Lateral with Tom Scott

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

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Episode 65: Air-conditioned pilots

Published 5th January, 2024

Sabrina Cruz, Melissa Fernandes and Taha Khan from 'Answer in Progress' face questions about telltale tapes, rigorous registrations and troublesome towers.

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: Marcel Döring, Christopher Oddy, Logan, Eglė Vaškevičiūtė. FORMAT: Pad 26 Limited/Labyrinth Games Ltd. EXECUTIVE PRODUCERS: David Bodycombe and Tom Scott.


Transcription by Caption+

Tom:Which is the only US state that puts 'USA' on its vehicle license plates?

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

If our three guests today seem a little flustered, it's just because they've realised that this isn't Diary of a CEO, and I'm not Steven Bartlett. So while they try to contain their disappointment, they may as well stay and chat.

Please welcome the three people from Answer in Progress. Normally, I would try and introduce you all one at a time, but it is always such a joy to have you all back on the show. I'm just going to throw collectively to say, how are you doing?
Sabrina:We're doing good 'cause you let us back in!
SFX:(Tom and Melissa laugh)
Sabrina:We're here! (laughs)
Taha:Really happy to be on the show. Nice to meet you, Steven.
SFX:(others laughing)
Taha:Would love to talk about being a CEO.
Sabrina:Is this a niche British thing? A niche British thing.
Tom:Wait, wait, Diary of a CEO, I think is the world's most popular podcast or something close to it. This says something about the popularity of podcasts.
SFX:(group laughing)
Taha:I'm familiar with it, at least.
Tom:Absolute cultural touchstone for the world, Diary of a CEO. Everyone knows that, it's fine.
Sabrina:Anyway, I am Sabrina. I am one third of Answer in Progress.
Melissa:I'm Melissa, I'm the other third. One other third.
SFX:(group cracks up)
Melissa:Not the only other third!
Taha:And I'm Taha ...the whole of Answer in Progress.
SFX:(Tom and Sabrina laugh)
Tom:Y'all have been on the show a few times before. Thank you, as ever, for coming back and running the gauntlet again. I have to ask what you're working on right now. 'Cause this episode isn't going to go out for probably a couple months after we record. So what is the project at the moment that's gonna come out by the time this goes to air?
Taha:I'm not gonna lie, we're in this— We're in a period of grindset right now.
SFX:(others laughing)
Taha:We've been making videos.
Tom:This is not Diary of a CEO, just to be clear.
SFX:(laughter continues)
Tom:You do not need to drop ...your morning routine into this.
Taha:We're making so many videos at the same time right now. It's... It's... It's unclear what will come out.
Tom:Oh, right.
Sabrina:Yeah, but I'm currently working on a video where I am finally ceasing to use my phone as an alarm clock, 'cause it's ruining my life.
Melissa:And I'm working on a video about chefs' knives right now.
Taha:I'm working on two videos, one about whether or not we need to use airplane mode. And also... just filling the gaps as to what we're supposed to do with our money, because they never taught us that in school.
Tom:I am consistently envious of just the ideas and titles that you all come up with. Good luck with all of those, but also, good luck for the next 45 minutes of this show. At this point, I would tell you to put your thinking caps on, but no one wears those anymore. So feel free to don a baseball cap of wisdom as we start with question one.

Why did the podcast No Such Thing as a Fish celebrate their 500th edition one episode too soon?

I'll say that again.

