Lateral with Tom Scott

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

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Episode 7: The brilliant burger chain ruse

Published 25th November, 2022

Dani Siller, Bill Sunderland and Matt Parker face questions about plastic plates, academic awards and creative cereals.

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


Transcription by Caption+

Tom:Which American TV show has a version in Azerbaijan called 61!? The answer to that at the end of the show. My name's Tom Scott, and this is Lateral.

Joining me today are three people who are hopefully going to enjoy this workout of their mental muscles. From Escape This Podcast, Dani Siller and Bill Sunderland.
Dani:My mental muscles are all stretched.
Tom:And from Standup Maths and the Festival of Spoken Nerd and the podcast A Problem Squared, Matt Parker.
Matt:Thank you very much. I have not mentally limbered up.
Tom:You're just going into this cold. Your brain's going to ache tomorrow.
Matt:Going in cold. I fear not, I fear... I don't feel strains or cramps.
Bill:You gotta be careful. You're gonna pull your hippocampus.
Matt:That's a, that is a solid joke. I feel like I didn't laugh, but I'd like to acknowledge the good fundamentals of that joke.
Bill:That's what everybody wants when they tell a joke.
Tom:I call those golf clap puns. "Well done. That's solid. Just neatly on the green. Yeah." Alright.

In this game, the questions might sound tricky at first, but there are very straightforward answers, once you know what they are. Your job is to make the mental leap from A to B without necessarily going through J, Q, X, and Γ.

So if we're all ready, Here's your first question.

In 1998, many people bought tickets to the Brad Pitt film Meet Joe Black. Handfuls of people walked outta the cinemas across America before the film even began. Why?

I'll give you that one more time.

In 1998, many people bought tickets to the Brad Pitt film Meet Joe Black. Handfuls of people walked out of cinemas across the USA before the film even began. Why?
Matt:Now as a nerd...
Matt:who was alive and of moviegoing age... in the late '90s.
Dani:Were you there? Did you walk out?
Matt:I could be wrong. But I'm gonna opt out. I'm opting out for a little while.
Tom:So you get the option to be smug here. If you think you've got this immediately, bank that answer. If you've got pen and paper, something, write it down. We're gonna go to Bill and Dani.

1998. Many people walked out of Meet Joe Black before the film even started. Any ideas why?
Bill:Okay, my first issue is I need somebody to correct me, because all I have in my head is the movie where— I think Mighty Joe Young about a gorilla. So I'm just picturing...
Matt:Ah, that's why!
Bill:Did they all walk in like, "There's no gorillas in this picture!"
Matt:It was a marketing mixup.
Dani:And they knew before it had even started.
Bill:They sat down and they turned to someone and they said, "I'm really excited for the gorilla in this picture." "This is, that's not the, that's not the right movie."
Tom:I mean, and they just get to the end and, "Man, Brad Pitt was unrecognisable. Just could not see him until— The makeup job was incredible."
Bill:So which one is Meet Joe Black?
Dani:That's the one where he is...
Bill:Is he Death?
Dani:Death or the Devil, something like that.
Bill:When he talks patois and...?
Dani:Yes, that one.
Bill:Yeah, okay, okay. I'm on the board now. I understand.
Dani:Now, the last story that I heard about people needing to walk out of a movie was because it was a kids' movie, like it was Minions or something like that. And they accidentally started playing Hereditary.
Bill:Oh no. That's not good.
Tom:Oh, yes. Yes, and I think there's something about the movie, it either starts incredibly scary and violently, or starts in such a way that you're not actually sure what movie it is. And it could have plausibly been the kids' movie until— Given Minions is CG animated, I assume it just started with something horrible and violent and...
Bill:That would make sense.
Dani:Haven't seen either, couldn't tell you, but...
Dani:Is there any chance that happened? They started playing A Bug's Life.
Bill:But it is interesting 'cause it's before it even started. So something that happened in...
Dani:What happened in the credits?
Bill:Was there trailers for a movie that was going to come out in 1998 that was really like, "Oh, if that movie's gonna come out, I better leave the theater"?
Dani:You know what it was? They played the trailer for Meet Joe Black, and people went, "Oh, I don't need to see it now."
Bill:The whole plot.
Tom:The cinema in the town I grew up in occasionally would do that. They would play the trailer for the movie you are about to see.
Tom:Because I assume they just had one reel of trailers they put on before— And it would've been a physical reel. I assume they just put the same reel on for everything. If you were four or five weeks late to see a movie, you'd just get a trailer for that movie.
Matt:That's amazing. I figured— I thought you meant they played just the trailer for that movie. They're like, "Just to get you ready. Let's warm you up."
Tom:You are extremely close to the answer and I suspect Matt you might be able to identify what that film was.
Matt:I think I can.
Matt:So this is back, way back, before there were multiple Star Wars films. There were just the mere three of the original trilogy. And then lurking in the shadows... yeah, was The Phantom Menace and people got very excited.
Dani:They were so excited that they ran out.
Matt:It's hard to articulate. For my generation who were too late to have seen the originals in the cinema. They were like, these artifacts, like these things that have just always existed, always had existed, always will exist. And then the notion of there being a new Star Wars film was just off the charts. And people wanted any information, and this is... You could download the trailer online, but it was a difficult thing to get, and it was terrible res, and would take all night over dial-up. So to see the trailer.
Tom:I remember downloading that trailer. Yeah, absolutely. 'Cause I remember the music.
Tom:Duel of the Fates is still stuck in my head, 'cause I must have watched that— I wasn't even particularly into Star Wars, but I knew that this was a thing.
Matt:This was a thing. This was a big thing. And then people knew which films were gonna have the trailer before them. So you would buy a ticket just to go and see the trailer for Star Wars.
Bill:Oh, so they went to the movie just for the trailer. That's fantastic.
Tom:They had bought the ticket for Meet Joe Black, just to watch the trailer, and then they were not interested in the film, so... they left. They had seen the trailer on the big screen. That was all they needed.
Bill:That's fantastic.
Tom:I mean, this was also way back when movies were released on massively different dates, months or years apart in different territories. Europe would regularly get movies months and months and months after. And The Phantom Menace was the first movie to get really properly pirated. If you had, if you were a Star Wars fan and you had a university-grade internet connection in '99, whenever it came out, you were getting a low-res, grainy postcard copy of it. 'Cause that was the first big movie to get pirated like that.
Dani:Now you say, "back in the days when movies had different release dates"... It's very much still the case here.
Bill:Yeah, and also why Australia are the biggest internet pirates.
Tom:Has the NBN rolled out yet, or...?
Dani:(snide laughter)
Bill:Well, yeah, it's out. It's out. Works great.
Matt:Yeah, it's great.
Dani:30 upload.
Tom:Yeah, you're absolutely right. And Matt, you get the right to be smug there, 'cause you got it very early on.

