Follow TV Tropes


Podcast / Well There's Your Problem

Go To
So, three smartasses walk into an engineering failure...

Train good. Car bad.

The sinking of the MS Estonia. The Bhopal chemical disaster. Three Mile Island. The Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapse. The history of mankind is filled with its own history of faulty construction, engineering or planning that ends up costing human lives and requiring updates (or outright creation) of safety codes due to bad design, cost-cutting or failsafes going horribly wrong.

Well There's Your Problem is an engineering/politics/dark comedy podcast that covers the background, events and fallout of engineering disasters throughout the ages, in particular what faults directly led to the disaster. Originally a side-project of structural engineer Justin "Roz" Roczniak on his YouTube channel donoteat01 (which uses Cities: Skylines to showcase urban planning), the podcast features Justin, his former roommate and systems analyst Liam Andersonnote , pessimistic futurist Alice Caldwell-Kelly (educated in law and coal engineering, from the Trash Future podcast) as well as Editor Devon, and the 'Activate Windows' alert on Justin's PC (and sometimes Guest) as they pick apart, contextualize and make a lot of risque jokes about historical failures of engineering from a leftist perspective.

New episodes are released — roughly — weekly on the show's YouTube channel, with monthly episodes exclusive to Patreon backers.

This show provides examples of:

  • 13 Is Unlucky: Discussed Trope as it pertains to engineers, with Justin noting that some constructions intentionally avoid using the number '13' for floor numbers, terminal numbers, etc. The show's thirteenth episode was labelled 'episode 12A', and the hosts have continued to make references to an episode 13 (covering the Tacoma Running Gag) that doesn't exist.
  • Accidentally-Correct Writing: In-universe example. In the MS Estonia episode, Justin had drawn a course for the ship with a ridiculously squiggly line complete with an unnecessary loop as a joke, only for Alice to inform him that ship courses are surprisingly close to that in real life.
    • Also invoked occasionally when someone gets hyperbolic about how far corners were cut or safety was ignored, only for Roz to say, "We'll get to that."
  • Acid Pool: A particularly gruesome Safety Third in the Great Yarmouth Collapse episode involves one with No OSHA Compliance. Viewer Discretion is entreated many times.
  • All Germans Are Nazis: Liam in particular likes to invoke this trope.
    Liam (on the Eschede derailment): As someone whose ancestors were killed on German cattle cars, how do you like it?
  • The Alleged Car: Liam's van, which merited a bonus episode.
  • America Won World War II: Frequently invoked by Liam, usually towards Alice or any non-American guest.
  • Artistic License – Engineering: the Bonus episode on the Bradley Fighting Vehcile sadly depends largely on the most popular/ubiquitous sources, all of which are Based on a Great Big Lie due to coming from The Reformers. As result its almost all false or framed in a deliberately misleading fashion
  • Artistic License – Military: Discussed frequently due to the huge amount of variables in any historical recreation. The Bonus episode on swords features Doctor Martin Geldoff who mentions that real historians are "comfortable with ambiguity" because of how difficult it is to say specific events did or didn't happen with respect to history
  • Author Appeal: The hosts are self-professed fans of trains and nuclear power.
  • Author Tract: Half the point of the show, being a fusion of engineering history and leftist historical and material analysis (cushioned in a lot of jokes). The show doesn't so much 'turn political' as 'occasionally forgetting to be when going into engineering detail'.
  • Berserk Button:
    • TERFs for Liam, by his own admission.
    • Liam also states in episode 19 that he has no respect for fish and despises everything about their existence.
    • Liam (again) is really quite vitriolic towards the Dutch as a nation, at least in part because they lost to Spain in the World Cup, a game he had placed money on.
    • For Liam (yet again), callousness towards the unhoused is a quick way to incur some bleeped actionable threats.
  • Black Comedy: The parts of the show that isn't Vulgar Humor leans in this direction.