Why did the podcast No Such Thing as a Fish celebrate their 500th edition one episode too soon?
Sabrina:So, No Such Thing As A Fish is the podcast associated with QI, right?
Sabrina:It feels like it has to be some nerd reason. They philosophically don't believe in the number six.
Taha:I was thinking if you start counting at zero. But that actually doesn't work. Wait, does it? No, it doesn't.
Sabrina:Does it?
Melissa:Yeah, it would work.
Sabrina:If they zero index?
Tom:You would celebrate one late if you were zero indexed, I think. Although, now you've said that, my brain's going, "Are you sure about that, Tom? Have you just got that the wrong way 'round?"
Sabrina:No, episode 499 would be the 500th piece of content.
Tom:No, so you would be celebrating 500 when it was actually your 501st, I think? Anyway, it's wrong. Whichever one...
SFX:(group laughing)
Tom:that's not the answer.
Taha:That's so sad.
Sabrina:They use the rare two-indexing system.
Melissa:I feel like Sabrina, you're onto something there. With the number that they don't believe in, they probably just don't believe in a number, right?
Sabrina:You know what, like usual, I blame it on a leap year. It's a leap year problem. (wheezes)
Taha:Ooh. You know what, that is convincing. Because if you're weekly, there might be some sort of calculation that you— way of justifying it being like, oh, well, you know, this is our... 4–5 hundredth episode, but not really because there was a leap year and we didn't do an episode, or some weird accounting error.
Melissa:Hmm. Do they do them weekly though?
Tom:Yes, it is a weekly thing. That wouldn't actually make a difference on this though. So I'm afraid, not a calendar thing, Taha. But Sabrina... Nerd stuff, absolutely right, 100%. It's not so much a number they don't believe in.
Tom:But nerd stuff, yes.
Taha:Okay what about an additional number they do believe in? Did they have a pi episode? Or an e episode, or... I'm trying to think of other numbers.
Sabrina:Do another one.
Melissa:Another math number? Math letter?
Tom:But again, that would be late.
Melissa:Right, they've got to cut something out.
Sabrina:So, to be clear, they called their 499th piece of podcast... Piece of podcast, that's what we call them, and they labeled it 500.
Tom:Yes, they did.
Taha:Wait, they missed podcast 13 because it was unlucky.
Tom:You are along the right lines, but just to repeat Sabrina again, nerd stuff.
Sabrina:I was gonna start saying numbers.
Tom:We could run through the entire numbers from 1 to 499. You're right, they missed one of those out. It's a very apt one to miss out.
Taha:Just before the comments jump in, we actually couldn't go through all the numbers. Just, you know, just covering it now. There's infinite numbers. We understand.
SFX:(group laughing)
Tom:Okay, okay, just the...
Sabrina:They're countable.
SFX:(both laugh)
Tom:The integers, alright? All the integers. All the positive integers without any additional mathematical stuff that I don't know about.
Sabrina:Feel free to cut this, but I gotta ask: 69, 420.
Tom:Those are numbers you would celebrate. Those are not numbers you would miss out.
SFX:(Melissa and Sabrina laugh)
Tom:Those are not numbers where you would deliberately go, "Oh yeah, we're gonna skip that one."
Taha:What number oppresses the nerd community?
Melissa:Oh, okay, there's a number—
Taha:Number one, 'cause they've never been first in anything sport related.
SFX:(group choke-laughing)
Tom:I mean, you're not wrong.
Taha:I say this as a proud member of the nerd community.
SFX:(Taha and Sabrina laugh)
Tom:But they couldn't have done this for any of the round numbers before 500.
Taha:Is there a prime? Is it, am I—
Tom:100, 200, 300, 400, those numbers were all correct.
Sabrina:Oh, okay. So it feels like it's something between 400 and 500.
Taha:400 and 500.
Tom:Yep. Yeah, it is.
Melissa:Okay. Okay.
Sabrina:Great hint. (laughs)
Taha:So there is a number that they skipped.
Tom:That it is very apt to skip.
Sabrina:Or 422? That's a... encoding.
Melissa:That's not a— That's a camera nerd number.
SFX:(group laughing)
Melissa:That's a different...
Taha:That is a camera nerd number.
Tom:It's a camera nerd number. It's not an internet nerd number.
Taha:Internet nerd. Wait, 404!
Tom:404. They deliberately skipped 404.
Tom:I think y'all harmonised on that. That was amazing.
SFX:(guests laugh)
Tom:Yes, they deliberately skipped out episode 404, and almost no one noticed.
Tom:They had episode 403. The next week, they had episode 405. And they got, according to James Harkin, who's one of the hosts, hardly anyone noticed.
Melissa:Oh, that's so good!
Taha:If they didn't ever address it, I would spend my entire... I would be like, "Oh, the RSS feed is broken. Maybe let's check Spotify because they don't use RSS feeds." I'd be— It'd be annoying because I binge podcasts.
Sabrina:So it sounds like you would have been one of the people to have noticed.
Tom:Each of our guests has brought a question with them. We're going to start with Sabrina.
Sabrina:Hello. So this question has been sent in by Marcel Döring.

At a restaurant in the Austrian village of Arriach, diners can be seen actively scanning the slopes of the beautiful farmland outside before they are fed. Why does the restaurant enlist a hairdresser every so often?

I'll say that again.

