Lateral with Tom Scott

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

Previous EpisodeIndexNext Episode

Episode 60: The world's longest ship

Published 1st December, 2023

Molly Edwards, Becky Stern and Jenny Draper face questions about pet permutations, infant images and rope ruses.

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: Jonathan, Chris L.. FORMAT: Pad 26 Limited/Labyrinth Games Ltd. EXECUTIVE PRODUCERS: David Bodycombe and Tom Scott.


Transcription by Caption+

Tom:Why might you put a photo of a random baby in your wallet, even if you've never been a parent?

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

Perchance, it's the popular puzzles podcast, playing particularly pleasing problems for your pleasure. Please partake in our poses parallel to our panel. And the producer can 'P' right off for that script.

First, we have London tour guide from the London History Show, welcome back to the show, Jenny Draper.
Jenny:Hello! Good to be here.
Tom:Good to have you back. How are you doing since last we crossed wits on this channel?
Jenny:Yeah, last time, it was, I had a lot of fun. But yeah, this time I've purposely... not been looking up any Lateral puzzles. So I'm coming to this totally fresh.
Tom:We try to make sure they're original. I'm told our producers get a lot of questions sent in that may have been taken from elsewhere and have to watch out for them. So, feel free to rehearse. It probably won't help.
SFX:(both laugh)
Tom:Also returning to the show, a maker who most recently made a robot companion backpack, which looks adorable, Becky Stern.
Becky:Hello, lovely to be back. Thanks, Tom.
Tom:Tell me about the backpack.
Becky:It holds a robot. My friend Jay makes companion robots that sit on his shoulder, but he's not a sewer, sewist. So, I do all that stuff, so I made him a backpack. I've been making purses since I was a kid. It's really fun.
Tom:So it's like one of those things of taking your dog on the subway or something like that, but it is just a robot sat in the back?
Becky:Yeah, it's a bespoke, you know... Becky Stern brand, luxury handbag.
Tom:And how are you feeling about being back on the show?
Becky:Oh, good. I slayed last time. So I'm pumped.
Tom:(chortles) You've set yourself up for all that. Very, very best of luck.

Finally, for the first time on Lateral, we have a botanist and science communicator who, when we tested the microphones earlier, as her loud and enthusiastic shout to check that everything was working, just used the words, "I really love plants." Molly Edwards, thank you very much for being on the show.
Molly:Thanks for having me, Tom.
Tom:Tell the audience a bit about yourself.
Molly:Yeah, I am a botanist. I have a PhD in flowers. I love plants, like you said. And yeah, I help scientists tell their stories to the world. So I host Science IRL and bop around to different labs and explore really cool research projects.
Tom:How are you feeling about being on here for the first time?
Molly:I'm so excited. I can't wait.
SFX:(both laugh)
Tom:Well, good luck to all three of you. The questions on this show are a paradox. They contradict themselves, but also make sense. And while you're trying to work that one out, I'm going to start you off with the first question, which is this:

In 2012, Dr. Jack Berdy offered a program of Botox and facial fillers that could be personalised. It wasn't for vain people nor potential models, but it could help his patients to earn money. Who was the target market?

I'll say that again.