20th Century Fox attached the trailer for Star Wars: The Phantom Menace to Meet Joe Black. So you had to buy a ticket if you wanted to see the trailer on the big screen. And so the Star Wars fans and the audience just got up and left.
Matt:And the important thing is, it lived up to the hype and everyone was very happy.
Tom:52% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.
Dani:I was eight. It was perfect.
SFX:(group laughing)
Tom:Now it's time for one of the guests to bring in a question. As always, I don't know this question. I definitely do not know the answer, so I'm playing along too. Dani, we're gonna start with you this time. What have you got for us?
Dani:Absolutely. Now, I know that points aren't on the line here, but I hope everyone's feeling competitive.

Harking back to its first edition in 1925, which competition's trophy contains a number of gladioli?

Harking back to its first edition in 1925, which competition's trophy contains a number of gladioli?
Tom:Wow. I thought you were gonna say gladiators there. I really, I did not expect that. My brain auto completed with a load of jokes about 1990s TV shows. And then I got gladioli, and I'm like, "I'm not even sure what type of plant that is."
Matt:Is that a flower?
Tom:I think it's a—
Dani:Yeah, it's a flower.
Tom:It's a plant, a flower thing.
Matt:That's a great name for a gladiator.
Dani:Well, yeah, it's from the word for... 'gladius' is the Roman word for sword, right? They're meant to be sword-like.
Bill:A little spiky sword flower.
Tom:I feel like I should have known that. Sorry, I said I feel like I should have known that, and I just saw my producer in the corner of my eye going, "Yeah yeah, you should."
SFX:(Dani and Matt laughing)
Bill:"Tom, Tom, you were a gladiator for six months. How do you not remember? You fought a Myrmidon with a gladius, Tom!"
Tom:Sorry, when you said "you were a gladiator for six months," I'm like, "I wasn't old enough to be a gladiator." And again, just 1990s TV shows. Just brain tape in the head.
Bill:"You had the big foam thing on the sticks."
Tom:Yeah, "Tonight fighting: Hunter, Lightning, and Weakling!" It's just...
SFX:(Bill and Dani laughing)
Tom:doesn't sound...
Matt:I'm just here for the flowers.
Bill:So, yeah, so, okay, so we've got a trophy, and the trophy is from 1925?
Dani:The first edition was from 1925. And so harking back to that very first one.
Tom:Did you say competition or contest or award?
Dani:A competition. So which competition's trophy contains this number of gladioli as part of it?
Matt:Is this like... So for example, the TV show Top Gear. It's actually been running since the '70s, but everyone just knows it as the current version. Was Gladiators, has that been running— was it like the first TV— the radio version in the twenties?
Tom:I have a feeling this doesn't actually have anything to do with Gladiators or American Gladiators or whatever.
Matt:Just saying.
Tom:(sigh) So first edition was 1925. Wait, the trophy, are we talking like actual plants here? Like they put some new gladioli in it every year? Or are we talking that the design of it has gladioli?
Bill:I think it's gotta be the design.
Dani:It's the design.
Bill:I also find it intriguing that the question does not specify the number of gladioli. Maybe it's important. Maybe it's, you know...
Bill:the seven-gladioli cup. Do you remember the seven-gladioli cup?
Tom:Oh yeah. I was in the audience for that a couple years ago, yeah. I mean, could it be like arranged in a triangle or something that makes makes some famous emblem or something like that?
Matt:I want to know is are the flowers important? Because I feel like we're focusing a lot on those.
Bill:Oh, yes.
Matt:And I feel like it's not gonna be like the Chelsea Flower Show or something. But if it's something like Wimbledon that feels like it probably started in the twenties, I don't know. Is that a common weed in lawn tennis? "Another gladiola.
