Lateral with Tom Scott

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

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Episode 6: Solve a 13th Century murder!

Published 18th November, 2022

Trace Dominguez, Nahre Sol and Jordan Harrod face questions about profitable collisions, familiar flags, and knotty problems.

HOST: Tom Scott. QUESTION PRODUCER: David Bodycombe. RECORDED AT & EDITED BY: The Podcast Studios, Dublin. EDITOR: Julie Hassett. MUSIC: Karl-Ola Kjellholm ('Private Detective'/'Agrumes', courtesy of ADDITIONAL QUESTIONS: Josh Halbur, Ben Justice, Lewis Tough, Arun Uttamchandani, Eglė Vaškevičiūtė. FORMAT: Pad 26 Limited/Labyrinth Games Ltd. EXECUTIVE PRODUCERS: David Bodycombe and Tom Scott.


Transcription by Caption+

Tom:In which 1972 film does an elderly man go to sleep in Hollywood, but wake up next to Khartoum? The answer to that at the end of the show. My name's Tom Scott, and this is Lateral.

The guests on Lateral are drafted at random from a computer database of eligible adults aged 18 or over. Today, serving their civic duty in the name of panel games, it's the turn of: From his own YouTube channel, and from the Theory of Awesome, now streaming, it is Trace Dominguez.
Tom:Musician, composer, pianist, and YouTuber, Nahre Sol.
Nahre:Hello, hi.
Tom:And working on her PhD in medical engineering and medical physics, and casually running a YouTube channel on AI as well, Jordan Harrod.
Jordan:Hi, I'm very curious about this algorithm that randomly selected us now.
Tom:I'll be honest, the introduction scripts just keep getting more unhinged the longer this series goes on, and I'm just, I'm here for it, frankly.

Today's guests are here to work their way around a range of tricky riddles and puzzles. Think of it as soft play for the mind, but with less vomit and somehow more tantrums.

We start with this question. Good luck. A real 13th century mystery: a body is found in a rice field with the throat cut. Many field workers owned sharp tools. When asked to lay down their scythes, which all looked identical, the murderer soon knew that the game was up. Why?

I'll give you that one more time.

A real 13th century mystery: A body is found in a rice field with the throat cut. Many field workers owned sharp tools. When asked to lay down their scythes, which all looked identical, the murderer soon knew the game was up. Why?

