Lateral with Tom Scott

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

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Episode 83: The user un-friendly library

Published 10th May, 2024

Abigail Thorn, Annie Rauwerda and Jordan Harrod face questions about book buying, cancer care and studio symbols.

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: Dylan F. (x2), Aaron Z. Best, Youenn Fenard, Katie Waning, Peter Scandrett. FORMAT: Pad 26 Limited/Labyrinth Games Ltd. EXECUTIVE PRODUCERS: David Bodycombe and Tom Scott.


Transcription by Caption+

Tom:Why does John Wainwright have a Seattle building named after him after buying a book for $27.95 in 1995?

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

Some people don't believe in coincidences, but I'm looking at my screen here, and I can see the same three faces that were in our last recording session two hours ago. What are the chances of that?

First of all, we have: from the depths of Wikipedia, Annie Rauwerda.
Annie:Hello, thank you for having me.
Tom:How are you doing in the two hours—

See, this script has given away the secret here, that we block record these. If anyone hadn't worked this out, how are you in— since the last moment of recording?
Annie:I'm doing well.

Yesterday, I was partying all day, celebrating the birthday, the 191st birthday of Jonathan, who is a tortoise, who turned 191. He's the oldest living land animal, we think. We don't really know.

We don't actually know if yesterday was his birthday, but that's the day we celebrate.
Abigail:I tell you, he throws a heck of a party, too. I'm still hungover.
Tom:Also joining us, and apparently also slightly hungover, presumably from the last recording session's parties, we have actress, writer, and creator of Philosophy Tube, and from the Kill James Bond podcast, Abigail Thorn.
Abigail:Hello, how's it going? I'm not really hungover.

Also, has it only been two hours for you guys since we recorded the last session? I think your studio must be near a black hole or something. Because for me, it's been 25 years, Tom.
Tom:I plugged the podcast this time. I forgot to do that last time.

Do you want to talk through what's going on in that show?
Abigail:So me and my two best friends, Alice Caldwell-Kelly and Devon run a podcast called Kill James Bond, where we talk about movies that have something to do with masculinity.

We started with the James Bond franchise. We finished that.

We did Rambo. We've done Jason Bourne. We're doing Euro spy movies at the moment.

And at some point, we're gonna probably move on to Johnny English and Mission: Impossible and stuff.

So, any movies that have anything to say about men and being macho, that's a job for three people, none of whom are male.
Annie:Have you killed James Bond yet?
Abigail:Yeah, we did. He dies in No Time to Die. We got his ass. We did it live on stage.
Annie:Yes! You did it!
Abigail:We did a live recording.
Tom:And this is why you knew the Moby reference to Extreme Ways in the Bourne movies last time.
Abigail:Exactly, because we killed Jason Bourne after we killed James Bond.
Tom:The final one of our trio is still working on her medical engineering PhD, specialising in artificial intelligence and talking about it for the internet: Jordan Harrod.
Jordan:Thank you for having me.

For me, it's only been five minutes. So we're all at different points in this black hole, apparently.
Tom:How is the PhD going? I mean, last time it was like, in terms of timing.

This time, are you finding what you hope to? Is it still kind of up in the air?
Jordan:I think we're finding what we hope to.

The last time I was on this, I think... my project was a little bit more uncertain, because it turns out that during a global pandemic, you can't have people come in to do science on. Because then they might catch the infectious disease that you're all trying to avoid.

So now that that's no longer as much of a factor... it's been fun, and we're getting lots of interesting data.
Tom:Good luck to all three of you.

You've already done this once today. So unless you're a goldfish, you know how this works. Let's get on with question one.

This question was sent in by Ewan Fennach.

In 1992, an unexpected scientific study of a large conglomeration of ducks, beavers, turtles, and frogs improved our understanding of ice masses near the North Pole. How?

I'll say that again.

In 1992, an unexpected scientific study of a large conglomeration of ducks, beavers, turtles, and frogs improved our understanding of ice masses near the North Pole. How?
Abigail:I think I know the genuine answer to this.
Annie:Okay, well I don't know it for sure.

But I just think that they would track the animals and see how they move in the water, to see how the ice moves.

Now that I say this out loud, I'm realizing, oh, that wasn't even a good guess.
Tom:You are close and also not close at the same time with that one.
Annie:Okay, well I'm honestly glad that I don't know it, because then I get to play.

Okay, so what threw me off is that there are frogs being tracked as well. And they reveal things about the ice.
Annie:And I just, I don't really— Again, I've never been to Antarctica, but I do not think that there are frogs hopping around up there. Maybe there are.
Jordan:Are they... real?
SFX:(Jordan and Tom laugh)
Jordan:I don't mean that in a non-corporeal sense.
Tom:Oh, thank you, I was about to come back with, "Well, they're more of a metaphorical concept."
Jordan:(laughs profusely)
Annie:Frogs are government drones invented by... I don't know, Raytheon.
Tom:You're right that it would be weird to find frogs near the North Pole. This is Arctic, not Antarctic, so it's up top.

