Lateral with Tom Scott

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

Previous EpisodeIndexNext Episode

Episode 73: Resurrecting mammoths

Published 1st March, 2024

Adam Ragusea, Vanessa Hill and Stuart Ashen face questions about fake fittings, podcast production and sporting stunts.

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: Louis Davenport, Ryan, Elad Volpert, Maks Zolin, Sam Cook, James Profit. FORMAT: Pad 26 Limited/Labyrinth Games Ltd. EXECUTIVE PRODUCERS: David Bodycombe and Tom Scott.


Transcription by Caption+

Tom:In 1998, why did London's Metropolitan Police file an intellectual property dispute against the BBC?

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

If you've not heard Lateral before, imagine three people on a carousel trying to throw arrows of logic at a dartboard hanging off the back of an angry bull, and you're mostly there. So please welcome our angry bullfighters today.

We start, from BrainCraft and from a lot of other things besides, Vanessa Hill.
Vanessa:Nice to see you, Tom.
Tom:Good to have you back on the show.

This will be going out a few months after we record. This is how the show works. So the question I tend to ask guests here is, what are you working on right now that people will be able to see by the time this goes out?
Vanessa:So I have just had a paper published in the British Journal of Health Psychology last week. Do you think if I mention it, one person might go and read it?
Vanessa:Or zero?
Tom:And it is cited to "Hill, V [2023]" in this podcast's notes.

It's not in the notes.
Vanessa:Yeah, just have a— Just Google "Hill, et al, 2023, bedtime procrastination". You'll be golden. You'll learn so much.
Tom:Also, joining us from his own YouTube channel that is mostly about cookery, Adam Ragusea.
Adam:Cookery. God, that's wonderful that you call it cookery. Can we just live in that moment for a minute?
SFX:(Tom and Stuart laugh)
Tom:Every time I say something even vaguely British on the last episode, I got called out on it, you know?
Adam:I love— No, it's just love. It's just love.

And I guess, I mean, people who know, who follow my cookery programs know that it's kind of one of my running jokes is that I'm constantly saying, "as the Brits would say," but it's because I was a public television kid, so I was raised on British cookery programs that were aired on public television in the United States 20 years after they aired in the UK.
Tom:Well, also very much raised on British television, we have from the Ashens channel and from movies and other things besides, Stuart Ashen.
Tom:How are you doing, Stuart?
Stuart:I'm very well, thank you, Tom. At least I am at the moment till I've got the questions wrong.
SFX:(group laughing)
Tom:What are you working on right now then? What's coming soon for you?
Stuart:Oh, well, we're working on our first horror feature film, but that will be a little while before that's out. A few months at least, from when this goes live. So you can just catch up with us on the YouTubes and the Twitch streams and whatevers.
Tom:Well, hopefully these questions won't be too scary for you or for the audience.

And just before we start, we would like to thank today's sponsor, the letter L.

You can't live, laugh, and learn without it. The letter L. Type it today.

Here's question one.

Thank you to Maks Zolin for sending this question in.

How did Roald Dahl explain how this podcast is possible?

I'll say that again.