In 2012, Dr. Jack Berdy offered a program of Botox and facial fillers that could be personalised. It wasn't for vain people nor potential models, but it could help his patients to earn money. Who was the target market?
Jenny:Was it humans? This isn't for animals, is it?
Tom:We have had a question on here a long time ago about Botox for camels.
Jenny:Oh god, what?!
Molly:(giggles) What?
Jenny:What? So they don't spit?
Molly:Tell us more.
Tom:Yeah, spoilers for a much earlier episode of this podcast. It was for a camel beauty contest.
Becky:Oh yeah, the camel beauty contest is a real thing. I've seen that on Amazing Race.
Molly:Yeah. They have such nice eyelashes.
Becky:So, so lovely.
Jenny:Oh my god!
Becky:Well, 2012, they've already been using Botox— I mean, make money, like celebrities, famous people make money by looking young by getting Botox, but that seems too obvious.
Molly:Can you inject fillers? In a, you know, have a logo or a brand? You know, people who do forehead tattoo advertising? Is that how you make money from products?
Tom:Oh wow!
Becky:Who's buying that ad space, Molly?
SFX:(guests laughing)
Tom:I can tell you who bought some of that ad space. There was someone... We're talking relatively early days of eBay and the internet. I don't know if it was eBay. It was something like that where they sold off their forehead as a space to get a tattoo.
Tom:And it was some casino.
Jenny:It was a really Web 1.0 thing. Bing or something, wasn't it?
Tom:I think it was a casino. I'm sure our producer's rapidly researching this in the background, but they just had a giant forehead tattoo of a casino's URL, and... I don't know if you could do that with Botox and facial fillers? I'm sure someone will try.
Becky:Botox is also used for migraines, but I don't see how that could relate to making money, except that it keeps you from losing out on work time.
Jenny:It also sort of freezes your face a bit, right? I think?
Jenny:So, is it something to do with not moving? Paralysing some part of you on purpose?
Tom:Yeah, you're thinking in the right area there.
Becky:Figure models, they have to stay really still while you're drawing them.
Tom:Just Botox the entire series of joints.
SFX:(group laughing)
Jenny:Just formaldehyde them.
Jenny:Is this— Are they being injected in their face?
Tom:Yeah, it's Botox and facial fillers, yeah.
Becky:Yeah, mime is my best guess so far, I think.
SFX:(Tom and Molly laugh)
Jenny:Would you need to hold a really weird expression for a certain amount of time? If you're modeling for a DreamWorks poster and you just need to have your eyebrow constantly...
Tom:Have one eyebrow constantly arched for that long.
Molly:Was it a staring contest that you could earn money, and if your eyes were frozen open, you would win the staring contest?
Jenny:Yeah, it's like a girning contest.
Tom:Ooh, now... Getting closer. Very, very far away still, but definitely getting closer in the contest thing.
Jenny:I remember reading a story once about... Oh no, I tell you what, it wasn't a story. It was the Simpsons episode where he goes to the chili cook-off and he lines his throat with wax so that he can eat the hottest chili.
SFX:(Jenny and Molly laugh)
Jenny:Can you do that with Botox?
Tom:Oh, I— It's— You are all circling.
Molly:Oh yeah, could you paral— For a hot dog eating contest, you could paralyze your throat so you could just shove it down more?
Becky:Is it an eating contest of some kind, Tom?
Tom:It's not eating. It's another part of the face, but it's—
Becky:Smelling. Is it your gag reflex?
Tom:I don't know if you can Botox that.
Becky:Can you use Botox to cancel your gag? No, you can't.
Becky:Crying? Is it no crying? Onion cutting contest. I don't know, whatever contest this is. I've never heard of it.
Molly:I love that.
SFX:(guests giggle)
Tom:That must exist. You name the thing, humans will turn it into a competition.
Tom:Closest so far is staring contest. Certainly people will be looking very closely at your face during this.
Becky:It's Marina Abramović, and she's really having trouble maintaining her famous art installation where she stares at you the whole time.
Tom:I have never heard of Marina Abramović, and clearly everyone else in this conversation has. Is this just an artist who stares at you as art?
Becky:She— The artist is present, Tom. The artist is present. That's what the art is, okay? Yes, she sits there and she stares at you, and she makes you cry. You'd probably recognize her if you looked up a picture of her. She's, it's really famous.
Tom:Thank you to our producer for pointing out, we are steadily running through a lot of spoilers for old shows here. That's the artist who walked half of the Great Wall of China apparently, to meet up with someone.
Jenny:Oh right, 'cause someone else is coming the other way.
Tom:So, there are two loose threads here, that if you combine them, should answer this. And one half is... there's money involved. This will help you earn a lot of money if you can keep your face under control.
Jenny:Poker, poker face!
Tom:There we go.
Molly:Oh, what?
Molly:Oh my god.
Tom:Run me through it.
Jenny:So if you're doing poker and you have a really bad tell, like your eye twitches or something, when you get a good hand, then you get Botox injected in you so that you don't give it away when you've got an ace.
Tom:Absolutely right. This is Dr. Jack Berdy who offered a program called Pokertox. It is Botox for poker players.

Now, how much of that is him getting good PR, and how many of these were actually given to poker players? How many poker players actually had this done? Couldn't tell you, but yes, that was the plan.

Yeah, other people did point out that it wouldn't prevent tells like a throbbing vein or becoming more or less chatty. There is also a quote from a World Series of Poker main event winner, Chris Moneymaker. Apparently that is his actual name. Who said that the worst poker tell he ever saw wouldn't have been helped by this at all. It was someone who would shake their head when they got a bad hand and nod their head when they got a good one. And...
SFX:(group laughing)
Becky:You could get the Botox in the back of your neck, maybe.
Tom:So yes, Dr. Jack Berdy offered Botox for poker players.

Each of our players has brought a question and an answer. I don't know the question. I definitely don't know the answer, we hope. So, we will start with Jenny. Over to you.
Jenny:Why did a Canadian company send a mailshot of 'scratch and sniff' cards to thousands of households that hadn't ordered it?

I'll read it again.

