Lateral with Tom Scott

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

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Episode 66: The lock-breaking pencil

Published 12th January, 2024

Adam Ragusea, Vanessa Hill and Stuart Ashen face questions about stationery stories, secret shapes and sporting sites.

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: Jason, Ivan, Jonathan Watkins Bitel, Jake Mellor, Short Circuit, DiznyOrdiz. FORMAT: Pad 26 Limited/Labyrinth Games Ltd. EXECUTIVE PRODUCERS: David Bodycombe and Tom Scott.


Transcription by Caption+

Tom:Which famous children's book was inspired by a hole punch?

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

On today's show, we have three guests who are as determined as the Billy Goats Gruff.

I would say that they're also here to outsmart a troll, but that would be somewhat harsh on our question editor.

First of all, from the YouTube channel Ashens, we have Stuart Ashen. How are you doing, Stuart?
Stuart:I'm alright, thank you. How are you doing, Tom?
Tom:I'm doing okay. Welcome back to the show after a bit of a break. How did you feel about being on last time?
Stuart:It was very good fun, and I hope this time to look at least 20% less stupid.
Tom:(laughs) You came across just fine. What are you working on at the minute? Because, obviously, I have known you since the long, long days of the sofa and the tat reviews. But there have been movies since then. What's the big project?
Stuart:Well, the sofa's always ongoing, but the big thing at the moment is we're making our first horror film. So, yeah, watch this space. It's called Turn Back. It's about our local East Anglian Black Shuck folklore legend, and we're telling the narrative in reverse because we like to make things very difficult for ourselves.
Tom:You are going to enjoy this quiz. Also joining us, welcome back to the show from BrainCraft, Vanessa Hill.
Vanessa:Hi, Tom. Thanks for having me back. I'm touched.
Tom:Thank you for coming back. How are you doing? What are you up to these days?
Vanessa:I am doing some science research that's keeping me busy, but I'm still making YouTube videos. Coming up on my 10-year channel anniversary next month. Wild.
Tom:How are you feeling about the milestone there? 'Cause as we record this, I've got one of those coming up as well.
Vanessa:Yeah, I mean, it's a lot to look back on. It feels like I just started. But also like, I moved countries when I started my YouTube channel. A lot of life has happened in the past 10 years. I've learned a lot about people in that time. But you know, feeling okay.
Tom:Rounding out the panel today, we have, from his own YouTube channel about... I'm not sure if it's cooking or food science, or food history, or food research. Adam Ragusea, how would you describe yourself?
Adam:It's a show where I talk about the things that I'm interested in.
Adam:I have enough people who watch it that it provides me with a living, and that's fine, so...
Tom:What are you finding interesting at the moment? What are you working on?
Adam:Well, the nature of my show is that I got famous on the internet by cooking ...even though I'm not a cook. But I'm like, you know, I'm a... what am I? I'm a failed composer turned journalist turned ...accidental YouTuber. And I worked in American public broadcasting for a very long time, which is why, when my stuff has kind of an NPR-ish vibe to it... It's sometimes, it's kind of ironic on my part. But usually it's just like, that's just who I am. And I can't get it out of myself.
Tom:Well, good luck to all three of our players. As always, we have our specially invited audience of 200 Lateral fans here in the studio. Maybe you'll hear them one day if my script ever makes them laugh.
Tom:There's always next time. For now, we will start with question one.

Thank you to both Jake Mellor and 'Short Circuit' for sending this in.

In November 2002, the company Disaronno launched an inventive ad campaign targeted at London commuters. However, it had to be stopped early due to concerns from the UK's Home Office. Why?

I'll say that again.

In November 2002, the company Disaronno launched an inventive ad campaign targeted at London commuters. However, it had to be stopped early due to concerns from the UK's Home Office. Why?

And just for those who don't know, Home Office is the section of the government that deals with everything kind of internal.
Adam:Yes, as opposed to ruling the rest of the world, which is what Brits try to get up to whenever they're not thinking about what goes on in their own borders, right?
Tom:We don't do that anymore(!)
Stuart:Well, I remember the name Disaronno, and that's all. So that's really helpful for everyone.
SFX:(Stuart and Tom chuckle)
Stuart:I can't even remember what the company does.
Adam:It's a liquor brand, isn't it? It is a hard liquor brand of some kind.
Adam:Oh no, it's Amaretto. I looked it up. Are you not allowed to look up things that are not—
Tom:Don't look it up!
Vanessa:Oh wow, Adam, please.
Tom:Don't look it up, Adam.
Adam:I didn't look up the answer to the question. I looked up what Disaronno is. I figured that's allowed, right? No?
Tom:(laughs bewildered) Abso— I've realised we've never actually had to give that instruction to the guests.

