Lateral with Tom Scott

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

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Episode 77: Experiments by bus

Published 29th March, 2024

Stuart Goldsmith, Sophie Ward and Katie Steckles face questions about gaming goals, street signs and Parisian pedlars.

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: Ike Hayes, Matthew Lamb, Parth Gandhi, Jason Roberts. FORMAT: Pad 26 Limited/Labyrinth Games Ltd. EXECUTIVE PRODUCERS: David Bodycombe and Tom Scott.


Transcription by Caption+

Tom:In which sport do veteran participants try to score less than their age?

The answer to that at the end of the show. My name's Tom Scott, and this is Lateral.
SFX:♫ (dramatic orchestral music)
Tom:Three contestants! Seven questions! Forty minutes! No prizes! This! Is! Lateral!
SFX:(music ends)
Tom:Welcome to the show. First, we have, from...
SFX:(Tom and Stuart laugh)
Tom:the Comedian's Comedian podcast – and comedian – Stuart Goldsmith.
Stuart:Hello, hello, thanks for having me. It's lovely to meet you.

I keep being told online that I sound like you, but I think it's by Americans who can't tell the difference between Caucasian English men.
Tom:(laughs) I mean, there are a lot of us around on the internet.
Stuart:Oh, we absolutely clatter up the internet, 100%.
Tom:How is life? How is the podcast going? How is everything?
Stuart:Oh, it's great. Thank you. How is everything? Huge question.
Stuart:I'm very happy. I'm very happy. Life's great.

And the podcast is going from strength to strength. I do in-depth interviews with comics about their creative process, been doing it for years and years.

And I probably had a little kind of bump about a year ago when I hit episode 400 and thought, am I just going to do another 400 of these?
Stuart:And then I thought, yes.

And so I'm doing that, and I'm really enjoying it. And in the meantime, I do stand-up comedy, and I do keynote speaking, and I make... comedy about the climate. That's my new thing. I'm trying to combat the climate crisis and instill people with hope and doing that via comedy.

So that is a huge, fresh, and infinite challenge.
Tom:Well, our listeners will be happy that no one else on today's show sounds like we do. There is a...
SFX:(guests laughing)
Tom:suitably different set of voices, so you do not just—
Stuart:Take the Tom and Stu challenge and listen to the show, or listen— or watch the YouTube show with your eyes closed and see if you can tell who's talking.

Is it Tom? Is it Stu? Is it Peter Dixon?
Tom:Next up, we have:

from her own channel Soph's Notes, and from BBC Radio 4's Seven Deadly Psychologies, Sophie Ward, hello!
Sophie:Hello, I feel like I should try and speak like you now.
Sophie:Just to keep this running.
SFX:(others laughing)
Tom:Oh, don't.
Sophie:"Hello, it's me, Sophie." I don't have that— I feel like you two have similar hair as well, which is maybe another thing that...
Stuart:I think one of us should be offended by that.
SFX:(group laughing)
Tom:Yeah, and it's not me.
Tom:So congratulations to you on your hair.
Stuart:Thanks mate.
Tom:Tell me about the podcast, Sophie, because that's the new thing. What have you been doing for the BBC?
Sophie:Yeah, so I'm co-presenting a series all about the seven deadly sins called Seven Deadly Psychologies.

So in each episode, myself and my co-presenter Becky Ripley, who's a full-time legend and also a radio producer, break down the sort of psychology, biology, some history, some philosophy around each of the seven deadly sins and unpack why we feel them and how we can live in society with ourselves and others whilst these sins exist.

So yeah, that's the series.
Tom:It is nice to hear of a format that is a limited run, no matter what.
SFX:(Stuart and Sophie laugh)
Tom:It's not like you find a second season of seven more sins. Oh that was really pleasing to say.
Sophie:Second season of seven more sins.
Tom:And last on our panel today, we have mathematician, presenter, author of Short Cuts: Maths, and from her own site, Finite Group, Katie Steckles. Welcome back to the show. How are you doing?
Katie:I'm doing okay, yeah. Good. Keeping busy, as usual.
SFX:(Tom and Katie laugh)
Tom:As always, there's gonna be a dozen projects. What are you working on at the minute?
Katie:So many things.

So yeah, Short Cuts: Maths is my book that's just come out in October. I've got another book that's due to come out with the Science Museum any day now. I'm waiting to hear about that.

And I've just signed on to write another one that's going to be quite diagram-heavy, which I'm very excited about. I've also now got a column in New Scientist, and as of January, I am now the editor of the puzzle column in New Scientist. So I'm compiling that.
Tom:Oh wow!
Katie:So it's all going on, and all my usual kind of going and doing talks and events and science festivals and YouTube videos and everything else.
Tom:Well, good luck to all three of our players today.

Before we start, just a reminder that if you find the hidden immunity idol, you will be allowed to leave the show early. So until then...
Stuart:(laughs heartily)
Tom:Let's see if you're going to survive the first question, which is:

It's been claimed that Leonardo da Vinci and the British toy company Meccano both did this. What was it, and what were their motives in each case?

I'll say that again.