Tom:Gonna get that out of the court before the...
Matt:the trophy."
Bill:"Put it in the trophy."
Dani:It's tricky. It is definitely relevant, this flower choice. Except not so directly that it's a, "Yep, it was a flower show."
Tom:I keep thinking about swords, now I know that connection. Is there a sword-fighting contest or... stage combat or fencing or something like that?
Dani:It would greatly surprise me.
Tom:Okay. And 1925, what started—?
Bill:It's also that it's harking, harking, is that a word? It's harking back to the 1925 version, which presumably means it wasn't that way, and then they've reissued a trophy that's like the original.
Tom:It also means that we're coming up to the centenary. Whatever it is, assuming this is still going, it's gonna be the 100th, so what— (panicked stammering) Oscars. Is it the Oscars, is it the Academy Awards? Because, I don't think... 'cause the statue...
Matt:Can we get a replay on Tom's excitement when he realised he knew the answer?
Tom:I don't know if I do know the answer. No, 'cause the statue isn't holding anything, is it?
Bill:No, no. You're losing it, you're losing it. Believe in yourself. Keep going.
Dani:I think the first Oscars were 1929.
Bill:Ah, that's how they— Mm, okay.
Tom:Yes, 'cause— Yeah, okay.
Matt:But your acting on believing you knew it was incredible.
Tom:It was this moment of sometimes, if you do quizzes or anything like that, sometimes it's like this bolt from the blue. It's, "Oh yeah. Led—" No not this time. Not this time.
Bill:We get that so much with guests on Escape This Podcast. People who, when they really think they've got a puzzle solution. "That's it! 100 percent, I've got it! Just connect the red thing to the blue thing." "No, that, no, that doesn't work at all." It's so sad.
Tom:Are there any famous, what other famous competitions are there? Is it a sport thing, this, or is it like a...?
Bill:Good question.
Dani:It is not a sport thing.
Dani:Quite specific.
Tom:So what is it that's, like the Oscars, but has been going since, going like 90 something years?
Dani:Typically, the competitors that you will find in this competition are... not at all the same group of people that you would find at the Oscars or a even a sporting competition.
Bill:Are they animals?
Tom:I was gonna say, is this Crufts?
Matt:Is it a Pulitzer Prize or a Nobel Prize or something like that?
Dani:Not quite. Now it's not going so far as an animal competition. And I'm definitely insulting someone by putting it like that.
Bill:I I like the idea of a Pulitzer. I like 'pen is mightier than the sword'. "Here's a gladiolus. It's like a sword flower." Is it something to do literature wise?
Tom:When you said, "Not quite going as far as animals," my brain went, "Oh, children."
Matt:Yeah, like a pet.
Bill:Oh. Oh. Dani has a look on her face. Like she thinks children are close to animals. I think you might be onto something, Tom.
Tom:So a children's contest or a contest for children?
Tom:That's been going since 1925.
Bill:Little... Miss Flower?
Tom:And swords. Swords is a red herring, right? This has nothing to do with like child sword fighting or anything like that?
Dani:Again, it would greatly surprise me. So, no, it's more that the gladiolus was the thing, rather than the swords.
Bill:Flowery children. Flowery children from the '20s.
Matt:Must be some kind of child pageant.
Bill:Is it like a pageant?
Dani:It's not quite.
Tom:Is it like the Spelling Bee? I'm trying to think of any contest that has children in it.
Bill:Ooh, a Spelling Bee is good.
Tom:Maybe the word that defeated the second place one in the first one was, gladiolus or something. I don't know.
Dani:Tom, you have nailed it. You have hit it right on the head.