  • Body Horror: Distressingly common when discussing disasters involving fragile human bodies and extremely heavy objects made of steel, wood, concrete, or earth. The Byford Dolphin Explosive Decompression incident is one such example, but any disaster where the hosts suggest "You wanted to die quickly in this one" tends to qualify
  • Bread, Eggs, Breaded Eggs: Episode 101 contained a discussion on the history of the abacus, with episode guest Abigail asking what things abacuses were commonly used to count large numbers of.
    Liam: Grain!
    Alice: Taxes!
    Justin: Taxes.
    Alice: Taxes on grain!
    • Episode 097, when discussing what was made in Turin: shrouds, Fiats, and shrouds for Fiats.
    • The ad for the podcast within the podcast also includes "Guns, pickup trucks, and pickup trucks with guns on them."
  • Breather Episode: The hosts like to throw in one of these, usually about a poorly-designed system or at least an accident with no fatalities, after a particularly dark one, for instance following Lac-Magentic with Three Mile Island and following Grenfell Tower with the Newfoundland railway.
  • Brick Joke: Episode 34 features an altered final slide, implying that the unidentifed Gladio operative responsible for the Bologna train station bombing was also responsible for the Tacoma Narrows Bridge disaster.
  • Catchphrase:
    • Roz has a few. Notably, "It's not supposed to be like that" when introducing the episode, or "This is true" in response to some insightful insight from his cohosts. He also has "I was about to say..." when agreeing with someone else's crazy idea. Also "We'll get to that," when someone gets ahead of the script, unintentionally or not.
    • Alice: "Dudes rock." when pointing out needless bravado as the main reason why a decision was made.
    • Liam, when angry, frequently offers to drive to someone’s house and beat them to death with their own shoes.
  • Capitalism Is Bad: The show tends to be harshly critical of both free-market and state capitalism, perhaps unsurprisingly coming from self-described socialists of the 'weird left'.
  • Clone Degeneration:
    • In episode 31, Alice notices that the logo for The God Damn News seems to be getting blurrier with every episode. Justin confirms that he has been in fact copying it from the previous episode since the introduction of the segment and would probably decay until it reaches a single pixel of resolution.
    • Quality loss due to repeated photocopying is often used as proof that an official document added to the slides is genuine.
  • Conspiracy Theorist: Played for Laughs. The hosts occasionally blame the engineering failure of the week on conspiracy theories and cryptids, like Mothman. They have also claimed that the podcast is a CIA front.
  • Continuity Nod: "Episode 141: Schoharie Limousine Crash" features the surprise return of the Integrated Survivability Onion from "Episode 84: Military PowerPoints".
  • Cool, but Inefficient: Frequently discussed. The hosts dislike this trope, and will usually advocate Boring, but Practical solutions whenever it's brought up that 'technological advances' or 'future engineering' will allow for solutions that ignore basic realities of cost or scale.
    • Discussed in a non-engineering context in Episode 109, with Rhodesian and Zimbabwean soldiers both wearing sneakers in battle. Alice argues that wearing sneakers for insurgency and counter-insurgency are more effective than combat boots, which provide ankle support and better protection from the elements in rough terrain but are heavy and noisy to move in as a result.
  • Creator Provincialism: Both Justin and Liam live in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and the show has a disproportionate number of episodes dedicated to events that occurred in or around Philadelphia.
  • Cultural Posturing: A frequent part of the show is Justin, Liam, and Alice good-naturedly sniping at each other over their respective cultures.
  • Cutting Corners: The show's main Berserk Button, and all too frequently the cause of the disaster of the week.
  • Deadpan Snarker: All three hosts do this whenever they're not outright explaining things.
  • Deadly Euphemism: “I very much hope that this elected official has a nice time.”
    • from the Siege Warfare episode:
    Justin: Once you have them trapped by the portculis you can rain down upon
  • Disaster Dominoes: Removal of safety systems (often to save money or time on maintenance) are a common feature of the run-up to the disasters in question, to the point where during the Bhopal episode Alice explicitly compared the isolation of one to pulling a block out of a Jenga stack.
  • Distracted by the Sexy: Episode 21 crashes to a halt for a solid minute while everyone drools over how nice the Pennsylvania GG-1 locomotive looks.
  • Doom It Yourself: Tends to be the target of bonus episodes, most notably "Groverhaus".