You know what? That's on us. No one has ever been inventive enough to start Googling while on the podcast.
Adam:Yes, like Captain Kirk. I changed the conditions of the test.
SFX:(Tom and Stuart laugh)
Vanessa:I feel like I'm getting stuck on the Home Office, because it's still not clear to me what the Home Office is, so I'm like, "Huh, Home Office. What is that?" But I feel like we should move beyond that and just think of weird ad campaigns.
Adam:Well, hold on now. It's 2002. Let's think about the year. So it would've... Terrorism would have been foremost on the minds of any transit system administrator in the Western world in 2002, right?
Vanessa:I thought about that. And then I was like, surely the answer on this podcast will be more fun than terrorism.
SFX:(group chuckling)
Tom:I just— Sometimes one of the guests accidentally comes up with a tagline for this show. And I just feel like "Lateral: more fun than terrorism" may just, may not be great(!)
SFX:(guests laughing)
Vanessa:Surely more fun than terrorism.
Adam:Yeah, exactly. Or parenthetically, one hopes at the end of it. You could do that. Did we say it was on the tube? It's a transit ad? System ad?
Vanessa:I think we would assume...
Tom:London commuters, yes.
Vanessa:Yeah, so maybe bus. Big double-decker buses and the Tube as well.
Adam:Well, you don't want people drinking amaretto on the double-decker bus, right? That seems kind of self-evident.
Vanessa:Where are you getting amaretto from? Have I missed something here?
Adam:That's 'cause I looked it up 'cause I broke the rules.
Adam:Disaronno is a kind of amaretto, but I shouldn't know that because... I shouldn't have looked that up. So, sorry.
Tom:You should not know that. But it is helpful, as part of the question, because all else we had was Stuart going, "I remember the name and not much else." So it is helpful in this case.
Vanessa:So that is the company that did the ad campaign?
Adam:Oh, are you raising the possibility that it could be for a Disaronno product other than amaretto? Maybe one of some other... some other product in the Disaronno family of fine products?
Vanessa:I mean, Adam, are you— Are you on the About Us section of their website?
SFX:(Tom and Stuart laugh)
Vanessa:Could you just tell us some different things that they've made?
Adam:I would be if I'd not been put in my place. I'm trying to toe the line.
Stuart:They weren't giving out free samples, were they?
Tom:No, but that's actually slightly close to the truth.
Stuart:So were they giving out some sort of branded product that wasn't a free sample? Like, I don't know, a Disaronno hat or something?
Adam:An almond? Almonds are technically toxic.
Tom:Are they?
Stuart:That's true, yeah. Yeah, if you eat enough of them. That's where cyanide comes from, I think.
Adam:Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. You have to process them to make them not deadly. Yeah, so maybe they were just giving raw, unprocessed almonds out on the Tube, and people were dying of toxic shock several days later, I don't know.
Tom:Amaretto being an almond liqueur. There's been a jump there that non-drinkers in the audience won't know.
Adam:Hey, maybe that's it. Maybe because it's a... it's like a... it's a fragrant... it's a fragrant liqueur. Was it a scratch and sniff billboard? They didn't want people like, (sniffs deeply) You know, sniffing the side of the bus to smell the almond?
Vanessa:Do you think it was the early days of nut reactions? People were allergic to whatever they were giving out, causing some kind of mass medical event?
Stuart:Ooh yeah, mm.
Tom:You've hit pretty much everything needed to solve this. You're right, it's an almond liqueur. You're right that it's on the Tube. And you're right that this is 2002. And perhaps people are more sensitive about terrorism. Put all that together, and you've got it.
Adam:Yes, put those things together in the way that they naturally go together.
SFX:(group laughing)
Tom:It wasn't scratch-and-sniff, but there was something very close to it.
Stuart:What's close to scratch-and-sniff? I mean, you're not going to make an advert people lick. That'd be madness, surely.
Adam:Punch and lick, yeah.
SFX:(Tom and Stuart laugh)
Stuart:Bang, on the side of a bus!
Vanessa:Do you remember anthrax? Why haven't we spoken about anthrax any time since 2002?
Stuart:(cracks up)
Vanessa:Is it a powdered form of amaretto that we're worried and we're worried about anthrax?
Tom:I just like, why don't we talk about anthrax anymore?
Vanessa:That's the second tagline.
Tom:That's the sort of thing they were worried about. That's absolutely the sort of thing they were worried about. And it wasn't scratch-and-sniff. But you're very close. You're sort of half of that.
Vanessa:Is it a snort kind of scenario?
Stuart:(laughs) We're giving out amaretto snuff to everyone here.
Adam:Is the olfactory system, the sensory system, chiefly involved here, Mr. Scott?
Tom:Yes, it is. It wasn't powder, but it was something.
Stuart:They were pumping a smell out of adverts, and it was worrying people?
Adam:And people were thinking it was a poison gas attack, yeah.
Vanessa:Wow, it's like when you see one of those 4D movies, and they're shooting water at you out of the screen and things like that. It was like that, but in advertising.
Adam:Yes, I love it when my movie squirts at me. I love that.
Vanessa:An early innovation that was not welcome.
Tom:They were pumping the smell or amaretto liqueur into the Tube.
Vanessa:That's foul.
Tom:There's one other thing that you've mentioned that explains why the government freaked out about this.
Adam:That seems like enough.
Stuart:Is it because people thought it smelled like cyanide or something?
Tom:Almonds have the smell of cyanide.
Tom:And so... the British government stepped in and said, "Could you not pump the smell of cyanide into the Tube, please?"
Stuart:(laughs heartily)
Vanessa:How is this even approved?
Stuart:That must have been a great meeting.
Vanessa:They need to tighten that process a little.
Adam:Yeah, so the funny thing is that I believe it's not that cyanide smells like almonds. It's that almonds smell like cyanide. Because cyanide is derived from almonds or from very adjacent plant parts.
Tom:I have a note that says unprocessed almonds contain amygdalin, which breaks down into hydrogen cyanide when ingested, so...
Adam:There it is.
Tom:The smell of almonds and the smell of cyanide are close enough that the British government said, "Could you please not put that smell in the Tube?"