It's been claimed that Leonardo da Vinci and the British toy company Meccano both did this. What was it, and what were their motives in each case?
Stuart:Can I— Before we start, can I just say I recognise that, given the expertise of my two team members, I really feel like if this were D&D, I'd be the bard.
SFX:(others laughing)
Stuart:So I'm just here for flavour.
Tom:Everyone on the panel got that joke. That was wonderful.
SFX:(guests laughing)
Sophie:Now, the bard definitely has their uses.
Stuart:Thanks mate. I appreciate that, sure.
Sophie:Yeah, you've got your use.
SFX:(both laughing)
Stuart:No one can identify them, but they are there. And the bard really believes in themselves. (chuckles)
Tom:And I know that producer and scriptwriter David is just taking notes now, saying, "D&D intro for future episode".
SFX:(guests laughing)
Katie:I mean, I feel like, having been a bard several times in various different contexts, I feel like, I mean, we can't all be bards, right?
Tom:An all-bard party. Someone would've done that at some point.
Stuart:I think you've just invented the concept of a band.
Tom:(laughs uproariously)
SFX:(guests laughing)
Stuart:I love it. I'm into it.
Sophie:Yeah, we all step off our stools for the key change on the lutes.
Tom:Yep, yep.
Stuart:(laughs heartily)
Sophie:I don't know much about D&D. The bard's like creative vibes.
Stuart:Yeah, kind of creative. They often bring a lute.
Stuart:I'm saying this as if I'm an expert. I'm very new to D&D. I could just—

I was simply trying to get the message across that like, oh my god, Katie and Soph have got real hard skills. Whereas I've kind of made a life for myself with soft skills, you know, getting by, trying to be charismatic.

And these days, everyone does that as well as the hard skills they bothered learning.
SFX:(others laughing)
Stuart:So I'm like, okay.
Sophie:Well, I feel like the hard skill to master this question is if anyone has played with Meccano. Is that— Is Meccano the sticks and the cogs? Is that what that is?
Katie:It's the flat metal strips that are rounded at the corners with holes all the way down.
Stuart:It's like Lego that hurts.
Stuart:It's like Lego that's quite painful to play with.
Katie:Better for fighting than regular Lego.
Tom:(cracks up)
Katie:From my recollection as a child.
Stuart:Classic bard. Classic bard!
Sophie:Yeah, higher hit point Lego. Okay, that's Meccano.
SFX:(Tom and Stuart laugh)
Katie:I mean, I feel like my experience of Meccano and my vague knowledge of things that Leonardo da Vinci did should help me here, but I'm not getting anything really.
Stuart:I think, Leonardo da Vinci, I'm thinking circles. I'm thinking the guy in the circle, right? That's the famous— I mean, I know it wasn't called that. (laughs)
Katie:The guy in the circle, as it is officially known, Vitruvian Man, was... I think it was an attempt to create something that had the perfect proportions.

And I know a couple of maths things about it. So it has the golden ratio in it.
Katie:I can imagine that the reason for including that is because it was kind of a cool, fashionable thing at the time, I guess. The golden ratio sort of does turn up in a lot of places, but not as many as people say it does.
Stuart:I love the idea that something— I don't really know what the golden ratio is, but it sounds timeless and yet not as cool as it was. I love the idea that something can be timeless and still faddy.
Katie:It's just like—
Sophie:Gold depreciating, yeah.
Katie:Yeah, it's just everywhere if you talk to some people. And then if you actually look, it isn't really that everywhere.
Stuart:Oh, I see.
Katie:But you know, it's nice. It's a pleasing thing. But I can't— I sort of wonder if there's something about Meccano that uses it, that they've got the different sizes of pieces.
Stuart:It's got little circles in it. So you can get Meccano, you can put your axle through, your +2 axle, good for stabbing. You put that through a bit of Meccano, and it'll go 'round, and you could use it like a compass.

So definitely Meccano is wheels and points and...
Katie:On that basis, is our answer 'drawing circles'? 'Cause that's definitely...
SFX:(group laughing)
Stuart:Could Leonardo, or that was Giotto, I think, could do a perfect circle freehand? So there could be something like that. Now, my soft skills are just watching Tom's face to try and see, to play warmer, colder.
SFX:(Tom and Katie laugh)
Stuart:I'm thinking circles. No, I'm not thinking circles anymore.
Sophie:Yeah, I'm doing a lot of that as well. The psychoanalysis of Tom's expressions.
Tom:You are all quite cold at the moment. Unfortunately. It's not about Vitruvian Man and that sort of mathematical perfection.
Katie:So he built a helicopter right? This is the thing about da Vinci.
Sophie:Yeah, I thought wings. My first thought was wings. Don't know what context, but something related to wings.
Stuart:They both— And this is something they both tried to do. So what can have, thinking laterally for a moment, what can Leonardo and Meccano in different eras have both tried to do? Would it be something for children or something? Could it be...

It was a good Tom face! It raised an eyebrow! (laughs)
Tom:The question did say "it's claimed that they both did this". This isn't really something you attempt. It's just claimed that they did this.
Stuart:Oh, I see.
Katie:So, I mean, like, if... (stammers) I'm going to say da Vinci didn't actually build a functioning, working helicopter, because if he did, I'm sure he would know about that because helicopters would be existing a lot earlier than they actually did.
Katie:And I almost wonder if Meccano attempted to put together a kit that was a functioning helicopter, but couldn't somehow.
Stuart:We don't know from the question who claimed it, whether Leonardo and Meccano claimed it, or whether it was claimed by a mysterious third party.
Sophie:So it's been claimed that they both made flying machines that didn't work, potentially, or—
Stuart:Or maybe that did work. Maybe it's claimed that they both did do it. Maybe there's no proof of Leonardo having built and flown in his helicopter, but it's claimed that he did. And maybe there is a claim that someone can create a flying machine out of Meccano.
Tom:I think the words to focus in on there are Sophie saying "didn't work". There's something about the things they're making.
Sophie:They both failed. Don't we all?
Stuart:Time travel?
SFX:(Sophie and Stuart laugh)
Stuart:Meccano time travel?
Tom:So some of the other things that da Vinci designed would be things like a tank and a catapult.
Stuart:Engines of war, weapons of war, instruments.
Sophie:That didn't work.
Katie:Did they produce something that was meant to be used by the military, but then it didn't work?
Tom:Da Vinci was quite famously a pacifist.
Katie:Yeah, I was gonna say, it doesn't feel like a da Vinci vibe, really.
Sophie:Did they both make weapons that purposely didn't work?
Stuart:Oh, that's a good idea.
Tom:That's very close now, yes.
Katie:I'm enjoying the idea of Meccano doing this. (laughs) As a company.
Sophie:Yeah, yeah. I keep thinking about the Meccano aspects. But I guess for kids, you want to give your kid a weapon that won't actually damage anything. And if da Vinci was also a pacifist, then it's like, "Oy-oy, here's a catapult, ha-ha".
Stuart:Did they both invent Nerf in different eras?
SFX:(others laughing)
Stuart:Because I remember Lego, they famously didn't do—

Originally Lego didn't make any brown or green pieces because they didn't want children to make weapons. They didn't want tanks and army. You couldn't make army Lego.

