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Decoder Ring

Slate Podcasts

4.8

(14)

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.
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#35 in the Top 100 Documentary All time chart

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Sad Jennifer Aniston

Decoder Ring

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12/03/18 • 44 min

5.0

Slate Plus members get ad-free podcasts and bonus episodes of shows like Dear Prudence and Slow Burn. Sign up now to listen and support our work.

Jennifer Aniston’s story had it all: Heartbreak, secrecy, sex, betrayal. But what it also had was a new kind of tabloid: Us Weekly and its copycats. Brad Pitt leaving Jennifer Aniston for Angelina Jolie would have been a huge Hollywood scandal no matter when it happened, but it became an even bigger one because it was turbocharged by these tabloids. Almost 15 years later, the tabloid In Touch ran an issue with the headline “Brad Stuns Jen! Marry Me again!” What is going on? How is it still going on? Why is it still going on?

This is the last episode of Decoder Ring for 2018. See you in the new year.

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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. The King was a victim of a conflict known as the pizza wars, when Chuck E. Cheese faced off against its rival, Showbiz Pizza for pizza arcade supremacy. The foot soldiers in the pizza war were the animatronic bands that staffed each location—including The King. This episode is a chronicle of the pizza war, with the founder of Chuck E. Cheese, Nolan Bushnell, it's rival, Showbiz Pizza's Aaron Fechter, the people who designed the characters and animatronics, and the people who continue loving these characters, like Jared Sanchez, who continue to create work with these once discarded creatures.

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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. Slate producer Evan Chung is going to take us through the history of this bizarre number-one smash, an artifact from a time when truckers were also at the center of the culture. It touches on advertising, hamburger buns, and speed limits but also global conflict, sky-rocketing gas prices, and aggrieved, protesting truck drivers.

Some of the voices you’ll hear in this episode include Bill Fries, advertising executive; Chip Davis, singer and songwriter; and Meg Jacobs, historian and author of Panic at the Pump.

This episode of Decoder Ring was written and produced by Evan Chung and Willa Paskin with help from Elizabeth Nakano. Derek John is Sr. Supervising Producer of Narrative Podcasts. Merritt Jacob is our Technical Director.

If you have any cultural mysteries you want us to decode, email us at DecoderRing@slate.com.

If you love the show and want to support us, consider joining Slate Plus. With Slate Plus you get ad-free podcasts, bonus episodes, and total access to all of Slate’s journalism.

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Rubber Duckie

Decoder Ring

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03/19/20 • 27 min

4.0

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How did the humble rubber duck become an icon of bath time? On this episode of Decoder Ring we talk to rubber duck experts, enthusiasts, and manufacturers to find out how the rubber duck evolved, why it's so appealing, and why there are thousands of them lost at sea.

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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 and up.

It’s a skirmish sometimes referred to as The Razor Blade Wars, and it was a face-off about innovation, competition, capitalism, masculinity, and most of all, how strange things can become after you’ve created something that’s the best a consumer can get — and then you have to keep going.

Some of the voices you’ll hear in this episode include Rebecca Herzig, author of Plucked: A History of Hair Removal; Tim Dowling, Guardian columnist and author of Inventor of the Disposable Culture: King Camp Gillette 1855-1932; Dan Koeppel, razor blade zelig; and Kaitlyn Tiffany, writer for the Atlantic.

If you want to read more about razor blades, check out:

Decoder Ring is written and produced by Willa Paskin. This episode was produced by Elizabeth Nakano. Derek John is Sr. Supervising Producer of Narrative Podcasts.

If you have any cultural mysteries you want us to decode, email us at DecoderRing@slate.com

If you love the show and want to support us, consider joining Slate Plus. With Slate Plus you get ad-free podcasts, bonus episodes, and total access to all of Slate’s journalism.

Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices

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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 came from and where it’s going. What Willa discovered changed the way she now thinks about stories—and it might do the same for you.

Some of the voices you’ll hear in this episode include Margaret O’Mara, historian and author of The Code: Silicon Valley and the Remaking of America; Michael Simon, director and producer; Francesca Polletta, sociologist at University of California, Irvine; Steve Clayton, Chief Storyteller at Microsoft; Seth Godin, entrepreneur and author of All Marketers Tell Stories; Everett Cook, Associate Editor at Axios Local; and David Paskin, Willa’s father.

Decoder Ring is written and produced by Willa Paskin. This episode was edited by Dan Kois and produced by Elizabeth Nakano. Derek John is Sr. Supervising Producer of Narrative Podcasts. Merritt Jacob is our Technical Director.

If you have any cultural mysteries you want us to decode, email us at DecoderRing@slate.com.

If you love the show and want to support us, consider joining Slate Plus. With Slate Plus you get ad-free podcasts, bonus episodes, and total access to all of Slate’s journalism.

Thanks Avast.com!

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