39 episodes

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.

Decoder Ring Slate Magazine

    • Society & Culture
    • 4.6 • 1.2K Ratings

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.

    Tattoo Flash

    Tattoo Flash

    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 preserved tattooed skins, then a personal investigation into into the Tasmanian Devil tattoo, the story of the Zune tattoo guy, and finally mistranslated Chinese character tattoos.
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    • 50 min
    The Tootsie Shot

    The Tootsie Shot

    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 found in Working Girl, Midnight Cowboy, Wall Street, Heartburn, Elf, Bridget Jones’s Diary, The Devil Wears Prada, The Wolf of Wall Street, and so many more. This is a short, transitional moment that often comes in the middle of a montage and takes up 30 seconds max, and sometimes just two or three. It’s just someone walking down a crowded street. So why is it so sticky?
    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, plus ad free podcasts, bonus episodes, and much more.
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    • 39 min
    Who Killed The Segway?

    Who Killed The Segway?

    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 revealed as the Segway personal scooter. This is the story of the invention and development of a potentially revolutionary device, how Dan may or may not have doomed it, how the hype got out of control, and how that speculation helped birth the modern internet.
    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, plus ad free podcasts, bonus episodes, and much more.
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    • 45 min
    The Sign Painter

    The Sign Painter

    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 on, and so much more art later, it still hasn’t materialized, even as her contemporaries are now hanging in museums. This episode is not about the familiar myth of making it, but the mystery of not making it. What happens, to an artist—to anyone—when they’re good enough, but that’s not enough?
    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, plus ad free podcasts, bonus episodes, and much more.
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    • 58 min
    That Seattle Muzak Sound

    That Seattle Muzak Sound

    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, plus ad free podcasts, bonus episodes, and much more.
    On this episode, we explore the misunderstood history of Muzak, formerly the world’s foremost producers of elevator music. Out of the technological innovations of World War I, Muzak emerged as one of the most significant musical institutions of the 20th century, only to become a punching bag as the 1960’s began to turn public perceptions of popular music on its head. By the 80’s and 90’s, Muzak was still the butt of jokes, and was trying to figure out a new direction as they happened to employ many players in Seattles burgeoning grunge scene. This is the story of how different ideas about pop music butted heads throughout the 20th century, including inside Muzak’s offices. 
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    • 44 min
    The Invention of Hydration

    The Invention of Hydration

    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 itself from a small, European luxury item to the single largest beverage category in America? It took both technological innovation, but even more importantly it took savvy marketing from brands like Gatorade and Perrier to turn the concept of hydration, and dehydration into problem they could solve via their wares. Today, hydration has branched out from athletics to wellness to skincare, but the actual science behind all of it is pretty sketchy. 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, plus ad free podcasts, bonus episodes, and much more.
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    • 37 min

Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5
1.2K Ratings

1.2K Ratings

okkimberly ,

5 stars for a truly enlightening podcast

Willa Paskin initially had me hooked the minute I started listening to decoder ring because there is just something about her voice that I love and inspired a feeling of friendship on my part despite being strangers but I have not been moved to compose a review now but upon listening to “the sign painter” I decided I must because Ilona was such a moving figure to me and someone who has my sincere respect, appreciation and admiration. I myself have accomplished little in life so far in a professional sense and find myself terrified the only legacy I’ll leave in my life are my 3 children with no other notable accomplishments to speak of after I’m gone and this episode reminded me that as long as the way I conduct myself in my daily living reflects the change I wish to see on the world then that is enough and I am enough right now this moment no matter what. This was a powerful episode to me and I can’t express how happy I am that Ilona was able to share her story to remind us all that everyone’s story matters. Thank you.

bossonova1990 ,

Quality Drop

This show has had a quality drop and lack of focus on central conceit of what the show existed for over its summer 2021 run.

erikakimiya ,

The Soap Opera Machine was interesting

As an early ‘90s One Life to Live fan, I absolutely loved the episode The Soap Opera Machine about the show’s handling of the story arc dealing with the rape of Marty Saybrooke. As a preteen, that storyline was so powerful. I remember being disappointed years later when they tried to “Luke and Laura” Marty and Todd. Learning how that story came to be and that the actors were also upset behind-the-scenes, especially the actor that played Todd, was very interesting. Thanks for this!

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