At a restaurant in the Austrian village of Arriach, diners can be seen actively scanning the slopes of beautiful farmland outside before they are fed. Why does the restaurant enlist a hairdresser every so often?
Taha:I have two immediate thoughts.
Tom:Okay, that's good 'cause that's two more than I've got.
Taha:Thought number one: I recently watched a TikTok of a barber use his barbering scissors to cut his lawn, which was an insane TikTok.
SFX:(others laughing)
Sabrina:I like how it's the scissors, not even the buzzer.
Taha:No, yeah, he literally was like, "I'm going to give him a choppy fade" or something. And he made all of his grass choppy. So that's number one. Number two is that they were doing the same thing, but for the cows and the yaks, and other ...things. They were giving them nice, aesthetic looking haircuts.
Tom:There are restaurants where diners will pick the seafood out of a tank that they want. And I feel like that's somewhat difficult to do for a field of cows or sheep. There's just a lot of... There's only so much that one person can eat, and I feel like it's not all that.
Taha:Well, I was just— I'm not saying that they get to pick it. They were just like, you know, we need to curate the experience of a lovely meadow with beautiful cows. So they were like, let's get the most beautiful cows, and then give them haircuts like they're celebrities.
Melissa:Are the diners humans? Or are they animals?
Sabrina:Yes. They are humans.
SFX:(group laughing)
Melissa:Okay, never mind!
Tom:That's a lovely thought, though. That's exactly the sort of thing that question writers for this show would do.
Sabrina:I'll say this. It's nowhere near as kind of harrowing as Tom was suggesting, but the hairdresser does do things outside. They aren't cutting hair.
Taha:They aren't cutting hair?
Sabrina:They aren't cutting hair.
Sabrina:What are other things that hairstylists do?
Taha:Charge me money.
SFX:(Tom and Sabrina crack up)
Taha:Those are the only two things.
Tom:The only connection between restaurants and hair style that I've got in my head is that if you're in the Netherlands, there is a dish you can order from the greasy takeaways, which is called a kapsalon, which is just 'hairdresser,' which is just fries, kebab meat, some sauce, and like a load of other stuff on top.

It's the national greasy extremely drunk late at night dish. And it's named after someone who ran a hair salon who went into one place, kept ordering that, and they just said "Oh, yeah, yeah, kapsalon, that one."

And that is now a national thing in the Netherlands to the point that when that guy died a couple years ago, he got an obituary in the paper as the guy this dish was named after. So you can go into the greasy takeaways in the Netherlands and order what translates as 'a hair salon' and...
Taha:That's like being Mr. Kebab.
Tom:Right? Yeah!
Tom:Normally these are lost in the mists of time. But in this case, you can trace it to one guy in one place.
Taha:That doesn't get us any closer.
Tom:No, it doesn't, but...
Sabrina:It doesn't.
Tom:I found out why the Netherlands has a dish called 'hair salon,' and I just wanted to share that information.
Sabrina:Thank you, I appreciate it.
Tom:What else do barbers do? They shampoo hair sometimes, or they get one of the juniors to do it.
Taha:They dye hair?
Tom:They do.
Taha:They dye hair? And sometimes maybe...
Tom:Yeah, but no one's gonna eat hair. That's not—
Taha:Maybe they— Wait, they dyed the grass. They did painting into the grass.
Taha:Are we getting further away?
Sabrina:You got— You were there and then you swerved.
Sabrina:So... Think about what you have to do at a restaurant, right? What do you need to do before you actually get to eat anything?
Taha:You need to order.
Tom:You need to look at the menu.
Taha:You need to be seated. We need to look at the menu. Okay, so we were close. Sabrina's face is telling me that, basically, the things that I have right now, from Sabrina's facial expressions, is basically, you need to look at the menu, and you need to dye your hair. So—
Tom:Are they printing the menu in dye on the slope of the hill next door?
Sabrina:But, perhaps not. Perhaps not on the slope. Perhaps, diners, when looking for a thing to order, and they're seeking out a menu, they need to gaze upon these hills and potentially look as things might roam around with some food.
Taha:You're telling me... No, no.
Tom:No, no.
Taha:I refuse to believe it.
Melissa:They're picking their—
Taha:You're telling me that they are— The waiters have the menu items on their— in their hair, and then the hairdresser comes and he puts the menu items on their hair, and then the waiters walk around outside.
Melissa:But are they cutting their— Okay, this is way out of left field. Are these hairdressers... I'm just gonna say, are they cutting the hair off of these animals and bringing the hair back into the restaurant for them to now chew?
Sabrina:No! This restaurant serves food!
Tom:Are they cutting and dyeing the hair of the animals so it's got the menu items on it?
Sabrina:Ding, ding, ding!
Melissa:Wait, what?
Sabrina:You got it!
Tom:They're just writing words with hair dye and razors into the sheep wool? Into the...
Sabrina:Onto the cows! It's a very whimsical image that I can share with y'all. But basically, the hairdresser needs to come by every so often to update the menu that's painted on the cows.
SFX:(group laughing)
Melissa:That is so silly, but very whimsical.
Tom:And it's exactly the sort of tourist attraction that will get people to your restaurant.
Taha:I don't know why... Maybe I'm crazy, but why is a hairdresser any more qualified than someone who works with cows all day?
Tom:Precision work. Precision work on the dyeing.
Sabrina:Where will a normal person find that little brush? The very specific hair, hair dyeing brush.
Tom:Also, it's better than scanning a QR code for the menu, you know?
Sabrina:Oh. (laughs)
Tom:Next question's from me. Good luck, folks.

Kira's grandmother pays for a random 10-inch section of steel measuring tape. It has been entirely sealed in a plastic sleeve so that you can't see the numbers anymore. What is it?

I'll say that one more time.