Why did a Canadian company send a mailshot of 'scratch and sniff' cards to thousands of households that hadn't ordered it?
Tom:You don't really see snatch and— (laughs) Snatch and griff!
SFX:(group laughing)
Tom:That wasn't, I swear! I swear, that wasn't deliberate, okay? Also, that's not even a decent spoonerism. I didn't even say 'scriff', I said 'criff'.
Tom:Also, you don't see them. You don't smell them either. I got the sense wrong.
SFX:(guests giggling)
Becky:You can see and smell them.
Jenny:"You just don't smell like you used to."
Becky:Can you clarify 'mailshot'? Does that mean mass mailing?
Jenny:Yes, so like sending it out to a whole load of people.
Becky:It's not some, it's just some Britishism, okay.
Jenny:It's not, they don't shoot you with a cannon.
Tom:They used to be a lot more common as a publicity stunt for a few things. I know the BBC did a charity telethon once where they had little sections of various shows had filmed bits for it, and they had specifically written the scripts to have a, you know, you could go to the shops, buy a scratch and sniff card that they made, and the profits went to charity. You know, you'd see them for things like that, but...
Becky:Oh, I loved scratch and sniff stickers when I was a kid, and obsessed with the wallpaper in Willy Wonka.
Tom:Has anyone done a scratch and sniff YouTube video yet? 'Cause I feel like someone must have done... get the cards ordered out to your Patreon subscribers or something like that.
Jenny:Yeah, I don't know who still makes them. I think it might be two years ago.
Tom:Oh, okay.
Becky:If it's two years ago, then it's to try to test if you can smell anything. It's a COVID test.
Molly:Oh my god, that's definitely it.
Jenny:That's, honestly, that's what I thought as well, but it's, I'm afraid it's not that.
Tom:Did you see the scented candle reviews?
Molly:Yeah, the candle reviews and also the Reddit thread about nostalgia tastes and everyone's saying Reese's peanut butter cups don't taste the same anymore, and it's like, it's 'cause you all have long COVID.
SFX:(group chuckling)
Jenny:Oh no!
Jenny:Yeah, whenever people got COVID, they would start buying Yankee Candles and go, "Oh, this is rubbish. It doesn't work anymore." And no, it's just 'cause you've got COVID, you can't smell it.
Tom:You could actually plot— I say you could. Someone actually plotted the average reviews of Yankee Candles versus the COVID waves, and they do kinda go inversely proportionate.
Molly:Beautiful data viz right there.
Becky:Amazing economic ripples that are happening. Never would have, you know, like, wow. Look forward to the next year and a half of Business Insider content.
SFX:(Tom and Molly laugh)
Jenny:Yeah, yeah. I mean, that is going to be a Lateral question in five years, right?
Becky:"Which business—?"
SFX:(guests laughing)
Becky:"Candles!" So, it wasn't candles?
Jenny:No, so it's not a good smell, but it is a specific smell. If it was COVID, it could just be any smell, but...
Becky:Is it the smell of natural gas to remind you what natural gas smells like in case of a natural gas leak?
Tom:I was just thinking that.
Jenny:Yes, it is!
Becky:I'm a safety nerd. I got another safety question right last time. Safety.
SFX:(group laughing)
Jenny:Yeah, absolutely. That's it, yeah. So... it's from a Canadian gas company, and they sent out leaflets saying if you smell natural gas, this is what it smells like. Apparently, gas leaks are a really big problem in rural Canada, specifically. So they sent them out so that you could... Yeah, so that you could tell if you were having a natural gas leak.
Tom:I once got an invitation to film with one of the gas distribution companies. Or, you know, an exploratory email. "Is there anything we can work on together?" And we spent a few minutes going back and forth. Oh, man, you could visit the place where they inject the smell into the gas supply. Because that's not what natural gas smells like. It's just added so you can smell gas.
Becky:No, it doesn't smell like anything.
Tom:And we got a few minutes into it before realising that a video where I go... (sniff) "Yeah, that smells of something" really does not work in a visual medium.
Jenny:You've gotta send out scratch and sniff to your patrons, Tom.
SFX:(Tom and Jenny wheeze)
Tom:That's actually not a bad idea now.
Molly:This is the new era of your channel, just sending out corresponding scratch and sniffs for all your episodes.
Tom:You know what? I'm not ruling it out.
Jenny:You're gonna single-handedly revive the scratch and sniff economy.
Tom:But also, that means that somewhere, there was a warehouse with 100,000 scratch and sniff cards that smelt like natural gas. And I just wonder if people kept wandering in there and thinking there's a gas leak.
Jenny:I mean, it is weird, so... The companies that make the smells are generally... I mean, I don't know about natural gas, but air freshener companies do have this sideline of making bad smells on purpose. So I used to work at a museum where they had a recreation of this historical street, and they would pump out smells. And they were just regular air fresheners that they would get bespoke from the company to smell of burning or... you know, poop or things like that. And yeah, you just get a plug-in just like... I don't know who, if they got it from Glade or what.
Becky:Immersive experience at the Living History Museum.
Tom:Yeah, I got a tour around a haunted house once and the same thing that you can just order the smell of death in— It they have a little vaporiser or something like that. But you can order basically whatever smell you want for haunted houses or attractions or whatever other weird purpose you might have for it.
Becky:I love it, like Mayflower cod storage.
SFX:(group laughing)
Jenny:You're working at the lovely smells factory and you're like, "Oh, they've put me on burning wood duty today. Manager doesn't like me."
Becky:We had a flavor factory in New Jersey have an incident a couple years ago that made all of New York City smell a certain way for about a day.
Tom:Sorry, the phrase 'flavour factory' is what...
SFX:(group giggling)
Tom:That's what I took out of that sentence.
Becky:It's inside Flavortown. It's downtown in Flavortown.
Tom:Hard day down the lemon mines.
Becky:Newark, New Jersey.
Jenny:Yes, absolutely. So, the answer is that the company that was sending out scratch and sniff mailshots were a natural gas company, warning you what to be on the lookout for if you smelled a natural gas leak.
Tom:Next one's from me, sent in by Chris L. Thank you very much.

Due to a rather arbitrary design choice in the past, the American Kennel Association only allows 37 dogs of the same breed to be registered with the same name. Why?