How did Roald Dahl explain how this podcast is possible?
Vanessa:Is this a spell from the witches, where Lateral is born out of a bubbling cauldron?
Tom:(laughs) That's actually my origin story.
SFX:(Vanessa and Stuart laugh)
Adam:Better than it being some super racist thing Roald Dahl said, being the origin story for your podcast.
Tom:(snickers) Yeah, yeah. We should acknowledge that this is not that part of Roald Dahl's writings and thoughts.
Adam:Well, that narrows it down.
Stuart:(laughs) Yeah.
Tom:(laughs) Somewhat, yes!
Stuart:I mean, he wrote a lot of children's books and a lot of Tales of the Unexpected. I imagine this will probably be about the children's books, 'cause they're better known?
Tom:Very, very much better known.
Vanessa:So are we imagining that he's used the word 'lateral' in some of his writings?
Tom:Not in this case.
Vanessa:Oh, interesting. So he's probably talking about audio in some way. Perhaps how our ears work.
Stuart:Yeah, or some sort of early... internet theory or something. I don't...
Adam:What if it's just about asking intriguing questions? You know, trivia.
Vanessa:Mhm. So we've got BFG, who had very big ears. Just throwing that out there.
Stuart:There's that bit in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with Mike Teavee with digitising things and... picking them up the other end, so to speak.
Tom:Have a think about that.
Vanessa:Oh, fascinating.
Tom:That's actually... basically the answer. Talk us through it.
Stuart:Oh? Well, yeah, there's the bit where... I think it's Mike Teavee, isn't it, desperately wants to be on television, and because they're all bad children who must be punished in this book for whatever reason...
Tom:I never liked that book.
Stuart:(laughs) It's not fun.
Tom:Even as a kid, I never liked that book. It just seemed off to me.
Vanessa:Is Mike Teavee the western guy in the film?
Stuart:That's it.
Vanessa:He has the whole cowboy thing going on?
Stuart:Yeah, honestly, feels like the author is punishing him for being too American for some reason. Which doesn't sit well, shall we say.

But anyway, he, yeah, demands to jump onto television and gets digitised through a thing, onto a screen, and says, "Ah, I'm on TV."

But then the horrifying twist is he is too small, 'cause television's small, isn't it? And then he's really small forever, or something. I can't remember the ending.
Adam:No, no, no. They stretch him back out in the taffy stretcher.
Stuart:(gasps) That's it, yes! Yes, absolutely, yeah.

And basically he's... Isn't the system to sort of send giant chocolate bars through television to people basically?
Tom:Yeah. Stuart, you've basically got it. You've remembered everything there. I will quote the original book:

"You photograph something, and then the photograph is split up into millions of tiny pieces, and they go whizzing through the air down to your TV set, where they're all put together again in the right order."

Does that remind you all of anything?
Vanessa:The internet?
Tom:That is essentially how stuff's transmitted over the internet, except this was written in 1964. Everything was analogue.

If Roald Dahl had been actually writing with the technology at the time, it would've been some kind of analogue scanning beam. But he specifically said it's chopped up into tiny pieces and sent.

And that is, mostly by luck, how the modern internet works.
Vanessa:He doesn't get credit for being a futurist, does he, Roald Dahl?
Tom:No, he doesn't, no.
SFX:(group laughing)
Adam:I mean, he predicted the whole giant peach thing. That happened in 2014.
Stuart:Yeah! (laughs)
Adam:We all remember the giant peach incident of '14.
Tom:Each of our guests has brought a question along with them.

We're gonna start today with Adam.
Adam:Well, this question has been sent by... Elad Volpert.

Take the eighth triangular number and add eight. What is commonly bought in multipacks containing this many items?

Take the eighth triangular number and add eight. This is commonly bought in multipacks containing this many items.
Vanessa:Can we start just with the basic definition of what a triangular number is?
Stuart:Yeah, yeah, I'd like that. If that's part— If you know that, Tom, that would be handy.
Vanessa:Yeah, thank you Tom.
Tom:If any of us know that, I feel like the question's gonna be easy to solve.

My guess is that triangular number is like on the first line is one, and then you have on the next line: two, three. So you have 1+2+3. So that would be... six. That took far too long.

And then on the next line, you have 4+5+6, so that's gonna be another 15. That would be 21.

But I'm not gonna be able to do the rest of that calculation in my head, even if that is the right definition of a triangular number, and I'm not sure it is.
Vanessa:But from that explanation, you are getting to multiple numbers. Are there just gonna be one number there, or is this something that we'd buy that comes in many different sizes?
Tom:I feel like, to get the answer to this, we don't need to know what a triangle number is. We just need to know something that is sold in a triangular shape or a pyramidal shape or something like that, where you buy a lot of them at once.
Vanessa:It's not that type of shape, except in terms of patterns. If I go down to the supermarket, I'm buying toilet paper. You can either buy normally 6, 9, or 12. It kind of goes up in these multiples of three.
Vanessa:I'm sorry to start literally in the toilet, but we can go up from here.
SFX:(Tom and Stuart laugh)
Adam:That's good, that's good. But so you're thinking threes, 'cause you heard 'triangular' number, but there was another number in the clue. Take the eighth triangular number and add eight. What is commonly bought in multipacks containing this many items?
Tom:Who buys a multipack with— 'Cause the eighth triangular number's gotta be fairly big, right? Who's buying multipacks of that many things?
Vanessa:Americans at Costco. That's how they live.
Tom:Okay, what if it's— What if a triangular number is just like 1+2 and then 1+2+3, so you're looking for:

1+2+3+4+5+6+7+8, which would be 9 times 4, which would be 36, I think.