Each of our guests has brought a question along with them. We're going to start today with Stuart. Whenever you're ready.
Stuart:Right, this question has been sent in by Ivan. Thank you, Ivan.

When drivers cross the border between Singapore and Malaysia, officials sometimes take a quick look at the vehicle's dashboard, regardless of its age. Why?

When drivers cross the border between Singapore and Malaysia, officials sometimes take a quick look at the vehicle's dashboard, regardless of its age. Why?
Vanessa:Do you think they're really opinionated with those kind of dancing, moving dash characters that people have?
SFX:(others laughing)
Vanessa:We're thinking...
Vanessa:...insensitive Hawaiian hula dancer.
Adam:That kinda hula (bleep) flies in Singapore, but not in Malaysia, okay? Leave it in Singapore. Come on now.
Vanessa:You have to take that off.
Tom:Absolutely no bobblehead Jesus as your co-pilot. Not allowed at all.
SFX:(guests laughing)
Stuart:Dancing flower on the dashboard, straight back outta the country, yeah.
Tom:To be fair, given the amount of things that are banned in Singapore, including things like chewing gum...
Tom:That's not unusual.
Vanessa:Something that I'm wondering is do they drive on different sides of the car? It would seem so silly because they're countries that are right next to each other. But are we having a left-hand drive and a right-hand drive situation in these two countries?
Adam:That's a good guess.
Tom:I know there are plenty of countries that do that. I think it's, there's Hong Kong and... Is it Hong Kong and China or Macau and China? There's definitely one of those borders where they have to switch during transit, but I can't remember which one it is.
Adam:Because of you, the Brits.
Vanessa:(snickers) Well, I would assume that Singapore would be a left-hand drive.
Adam:Sure, surely.
Vanessa:Wait, which one is British?
Tom:This is where my history knowledge falls apart, sorry.
Vanessa:I get so confused.
Adam:British drive on the left. The Brits drive on the left, yeah.
Tom:Actually, Singapore only got its independence from Malaysia in the 20th century. So I think that whichever side it is, they should both drive on the same side.
Vanessa:Okay, okay. I'll put that idea to rest.
Adam:Could it be a radar detector thing? Do you have those outside the United States? So in the United States, if you want to try to evade speed enforcement, you can put this thing on your dashboard called a radar detector that picks up incoming radar blips or whatever they're called.
Vanessa:I just love the Americans' question on the podcast. They're like, does this exist outside of America?
SFX:(group laughing)
Adam:Oh, does it though? That seems like the kind of (bleep)-y thing only we would do.
Stuart:Oh yeah.
Tom:It's in a lot of places. It's also illegal in several countries.
Adam:I believe it's illegal in several states in the US, but...
Tom:I think there's at least one European country where it's illegal to even have a database of speed camera locations loaded into your GPS. But...
Adam:Could it be that new thing where lots of people, especially in particularly repressive or litigious countries will just run— they'll just drive with a GoPro in their window just to document any interactions they have?
Vanessa:Like a dash cam. There's a dash cam law in Singapore.
Stuart:Nope. Nothing to do with dash cams, folks. Nope, nope, nope, nope, it's... It's less of an addon. Let's say that it's something more integral to the car and the status of the car.
Adam:They did mention they would check it on any year model of car. So what on the dashboard
Adam:...would change with the years? In Singapore?
Vanessa:Well, it wouldn't change with the years, right?
Stuart:No, this is more that the year is irrelevant. Yep.
Stuart:They don't care how old the car is.
Vanessa:It's independent of how new or old it is. Tom, do you know this question? I just assumed that you know everything, but okay. You're also trying to guess?
Tom:No, if I'd known the question, I would have dropped out at the start. I would have dropped out and let y'all figure this one out. But for me, I'm thinking... is there a limit on how many miles a car can have? Wait a minute, no, Singapore! Singapore has a limit on the number of cars that can exist on the island?
Vanessa:It's very expensive to have a car in Singapore, because the registration fees are astronomical.
Tom:Yeah, I don't know if it's a limit. Is it a hard limit? There's certainly—
Vanessa:But why would they be checking the dash? Wouldn't you have a sticker somewhere? Are we thinking dash could include the front window?
Stuart:You're more on the right lines when you're thinking about money.
Vanessa:Is it for bribes? Are they checking for bribes?
Stuart:(laughs) Not to my knowledge. So a quick look at the dashboard will give them everything they need.
Tom:Okay, so it's going to be the... odometer or speedometer or how many years the car has had. Do cars get taken out of Singapore to have the miles reduced and then brought back in as—
Stuart:No, nothing to do with the mileage counter.
Tom:I'm thinking elaborate heists here.
Vanessa:Are there no petrol stations in Singapore? Are we checking that— or very few?
Adam:To see how much gas you have, yeah.
Vanessa:Are we checking that they have enough petrol to survive?
Stuart:You're on the right track with petrol.
Tom:Is it that people are going out of Singapore to buy petrol where it's cheaper and then trying to bring it back in, in the gas tank? Like we're just leaving to fill up, not pay tax?
Stuart:You are absolutely correct. That is exactly it, yeah.
Vanessa:Wow. We needed you, Tom. We couldn't have done this ourselves.
Stuart:Because effectively, fuel in Malaysia is subsidised, and it's massively taxed in Singapore. So it's like two thirds, or, well, basically one third as much money in Malaysia. So people would just drive from Singapore to Malaysia, fill their car up, and then drive back out. Which was considered tax evasion, of course.
Adam:So how much is your gas tank allowed to move in any given trip? Because surely it's going to move some.
Stuart:Basically, when you leave Singapore into Malaysia, you have to have three-quarters of a tank of fuel.
Tom:But when you come back...
Tom:It only makes sense if you have to do a lot of driving in Malaysia.
Adam:Then it doesn't matter, yeah. They only check it on the way out.
Tom:Doesn't matter.
Adam:That's actually a pretty damn good system.
Vanessa:Do you think that there's a petrol station at the border that's just charging some astronomical rate for everyone that has less than three-quarters of a tank?
Stuart:You either drive all the way back home, or you buy it from us at horrendous markup, yeah.
Tom:Next question was sent in by Jonathan Watkins Bitel. Thank you very much.