Kira's grandmother pays for a random 10-inch section of steel measuring tape. It has been entirely sealed in a plastic sleeve so that you can't see the numbers anymore. What is it?
Sabrina:10-inch cut of measuring tape?
Tom:Yep, 10-inch cut of steel measuring tape.
Taha:There you go. Case closed.
Sabrina:I think we got it. You said yep.
Tom:When you seal it in the plastic sleeve... you wouldn't call it that anymore.
Taha:Oh, I know what it is. Is it the slap bracelet? (pops)
Tom:Yes, it is a snap bracelet. I was worried about this question, not because I thought you'd get it. Congratulations, that was immediately deduction, as far as I could tell.
Taha:Thank you. I love being a genius. I'm the only one out of the three of us who have ever got one in a row. It just, off the bat. Don't fact check me.
Tom:Can you explain what a slap bracelet is, just for those out there who did not have the childhood we did?
Taha:It's like... in a rubber thing usually, and then it's a little metal line.
Sabrina:It's like if you took a 10-inch piece of steel measuring tape and put it into a plastic tube.
Tom:Just literally cut off a tape measure, cut off a regular tape measure.
Taha:And then you can slap it on your wrist, and it wraps around your wrist. And I remember having one when I was younger so I could bike around in the dark and they were high vis. Although until this moment, I didn't know that's what was in it, and I've always wondered. Are they just old measuring tapes?
Tom:Some of them are. And the reason I was worried about this question is because about two days ago, after this was written, after the stack was sent through to me, Hank Green posted a TikTok about exactly this. His kid had bought a slap bracelet. It was Frozen branded, and some of the covering had come off, and he's like, "This is a measuring tape. I never knew this."

I'm like... One of the Answer in Progress team will have seen this TikTok.
Tom:You must have done.
Sabrina:We must dramatically reveal that we don't watch Hank's TikToks, I guess.
Taha:Yeah, oh no.
Sabrina:You got us.
Tom:We'll blame it on the algorithm. It's fine. We'll blame it on the algorithm.

Melissa, over to you.
Melissa:There is an occupation where people are trained to obey this key rule: "Don't let go first." The specialised role is performed at a highly limited number of locations on land and at sea. What is it?

And one more time.

