Tom Scott – – In a disused quarry at Harpur Hill, near Buxton, there’s a bright blue lagoon. It looks like a perfect place to cool off in summer. And it is, if you enjoy skin irritation and fungal infections. But the strange thing is: I arrived expecting to find it black, not blue… Why
Gruinard Island, in the north-west of Scotland, was where Britain tested its biological weapons. That story’s been told many times: but I found something in the archives that I don’t think anyone’s ever noticed before. Thanks to the boat crew and voice artists! Location fixer: Vikki McCraw at Locations 365 SOURCES from the National
Decades before NASA’s Apollo program, the British Interplanetary Society wanted to go to the moon: in a spacesuit that looked like a suit of armour. Thanks to all the team at the National Space Centre: And to the British Interplanetary Society for their archive images: Drone filming by special permission of the National
I didn’t expect this to work so well. • Includes text generated by OpenAI’s GPT-3 at my request: • Art by Chris Quay: • Got an idea for a video? Filmed safely: OpenAI had no control or sign-off on this video, although I agreed to abide by their ethical guidelines and
I found an article that said “The microwave was invented to heat hamsters humanely in 1950s experiments.” And I thought, no it wasn’t. …was it? Pull down the description for thorough references and credits. Thanks to James Lovelock for his time! His latest book is Novacene: [that is, of course, an Amazon affiliate link]
Wind turbines have emergency exits, but they might not be for the reason you think. • Thanks to Octopus Energy: (This video isn’t sponsored, but obviously they did let me go up their wind turbine.) Drone camera: Tom Francone Edited by Michelle Martin (@mrsmmartin) Thanks very much to all the team at Octopus Energy
Grey? Blue? Purple? It can look different, depending on the context. Let’s talk about color perception, color temperature, and the history of laundry. Atmospheric opacity image from ESA/Hubble (F. Granato): – image licensed under CC by 4.0 – The optical illusion is original, but based on the work of David Novick: More
“Non-brewed condiment” is what they call it: it’s chemically very similar to proper vinegar, a mixture of ethanoic acid, colourings and flavourings, but it’s put together by just combining simple chemicals rather than brewing. Hardly anyone knows, and those that do know don’t generally care; so here’s my question. Does it matter? Thanks to Matt
I didn’t even realise that “low explosives” were a thing; let’s talk about deflagration, detonation, and how high explosives can actually be safer. • Thanks to Steve from Live Action FX: Filmed safely: Camera: Simon Temple Edited by Michelle Martin: I’m at on Twitter at on Facebook at
Shakespeare sounds a certain way. Why? And why could it only work in English? • Written with Gretchen McCulloch of Lingthusiasm! Her podcast has an episode about how translators approach texts: Gretchen’s book BECAUSE INTERNET, all about the evolution of internet language, is available: 🇺🇸 US: 🇨🇦 CA: 🇬🇧 UK: (Those
On the south-east coast of England sits Covehithe: a little Suffolk village going back at least a thousand years. By the end of the century, it’ll likely have fallen into the sea. Here’s why no-one’s planning to save it. Filmed safely: SOURCES: Shoreline Management Plans: Article: I’m at on
Explosions on film are made to look good: fireballs and flame. In reality, though, they’re a bit disappointing. Here’s how Hollywood does it. • Produced with an experienced, professional pyrotechnician. Do not attempt. Thanks to Steve from Live Action FX: Filmed safely: Camera: Simon Temple Edited by Michelle Martin: I’m at
In the 1830s, two French brothers, François and Joseph Blanc, pulled off the first telecoms scam in history. The optical telegraph, a line of semaphore towers stretching from hilltop to hilltop, was for government use only: but something as simple as the law wasn’t going to get in their way. Thanks to Victoria Harrison for
4 minutes remaining. Then 15 seconds. Then 5 hours. Why can’t computers just tell you how long something’s going to take? • MORE BASICS: Written with Sean Elliott • Graphics by William Marler I’m at on Twitter at on Facebook at and on Instagram as tomscottgo
Near the town of Herning in Denmark sits Elia, a giant metal dome sculpture by Ingvar Cronhammar that occasionally spouts flame. I reckon it’s the world’s most frustrating piece of art, and here’s why. Elia’s site: I’m at on Twitter at on Facebook at and on Snapchat and Instagram as tomscottgo
Some languages have longer words than others — but that’s not just a simple choice. There’s a lot of different ways to mix up morphemes, even if they all mean the same thing in the end. Written with GRETCHEN MCCULLOCH: – [Update: her book BECAUSE INTERNET is out July 2019! ] More