Full marks to Trace, who has clearly brought a pen and paper and is quietly making notes as that question went on.
Trace:I am.
Jordan:That's a good idea.
Jordan:I wish I'd done that.
Trace:I was like, "Okay, got it. 13th century, throat cut." You know, just the important details.
SFX:(Tom and Trace chuckling)
Tom:Yeah, we are starting with quite a grisly question here to start the episode.
Jordan:Yeah. Is someone missing a scythe? Scythe? I don't know how that word's pronounced.
Tom:I'm guessing at this point. It may well be /ˈsaɪθ/ or /ˈsaɪð/, and it occurs to me I didn't actually know that.
Trace:I don't know either, but I know what they look like. They're the big, long thing with... the blade.
Tom:The thing the Grim Reaper holds.
Jordan:The thing you used to slash thru the fields and forests and whatnot, when you're... on an adventure in Lord of the Rings, yeah.
Nahre:Can we ask for clues?
Tom:You can. I'm probably not gonna give them this early though.
Trace:I'm trying to think of why— Why would it— If you laid down your tools, why would that give it away?
Jordan:And they're all identical.
Trace:If they're all identical my first thought is one has blood on it.
Jordan:That was also my first thought. Actually, my first question is, do they all have blood on them? Do any of them have blood on them?
Trace:Because scythes are for cutting grass.
Nahre:Or it, you can see how sharp it is.
Nahre:You can see how sharp a tool is.
Jordan:Was one person missing a scythe?
Tom:It does say in the question they did all look identical.
Trace:Yeah. Yeah. So we can assume they all look identically sharp as well.
Nahre:Maybe it has to do with how they flipped it?
Trace:Everybody has one. Nobody threw away the murder weapon or anything.
Jordan:That was my thought.
Jordan:Ten guys put down their scythes, and then there's the 11th person who's just like, "Mmh?"
Trace:"Oh, my scythe disappeared into the river. I'm sorry!"
Jordan:"My dog ate my scythe, sorry."
Nahre:I watch a lot of content that... comments on body language. So I'm just thinking maybe it has nothing to do with the scythe, but the way that someone is reacting physically.
Trace:Scythes are typically used for cutting long, like grasses and stuff.
Trace:Like wheat. I don't know if that's helpful. I just wanted to express that I know something about scythes.
Tom:That's fine. That's how the show works. You show up with a fact about scythes, and someone else uses that to solve the mystery. Absolutely.
Trace:(sighing laughter)
Nahre:And it's in the field?
Tom:Yep. There is nothing suspicious with the naked eye here.
Jordan:I feel like that in and of itself is probably suspicious.
Jordan:"Everything's fine."
Trace:"Everything's fine, but that guy's dead. Sorry guy."
Jordan:"That's also fine, I guess. There's nothing suspicious."
Tom:Okay, let me rephrase that. There's nothing suspicious with the scythes, with the naked eye. There is still a guy with his throat cut.
Trace:Yeah, sure.
Tom:That's pretty suspicious.
Nahre:It has to do with the height of the people.
Trace:(gasp) Ooh, interesting.
Nahre:Because it depends on how tall you are, or how big you are, what you can do with that scythe, right?
Trace:Maybe the guy who with the throat cut is really tall. So the really short people couldn't reach.
Tom:It is definitely something to do with the scythes.
Trace:Okay. With the scythes. Even though they look identical—
Nahre:They all look the same.
Trace:One smells different. That's what it is.
Jordan:One smells like blood.
Trace:They look the same.
Tom:Now, you're honing in on this.
Trace:What? Really?
Jordan:One smells different? Okay.
Trace:One smells like pennies?
Nahre:One is warmer. One is warmer because they just used it.
Nahre:One is wet. But I guess.
Trace:Or colder.
Tom:So... the reference that I have on my notes for this is that this is from Val McDermid's book Forensics. So you are very close with smell. But no one's going up and going (sniff) at each scythe, but there's an effect happening there.
Trace:So something in the scythe is reacting to the blood that got on it. That's my first, that's my thought. It's rusting. (snort) How long has it been?
Jordan:Real fast?
Trace:Did they— the guy's been dead for several days?
Nahre:Oh... The one that was used to murder the man, or the person, does not smell like grass.
Nahre:And the others do.
Tom:So this is not something that— Let's assume we have our 13th century Hercule Poirot here. He's not quite reacting to the smell of it himself. There's one more step involved in solving the mystery.
Trace:There's a dog. There's a dog nearby or animal of some kind.
Nahre:Flies there hovering over.
Tom:Nahre's got it. Absolutely right. Even though it had been cleaned, it started to attract swarms of flies that could smell just a trace of blood. So goes the story, as handed down from the 13th century. How much of that is true, how much of that is a fable, I don't know. But yes, you absolutely got that right.
Trace:That's cool.
Nahre:Brings up such a specific visual and sensual image. It's very morbid.
Jordan:Sensual. Essential.
Nahre:Sensually. I know. Yeah.
Trace:I dunno.
Tom:Oh man, I can't think what the word of that should be.
Trace:I mean, either way, we're not shaming.
Nahre:Sensual, right? I don't know.
Nahre:The senses.
Trace:Yeah. "Of the senses" would be...
Tom:I've just got a note through from the producer with the word evocative, which is apparently what we should be using for that, but.
Trace:Oh, got it.
Nahre:Very evocative. Disturbingly evocative.
Tom:Just to avoid 'sensual' and 'death'. We don't really want those in the same thing.

So yeah, this is a story told as true that is given as the first example of forensics solving a crime. The murder weapon attracted swarms of flies that could still detect a trace of blood.

Now the tables are turned. One of our guests is gonna take over as host. As always, I do not know the question. I do not know the answer. I have as much clue as the other two people here. So we're gonna start with Jordan. What question do you have for us please?
Jordan:Alright, so I have a question for all of you. My question is:

Michelle Knapp bought a secondhand car for $300. A few days later, after a 164 mile per hour collision, she was able to sell the damaged car for $25,000 and make a further $50,000 on top. How?