If the eighth triangular number is 36, which sounds like a vaguely reasonable number, you add 8 to that, you get 44. You're looking for something that's in multipacks of 44 ...if I've got my maths right.
Adam:Oh, 'maths', plural. That is, of all of the Britishisms, that one is the most insane.
Vanessa:Oh, Adam, come on!
Adam:I'm sorry!
Tom:Come on!
Vanessa:Just let it go, Adam!
Tom:Let it go!
Adam:It makes no sense! Why would you put an -s at the end of a -th? It's unpronounceable. It makes—
Vanessa:Because it's short for mathematics.
Stuart:Because it's mathematics.
Tom:It's mathematics, it's plural!
Stuart:It's where the 'S' on the end of Lego went. It's fine.
Vanessa:That is a very logical approach of you, Tom, because I'm sitting here just thinking, what are some products that I buy in random quantities?
SFX:(Tom and Stuart laugh)
Vanessa:A ream of paper has 512 sheets. Is that a triangular number?
Tom:Is it 44, Adam? Am I right with 44?
Adam:Yes, you are correct. But I'm not sure how much that number is gonna help you without... Because you're looking for...
Tom:(laughs uproariously)
Adam:You're using your hard skills. I think you need to use your soft skills. There's cultural clues in here as well.

One being the name of the person who asked the question. This question sent by Elad – E-L-A-D – Volpert.
Stuart:Why would you add eight? Why is there eight extra?
Adam:I think it's an— there's an issue of cultural competency here. So let's see, if you're willing to divulge it...

Let's go around the table and say, what do you celebrate around winter solstice?
Stuart:Christmas. So, yeah.
Adam:Christmas, not Christmas.
Vanessa:But it could also be Hanukkah. It could also be...
Adam:It sure could be.
Tom:Is it Hanukkah candles?
Adam:It is, as you said, Tom, Hanukkah candles.
Tom:Because you light one on the first day.
Tom:Two on the second day. 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8.
Vanessa:It's a menorah? Is it a menorah, or it is just the candles that you're buying?
Adam:Quoth Elad, the menorah used during eight-day Jewish festival of Hanukkah has room to hold nine candles. One candle is lit on the first night, along with the central 'shamash' or helper candle. Then an extra candle is added on subsequent nights. Again, with the shamash present.

If you were to use a new candle each time, you would need 1+2+3+4+5+6+7+8 candles, plus eight for the shamash, which equals 44.

Boxes containing 44 candles are readily available to buy. Some manufacturers include a 45th candle as a spare.
Vanessa:Wow. One of my friends has a menorah shaped like a brontosaurus, and it's called a Menorasaurus.
SFX:(group laughing)
Tom:Good luck, folks. Here's your next one.

This question sent in by Sam Cook. Thank you.

In 2023, why was one corporate sponsor particularly pleased to agree deals with the Iowa State Cyclones football players Caleb Bacon, Tyler Moore, Tommy Hamman, and Miles Purchase?

I'll say that again.

In 2023, why was one corporate sponsor particularly pleased to agree deals with the Iowa State Cyclones football players Caleb Bacon, Tyler Moore, Tommy Hamman, and Miles Purchase?
Tom:Stuart is writing.
Stuart:Mm. I have written the words 'Purchase Moore Bacon.' (wheezes)
SFX:(group laughing)
Stuart:And I've forgotten the other surname, so it doesn't help. Yeah.
Adam:I'm so sorry that I'm the one who has to ask this question, but which kind of football are you talking about?
Tom:(snickers) This is American football.
Adam:Okay. Not familiar with that team.
Tom:That was Caleb Bacon, Tyler Moore, Tommy Hamman, and Miles Purchase.

