Episodes
Host Willa Paskin and producer Katie Shepherd discuss how this season of Decoder Ring came together. Slate Plus members have access to this whole interview. Sign up for Slate Plus to access this exclusive episode and support the show. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
Published 01/09/23
Published 01/07/23
Published 01/07/23
We’re really lucky to get a lot of listener emails, suggesting topics for the show. In this episode, we’re going to dig into a handful of the most fascinating ones that we’ve yet to tackle on the show. We’re taking on five listener questions that run the gamut—from kids menus to succulents to the chicken that crossed the road. It’s an eclectic assortment of subjects that come to us thanks to you. So let’s jump into our mailbag. Thank you to Mark Liberman and Susan Schulten. This podcast was...
Published 12/27/22
(This episode originally aired in March 2020.) The 1998 romantic comedy You’ve Got Mail, starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, is about the brutal fight between a beloved indie bookstore, the Shop Around the Corner, and Fox Books, an obvious Barnes & Noble stand-in. On this episode of Decoder Ring we revisit the real-life conflict that inspired the movie and displaced independent booksellers on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. This conflict illustrates how, for a brief time, Barnes &...
Published 12/20/22
Ross Cellino and Steve Barnes were two Buffalo-based lawyers who became the literal poster-men for personal injury advertising. They poured millions of dollars into ads that did more than just bring in clients: it turned the duo into household names and faces—at least in New York. In this episode, we’re going to look at their rise and everything that happened after. It’s a bumpy ride full of ambition, accidents and tragedy and at its center are two men who, for 25 years, wanted to be at the...
Published 12/13/22
We bring you a special episode from the Articles of Interest podcast hosted by Avery Trufelman about the incredible reach and adaptability of preppy clothes. It’s a story about the great modernizer of Ivy style, Ralph Lauren, and how he and his label, Polo, were themselves modernized by customers who helped push preppy in a whole new direction, from the runway to the streets.  We encourage you to listen to the entire American Ivy series from Radiotopia. Articles of Interest is created by...
Published 12/06/22
For this episode, a story from Slate senior producer Evan Chung about how Yanni, John Tesh and a number of other surprising acts made it big in the 1990s. It’s a throwback to a simpler time—when musicians struggled to find their big break, but discovered it could be possible with a telephone, a television, and our undivided attention. This story originally aired in 2019 on Studio 360 from PRX. We hear from George Veras, Pat Callahan, and John Tesh.  This Episode was written and produced by...
Published 11/29/22
For about two decades towards the end of the Victorian era, in the 1870s and 1880s, a large bustle-enhanced bottom was the height of fashion. In this episode we explore how it’s connected to today’s big booty craze. We look at the bustle’s history with a curator fascinated by old undergarments; consider the various theories about its popularity with the author Heather Radke; and then hone in the tragic story of Sarah Baartman. The bustle may be old-fashioned, but it still has a lot to tell us...
Published 11/22/22
In the history of viral images, #TheDress has got to be in the top 10. This unassuming photo of a party dress kicked off a global debate when people realized they were seeing it completely differently. Is it black and blue, or white and gold? In today’s episode, we’ll talk to someone who was there when the photo was first taken, and the BuzzFeed writer whose post briefly broke the internet. Then we go down the optical rabbit hole with a neuroscientist who’s been studying the The Dress for...
Published 11/15/22
Decoder Ring is back with a new season of juicy topics, like.... Remember the viral phenomenon and optical mind-blower known as “The Dress”? What does another peculiar piece of clothing from the past—the bustle—tell us about fashion trends today? And, what can we learn from the rise and fall of one of the most notorious personal injury law firms in America? You can hear these episodes and more on the new season of Decoder Ring. Launching Nov. 15, 2022. Subscribe wherever you listen to...
Published 11/10/22
McGruff the Crime Dog arrived on the scene at the dawn of the 1980s, just as a firehose of anti-drug PSAs was inundating the youth of America. These messages didn’t always work as intended—but they did work their way into the long term memories of the kids who heard them.  In the second episode of our two-part series on the weird world of PSAs and very special episodes, we look at how the McGruff Smart Kids Album influenced everything from straight-edge hardcore to a couple’s wedding...