But ducks, beavers, turtles, and frogs. Those are not normally things you find on ice masses.
Annie:Is it that there were certain animals that previously lived there, that were trapped in the ice, that we took out, and then we were able to see evolution? They were preserved?
Abigail:Oh, like Godzilla.
Tom:(chuckles) Oh yeah, sorry. Ducks, beavers, turtles, frogs, and Godzilla. Forgot about Godzilla.
Jordan:Yep. (snickers)
Tom:That might be the case in the Antarctic, because there's a land mass under there.

But the North Pole is just ice.
Annie:And there's no possibility of a frog being frozen in there?
Tom:Possibly. A large conglomeration of them, less so.
Annie:Oh, it's a large conglomeration.
Tom:I just like the word 'conglomeration'. It's in the question. I'm gonna try and use it as much as I can in the next few minutes.
Annie:Is the large conglomeration of dogs, beavers, etc., are they all— they're stuck together in a large ball?
Tom:They were at first, yes.
Jordan:I was about to say, is this the giant landfill pile in the middle of the ocean? No? (snickers)
Tom:You're starting to get a bit closer there.
Annie:Did they evolve to live in the trash?
Abigail:Like me!
SFX:(group laughing)
Tom:Oh! Annie, once you get the answer, you will know just how good of a question that was. And I'm not going to answer it right now.

This is one of the notes on my sheet here. They were all together at first.
Annie:Like a little happy family.
Tom:Yeah, 29,000 of them.
Abigail:Oh, wow. Oh, okay. Can't be what I thought then.
Jordan:So they're not— wait. Did we establish whether these are living creatures?
Tom:(giggles) We did not. We absolutely did not.

I managed to dodge that question quite well. What did you think it was, Abby?
Abigail:I thought it was that time that a tornado passed over a pond, and then it rained frozen frogs. So I think I've correctly summarised that these animals are dead and frozen together and have somehow been moved to the Arctic.

But the method by which that has happened is yet to be determined.
Jordan:I was about to say, why would they be on a ship, and then just like, whoops, it fell?
Abigail:29,000 frogs.
Tom:What was that, Jordan?
Jordan:"Whoops, it fell"?
Annie:Out of a ship?
Tom:I dodged the question on whether these were real.
Annie:Oh, are they plastic?
Tom:Yes, they are.
Jordan:Is it like rubber ducks and stuff?
Abigail:Oh, I was gonna say.
Annie:That's so cute.
Tom:29,000 yellow ducks, red beavers, blue turtles, and green frogs.

So what happened?
Annie:Then it, depending on where they land, it shows you the ocean currents and stuff?
Tom:Yep, absolutely right.
Abigail:We did an ExxonMobil duck spill?
Tom:(snickers) Yes.
Tom:There were 28,800 bath toys called Friendly Floaties lost from a shipping container and just dropped in the middle of the ocean.

And one of the research results from that is that some of them made it up to the North Pole. And they were able to be used as markers to track ocean currents based on where they ended up.
Jordan:How did these 29,000 rubber ducks go overboard?
SFX:(Jordan and Tom snicker)
Abigail:What sound does that make?
Tom:It happens quite a lot.

I think containers get lost in storms slightly more often than shipping container companies would like us to think. Obviously a lot of them just kind of sink, but if your container bursts open and gets thrown out during a storm, you have a sudden perfect example of...

Has anyone seen Twister, the movie?
Tom:You know when they send those Coke can little things into the tornado?
Tom:That on a much bigger scale.
Abigail:Yeah, there's a bunch of cars and stuff on the bottom of the sea, just, they fall off ships.
Tom:There is a lovely book about this by Donovan Hohn.

The title of this, I have to ask as kind of a follow-up question.

It is a title about a quest on the ocean involving rubber ducks. Does anyone wanna take a quick punt at what the title of that book might be?
Abigail:Something about a bill. "What Was the Bill?"
Annie:I was thinking "Quack".
Tom:(wheezes) So...
Annie:That's good.
Tom:So yes, in 1992, the ducks, beavers, turtles, and frogs helped science near the North Pole by being plastic floaty toys that they could track currents with.
Annie:That's my second favorite story about things being lost at sea and then turning up on shore. My favorite is the... Salish Sea human foot discoveries.
Annie:Where just, detached feet landed on the shore.
Tom:That was never solved, right?
Annie:No, we don't know. But I did read, and I don't know if this is true, but I read somewhere that when the body decomposes in water, it's not uncommon for feet to fall off. So maybe they used to be part of full bodies.

I don't know if that's more or less comforting.
Abigail:So how many feet washed up where?
Annie:Let me see. At least 20 detached human feet have turned up in British Columbia, Canada and Washington state, USA.
Abigail:All at the same time?
Annie:No. Starting in 2007.
Annie:There's a map of all of the feet, and each place where they turned up is a footprint.
Tom:Oh. (chuckles)
Abigail:(snickers) Really grisly Cinderella?
Jordan:Oh my god.
Tom:Each of our guests has brought a question along with them.

And we start with Abigail.
Abigail:Yes, so this question is based on an idea sent in by Dylan F.

In 1792, what did the famous mathematician Joseph-Louis Lagrange create that caused his religious countryfolk to pray 30% less than before?