So, something like, I mean, so if your weapons that don't work... weapons that deliberately don't work.
Tom:What did Leonardo and Meccano both actually produce?
Sophie:Yeah, drawings.
Katie:Yeah, instructions for making things.
Stuart:It's claimed that they both created instructions for a weapon. And Leonardo decided not to use it, maybe destroyed his instructions for a weapon?
Sophie:Or they made instructions that didn't include all of the steps.
Stuart:Oh, that's so good!
Sophie:Yeah, okay. So, they left— Because they wanted the person who was making it to have to come up with the final steps themselves or something? Is that the logic behind it?
Tom:Yeah, I'll take that. That's absolutely it.
Stuart:Wow, they had to earn a gun!
SFX:(others laughing)
Tom:So, for Leonardo da Vinci, it may have been for copyright, so people couldn't just steal his designs unless you were enough of an engineering brain to notice the mistake. It could have been because he didn't want the military to use them.

For Meccano, it is claimed that they sometimes had deliberate errors to challenge the ingenuity of the kids who are doing it.
Stuart:So deliberate mistakes is the claim.
Tom:Is the connection.
Sophie:I love that.
Tom:Now, honestly, that's what I'd claim if my instructions had accidental mistakes in them, and it was a toy company.
SFX:(group laughing)
Stuart:I often write jokes that are deliberately unfunny.
SFX:(Tom and Stuart laugh)
Sophie:Check your audience, yeah. Are they worthy of the last word?

Also, the little dorky kid in me that every time I saw a mistake on the board was like, "That apostrophe's wrong" lives for that. Going through the instructions and being like, "Where's the mistakes in here?"
Stuart:Yes, pedant-proof diagrams. Yeah, nice.
Tom:So yes, Leonardo da Vinci and Meccano, it is said, both added deliberate errors to their designs.

Each of our guests has brought a question along with them. We're going to start today with Katie. Whenever you're ready.
Katie:Okay. So this question has been sent in by Parth Gandhi.

The question is:

Why did Jeremy Morris of Britain's Medical Research Council investigate London's double decker buses from 1949 to 1952?

So, why did Jeremy Morris of Britain's Medical Research Council investigate London's double decker buses from 1949 to 1952?
Tom:This question is... tickling something in the back of my brain. I'm sure I've read this somewhere.
Stuart:London's double decker buses at that period would have been hop-on, hop-off?
Tom:Yes, they'd have been the Routemasters.
Stuart:And that must have caused enormous— Yeah, Routemasters. That must have— There must have been huge numbers of unreported deaths.
Tom:So for people who have not seen the ridiculous buses that London used to have, the back left, so the bit by the pavement, was just open. It was just a platform that you can jump off and jump on to at any point on the bus route with no door, no guide, no anything.

They tried to bring them back about ten years ago when Boris Johnson was mayor, and...

A) it didn't work well, and

B) they had to station someone there as just a safety check. Because it is now the 21st century.
Stuart:Yes, because the old days were fun(!)
Tom:I mean, I nearly got seriously hurt by one of those when I was a kid.

'Cause I tried to jump off while the bus was still going three, four miles an hour, and did not look at the traffic before doing it. And genuinely was quite close to death for a couple of seconds if I had stumbled.
Stuart:Were you participating in medical research and considerably older than you look?
Sophie:(chuckles snidely) I'm just picturing someone on that corner, every time someone wants to get off the bus, tapping them on the back, like a parachute vibe, like, "You're ready to go. (tap-tap)"
SFX:(group laughing)
Tom:Yeah, it was... It was more like, "Not yet, not yet... Okay, fine."

But if you were driving in London in 1995 or something like that and some dorky kid nearly jumped out in front of your car, and you nearly killed him...

That was me. Sorry. That was me.
SFX:(guests chuckling)
Katie:But I can confirm that the medical research was not to do with injuries sustained by jumping off of the back of the bus.
Sophie:My first thought with this was bacteria. Some kind of swabbing bacteria from different areas maybe. I don't know, I'm thinking bacteria. That's my kind of energy.
Tom:I've seen footage of someone hitting public transit seats with a beater thing and all the dust that comes out of them.
Tom:There's a lot of... quite nasty stuff in there.

There's also a plot point in some book I've read where someone takes a vacuum to it to pull up all the DNA, and then spreads it over the crime scene that they are creating. So there's no forensic evidence. It's... The seats are nasty.
Stuart:Oh, that's a nice idea. Hiding in plain sight, DNA wise.
Stuart:Nice. I'm finding Katie very difficult to cold read. She's very implacable.
SFX:(Tom and Stuart laugh)
Katie:I'm just enjoying all of these ideas.
Stuart:We're giving all these offers out, and I'm not seeing a flicker of recognition.
Katie:I can also confirm that it is not pathogen related, even though that would be very cool.
Sophie:Darn it, darn it.
Tom:It's definitely too early for DNA stuff. So, okay.
Sophie:Jeremy Morris. Is it Jeremy Morris' name that's scratching the back of your head, Tom? Sounds quite pleasant, a little brain scratch.
Sophie:My brain's currently empty of scratches.
Stuart:Is the— Just in terms of what people do for medical research, I'm thinking of that kind of opt-in medical experiment, like what people are often trying to do is find a cure for something. So I wonder if there is an— Ah, Katie moved her head.
SFX:(group laughing)
Stuart:This is no kind of system.
Katie:I often do.
Tom:Okay, could it be something to do with the bus drivers? Could it be something to do with the amount of time they're spending... sat down? I don't know.
Stuart:Oh yes, why would buses be a useful thing to do your medical research on?
Tom:Or the conductors? They had actual ticket sellers on every bus back then.
Stuart:So is it to do with if—

Normally you do medical research, perhaps with a bunch of people in a room. Is there something about the fact that bus routes are travelling around specific places? Like a specific route that people travel over a certain amount of time, so they loop back, and every time they go past a thing...