1925, the Scripps National Spelling Bee. The winning word was 'gladiolus'.
Bill:Fantastic. We got there. We got there as a group. We really did.
Dani:Now, I don't have, I don't have much spelling bee experience. We've seen a couple of Australian ones on TV. I feel like the words, as far as I can tell, have gotten harder over time.
Tom:I mean, they now drill for them, don't they? They now give the kids a book of all the words that could appear, and it's more like a rote memory thing than a to—
Bill:Tom. That's called the dictionary.
Tom:No, except this doesn't have definitions in it. It's just...
Matt:It was just...
Bill:It's just the words.
Tom:So it's just, it's, well, I think it's got word used in a sentence, like a brief definition.
Tom:And it's just—
Dani:Etymology, I think they like as well. Yeah, etymology I think they like as well. They like knowing what language the word came from, that I know that they find that quite helpful.
Tom:But in theory, you could just memorise the whole thing, and it's just finding the shortcuts and...
Dani:I think they absolutely try to do that.
Matt:Are there not people who are like champion Scrabble players who can't speak the language?
Dani:Yes, that's a thing, isn't it?
Tom:There's a guy who won the French Scrabble contest, despite not speaking French. He just memorised all the words you can use. I said, sorry, that's one of those things where I put just in a sentence, and...
Bill:He just memorised all the words.
Tom:Just memorised an entire language of words.
Matt:You make it sound like a cheat. "Hey folks. Did you know you can cheat by just memorising all the words? They don't check if you've memorised all the words."
Dani:Yes, the first of these Spelling Bees took place in 1925 when the winning word was gladiolas, and they used that as the design for the trophy. The words that have won some Spelling Bees have become more complex over time. Started out with words like 'gladiolus' or 'therapy'. And now we get ones that are a bit more 'erysipelas'. Everyone's favourite.
Tom:I think I got some cream for that once.
Dani:It is an infection.
Tom:Oh, right.
Bill:I thought it was a philosopher.
Tom:I was thinking it was a Greek philosopher or something like that. And then I made the cream joke and it turns out.
Dani:Whoops. Now everyone just knows a little too much.
Tom:Yeah. The next question is from me, so:

Around 30 minutes before bedtime, Sophia spreads a light film of cooking oil onto a plate. Why?

I'll give you that again.

Around 30 minutes before bedtime, Sophia spreads a light film of cooking oil onto a plate. Why?

Yeah, there's not much to go on this one. That is just, that's just a thing she's doing.
Bill:To catch Santa.
Matt:Is the person significant?
Tom:No, not at all.
Dani:I remember during my childhood hearing the urban legends that if you had a glass of water next to your bed, bugs would come and lay their eggs in it. And so during the night you'd drink bug eggs. So maybe she was setting aside something else for the bugs to go to, to lure them away.
Bill:It's a bug distraction.
Tom:You are way, way closer than you think. It's not entirely right in the detail, but you're in— When you said to catch Santa, Bill, I honestly thought you were just coming in for the correct answer in the first three words. You are both very, very close.
Dani:If you tell me that this childhood urban legend is real, I'm gonna have to make some life changes.
Tom:No, to my knowledge, you are not drinking bug eggs if you have a glass of water next to the bed. He says, picking up the glass of water that's next to his desk. Just looking at it for a while.
Matt:Is the interchangeable human doing this on four plates? 'Cause I'm imagining you could put your bed on, so each leg of the bed is into the middle of a different plate. Which would mean any kind of bed-invasive insects would have to traverse a plate to get to the bed. So it's like an old grain silo with the things that would stop rats from getting up the legs.
Tom:I mean, you are all dancing around the right answer very quickly there. So I think I'm just, I'm gonna give it to you.

The plate is made from lightweight plastic, so it's a melamine plate. So the sort of disposable ones you get for picnics. Sophia is in Southeast Asia. This is a low-cost trick that people there used to combat a problem, which is mosquitoes.

So you are very, very close with all that. It's not so much there's a pool of oil sitting in the plate. It's that the plate has a light film of oil on it. It's one of those disposable sort of plasticy plates that you get for picnics and things like that. So what might she be doing with that, just before bed?
Dani:Where would you put— Where would be the best idea to put that for mosquitoes?
Bill:Yeah. I don't— Can you put— No, I mean, I suddenly thought, can you put a little flame in the middle of it, and then bugs will go to that?
Dani:Oh. But if it's oil, that's terrifying.
Bill:And also mosquitoes don't care about the light.
Tom:There's one thing you're missing. It's absolutely about mosquitoes. It's absolutely about catching them. But you've missed one key thing that she's gonna do with this plate.
Bill:She puts a tiny drop of her own blood in the middle of the plate, and the mosquitoes arrive to feast, and then they go, "Whoa!" And they slip on the plate and they feel discouraged and they leave.
Matt:You wear it like a hat.
Bill:Oh, she wears it like a hat.
Tom:If the mosquitoes will not come to the plate, then...
Matt:You swat the mosquitoes with the plate. Like you'll wave it around.
Matt:To filter them out of the air.
Tom:And it's sticky enough that the mosquitoes stick to it.
Bill:How funny.
Tom:The research for this question, I've got the notes here, is that the question editor's wife used to do this when she lived back in the Philippines. This is absolutely 100% personal anecdote of, yep. You get a bit of oil, you put it on a plate, you waft it around, and the mosquitoes stick to it.
Matt:Then you set it on fire.
Bill:Yeah. Once you got a couple of 'em.
Dani:Matt, I liked your suggestion of putting the plates under the bed legs. Because that gave me the image of ants crawling along, trying to get to the bed, going through the oil, and then as they tried to climb up, they just slipped straight back down.
Bill:So sad.
Matt:Then you set it on fire.
Tom:Well, the bed.
Bill:As long as there's fire at the end, Matt's happy.
Dani:But how can we sleep when our beds are burning?
Bill:Yeah, that's true.
Tom:That sounds like a lyric from The Killers. I don't know why. Just does.

So yes, Sophia is catching mosquitoes with the plate.