In 1792, what did the famous mathematician Joseph-Louis Lagrange create that caused his religious countryfolk to pray 30% less than before?
Tom:This is my favourite question we've had in so long. That's incredible. (chuckles)
Abigail:It's fun, right?
Jordan:I was about to say, I can't imagine it was Lagrange multipliers for differential equations or something, but...
Annie:(laughs) Oh good, our prayers are answered! Finally, finally!
SFX:(group laughing)
Abigail:We don't need to pray as much because we got this! That's a lovely idea that he gave them what they've been praying for so they can—
Abigail:He gave 'em 30% of what they prayed for.
Tom:He identified the point between the Earth and the Moon where there is equal gravity between them. 'Cause that's what a Lagrange point is known as.

And I don't know if that's because of that mathematician, or if it was just named after him, or if it was a completely different mathematician. But that's what I know Lagrange from.
Abigail:But I mean, why would people pray less?
Tom:Yeah, I don't have an answer to that. I just wanted to say that I know one thing about Lagrange.
Tom:Yeah, when they put satellites up in what they call L1, I think that's the point between two celestial bodies where the gravity is equal between them. L2, L3, L4 are the other points where a satellite can just kind of hang out without really being pulled anywhere. So there's a load of satellites sitting in the various L points around Earth, Moon, and the Sun.

I suspect that has nothing to do with directing prayers, because I feel like they don't really go to a specific point in space?
Abigail:(wheezes) "I can't pray, I don't have reception."
SFX:(group laughing)
Annie:NASA has finally detected the prayer center.
Jordan:Yeah, I was about to say.
Annie:This is where they went.
Abigail:I can pray really efficiently, so I pray 30% less.
SFX:(guests snickering)
Abigail:But I'm praying 30% harder.
Annie:If I were a peasant in 1792, France, I'm assuming – Lagrange.
Annie:I would be praying for my crops to probably have a good harvest, which involves the Sun, the Moon, which are celestial bodies. So perhaps it had something to do with that.

Or maybe they just really, really badly wanted calculus of variations.
SFX:(Tom and Jordan laugh)
Abigail:So you are in France.

And certainly, you know, the peasants were expressing some opinions in France in the 1790s.
SFX:(Annie and Tom laugh)
Annie:That's true, that's true.
Abigail:Maybe not so much about, you know, the stars, but... more earthly concerns?
SFX:(Jordan and Tom snicker)
Annie:♪ Do you hear the people sing?

They are so happy about... new math ♪
SFX:(group giggling)
Tom:Also, "expressing some opinions" is a hell of a way to describe the French Revolution.
Abigail:Opinions were expressed.
Jordan:Emphatically, some opinions.
Abigail:Content was made.
Tom:(laughs heartily)
Jordan:Yeah. (snickers)
Annie:Another thing is, I don't know if the French did prayers at certain times of day back then. Probably not, but if they did, and he made better timekeeping, then it could be.
Abigail:You're on the right lines with timekeeping.
Tom:Oh! Oh! Oh!
Tom:Is this to do with decimal time?
Abigail:Yes, it is.
Tom:This was a French Revolution invention, which never caught on, which was the idea that there should be ten hours in a day, and ten... and 100 minutes in an hour, or something like that. The idea was they would—
Abigail:Think bigger units of time.
Tom:Okay. Oh...! Ten months in a year. The idea was ten months in a year?
Abigail:Smaller than that.
Tom:Oh, come on!
Abigail:In between a day and a month is?
Tom:A week.
Annie:A week.
Tom:Ten weeks in a month?
Annie:Oh, ten-day weeks!

So they're only going to church once a week, which is less.
Tom:Could I have blundered through any more wrong doors in my series of answers to that question?
Abigail:Yeah, I feel like you pretty much got the answer here.

So he invented—
Annie:You're so poised and smart all of the time on YouTube that honestly, I relish in you missing something.
Tom:(laughs dejectedly)
Abigail:Yeah, so he invented the French Revolutionary calendar, under which a week only lasted ten days.

And as a consequence, the peasants only got 36 days of rest every year instead of 52 days.

So instead of having a rest every Sunday, you only have a rest, you know, every ten days, which is 30% less, and therefore, they did not pray as much.
Jordan:And then they also followed it by emphatically expressing opinions.
Abigail:They did, they did emphatically express their opinions.
Tom:I was gonna say that's a very... capitalist-happy calendar if they're working more. But it's again, French Revolution. Probably a bit more complicated than that.
Abigail:Well, the French revolutionaries weren't so big on religion because the French government before them were very, very Catholic, and sort of used that as... to prop themselves up.

So actually, Robespierre tried to start a state religion under which— or "religion" in quotes.

But all the churches were renamed "temples of reason", which is a very kind of 2017 Richard Dawkins-ish— maybe 2014 Richard Dawkins-ish move.

Which didn't really work because then Joaquin Phoenix came along, and he was like, what are we talking about?
Annie:I was looking at the Wikipedia traffic for various Napoleon-related topics after the movie came out.

