 80% of a $10 note, and 20% of a $5 note. So that's 10 + 8 + 1 = 19. Three notes.
Tom:Okay, I'm gonna get a $20 note, cut it into thirds, which is 33%, which will get rounded up to $8 each. And... Okay, no, they'll come down on me for that. But...
Tom:What a ridiculous rule! That's amazing!
Emily:That's so silly!
Dani:I haven't tried to scam the bank enough.
Bernadette:Andrew, who submitted this idea, adds, he quotes, "I've successfully used a torn $10 banknote at a store in place of a $5 one."
Dani:(cackles weakly)
Tom:Next one's from me then.

A library containing 30,000 documents is consumed by fire. Staff looking after the library beg people not to extinguish the flames. This not only saves the documents, but leaves them in better condition than before. How?

And one more time.

A library containing 30,000 documents is consumed by fire. Staff looking after the building beg people not to extinguish the flames. This not only saves the documents, but leaves them in better condition than before. How?
Emily:You know, thinking about my time working in museums and in archives, part of me is like, I cannot imagine the library staff not wanting to run into flames and grab documents unless they were digital.
Emily:That's... It doesn't say if they're physical documents.
Dani:And fire is notoriously good for computers.
Emily:Yeah, mhm.
Bernadette:My mind immediately went to the Cotton library fire, where they're throwing books out the window. Why would you not want to save them?
Dani:Yeah, the fact that it was not only okay, it left them in better condition.
Dani:This is quite something.
Bernadette:It's like those people who fake their own death to claim life insurance. Is there some sort of weird insurance thing where they can buy better materials because the library is failing? Or it's underfunded?
Emily:(chuckles) Or I mean, another thing too is you don't want to extinguish flames... The water damage from a fire actually can be worse than smoke damage for those kind of documents. So there's probably, "Don't use fire suppression stuff, 'cause it will ruin the material." But that still doesn't—
Dani:It doesn't make it better!
Bernadette:Is it just a really small fire in a different part of the building, and the library's fine, but if you... try and extinguish the fire, then you set off the sprinkler system, and then you damage the books? No, but then they wouldn't be in better condition.
Dani:Yeah, that... exactly. That would make perfect sense, except for that weird detail, which sounds like the books are made of one of those trees that needs fire in order to get fertilised. It does say documents, which could be ambiguous.
Tom:It does say documents, doesn't it?
Dani:Yeah... Okay, what is something that documents could be made of that can be improved by fire? (laughs) I don't know!
Bernadette:Is it documents in your library folder on your computer?
Emily:Or is it documents that potentially have information about controversial origins of the material, and then if the evidence is just gone it's like, "Well we've got a clean slate now!"
SFX:(group cracks up)
Tom:Dani's a lot closer there. Dani's a lot closer.
Emily:Oh dang!
Tom:You're right, you're looking for a material here that the documents would be made of that would be improved by fire. And you really wouldn't want to get water on right now while it's burning.
Bernadette:Are we back to heat-sensitive ink?
Dani:Ah, they're made of Hypercolor.
SFX:(group laughs)
Emily:Do you have to sweat on them?
Bernadette:They're heat sensitive, so by exposing them to heat, you can... expose the ink... and therefore make them readable and improve the document. But why would you have an invisible ink? Heat sensitive, heat exposed. We have these pens in sewing where you can mark on your fabric, and then as soon as you iron them, they disappear.
Dani:Really? That's so cool.
Bernadette:But they are still there, so if you freeze them, they come back.
Dani:That's even cooler!
Bernadette:But why would you have a library out of that?
Emily:Why would you be freezing?
Bernadette:There have been a couple of costume departments for films and shows who have used this marking pen to mark out seam lines and things, and, you know, they go away with the iron, and then the costumes stay overnight in a very cold trailer, and all these markings come back. They have to iron them all again to get them all to go away.
Emily:Ohh, do you watch movies, and you're looking for those?
Bernadette:I can't watch a movie normally anymore.
SFX:(group laughing)
Tom:You are more right with the historical track you were on there.
Bernadette:Alright, alright.
Emily:Were the documents covered in some kind of mold? Or something that burned away with the fire? Or was there a bunch of arsenic?
Tom:The question very carefully says 'documents', not 'papers'.
Dani:Are they, oh, how old are we talking? Are these stone tablet level old?
Tom:Ah, now that's a very good question.
Bernadette:Oh my god, it's a kiln! They're clay tablets in a kiln!
Tom:They're not deliberately in a kiln, but you're right. These are clay tablets from Mesopotamia in the Library of Ashurbanipal in 612 BC. So the last part of this is: why are they telling people don't extinguish the flames?
Dani:Could getting water on them melt it all away and disintegrate stuff?
Tom:Explode, yes.
Dani:Oh, okay.
Tom:If you suddenly cool the tablets down at speed, they are going to explode.
Tom:But yes, these are clay tablets from Mesopotamia that were just being baked a second time and were in better condition because they'd been fired again and were even more solid than before.
Emily:Cool! Wow! I didn't know. That makes me so happy as a kind of a museum person, woo!
Dani:The one time a library caught fire, and everything was okay.
Tom:Last guest question of the show then is from Dani. Whenever you're ready.
Dani:Alright, this one's been sent in by Bernardo Fajardo. Thank you so much. We started with animals, let's get back to animals.