And one more time.

Due to a rather arbitrary design choice in the past, the American Kennel Association only allows 37 dogs of the same breed to be registered with the same name. Why?
Jenny:In their filing cabinets... have they only got one sheet of A4 for each name? Or for each dog? And they can only fit 37 dogs on there?
Tom:(chokes) I'm going to keep my mouth shut at this point 'cause it's not that.
Tom:But you are already sort of vaguely going— It's that kind of technological limit. Sort of thing that might be, well, like physical limits, space limits.
Becky:Yeah, some kind of database thing? Yeah, a space limit, but it's not— doesn't— 37's not a computer number.
Molly:Is it like a trophy, like where they put the names on the trophy, and they can only fit a certain...
Becky:Yeah, but 37 of the same, right? Like only 37... Only 37 Amstaffs named Buster. Is that what we're talking about here?
Molly:(chuckles) Angry.
Jenny:Yeah, yeah.
Jenny:Is this why fancy pedigree dogs all have really weird names like... the Tang of the Mountain, or something? You do need to be unique, yeah, but... It's like, you gotta get really specific, because Buster's been taken. Back in 1902, that was already taken.
Tom:Oh, I'm just reminded of the horse called Potoooooooo.
SFX:(group giggles)
Tom:There's a racehorse quite famous for its name, which is just P-O-T and then eight Os. Because, I think it was just a pun on 'potato'. And it's just called Potoooooooo, which has always amused me.
Jenny:It's a great horse name. I'm imagining they have a plaque on their wall that you physically paint the name on, and they get to the bottom. I remember once going inside London County Hall, which was the headquarters of London's fairly short-lived mayor, back when it was the '80s, and we had Ken Livingstone. And they'd obviously planned for a lot of mayors.
Tom:So, short-lived in terms of term of office, not—
Jenny:No, yes, he didn't die! Yeah, they scrapped the position. And they'd obviously planned to have a lot of mayors. And they'd only written two before the position was scrapped, and then there's just a long, blank plaque forever now, because they're not in that building anymore. And I'm imagining kind of the opposite, but for dogs. So in the American Kennel Association, they've got a plaque that says, "Here are all the Busters" and they've run out and you can't have any more.
Molly:Is it, sorry, is it 37 ever, or at one time? Once one Buster dies, are you allowed to register a new Buster? That's horrible.
Tom:You know what? I don't know. I could not tell you on that because it's not in my notes.
Becky:Let's go with, it's like it's SAG, and ever.
Becky:Right? If it's like SAG.
Tom:I think it's forever. I think it's forever.
Jenny:So there's a finite number of Busters in the world.
Tom:Oh, sorry. SAG there is Screen Actors Guild, right? British equivalent would be Equity.
Becky:Yeah, yeah, yeah. There can only be, if you have the same name as any other previous actor in SAG, you have to change your name to enter SAG.
Tom:Yeah, which is why Anthony Head is known in the US as Anthony Stewart Head for Buffy and things like that. It's because Equity did not have an Anthony Head, but the Screen Actors Guild did. So he changed his name when he went over there. You're now getting a bit closer there, and I think Becky, you said database earlier, and then we kind of got distracted by other things.
Becky:Well, it's just that 37's not a computer number, right? It's not 512, it's not 128. Why is it 37? Although, is 37 prime? What about 37, right? (laughs)
Tom:You're right. It's a limit of some sort. But that's not a traditional— Yeah, it's not a power of two. It's not a computer number. There is something else about that number though.
Jenny:Oh god. Does that mean this is a maths question?
Tom:Oh, no. No, it's not, no.
Tom:I'll promise you we did not sneak in a maths question.
Jenny:We don't actually have to work out its factorials or anything. That's... (sigh) It's... Is that— oh, 37— You can't make a grid of 37, right?
Tom:Pretty sure 37's a prime number. But that's not it here. Actually, the problem's with 38. 37's just fine. You can have number 37.
Tom:Can't have number 38.
Jenny:But once you have 38... Oh, is that... Oh no, you said it was a weird design choice. So it's not because if you have 38 dogs all named the same thing, they all have to be related or something.
Tom:No, but if you have people who are related or dogs who are related, how might you distinguish those names?
Jenny:So is that at the point where you're statistically going to get them in the same room?
Tom:Oh! You said you didn't want the mathsy stuff, and then you come up with a birthday paradox reference like this!
SFX:(group laughing)
Tom:It's not that, but again, it's there being too many of them.
Molly:Yeah, was it a Roman numeral thing? If it's Buster the 38th, the Roman numerals get weirder or something after?
Tom:Yes, I need something a little bit more specific and weirder. You're so nearly there.
Jenny:Too long?
Tom:Too long.
Jenny:It doesn't fit in their tiny little text box?
Tom:Yeah, it's literally there is not enough space on the form for the number 38 in Roman numerals.
Molly:Oh no!
Tom:It is XXXVIII, and that is too long for the box. 37 is fine. Ironically, 39 would be fine. But you can't have 38. So that's where it cuts off.
Jenny:That's rubbish.
Jenny:Just put another bo— or just write it out with numbers. Wow!
Tom:And if you would like a very in-depth investigation into that, I said it wasn't a maths thing, but yes, Matt Parker has an extensive video on this.
Tom:Molly, over to you for the next question.
Molly:Okay. This question has been sent in by Jonathan.