And the article on "triborough" hats was getting more traffic than ever before.
Annie:Thanks to the movie.
Tom:Thank you to Katie Waning for sending this next question in.

After just two weeks of training and no formal medical background, Paloma was able to differentiate malignant and benign mammograms in 80% of cases. Paloma became part of a group that was 99% accurate at this task. How?

I'll say that again.

After just two weeks of training and no formal medical background, Paloma was able to differentiate malignant and benign mammograms in 80% of cases. Paloma became part of a group that was 99% accurate at this task. How?
Abigail:I actually know the answer to this, because my dad was a breast cancer surgeon. So I'm going to have to sit this one out.
Tom:Alright. Annie, Jordan, it's over to you.
Jordan:Was Paloma AI?
Jordan:Was it some sort of other clinical trial?
SFX:(Tom and Annie laugh)
Tom:The one thing I will immediately rule out to the AI expert on the panel is that Paloma was definitely not artificial intelligence.
Annie:Is Paloma a dog that can smell it?
Tom:No, but you have correctly identified this question's first trick, which is that Paloma may not be human.
Abigail:That was actually gonna be what I said. (laughs) And now I have no idea!
Tom:Oh, okay!
Abigail:Sorry, Dad.
Tom:(laughs) Remember, these are mammograms.
Annie:So, could it be the machine?
SFX:(Annie and Tom crack up)
Abigail:Looking at the scan. It's looking at the picture of the scan.
Tom:It's looking at the picture of the scan.
Abigail:But it's not an artificial intelligence?
Tom:No. I'm not gonna ask you to go through the entire animal kingdom here, but some methods of what a thing might do.
Annie:(stammers) The creatures that can see a lot of different... a lot of different wavelengths.
Annie:I don't know if that would help.
Abigail:Was it one of those octopuses that predicts the World Cup? It was just blind chance.
SFX:(Tom and Jordan laugh)
Tom:80% here, and the group was 99% accurate.
Annie:Maybe it's something that's used to foraging for something that looks like breast cancer. So they're just really attuned to it? Maybe a truffle hog?
Abigail:A truffle hog? Oh, that's a nice idea.
Abigail:I'd feel slightly alarmed if I went in for a mammogram, and the surgeon just brought in a hog.
Tom:Again, again.
Abigail:Oh my god.
Tom:Paloma is only looking at the scans. (giggles)

'Paloma' is also a bit of a clue there.
Annie:Paloma wool, sheep. Why would a sheep be good at doing that? (giggles) Looking at mammograms.
Annie:Paloma is also a great cocktail. Maybe it's just a random drunk person from a bar.
Tom:No one here knows their Spanish?
Abigail:My guess was gonna be some kind of bird.

Or it's a Clever Hans situation. It was a very talented horse.
Tom:Abi, you just said Clever Hans. Let's talk about that for a minute. What was Clever Hans?
Abigail:Clever Hans was a horse in the year (mutters)
Abigail:who could allegedly count.

And it was later discovered that actually, the horse could not count, but the horse's owner was – without even realising he was doing it – giving it subtle signals when it had arrived at the correct answer.

So he would sort of bend over when the horse was supposed to keep clopping its hoof to count the answer to a maths question. And then when the correct answer had been arrived at, he stood up, and the horse stopped.

So the horse had learned to read his reactions, but it didn't actually do maths.
Tom:Clever Hans, the cold reading horse. You said bird, Abby. Any reason for that?
Abigail:Yeah... I just happened to know that birds can be quite clever.

Corvids can be very clever, can't they, crows? Birds are always doing math.

Magpies too. The bird of my home city. They like shiny things and patterns.
Jordan:So did a bird learn how to look at a mammogram and figure out which one had cancer?
Tom:Yeah, Paloma is a pigeon.

We don't know if that's the actual name. The clue is that 'paloma' is the Spanish for 'pigeon'.

This was a trained flock of pigeons who were trained to look at mammograms... and somehow through training, were able to identify 80% of the time.

And then through the wisdom of crowds – wisdom of flocks – could get a 99% accuracy by pecking a button for a food reward and then looking at new versions.

So, not artificial intelligence... (laughs) but at the same time... that's kinda how it works.
Annie:Birds can do the Monty Hall problem better than humans.
Annie:I read somewhere. I read that somewhere.
Tom:That's the one with the three doors, right? And you get to swap or not.
Jordan:Yes. Yes.
Abigail:Monty Hall was that BBC presenter who went to live in Scotland and grew all his own food.
Tom:That was Monty Don, wasn't it?
Annie:Too many Montys.

The Monty Hall problem, well, it takes kind of a while to explain, but basically it's a game show. There are three doors, and you choose a door, and then they reveal... And let's imagine that they reveal one that's not the prize. Then you're asked, do you want to switch?

Intuitively for a lot of humans, you think, "No, I want to keep mine. My guess was pretty good." But, you're better off switching.
Tom:Yeah, it's one of those mathematical weird things that just the information that you have picked a door, opened it, and that's wrong, then affects how you should treat the next part of the puzzle.