In 2013, 22,000 people consented to clean toilets for 1,000 hours. In 2014, six people agreed to give up their first-born child. Yet, when PC Pitstop Optimize offered anyone $1,000, it went unclaimed for four months. What connects these events?

I'll give you that one more time.

In 2013, 22,000 people consented to clean toilets for 1,000 hours. In 2014, six people agreed to give up their first-born child. Yet, when PC Pitstop Optimize offered anyone $1,000, it went unclaimed for four months. What connects these events?
Vanessa:I think what connects all of these events is when Tom started weekly uploads on his YouTube channel.
SFX:(Tom and Stuart laugh)
Tom:In 2014. Yep.
Vanessa:In 2013.
Adam:Correlation is causation, don't you know that?
Tom:Yeah, always, always.
Adam:Always, every time.
Vanessa:What is the... last thing that you mentioned? The PC P-thing?
Tom:The last thing was PC Pitstop Optimize.
Stuart:Well that sounds like software to make your PC run smoother or something.
Tom:It is, yes.
Adam:Oh, okay.
Stuart:And they were offering $1,000?
Stuart:$1,000 just to use it?
Tom:He says, slightly in the voice and cadence of Dr. Evil from Austin Powers there. I don't know why, I just, "One thousand dollars."
Stuart:Is it somewhere where they don't have many computers?
Adam:Yeah, what did the software company want you to do as part of their promotion for $1,000? Something that no one would do.
Vanessa:Give up your first-born child.
Adam:Which is something worse than that apparently? Which also, by the way, what are the logistics of actually carrying through that transaction? How do you give your child to a software company? Are there islands for that?
Vanessa:Well, I think we have some fourth independent thing that are tying all of these things together, right? There's some reason underlying the children, the toilets, the software.
Vanessa:Which seem so disconnected. It's like you just picked three random things out of a hat, and you're like, "Let's see if they can find a link."
Adam:Well, when you have children, you have to do a lot of cleaning of toilets.
Adam:And giving them up would result in fewer toilets to be cleaned. So, what step follows?
Vanessa:It's almost like an expansion pack for The Sims came out where everybody is doing some Sims tasks in real life, like cleaning their toilets...
Adam:That's funny. up their child, and they just want more memory on their computer so they can play more games.
Stuart:When you say giving up the child, is it just something like the child's name? Naming the child 'Timothy Pitstop' or something?
Tom:No, six people literally did agree to give up their first-born child.
Vanessa:Was that followed through?
Tom:No, but they did agree to it.
Adam:It's easy to agree to something that no one will actually do. So one presumes that the $1,000 offer was for something that one would actually have to do if one accepted the $1,000 check.
Vanessa:But when the kids grow up... Those kids are now ten years old. Are they finding out that their parents willingly said that they would give them up in exchange for something for some reason?
Adam:Live reaction video of me telling my kid this.
Tom:You said 'willingly' there. And I think if that ever went to court, I think that could be questionable.
Vanessa:They were coerced into this, do you think?
Tom:Coerced is also a strong word.
Stuart:Were the toilets actually cleaned, or was that just a promise?
Tom:It was just a promise. I wouldn't be able to tell you whether that was followed through on or not.
Tom:Probably shouldn't use the words 'followed through' in a sentence about toilets, but never mind.
Adam:Is that a thing? I don't know that. I'm not familiar with this idiom. Is there a toilet idiom?
Tom:(laughs) We're not going to explain that joke. We'll just move on.
Vanessa:I think you just gotta let that one go, Adam.
Adam:Okay, alright.
SFX:(others laughing)
Stuart:We'll explain after.
Adam:Well, you see, I cook on the internet for a living, and literally... any action you could describe in the kitchen has been turned into some kind of euphemism by some civil— by some society somewhere. And so there's nothing I can say that doesn't make boys on the internet snicker. Nothing.
Tom:(snickers) And apparently, I haven't grown up.
Vanessa:This is definitely too early, but when I think of these three weird things and what could be going on, for some reason, my mind goes to MrBeast. Some kind of internet prank, where people are offering to do all of these things for something like that.
Tom:I think you're close with prank there. Not necessarily internet, but computer-based prank, certainly.
Adam:Okay, so if you sell antivirus software or whatever, and if you were going to essentially dare someone to do something that they wouldn't want to do with their computer, we know that they already are a person with with a particular interest in security, because that's why they even have anything to do with this company.