I'll repeat the question.

Michelle Knapp bought a secondhand car for $300. A few days later, after a 164 mile per hour collision, she was able to sell the damaged car for $25,000 and make a further $50,000 on top. How?
Nahre:She's going really fast.
Trace:That's really fast.
Nahre:Does that have— Maybe the fact that the car can go that fast raised its value?
Tom:It might be a joint speed, but even if you are going 82, and the other person's going 82, that's... that's a lethal speed.
Trace:Yeah, that's really fast.
Tom:Also, what kind of secondhand car for $300 goes 164 miles an hour?
Trace:I wonder if it's like for a movie, you know? You got— You know what I mean? What kind of car appreciates in value from $300 to thousands of dollars after one event? It's gotta be a thing that happened with the car. Like, the car crashed into somebody. No, maybe not a person.
Tom:This is the car that hit Elvis!
SFX:(group laughing)
Tom:At 164 miles an hour. That's not how Elvis went, but.
Trace:I don't think so.
Jordan:So you're on the right track with an event that happened with the car.
Nahre:So the crash, the event is so significant to raise the value.
Tom:One thing I've learned doing this is the questions are very carefully phrased. And that said, after a 164 mile an hour collision, I'm not certain that the car would've been involved in that collision. Just checking.
Trace:Ooh, interesting.
Tom:But $25,000. Do you sell—
Trace:$25,000 and then a further $50,000?
Tom:Do you sell it? Is that a lawsuit and a settlement, or is that like a collector buying a chunk of metal that used to be a car?
Trace:And then how would you get the further 50,000? Does he like sell tickets to go see the car that you crashed or, the thing or the collision that was nearby potentially as well? Doesn't say the car was involved, as you say.
Tom:You could sell tickets to see the collision. Like they used to do that for trains.
Tom:In the old west. There was several times when you could pay, and two old locomotives would just get smashed into each other. And that was a ticket event. People got hurt by flying shrapnel.
Trace:And all the Victorians would just go, "Oh my. Yeah." (golf clapping)
Tom:No this was old American West. This was like cowboy hats and guitars. Yeah.
Trace:"Yee-hoo!" Yeah. And more yea-hoos. "Yee-haw."
Jordan:And you still had to pay the 20% Ticketmaster fee.
Tom:But it is just literally, it's a guy in a hat who calls himself the Ticketmaster.
Trace:Yes! (giggles) That's great.
Nahre:Maybe something in the car that's not the car itself, maybe some part of it increased in value because of the collision. The engine or some mechanism.
Tom:She just found a brick of cocaine that was being smuggled somewhere. And the collision—
Jordan:And then even more cocaine!
Trace:Yeah, they crashed it, and then a bunch of cocaine fell out of it.
Tom:I feel like we should ask if the crash was deliberate. Was this a thing that it was meant to do? Or was she just driving at 164 and happened to come up a wall?
Jordan:The crash was not deliberate.
Tom:Huh. That rules out a load of my theories. Like, it's not for a movie.
Trace:Yeah, right. Same. So it's a secondhand car. It was 300 bucks. It was involved in a collision.
Trace:And now it's worth— Yeah, an accidental collision. And now it's worth money.
Tom:So it must have been something about the collision, like it collided into something. It collided... into a plane. It collided into... What else goes that fast?
Trace:What if it fell out of a plane? No, it'd go faster than that, wouldn't it? What's the terminal velocity of a secondhand car? Give us a hint please.
Jordan:She was at home when the collision happened.
Trace:She was at home.
Nahre:So she wasn't driving.
Trace:She bought a car. Oh, I think I got it. Okay so, she bought a car.
Tom:Someone ran into the car at 164 miles an hour. ...Oh!
Trace:But she was at home and the car was in her driveway. And then when she got hit...
Tom:I think the terminal velocity thing. It was...
Trace:(gasp) A meteor hit it.
Tom:That's what I'm thinking.
Trace:A toilet! When toilet things, when they fall out of the plane.
Jordan:A meteor hit it.
Trace:A meteor hit it?
Jordan:Trace got it.
Nahre:Oh, wow. Look at that. That's so interesting.
Tom:Because that makes the car valuable, because it's the car that got hit by a meteor. So that's going to a science museum somewhere, and then, presumably this is America, so she gets to sell the meteor.
Trace:That's awesome.
Jordan:In 1992, a 26-pound meteorite fell in Peekskill, New York, breaking through the rear corner of the car. Both the damaged Chevy Malibu car and the meteorite itself were sold for large sums to interested collectors.
Tom:That's a heck of a lottery to win, isn't it?
Trace:A $300 Chevy Malibu, like that's a really low-level Chevy Malibu.
Nahre:What's the probability of that happening?
Jordan:Very low, I have to imagine.
Trace:Lottery would be higher.
Tom:And also this is a lottery where if it's a few meters different, you're dead. So that's, having a meteor land is a big deal. Having one hit your car and then selling it for a profit is wonderful.
Trace:Good job, Michelle. Way to go.
Nahre:That's insane.
Jordan:People were also actually filming local football games. It was a Friday night. And so the meteorite was caught on film in sixteen different places. And today, specimens of the meteorite sell for about $150 per gram. So I hope she's got some sort of contract set up where she also gets a cut of that going forward.
Tom:That's fine, she's just got an NFT for the meteor these days, it's fine.
Jordan:Exactly, yeah.
Tom:The next question is back to me. Good luck to you all.

