Cover art for podcast Decoder Ring

Decoder Ring

53 EpisodesProduced by Slate PodcastsWebsite

Decoder Ring is the show about cracking cultural mysteries. In each episode, host Willa Paskin takes a cultural question, object, or habit; examines its history; and tries to figure out what it means and why it matters.

episodes iconAll Episodes

The Storytelling Craze

May 17th, 2022

41:08

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 …

“We Got Ourselves a Convoy”

May 10th, 2022

35:04

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 …

The Sideways Effect

May 3rd, 2022

39:22

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,” …

The Madness Behind ‘The Method’

April 26th, 2022

47:02

When we think of method acting, we tend to think of actors going a little over the top for a role – like Jared Leto, who allegedly sent his …

“F--k Everything, We're Doing Five Blades”

April 19th, 2022

42:12

In the early 2000s, an arms race broke out in the world of men’s shaving. After decades with razors that had only one blade and then decades with razors that had only two, the number of blades rapidly spiraled up and up …

Spring 2022 Teaser

April 12th, 2022

1:00

Decoder Ring is coming back with a new season featuring a whole new set of questions…and some good surprising answers. Like, how did razors come to …

Custer's Revenge

December 23rd, 2021

47:40

Custer's Revenge is widely considered one of the worst video games ever made. Originally released as part of a series of Swedish Erotica-branded …

The Fame That Got Away

December 14th, 2021

44:13

Today on Decoder Ring: Three stories about fame, and one about monkeys. Are primates susceptible to celebrity endorsements? What does fame do to the mind of a famous person? Who were the famous tattooed ladies of the …

Truly Tasteless Jokes

December 7th, 2021

50:28

Note: This episode is about offensive material, and so contains explicit and offensive language.

Truly Tasteless Jokes were a series of joke books …

The Philosophy of Vampires

November 30th, 2021

37:05

In literature, the choice to become a vampire is a metaphor for transformative experiences. On this episode, we bring you a story from Slate's Hi-Phi Nation podcast, which explores problems in contemporary philosophy …

You Just Lost The Game

November 23rd, 2021

26:40

When you think about the game, you lose the game. When you lose the game you must declare that you have lost the game, causing all others in your vicinity to also lose the game. That’s it, that’s the game. 

The game is …

The Alberta Rat War

November 16th, 2021

42:04

Rats live wherever people live, with one exception: the Canadian province of Alberta. A rat sighting in Alberta is a major local event that mobilizes the local government to identify and eliminate any hint of …

The Great Helga Hype

November 9th, 2021

56:02

In the summer of 1986, both Time Magazine and Newsweek ran blockbuster cover stories on the same subject: a secret cache of provocative, intimate paintings by Andrew Wyeth, one of America's most famous artists. These …

Selling Out

August 6th, 2021

50:06

In 2001, Oprah Winfrey invited Jonathan Franzen to come on her show to discuss his new novel The Corrections. A month later she withdrew the invitation, kicking off a media firestorm. The Oprah-Franzen Book Club Dust-Up …

Tattoo Flash

July 27th, 2021

50:32

Time does funny thing to everything, but especially to tattoos. Today, four stories about tattoos whose meanings have shifted with the passage of years, decades, or centuries: first, a look into an archive of 300 …

The Tootsie Shot

July 20th, 2021

39:17

You know the Tootsie Shot. It’s that shot from the movies: a really busy midtown street, protagonist smack in the middle of it all, everyone going somewhere. It’s one of the most recognizable shots in film. It can be …

Who Killed The Segway?

July 13th, 2021

45:40

In the year 2000, Dan Kois was a junior book agent working on selling a secretive book proposal called IT, a codename for what would eventually be …

The Sign Painter

July 6th, 2021

58:45

Ilona Granet was a New York art-scene fixture who won the praise of the art world when she put up anti-harassment street signs in lower Manhattan in the mid- 1980s. Her career seemed like a sure thing, but three decades …

That Seattle Muzak Sound

June 29th, 2021

44:11

If you love the show and want to support us, consider joining Slate Plus. With Slate Plus you can binge the whole season of Decoder Ring right now, …

The Invention of Hydration

June 22nd, 2021

37:17

To say that hydration is an invention is only a slight exaggeration. Back in the 1970’s and ‘80s, no one carried bottled water with them, but by the ‘90s it was a genuine status object. How did bottled water transform …

The Soap Opera Machine

June 15th, 2021

52:37

Welcome to a brand new season of Decoder Ring! On this episode, we investigate the wild world of soap operas through the lens of one legendary, decades-long, ripped-from-the-headlines storyline. The rape of Marty …