So it would be to do something insecure with your computer, to like click on some phishing link or something, right?
Tom:You are getting ever and ever closer here.
Vanessa:Is it a scam?
Tom:Scam is a strong term. And I actually said... Not necessarily a scam, more like... teaching people how to avoid one. And I think, Stuart, very early on, you were talking about the software. That might—
Stuart:Oh my god. They didn't put it in their terms and conditions or something, did they?
Tom:Yes, they did!
Stuart:Oh my god, so if you install PC Pitstop, you sacrificed your children to Moloch or something? Is that the—
Tom:The other way 'round. If you installed PC Pitstop Optimize and you read the end user license agreement ...and you emailed the address that was in there, the first person to do that won $1,000.
Tom:And it took four months for someone to notice that. So based on that, why were people giving up their kids? Why were people volunteering to clean toilets?
Stuart:Because they weren't reading the agreements.
Tom:Because they weren't reading the agreements.
Vanessa:But did that teach us anything? We're still not reading the agreements.
Tom:The first two of those, by the way, the prank ones, were Wi-Fi terms and conditions. So the first-born child and the thousand hours of community service, that was after someone clicked through just saying, "Yes, I'll connect. I won't bother agreeing to these."
Adam:"Yes, please. Just give me the Wi-Fi," yeah.
Tom:Back in 2014, Wi-Fi was a lot less secure. So I did once think about doing a video where I set up a Wi-Fi hotspot. And hidden in the terms and conditions was the ability to just rewrite anything you saw and steal all your passwords. And then I decided I didn't want the legal responsibility for that. And thought it was actually—
Vanessa:Don't blame you.
Tom:Just a little too evil to actually do it. So I'm glad someone did.

But yes, this was Purple, a Wi-Fi provider who got people to sign up for 1,000 hours of community service. It's not recorded whether they did.

Cybersecurity firm F-Secure put what they called a "Herod clause" in their Wi-Fi conditions in 2014.

And in 2005, PC Pitstop Optimize hid a clause offering $1,000 if you just emailed someone. And it took four months and 3,000 users before anyone noticed.

Next question is from Adam. Whenever you're ready.
Adam:Well, this question has been sent in by an anonymous listener.

In 1970, a group of activists snuck into a government office in Delaware – the US state of Delaware for people who don't know – hoping to steal documents later that night. None of them could pick the lock of a security door. How did they manage to defeat the door's security that evening using a pen?

I'll give it one more time.

In 1970, a group of activists snuck into a government office in Delaware, hoping to steal documents later that night. None of them could pick the lock of a security door. How did they manage to defeat the door's security that evening using just a pen?
Tom:My first thought is Watergate. And I don't know—
Vanessa:Oh, that's where all of our brains went.
Vanessa:This is just a precursor to Watergate, I suppose.
Tom:It wasn't just me. It's like, it's Del— But, was that Delaware? I feel like that was—
Vanessa:Oh, that was in Washington, DC.
Tom:That was Washington, DC. We're in the wrong place for that, but...
Vanessa:Not very— Only an hour away from Delaware.
Adam:Well, but this is the area of the US that is a bunch of very small states that were all, you know, former... British maritime colonies. And so you've got a whole bunch of jurisdictions that are right there crammed inside each other and have enclaves and stuff.