Stuart, I suspect your pen has served you well here.
Stuart:Oh yeah, 'cause we've got "Purchase more ham and bacon."
SFX:(guys laughing)
Tom:We have... Purchase, Moore, Hamman, and Bacon.
Vanessa:So are we thinking it's a fast food restaurant? A meat supplier?
Stuart:It's gotta be a butchers or something, surely, yeah.
Tom:It's the Iowa Pork Producers Association. And yes, you are absolutely right.

There is a photo of them lined up with their backs to the camera in the order that we obfuscated for a moment. And Stuart, you just saw straight through.
Adam:Oh, killed it.
Tom:That is the football players Purchase, Moore, Hamman, and Bacon.
Stuart:(laughs) That's so perfect.
Tom:Stuart, we'll move right onto your question. Whenever you're ready.

This question has been sent in by Ryan. Thank you, Ryan.

Since 2019, competitive solvers of Rubik's Cube puzzles have been able to improve a record time by nodding their head. How?

Since 2019, competitive solvers of Rubik's Cube puzzles have been able to improve a record time by nodding their head. How?
Vanessa:This is a fascinating question. How are they improving the time? How are they nodding their head?
Vanessa:How does nodding their head lead to them improving the time?
Adam:That's how I took it, the latter.
Tom:So I can chime in with a bit of knowledge on competitive Rubik's Cube solving here.
Vanessa:Are you a cuber, Tom?
Tom:I'm not.
Vanessa:Is that what you do on the weekends?
Tom:I don't have the patience for it. It requires learning this set of rote skills and algorithms that you can sort out in your head.

And the same way that I enjoy magic shows, but have never been any good at doing it myself, it just requires so much rote rehearsal and physical training that I just don't have the patience for it, but—
Vanessa:That's one of those skills that is truly a 10,000 hour thing.
Tom:Yeah, and I just don't have enough… gumption for Rubik's cubing.
Vanessa:You don't have 10,000 hours' spare. I think that's also true.
Tom:I hesitated before saying the word 'gumption', 'cause I thought Adam was gonna call me out in it. But...
SFX:(Vanessa and Stuart laugh)
Tom:But I can tell you about how they time it.

To time a Rubik's Cube thing, they have an electronic mat, and they have to put two hands down on the mat. They can examine the cube. They can take all the time they want to do that. Then when they're ready, they put the cube down, two hands down on the mat, and the time runs from when they lift their hands off the mat to when they have them both touching again, hopefully with the cube solved.

That's the electronic timer. And it works like thousandths of a second. The world record is decided by incredibly precise timing, so—
Vanessa:It's like four seconds, isn't it?
Vanessa:The world record. It's crazy.
Tom:So, a tiny optimisation. I dunno why it would be nodding your head, but a tiny change to how that works.
Adam:So think about it this way. So what if you're holding the Rubik's Cube, and if you're nodding, if you're bobbing... could you be changing your angle of view on each bob to where you see the bottom of the Rubik's Cube? And that way you can be examining two sides in each stroke of your rocking, and that could make your decision smarter?
Vanessa:Well, perhaps if the cube is down on the mat, and you're bobbing your head forward, you could see some of the other sides of it before you start. So you might have a slight edge on what you need to do.
Tom:Oh, they get loads of time to examine it. By the time they start... The really, really good speed cubers won't have to look at the cube once they've started. It's all done and in their head.
Stuart:Think more on that.
Vanessa:It kind of reminds me of the photo finish in a 100 metre race, right? Where they're just bobbing their head forward. And that can be the difference between a gold and silver medal.
Adam:Right. Yeah, they're sitting, they're slapping their head on this sensitive pad.
Vanessa:Is it a facepalm? Kind of just a head slam?
Stuart:Nope, there's only one nod, and it happens at the very start.
Tom:Okay. So it's at the very start, with two hands down on the mat or where they're looking and thinking about it. But how would a head nod make a difference?
Stuart:Well, you said something interesting earlier. You said they don't even have to look at it.
Stuart:Because this is for a very specific record.
Vanessa:Is it for cubers with vision impairments?
Stuart:Not directly, no.
Adam:Okay, so it's the record for blindfolded Rubik's cubing.
Adam:How would nodding your head help you once...
Tom:Hold on. The... Okay. Okay, okay, okay.
Vanessa:Tom's there.
Tom:I'm there. I'm trying to figure out how to phrase it.