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: The first episode has no Liam, no pronoun checks, it doesn't even have a name - it's called "Untitled Engineering Disaster Podcast-like content".
  • Expospeak Gag: Used by Justin repeatedly, when he starts out using engineering terms and then simplifies the language several degrees using silly but descriptive words that are much easier to grasp by laymen.
  • Extra-Long Episode:
    • The show started out usually sticking to a 60-90-minute length at worst, but starting with Bhopal (which was split into two 90-minute halves) extra long episodes passing 120 minutes have become increasingly common. The longest regular episode so far (on the Titanic) runs for a grand total of 335 minutes across two parts, with Alice joking the episode is karma for the Gulf State episode below.
    • Episode 54 (on Gulf State Vanity Projects) ran so long that Alice tried to forcibly end it by doing a closing speech. Justin soldiered on anyway (to what is thankfully the last slide).
    • Absolutely subverted by Episode 62, which only ran 6 minutes and 31 seconds.
    • Episode 98 is 3 hours 11 minutes, part 1 of 3 on the Penn Central Railroad. They promised/threatened 10 hours of material. In the end it clocked in at over 11 hours.
  • Failsafe Failure: The engineering disasters are occasionally caused by this.
    • The episode on the Boeing 737 Max mentioned that one reason for the model's crashing tendencies is because of an anti-stall system that would occasionally pull the plane's nose down even when the plane wasn't stalling. Worse, it was an undocumented feature, meaning that the pilots weren't aware that trying to pull the plane up would only cause the system to compensate more in return.
    • The Kursk submarine disaster, which saw the titular K-141 Kursk nuclear submarine horribly kill its crew after a torpedo explodes its front half, the trio notes that the model sub had a hatch that would drop a buoy up to the surface to signal its position if something goes awry... only to then note that the hatch had been welded shut because someone thought that giving off a nuclear submarine position away could be problematic in a real life combat situation. This means that the rest of the north sea fleet, which was on exercise on more or less the exact same location and could've easily rescued them, couldn't find the sub. By the time the rest of the fleet managed to locate it, someone had managed to accidentally explode a potassium rebreather and light the surviving section on fire, killing the remaining crew in the process.
  • The Food Poisoning Incident: The focus of the bonus episode on the JAL flight where 197 people fell ill after eating contaminated omelets.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: "Episode 146: Mount Everest" has one that doubles as a Take That!, when Devon's caption for Dick Bass briefly says "Dick Ass".
  • Freudian Trio:
    • Superego: Justin. Calm, analytical, keeps the show on track.
    • Ego: Alice. Deadpan Snarker. A bit more emotionally charged than Justin but much less than...
    • Id: Liam. Most likely to cut through the politesse and go on a rant or deliver a "The Reason You Suck" Speech.
  • Fun with Subtitles: Enabling the closed captioning on the YouTube videos gives subtitles complete with a humorous running commentary on the episode itself.
  • Heh Heh, You Said "X":
    • In the episode on the Hyatt Regency walkway collapse, they encounter a diagram where the force on a nut is labeled "P", resulting in the caption "P on nut". Cue much laughter from the hosts.
    • The 1943 Frankford Junction Wreck episode has Liam snicker when Justin states that the oily rags in a journal bearing "continuously lubricate a rotating shaft". Justin himself gets in on the joke by pretending he doesn't see the innuendo and insisting this is all Serious Business.
  • How We Got Here: A common way for episodes to start is with a slide showing the disaster's aftermath, with Justin helpfully pointing out what is obviously wrong in the picture and usually adding "It's not supposed to be that way."
  • Hulk Speak: The hosts tend to deliver the 'lesson' of the episode in hulk language, as "X bad. Y good."
  • I Need a Freaking Drink:
    • At multiple points throughout Episode 54, Liam audibly uncorks a bottle of bourbon as the vanity projects being discussed get more and more ridiculous, before eventually announcing that he has drained the bottle completely.
    • During Episode 60 Liam repeatedly declares that he's being driven to drink by various examples of corruption involving the Cuomo family.
  • Inherently Funny Words:
    • In the SEPTA episode (Episode 3), all the hosts get quite a kick out of a neighborhood near Philadelphia called "Swampoodle."