Decoder Ring Presents The Sporkful’s Mission: ImPASTAble

March 15th, 2021

31:01

Right now Decoder Ring is working on a full season of new episodes coming this June, but in the meantime we wanted to share this episode from our …

The Blue Steak Experiment

December 21st, 2020

41:32

What took blue food so long to catch on? Today it’s all over the freezer aisle, in candies for kids, in tortilla chips, and novelty foods, but it wasn’t very long ago that food experts agreed: blue food was an …

The Cabbage Patch Kids Riots

November 23rd, 2020

36:26

In 1983, the Cabbage Patch Kids were released, causing widespread pandemonium in toy stores and in the media. How did a children'a toy inspire such …

Jane Fonda's Workout, Part 2: Hanoi Jane's VHS Revolution

October 26th, 2020

50:48

How did Hanoi Jane become Exercise Jane?

This is the second part of our two-parter on Jane Fonda's Workout. If you haven't yet, listen to the previous …

Jane Fonda's Workout, Part 1: Jane and Leni

October 12th, 2020

54:36

When Jane Fonda granted us an interview to talk about her famous workout tape, things didn't go as planned.

On part one of a special two-part Decoder Ring, we explore the decades-long friendship of Jane Fonda and Leni …

Mystery of the Mullet

August 14th, 2020

50:34

The mullet, the love-to-hate-it hairstyle is as associated with the 1980's as Ronald Reagan, junk bonds, and break dancing. But in at least one major …

The Karen

July 13th, 2020

41:09

The Karen, a white woman who surveys, inconveniences, and terrorizes, service workers and people of color is a relatively new term in the culture, …

The Metrosexual

June 10th, 2020

38:39

In 2003, the word "metrosexual", meaning a well-groomed heterosexual man, exploded all over the English lexicon. It invaded the news, TV, and even …

Gotta Get Down on Friday

May 11th, 2020

45:23

Rebecca Black's music video for Friday was Youtube's most watched video of 2011, thrusting the thirteen-year-old Rebecca into a very harsh spotlight. …

Unicorn Poop

April 8th, 2020

37:40

How did poop get cute? On this episode of Decoder Ring we trace the rise of cute poop from the original Japanese poop emoji to more modern poop toys …

Rubber Duckie

March 19th, 2020

27:23

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How did the humble rubber duck become an icon of bath time? On this …

The Shop Around the Corner

March 2nd, 2020

39:07

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The 1998 romantic comedy You've Got Mail starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan …

Friend of Dorothy

February 10th, 2020

34:29

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When …

The Stowe-Byron Controversy

February 3rd, 2020

41:49

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When Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote an exposé of Lord Byron's incestuous …

Murphy's Law

December 9th, 2019

39:27

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Nick …

Gender Reveal Party

November 6th, 2019

40:39

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Jenna Karvunidis invented the gender reveal party, but now she has …

Bart Simpson Mania

October 7th, 2019

48:28

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In the early 1990's Bart Simpson became a breakout star while also …

Ice Cream Truck

August 12th, 2019

42:00

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Why is the ice cream truck business so bananas? On this episode of Decoder …

Pillow Talk

July 15th, 2019

30:51

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Over the last half century the decorative pillow has been crowding out our …

Chuck E. Cheese Pizza War

June 11th, 2019

49:08

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The King was an animatronic lounge singer who performed in Chuck E. Cheese …

Videomate: Men

April 29th, 2019

36:08

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Videomate: Men is a VHS tape released in 1987 featuring 60 single men …

Truck Nutz

March 25th, 2019

36:17

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Truck Nutz are a brand name for the dangling plastic testicles some people …

Baby Shark

February 25th, 2019

38:47

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Baby Shark is an megaviral YouTube video, an unstoppable earworm, a top 40 …

The Grifter

January 31st, 2019

54:16

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Brett Johnson was a career criminal: a fraudster, a con man, a cyber …

Sad Jennifer Aniston

December 3rd, 2018

44:20

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Jennifer Aniston’s story had it all: Heartbreak, secrecy, sex, betrayal. …

The Incunabula Papers

October 29th, 2018

53:49

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Hotel Art

October 1st, 2018

32:57

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The Paper Doll Club

August 27th, 2018

39:04

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The Basement Affair

July 30th, 2018

43:47

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What …

Clown Panic

June 25th, 2018

38:16

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The Johnlock Conspiracy

June 4th, 2018

52:32

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Who …

The Laff Box

April 30th, 2018

32:57

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