Published 10/12/22
McGruff the Crime Dog arrived on the scene at the dawn of the 1980s, just as a firehose of anti-drug PSAs was inundating the youth of America. These messages didn’t always work as intended—but they did work their way into the long term memories of the kids who heard them.  In the first of two episodes, we take a look at PSAs and their strange afterlife through the lens of a trench-coat wearing bloodhound and his bizarre, yet catchy anti-drug songs. We’ll talk to Dan Danger, Sherry Nemmers,...
Published 10/04/22
Host Willa Paskin talks about topics versus narratives, translating fabulists, and creating a sound landscape for the world of Mae West. Slate Plus members have access to this whole interview. Sign up for Slate Plus to access this exclusive episode and support the show. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
Published 08/23/22
Published 08/23/22
In the early 1930s, Mae West’s dirty talk and hip swiveling walk made her one of the biggest movie stars in America. But before West hit the big-screen, she was prosecuted for staging not one, but two scandalous plays. In this episode, we look at how West honed her persona when she was under the bright lights of Broadway and the flashbulbs of the tabloids — and briefly behind bars. More than a century later, her career arc offers a blueprint on how to survive a scandal…and maybe even come out...
Published 08/16/22
When you think of an alien abduction, what do you picture? Humanoid creatures, medical experiments, lost memories retrieved through hypnosis? That narrative was largely unknown until Betty and Barney Hill went public about their own alien abduction in the 1960s. Betty Hill’s niece, Kathleen Marden, recounts how the story went viral and her aunt and uncle became unwitting celebrities. Then professors Susan Lepselter, Chris Bader, Joseph O. Baker and Stephanie Kelley-Romano explain how the...
Published 08/09/22
Rod McKuen sold multiple millions of poetry books in the 60s and 70s. He released dozens of albums, was a regular on late night, and was even nominated for an Oscar. So, how did the most salable poet in American history simply disappear? On today’s episode, Slate writer Dan Kois went searching for Rod McKuen, a famous poet who isn’t so famous anymore. We’ll hear from Stephanie Burt, Mike Chasar and Barry Alfonso, author of Rod’s biography A Voice of the Warm. Along the way, Dan meets Andy...
Published 08/02/22
What do we lose if we lose the mall? 70 years into their existence, these hulking temples to commerce are surprisingly resilient and filled with contradictions. In this episode, Alexandra Lange, the author of the new book Meet Me at the Fountain: an Inside History of the Mall walks us through the atriums, escalators, and food courts of this singular suburban space. We also hear from mall-goers whose personal experiences help us make sense of this disdained yet beloved, disappearing yet...
Published 07/26/22
Decoder Ring is coming back with a new season featuring a whole new set of questions.... Like, is the shopping mall really dying? How did a poet who sold millions of books and records 50 years ago, come to be completely forgotten? And what does a century old Broadway scandal involving Mae West have to tell us about the creation of celebrity? You can hear these episodes and more on the new season of Decoder Ring. Launching July 26, 2022. Subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts. Learn more...
Published 07/19/22
When did everyone become a storyteller? Decades after George Lucas and Steve Jobs made storytelling a big business, every company now wants to tell “Our Story.” Instagram and TikTok let everyone else tell their “stories,” and the number of people calling themselves storytellers on LinkedIn is now more than half a million. Something we have done for the entirety of our existence as a species has become just another fad.  In this episode of Decoder Ring, we’re going to look at where this trend...
Published 05/17/22
In the 1970s, a song about protesting truckers topped the music charts in multiple countries, and kicked off a pop culture craze for CB radios. In early 2022, that same song became an anthem for a new trucker-led protest movement in Canada and the US. How did C.W. McCall’s “Convoy” come to exist, and what had it been trying to say?  For this episode, which was inspired by a listener’s question, we’ve updated a story that originally aired in 2017, but that could not be more relevant today....
Published 05/10/22
In 2004, the indie flick Sideways was released in just four theaters, but it had a big impact, earning five Oscar nominations and $110 million worldwide. “I thought it was just going to be a nice little comedy,” filmmaker Alexander Payne tells us. Instead, the movie became known for something else so notable that it has a name: The Sideways Effect.  In this episode, we explore all the outsized effects of this one little movie on the huge wine industry. Did a single line of dialogue really...
Published 05/03/22