Matt, we are coming to you for the next one. Let's have your question please.
Matt:My question is:

In the year 1876, so cast your minds, why did editor Melville Stone — real person, not just a placeholder name — convince local traders to mark their prices ending in "99 cents" rather than whole dollars?

Basically, up until then, I believe, people in the nearby shops were like, "oh, that costs $6." And Melvin's "Hey, have you considered $5.99?" And why, were they a firm believer in this approach?
Tom:I mean, I assume it's— I mean, the classic answer this is people are fooled into buying more. And I assume there's some deeper reason beyond this, that it was happening at that particular time and...
Matt:That was a welcome justification. And it turns out, surprisingly effective.
Bill:Oh yeah, if you see something for $9.99, that is so much cheaper than $10. "I would never spend $10! $9.99, ho-ho!"
Matt:Exactly, fewer digits.
Tom:So that was the effect, but not necessarily the cause here?
Matt:No, that was not Mel's motivation. But it turns out that does work. And when we set up for all your maths toy needs...
Tom:Nice product placement.
Matt:We originally were like, "We're not doing that. We're having whole numbers." It doesn't people, want the .99.
Tom:Wait, do you have data on this? Did you like get a sales boost when that happened?
Matt:No, we didn't have sufficient data to do it rigourously. I knew you were gonna ask that. But we did it, and then we switched, and there were more sales, but maybe, you know. Well actually at the same time, we rolled out everything is a prime number of pennies. So it's often .97 or whatever the nearest prime is.
Tom:That's just gonna confuse all your data there.
Matt:So that may be what prompted all the sales. People are like, "Oh, prime number of pennies. Now I'm sold."
Dani:That's how it's done.
Matt:To set the scene, Melville Stone was not necessarily worried about the shopkeeper's best interest. Melville was suggesting this for a much more selfish reason.
Dani:He wanted all of the zero sign pieces for himself.
Bill:No, I think this is a similar idea. I'd like to play, here's what I think, my suggestion here. We'll play it out.
Dani:Oh god. I don't like—
Bill:Knock, knock, knock.
Dani:Oh no, we're closed.
Matt:You're roleplaying the whole thing?
Bill:Yeah. Here we go.
Matt:Wait, who's Melville?
Bill:Hello, my name is Melville. I see you have your signs up in the store. A $6 sign. Wouldn't you rather have a $5.99 sign? In fact, I have a few 9s here in my briefcase. Would you like to buy these little 9s and put them up in your shop?
Dani:I'm very much picturing it as a sign based thing.
Bill:I think he sells the numbers.
Matt:A nine salesperson.
Tom:Was he a sign painter? Did he charge by the digit?
Bill:I think he charges by the digit for the things he sells. You gotta, that's why you want the nine.
Dani:Oh, so you're saying there were no zeros.
Matt:What is a nine, if not a more flamboyant zero? Come on.
Bill:I think it requires extra digits. You could just put 6, but now $5.99.
Dani:Was he a six salesman?
Matt:I can tell you, Melvin's career vocation was the editor of a newspaper. Did not sell, purvey, or install signs or sign paraphernalia.
Tom:Did he sell something that cost a penny?
Tom:So you would buy— Let's say the newspaper was a penny. So you would go in and you would buy something that was $1.99 and they'd be like, "Well, you could have this penny. Oh, or I'll get the newspaper as well." I dunno why I thought newspaper.
Bill:Oh, that's so good.
Tom:No, 'cause he said editor. You said he was an editor, didn't you?
Bill:That could well be the right answer, Tom, but you haven't done it as a fun little scene, so.
Tom:Oh sorry, let's workshop this out. Let's work this out.
Bill:You be Melvin this time.
Tom:Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, okay. You be the person in the shop. (knocking with hands)
Bill:Oh, hello. Come in.
Tom:Hello. My name is Melville Stone. I dunno why I talk like this, but this is the only accent I can do.
Bill:It's a good one, congratulations.
Tom:Thank you. Would you consider changing your prices from six dollars to five dollars and 99 cents?
Dani:Excuse me, I'd like to buy some $6 tobacco, please.
Bill:Quiet. I'm just talking to Melville now. If you just hold on, I'll get back to you. Yes, Melville, where were you?
Tom:Why don't you charge her less, and then I can sell more newspapers?
Bill:How does this help me?
Tom:Yeah, no. Now we've now workshopped this, I've realised it doesn't actually make sense as a proposition to the business owner. This can't be the right answer, Matt.
Matt:Oh, well, 100%. You are completely correct. Right down to the—
Dani:It was just really convincing.
Tom:Now we've workshopped it, it doesn't make any sense. How did you—
Bill:We missed the final step of the scene, which is: "Alright, Melville, fight me for it, and if you win, I'll reduce my cost by a penny and sell them your papers."
Matt:Yeah. So Melville convinced the storekeepers
Dani:that it was a smart pricing move,
Matt:'cause people— it would look cheaper. And it transpires that's correct. But then Melville's vested interest was to shift copies of their paper, which cost a single penny each. So they were they were trying to get basically people to have more pennies in the economy, and people are more likely to buy things for a penny.
Tom:It wasn't about buying it at the same time. It was about having the pennies in people's pockets. So they'd spend them on— right.
Matt:Otherwise, everyone's buying multiples of a dollar or... Not a half penny, this is America, or a quarter or other fractions. And so now they're like, "Hey, let's get some pennies." And that they would go and make sure there were sufficient pennies sloshing around in the economy, shift copies of their paper. Job done.
Tom:Here's your next question.