I'm not a science guy.
SFX:(Stuart and Sophie laugh)
Katie:I feel like we had a moment of getting quite close to something and then just went off on a tangent.
SFX:(Tom and Stuart laugh)
Sophie:What, in that bit then?
Katie:So you mentioned that on the bus, there is a driver and potentially also a conductor who's selling tickets.
Katie:That is important.
Sophie:Okay. A driver and a conductor.
Stuart:Medical research as to how people get on when forced to do the same thing over and over again.
Tom:How they stay upright as the bus moves around and wobbles.
Katie:Well, there was also something you specifically mentioned about what the driver spends a lot of time doing.
Sophie:Well, I was going sitting versus standing, spending your whole day sitting versus your whole day standing.
Stuart:Oh, and the conductor stands!
Katie:Yeah, and other things as well.
Sophie:(chuckles anxiously) Sells tickets and...
Katie:This is a double decker bus we're talking about.
Sophie:Climbs stairs.
Stuart:Climbs stairs.
Tom:Is this a passive job versus an active job, with all other things equal?
Katie:Yeah, pretty much.
Stuart:Ah, brilliant!
Katie:So it was a double decker bus where you have two... I guess men... back in those days running the bus, and the driver would be sat down.
Stuart:It was me and Tom. Me and Tom. Standard Caucasian guys.
Tom:(laughs) You can't tell us apart.
Katie:Can't tell which one's which, it's a nightmare.
SFX:(group laughing)
Tom:Yeah, thank you.
Katie:The driver would be sat down for the whole time. The conductor would spend a lot more time walking around the bus and climbing, apparently, a total of 600 stairs on a typical shift.
Katie:Which is terrifying. And they discovered that coronary heart disease was 50% more prevalent in the drivers than the conductors.
Sophie:Right, 'cause this is early days of finding that exercise is important for stuff like that. Oh, cool.
Katie:Yeah, definitely. And obviously, if you want the real stats, it was 2.7 cases per thousand against 1.9. So it's not a massive, massive increase, but it was a measurable link between exercise and heart health.
Stuart:Oh, I wonder if they'd known that information at the time, whether the driver would have been quite so smug about sitting down all day.
SFX:(others laughing)
Katie:"Oh, can we swap? Can we take turns?"
Tom:I'm gonna stand up and take a walk before the next question, I think.
Katie:I think this is just a lovely example of a study that you could just do in situ because the control measure is just there for you. And apparently they also did a similar thing with postal delivery staff and sorting office clerks who otherwise have very similar lifestyles but just do a lot more walking or a lot less walking, yeah.
Sophie:Oh, I love that.
Tom:Thank you to Jason Roberts for this question.

They are gradually disappearing by one Olympic swimming pool every 30 minutes until nothing is left. They've been known about for over 400 years, but they will vanish for a few months of 2025. What are they, and why will they vanish for a while?

I'll say that again.

They are gradually disappearing by one Olympic swimming pool every 30 minutes until nothing is left. They've been known about for over 400 years, but they'll vanish for a few months of 2025. What are they, and why will they vanish for a while?
Sophie:I mean, my first thought was Olympic swimming pools.
SFX:(group laughing uproariously)
Stuart:Talk about hiding in plain sight! That would be such a devilish question.
Sophie:Yeah, I dunno. Maybe France is removing the Parisian swimming pools for the Olympics.
Tom:Every half hour, one of them just gets demolished.
Sophie:One of them goes, guys. Please donate to the Olympic swimming pool fund.

I don't know, when you were like, "by one Olympic swimming pool", I was like, the answer's right there.
SFX:(group chuckling)
Stuart:One swimming— A swimming pool seems like a good measure of a liquid, rather than a gas or a clump of animals.
Katie:Well, it's, I guess, volume. It's volume in general. So it could be any liquid or gas, or... But it's not area of forest or something like that, because you wouldn't measure that as a volume, I guess.
Stuart:One— And it's one pool is disappearing every 30 minutes.
Sophie:And they'll be none... But you were like there'll be none for a period of 2025, which suggests they're not going forever.
Stuart:Is it ozone? Because I know ozone is... We haven't fixed the hole in the ozone layer, but we've done great. But it's on the way back, but not yet. So there's a— just 2025, like the near future. But they're not there. You can't refer—
Katie:It feels like something at that level, like an atmospheric thing or something large-scale, given that it's a swimming pool every 30 minutes. But... yeah. I can't think why it would disappear and then come back again.
Stuart:And also, 'they'. The wording of the question was 'they' rather than 'it'.
Tom:You've all locked in on some very good bits of that question.
Tom:Yeah, it's a 'they', and it is definitely a volume calculation here.
Sophie:Okay. It's not the non-binary community.
SFX:(Tom and Stuart laugh)
Sophie:I hope not.
Stuart:What volume can we express as 'they'? Is it swarms of birds?
Katie:Yeah, or fish or something. Can you measure sardines in Olympic swimming pools width?
Sophie:Oh, yeah.
Katie:But then also, then, how could they all disappear and then start coming back again?
Stuart:Well, it could be to do with... their rate of procreation, could it? We're losing species. A species is being depleted, but thanks to...
Katie:If they all disappear, as far as I understand it...
SFX:(group chuckling)
Katie:that's a real game changer for population dynamics. That's an edge case.
Stuart:Oh, could it be something in space? Could it be stars or constellations or nebulae or something?
Katie:Something's gonna go in front of them so you won't see them for a few months.
Tom:That's a very good logical leap, Stuart. That is an excellent set of deductions.
Stuart:I'll get me lute. (imitates lute)
SFX:(others laughing)
Sophie:Logical lute. I can't hear the idea of something being covered— Yeah, because when you're saying it's vanishing, why is it vanishing too? Well, it's not removing itself from existence because it's going to return.
Stuart:If they've only been known about for 400 years, that would track also.
Katie:They... The... Pleiades? The stars from somewhere.
Tom:They've been known about for over 400 years.
Katie:It's not stars then. That's older.
Tom:Yeah, we're looking for discoveries around 1610.
Sophie:1600. Okay.
Stuart:Specific constellations? Something where they've been known about in the way that Pluto was kind of promoted and demoted? Is there... Are they moons of a particular planet?
Katie:I wonder, because 400 years makes me think there's most stuff that you can just see in the sky. People have been staring up at that for literally centuries.