The USS Pittsburgh was launched in February 1944. Despite only being a heavy cruiser, it was given the epithet of 'the longest ship in the world' for a few weeks when sailing in the Pacific the year after. Why?

Read it one more time.

The USS Pittsburgh was launched in February 1944. Despite only being a heavy cruiser, it was given the epithet of 'the longest ship in the world' for a few weeks when sailing in the Pacific the year after. Why?
Tom:This is how broken my brain is at the moment from watching slightly too much Star Trek over the last day or two. You said USS Pittsburgh, and my brain went to Star Trek USS before actual US Navy fleet.
SFX:(group laughing)
Tom:I was like, "Oh, the USS Pittsburgh! Is that Nova-class?"
SFX:(guests laughing)
Tom:(sighs angrily)
Jenny:Was it in two halves? And one half was in the US, or you said it was in the Pacific.
Tom:One half was on either side of the International Date Line in the Pacific, and they just— I was going to say the computer software, but again, you said 1944. I've just kind of wrapped it 'round the globe on a map.
Molly:You're pretty much on the nose there. (giggles) Do you want...
Jenny:Oh, what?!
Molly:That was shockingly quick. (giggles) Yes, yeah. Yes.
Jenny:So my idea was that the ship is literally in two halves. And for some reason, they've taken... the pointy end— I can't call it the pointy end. The stern, the prow.
Tom:(laughs heartily) No, hold on. Those are different things.
Becky:Yeah, come on. Get 'em right. My last name is Stern. You better believe I know what end of the boat that is.
Jenny:They've taken the prow, and they've put that— The prow for some reason is in... Russia. And the stern, for some reason, is in Indonesia, and, for repairs, or something?
Molly:Yeah, the pieces were in different places, but not for—
Jenny:Yaah? No, not for repairs?
Tom:Okay. We gotta figure out what these places were then, surely. You said it was the Pacific?
Molly:I don't think you need to pick. I can tell you maybe after the full story with the specific locations, but... it wasn't in half, on purpose.
Jenny:Oh no! It got blown up? And it landed really far away? No, that can't be right, surely.
Becky:Really bad at World War II history.
Molly:Oh it's not— I think I'm allowed to say it's not specifically to do with World War II.
Tom:I don't know why my brain keeps misfiring in this episode, but you said, "really bad at World War II history," and my brain just kind of went, "Oh yeah. "They were just really bad at World War II."
Tom:I didn't hear the rest of it. The ship's in two pieces. They were just bad at World War II.
Jenny:They were. 3 out of 10 tops.
Becky:You know how they say middle aged people are either into World War II history or smoked meats?
SFX:(others laugh)
Becky:They're more into smoked meats.
Jenny:How often, on average, do you think about World War II every day?
Tom:Three out of ten. The boat's in two pieces, but both halves are inexplicably still afloat, so...
Jenny:Yeah. (chuckles)
Jenny:Why would it be in two pieces? Is it meant to split up, and one of them got lost?
Molly:No, it was—
Tom:See, now I'm back on Star Trek doing saucer separation.
Molly:Yeah, the saucer separation, yes.
SFX:(group laughing)
Jenny:Did someone steal a bit of it? Is...
Molly:That would be the best heist story ever. I would watch that movie, but that is not...
Jenny:I'll just wake up and be like, "Oh, what a good day on the USS Pittsburgh, wha?" And there's a hole in the side of the boat. And it's like the Japanese are driving off with it, like, "So long, suckers!"
Tom:A hard-boiled detective knocks on the door, and he's like, "You've got the back half of the USS Pittsburgh in there." Man crammed up against what is clearly a battleship grey thing opening the door. "No, absolutely not."
SFX:(Molly and Jenny giggle)
Jenny:"Did you come alone? No one followed you, did they?" He opens his coat and there's the back half of the USS Pittsburgh.
Molly:Oh, it literally would be Ocean's 14.
SFX:(group giggling)
Tom:Oh, I'm angry I didn't see that joke. Well done.
Jenny:Yeah, why would it be in two places?
Tom:I said that both halves were inexplicably still afloat, but some of it must have still been afloat, because they wouldn't be saying 'longest ship' if it had sunk.
Tom:So, was it still afloat?
Jenny:Or at least in dock, I guess?
Molly:Yes, at least... a large chunk of it was afloat.
Jenny:Did it get blown up and they tipped them upside down and carried on sailing them around?
Molly:It was not a World War II casualty.
Jenny:Okay, so it just fell apart by itself?
Molly:Yes, yeah, so it's something else that can happen to boats. They can get caught in some really bad weather. So, yes, so it got caught in a typhoon, and a big part of the bow fell off, and the rest of it stayed.
Tom:The front fell off? The front actually fell off?
Molly:Yes, fell off. Was not— Was stolen by the typhoon.
SFX:(Molly and Becky giggle)
Molly:And... It remained afloat enough for them to tow it back to port, and then they recovered the bow and towed it to another port. And so for a little while, if you're using the technical definition of the boat length being bow to stern, then it was the longest by a couple hundred miles. Because they were in different ports.
Tom:Okay, here we go.