    • In the Le Mans episode (Episode 45), Alice gets quite the kick out of "berms."
    • Before the Byford Dolphin episode gets gruesome, the hosts can't help but snicker every time they have to say "dykkerklokken" (Norwegian for "diving bell").
    • Justin can't say the words "Meat Deck Crew" without laughing.
  • Insistent Terminology: Episode 68 on the Nedelin Catastrophe led to the crew using 'gift-giving' as an euphemism for nuclear warfare and insisting that ICBMs exist to deliver gifts to one's friends and reciprocate gifts given to you as fast as possible. In other episodes this gradually extended to any kind of violence, including a way to avoid actionable threats. Nobody's fighting, they're having a nice time with their friends! We don't have any issues with Nazis, in fact we *hope they have a nice time*.
  • Jewish Complaining: Liam (who is Jewish) usually leans into the kvetching whenever a God Damn News segment involves Jews in any way, very much playing into the stereotype for laughs.
  • Joke and Receive: On occasion, Alice or Liam will jokingly suggest a ridiculous engineering solution, only for Justin to explain that, yes, people actually did try that. For example, in their episode on the Ashtabula Horror, when Justin mentions how early railroad practices were based off ones for canals, Alice makes a joke about canal locks for trains, prompting Justin to explain that there was indeed a system that could in fact be described as canal locks for trains.
  • Just Plane Wrong: Liam in particular loves the A-10 and frequently suggests it as a viable alternative to a given problem, from the F-35 to commercial passenger liners.note 
  • Laughing Mad: Justin pulls off a truly terrifying one lasting nearly a full minute upon being informed, in the middle of the 9/11 episode, that Ruth Bader Ginsburg had died mere months before the 2020 election and paved the way for a far-right majority on the US Supreme Court.
  • Layman's Terms: Tend to come up a lot, with technobabble being generally frowned upon.
  • Left It In: A frequent source of jokes, with broadcasting breaks and asides being left in despite one of the hosts saying it will be excised or removed.
  • Lighter and Softer: The bonus episodes fall into this as Doom It Yourself projects tend not to hurt many people beyond the builder's pride. There's also the episode on the Atmospheric Railway, which Alice described as a 'palette cleanser' after realizing its Awesome, but Impractical nature meant it never left the pilot project stage and thus never had a chance to hurt anyone, beyond a hypothetical horde of rats that got sucked into its pipes and one terrified railway engineer who unexpectedly set a new land speed record when the system was turned on while the "engine" was disconnected from the rest of the train.
  • Like an Old Married Couple: Rocz and Liam have a tendency to bicker in this fashion since they have been friends since college and formerly roommates. Alice even called this trope by name during their first live show.
  • Master of None: Their opinion of the V-22 Osprey—it combines the dangers of both planes and helicopters while also bringing some exciting (read: fatal) new ones to the table, having the benefits of neither, and being ridiculously expensive in the bargain.
  • Medal of Dishonor: With rare exceptions, the pinned comment in each episode goes to the dumbest or most overly critical comment.
  • Moving Beyond Bereavement: In the episode on the Winchester Mystery House, Justin says that the official story is that Sarah Winchester moved to California on advice of a medium and convinced herself that she needed to build a huge mansion to house the ghosts of those killed by Winchester rifles...but he also offers his own interpretation that she was depressed after so much of her family died and wanted a change of scenery and a hobby, making the house an example of this trope.note 
  • "No. Just… No" Reaction: During the episode on the Byford Dolphin accident, this was Alice's response when Justin began describing the effects of Explosive Decompression on the divers.
  • No OSHA Compliance:
    • Justin tends to bring up U.S. building and safety codes as Cultural Posturing whenever the incident of the week happens outside the U.S., and points out how the construction in question would be illegal under current U.S. law.
    • Grenfell Tower had one stairwell and no sprinkler system in 2017, which both of the American presenters found genuinely shocking, only compounded with Alice noting that in the UK sprinkler systems are almost non-existent.