So it's not going to be something that's visible with the eye. It's gonna be something that the invention of telescopes allowed us to see.
Stuart:The moons of somewhere, like, I can never remember. Who's got all the moons? Is it Neptune?
Sophie:Enceladus is the one on J— is it... Jupiter...?
Tom:I'm not giving you any more hints right now. You are so close there.
Stuart:(laughs heartily)
Tom:It's not 'the moons of Jupiter', but it's the blank of blank, and you just need to fill in the last—
Katie:Is it the rings of Saturn?
Tom:It's the rings of Saturn.
Stuart:Oh, yes!
Katie:I think I've heard about this. But that's Saturn's rings, because they're all just gas and rock and stuff, right?
Katie:And I heard that they were getting thinner.
Katie:I can't remember where I heard that, but I was like, "Oh no! Oh, wait. That doesn't affect me at all."
SFX:(group laughing uproariously)
Sophie:Saturn's too smug with its rings, honestly.
Tom:It is one Olympic swimming pool's worth of ring stuff gets pulled into Saturn every 30 minutes or so. That's still gonna take 300 million years. But, why are they gonna vanish for a little while in 2025?
Stuart:Because Saturn's orbit will take it so far away, or it will take it behind something.
Tom:Not quite.
Katie:Will the rest of Saturn vanish at the same time?
Katie:Is it because they'll be exactly side-on?
Stuart:They'll be end-on?
SFX:(both laugh triumphantly)
Sophie:Yeah, that's what it is, yeah.
Tom:Yeah, they are end-on to Earth. So they are going to vanish from our point of view because you can look at it through a telescope, and that ring is so thin at that distance that for a few months, it's just not going to be visible.
Stuart:Amazing. (laughs) Great question.
Sophie:Well done. That was such a yes-anding, got there. Wow, incredible scenes.
Tom:Stuart, over to you for the next question.
Stuart:Okay, so this question has been sent in by Ike Hayes.

In 2017, a group of revellers celebrated New Year's Eve in the surroundings of Coromandel peninsula, New Zealand. Their venue, complete with a picnic table, circumvented a local ban on public drinking. Although not strictly legal, the police chief admired their 'creative thinking'. Why?

I will give it to you one more time.

Coromandel?cor-a-mand-ul I've been there and I can't believe—
Stuart:I keep thinking Coromandelcoro-man-del, but then I think I'm thinking of Howie Mandel.
Tom:You are.
Tom:I've been there as well, and my brain is blanking on what it was like, which is really annoying.
Stuart:Ah, it's beautiful, like all of New Zealand.

In 2017, a group of revellers celebrated New Year's Eve in the surroundings of Coromandel peninsula, New Zealand. Their venue, complete with a picnic table, circumvented a local ban on public drinking. Although not strictly legal, the police chief admired their 'creative thinking'. Why?
Katie:So, drinking is illegal, I guess, in this public place... But they've produced or brought with them some kind of structure that means that they're technically not in public?
Sophie:Yeah, their venue that included a picnic— That's an interesting word, innit? Venue that included a picnic table or whatever it was.
Katie:Were they on the back of a vehicle that was technically private property? That's rubbish though.
Tom:(chuckles) They've invented a giant drone that constantly hovers just an inch off the ground
SFX:(guests laughing)
Tom:with ground effect, so they're not on the peninsula. They're above it.
Katie:With a picnic table.
Sophie:Yeah, I'm just watching, imagining the police officers standing next to them, and them hovering eye-to-eye. Just like, "Arrgh".
SFX:(Tom and Stuart laugh)
Sophie:My other thought was the fact it's New Year's Eve as well. Is there something temporal-wise, time-wise, that's playing with it? But that would mean, what they just drink in like, when the— I don't know what that would be.
Tom:Oh, just for the leap second. There's a leap second in there somewhere that year.
Stuart:(laughs snidely)
Tom:And it's, "Alright, how fast can you neck this beer?" (guzzles)
Stuart:We don't technically exist at the moment. We can do what we like.
Sophie:(giggles) Yeah.
Stuart:You're less— I'm fascinated by the idea of the temporal... I'd want you to run with it, but I think you're in the— You'd be running in the wrong direction.
Sophie:I mean, I back Katie's thought more than mine, so let's have a think of this.
Katie:It needs to be something that's impressive enough that the police officer—
Katie:If you're just like, "Oh yeah, we're in our van"... That's not...
SFX:(group laughing)
Sophie:They had a big sign that said, "We love the police so much". And then the police are like... (shrug)
Stuart:Creative thinking.
Stuart:You mentioned earlier on... a legal loophole.

