From what I understand, a voltaic cell involves two metals in two solutions. The metal and solution picked requires for the metal and the solution to interact. Atoms from the anode lose electrons and become cations, and cations from the cathode gain electrons and become solid metal atoms (I know I'm generalizing).
This explanation seems as though it requires for the electrodes and their respective solutions to be of the same initial atom, e.g. a zinc anode in a Zn2+ solution, and a copper cathode in a Cu2+ solution. This seems to be the only thing that makes sense.
However, in my homework there are various problems asking for a drawing of a "cobalt-hydrogen" standard cell. This seems ridiculous because there can't be a hydrogen electrode; hydrogen isn't a metal. I looked at the solution, and apparently the correct cathode to use is platinum. This seems completely arbitrary to me, what does platinum have to do with hydrogen? Virtually nothing, it's just some random metal that doesn't even appear on any electrode potential tables.
Also, how would this work? How is it possible for hydrogen ions to gain electrons, become hydrogen atoms, and then join platinum solid? That doesn't make any sense at all. Hydrogen is a gas, and even if it wasn't, there's no way it can become a platinum atom, of all things.
There are more examples than this: there are problems involving a tin(IV)-zinc standard cell (tin(IV) isn't a metal as it is written), a chromium (III)-hydrogen standard cell (both electrodes don't make sense in this case), and a slightly different problem which already writes the cell notation: Pt(s) | Fe2+(aq) || MnO2(aq), HCl (aq) | C(s), and I have no idea how MnO2 and H+ would react with carbon to form a solid.
Maybe an "X-Y" cell doesn't mean what I think it means, and X and Y don't have to be metals. In any case, I need these clarifications to be cleared up, with emphasis on the question: how is it possible for an electrode to be placed in a solution of ions that appear to have no relation to the electrode?