Because remember, Washington is only— The city of Washington is only like a mile wide. It sprawls into these neighboring jurisdictions. So there's parts of Washington that are in Virginia and parts of Washington that are in Maryland and stuff like that.
Adam:That said, I shouldn't have said that. I only said that 'cause it was a fun fact. It's totally irrelevant to getting the question.
Vanessa:Delaware is the state where all of the businesses incorporate. It's very kind to businesses.
Vanessa:So Google, for example, is based in Delaware. A lot of the big businesses. I don't think that is that relevant to this story because we're thinking about a pen and a door.
Tom:'Cause there's one building in Delaware which has like 100,000 businesses registered at it. It's just the offices of business registration lawyers or something like that. And so you just... start up a corporation in Delaware, it's friendly. I think Google might actually be based there because it's just this one building. All the offices are somewhere else, but it's legally very useful for them.
Vanessa:And it's probably just one room, and it's home to 100,000 businesses.
Tom:Just a lot of mailboxes.
Vanessa:It's just, yeah, it's just all mailboxes and just a guy sorting mail.
Tom:(laughs softly)
Vanessa:So I'm curious about the word pen. When we think pen, we're thinking of a Bic pen, a ballpoint pen. Could it be a laser-cutting pen? How James Bond can we go on the pen?
Adam:You're the only one who's not holding a pen right now, Vanessa, so...
Stuart:(wheezes) So the laser in it is too dangerous.
Vanessa:No need to take notes, really.
Adam:(chuckles) That's right, exactly. Nothing here is worth writing down.
Stuart:Most security generally is beaten not physically, but through social engineering. So did somebody just write, "Hey mate, can you let us in the door?" and hold it up to the window or something?
Tom:(laughs) You know what? That would probably work in a lot of places.
Adam:That's close enough
Vanessa:That's hilarious. the answer that I kinda feel like I should just give it to you, Stuart. 'Cause that's so close to being right.
Stuart:Oh, what? (wheezes)
Vanessa:Wow, Stuart, well done.
Adam:I've convened with the judges, and we're awarding it to Stuart, so... The activists raided a draft board office, which administered military service selection, which is the, you know... conscription in the US during the Vietnam War. The intruders were unable to defeat the lock using their usual means, so they used a more straightforward method. During the day, they left a note on the door saying, "Please don't lock this door tonight."
SFX:(Tom and Stuart wheeze)
Adam:Sure enough, when they came back that evening, the door was unlocked, and they managed to steal the documents they wanted.

The ringleader, who is this incredible... physicist/mathematician named William Davidon, went on to mastermind a famous 1971 raid on an FBI office in my home state of Pennsylvania. This revealed, this break-in that he did the year later, revealed the existence of COINTELPRO, which was a series of illegal projects by the FBI to monitor and undermine various political organizations.

So while the Delaware break-in, as far as we know, did not yield anything other than a great story... It's a pretty great story.
Tom:This question has been sent in by 'DiznyOrdiz', thank you.

Aaron and Bruno are in a courtyard. In the dirt, Aaron draws a curve – like a broad, flat hill – with the end of his sandal. Bruno then draws something similar, but with a key difference. What can you tell about Aaron and Bruno?

I'll say that again.