What is the very specific connection between the flags of Turkmenistan, the USA, and Brazil?

Give you that one more time.

What is the very specific connection between the flags of Turkmenistan, the USA, and Brazil?
Jordan:I don't know. I know nothing about this topic.
Trace:I mean, vexillology is pretty cool.
Tom:He knows the word for it. That's a good start.
Trace:I listened to a podcast and a TED Talk about it. The same guy, Roman Mars.
Tom:Presumably, you know some stuff about the USA flag, at least for those of you who are from that part of the world. I dunno why I said that like that.
SFX:(Tom and Jordan laughing)
Trace:I do know that the United States flag has weird stars on it. It's weird. For the time it was designed, the 5-pointed star was unusual, 'cause it was hard to make. A 6-pointed star was much easier to make, because you just fold it, and you got six points. Whereas a five point star has a different symmetry.

I know Brazil, 'cause my wife is Brazilian, has stars on their flag as well. So they have that in common. I don't know the Turkmenistan flag, because I grew up in the US, and we have terrible geography lessons here.
Jordan:Yep, same.
Jordan:Also in that boat.
Nahre:I was just thinking about the stars. And the colors? I don't know.
Jordan:Yeah, my first thought was the stars. My second thought was if they, I don't know, were originally printed on the same fabric or something. I'm sure they weren't originally made by the same person.
Trace:Yeah, Betsy didn't make 'em all.
Nahre:They had the same number of revisions maybe?
Tom:I will tell you that the reason I say 'very specific' is that there are a lot of flags with stars on. And this is about the stars. You're absolutely right. You've made that connection. I need a little bit more than that. There are a lot of flags with stars.
Jordan:The stripes, are there stripes on the other two?
Trace:Brazil has a circle, a diamond... I have it right here actually. It's a circle, it's a diamond, and it's a line.
Tom:Sorry, for those listening in audio, Trace is pointing to his bicep where he has a tattoo of the Brazilian flag.
Jordan:That's a useful reference.
Trace:It is nice, right? Yeah. So it doesn't have any color, but it's a circle with the... It says, "Ordem e Progresso", which is... I don't know, "order and progress", which most Brazilians find very funny. And then there are stars, and it's yellow, green and blue. Man, being married to a Brazilian didn't know it would come into such play in this podcast. It's very helpful.
Jordan:I feel like the problem that I'm running into is that I know absolutely nothing about the flag of Turkmenistan. I don't even know. I don't know what the connection there is.
Tom:You can work this out purely from knowing the US flag. I will tell you that.
Trace:So America's got the 50 stars. We got 50 of them.
Jordan:How many does Brazil have?
Trace:I'm outta my depth.
Jordan:I'm counting on you.
Trace:I have no idea. They have— I know it has constellations on it. And we don't. So those are different. So that doesn't fit.
Nahre:The stars represent states. They represent an amount of land or region.
Tom:Yeah. You've basically got it there. That's absolutely right. And for the person who knew the least about the flags to suddenly come up with that, you're absolutely right. I'll need to know just a little bit more. Like on the US flag, what do they represent?
Nahre:The 50 states.
Tom:Yes. And if I tell you that there are 27 stars on the Brazilian flag...
Trace:There are 27 states.
Tom:Yes, there are. And they've also updated that flag over time. There used to be 23, then 22. And Turkmenistan has five of them for exactly the same reason.
Nahre:They all use the word 'state'?
Tom:Five regions. Turkmenistan is not gonna use the same thing, but each star on the flag represents a different region of the country, and at least for two of them, it gets updated over time as that changes.