There is an occupation where people are trained to obey this key rule: "Don't let go first." The specialized role is performed at a highly limited number of locations on land and at sea. What is it?
Taha:MrBeast contestant. Thank you very much.
SFX:(Tom and Sabrina cackle)
Melissa:Yeah, no. (giggles)
Tom:It's a highly specialised role.
Sabrina:"Don't let go first" implies that they do eventually let go. So I'm gonna say it. Tug of war professional.
SFX:(Sabrina and Tom laugh)
Tom:I mean, they've got to exist, surely. There have to be people who have made their living from doing the big tug of war...
Sabrina:Highly skilled. Select number of locations.
Melissa:Not quite. Not quite. I think we should also pay attention to... This is only done in a limited number of locations. You could have a tug of war... competition anywhere.
Sabrina:But land and sea.
Taha:"Don't let go first" implies the existence of at least two people doing this.
Tom:Or another thing. You have to hold on until it does.
Sabrina:Sea makes me think of fishing. And maybe you don't want to let go of a fish? Hmm?
Tom:My first thought was military. I don't know why "select locations, land and sea" made me think... aircraft carriers and military runways and things like that, and if you let go first, something will go wrong? But I haven't thought what that could be.
Sabrina:There's those things that need to catch on a air— a carrier at sea.
Tom:Oh. Yeah.
Sabrina:That rope thing that catches the plane. 'Cause they're very limited runways.
Sabrina:Is it military related?
Melissa:We're getting a little far away from the plot here. This job has nothing to do with rescuing people or with safety.
Tom:Huh, okay.
Sabrina:Oh. Does it have anything to do with fish?
SFX:(Tom and Sabrina laugh)
Taha:I think that the military are in a highly, high-stakes game of tug-of-war with aliens. We cannot let go first.
Tom:I thought you were going to say fish. I thought you were going to say fish.
Sabrina:Aren't fish just aliens of the sea?
Tom:I did once describe an aquarium as a spaceship for sharks. And honestly, I don't think I'm wrong there. It's a high-pressure environment that keeps them alive, and they need all the stuff that's in there, and it's in a lower-pressure area.
Taha:I wanna put a shark inside of a Zorb ball.
Tom:Right? You break the outside, all the atmosphere comes out, and it's...
Taha:Yeah. Put a shark in a Zorb ball and let him free in Disneyland.
Tom:A full Zorb ball?
Taha:To see what happens.
Tom:Just absolutely full of water, rather than...
Taha:Yeah, yeah.
Tom:Yeah, okay.
Taha:And I don't actually know the physics of it, but I want him to be able to swim around Disneyland and just see what humanity has done.
Tom:You would need some kind of detector that as the shark starts to swim, rolls the ball a lot – That's my gesture for rolling – rolls the ball along the ground.
Sabrina:Yeah, it's like, you know, when you play those... the 3D world VR things, where you have that little map.
Sabrina:That let you map out the world. But that for sharks.
Melissa:I'll say that this... that this occupation has nothing to do with sharks.
Taha:The sea is really throwing me off.
Sabrina:Yeah. Okay, so what are things that people do in the sea? Boats? Skidoo? Paragliding?
Tom:It's gotta be land and sea.
Melissa:Land and sea.
Taha:Is this something to do with oil? You drill for oil in both places.
Tom:Yes, that's...
Melissa:Remember that this job doesn't have anything to do with safety or rescuing people. Safety is not a thing that...
Taha:Is it for entertainment?
Melissa:Taha's getting warmer.
Taha:Wait, so it could be tug of war.
Tom:I'm thinking about those giant cruise ships that have water parks on them and roller coasters and things like that. There is technically, some of these are at sea because they happen to be on cruise ships.
Sabrina:Rose in the Titanic movie. James Cameron hit classic. She said she would never let go. What did she do?! (giggles)
Tom:Bungee jumping, adrenaline stuff. Something where if you let go first, the person is gonna have a really bad time?
Sabrina:So is it a recreational activity or some— It can't be the person who's supervising a recreational activity if it's not about saving people.
Melissa:No. Correct thinking.
Sabrina:Does it happen in the air?
Sabrina:In the airspace above the sea?
Melissa:No. But you're on the right track with—
Sabrina:Scuba! Scuba?
Melissa:Entertainment. Maybe on a cruise ship, sometimes.
SFX:(guests cracking up)
Tom:I'm thinking... magician or something that requires some dexterity or a trick or something like that.
Taha:When you say "don't let go first," are you talking about physically letting go?
Melissa:Taha, that's right. This job, it involves physical contact.
Sabrina:Is it like an acrobat?
Taha:Not an acrobat. But between humans, there's no rope involved. I'm not going to lie, this whole time, I was thinking about rope.
Sabrina:(cracks up) So it's people holding each other?
Taha:What if it's an arm wrestle, but the opposite, where you're trying to let go of each other's arms?
Sabrina:You really just took the tug of war idea and got rid of the rope.
SFX:(group laughing)
Taha:Yeah, I did.
Tom:Hold on, is there... I was thinking bungee jump, something like that, but that's safety. Is there some sort of... experience thing that people pay for that they are the person that has to let go? The staff member—
Sabrina:Extreme ring around the rosey.
Melissa:Wait, I'm gonna follow this thought, Tom.
Tom:The staff member has to hold on to them for as long as they need to be held on to. They will let go... Oh... No, my brain has just gone to teaching people to ride a bike, and it's not that, but it's something...
Melissa:Here's something else. This is going to come out of left field, but this might make sense. So, everyone that does this job... that's at the same location... can't wear the same outfit.
Sabrina:So they have to be like...

Mickey Mouse. Somebody at Disneyland.
Taha:Oh, it's Disneyland.
Taha:It's Disneyland.
Tom:If the kid hugs you, you're not allowed to— You've gotta wait for the kid.
Sabrina:Ohh! At sea!
Melissa:The cruise ship!
Tom:Disney cruise ships!
Taha:The cruise ship.
Melissa:That was good!
Taha:I did know this one.
Tom:There we go!
Melissa:That was good.
Melissa:So to clarify, so people who are trained as Disney cast members, when they hug a child, they're trained to not let go of the kid first. The kid has to let go first. Which is so cute!
Taha:'Cause you never know.
Melissa:That is the cutest thing ever!
Sabrina:You don't wanna give the kid abandonment issues. Imagine if Goofy did that to ya.
Tom:If you're ever in a Disney park, and you see Goofy somewhere, that with a couple of minders, just, there's not meant to be a character greeting there, it's just a bonus thing. That's almost certainly a senior Disney executive. 'Cause they are required—
Sabrina:Is this why Succession did it?
Tom:At some point, during their career, they're required to go out into the parks. But most of them are tall men. So the only character suit they can put on is Goofy.
Sabrina:The Succession episode makes so much more sense!
Taha:I'm gonna go up to every Goofy in a Disneyland and be like, "I know who you are.
SFX:(others laughing)
Taha:You can't walk away."
Tom:Thank you to Logan for sending this question in.

Residents of Craigavon, Johannesburg, said that a mobile phone tower was causing headaches, nausea, insomnia, itchy skin, and more. The phone company showed that turning the tower off was impossible, nor would it help. Why?

I'll say that again.