Aaron and Bruno are in a courtyard. In the dirt, Aaron draws a curve – like a broad, flat hill – with the end of his sandal. Bruno then draws something similar, but with a key difference. What can you tell about Aaron and Bruno?
Vanessa:Are they in jail? Did anyone else think about that, or is it just me? I feel like there's so many movies where you see people in prison courtyards, drawing plans and things like that.
Adam:So we know nothing about the shape drawn by the other fellow?
Tom:Something similar, but with a key difference.
Vanessa:Do you think Bruno has a prosthetic leg? Is this too far out of left field? Is Bruno not wearing a shoe?
Stuart:Bruno has wheels instead of legs.
Stuart:I don't know.
Adam:I mean, there's so many things that could be that I doubt that's the answer, right? I feel like it's got to be trickier than that.
Vanessa:Adam, I thought we were going with yes-and in this game.
Adam:Oh yeah.
SFX:(others laughing)
Adam:No, no, no, I think you're right. I think you're onto the right thing, Vanessa, about... Where is this courtyard? And what would that tell us about what they're doing and who they are? Why mention that it's a courtyard at all if it's not relevant? 'Cause there's dirt everywhere, in courtyards and out of courtyards.
Tom:I would focus more on what they're drawing, which will help. If you could place the courtyard in space and time, it might be able to help. But have a think about what they might be drawing in the dirt.
Adam:They're drawing curves by tracing their feet, their footwear. And this is a Tom Scott program, so are they doing math?
SFX:(Tom and Stuart laugh)
Adam:Are they doing graphs?
Stuart:Yes, graphs, absolutely, yeah. It's not that thing of, "Oh, I'm going to draw a line here and you're not allowed over this line. This is my land", or something?
Adam:A broad curve. Like a hill, like a hilltop.
Vanessa:Could it be a rainbow? A hill? Some kind of building that they can see? Do you think they're children, and it's a sand pit?
Adam:Let's, I think let's explore that. Yeah, there are children on a schoolyard, right? And one of them has a sandal with which he traces a big curve. The other one...
Tom:The difference between the two curves is that Bruno's is upside-down compared to Aaron's.
Stuart:One is sad, and one is happy.
Adam:Okay, so they're just sitting— They're standing next to each other. They're standing two abreast, and that's when they chose to trace their footwear?
Tom:I mean, they may be standing next to each other, opposite each other. All that matters is that one curve looks like a hill, and one curve looks like a valley. Just upside down.
Vanessa:Were they trying to do the same thing, but Bruno's from the southern hemisphere?
SFX:(group laughing)
Tom:There's a... There's a much... There's a much bigger reason for this.
Adam:Bruno rotates counterclockwise.
Tom:I did say time and place for the courtyard, and I think it would be unfair to leave you with the impression this is a modern schoolyard. This would be second, third century AD.
Adam:Oh, is it like a shibboleth thing?
Tom:Yes, talk through shibboleths.
Adam:Okay, so yeah, early Christians, in order to identify each other as being fellow early Christians and not like, you know, a Roman narc that's going to turn him in and feed him to the lions... would, I guess, I mean, I dunno if this is true. I don't know historicity of this. But the story is that they would draw a fish. One would draw a curve in this direction. The other would draw an equal curve in the opposite— a mirror image curve, thus creating the shape of a fish.

So we know that Bruno and what's his name are early Christians?
Tom:You are spot on. It is the Fish Shibboleth from the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD, which is made of two arcs crossing at one end as a challenge-response to see if you were, as you put it, a Christian or a Roman narc.

Stuart, you looked like you had something to add at that point, or did you just get it on shibboleth as well?
Stuart:No, yeah, I was literally just drawing the curves on a piece of paper and thought, "Oh, it's the ichthys, isn't it?" Yeah, so...
Vanessa:This is why you have a pen.
Vanessa:This is my disadvantage.
Stuart:Not only for Delaware-based fraud.
Tom:Thank you, yeah!
SFX:(Tom and Vanessa laugh)
Tom:Vanessa, over to you for the next one.
Vanessa:When walking around Berlin one night, Elke became lost. However, when she saw a new outdoor water sports complex that was nearing completion, she was suddenly able to find her bearings. Why?

I'll read it one more time.