So yes. I love it when someone just casually says a thing and it turns out to be the answer. There wa there was no sudden eureka moment. There was just... Yeah. Yeah. That was the fact we needed.
Trace:I'm looking up the Turkmenistan flag right now. It's really pretty. It looks really nice. It's green. It's got a... like a thing on, it's got a moon, and then it's got five stars. Yeah, that's cool.
Jordan:Oh! That's cool.
Trace:That's a pretty flag.
Tom:So yes, the Turkmenistan, US, and Brazilian flags all have stars that represent regions.

Which means we go over to Trace for the next question. Trace, what have you got for us?
Trace:Okay, everyone, you ready? This is good, this is exciting.

What does a ten-pin bowler achieve by rolling a spare, then three strikes, then another spare, across five consecutive frames?

I'll read it again.

What does a ten-pin bowler achieve by rolling a spare, then three strikes, then another spare, across five consecutive frames?
Tom:Wow, okay. So I have knowledge of ten-pin bowling scoring. I know how it works, which is that... a spare gets you ten, plus the value of your next ball. So if you do a spare and then a four, you end up with 14 plus the four for the next one. If you get a strike, you have the value of your next frame added to it. So both balls. If you roll a spare, then knock down four and another one, you'd get 15 and then the five for the actual one you got. So basically doubles your next one.

So I'm... Give me a minute, talk amongst yourselves. I'll do some maths. 'Cause I can give you the technical answer to the question. It's probably not what we're looking for.
Jordan:I was about to say, I feel like— I assume that it was something like a turkey or whatever the words for.
Tom:Yeah, three strikes in a row is a turkey, but we've got a spare on each end as well here.
Nahre:I know nothing about bowling.
Trace:Have you ever been bowling?
Nahre:Handful of times.
Jordan:I won't talk about why I don't go bowling anymore, but.
Tom:Oh no, you can't drop that into the conversation and not tell that story.
Nahre:Come on.
Jordan:So when I was probably six or seven. I was in like first grade. One of my friends had a bowling birthday party. And so at the party, we were all bowling. Everyone was having fun. And at one point when I went to bowl, basically what happened was that my thumb got stuck in the bowling ball. So when I went to let go, it like pulled me forward.
Jordan:And so I fell. And so I start like sliding down the bowling lane and... The ball comes off my hand, but then in the process of me sliding down and having this momentum already my thumb gets stuck in the gutter, like in the mechanical parts of the gutter. And so it basically rips my thumbnail halfway back. And then when my parents came to get me out of it, it basically rips my thumbnail the rest of the way off. So then I'm just bleeding all over the bowling alley. I had to go to the ER. They covered it.
Nahre:This is a nightmare.
Jordan:Which made it like red and foamy blood.
Tom:Okay. Yeah. No, we're good. We don't need the blood details. Thanks. That's enough.
Trace:Wow. Wow.
Jordan:And now I don't bowl anymore! (giggles)
Trace:"And now I don't bowl anymore."
Tom:And I have a new thing to be afraid of. I've realised I... I'm gonna change the subject again. I've just realised I can't calculate the points, 'cause a spare is based on first ball, not for frame. So, it can't be the number of points or something like that.
Trace:You could calculate how much this would add, but that's not actually relevant to the question.
Nahre:A spare is when you hit only one?
Trace:A spare is when you knock everything down in two throws. And strike is when you knock everything down in one throw.
Jordan:So it's not a spare turkey. ...Trace? ...Trace?!
Tom:Oh hang on. Hang on. We got a face from Trace here.
Trace:You're close with the turkey parts. There's— There's some turkey involved here. So I was surprised you got there as quickly as you could.
Tom:Okay, there's gotta be a slang name for this. Because I was looking at how it was written down, which would be like a slash and then three crosses and slash but if— Is it something like "roast turkey" or something like that where...
Trace:You're very close. You're very close.
Tom:So what other...
Jordan:Boiled turkey? I'm just gonna keep naming turkey preparations. Sliced turkey.
Trace:It's a mix of how you're— take the ideas that you're playing with now, and mix them together, and I think you'll get there.
Tom:Leftovers, leftovers.
Trace:Keep it going.
Nahre:Turkey sandwich?
Nahre:Turkey sandwich.
Trace:A turkey sandwich!
Tom:Of course! Of course it is.
Trace:It's a slash, and then a turkey, and then another slash.
Tom:Yep, and the slashes look like the slices of bread at the— Oh, that's lovely.
Jordan:Yes, yes, yes, yes.
Nahre:That is so funny.
Jordan:I love that.
Nahre:Alright. These are tricky questions. I see what— I see it.
Tom:Yeah. And you're getting the answers to them all.
Trace:Yeah. You're really good at this.
Nahre:And I didn't know much about bowling.
Trace:Just to recap, what does a ten-pin bowler achieve by rolling a spare, then three strikes, then another spare across five consecutive frames? They achieve a slash, and then a turkey, and then another slash, or a turkey sandwich.
Tom:Back to me for the next question then. Good luck folks.