Even though it looks like it's a 50-50 shot whether to swap or not, you should swap. And you'll be right two-thirds of the time.
Abigail:And of course, swallows are very good at the Monty Python problem.
Jordan:I'm just imagining that you go to see your oncologist, and they're like, "Yeah, we're gonna bring in the radiologist to look at your X-rays."

And then just a bird in a lab coat.
Tom:(imitates cooing)
Abigail:A flock of pigeons?
Jordan:Just a pigeon flies in.
Abigail:Now, I'm just imagining that other kinds of animals could detect other diseases. Randomly, jellyfish are really good at diagnosing meningitis.
SFX:(Tom and Annie laugh)
Jordan:Oh my god.
Annie:What would elephants be good at?
Abigail:I don't know! Stuff with ears. Ear deafness. If you can't tell the elephant is here, you could have a problem with your hearing.
SFX:(group laughing)
Abigail:You can't see the elephant in the room.
Tom:Heyyy! Jordan, over to you for the next question.
Jordan:This question has been sent in by Dylan F. Thank you, Dylan.

Ligeti's Poème symphonique requires 100 identical musical instruments. Although the ten performers leave shortly after the piece begins, the intrigued audience looks on for several more minutes. What are the instruments?

I'll read it again.

Ligeti's Poème symphonique requires 100 identical musical instruments. Although the ten performers leave shortly after the piece begins, the intrigued audience looks on for several more minutes. What are the instruments?
Tom:Was that poem or palm?
Tom:Poem, okay.
Abigail:100 instruments and only ten musicians.
Annie:Well, I will say that I was recently in Boston, and I realized while I was there that there is such thing as the Boston Typewriter Orchestra.

And it's a bunch of guys that do percussion on typewriters. And their performances are – to my surprise – rather beautiful.

So when I hear 'poem', I think perhaps it's typewriters, but... They wouldn't keep playing on their own, so I don't know.
Tom:I've gotta sit out. I've just realised I've seen this. I haven't seen it in person. I've seen something like it. I've got to sit out of this one.
Abigail:So it's 100 instruments but only ten musicians. So I'm guessing the instruments must be quite small.

The world's smallest violin, 100 times.
Annie:And the instruments just keep playing, even though the people leave.
Abigail:Or maybe not.
Annie:And people only stay for a few minutes. So maybe the music isn't very good. Maybe they're smoke alarms or something.
Abigail:Or dominoes? You knock over 100 dominoes? and it makes a (k-tshhh)
Jordan:No. (snickers)
Annie:Well, an instrument is an interesting word, because it could be a musical instrument. But what about Texas Instruments? What if it's protractors or something?
Abigail:Surgical instruments with pigeons again.
Jordan:Oh my gosh.
Abigail:Maybe they program them, and they make a noise?
Annie:I'm feeling a little bit stumped.
Abigail:So people leave after a few minutes.
Jordan:The intrigued audience looks on for several more minutes.
Annie:Is it karaoke machines?
Abigail:Are the audience the instruments?
Abigail:I don't know. I need a clue.
Jordan:The performance gets gradually quieter.
Annie:Gradually quieter?
Abigail:So something like getting knocked over, like dominoes. It runs out of— They must set something in motion that is then... runs out of steam.
Annie:Oh, or what if everyone in the audience sucks in the helium from a balloon, and then as it wears off, they'd be quiet?
Jordan:It's not that, but somebody needs to do that. (giggles)
Abigail:Yeah, they must set some kind of physical process, some kind of Rube Goldberg machine.
Jordan:Close, closer.
Abigail:I just can't get past dominoes.
Annie:Is the audience part of the instrument?
Tom:Jordan, I'm gonna try and confirm a thing here. 'Cause it's going to be embarrassing if I'm wrong.
Tom:This is... It could be a proper performance, but this could also be maybe a... demo at a science museum, something like that. This could be done?
Jordan:I guess you could? I could see this happening at the Museum of Science.

I think I'd have to think a little bit about what that exhibit will look like in terms of the scientific utility of it.
Abigail:Are they wine glasses?
Abigail:Aw, man, I really thought I had it there.
Jordan:No notes are heard or played.
Abigail:It's dominoes! It's dominoes!
Abigail:It's gotta be dominoes!
Jordan:It's not dominoes.
Abigail:It's 100 drums in a line. They kick them up, they kick them down the stairs.
Tom:I mean, it's not that far away, if this is what I think it is.
Abigail:It's pigeons, it's pigeons again. It's 100 pigeons.
SFX:(Abigail and Annie laugh)
Abigail:I think we must be somehow close. We've gathered that there's...
Tom:This is something musical, right? It's not an instrument, but it's something musicians would use.
Jordan:It is something musicians would use, yes.
Tom:Okay, and they've set up 100 of them...
Tom:Started them going...
Tom:Left... and a thing is gonna happen.
Jordan:Yes. Abby.
Abigail:I got it from you moving your finger, Annie.
Annie:That's what I was thinking. I was thinking of metronomes, because they probably line up in interesting ways.
Tom:And if you put them all on a slightly wobbly table, they will sync up naturally, right, over time?
Jordan:I don't think that's technically what happens in this, but... (snickers)
Tom:Okay, that's a science demonstration. That's what I've seen. You put a load of metronomes on a table, and you just allow a little bit of wobble and sway in that table, and over the course of a few minutes, all those 10 or 100 or even 1,000 metronomes will steadily move into sync with each other.
Abigail:Who discovered that?
Tom:I don't know if that's what's happening for this performance, but if I was in the audience, and that was starting to happen, that's what I'd sort of stick around and mutter about.
Jordan:I'm going to call that as close enough.

