Decoder Ring

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.

Society & Culture
The Storytelling Craze
How storytelling became a product.
35 min
“We Got Ourselves a Convoy”
How a fake country star gave voice to frustrated truckers across America.
29 min
The Sideways Effect
How one movie changed Americans’ wine drinking habits.
33 min
The Madness Behind ‘The Method’
Isaac Butler on how method acting became so widely misunderstood.
42 min
“F--k Everything, We're Doing Five Blades”
The story of how razors came to have so many blades.
36 min
Spring 2022 Teaser
Decoder Ring's upcoming season
1 min
Custer's Revenge
Custer's Revenge is widely considered one of the worst video games ever made.
41 min
The Fame That Got Away
Today on Decoder Ring: Three stories about fame, and one about monkeys.
37 min
Truly Tasteless Jokes
What's the difference between garbage and a girl from New Jersey?
43 min
The Philosophy of Vampires
In literature, the choice to become a vampire is a metaphor for transformative experiences.
31 min
You Just Lost The Game
When you think about the game, you lose the game.
21 min
The Alberta Rat War
Rats live wherever people live, with one exception: the Canadian province of Alberta.
37 min
The Great Helga Hype
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.
49 min
Selling Out
What happened to selling out?
46 min
Tattoo Flash
Today, four stories about tattoos whose meanings have shifted with the passage of years, decades, or centuries.
46 min
The Tootsie Shot
You know the Tootsie Shot. Why is it so sticky?
34 min
Who Killed The Segway?
This is the story of the invention and development of a potentially revolutionary device, how the hype got out of control, and how that speculation helped birth the modern internet.
41 min
The Sign Painter
What happens, to an artist—to anyone—when they’re good enough, but that’s not enough?
54 min
That Seattle Muzak Sound
Muzak, the purveyors of elevator music, had become a complete joke by the 1990’s when it found many of the players in the Seattle grunge scene working in its offices.
41 min
The Invention of Hydration
How did bottled water transform itself from a small, European luxury item to the single largest beverage category in America?
33 min
The Soap Opera Machine
We investigate the wild world of soap operas through the lens of one legendary, decades-long, ripped-from-the-headlines storyline.
48 min
Decoder Ring Presents The Sporkful’s Mission: I...
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 friends over at The Sporkful
31 min
The Blue Steak Experiment
What took blue food so long to catch on?
37 min
The Cabbage Patch Kids Riots
How did a children'a toy inspire such bad adult behavior?
31 min
Jane Fonda's Workout, Part 2: Hanoi Jane's VHS ...
How did Hanoi Jane become Exercise Jane?
47 min
Jane Fonda's Workout, Part 1: Jane and Leni
When Jane Fonda granted us an interview to talk about her famous workout tape, things didn't go as planned.
52 min
Mystery of the Mullet
We track the rise and fall of the mullet, and the lexical quandary at its heart: who named the mullet?
45 min
The Karen
The Karen, a white woman who surveys, inconveniences, and terrorizes, service workers and people of color is a relatively new term in the culture, but her character type has been with us for centuries.
36 min
The Metrosexual
In 2003, the word "metrosexual", meaning a well-groomed heterosexual man, exploded all over the English lexicon. It invaded the news, TV, and even American politics.
34 min
Gotta Get Down on Friday
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.
40 min
Unicorn Poop
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 which rely on the Youtube algorithm to get seen and sold.
33 min
Rubber Duckie
How did the humble rubber duck become an icon of bath time?
22 min
The Shop Around the Corner
The 1998 romantic comedy You've Got Mail starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan is about the brutal fight between an independent bookstore, The Shop Around the Corner, and Fox Books, an obvious Barnes & Noble stand-in.
35 min
Friend of Dorothy
When Peter Mac was young, he found solace from his troubles in the voice of Judy Garland. He's now been a Judy Garland impersonator for 17 years.
30 min
The Stowe-Byron Controversy
When Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote an exposé of Lord Byron's incestuous affair in 1869, it nearly destroyed The Atlantic Monthly, and threw the reputations of two literary icons into chaos.
38 min
Murphy's Law
Nick Spark fell down a rabbit hole tracking down the origins of Murphy’s Law, the ubiquitous phrase that says “If it can go wrong, it will go wrong”.
35 min
Gender Reveal Party
Jenna Karvunidis invented the gender reveal party, but now she has regrets.
37 min
Bart Simpson Mania
In the early 1990's Bart Simpson became a breakout star while also becoming a target in the culture war, culminating in president George HW Bush speaking out against The Simpsons as an example of a degenerate American family.
43 min
Ice Cream Truck
Why is the ice cream truck business so bananas?
38 min
Pillow Talk
Over the last half century the decorative pillow has been crowding out our sitting and sleeping spaces, multiplying across our beds and couches decade by decade.
27 min
Chuck E. Cheese Pizza War
The King was an animatronic lounge singer who performed in Chuck E. Cheese locations in the 1980's and early 90's, but then he disappeared.
45 min
Videomate: Men
Videomate: Men is a VHS tape released in 1987 featuring 60 single men pitching themselves as dates to women on the other side of the TV screen, who could connect to these eligible bachelors from the comfort of their homes. Who thought this was a good idea?
32 min
Truck Nutz
Truck Nutz are a brand name for the dangling plastic testicles some people affix to the bumper or hitch of their vehicle.
33 min
Baby Shark
Baby Shark is an megaviral YouTube video, an unstoppable earworm, a top 40 hit, a Eurodance smash, a decades old campfire song, and the center of an international copyright dispute. This month on Decoder Ring we explore the strange history and conflicted future of the song, what makes it so catchy, and how it came to be.
35 min
The Grifter
For over a decade, Brett Johnson was a cyber criminal, a scammer, and a con man, but now he's a good guy, helping companies stop people like who he used to be. His story is the stuff of a prestige TV anti-hero drama, but real life is more complicated than a story.
51 min
Sad Jennifer Aniston
Is Jennifer Aniston Having Brad Pitt's Baby!??
41 min
The Incunabula Papers
Ong's Hat, or The Incunabula Papers, is a conspiracy theory that arose on the early internet. Combining cutting edge science, mysticism, and obvious hokum, it intrigued thousands of people who tried to find out what it all meant.
50 min
Hotel Art
What Happened to Hotel Art?
29 min
The Paper Doll Club
Paper dolls were a ubiquitous part of children’s lives for decades, and then they mostly disappeared.
36 min
The Basement Affair
What are the real reasons people go on reality TV?
40 min
Clown Panic
The clown has existed in various forms for thousands of years, what changed and made us suspect and fear them?
35 min
The Johnlock Conspiracy
Decoder Ring explores the Johnlock Conspiracy, a fan theory about the BBC TV show Sherlock positing the inevitability of a gay romance between Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson.
49 min
The Laff Box
What happened to the laugh track? For nearly five decades, it was ubiquitous, but beginning in the early 2000s, it fell out of sitcom fashion. What happened?
29 min