In the 1830s and early 1840s, why did British "Third Class" train carriages have holes in the floor?

I'll say that one more time.

In the 1830s and early 1840s, why did British "Third Class" train carriages have holes in the floor?
Jordan:Was third class for the animals?
Tom:No. It was for people. It was for people, but that is a lovely guess.
Trace:It is a good guess. I was thinking something similar, like holes in the floor for excrement.
Trace:And then I was like—
Tom:That is still in use on some trains.
Trace:Yeah, like that. I've heard that.
Tom:Admittedly, that hole is in an actual toilet in a bathroom, but there are still some trains that just... let it out onto the tracks. And it's not pleasant if you're a track worker near there.
Trace:It just feels like the most human thing ever. It's just "Okay, cool. We're moving really fast, so I'll just drop it onto the ground and I won't be there." It's like very, very... (giggles) "Oh, well, I'm fine." But all those kids walking on the train tracks in the movies.
Tom:In an effort to keep this podcast from immediately going down a lot of obvious joke routes, say that this is not for that obvious reason you're thinking of.
Trace:Got it.
Jordan:Oh, okay.
Nahre:Are these holes on the side? They're holes for windows because it's third class? They don't have windows, they have holes?
Tom:These are in the floor.
Nahre:On the floor. Oh, yeah. All the way?
Tom:All the way.
Jordan:Is the third class like lower income, cheap tickets? And so they just wanna be able to wash out the trains real easily?
Trace:Ooh, interesting.
Tom:It's vaguely along those lines. Yes, certainly the third class tickets have very few amenities whatsoever, and that is the key to this. It's not quite hosing down the carriages, but you are quite close with that.
Trace:That's interest— So... I was thinking, the air comes in and doesn't float to the other carriages. Like maybe third-class people are stinky, and so they don't get— the second class people don't have to smell 'em cuz they're... I just feel so classist to even say this.
SFX:(group laughing)
Jordan:Yeah. When I brought it up, I was like, "How do I say this and not sound awful?"
Trace:Not all third-class people are smelly.
Tom:1830s and 1840s. I think basically everyone stank at that point.
Trace:That's probably true.
Trace:I used to work at a museum. We were representing the 1880s, and it was the first place in Michigan to have hot and cold running water for the soldiers at this fort. And they took a bath once a week and they were like, "That's a lot. This is a lot of baths, you guys." Normally they would do like once a month or even like once a year. So yeah, everybody was probably smelly.
Nahre:Is it to get rid of water?
Tom:Yes. Yes it is. So when Trace was saying, "washing out," along the right lines, it's to get rid of water. There's one key—
Nahre:When it rains?
Tom:And that's yet again the correct answer. Absolutely right.
Jordan:You're just killing it.
Tom:Third class carriages didn't have a roof. It was just a box with some benches in it. And so that was to let the rain water escape. You're absolutely right.
Nahre:That is sad.
Trace:What? Nahre, you're great at this game.
Tom:Some carriages didn't even have those holes. There was a journey in 1844 where it was recorded that the passengers had their feet in two inches of water. Because it was...
Jordan:Oh god.
Nahre:That is crazy!
Tom:a box coupled to the back of the train.
Trace:I guess it doesn't matter if they smell then. 'Cause, if anything, they would be the least stinky people on the train after that.
Tom:Yeah, after that, after the 1844 Railway Act, it was stipulated that third-class passengers should have cover. That was the minimum required for a train.
Nahre:Oh my goodness.
Nahre:I should never complain.
SFX:(group laughing)
Nahre:Not too long ago, I was on a train ride in Germany, and I had to stand for a lot of it. And I just thought, this is the worst thing ever. I'm never gonna say that again.
Trace:At least you could ride a train. I miss trains.
Tom:Oh yeah, you're in California, aren't you? You've got a high-speed rail line that won't be done for a long time yet.
Trace:Ever, maybe. Who knows?
Tom:But yes. In the 1830s and early 1840s, British third-class train carriages had a hole in the floor to let the rain drain away.

