Decoder Ring

By Slate Podcasts

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Subscribers: 1104
Reviews: 3

 Aug 11, 2019

 Apr 29, 2019

 Feb 4, 2019


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.

Episode Date
Gender Reveal Party
Jenna Karvunidis invented the gender reveal party, but now she has regrets. On this episode of Decoder Ring, we explore the pink and blue world of the gender reveal party, and how Jenna's small barbecue celebration turned into a global phenomenon that's gotten way out of control. We talk to psychologists, historians, critics, and business owners, to figure out why the gender reveal is having such a big, bizarre moment right now, and how we can best understand the strange power they hold over social media. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Nov 06, 2019
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. Today on Decoder Ring we try and figure out why the H-E double hockey sticks people were so worked up about Bart Simpson by examining the great underachiever t-shirt controversy, bootleg Bart merchandise, the rise of the religious right, and more.  Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Oct 07, 2019
Ice Cream Truck
Why is the ice cream truck business so bananas? On this episode of Decoder Ring we find out via three seperate stories about the strange world of ice cream trucks—about the first ever ice cream trucks in China, the ongoing ice cream wars of Manhattan, and the life of an ice cream family in Brooklyn. Slate Plus members get bonus segments and ad-free podcast feeds. Sign up now. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Aug 12, 2019
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. For some, decorative pillows are a fun design accent, for others a symbol of useless overconsumption. Today on Decoder Ring we explore the world of the decorative pillow to try and figure out why they've become so ubiquitous and what they tell us about our homes, interior design, and the way we develop our tastes.  Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Jul 15, 2019
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. 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. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Jun 11, 2019
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. In retrospect, Videomate: Men is bizarre and hilarious, but at the time it was one of many manifestations of what was known as video dating. To find out how anyone thought this was a good idea, Decoder Ring examines the weird and forgotten world of video dating in the 1970's, 80's, and 90's to find out why video dating once seemed like the future, and if that future is still yet to come.  Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Apr 29, 2019
Truck Nutz
Truck Nutz are a brand name for the dangling plastic testicles some people affix to the bumper or hitch of their vehicle. Also known as Bull’s Balls, Your Nutz, and other brand names, these plastic novelties have a powerful symbolic charge and are often associated with a crass, macho, red state audience. But Truck Nutz are a surprisingly complicated signifier, one whose symbolic power is increasingly divorced from their real-world usage. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Mar 25, 2019
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.   Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Feb 25, 2019
The Grifter
Brett Johnson was a career criminal: a fraudster, a con man, a cyber criminal, but now he’s a legal person operating on the right side of the law, helping companies stop people like he used to be. His story is the stuff of a movie like Catch Me iI You Can, it involves wild scams, narrow escapes, redemption, and even a trip to Disney World. Throughout his criminal career he defrauded people on the street, on eBay, on criminal web forums, within the justice system, and even inside the United States Secret Service. There’s great entertainment value in Brett’s story, but there’s also a great deal of complication to it, too. Real life isn’t as neat and tidy as a movie, and the ending is yet to be written.   Today we explore Brett’s story, first by letting you enjoy it, and then we deconstruct it, to decide if we should.  Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Jan 31, 2019
Sad Jennifer Aniston
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.  Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Dec 03, 2018
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. Today we uncover the secrets of Ong's Hat, the man behind it, and the new art form it inadvertently birthed. Check out our showpage at This episode is brought to you by the following advertisers: Aleph Mattresses, a handmade mattress experience: ② Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Oct 29, 2018
Hotel Art
Hotel Art used to be one of the ultimate symbols of bad taste, it was often ugly, kitschy, and strange. Today, the art you find in a hotel is far less likely to be the result of one individual's poor taste, and much more likely to have passed through an entire industry designed to help place art into hotels. Hotel art is now almost universally pleasant, if anodyne. How did this happen? Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Oct 01, 2018
The Paper Doll Club
Paper dolls were a ubiquitous part of children’s lives for decades, and then mostly disappeared. David Wolfe was a boy growing up in the 1950’s, with paper dolls as his primary means of accessing a world of glamour and beauty that he didn’t see at home in Ohio. He’d go on to a career in fashion, guided by his paper dolls, just as paper dolls were falling out of fashion themselves, replaced by Barbies and other plastic dolls. This episode is about paper dolls, and their surprising connections to fashion, nostalgia, queerness, and David’s extraordinary career. Producer Benjamin Frisch co-hosts the show to explore the story.  Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Aug 27, 2018
The Basement Affair
What are the real reasons people go on reality TV? This episode follows the story of Ann Hirsch and Cathy Nardone, two women cast on VH1’s “Frank the Entertainer...In a Basement Affair”, a show about an adult man looking for love—while living in his parent’s basement. How did one performance artist and one accidental performance artist make it onto the show? And how did they behave once they made it there? Their story highlights the ways that reality television distorts narratives, obscures intentions and stereotypes women, yet is still irresistible to audiences and performers alike.  Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Jul 30, 2018
Clown Panic
Decoder Ring is a podcast about cracking cultural mysteries. Every month host Willa Paskin,Slate’s TV critic, takes on a cultural question, object, idea, or habit and speak with experts,historians and obsessives to try and figure out where it comes from, what it means and why it Matters. Today: The clown has existed in various forms for thousands of years, what changed and made us suspect and fear them? The modern birthday clown is a very recent invention, by going back into the history of clowns and clowning we see that clowns are far more complex and capable of far more expression than the kids entertainment of Bozo and Ronald McDonald. How those complex figures transformed into obligatorily sunny commercial mascots may also explain why they are increasingly seen as sinister today.  Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Jun 25, 2018
The Johnlock Conspiracy
Who gets to decide if Sherlock Holmes is gay? For over a century, fans of Sherlock Holmes have been analyzing, debating, and creating new texts with Arthur Conan Doyle’s characters. 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. With interviews from historians, journalists, and fans at the heart of this controversial idea, this episode explores this theory, how it played out in the real world, and whether this kind of fandom is a meaningful way of interacting with fiction. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Jun 04, 2018
The Laff Box
Welcome to Decoder Ring! Decoder Ring is a monthly podcast about cracking cultural mysteries. Every episode we’ll take on a cultural object, idea, or habit and speak with experts, historians and obsessives to try to figure out where it comes from, what it means and why it matters. Why do we get so invested in fictional romances? What does it mean to wear a baseball hat backwards? Why do we clap? What do people think about all day? Decoder Ring explores questions and topics you didn't know you were curious about. In our first episode, we ask: 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? How did we get from Beverly Hillbillies to 30 Rock? We meet the man who created the laugh track, which originated as a homemade piece of technology, and trace that technology’s fall and the rise of a more modern idea about humor. With the help of historians, laugh track obsessives, the showrunners of One Day at a Time and the director of Sports Night, we wonder if the laugh track was about something bigger than laughter. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Apr 30, 2018