In August 2022, how did a group of Chicago teenagers raise money for charity using 5,000 boxes of Corn Pops and Rice Krispies?

I'll give you that again.

In August 2022, how did a group of Chicago teenagers raise money for charity using 5,000 boxes of Corn Pops and Rice Krispies?
Dani:Now I have no idea what a corn pop is exactly.
Matt:I need more information on a corn pop.
Bill:Feels like the saddest lollypop in the world.
Tom:We are asking a very American question to three Australians slash... Two and a half Australians and half a Brit. Let's go with that as the...
Matt:Yeah, it works. I feel like it's a knockoff version of popcorn, but they're like, "Oh, we can't call it that. It's been trademarked by Big Corn."
Dani:I'm picturing rice bubbles as a thing.
Matt:Yeah, like rice bubbles.
Tom:Yeah, we call 'em Rice Krispies. It is that, but with corn, because it's America and everything is corn.
Bill:It's all corn.
Dani:That's a good point. Well, yeah, before that, I was picturing it as really upsetting bubble wrap.
Bill:Corn pop. "Just pack it in some corn pop."
Dani:"You can break these."
Matt:Now, if I remember fundraising correctly, when I was at primary school in Australia, you just get these pops, cover them in some kind of either honey or chocolate or something that will then solidify. Cut them up or put them in like little cupcake.
Tom:Oh, you're thinking Rice Krispies Treats, we'd call them.
Matt:Yeah. And then you flog em at the fete or school.
Dani:The problem is you miss the most important step, which is you eat them all yourself and then have to pay the money yourself later.
Matt:Oh my goodness, yes. The important thing is they're impossible to remove from the paper cupcake tray that they're permanently fused to.
Dani:Hope you like alfoil.
Matt:And did they use these unadulterated, or were they incorporated into some other edible objects?
Tom:They were unadulterated in the fact they were unadulterated as you would buy them off the shelf.
Matt:Oh. If I know kids, it was the corn pop challenge. Where you, how many boxes of corn pops can you balance on your head or, I don't know what kids were up to these days.
Tom:No, they— When I say boxes of, I don't mean the contents of those boxes. I mean 5,000 boxes of Corn Pops and Rice Krispies.
Matt:Yeah, and you balance the boxes on your head. That's the corn pop box challenge.
Tom:Yeah, and I expect—
Bill:Donate for every box.
Matt:Every box that you balance, yeah.
Tom:You to post a video calling me out and tagging the other couple of people that ask me.
Matt:Exactly, yeah.
Bill:And that's how you spread the message.
Tom:It's like the ice bucket challenge, but with more sugar.
Bill:Did they just start a tiny supermarket?
Tom:They just went, bought 5,000 boxes.
Matt:Oh, they discovered commerce.
Dani:No, they're just resalers.
Bill:Yeah, they just have a shop. They just own a little shop and they sell Rice Krispies.
Tom:This is, it is one of those weird charity things where... it doesn't really make sense when you think about it. We're going to do a thing, and people are going to give us money because we've done the thing. And the thing isn't really... It's just a big thing.
Matt:Okay, okay. Can we brainstorm stupid things you can do with 500 boxes?
Tom:5,000 boxes. It's a lot.
Matt:5,000, oh my goodness. Okay. I was gonna say 'cause... in WA... you... we used to raise money by gluing milk cartons together into a boat. And then people—
Bill:I was gonna say a boat as well. I was gonna say a raft.
Matt:A raft. Did they glue them into a massive raft?
Bill:And then go down the Mississippi?
Matt:Now you're talking.
Tom:They did make a... (pained stammering) It's the Illinois River.
SFX:(group laughing)
Tom:Chicago's the Illinois River. You're on the wrong bit of America. So they did make—
Bill:They travelled.
Tom:No, they did make a big thing out of the boxes.
Dani:Surely those boxes are cardboard. A boat would be upsettingly bad, right?
Tom:Yep, but the boxes themselves are relevant, and also so is the date, August 2022.
Matt:August 2022. If only I could imagine what it would be like to be in August 2022.
Bill:I know.
Matt:It's impossible. Note for future listeners, we are recording this in August '22.
Tom:There's two types of boxes here that— You've got your Rice Krispies boxes, 2,500 of them. You've got your Corn Pops boxes, 2,500 of them. And those are different boxes, different designs.
Matt:They made them fight? They made a giant picture, a two-tone equivalent of a grayscale, but it's breakfast cereal image.
Tom:Now you are very close with that. Not quite on the two-tone thing. You're not like dithering an image here. It's a much more simple design than that. And it helps if you think...
Matt:Letters, or a silhouette or something.
Tom:Something about those box designs. And the Americans will be screaming about it, because they know what those boxes look like.
Matt:Oh, wait, so what's... I imagine both of them just have giant mascots. One's got Mr. Rice Pop.
Tom:What do Rice—
Matt:and the other's got Lady, what was the other one?
Tom:Corn Pops and Rice Krispies. What does a Rice Krispies box look like?
Bill:It looks like a big rectangle. And it has a picture of Snap, Crackle, and Pop on it.
Tom:Not much these days. There's a colour to it.
Dani:Yeah, I feel like they're blue here.
Bill:Do they make a big American flag? The other one's red and white.
Tom:Not for Corn Pops. What colour would a Corn Pops box be?
Dani:Yellow. Oh, Ukraine flag!
Bill:Ukraine! Bloody Ukraine!
Dani:Oh, that makes sense.
Bill:Of course it's a blue, I've seen blue and yellow everywhere. Oh, of course.
Tom:Corn Pops boxes are yellow. Rice Krispies boxes are blue. So they made an enormous Ukrainian flag. Kelloggs provided the boxes free of charge. They were all donated to a food bank afterwards. And it is one of those charity things where: "We've made a big flag." And people give them money 'cause they've made a big flag. They raised $15,000.
Bill:Oh, good on 'em. How lovely.
Tom:Yeah, it was absolutely massive. They are being considered for the official world record for the largest flag mosaic. And I have no doubt that Kelloggs were also very happy with the publicity. But yes, $15,000 raised for charity by making a giant Ukrainian flag out of Corn Pops and Rice Krispies boxes. And I apologise that we gave that question to the Australians.
SFX:(Dani and Bill laughing)
Tom:Our last guest question comes from Bill. What have you got for us?
Bill:Alright, I have a question. I'm gonna keep the food theme going.