I assumed that blindfold cubing would work like regular cubing. You get lots of time to examine the cube. You then... bring your mask down, put your hands down, and solve it. But maybe the rules are different. Maybe in blindfold cubing... it includes the time it takes you to think about it. So the actions you have to do are like: hands off the mat, reveal the cube, look all around the cube, put your mask down, and start solving.

Now, if you wanted to speed that up, and you nod your head just hard enough, the blindfold drops in front of your eyes... that would speed you up.
Vanessa:Ohh, I was thinking about peeking out from beneath the blindfold when you nod.
Tom:That would also work.
SFX:(guys laughing)
Vanessa:I think using the nod to have the blindfold come down is more— is better.
Stuart:That is exactly it, because the timer starts when the hands come up, and they have to put the blindfold down first. And so the time for putting the blindfold down is included. So obviously somebody once spotted that it's much quicker to go whoop (nods) than to go like that (imitates grabbing blindfold).

So now... that is referred to apparently as the 'nod don'. And it's become common practice at high levels of the hobby.
Tom:Thank you to James Profit for this question.

Why did a delegation to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species attempt to remove the mammoth from the 'Extinct' list?

I'll say that again.

Why did a delegation to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species attempt to remove the mammoth from the 'Extinct' list?
Vanessa:I have two thoughts, which I feel are far too logical. One is that they wanna be able to... excavate bones or something like that, and the other has to do with genetic engineering. They want to splice the genes of the woolly mammoth and have an elephant give birth to it or something. That's where I'm at. How about you guys?
Stuart:Did that happen? Did they crossbreed a really hairy elephant or something? I don't...
Stuart:Is that a thing? I genuinely don't know.
Vanessa:There is a project currently using CRISPR where they have woolly mammoth DNA, and they want to try to create an embryo that they can then impregnate an elephant with.
Adam:I guess I had two first thoughts.

One would be... Are they trying to protect some area of the planet that would be subject to greater, higher levels of environmental protection, if we believe that there was some endangered, charismatic megafauna in there, and they wanted to kind of raise the possibility that there could be uncontacted mammoths in this area, and therefore this area could be subject to some higher level of environmental protection?

Or are they trying to argue that the modern elephant is a mammoth in the same way that biologists now argue that modern birds are dinosaurs? They're not descended from dinosaurs; they are dinosaurs.

So dino nuggets literally are dino nuggets.
SFX:(Tom and Stuart laugh)
Adam:So could that be it, where they're just saying— Could they be trying to say... mammoths actu— modern elephants actually are mammoths, and mammoths are endangered, everybody knows...

So therefore, if we consider elephants to be mammoths, if we taxonomize them thusly, then we could maybe protect this elephant habitat a little bit more? I don't know.
Vanessa:Was the question, taking them off the 'Endangered' list?
Tom:Off the 'Extinct' list.
Vanessa:Off the— Oh! Off the 'Extinct' list?
Tom:Of all those guesses... Adam's last one is closest.
Vanessa:About elephants.
Adam:(softly) About elephants.
Vanessa:About elephant habitat? Is that the—
Tom:There's some protection going on here.
Vanessa:Is it— Did they— Do they wanna drill for oil in Siberia? (laughs) Is that in any way related? That's where a lot of the mammoth bones are, so... I wonder if they're not allowed to do anything like that, explore for natural resources if they're considered extinct, and they have a lot of bones there.
Stuart:Yeah, I'm really not sure on this. So is it something like... Was it to protect a specific example of a dead mammoth or something, or...
Tom:It's to protect something.
Adam:Is it to protect genetic material from a mammoth that, as Vanessa says, could be implanted into a modern elephant, thus yielding a mammoth baby?
Tom:Not quite, but you're right that if something is extinct, it doesn't have the protection that it otherwise might.
Adam:So are they arguing that maybe there's one particular isolated elephant spec— isolated elephant community that they're arguing is genetically closer to the mammoths, and therefore must be protected?
Tom:No, I think everyone is in agreement that all the elephants should be protected. And everyone is in agreement that the mammoth is in fact extinct. But... there is a benefit to giving mammoths a non-extinct category. Bear in mind that this is a delegation to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.
Vanessa:Does it just mean that if we have some kind of mammoth tusk, we can ship it to collectors in China from the US?
Tom:Now you're heading more down the right area.
Vanessa:Is this some kind of... privatisation of fossils thing?
Adam:Yes, so basically, in order to try to clamp down on the illegal elephant ivory trade, where people try to sell ivory across national lines by saying it's not from an elephant, it's from a mammoth, it's from something else.