Residents of Craigavon, Johannesburg, said that a mobile phone tower was causing headaches, nausea, insomnia, itchy skin, and more. The phone company showed that turning the tower off was impossible, nor would it help. Why?
Sabrina:It wasn't a cell phone tower.
Taha:Yeah, I was thinking, it's a natural tower that naturally bounces the signals.
Sabrina:(laughs) Well, it's because they sometimes make cell phone towers look like other things, like a tree. What if it was just a tree? It was just a weird looking tree.
Tom:Just a tree, with what happens to have grown in the exact kind of layout with antennas just kind of poking out. What did you say, Taha?
Taha:I said it was a natural signal booster. So it was already part of the terrain in some way, and it's not a metal pylon.
Tom:Those sort of do exist in a couple of places. There's a company in Australia that is providing mobile phone access to really, really remote communities. Not by setting up a tower, but just by setting up a reflector and a parabolic dish.

So if you stand in this one location in town, you get phone service. And compared to the cost of sending a cable out there and setting up a tower, it's really cheap. You drive out there, you install the thing, you point it in the right direction, it works.

In this case, the tower's real.
Taha:So, the thing that I don't understand is... You can't turn it off. Which to me implies that even if the power cut, it would not turn off.
Melissa:What is giving people headaches? What kind of... What is in the air that is giving people headaches? Right, that was one of the symptoms?
Tom:Headaches, nausea, insomnia, itchy skin, and more.
Melissa:That's like...
Sabrina:Could it be that they found what was actually causing it? Any of these symptoms instead, thus proving that it wasn't the cell phone tower?
Taha:But why, you can't turn it off?
Melissa:Is it something that's really bright? Does brightness give people headaches?
Sabrina:Was it just never on?
Tom:Yeah, that's basically it. The tower had been turned off for six weeks.
Sabrina:That's one way to run a test.
Tom:They agreed to meet with residents, who complained of all these symptoms from the tower. And then said that they'd actually turned it off six weeks earlier, and so it could not possibly be the mobile phone tower, and it might all be in their heads.
Taha:If I'm a lawyer, I would say... If the symptoms persisted post... that does not mean that the causality doesn't exist, 'cause they might be infected forever now.
Tom:The residents were saying it was caused by the tower. And when they were not near the tower, it didn't happen. So...
Taha:Okay then, maybe.
Taha:Never mind.
Melissa:I see.
Tom:Yeah, it was as simple as that. The tower could not be turned off because the tower had been off for six weeks.

Taha, over to you for the next question.
Taha:This question is sent by Christopher Oddy.

The Tupolev Tu-22, a Soviet Union bomber, was well-liked despite its unreliability. Why did its crew and technicians often have hot water bottles about their person, even though the Tu-22 had a working air conditioning system?

I'll say that again.