In 1908, the New York Times reported that a Newfoundland dog had begun to push children into the river Seine in Paris on an almost daily basis. Why did the dog do this?

And I'll read it one more time.

In 1908, the New York Times reported that a Newfoundland dog had begun to push children into the river Seine in Paris on an almost daily basis. Why did the dog do this?
Tom:I'm stepping back from this one. Emily and Bernadette, it's for you.
Emily:Were the children really dirty? And the dog was like, "I can't handle this anymore. You kids need a bath." And just was like—
Dani:It was 1908. I'm going to go with probably.
Emily:Yeah, yeah.
Bernadette:Is this part of the dog's breed instinct?
Dani:Ah, I dunno. What do you know about them? Do you know anything in particular about Newfoundlands?
Emily:Was it practicing rescue missions?
Emily:Was it trying to— 'Cause Newfoundlands— Aren't they the dogs that they send out for helping avalanche victims and stuff? Was it maybe just trying to create practice... crisis scenarios that it then... it's like "I'm a working dog, I need to work, you know?"
Dani:You're definitely in the sort of right ballpark. Yeah, you're getting sort of warmer. But that's a bit harsh. (cracks up) He was pushing children in.
Bernadette:Is this a sort of dog that herds sheep? Does it have something to do with trying to herd children by pushing them into the river?
Dani:I wouldn't... I would probably have said that... the rescue instinct was probably... maybe slightly more relevant than a herding instinct, but there was... possibly another instinct even more at play.
Emily:Was the river frozen at this time?
Dani:No, no, it was definitely a risk to the children. It was definitely water.
Bernadette:Are these children on fire?
SFX:(Tom and Dani crack up)
Dani:As if the dog in this story couldn't get smarter. That's amazing. And there were clay tablets involved and everything.
Emily:And the currency was ripped in half!
Emily:Were the children covered in fleas? And the dog is like... 'Cause there's a plague at the time?
Dani:I would say the vast majority of these children were perfectly healthy, perfectly innocent.
Emily:They didn't deserve this, okay.
Tom:A few of them, on the other hand, absolutely did. Just, really— Sorry, no!
Dani:You can't make any guarantees.
Tom:Except for Nigel. Wow, I picked the least French name possible there, didn't I? I really did pick the least French name possible.
Tom:The only reason I know this is because... And this won't be a helpful clue. A while back, I was researching something called the cobra effect. And this was a weird example of that. That's not gonna help anyone. I just thought I'd throw that in to muddy the waters a bit! (laughs)
Dani:Knowing the answer, I have a faint guess about what that is.
Bernadette:In the dog's training... the researchers were showing it pictures of... something that it misconstrued as pushing people into the water. I'm going back to the puffins now.
Dani:Yeah, little Newfoundlands and little children on sticks.
Dani:I do think it's a good idea to think about the involvement of people in all of these events as they transpired. So yeah, just maybe picture this dog's day.
Emily:Does it have... ulterior motives? Is it working on behalf of a pickpocketer, and it's targeting these children and stealing their stuff and then pushing them in the river to make a getaway?
Bernadette:I was thinking just the opposite. It's a service dog trying to protect its owner from the children who are trying to pickpocket... the owner?
Dani:This is amazing, and while it's very little to do with the owner, and it's not that shady of an ulterior motive, ulterior motive is absolutely a good way to be thinking about this.
Bernadette:Do they have food? Oh my god, the dog wants the food.
Dani:This is interesting. Food is also very relevant to this story. But the children didn't have food.
Emily:Did the person have food? And the kids were trying to—
Dani:Which person?
Emily:The person with the dog. Now, we've got the criminal with the dog who needs assistance as well.
Dani:Oh, this poor person with the dog. The person who owned the dog, they were just a local, they happened to live near the Seine. The dog was just an otherwise friendly neighbourhood dog.
Bernadette:Some person has food.
Dani:Yes, very importantly. So let's— if everything here went innocently, and it was something to do with a rescue mission, picture how this might've gone down. Well, how might events have unfolded? Paint me a word picture.
Tom:We need Bill and some character work here.
Dani:I know, right? He'd be loving it. He'd be acting as the dog.
Emily:Yeah, I'm just trying to think of, if there... If it's a friendly neighborhood dog, if the kids don't have food, if it's not acting maliciously, if it's not protecting an owner, I don't know.
Dani:I suppose maybe a good question would be, a child has gone into the Seine. What happens next?
Emily:Somebody has to jump in after it.
Bernadette:Oh! It wants the parent of the child to go in to the river after the child, so that the dog can steal the food of the parent.
Dani:(giggles) If there is a slightly less... theft-related way of going about this story. You're getting sort of warm. You're bas— You're very close.
Bernadette:Oh, oh, wait! The dog knows that it will get rewarded for rescuing the children. So it pushes the children into the river... then rescues the child and gets rewarded.
Dani:That is exactly what happened.
Emily:That's hilarious.
Dani:Exactly! It started out perfectly innocently. A poor child drowning in a river. This heroic Newfoundland leaps in after it. They drag the child out. Everyone is clapping, applauding, throwing steaks at this dog, giving it the time of its life. And it learns. Oh, does it learn.
Emily:How many children? How many children did it push into the river?
Dani:Oh, boy. I would probably say quite a few based on this one, where it suggests, "Look, this probably didn't happen more than once or twice a day." So I think it might've gotten away with it for a while.
Emily:Not more than once or twice a day? This dog is taking a 9-to-5. It's like, "I'm going to work. Gotta bring home the bacon, literally, yeah."
Dani:You know how it is at these big tourist locations. There's always someone pulling a scam.
Emily:Yeah, oh my gosh.
Tom:On that note, the cobra effect, which is the reason I know this, is the probably apocryphal story that during colonial times in India, the British wanted to reduce the cobra population. So they put a bounty out for every dead cobra. So people started farming cobras. And when the British stopped the bounty, they then just released all the cobras and made the problem worse.