You're in the right kind of realms when you discuss maybe not a hovering drone, but something which has a— is sort of legally inflected.
Tom:I have previously done a video on the fact that it's legal to sell alcohol from a hovercraft anywhere in the UK. You don't need a licence for it as long as the hovercraft is moving "on a journey".
SFX:(guests giggling)
Stuart:Excuse me, I'll be right back. I'm just going to go and exploit that for the rest of the day.
SFX:(guests laughing)
Tom:I got a two-person hovercraft and sold drinks off it to friends.
Sophie:I remember this.
Tom:But I wasn't following the Trading Standards rules on pours or anything like that, but in theory...
Sophie:Oh yeah, the pints were terribly poured.
Tom:Right? They really were.
Sophie:We weren't following any standards on that pint pouring, Tom.
Tom:You try pouring a pint on a hovercraft that's vibrating that much. It's just awful.
Stuart:But the cocktails were fantastic.
SFX:(Tom and Stuart laugh)
Katie:Yeah, just...
Tom:But that exception's there to cover... serving alcohol on trains and things that go through multiple council areas, so you don't have to get a licence in each one.

So I'm wondering if there's something about... a conveyance, something that they're on that means they're excluded.
Katie:My brain just constructed the sentence "Where's the stupidest place you could put a picnic table?" And I immediately answered it for myself.
Sophie:Question of our age.
Sophie:I'm picturing as well... I don't know why, and I think this is almost definitely going to be wrong. If you've got something with you, like you can sell alcohol if you've got your horse with you. (laughs)

But I don't think it's going to be that.
Stuart:This is— That reminds me of the—

Was there a famous tale of an Oxford law student who demanded a pint of ale and a full meal during his exam by invoking a legal law, and on the way out, they fined him three shillings for not wearing a sword? Something like that.
Katie:I had a friend who did law at Oxford, and it was 90% just looking up the arcane rules of Oxford.
SFX:(Stuart and Sophie laugh)
Katie:If you turn up to your final exam in a suit of armour, you automatically pass. Or something similar.
SFX:(group laughing)
Tom:There's that legend at every university about some little loophole that someone used, but Oxford's got more than most.
Stuart:I can tell you, it's not about bringing a picnic table. They could have done this without a picnic table. That simply eased the comfort.
Sophie:Did they—
Katie:I'm imagining a boat or a raft or something that they're just floating along the river and having a party on the boat, and that technically isn't in the park.
Stuart:You are in the right ballpark in one respect. And can I just say, I love asking the question.
SFX:(group laughing)
Tom:It's so nice, isn't it?!
Stuart:I'm so happy right now.
Sophie:You're getting such a power trip. Honestly, I can see it in your eyes.
Tom:It's the peninsula, so it's surrounded by ocean. Now, maybe public drinking is only prohibited on land, or they thought they could interpret it that way. But I think, I feel like "they got a boat" is not a satisfying answer to this question.
Stuart:No, it's not a boat, but the peninsula is important. They wouldn't have— They chose it deliberately.
Tom:Oh, oh, they didn't... Okay...

If you are on a beach, and you dig for a little bit, water is gonna come up. So did they get a load of shovels and cut off the tip of the peninsula at the beach, and then try and claim they were now on a private island?
Sophie:Or the tide, did the tide naturally cut off a bit of the beach, and that was it?
Stuart:It's, yeah, you're both very, very close. There's a specific sentence that I'd like— There's a specific legal phrase that I'd like you to get to that was their justification.
Sophie:Objection? I don't—
SFX:(group laughing)
Katie:International waters?
Stuart:Yes, exactly!
SFX:(group shouts, laughs)
Sophie:Nice, Katie.
Katie:That's always the loophole when you're at sea.
Sophie:International waters!
Stuart:The group used low tide to build their own artificial island in the estuary. And once you know this, you can Google it for a picture.

Other search engines are apparently available, but I've never heard of any.

And it's an absolutely brilliant picture of what looks like maybe six or seven people in shorts and T-shirts on a constructed island. Locals joked that they were taking advantage of the international waters law to escape the ban.

However, the legal eagles will recognise that they would need to be at least 12 nautical miles out for this to even be considered. Hence the police chief sort of going, "Yeah, alright, fine with me."
SFX:(Stuart and Tom chuckle)
Sophie:Oh, amazing. What legends. That's great.
Stuart:Yes, thank you, Ike Hayes for that excellent question.
Tom:Alright, we will move swiftly on. Thank you very much.

Bouquinistes have been trading along the banks of the river Seine for over 500 years. Their green boxes of second-hand books are popular with tourists. What question, unrelated to the book trade, do Parisians often ask them?

And one more time.

Bouquinistes have been trading along the banks of the river Seine for over 500 years. Their green boxes of second-hand books are popular with tourists. What question, unrelated to the book trade, do Parisians often ask them?
Stuart:The 'bouquiniste', it doesn't sound plural, but does the bouquiniste refer to the individual people? Bouq— Like it's a profession?
Tom:Yeah, with apologies to... (laughs) everyone in France listening to this.
SFX:(Stuart and Sophie laugh)
Tom:It's really difficult, it has an S on the end, and my French pronunciation is not good enough to be able to give whatever subtle distinction French people use to tell that.
Stuart:Okay, but a bouquiniste is like a book peddler along the river.
Sophie:But that word in itself is interesting because obviously if it was French, it'd be 'livre', it'd be 'book' in French, right?
Tom:I looked this up! I looked this up. And no one knows why it's called 'bouquiniste', not with any authority.
Sophie:But it is 'book' as in— 'Cause when you said 'bouquinistes', I thought 'buccaneers' and thought pirates.
Sophie:But, is it—
Stuart:It's book as in books, they sell books.
Tom:But, sorry, you've got me on a linguistics tangent. This is unrelated to the question. It's not my turn to talk here, but...

'Buccaneer' comes from 'boucan', which is a way of cooking food over a fire that came from, I think it was North American indigenous languages, of like, mboka'ẽ, or something like that.