Which brings us to our last guest question of the show. Nahre, this one's from you. Whenever you're ready.

How did the Egyptians use a loop of rope with twelve regularly-spaced knots?


How did the Egyptians use a loop of rope with twelve regularly-spaced knots?
Jordan:I feel like I have to throw a ruler out there. It's just like a... Just making sure that's not it.
Nahre:It is not a ruler.
Trace:Without you, how are we gonna answer this question? You've gotten all the other questions!
Jordan:Yeah, I was about to say we're totally screwed now.
Tom:I've got something in the back of my head about time measurement.

And I think I might be getting this confused with a Greek invention, which was like a... water communications thing. I think it was called something like the hydraulic telegraph. And you would have two water jugs with messages marked on the side. And you would like light a beacon. And you would take the corks out at the same time, the water would steadily go down. You douse the beacon, you put the bung back in, and whatever the message reads, that's the message. And I think that's Greek, and I don't think that's Egyptian. But that's what's stuck in my head. Like it's some sort of communication thing or a tool for measuring time or something like that.

And Nahre is now gonna tell me that I'm entirely on the wrong track here.
Nahre:That's such a sophisticated guess, but it is not. Jordan was closer.
Jordan:So it's used to measure something?
Nahre:It is used to measure something, but it has to be specific.
Tom:That's good 'cause my second guess was gonna be hurting people.
Trace:Yeah. I'm glad it's not for that. The Egyptians were very precise. I think we learned that a lot when I was— I visited years ago, and there was a lot of talk of like precision and standards and measures. Like they had a lot of— They had a lot of things that were standardized within their society. So that's— My first thought is that you don't make a tool with twelve knots regularly spaced, unless you're trying to make some kind of standard. But the standard for what?
Tom:So what old measurements are there? It's gotta be distance, or time, or area or...
Trace:What water level? Would the Nile's water level be important to— I mean, it would still flood then 'cause there was no Nasser, no dam.
Nahre:I might give a clue. This would have— It would've been used to help construct things as well.
Tom:Okay, twelve...
Trace:But it's not a ruler.
Tom:Twelve evenly spaced knots. Incidentally, the Egyptians called rulers Pharaohs. No, sorry. That was a crap joke, and I apologise.
Trace:I'm gonna remember that one.
Nahre:Ruler? You can call it some kind of ruler, but it has to be way more specific than a ruler.
Trace:Like a yard stick. A measuring tape.
Jordan:A protractor?
Tom:Are they building pyramids with this somehow? Can you divide— You can divide 12 into two and three and four and six. So it's a good mechanism for measuring halves and quarters. So is there some angle thing with per— he says wildly flailing his arm around to demonstrate a pyramid. Is that some kind of angle thing where you work out... where the top of your pyramid is?
Nahre:Yes. Some kind of angle thing.
Jordan:Do you use it to make right angles for the... stone thingies that they used to build the pyramids and whatnot?
Trace:Like in a quarry?
Jordan:Just to measure out what an actual cube looks like, to make sure you're having...
Tom:But why do you need 12 evenly spaced knots in the rope for that?
Nahre:Jordan's answer is getting closer. Getting closer. But why—
Trace:Got it.
Nahre:Why the loop of rope with 12 regularly spaced knots?