But by banning any kind of ivory-like material, you are able to effectively ban ivory more better.

'More better'.
Tom:Where did that come from all of a sudden? That was basically a solve outta nowhere!
Adam:Vanessa got me 90% of the way there. Come on now.
Vanessa:Oh, it was a team effort. (snickers)
Tom:Yes. Elephant poachers and ivory traders would claim that the illegal ivory had actually been harvested from mammoths in glaciers, not from elephants.

So if they put the mammoth on the 'Endangered' list, not 'Extinct', that closes that loophole.
Vanessa:Were they successful in doing that?
Tom:I don't believe so? Because I think that would say 'removed' rather than 'attempt to remove' in my question if it actually worked.

Vanessa, over to you for the next one.

So this question has been sent in by Anonymous from South Korea.

In Japan, August 31st is known as Vegetable Day. When is Salad Dressing Day, and why was it chosen?

In Japan, August 31st is known as Vegetable Day. When is Salad Dressing Day, and why was it chosen?
Tom:We're all looking at Adam, right? We're all looking at the guy who does...
Tom:Apparently I get mocked for saying cookery. So, chef stuff.
Vanessa:Every year, Adam is celebrating Salad Dressing Day.
Adam:Yeah, every day is Salad Dressing Day at my house. But we're not at my house, so...
Vanessa:I will say the nationalities may not be as relevant as you think.
Stuart:Does salad dressing take a while to make? Does it have to marinate, or do you have to cool it for a certain period or something? Or do you just stick a lot of oils together and go 'ee'?
Adam:I can't think of any salad dressing that requires being made in advance. And generally you wouldn't, because it would, the emulsion would break, right? You just have to shake it again.

So, you would need— I mean, if you're gonna have Vegetable Day, you're gonna eat some salad on Vegetable Day. You would want to have salad dressing in advance of Vegetable Day. You wouldn't want to have your dressing prepared after Vegetable Day, 'cause that would mean you have just eaten some dry vegetables.

So I'm gonna just, let's just go with the obvious. Sometimes, the obvious explanation is the truest. There's a razor about that, from what I understand.

So let's just say—
Tom:On this show?
Adam:Oh yeah, I guess that's a good point.
Adam:But every now and then, you throw one in just to screw with people. So what is it? Salad Day is the 31st? So let's just say that Dressing Day is the 30th, right?
Vanessa:You're really on the right track, but I just want you to kind of visualise perhaps what the 31st could look like on a calendar, and then maybe take a stab in a different direction.
Tom:Alright, so I was thinking it was something linguistic. That there was a number thing in there, a language thing in there. But I'm now less sure of that, 'cause I don't feel like we'd be required to know Japanese to understand this question.
Adam:Is it Julian calendar versus Gregorian calendar? Is that the problem?
Tom:(chortles) Oh! This...
Tom:Salad Dressing Day has existed since the 17th century when... let's...
Tom:The emperor at the time accidentally misjudged their salad dressing timetable. I don't, honestly...
Tom:Sometimes I open my mouth, and the sentence starts, and I just hope that it's gonna land. And that one did not.
SFX:(Vanessa and Stuart laugh)
Tom:That one absolutely did not.
Adam:I think you just described how men talk.
Vanessa:I mean, I have to give it to Adam.