In the 1930s, the American burger chain White Castle hit upon a way to make their stores virtually immune to large rent increases. What was it?
Tom:So the minute you said White Castle, I was like, "I know the answer to this. I'm gonna be smug." It was not about how they drill little holes out of the burgers, and say that it's to let the steam through, and it's actually to save money on beef. I was 100% sure I was gonna be the smug one sitting back for that question and I am wrong.
Bill:And fun fact about that. That's actually because there was an editor in America who sold a newspaper for exactly one tiny cylinder of beef.
Matt:Tiny disk of beef, yeah.
Bill:The beef disc per paper.
Dani:Alright, my one question: Is White Castle legally a church?
Tom:Not to my knowledge.
Matt:They only used actual castles.
Tom:No, but some of them looked like castles. They have built that design up in a few places. I mean, what they're known for is just, they sell sliders. So you order six tiny burgers as a meal.
Matt:I was thinking if it was a castle... that that's such a specific use building. And the person's like, "We're gonna put the rent up." And they're like, "Well, who else are you gonna rent this to? You know. It's a giant castle. We're the only castle themed restaurant in town."
Bill:"You think I don't know any vampires? I could get a hundred vampires into this castle next week."
Tom:Meanwhile, over at the Medieval Times restaurant on the other side: "We really wanna set up a second Medieval Times. But we just, there just aren't any castle buildings around here." So the obvious answer, and I know it's obvious, but I'm gonna aim for it anyway, is that they just bought the buildings, they stopped renting.
Dani:That would definitely help.
Bill:That is not the answer.
Tom:Okay. I just thought I'd get that one out the way in case. So they are still renting, okay.
Dani:Do we think that the castle-ness has anything to do with that? I don't know much about how these look like. Are the buildings actually castley, or is it just a completely normal building and they've put some decal on the outside to look castley?
Matt:I'm gonna give you a clue, Dani.
Matt:It's in America. It's a cuboid with a castle outline stuck to the front.
Bill:But they are in castle shape. Apparently, fun fact, they were modeled after a water tower. I don't know why a water tower would look like a castle, but... it's the fun little castle look.
Tom:This is the 1930s, so big box stores, franchise stores, like prefab restaurant design wasn't really invented then, as far as I know. They would've just been renting the building.
Matt:If it's the '30s, that's easy. They put a sign at the front that says, "All members of the mob eat for free." Ain't no one's putting their rent up.
Tom:Oh, no. They just formed their own mafia. They just, yeah.
Matt:Well they had a speakeasy at the back. You walked through. Only one of the castle gates is real.
Tom:I am expecting some more character work from Bill here. I'm gonna be honest.
Bill:"It's us. We're the knights of the square table." I think— that's not them. That's a different chain that has square patties.
Tom:No, Whitechapel has square burgers.
Bill:There you go.
Tom:'Cause they're just easier to—
Bill:Tom, you're hovering in on something, which is, I will say... Yeah, they did have to pay rent. But they did also own the building.
Dani:What? Oh, was something else going on in the building? Did they have a bowling alley on the second floor?
Matt:Did they just invent franchising? Good with franchising, like often with McDonald's, the franch— I forget, the franchisor, franchisee, the one that owns the intellectual property will also own the land. And so not only do they get paid franchising, licensing fees, they also get rent from the person having to rent their shop back off them.
Tom:So who are they paying rent to, if they also own the building?
Bill:The people who own the land.
Tom:So it's a lease-hold kind of building.
Dani:Where was there land that, or who would've owned the land to make it important?
Tom:I mean, there's still, so if you're up in I think it's somewhere in Minnesota, Wisconsin, somewhere in the north middle bit of America there is the rogue Dairy Queen. Which sounds way more awesome than it actually is. That sounds like a weird high fantasy thing. It's just an ice cream shop that is still on the old contracts from the 1950s, '60s, whatever. So they're allowed to sell basically whatever they want. They can make up their own local products. They can change the prices, they can do— And corporate Dairy Queen hates it and would like them to be the modern franchise. And they're just, "No, we are independent. We go by our own rules."