    • Averted at the Lake Peigneur salt mine where the emergency evacuation of all salt miners before the lakebed collapse prevented any human casualties. "Sometimes safety procedures just work."
    • This trope is the theme of all the emailed stories of horrifying work conditions provided by the viewers as part of the Safety Third segment.
  • "Not Making This Up" Disclaimer: When the fire alarm in Alice's building goes off during the episode on the Station Nightclub fire.
  • Once an Episode: Roz trying for Socratic questioning ("What is...?") only for it to go nowhere fast. Usually right after the news segment has been dealt with.
  • Phrase Catcher: "Yay, Liam!" for Liam. Originally began life as Liam's introduction during the pronoun check until the other hosts and the fans began using it.
  • Rail Enthusiast: The entire cast are enthusiastic about trains, featuring multiple train accidents and rail infrastructure on the podcast and happily debating the merits of rail transit during off-topic discussions.
  • Reassigned to Antarctica: The fate of the regional manager in the "Safety Third" segment of Episode 48, who is sent to Suffolk County, NY, which is stated to be a place where the company in question sends its most useless employees.
  • Reckless Gun Usage: The Safety Third segment from Episode 95 features a pair of these stories, to the great amusement of the crew (especially Alice, who had been in the Cadets at school).
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Liam is the red to Justin and Alice's blue.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: The God Damn News segment, introduced in episode 22.
  • Running Gag/Once per Episode:
    • The 'Activate Windows' alert visible on Justin's slides. He has a license, he just can't find out where to enter his code.
    • The sentence 'shake hands with danger' is always accompanied by the guitar riff from the Caterpillar safety video of the same name.
    • Every episode begins with a pronoun check of the three hosts and any eventual guests. note 
    • The On the Next segment at the end of every episode promises the same topic, which never actually comes. This was the Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapse until it was covered in the 2021 live show, then the Boston Molasses Disaster until the 2022 live shows. Since then, they've promised an episode on Chernobyl.
    • Justin's terrible, terrible MS Paint drawings whenever the hosts can't find a suitable diagram.
    • Liam leading the hosts in booing when an unpopular person or group is mentioned.
    • Liam attempting to turn the show into a sports podcast.
      • Liam calling out Twitter users by name when he disagrees with their sports takes.
    • The podcast hosts alienating or insulting the nation the disaster of the week is set in, and usually mentioning that they're going to get cancelled by said nation.
    • Anyone from the area of the Low Countries is assumed to be constantly wearing Zwarte Piet-style blackface.
    • Almost any time someone avoids a deadly disaster by missing or leaving before the event prompts a comparison to the Final Destination films.
    • Referring to anything having to do with radioactivity as "Spicy Rocks".
    • Liam asking "Have YOU been to the Moon?" when the hosts start to trash-talk something American-made.
    • Alice responding "just make it stronger/more rigid" when a structure that is made to bend slightly under load is brought up. Justin's explanations that this would make the structure more dangerous never persuade her.
    • Alice quantifying project budgets and compensation settlements in terms of how many Xboxes that money could buy.
    • References to 'rat/horse viscera' (from the episode 17, "The Atmospheric Railway"[1]), 'jellied dog' (from the "Safety Third" segment of Episode 37, "Costa Concordia"[2], which was on the cleanup of an old biochemical lab), or 'soup-like homogenate' (ditto, regarding an advertisement used to illustrate the sort of toxic waste the storyteller had found on-site).
    • Alice controls the sound drops. Aside from the music for "The God Damn News" and "Safety Third" segments, she occasionally throws in the Soviet National Anthemnote , and "The East Is Red".
    • When covering aeronautical disasters, the pilots are assumed to spend all their flight time getting wasted on martinis and sexually harassing their flight crews.
    • Introducing a photo of that episode's disaster and explaining "it's not supposed to look like that."
    • Liam brushing off any structural damage to the subject of the episode, especially parts falling off, with the words "saves weight".
    • Anyone mentioning that they don't like the sound of an increasingly specific date/time being given, as the more specific the date and time, generally the closer events are getting to the actual disaster.
    • Glossing over the details of a particularly gruesome death, usually from crushing or explosion, by simply saying the victim was rendered into "a soup-like homogenate".