The Tupolev Tu-22, a Soviet Union bomber, was well-liked despite its unreliability. Why did its crew and technicians often have hot water bottles about their person, even though the Tu-22 had a working air conditioning system?
Tom:Wait, air conditioning to heat and cool, presumably? Not just...
Taha:Presumably, yeah.
Melissa:Did these, did they have little cup holders so they could have a spot for their tea? You know, when they're up in the air, they're just like, "Mm, hot water, gotta make a cup of tea now." And they had a perfect little cup holder.
Tom:British tanks do that. All the tanks for the British military have what's called a BV, a boiling vessel, specifically so we can have hot water for tea. That is in all the British tanks just for morale. There's a small water boiler in there just for that circumstance.
Taha:There's also a crumpet dispenser. But that's classified.
Tom:If you're gonna be stuck in a metal box for eight hours, twelve hours at a time, you might as well have a cup of tea.
Taha:Maybe, but in the hot— Imagine you're in, I don't know, Afghanistan or whatever. And you just have a...
Sabrina:Classically, warm areas of the Eurasian subcontinent.
Tom:Oh yeah, good point.
Sabrina:They don't drink tea. (giggles profusely)
Taha:That's true, fair enough. But I wouldn't want to sit in a room that has a boiling tank in it.
Tom:I mean, at the point where you're in a tank... That's confusing. At the point where you're in a big old tank with weaponry pointed at you, I feel like hot water is kinda the least your problems.
Taha:Yeah, that's fair.
Melissa:And in water bottles, too. Is that significant?
Sabrina:So is it a hot water bottle in the sense that, you know, some people have a hot water bottle if they have cramps? They'll just put it there, as a little warm pack?
Taha:I believe, I mean, it doesn't specify here, but that's the only way that I could... interpret 'hot water bottle'.
Tom:Yeah, the sort of squishy thing you might take to bed if it's cold or something like that.
Tom:You fill it with boiling water. Well, you fill it with hot water, seal it up, nice little warm pack.
Sabrina:I'd argue that boiling water is warm. Sorry.
SFX:(both laugh)
Tom:Yeah, but I'm not sure you want that in a... I don't know if this actually crosses the Atlantic, but the British concept of a hot water bottle is this rubber, maybe A4 size, just kind of rubber pouch that you can put soft stuff around. And you fill that with—
Sabrina:Is that a thing that a modern British person would use? 'Cause I've always classified it in... You know the little oil lamp and hat that Scrooge has?
SFX:(Melissa and Tom laugh)
Sabrina:Feels of that era.
Tom:I know a couple of people who have them, but it's generally for if you've got an ache in a part of your body or something like that. That's what they're using it for. These days houses don't tend to be so cold that you need one of those on your feet to sleep.
Taha:I've only ever used it when I didn't have double glazing.
Tom:Yeah, yeah. As a kid, as a kid, my family—
Sabrina:A doughnut?
Taha:Oh, do you guys not have double glazing?
Melissa:Are you talking about the walls of your house?
Tom:Wait, what? I thought I could translate over the Atlantic.
Taha:So windows have two panes with a little air pocket inside.
Sabrina:The rapper, sorry.
SFX:(group laughing)
Tom:That's 2 Chainz!
Melissa:And that's T-Pain!
Taha:No, there is also '2 Pane'. Oh yeah, that is T-Pain.
Tom:Sorry. There's been a terrible transporter accident, and 2 Chainz and T-Pain have now merged. And we've got double glazing.
Taha:So, you have two panes of window with a little bit of air in the middle.
Tom:I can't hear '2 Panez' now, sorry!
Taha:So you have these two rappers, and they stand very close together like that. And so, you know, the cold air from the outside hits the outer pane, and then the warm air from the inside hits the inner pane, and there's less transfer.
Tom:There's a vacuum between those two. I don't know if there's a special word for that in America? We call it double glazing?
Sabrina:I just don't think I've ever thought about windows this much.
Taha:I think maybe the country is so old that everything had single glazing, and everyone was updating their houses.
Tom:Anyway, planes. (cracks up) The Tupolev Tu-22.
Sabrina:Is it like—
Taha:The '2 Pane' of planes.
Sabrina:Was there rattling in the plane or something that caused a persistent ache, that people were like, "Let me just put a hot pad on that"?
Tom:Maybe they're using it on something on the plane. Rather than it being for their aches or pains or something like that, it is something that stops the rattly part of the plane from making too much noise, or they have to cool it down because it's unreliable. It's actually just a good way of carrying water, and it's actually ice water, and they're tipping it on the unreliable bit of the plane to cool it down and stop it overheating, something like that.
Taha:I think you're all circling around this idea that the hot water bottle wasn't exactly used for its intended purpose.
Tom:So you've got a big rubber thing that can hold stuff, hold fluids.
Sabrina:Yes. And given the fact that you aren't quite like, specifying what the bottle looked like, it seems more it's a functionality of containing a liquid.
Melissa:Yeah, 'cause does it have to be hot water? Is it only... Are we assuming that it is hot water that's in the bottle? Because it might not be hot water.
Sabrina:It's a bottle that can contain— that can interact with hot fluid.
Sabrina:Peeing, sorry, no.
Tom:I was thinking it and I didn't want to say it.
Sabrina:We can throw it out. We don't need to use it.
Taha:No. Well, you know, it was well-liked despite its unreliability. So I guess the question is, why was it well-liked?
Melissa:And why are these water bottles so relevant?
Taha:It was well-liked by the crew for a reason that could be described as, you know... nefarious or insubordinate.
Sabrina:So was this a— I don't know much about planes. So was this a passenger plane? Or... how many people could fit on the plane?
Taha:No, it was a Soviet Union bomber. So I would imagine ...a pilot and a co-pilot.
Taha:You know, it sounds like a military plane. I don't have the context of exactly what it is, but yeah.
Tom:They just put a load of alcohol in the bottles and were able to swig it on the— No, that doesn't make sense.
Taha:You are so close.
Tom:Oh? Are they smuggling some sort of contraband thing in these bottles? And...
Taha:I would say yes.
Sabrina:Is this before or after we thought smoking on planes was bad?
SFX:(group laughing)
Taha:It was in the 1960s, so... Probably before.
Sabrina:So they wouldn't care.
Tom:What do you smuggle into a plane in a hot water bottle that isn't alcohol?
Taha:I think, okay, you are so close. But there is one part— There is one assumption you are making that is wrong, and one assumption you are making that you think is wrong that is right.
Tom:It is alcohol?
Sabrina:So, but does the alcohol— Hmm.
Melissa:So wait, they're not smuggling it? They're not smuggling it. Are they smuggling something? They're not smuggling something.
Taha:They are smuggling something.
Melissa:They're smuggling alcohol?
Sabrina:So they're smuggling. There's alcohol, there's a plane, there's a water bottle.
Tom:So the water bottle is filled with... I mean it's Russia, I'm gonna say vodka. Can they just... No, but why that plane? You can do that for any plane. You can smuggle vodka onto a plane. If you're smuggling vodka in a hot water bottle, it doesn't need to be on a Tupolev Tu-22.
Taha:The sentence that Tom said was "Why would someone want to smuggle on a hot water bottle full of alcohol?"

"Oh, it's not alcohol."