When walking around Berlin one night, Elke became lost. However, once she saw a new outdoor water sports complex that was nearing completion, she was suddenly able to find her bearings. Why?
Adam:Is this a woman named Elk, or is it an elk named Elke?
Vanessa:Elke is a German name, E-L-K-E.
Adam:Oh, okay, sorry.
Vanessa:Or a kind of, yeah, European name.
Adam:Okay, sorry.
Tom:When you've played this game a few times, when you've sat in this seat, you start to notice words in questions. And you just notice the phrase 'outdoor water sports complex' and think, that's hiding something. You coulda said swimming pool. You could have said jet ski centre. (stammers) Is there a better way to say 'outdoor water sports complex'?
Adam:So does that, what would that mean over there? I mean, here I suppose, I would think that that would mean Olympic swimming pools and diving boards, things for serious athletic competition in water, not like a kids' water park.
Vanessa:I think you're on the right track there, but specifically outdoor.
Stuart:Didn't just see the reflection of her house in it, did she?
SFX:(Stuart and Tom laugh)
Tom:Her house is actually up in the sky, or on a faraway hill, and just happened to provide the sighting line.
Adam:Do these questions often have red herrings? Could the fact that it's in Berlin be a red herring?
Tom:I mean, often, but...
Adam:Oh, okay.
Tom:I'm gonna assume that it is like, athletics complex, stuff like that, and that there is a diving board. I don't know why this would be Berlin, and I don't know... But if it is a red herring, there is just this ten-metre diving board, and she goes in, and she walks up the steps, and she steps out of the diving board, and she sees where her house is from there.
Vanessa:It's a really interesting theory. You're on...
Vanessa:...the right track in one way... when you're thinking about diving boards and, you know, a big complex like that.
Adam:So she looks down.
Vanessa:That's key.
Vanessa:But she's not climbing anything.
Adam:It's Berlin, and it's Olympic-calibre sports. So could this be a Soviet— Cold War-era Olympics question?
Tom:The diving board let— No, she's not going up it. The diving board let her see over the Berlin Wall. But she wouldn't be trying to get to the other side of the Berlin Wall, 'cause you couldn't, so, never mind.
Vanessa:Personally, I don't think Berlin is that relevant in this case, except perhaps it's quite a flat city. I'll leave it at that.
Adam:So if you play David Bowie's Berlin albums, they won't skip because it's flat.
SFX:(Stuart and Vanessa laugh)
Adam:I am so sorry, but could we have the question again?
Vanessa:Certainly. You need a pen and paper, Adam.
Adam:I do. I know.
Vanessa:When walking around Berlin one night, Elke became lost. However, when she saw a new outdoor water sports complex that was nearing completion, she was suddenly able to find her bearings. Why?
Stuart:So it kind of implies that as soon as she saw it, she got her bearings and didn't really have to interact with it or do much.
Tom:All German outdoor swimming pools must face exactly east-west for some reason. They're like churches.
Vanessa:Tom, so many different things that you have said over the course of this answer all could come together to be correct. Piece them together in a different way.
Stuart:So somehow it's a giant compass? I don't really... Or it has a map.
Vanessa:You are also close.
Stuart:It doesn't have that map with 'you are here' on it, does it?
Tom:Well, we also said find your bearings.
Tom:She knows what direction she's going in after this. It's not necessarily she knows exactly her location, but she knows which way she should go.
Adam:Does the water in an Olympic swimming pool, pool slightly at one end due to the magnetic pull of the pole or something? It's like the water level is one molecule higher at the north end.
Tom:I was thinking it was gonna be draining to the river, and the river must be downhill. But that— You don't need a water sports complex to know that the river's downhill. That's just where rivers are.
Vanessa:So Tom, you've been so close. You were talking about a piece of equipment earlier that was the right piece of equipment.
Tom:The diving board.
Vanessa:You were talking about orientation. Stuart mentioned a compass. How could you put all of these things together?
Tom:The shadow from the diving board? No, you can see the sun anyway.
Vanessa:I almost want to give it to you because you're so close, but I really just want you to put the last dot together. So we are thinking about diving towers. And when she saw the diving tower, she knew which way to go. Why would that be?
Stuart:Because she can see the diving tower under construction from the window of her house.
SFX:(Tom and Stuart laugh)
Stuart:And just went backwards.
Vanessa:What could it have to do with a compass?
Adam:It's casting a shadow, right?
Tom:Okay, but... even if the clouds are in... divers don't want the sun in their eyes. They don't want reflections off the pool. So do... Do most diving towers point north if they're outside?
Vanessa:Yes! You've got it! New diving towers generally face north.
Tom:In the northern hemisphere. In the northern hemisphere. Australia, New Zealand, they must point south. There we go.
Stuart:Ah, bloody hell.
Vanessa:Yes. So competitors can be blinded by the sun and anything reflective. New towers are built to face north. Would you like me to read the European standard? Part 10, section 4.2.1 reads, particular attention shall be paid to avoid glare and reflecting surfaces, which can disturb the vision of the diver. In Europe, outdoor diving facilities should face north. Well done, guys. You got there.
Tom:One last order of business then. Thank you to Jason for sending in the question that I asked at the top of the show.

Which famous children's book was inspired by a hole punch?

Any quick guesses from the panel?
Adam:Oh, The Very Hungry Caterpillar.
Tom:The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Simple as that. It's a book with a load of holes in it. In 1990, the author Eric Carle said, "I was playing with a hole puncher, and I looked at the holes and thought of a bookworm." And that is where it came from.

With that, thank you very much to all of our players. Let's find out, where can people find you? What have you got going on at the minute?

We will start with Adam.
Adam:I'm already more famous than I'd like to be. So you can go ahead and not find me. But if you really want to, it's just Adam Ragusea on the internet. Adam R-A-G-U-S-E-A. I make videos on YouTube, and I have a podcast, which I think is better than the YouTube. But not as many people watch it, so... But it's on the YouTube if you just want to watch it.
Tom:And Vanessa.
Vanessa:I make videos about psychology, health, and sleep on YouTube at BrainCraft, TikTok at @braincraft, or you can follow me on Instagram at @nessyhill for some educational stuff and a whole lot of nonsense.
Tom:And Stuart.
Stuart:I make a lot of vaguely diverting entertainment stuff on the internet. Just search Ashens, A-S-H-E-N-S. And you'll find the YouTube channel and the films and the live streams and everything you could need.
Tom:And if you want to know more about this show, you can do that at, where you can also send in your own idea for a question. You can find us at @lateralcast basically everywhere on social networks, and there are regular video highlights at

With that, thank you very much to Stuart Ashen.
Stuart:Thank you.
Tom:Vanessa Hill.
Vanessa:Thanks, Tom.
Tom:And Adam Ragusea.
Adam:Thank you.
Tom:I've been Tom Scott, and that's been Lateral.
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