In a 2016 psychological study, two random groups of children aged 4–6 are given a repetitive task to do. On average, one group persevered for 23% longer than the other group. Why?

One more time.

In a 2016 psychological study, two random groups of children aged 4–6 are given a repetitive task to do. On average, one group persevered for 23% longer than the other group. Why?
Jenny:Did they get a reward for going longer?
Molly:Yeah, that's one of those marshmallow tests.
Becky:Yeah, right, where the marshmallow's either visible or not visible. "We'll give you a marshmallow. It's this marshmallow right here." versus, "We'll give you a marshmallow. It's in the other room."
Tom:Has the marshmallow test been replication crisis'd yet or not? I can't remember if that one stood up, or whether it got taken out by every other psychological research paper in the wave of the last few years.
Jenny:Is it... Okay, so they're doing a repetitive task. Were... If they're trying to do it to get something, were the ones who did it longer, were they shown someone doing it and succeeding?
Tom:There is a difference—
Jenny:They were given hope?
Tom:(laughs) Oh, now... Very, very indirectly... Yes. But very, very indir— Given hope... Remember those words. They will come back at the end of the question. But, not quite that directly.
Molly:Is this a Star Wars question? A New Hope?
SFX:(both chuckle)
Jenny:Yeah, I don't know if this is a real study or if it's one that's been widely debunked, but yeah, I remember hearing about... scientists dropping a rat in a bucket, and it would try and swim to stay afloat. And the ones— If they took the rat out just before it drowned and then did it again, the rat would actually swim for longer before it gave up. So, did they do that with children?
Molly:I hope it is.
SFX:(Tom, Jenny, and Molly wheeze)
Tom:Tonight on Unethical Psychology Experiments!
SFX:(group giggling)
Tom:You know that every psychology student has those experiments they want to run, but are utterly ethically prevented from.
Molly:Right, right, right.
Tom:Do not bring that conversation— This is 15 years ago for me now, but do not bring that sort of conversation up with psychology students when they're slightly drunk, because they do have some horrible plans they would love to do if they're ever evil geniuses.
Becky:Everyone has intrusive thoughts.
Tom:Yeah, right? Psychology students' intrusive thoughts.
Becky:2016, that's relatively recent. So this isn't some kind of ancient torture study.
Molly:Okay, yeah, it was probably all above board.
Becky:There's probably no electric shocks involved.
Molly:(giggles) Right.
Tom:(chuckles) No. It's a very ethical experiment, this. You're right that it's how the groups were treated. There's nothing in the makeup of the groups or or even what the kids were asked to do. But it is something in the way that they were... treated. Let's go with that.
Molly:Was the task pleasant or unpleasant?
Molly:Or just repetitive, okay.
Becky:Were they given praise and encouragement?
Tom:You have done the thing of hitting exactly one of my notes, which is that it wasn't anything to do with praise or punishment. Sorry.
Becky:Oh, okay.
Jenny:So there was something that gave them hope, that made them carry on doing it for longer, but a surprising thing that isn't "Good job" or "Stop, you're awful. Your dad isn't proud of you."
Tom:And this is something that I think would be particularly effective for ages 4–6.
Jenny:Were they allowed to do it while watching Star Wars?
Tom:You're getting closer. It's not Star Wars.
Jenny:They get— They had a distraction. And they were allowed to put Baby Shark or Blue's Clues or something on in the background. And that meant they could carry on doing it for longer.
Tom:It's close. It's...
Tom:Certainly you're dancing around the right sort of thing here. It's not a distraction for them. They still just have the task to do.
Molly:Doing the task to music, versus not?
Becky:Yeah, it's either music or smells.
Tom:(laughs) That were just brought in from the flavour factory.
Becky:The flavor factory.
SFX:(group laughing)
Molly:They were doing it while exposed to natural gas.
SFX:(laughter intensifies)
Molly:Slowed down their tasks. Oh god.
SFX:(laughter slows)
Molly:Sorry. Oh yeah, that wouldn't pass irony.
Tom:Just having a quiet laugh about exposing children to natural gas there. No, just a very ethical experiment.
Jenny:Was one of them hungry, and the other one got food before?
Tom:They were given something. It was more of a prop that would make it more fun for them.
Jenny:A stuffed toy?
Jenny:A teddy bear that had a little thumbs up? Oh, then the teddy bear would be giving praise.
Tom:It's more about how they thought of themselves.
Jenny:Oh, they got a little crown! Or a little sticker that said, "I'm good. I'm doing a good job."
Molly:A costume? A costume?
Tom:What sort of costume?
Jenny:An Elsa costume.
Tom:Yeah, you know what, I'm going to give you it.
Tom:Whatever their favourite character was. The example they went with was Batman.
Molly:Oh, cute.
Becky:That's a job. They're like at work. (laughs)
Jenny:"Batman would carry on. So I'm going to as well! Batman would flick this switch back and forth."
Molly:Oh gosh, I should try that one. I don't wanna do my work.
Tom:Right? They asked one of the groups to pretend to be their favourite character. It might have been Elsa. The example I got was Batman. And they did the repetitive task for 23% longer because they were thinking of themself as someone who would do that.
Molly:That's a huge bump. That's amazing.
Jenny:Elsa would do the washing up right now. Elsa would do the vacuuming.
Tom:There was another group who were just asked to talk about themselves in the third-person. So like, "This is what Tom would do now." And because they thought of themselves as being good, they managed 13% longer.
Molly:That's really heartwarming.
Jenny:(wistful) Tom did a really good job.
Tom:Thank you.
SFX:(Tom and Molly giggle)
Tom:And somehow that still felt really nice. Thank you for that. That was a little boost to my ego there.
SFX:(Tom and Jenny laugh)
Jenny:It still works, man!
Becky:It helps prove the adult psychology thing of the power of a positive internal dialogue.
Tom:So, yes, it's called self-distancing. The kids who persevered for longer did so because they were thinking of themselves as being like Batman.