And then we kind of got to a place where we know that the assumption that you thought was wrong was that it's not alcohol. It is alcohol. There is an assumption that you're making about what was happening.
Sabrina:They're not drink— They would be drinking the alcohol. Most certainly.
Melissa:What else would they do with it?
Sabrina:I'm a pilot! I'm an old timey pilot! And I have my hot water bottle!
Tom:Wait! It's air conditioning. Did they— Does this keep the drinks cool?
Taha:The air conditioning is extremely relevant. However, that is not the reason.
Tom:The air conditioning is ice. It's just a big block of ice that gets— that the air gets pumped past. And they are using that to chill the vodka.
Taha:So the air con system had a very specific type of coolant.
Sabrina:Oh, are they drinking coolant?
Melissa:Oh my gosh!
Sabrina:Was the coolant, was it like a tonic?
Taha:Yes, so... They would steal the alcohol coolant from the plane.
Tom:They're not smuggling—
Taha:The assumption you were making—
Tom:Is that they were smuggling it onto the plane. They're smuggling it off the plane.
Sabrina:I never once thought it would be possible to drink something that was made for an air conditioner.
Tom:Because it's ethanol, right? It's just pure ethanol.
Taha:Yeah, so the coolant consisted of 40% ethanol and 60% water, basically the same composition as vodka.
Sabrina:Yeah, ugh. They were just asking for it.
Tom:So they would just drain it into the hot water bottle. And now, oh, that's just my hot water bottle, 'cause my back gets sore.
Taha:Yeah, so I imagine the people on the planes were like, "Oh no, I got the Tu-22 again. It's so unreliable. I guess I'm gonna have my hot water bottle."
Sabrina:Oh my gosh.
Taha:Yeah, so the coolant consisted of 40% ethanol and 60% water, basically the same composition as vodka. Any excess coolant was meant to be drained away. However, the crew would drain off the coolant into containers, either for their own consumption or for bribing officials.
Tom:The last question, then. At the top of the show, I asked:

Which is the only US state that puts 'USA' on its vehicle registration plates?

Anyone want to take a quick shot at that?
Taha:I was also thinking Nevada.
Tom:Did you just name a state at random there?
Taha:So I'm gonna say Oregon.
Tom:There is a reason for this. Just scattershotting states won't work. There is a reason that this one has 'USA'.
Sabrina:Is there a place that's named like another place? Is it, like, Hawaii? Where it's just like, oh, by the way, guys.
Taha:I was going to say DC, but that's not a state. I wish I was Rainbolt right now.
SFX:(Tom and Sabrina laugh)
Taha:He would know.
Tom:You're right, Sabrina. It's a place that's named like another place.
Tom:That is also a place that's named like another place.
SFX:(guests laughing)
Tom:But I feel it's more likely that the people in the country of Georgia would be like, 'Georgia, not USA', on their license plates.
Sabrina:(snickers) Hmm. Okay, now I'm just trying to run through US states in my head.
Melissa:New Mexico?
Tom:Why might that be?
Taha:'Cause of old Mexico.
Melissa:Because of actual Mexico?
Tom:Because of actual Mexico. So what happens if they don't put 'USA' on those plates? 'Cause they have some designs that don't have it.
Taha:They get deported?
Sabrina:They get sued by Mexico.
Tom:Some people get confused.

They look at New Mexico and they say, "Oh, you're from Mexico. Please, can I see your papers?" Except a lot of the time, they don't say please.

So, if you have 'New Mexico, USA', it makes it clear to anyone that actually, no, this is an American car on American plates.
Melissa:There we go.
Taha:That's hilarious, you're like, "I'm a full, honest, true American. Don't question it." And they're like, "Ah yes, the flag is there."
Sabrina:I forgot that we don't call Mexico 'New Mexico'. My bad.
SFX:(group laughing)
Tom:Thank you very much to all of our players. Congratulations on running the gauntlet.

Tell us what's going on. Where can people find you? I mean, there's three of you who all do the same thing, so good luck. We'll start with Melissa.
Melissa:You can find us on
Taha:And we make videos about things that we're curious about, from how many different types of pasta there are, all the way to...
Sabrina:That was the last video I worked on! I don't know!
Tom:(laughs heartily)
Sabrina:I forget everything else!
Melissa:To how you should manage your money!
Sabrina:Oh, soap! The history of soap!
Sabrina:Oh, true, we should... Well, well, that's It's like 'work in progress', but with 'answer'.
Tom:Thank you very much to all of our players. If you want to know more about this show, you can do that at You can see video highlights at, and we are at @lateralcast basically everywhere.

Thank you very much to Sabrina Cruz.
Tom:Taha Khan.
Taha:You're welcome, Sabrina.
Tom:And Melissa Fernandes.
Melissa:Very much.
Tom:I've been Tom Scott, and that's been Lateral.
Sabrina:(snorts profusely)
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