His logic was really on the right track with thinking about vegetables and eating vegetables on Vegetable Day. And you don't want them to be dry.

But just have a think about... where you're putting the salad dressing in relation to the vegetables.

And I really want you guys to visualise a calendar.
Tom:Oh, well... Then it's gonna be one of the days where there's an overlap on the calendar because the week's gone...
Adam:Over, the number over the 31.
Tom:Right. There's gonna be some days on the calendar where you've got six weeks in the month technically. It's just gone over the Sunday or Monday, and you have to put two numbers on the same square?
Adam:It would just be, if you're looking at a printout of a calendar, the date that's literally spatially above the 31, which, 'cause I don't do 'maths'. I don't know if that's seven or eight behind the 31.
Adam:I don't...
Tom:It would be the 24th, but...
Adam:Well, you got it.
Vanessa:Hey, you got there. You got there.
Vanessa:August 24th is known as Salad Dressing Day.
Tom:Because it's—
Vanessa:So, Salad Dressing Day was established by the Kenko Mayonnaise Company.
Tom:Of course it was.
Vanessa:Which manufactures and sells mayonnaise and dressings. It was chosen because it's the day directly above Vegetable Day on the weekly calendar, as if the dressing is on top of the salad vegetables.
Tom:Of course it was set up by a mayonnaise company. Of course it was.

There is a calendar, back when I used to work in a newspaper a long, long, long time ago. There is just a calendar of 'international [blank] days'. And every single industry has had one company try and set up a day for whatever food stuff or whatever product they sell.

You name it. That day will be somewhere on the calendar.
Vanessa:Of course.
Tom:The same day will be International Peach Day and International Elephant Awareness Day and International Haircut Day. It will all happen on the same day, and breakfast radio DJs will fill an entire half hour based on it.
Vanessa:It's really just for breakfast radio, to give them something to talk about.

But the origin of Vegetable Day is not as well known. It's August 31st, because '8-3-1' in Japanese is 'ya-sa-i', yasai, which means vegetable in Japanese.
Tom:I knew! I knew that was a linguistic thing in there somewhere!
Vanessa:That's what you were trying to figure out.
Tom:Thanks to some very quick answers, we have unlocked the shiny bonus question. So good luck to you all.

Why did the manufacturer 'Safety 1st' sell a door fixture featuring a button that did absolutely nothing?

I'll say that again.

Why did the manufacturer 'Safety 1st' sell a door fixture featuring a button that did absolutely nothing?
Adam:It's for kids. It's the one down at kid level, so that they'll reach for that, and not the thing that could actually get them in trouble, right?
Tom:And the parent immediately solves the shiny bonus question.
SFX:(group laughing)
Tom:Absolutely flawless on the first answer!
Vanessa:Adam has the experience necessary.
SFX:(Tom and Vanessa laughs)
Adam:Well, so it's, funny 'cause so there's a very famous professional bass player named Leland Sklar, who you might have seen on YouTube, 'cause he has a big white beard.

But he's played their whole— his whole life for Phil Collins and James Taylor. And he's on a million sessions. He's one of the most successful, prolific session bass players of all time. He's on a million records that you love.

And he had a button that he installed on one of his bass bodies that he called the 'producer switch'. And whenever the producer would say, "Hey, could we get that tone a little brighter or something?"

he would hit the producer switch, which did nothing. And then the producer would be like, "Oh yeah, totally. That's so much better. Thanks, Lee."
Tom:So, what's going on here?
Adam:Yeah, what you do is you just, if— they're gonna fiddle with something, so you give them something inconsequential to fiddle with. And put the thing that is consequential up higher than they can reach it, and make it of a less attractive color. And you'll be fine.
Vanessa:It's funny, because it's the opposite of child-proofing and baby-proofing things, where you're trying to block power points and keep doors shut. Why don't we just add a button instead?
Tom:I will fill in the details.