Tom:Oh, a loop of rope!
Trace:It's a loop! Oh, for columns! 'Cause you wanna make little divots in your columns. Is that, no, maybe? I don't know. They have a lot of columns.
Tom:I think that's the Greeks.
Trace:Shoot, you're right.
SFX:(Tom and Jordan laughing)
Tom:So we forgot loop. And I was about to say clock, because you've got twelve things in a loop. And I was like, "Oh, that's a clock." No, the Egyptians did not use our time system. So it's an angle thing.
Trace:How did they use a loop?
Tom:It's not like a sundial, is it?
Jordan:Wait, is it right angles? Twelve, 3-4-5.
Trace:They used it to calculate right angles?
Nahre:It's used as a form of set square. So one angle has three spaces. Another one has four spaces, and then the last angle has five. 'Cause 3 + 4 + 5 = 12.
Tom:It's a set square. That's...
Trace:I don't know what a set square is, but that's cool.
Tom:It's that triangle shape thing you had in school to measure angles.
Trace:I never knew the name of that.
Nahre:It comes from the Pythagorean triple,
Tom:since 3² + 4² = 5². And 3 + 4 + 5 is 12.
Nahre:I did not know this.
Trace:You're saying it as if you knew it.
Nahre:No, I didn't. I have the sheet here.
Tom:One last order of business then, which is the question I asked the audience right at the start of the show.

In which 1972 film does an elderly man go to sleep in Hollywood, but wake up next to Khartoum?

Just before we go, any ideas from the panel on that?
Jordan:That is so not my area, it's not even funny.
Tom:1972 films are not the area.
Tom:It doesn't actually involve teleportation. Khartoum was the name of the horse in The Godfather that the guy wakes up next to the head of.
Tom:He goes to sleep in Hollywood and he wakes up next to Khartoum.
Trace:(deathly moaning)
Tom:Thank you for that impression, Trace.
Jordan:I also haven't seen The Godfather, but I do understand the reference.
Tom:I'll be honest, neither have I.
Trace:Oh, it's great. It's great.
Nahre:That's scene is quite memorable.
Trace:You know what? I would say, given that scene versus the bowling scene that was described earlier, I would go Godfather as less gory.
Tom:That is our show for today. Well done to all of you. Particularly to Nahre, who just got question after question there. Tell us what's going on in your lives, where we can find you. Nahre, we'll start with you.
Nahre:If you just put in my name, you'll find a lot of videos related to music. Nahre Sol, N-A-H-R-E S-O-L. You can find all my material on YouTube.
Tom:Trace what's going on with you?
Trace:I'm making a video about why we're getting so many spam texts. That should be out pretty soon. You can find it on my YouTube channel. You can also watch Theory of Awesome, which is a People Are Awesome project that I helped host and write, and it was really fun. We're about halfway through the season, and that's on the People Are Awesome app.
Tom:And Jordan.
Jordan:Yep. You can find me under my name, Jordan Harrod, on YouTube, Twitter, TikTok, Instagram. These days I'm doing a lot more grad schooly content, so if you're interested in learning about what it's like to be a PhD student at MIT, come find my stuff.
Tom:And if you wanna know more about this show or you wanna send in an idea for a question, you can do that at You can find us at @lateralcast pretty much everywhere, and you can catch video highlights of the show at Thank you very much to Jordan Harrod.
Jordan:Thanks for having me.
Tom:To Trace Dominguez.
Trace:Woohoo, that was fun.
Tom:And Nahre Sol.
Nahre:It was a pleasure.
Tom:I'm Tom Scott, and this has been Lateral.
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