It's a wonderful example of 'barbecue' just becoming the word for 'pirate'. And it... has...
Sophie:Oh, I love that.
Tom:nothing to do with books, unfortunately. I don't know why bouquinistes are called that, and I suspect the French Academy doesn't particularly like the fact that it's got the word 'book' in there.
SFX:(group laughing)
Katie:I'm on board.
Katie:It's a specific type of bookseller that just sells second-hand books out of a green box? Are they wearing the box?
Tom:Have any of you been to the banks of the Seine in Paris and seen them?
Sophie:Well, I mean, my partner's half-French, and so, and her family's based around Paris. So I should know some stuff about this. I feel like it's the ones who— there's rows and rows of boxes. And in the boxes, there's loads of books.
Sophie:And I feel like there's also often around there, other stuff like little drawings and paintings and frames. And in the Eurostar advert, there's an ostrich walking around them because the idea is like, "why fly when you can walk?" kind of thing, or take the Eurostar.
Sophie:It's more like market stall energy.
Sophie:I think.
Stuart:And it's a question— We're trying to determine a question that people often ask, so—
Katie:Specifically a question that Parisians often ask. So not something necessarily that tourists would ask them.
Stuart:So what assumptions would you make if you were a Parisian, and you saw the green... Presumably, once you ask the question, you know the answer, and you don't need to ask the question again. So we're assuming Parisians who live a little further out in Paris are coming in and seeing them.
Katie:Unless it's something that that particular group of people would be able to pick up on more easily, not like what's the weather, but something that changes day to day that they've got a head start on because of the fact that they're on the riverbank all day.
Sophie:Katie, you're great at this. That's a great thought.
Katie:It's probably wrong. (laughs)
Sophie:Nah, Tom's face suggests it wrong.
Tom:Well, you sorta stumbled past the correct answer without paying it any attention there.
Katie:I mean, I gave the example of weather. Is it weather?
Tom:It is. What's the weather? So I'm gonna expand the question a little to ask, why?
Stuart:Oh, oh! Is it how— Is it how much of their stalls are they putting out?

If you deal in second-hand books, and you lay out your wares, and then it rains, then you're gonna get a weather eye, after a while. So, you clock what they're— By telling how many— how much of their stalls are out, you can trust a bouquiniste to know what the weather's gonna be like, because otherwise they'll have to bring all their books back in.
Sophie:So smart!
Tom:Traditionally, Parisians could ask the bouquinistes.

And my producer has just said that 'boucquain' meant 'rare old book' in Middle French. Thank you, Producer David.
Sophie:Okay, boucquain.
Stuart:Middle French, the sexiest kind.
Tom:They have hundreds and hundreds of books in big, open green boxes. So if they're out... chances are the weather's going to stay well for a while, and you might be able to ask them how long they'll be there.
Stuart:Incredible. Just for the record, I was goal hanging there. That was Katie's victory.
SFX:(group laughing)
Sophie:No, guys, you tag-teamed that. That was great.
Katie:Yeah, that was good.
Tom:Sophie, it's over to you for the last guest question of the show.
Sophie:Yes, of course, so...

This question has been sent in by Matthew Lamb. Thank you, Matthew.

A row of terraced houses in Manchester, England was completed in 1897. It was named after a particular feature, but this was tweaked to 'Anita Street' in the 1960s, at the residents' request. What was the original name, and why?
Katie:I know the answer to this, so I'm gonna...
Tom:That's someone who lives in Manchester.
Katie:Yeah, I literally live about, you know, a quarter of a mile from it.
Sophie:I did think, Katie, when you were on the call.

Okay, let me read it again for the benefit of Tom and Stuart, so...

A row of terraced houses in Manchester, England was completed in 1897. It was named after a particular feature, but this was tweaked to 'Anita Street' in the 1960s at the residents' request. What was the original name, and why?
Stuart:And the original name was— It was a feature of the street?
Sophie:Exactly, yeah. It was named based on a feature of the street.
Stuart:So, was a feature of the street that it particularly stank or something? Was it a negative? Was it the 'Covered in Muck Street' from local factory?
Tom:I mean, there's plenty of names like that.
Stuart:I know, the only one I could think of is absolutely filthy.
Tom:Yeah, same here. and we both think of it, and it's in York.
Stuart:Begins with 'G'.
Tom:Yes, it does.
Tom:Genuinely, we cannot even allude any further to that and keep this podcast with a good rating.
Sophie:Really? Is it that bad?
Tom:We'll tell you about it later when we're not on the air.
Sophie:Thanks, okay, yeah.
Tom:That's enough for those curious to look it up.
Stuart:(laughs) So, was it that they— Presumably, if they would like the name to have been changed... then that suggests that it was like, it didn't reflect well on them, but they would have— but if it was called that at the point of creation of the houses, the building of the houses, it must have seemed okay to the people who built it.