It's a safety lock that gets installed next to and over a door handle. So it stops children from opening the door. It has a useless button on the front that an adult can absolutely push, if they want to, to demonstrate that's how you open the door.

But the real button is hidden on a hinge at the side of the lock.
Vanessa:One of my friends taught her dog how to communicate with buttons. So there are some buttons at the door on the floor, that the dog will go up and hit with its paw when it wants to go outside.

And I imagine you could train a child to do the same thing.
SFX:(Tom and Stuart laugh)
Adam:Having young children is very much like a situation where the dog woke up that day and talked, and you're like, "Oh, the dog talks now. Okay, huh." That's basically what having children is.
Tom:The very last question then. At the top of the show, I asked this, sent in by Louis Davenport:

In 1998, why did London's Metropolitan Police file an intellectual property dispute against the BBC?
Stuart:Doctor Who, innit? The TARDIS, surely.
Tom:It is just one of those episodes where the guests keep nailing things on the first clue.
Stuart:It's gotta be.
Tom:Stuart, talk us through it.
Stuart:Well, it's the old Metropolitan Police box is what Doctor Who's TARDIS thing is stuck looking as. So whenever he goes thru time, it looks like an anachronism generally. Unless he goes to a very specific time period.

And of course that was actually modelled on a real Metropolitan Police box from back in the day, when if you needed to call the police in the days way before mobiles, you would have to literally go to a physical box and go, "Hello, police now, please." And they would hopefully come running.

So they must therefore own the copyright to the design, the Metropolitan Police.
Tom:You've got most of the details there. It's not actually quite how that played out.
Tom:The Metropolitan Police were complaining that the BBC had tried to steal their design. So how might that have played out?
Adam:I don't think they would be mad at the show, but maybe they were mad at the merchandising. The BBC was selling toys?
Vanessa:I was gonna say, are they selling merchandise?
Adam:And Scotland Yard or whatever wanted a taste of that sweet, sweet honey?
Tom:That's basically it. The BBC attempted to trademark the police box in 1996.
Tom:And it took four years to work out. And in the end, the BBC won.
Vanessa:I mean, I... I don't feel badly about that because I'd like to think that the police have better things to do than fight an intellectual property case with the BBC who is a public broadcaster.
Stuart:Yeah. I suppose the police hadn't used it for so long. It becomes sort of irrelevant after a while, doesn't it?
Vanessa:Are the police selling merchandise?
Tom:The police are not selling merchandise. Maybe they would've been able to.

But it was designed in 1928 by Scottish architect Gilbert Mackenzie Trench, which is an incredibly Scottish name.

The ruling was that most people were only familiar with the design because of the BBC and Doctor Who, and also that it only resembled the call box on the outside.
Stuart:(laughs heartily)
Stuart:That's a fair point.
Tom:With that, thank you very much to all of our players who have just been lightning solvers this time 'round. Congratulations to all of you.

Let's find out, where can people find you? What's going on in your lives?

We will start with Vanessa.
Vanessa:Since Tom's YouTube channel is now on a break, you can come right over to BrainCraft where I will still be uploading videos about smart things.
Adam:I thought you were gonna plug something academic, 'cause... I was gonna get excited. I was gonna go read your paper. Just plug your paper!
Vanessa:And I mean, you can just... we already established, you can Google "Hill et al 2023, British Journal of Health Psychology" if you're feeling bored, if you want something to fall asleep to.
Adam:That's my plan for tonight. And I'll probably end up talking about it on my stupid podcast, 'cause the Adam Ragusea podcast, I don't really have time to write it. So it ends up just being about whatever I'm thinking about that week, whether it's interesting to my audience or not. So I'm gonna read Vanessa's paper and probably do a whole hour on that, 'cause that's just what I do.
Tom:And Stuart.
Stuart:Well, if like me, you can't read, you can always see some audiovisual stuff over at Ashens on YouTube or watch our Twitch stream. Just Google 'Ashens', A-S-H-E-N-S.
Tom:And if you wanna know more about this show, you can do that at, where you can also send in your own ideas for questions.

You can find us at @lateralcast pretty much everywhere on social networks, and you can catch video highlights at

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