Olds Engineering, a traditional workshop and foundry, sits in Maryborough, Australia. It’s not the sort of place you’d expect to find a new industrial invention in the 21st century: and yet the Olds Elevator, patented by Peter Olds, is just that. More about Olds Engineering: and the Olds Elevator: Edited by Michelle Martin – WITH THANKS TO: Colin Furze – – for letting me try his Magneto shoes, and Matt Gray – – on camera! “Fail-safe” doesn’t mean “we have a backup”, it means “if this fails, nobody gets hurt”. So I went to see the master of inventions that aren’t failsafe, Colin Furze,
On the river Rhine in Switzerland, there are reaction ferries: boats with no engine, no paddles, no onboard motive power at all. Here’s how they work — and a question about what other simple ideas are out there. I’m at on Twitter at on Facebook at and on Snapchat and Instagram as
Many people sent me this story: it covers my favourite topics of power grids and temporal anomalies. But when the mainstream press have already covered it, how could I add something more? The answer: by adding another pet topic, Unnecessary British Patriotism. And a teasmade. Press release: Teasmade: [aff. link] Update, April 8th
The Berkeley Pit, in Butte, Montana, was once the richest hill on Earth: the Anaconda Copper Mine. Now: it’s not all that rich, and it’s not much of a hill. Instead, it’s a toxic pit filled with sulfuric acid. Thanks to the Montana Resources team: REFERENCES AND FURTHER READING: “10,000 miles of tunnels”: – – Under the Elbe river in Hamburg, Germany, lies the Old Elbe Tunnel in St Pauli. Like early 20th century tunnels around the world, it has lifts or stairs to take you down and under the river. But this is on a whole different scale to those you might have seen elsewhere… – – There’s a strange avenue of trees in Richmond Park, ten miles from St Paul’s Cathedral; and an odd, wedge-shaped skyscraper in the city. At the New London Model, at the NLA Galleries at the Building Centre, I explain both of these. London is going vertical: but there are quite a few
In Sanlúcar de Guadiana, in Spain, there’s a zip line called Límite Zero: the only cross-border zip wire in the world, landing in Alcoutim, Portugal. You land about an hour before you set off. It seemed like a good time to talk about programming. Thanks to all the team at Limite Zero! Tickets and info:
Inside the beautiful Alnwick Garden, behind a locked gate, there’s the Poison Garden: it contains only poisonous plants. Trevor Jones, head gardener, was kind enough to give a guided tour! For more information about visiting the Castle, Garden, and poison garden: (And yes, it’s pronounced “Annick”.) Edited by Michelle Martin, @mrsmmartin I’m at – @tomscott – There are lots of interesting features in other languages, some of which English would really benefit from having. I’m going to talk about four of them: time-independence, clusivity, absolute direction, and evidentiality. Also, I’ve learned from last week: no irritating piano music this time! UNESCO list of endangered languages: – – In a fjord near Stavanger, in southern Norway, is Preikestolen: Pulpit Rock. It’s known as one of the world’s scariest tourist attractions, for good reason — but despite the millions that visit it, it’s pretty safe. At least, for current human values of safe. Let’s talk about risk, immortality, and what
Britain has some of the strongest product placement rules in the world – and it means YouTube vloggers have to declare their advertising before you click on the video. Why? And what did it mean for our version of The Price is Right? Thank you to Rob ( for stepping in as camera operator at
If you’re sitting on a boat in Lake Constance, are you in three countries at once? Or just in one? Does it even matter? Because strangely, it turns out there are parts of the world where no-one really minds when international borders are not just ignored, but are completely undefined. SOURCES: Smith, B. (2001). Fiat
In the archives of Yale University, there’s a 367-year-old bond from the water authority of Lekdijk Bovendams, in the Netherlands. And it’s still paying interest. Thanks to: Prof. Geert Rouwenhorst for his time and explanation All the team at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library Michelle Martin (@mrsmmartin) for editing the interview and Leendert
Go see William Osman’s video about building the car! – and thanks to Michael Reeves for being a guinea pig: We built a car that you drive with real-life video game lag, and used it for an ill-advised, mostly-unscientific experiment about motion sickness. In case it wasn’t obvious: we did this in a
About once a year, on the Oosterscheldekering barrier in the south of the Netherlands, there is NK Tegenwindfietsen: a bicycle race cycling into a headwind. This year it was 120km/h: this is why it’s so difficult, and also why it’s so brilliant. I’m at on Twitter at on Facebook at and on
Gibbs Farm, in New Zealand, is an enormous private sculpture collection. Its most famous piece is Horizons, by Neil Dawson – and it looks like a cartoon tissue somehow painted onto the landscape. To see it in person, though, will take a bit of effort. Gibbs Farm: I’m at on Twitter at