So was it something which means something in Manchester, but the build— the developers weren't local, and they kind of used a term that means something locally that they didn't know.
Sophie:You don't need to know any extra Mancunian lingo for this, but you are saying some very positive things. As in correct things.
Tom:There used to be an asbestos factory next door. It was just known as Asbestos Street.
SFX:(Stuart and Sophie laugh)
Sophie:No, that is not it.
Tom:Anita Street is a weird name. Did they knock a letter off, or change a letter, or something like that, as the street in York did?
Tom:Is there something close to 'Anita'? If you remove the letter at the start and end, 'cause that'd make the signs cheaper to change as well.
Stuart:Or did the signs keep getting stolen because they...
Stuart:(cackles) They had to change the—
Sophie:'Cause it's in Manchester? What're you saying, Stuart?
Tom:Well, I've seen the sign for Canal Street enough times.
SFX:(Stuart and Sophie laugh)
Katie:Yeah, I think there is a street in Levensham that that's true of, that they've just stopped bothering to replace it, and I cannot remember what it's called. It's just behind the train station in Levenshulme. But yeah, I don't, yeah.
Sophie:Rob Me Street, I dunno.
Stuart:So are we closer with the... So it's not to do with lingo.
Tom:Is it a word thing? Is it changing a letter or adding a letter?
Sophie:So yeah, letter changing, letter removal is exactly right. And Stuart, you were saying very good things about the difference in context between then and now.
Stuart:Anita. I'm looking— I'm doing a word game with 'Anita' now to try and work out what's the—
Tom:I'm wordling this. I don't like how I'm having to wordle this.
Sophie:Well, maybe think as well about things that, you know, something that they would have been proud enough for this thing, this feature to be a thing in the street, so much that they would name the street after it.
Stuart:Oh, was it something to do with, it had indoor toilets, which is great when you've only had outdoor toilets, but as soon as indoor toilets are a thing, you're just talking about toilets?
Sophie:Keep running. Keep running with it.
Tom:Oh! Okay.
Stuart:Like a pa— Is it pan? The 'Anita' is something to do with chucking a bedpan. Or something like that?
Sophie:(wheezes) Anita's the woman who took the bedpans out. No, that's not it.
SFX:(group laughing)
Stuart:No, because 'Anita' was the clean version. I was wondering whether it started off as Panslinger Street or something, because it...
Sophie:You're right with— So you're on the right lines, and it's about letter— letter removal.
Katie:I'm just waiting for someone to have tried every letter in front of the word 'Anita' until they get to the point where it becomes obvious.
Tom:I've been trying to do that while talking! It's really difficult!
Stuart:(laughs heartily)
Sophie:So there's letters on either side.
Tom:Janitor— Sanitary. Sanitary Street. There we are! It's gotta be!
Sophie:Ding-ding. We have a winner!
Stuart:Yes! (laughs)
Sophie:It is Sanitary Street.
Tom:I'd only got to J! I was on 'janitor', and I kinda got stuck there for a little while.
Stuart:Do you know what, Tom? I'm so proud of this. I was working backwards so that we'd meet in the middle.
SFX:(group laughing)
Sophie:And that's true teamwork.

Yes, so basically, obviously, around that time in the late 20th century, Manchester's population's booming. It's the Industrial Revolution. And essentially this street was one of the first streets in the area where every house had an indoor toilet and sink. So they called it Sanitary Street.

And then in more modern times, people were like, "We don't want it to be called Sanitary Street." So they took off the S, the R, and the Y, and called it Anita Street.
Stuart:I'm just having the time of my life.
SFX:(group laughing)
Katie:Yeah, it's actually, genuinely, it's literally a quarter of a mile that way out of the window.
Sophie:Is it? Oh yeah. It's a really nice little street, isn't it?
Katie:Such a lovely street. It's the only bit in the whole of that area that's still houses rather than flats, and they're worth a fortune. (stammers)
Stuart:Does anyone ever sneak in and redraw the 'Sanitary' on the thing?
Katie:That would be... correct historical vandalism.
SFX:(others laughing)
Sophie:The nerdiest vandalism.
Stuart:Best kind of vandalism.
Tom:Producer David has just said that the sign you referred to, Katie, is the Street with No Name. Keeps getting stolen.
Katie:Yes, that's what it's called, yeah.
Sophie:Oh, the Street with No Name.
Katie:Yeah, it's just behind the train station in...
Katie:Levenshulme, yeah.
Stuart:And so they would put a sign there called— that said 'Street with No Name'?
Katie:Yeah, and then someone would nick it, and then they'd just put another one.
Tom:Just repeatedly.
SFX:(guests chuckling)
Tom:One last thing then. At the start of the show, I asked:

In which sport do veteran participants try to score less than their age?

Any guesses from the panel?
Katie:(snickers) I was going to say golf, but that's really easy. Depending on how much golf you're talking about.
Tom:It's the correct answer. Absolutely the correct answer.
SFX:(group laughing)
Katie:It's the one thing I thought of where you're trying to get under a particular score.
Stuart:Stop getting it right! I want to brainstorm it!
SFX:(guests laughing)
Tom:Yeah, a round of golf usually takes around 72 strokes if you're good at it.

So, trying to score less than your age if you're a good golfer, but a veteran golfer, is one of the goals they go for.
Stuart:Amazing, that reminds me of juggling. There's Anthony Gatto, one of the greatest jugglers who ever lived, was able to juggle his age. When he was five years old, he could juggle five balls.
Sophie:Oh my gosh.
Stuart:So that's that. And I think that's probably a bit more common now in a TikTok-y way. There's probably kind of mathematical nerd jugglers who are seven who can do seven, and maybe eight who can do eight, but...

I mean, that is barely related. I just wanted to talk about Anthony Gatto.
Sophie:What a great name as well, Gatto. What a legend.
Tom:Well, that is our show for today. Well done, everyone.

Let's ask, what's going on in your lives? Where can people find you?

We will start with Katie.
Katie:Yeah, mostly you can find stuff I'm doing at We've got a little Patreon there, and all the stuff I do gets posted there for free. But if you join, you can also join our little Discord and watch our livestreams and things.
Sophie:Find me as @SophsNotes on YouTube, Instagram, all those kind of things. And that's where I'll post what I'm up to.
Tom:And Stuart.
Stuart:If you're a podcast listener, as I hope you are, you can find the Comedian's Comedian Podcast literally anywhere, and you can find my website,, or follow me on Instagram at @StuartGoldsmithComedy.
Tom:And if you want to 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, and we have video highlights several times a week at

With that, thank you very much to Stuart Goldsmith.
Stuart:Thank you very much.
Tom:Sophie Ward.
Sophie:Thank you very much.
SFX:(group cracks up)
Tom:And Katie Steckles.
Katie:Thank you.
Tom:I'm Tom Scott...
SFX:(Tom and Stuart laugh)
Tom:and this has been Lateral.
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