So the answer is metronomes. That's what the instrument is.

From our context, the 100 musical devices are metronomes. The piece requires the performers to wind them all up and set them to different beats. On the conductor's command, each performer sets their ten metronomes going and then leaves the stage.

Initially, the whole thing sounds like a racket. Gradually they keep playing until they have naturally wound themselves down until only one can be heard on its own for the last few beats.
Tom:It's not about the wobble. I was wrong. It's not about the wobble.
Jordan:That's why when you said science, I was like...
Tom:That would be a better piece. I prefer that piece.
SFX:(Tom and Annie chuckle)
Jordan:Well, apparently the first performance prompted enough negative reaction that Dutch television cancelled a planned broadcast of it.
Tom:(laughs heartily)
Jordan:People do not enjoy the performance of the several minutes, but they experienced one.
Tom:Just let the table wobble. Just let the table wobble.
Annie:Did they— They titled it the 'Symphonique'. People were expecting Brahms.
Jordan:And they got... cacophony. (giggles)
Tom:Next question was sent in by Peter Scandrett. Thank you, Peter.

Dalena is walking around a large television studio. She notices that four things have been taped on the floor in the corners of the studio. And she asks the director, "What does 35, MN, M5, and 3N mean?" Can you work it out?

I'll say that again.

Dalena is walking around a large television studio. She notices that four things have been taped on the floor in the corners of the studio. She asks the director, "What does 35, MN, M5, and 3N mean?" Can you work it out?
Abigail:My first guess is it's something to do with lenses. If you are in this spot, then you will use this lens.
Tom:There was a video I saw that I think BBC Archive had uploaded of their old 1970s training tapes for the big pedestal studio camera operators.

And they used to just use chalk or temporary marker pens, just draw around them on the ground so they knew they could land the exact position as they moved them around.

So yeah, stuff gets taped to studio floors, written on studio floors all the time.
Abigail:That was my guess, yeah.
Jordan:What were the four things again? 35, MN...
Tom:35, MN – so Mike November – M5 – so Mike Five – and 3N – Three November.
Annie:Hearing '35 MN' is horrible for me, 'cause my brain is just saying over and over,
Abigail:"Manonetres, manonetres."
SFX:(group laughing)
Abigail:The units of manliness. Manonetres, yeah.
Annie:Ah yes, the manonetres. Okay, 35 of them.
Abigail:MN, minutes north? Is it some kind of... not longitude and latitude, but something like that?
Tom:That is a lot closer than you might think.
Annie:Okay, location. And they're in four corners?
Abigail:Cardinal directions. Why would you need to know the cardinal directions in a TV studio?
Annie:Ah, yes. North, mouth, east, west.
Jordan:(laughs heartily)
Abigail:Yeah. 35... Is it any TV studio, or just a particular one?
Tom:This is actually a personal anecdote that Peter sent in. This is a genuine question that was asked.
Abigail:So not every TV studio, but just this particular one.
Tom:This particular one. And you're right that they are location finding things.

You've basically said all the elements. There's one little thing that you've not quite figured out.
Abigail:Is one of them meant to point towards Mecca in case Muslim staff need to know that?
Tom:Not for this one, no.
Tom:And that you just presumably mark east. Rather than—
Abigail:Yeah, that's what I was, yeah.
Tom:Rather than—
Abigail:I didn't know where in the world this particular TV studio is.
Abigail:Does the TV studio itself rotate?
Tom:Oh, no, no. And in fact, if it did, this wouldn't work. Abi, you were very close earlier. We've sort of drifted away from it.
Abigail:Cardinal directions?
Tom:Cardinal directions.
Abigail:North, south, east and west, but why would you need to know that in a TV studio?
Tom:I mean, you need some kind of location tracking in a big... A big open space, you need to be able to refer to areas.
Annie:Especially if you're the weather person, and you're like, "Hey, you guys, that way. Maybe that way."
Abigail:I mean, how big is this TV studio?

Are we talking an indoor studio? Or is it outdoors in a field?

Oh, it's indoor, but it's big. Okay.
Tom:The symbols on the floor have been misinterpreted a little. I'm just telling you what Dalena's question here is. The question is, what does 35, MN, M5, and 3N mean?
Abigail:Is she actually looking at SE? And then W...
Annie:Or UW?
Tom:Yep. Think it through. You've got 35, MN, M5, 3N. So what were you going with?
Abigail:M5 would actually be SW, southwest.
Abigail:She's reading them upside down.
Tom:She's reading them upside down.

They are the four cardinal directions in the corners of the compass. That is, southeast, northwest, southwest, and northeast, in that order.