Now, is that true? Almost certainly not. But, Newfoundland dog pushes children into Seine in order to retrieve the treats for rescuing them... It's kind of the same thing.
Dani:I think it must be a common snake story, 'cause I thought that was true in Florida or Louisiana or something for the Burmese pythons there.
Emily:I think they do have a bounty on them down there though, because they're huge, and they lay so many eggs. So many eggs! The population there is just exploded. It's actually, if you want to see a lot of the reptiles of the world, just go to South Florida. Because so many people release their tropical reptiles that you can see chameleons from New Zealand. And, you know, from Madagascar. And from all over. Snakes from all over. What an experience.
Dani:So this Newfoundland learned that it was rewarded with steak after each rescue, so it decided to start faking them.
Tom:Our last order of business then. At the very start of the show, I asked the audience:

When British people stand, but Americans run, what are they trying to become?

Before I give the answer, does anyone want to have a quick shot at that from the panel?
Bernadette:Oh, is it prime minister or president or a politician? Some sort of office?
Tom:Yep, it's any political thing. British people stand for parliament, and Americans run for president. So, congratulations, Bernadette, I think you have something close to a clean sweep in this episode. I don't think anyone's ever had so many bright lightbulb moments. We don't have points, but if we did, I think you'd have quite a lot of them, congratulations!
Bernadette:Well, there was a lot of help given. Never before a clue.
Tom:It is, as ever, a team effort for each question, which means that first of all, we will go to Emily Graslie. Tell us, what's going on in your life? Where can people find you?
Emily:I am kind of across the internet as a science communicator. You can find me, lately on Instagram, I'm @egraslie. You can also watch related content on The Brain Scoop channel., it's there.
Bernadette:I'm Bernadette Banner on YouTube and Instagram and everywhere else I don't use social media on.
Tom:And Dani.
Dani:All my podcasts, livestreams, all that stuff, you can find at And just for fun, I've recently started learning to roller skate.
Tom:I did not know that when I read the opening gag to this episode. Thank you very much for that, folks.

If you want to know more about this show, or you want to send in an idea for a question, you can do that at You can find us at @lateralcast on pretty much every social network, and you can also catch video highlights every week at

Thank you very much to Dani Siller.
Dani:Thank you.
Tom:To Bernadette Banner.
Bernadette:Good to be here.
Tom:And to Emily Graslie.
Emily:Thanks for having me.
Tom:I've been Tom Scott, and that's been Lateral.
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