Last big question of the show then. Becky, over to you.
Becky:When Europe hosted golf's Ryder Cup competition in 2018, they beat the US team partly thanks to some ropes. How?

I'll read it again.

When Europe hosted golf's Ryder Cup competition in 2018, they beat the US team partly thanks to some ropes. How?
Jenny:So I'm guessing they're not cheating and putting ropes on the fairway.
Tom:Or just setting up tripwires for the American team.
Becky:I don't know anything about golf. No rules, no golf rules were broken.
Tom:That's a shame, because cheating golf I would definitely watch. They're just setting up traps for the other...
Jenny:You're just allowed to cheat. However you get that ball in the hole...
Jenny:You're allowed to do it.
Tom:Nudge it with your foot if you— So, only if you notice that you're in tro— Actually, that kind of is how golf works, isn't it?
Jenny:(strained laugh)
Tom:If you're just playing golf casually and no one's watching... you can just move the ball.
Jenny:Yeah, just nudge it with your foot. Yeah. That's how all sports work. If you play darts and no one's looking,
Jenny:you just stick it in— "Oh look, I got 21!" Is it something to do with their training? They did that thing where you have to wiggle ropes, or they did a lot of skipping? Skipping makes you better at golf.
Molly:I like that.
Becky:Ooh, I like that. I like that guess, but no, it doesn't have to do with their pre-game workout.
Molly:And where ropes is what we're thinking... is what we're thinking of, ropes.
Becky:Yeah, regular rope.
Molly:Regular old ropes.
Tom: 2Yeah, uh-huh.*\
Jenny:Were the ropes for keeping the crowd back? And so because they're... the home team... they... let the crowd in closer, so they got more... more positive reinforcement from the crowd?
Tom:Do you want the crowd in closer in golf? Because the closer they are, the more chance that someone's gonna yell something just as you're taking the swing to put you off.
Becky:You're onto something with the crowd, but it's...
Jenny:Yeah, the crowds are really quiet in golf, right? They're dead silent. It's like tennis. You have to be dead silent, and then only tiny claps after they've hit it, right? But still, the presence of people who support you might make you feel like Batman. And...
SFX:(Tom and Molly chuckle)
Jenny:I mean, Batman would get this hole in one.
Tom:Yeah, they just put the European team in superhero costumes. It just made them more determined to get the ball in the hole.
Jenny:They should do that with all sports. Just have Batman and Superman and Wonder Woman running against each other. Yeah!
Jenny:I guess if you've got an American team, they're all dressed like Captain America.
Becky:Especially while they're playing golf. Jenny, you're onto something with the crowd control aspect of the ropes, but not with the positive encouragement. What else? Think about what else the crowd is up to.
Molly:Is it people crowds? Is there some weird local fauna that they're trying to keep... in or out of the green?
Becky:You're onto something there.
Tom:This Ryder Cup was held in Northwe— Oh, wait, it was in Europe. Did you say this was held in Europe or the US?
Becky:Yeah, it's held in Europe. When Europe hosted the Ryder Cup.
Tom:Okay. My extended riff about trying to keep Sasquatch out because it was hosted in the Pacific Northwest. You know what, we can just imagine that. We can move on. It's not needed anymore.
SFX:(Jenny and Molly laugh)
Becky:Everywhere has cryptids, Tom. Everywhere has cryptids, okay?
Tom:But I can't think of a European cryptid off the top of my head. Other than the Loch Ness monster. And that's not really a golf kind of problem there.
Jenny:It's gonna be popping up in the lake, like, "Hello!"
Becky:Ah, I hate it! I hate it when Nessie interrupts my golf games!
Jenny:You said we were on the right track with wildlife. So... is this... ropes for keeping out wildlife? Is... Is it... Ah... a specific kind of wildlife that only happens in Europe?
Molly:Oh, is it a herd of deer or sheep that would graze on the grass and affect the grass length or something like that?
Becky:You're even closer, but it has nothing to do with other animals besides humans. Yeah, you're on the right track with the length of the grass.
Molly:Oh, trampling? Crowd trampling the grass?
Becky:This used some intel about the US team. So there's some...
Tom:They're terrified of ropes.
Jenny:They're scared of heights.
Becky:Everyone knows the US golf team's terrified of ropes. No, the team, the US team was known for long shots rather than accuracy.
Jenny:So... you want... What does that mean you want in golf? Does it mean you want long grass or short grass?
Tom:Is it legal in golf to deliberately fire a shot over the crowd? Do they have to avoid the crowd, and so they moved where the rope barrier was so that some particular long-distance shot wasn't available to them?
Tom:Oh. (snickers) I was really enthusiastic about that guess.
Jenny:That'd be blooming mean.
Molly:Crowds can't make the grass grow longer, right? They can only trample the grass and make it be shorter. So we...
Jenny:So if you're doing a long drive... Yeah, you don't— You're not that worried about accuracy. So, you don't need that short grass, right? I'm trying to remember Microsoft Golf Simulator 95 for Windows 95. And it's been a long time. But yeah, is that it? They wanted more short grass? So they let the crowd in to certain places? Not— No. Okay.
SFX:(group laughing)
Tom:Is it about moving the position of the crowd?
Becky:Yeah, it's definitely about trampling the grass. You just haven't gotten as to why. Come on, think about how— I don't know anything about golf, and I know this about golf.
Tom:Okay, well, hold on. You have the rough, and you have the fairway. So, did they somehow manage to make the rough less rough by sending the crowd over it, and that helped the European team somehow?
Jenny:The opposite.
Molly:The opp— oh, we excluded the crowd so the grass stayed long and was harder— No?
Becky:Yes, Molly's got it.
Molly:Oh, shoot, really? Okay.
Becky:Tell me more, Molly.
Molly:Okay, okay, they didn't let the crowds go into certain places with ropes so that the grass stayed long and lush, and therefore was harder to hit accurately over short distances?
Becky:Yeah, that's it, yeah. The Europeans worked out that the US team often missed the fairway by up to 30 feet. To punish bad shots, they made sure that any rough beside the fairway was as long as possible. In addition, they moved the ropes that the spectators stood behind back to prevent them from flattening down any rough grass with their feet.