They have been taped on the ground by stagehands.

So yeah, if you look at them the wrong way up, they still look like valid letters and numbers, and she just hadn't made the connection.
Abigail:Oh, fun.
Tom:Very early on, Abi, you said north. And you said cardinal directions. "Yes... sort of...!"
Abigail:But they're upside down.
Tom:But they're upside down, yes.
Abigail:Okay, we got there.
Tom:But we are assured by Peter that that was an actual question someone asked.
Jordan:I would also ask that.
Tom:Yeah, the compass points are not for the actors.

They are for contractors. They're loading large bits of equipment into the studio.

So it'll be like, this needs to go to southwest corner, or you need to go to this door, or something like that.
Tom:Which is why they're also visible from the outside, the right way up, rather than for the person who's in the studio looking at it.
Annie:Load out all the metronomes. We're not doing this broadcast anymore.
Jordan:Yeah, exactly.
Tom:(laughs uproariously)
Abigail:Who brought all these pigeons in here?
Annie:We can't play.
Tom:Annie, over to you for the next question.
Annie:This question has been sent in by Aaron Z. Best.

Great name. If it's a fake name, great fake name. Aaron Z. Best.

The New York Public Library has over 90 branches containing all kinds of reference materials. One branch has a peculiar rule: an individual may check out an item once only, review it on-site once only, and can never check that item ever again. Why?

I'm gonna read this again.

The New York Public Library has over 90 branches containing all kinds of reference materials. One branch has a peculiar rule: an individual may check out an item once only, review it on-site once only, and can never check out that item ever again. Why?
Tom:My first thought is crosswords.

And that's because I've confused the New York Public Library and The New York Times. And...
Tom:But that makes no sense, because they wouldn't let you check out, complete the crossword, and then hand it back.

And they wouldn't have a rule against it. If you were ridiculous enough to want to check out a crossword twice, I guess you could. I don't know why you'd have an actual rule against that.
Abigail:I was gonna say it's a book of powerful dark magic. And they can't trust people to take that out.
Tom:Those do exist in the New York Public Library. I saw that documentary in the '80s with Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd. That was...
Abigail:Mhm, mhm, yeah.
Tom:I've taken stuff out of the British Library and the National Archives.

And the British Library, I mean, they— you can't take them out. They have to stay on-site, whatever it is.

But the British Library has some stuff that is just, this is very special, one of a kind, you have to be in a room. Not just the regular reading rooms, but you have to be in a segregated off room. There is someone watching you and the few people in that room all the time. I've once had to refer to a book like that, and it felt like some kind of dark magic thing.

The National Archives... They do take care. You have to do a small training course before you go in there as part of the sign-up, everything like that. But then, you request the archive, and the archive is just given to you in a box.
Tom:And... I'm just rifling through these pages. Actual notes written in the Second World War that have been classified, and it's just there!

I feel like if they had a book of dark magic, and it was in the British Library, it would work like this.

The National Archives would probably just hand it out to you and go, "please don't break the spine."
Abigail:I think I've got the answer to this.
Annie:What do you think?
Abigail:They are Marie Curie's notebooks, and they are still radioactive.
Annie:That is not correct.
SFX:(Tom and Abigail groan)
Annie:But that is such a good guess.
Jordan:I wanted it to be that.
Tom:Ah.. I mean, hopefully, they've digitised all those anyway, but that's lovely.
Tom:They've digitised them. There's just a lot of bright spots on the digitisation film, they just can't work out why it keeps...
Abigail:Huh, weird.
Annie:Let's get some pigeons in to figure that out.
SFX:(group laughing)
Abigail:Do they contain secrets?
Annie:They do contain information. The information is not necessarily secret.
Abigail:Okay, so it's not classified material.
Annie:It's not spells or anything.
Abigail:Was I on the right track with radiation? Is there something about the pages that are toxic, like lead or poison or something?
Annie:They're not toxic.
Tom:You said it was one branch. Does this branch have something special about it? Like it's the underwater New York Public Library. It's the aerial New York Public Library. It's the...
Annie:(snickers) Yes, it has all the 29,000 ducks.
Tom:It's the driving-around New York Public Library, but you have to flag down in the street and hop on board. There's something weird about this branch.
Annie:Something about this branch is special.
Tom:It's on a military base, and they won't let you in more than once. It's... (inhales deeply) Nggh, it's—
Abigail:Somehow the book is destroyed when you read it. Like a book, like spells.
Tom:It's on the top of the Empire State Building, and you have to parachute off to return.
Annie:Yes, you got it! No.
Tom:(laughs uproariously)
Jordan:No. (laughs)
Annie:How did you know?
Abigail:It's somewhere you can only go once a day, and you can't take anything.
Annie:These are not books.
Abigail:Photographic film?
Jordan:Something that degrades if you take it out, so you can only take it out once?
Abigail:It's my phone number. That's all you can get.
SFX:(group laughing)
Abigail:In the New York Public Library.
Jordan:You have to give it back.
Abigail:Yeah, yeah, yeah. You may send me one text. That's it.
Tom:A clue for a puzzle, or something like that, that you have to memorise.
Abigail:A library card?
Annie:No. It stores various forms of multimedia.
Abigail:Giant Laserdisc.