    • Whenever a person/place involved in the disaster has an unusual name that sounds made-up, Alice's reaction upon hearing it for the first time is usually a dismissive "No, it's not!" This also extends to oddly-named towns/streets/people in her home country, to which we usually get a tired "Is Britain real?"
    • "The [bodily function] that changes you as a person" which Alice points out as having entered their shared lexicon.
  • Sarcasm Failure: It takes a lot to get the showrunners to stop snarking, but the MS Estonia and Grenfell Tower Fire episodes got to that point during the end segment, as well as throughout the Bhopal two-part episode.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The MS Estonia, which sank when it lost its bow visor, gets references to the famous Clarke and Dawe skit "The Front Fell Off."
  • Silent Snarker: Devon, who started editing the podcast around episode 100, adds their own commentary text on occasion.
  • Sitcom Arch-Nemesis: Architect Santiago Calatrava for the whole podcast, frequently criticized for his ridiculously impractical projects that are frequently criticized for their questionable utility, and ridiculed for how silly they look and how cartoonishly impractical they tend to get.
  • Southern-Fried Genius: Justin is from Virginia, tends to lean into his accent and uses a lot of Layman's Terms to explain engineering.
  • Suspiciously Specific Denial: The showrunners definitively do thorough research and don't just copy the episode texts wholesale from Wikipedia. (For one, Wikipedia articles on engineering aren't padded out with seven hours of dick jokes.)
  • Telegraph Gag STOP: Used in the Quebec Bridge episode (Episode 14).
    Alice: BRIDGE HAS CRACK STOP. Ah, the crack in the bridge has stopped.
  • Tempting Fate: The Atmospheric Railway episode was a Lighter and Softer episode that Alice referred to as a "palette cleanser", unless the next slide showed that the railway killed 500 people. Luckily Fate didn't come to collect on this one because the answer is none; although the rats don't make out so well.
  • Testosterone Poisoning: Discussed. One of Alice's Catch Phrases is "Dudes rock." She says it when pointing out needless bravado as the main reason why a obviously bad decision was made, chalking it up to wanting to appear manly and/or not wanting to appear weak.
  • This Is Gonna Suck:
    • Every time Justin tries to pronounce a European name you can hear Liam and Alice groan a little.
    • The hosts react this way whenever the construction history of the weekly topic mentions "a new material stronger than steel."
    • In later episodes, Liam and Alice start reacting with trepidation whenever Justin says a specific date, as it signals that the disaster under discussion is about to occur. Even more so if he mentions time as well (the hosts later would joke that the specificity of the date and time mentioned dictates the severity of the disaster).
    • Relatedly, Alice hates when death tolls are given as estimations, since that inevitably indicates that the disaster was violent enough to result in scattered human remains instead of distinct bodies.
    • Every time a disaster starts as a project designed by a "self-taught engineer."
  • Uncertain Audience: invoked In the Santiago Calatrava episode, the hosts are both amused and baffled by the selection of luxury retail stores inside the Oculus PATH station, feeling that most people aren't able to casually shop at places like Hugo Boss while they're waiting for their train, and people who can probably won't do it at a transit hub mall.
  • Ugly Cute: In-universe, Alice describes the Morgantown personal transit system with such terms in the "Las Vegas Loop" episode.
  • Verbal Tic: Justin has a tendency to refer to times early in the day as "[time] AM in the morning," much to Liam's chagrin.
  • We Are Experiencing Technical Difficulties: Whenever a long section of the recording has to be removed for whatever reason (usually for being libellous or containing a long string of actionable threats against certain named individuals), Devon has taken to throwing up a parody of BBC Test Card F with Justin's face superimposed over Carole Hersee's.
  • You Do Not Want To Know: The Byford Dolphin incident was so gruesome (due to the Explosive Decompression) that Justin repeatedly entreats both his cohosts and listeners not to look it up.
  • Younger Than They Sound: About half the comments on the New London, Texas School Explosion are people commenting their shock that the hosts are all only in their late 20s, with most of them seeming to think Rocz in particular was at least 40.

Our next episode is about the Boston Molasses disaster...