The plan worked. Big stars like Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods won zero points. Europe went on to win the competition by 17 and a half points to 10 and a half points.
Jenny:It's like getting to choose the terrain on a battle, right?
Jenny:It's like Suetonius Paulinus picking the valley to meet Boudicca. It's like, we're going to... Yeah, we're going to play to our strengths. It's like building a little castle. I've never really thought about golf like this before.
Becky:Well, it's playing to your opponent's weaknesses, right? Knowing what your opponent's weaknesses are.
Jenny:It feels like cheating.
SFX:(Tom and Molly laugh)
Jenny:Is that not cheating? The golf... Shouldn't a neutral third country have to design the course? But then it's a whole course. It would take a year to make.
Becky:Molly was right. The Europeans worked out that the US team missed the fairway often, and was trying to make it as hard as possible for them to get out of the rough when they missed the fairway with the long grass, by keeping the humans away from it with ropes.
Tom:One last thing then. At the start of the show, I asked the audience

why you might put a photo of a random baby in your wallet, even if you've never been a parent?

Before I give the answer, anyone want to take a quick shot at that?
Jenny:Is that in case you get mugged? You can say, "Don't hurt me, I have a kid"?
Becky:Yeah, my brain automatically went to hostage situation.
Tom:Not quite that much. But there's something about that compared to other photos.
Jenny:"Give me a discount on this car, I have a kid."
SFX:(Tom and Molly laugh)
Jenny:Is it for job interviews? "Hey, let me tell you about my kid" to soften them up a bit?
Tom:You were closer with the mugging. Which is not a sentence I say very often.
Tom:What else might happen to a wallet other than having it stolen from you?
Molly:You lose it, and it helps you find it? Oh, someone's gonna feel more sympathetic if you've lost your wallet.
Tom:Yep, according to a study by Professor Richard Wiseman in 2008, he dropped 240 wallets around the streets of Edinburgh, and 88% of the wallets with the baby photo were returned, compared to 28% for the elderly couple. And even if you think that's a small sample size, 88% to 28% is pretty convincing. So, yes, if you have a random photo of a baby in your wallet, apparently people are more likely to return it to you.

With that, thank you very much to our players. Let's find out what's going on. Where can people find you? What do you do?

We'll start with Molly.
Molly:Yeah, you can find me at @ScienceIRL all over the internet making videos, visiting scientists, poking flowers, all that good stuff.
Jenny:I am at @JDraperLondon on TikTok and at @JDraper on YouTube. Come find me for London history.
Tom:And Becky.
Becky:I am Becky Stern in real life, and in the internet. You can find my YouTube channel and my blog.
Tom:And if you wanna know more about this show or send in a question yourself, you can do that at We are at @lateralcast in the increasingly desperate wasteland that is the social networks, and you can catch us with video highlights multiple times a week at

Thank you very much to Becky Stern.
Becky:Bye! Thanks for having me!
Tom:J. Draper.
Jenny:Thank you very much!
Tom:And Molly Edwards.
Molly:Thanks a million.
Tom:I've been Tom Scott, and that's been Lateral.
Previous EpisodeIndexNext Episode