You can't take it out, 'cause it's so big.
Tom:DVDs, videos...
Annie:Yes. Tapes. I like tapes.
Annie:What matters is what's on the tapes and think about why.

It's fine for random people to check this out once, but you don't want people to obsessively check out tons of these.

If you have one person that's checking out all of these all the time, there might be something fishy going on.
Tom:Is it personal information?

So, the voter records, or the... the details of people in New York?

So you can look up yourself, or you can look up one or two things, but you can't look up the whole population?
Abigail:It is the library's CCTV footage.
Tom:(laughs heartily)
Abigail:You are allowed to request a copy, but you can't keep doing it.
Annie:No and no, but I like that you're thinking about security. The last hint is the restrictions, – the once a day, one time – the restrictions are to prevent wrongdoing.
Abigail:It's your password reminder.

If you forget your password, I'll tell you only once per day.
Tom:It's the security footage from cameras. It's the...
Annie:And it's a tape that has to do with something that is associated with New York.

The name of this thing is a street in New York.
Tom:Oh, I'm gonna kick myself. I should... Oh!

It's the recordings of Broadway acts and musical things. And it's so you're not pirating them.
Annie:Yes, there was a bunch of copyright theft.
Annie:So the answer is to stop copyright theft of theatrical productions. The Theater on Film and Tape Archive is a collection of recordings of Broadway, Off-Broadway, and regional productions going back decades.

A director who produced the musical Love! [exclamation point] Valour! [exclamation point] Compassion! [exclamation point] ...was sued! [exclamation point].
SFX:(others laughing)
Annie:claiming his version stole the staging, set design, direction, etc., from the Broadway production.

It was found that he had watched one of the Archive's filmed copies many times.
Annie:Restrictions were put in place to prevent further copying of the difficult-to-copyright aspects of productions.

The rules say, "video recordings may be viewed only on-site at the library, one time only."
Tom:So he's pirated the staging, the stage directions, all the creative work from the earlier version by just watching it over and over again from the Archive.

'Cause it's not out on— It's not licensed to be out on DVD or anything like that because that's enormously expensive.
Annie:According to question submitter Aaron Z. Best, yes.
Tom:(laughs heartily)

Which leaves us with one last order of business:

Why does John Wainwright have a Seattle building named after him after buying a book for $27.95 in 1995?

I asked that to the audience at the start of the show.

Before I give the answer, any guesses from our players here?
Abigail:He accidentally found a very rare book in a yard sale or something.
Tom:Oh, and it turned out to be worth billions, and he named the building after himself?
Abigail:He found The Bible. And they're like, "Wow, you did it!"
SFX:(group laughing)
Abigail:Wow, thanks. We were looking for that. Now we name this after you.
Jordan:Somehow it ended up over here.
Tom:This is autographed by God!
Annie:It was in Seattle!
SFX:(group laughing)
Annie:That was around— Well, I know that early '90s is when Sleepless in Seattle was filmed. So maybe he was an extra in the movie.

But they wouldn't name a building after him. I don't know.
Tom:It was a very big moment. Not for him, but for who was selling the book.
Abigail:It was the first copy of... What year was it?
Tom:1995 in Seattle.
Annie:Microsoft? Was Bill Gates selling his... journal?
Abigail:Is that when Harry Potter came out?
Tom:You've got—
Annie:Jeff Bezos? Jeff Bezos!
Jordan:Oh, Amazon?
Jordan:He bought the first book on Amazon?
Tom:This was the very first sale on Amazon.

The very first person who dared to put their credit card details in, and was surprised when it worked. And he was delivered a book.

And years later, Amazon named the Wainwright Building after their first customer.
Abigail:Ah, he's got a lot to answer for.
Jordan:Yeah, he does.
Abigail:Bet he feels bad now.
Tom:Thank you very much to all our players.

We'll start with Annie. Where can people find you? What's going on in your world?
Annie:You can find me on the internet. What's going on in my world? I am writing a book about Wikipedia. And you can find me online – Mastodon, Instagram, Twitter – @depthsofwikipedia, or @AnnieRauwerda.
Jordan:You can find me by googling Jordan Harrod. And otherwise you can't find me because I will be holing up doing my PhD.
Tom:(laughs) And Abigail!
Abigail:You can catch all of my educational content on Philosophy Tube on YouTube.

If you would like to see me playing a sexy vampire wearing fangs, then you can catch me in the film Dracula's Ex-Girlfriend, which, if it's not already out, will be out very soon on Nebula.

And you can also find me on HBO and Disney+ in some things that I can't talk about at the time of recording. But when you listen to this, may be public. We'll find out!
Tom:Thank you very much to all our players.

If you want to find out more about this show, you can do that at We are at @lateralcast pretty much everywhere, and there are regular video highlights at

Thank you very much to our players: Abigail Thorn.
Tom:Jordan Harrod.
Jordan:Thank you for having me.
Tom:And Annie Rauwerda.
Tom:I've been Tom Scott, and that's been Lateral.
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