So it could be some old contractual clause, but why...? It's not some ridiculous land thing about a castle, is it? Like, they didn't build, try to build a castle and claim it was a castle?
Bill:No, they didn't try and claim anything was a castle. They did, however, build the building specifically for every White Castle was built. And in fact...
Dani:So they chose that land.
Bill:They actually had a subsidiary company called the Porcelain Steel Buildings Company, which they set up specifically to build all of their own White Castle buildings.
Dani:So they chose the plots of land very specifically?
Bill:I mean, as much as anybody does when setting up a restaurant. But it did also— They could use the exact same reasoning, right, the exact same method that they use to avoid high rent, they could also use to respond to places that had poor sales. If they'd set up somewhere and the sales weren't so good.
Matt:Have they built it in such a way that it's technically a tent or a temporary building or something, right? And so it's quick to assemble and it doesn't, it's not technically a permanent structure. So the rent categorisation is different. And if there's poor sales, flat pack.
Tom:Oh, sorry. Are we talking rent or are we talking property taxes here?
Bill:We are talking rent increases.
Matt:'Cause then if they try to put the rent up, they just fold the shop down and pop it over there.
Tom:You can't increase the rent if what the tenant is going to do is just disassemble their shop and move it somewhere else cheaper.
Dani:Oh, were they just demountables?
Bill:Effectively, yes. They had little prefab tiny restaurants, and if the rent got too high, you could chuck it on the back of a truck, and you could drive it somewhere better.
Bill:And by the same token, for poor sales, if you're in an area you've set up, it's not as good. It's not getting a response from the people in that area. You just cut your losses, stick your building on a truck, get out of there, and find somewhere new to put it.
Tom:Wow. I feel like that's a thing that... I was gonna say, that should have survived into the modern era, and there's probably now a lot of zoning and tax laws that means you just can't get away with that, but. Like when you have to register a business to have a postal address, as opposed to it's the 1930s, and the White Castle has just rocked up in your town.
Bill:I will say, when you said the Rogue Dairy Queen, I thought that's what you were about to describe. A Dairy Queen that travels around the town popping up to serve ice cream to people, and then disappearing and going off into the distance.
Tom:I mean, that would be better. As it is, it's just one shop with a slightly different contract.
Bill:Yes. So you are the American burger chain White Castle, and you don't wanna pay such high rent, and you don't want to deal with the low sales in your area. You can pack your entire prefabricated small restaurant onto the back of a truck and drive it somewhere else.
Tom:One last loose end to tie up then. At the very start of the show, I asked:

Which American TV show has a version in Azerbaijan called 61!?

And that is 61 with an exclamation mark on the end of it. Any ideas?
Dani:It's that long lived show, The 4400, but they got through it a lot faster in Azerbaijan.
Bill:Oh, I was gonna say the opposite. And it said it took him a lot longer to get through 24.
Tom:Yeah, Azerbaijan has 61 hours in the local clock.
Matt:It's like a metric time, 61 hours in the day. Is it the remake of a show where the original title was a question, and the answer is 61?
Tom:You see, it is a show about questions and answers. Or it's more likely a show about answers and questions.
Bill:Oh, does that make it Jeopardy!?
Tom:Yes, it does. Yes.
Tom:A standard question— A standard game of Jeopardy! has 61 total clues, six categories of five clues, twice, Final Jeopardy at the end. Azerbaijan called it 61!

So that is our show. Thank you very much. First of all, Matt Parker, tell us what you've got going on.
Matt:Well, I'm still making ridiculous videos on my Standup Maths YouTube channel. And in the gaps, I'm also dabbling with this podcast thing with A Problem Squared, where Bec Hill and I solve all your problems. For a very generous definition of the word 'solve'.
Tom:And Bill and Dani. What's going on with you?
Bill:Yes, so we make a show called Escape This Podcast, where we have guests come on and play through audio escape rooms. We also make all of those escape rooms free for anybody who wants to play along at home. You can check that out at
Tom:And if you want to know more about this show, or you wanna submit an idea for a question, our website is You can find us at @lateralcast on pretty much everything, and you can catch video highlights at Thank you very much to Bill and Dani from Escape This Podcast.
Bill:Thank you.
Tom:Thank you very much to Matt Parker.
Matt:Thank you very much.
Tom:I've been Tom Scott and that's been Lateral.
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