97 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 Podcasts

    • Society & Culture
    • 4.6 • 1.8K Ratings

Listen on Apple Podcasts
Requires subscription and macOS 11.4 or higher

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.

Listen on Apple Podcasts
Requires subscription and macOS 11.4 or higher

    The Gen X Soda That Was Just "OK"

    The Gen X Soda That Was Just "OK"

    Thirty years ago, a new kind of soda arrived in select stores. Instead of crowing about how spectacular it was, it offered up a liquid shrug, a fizzy irony. OK Soda was an inside joke for people who knew soda wasn’t cool. But what exactly was the punchline? In today’s episode, we’re going to ask how Coca-Cola, a company predicated on the idea that soda is more than "OK," ever bankrolled such a project. It was either a corporate attempt to market authenticity or a bold send-up of consumer capitalism; a project that either utterly, predictably failed or, perhaps more surprisingly, almost succeeded.
    This episode was written by Willa Paskin. It was edited by Jenny Lawton. It was produced by Willa Paskin and Katie Shepherd, along with Evan Chung. Derek John is Executive Producer. Merritt Jacob is Senior Technical Director.
    You’ll hear from Sergio Zyman, Brian Lanahan, Robin Joannides Lanahan, Charlotte Moore, Peter Wegner, Todd Waterbury, Dustin Ness, and Matt Purrington.
    Special thanks to David Cowles, Art Chantry, Seth Godin, Jeff Beer, Gabriel Roth, Mark Hensley for all the OK Soda commercials and Mark Pendergrast, whose book For God, Country, & Coca-Cola was indispensable.
    If you haven’t yet, please subscribe and rate our feed in Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts. And even better, tell your friends.
    If you’re a fan of the show, please sign up for Slate Plus. Members get to listen to Decoder Ring and all other Slate podcasts without any ads and have total access to Slate’s website. Your support is also crucial to our work. Go to Slate.com/decoderplus to join Slate Plus today.
    Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices

    • 43 min
    Why Do So Many Coffee Shops Look the Same?

    Why Do So Many Coffee Shops Look the Same?

    The eerie similarity of coffee shops all over the world was so confounding to Kyle Chayka that it led him to write the new book Filterworld: How Algorithms Are Flattening Culture. In today’s episode, Kyle’s going to walk us through the recent history of the cafe, to help us see how digital behavior is altering a physical space hundreds of years older than the internet itself, and how those changes are happening everywhere—it’s just easier to see them when they’re spelled out in latte art.
    This episode was written by Willa Paskin and produced by Katie Shepherd. Decoder Ring is produced by Willa Paskin, Katie Shepherd and Evan Chung. Derek John is Executive Producer. Merritt Jacob is Senior Technical Director. Special thanks to Ben Frisch and Patrick Fort. 
    If you haven’t yet, please subscribe and rate our feed in Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts. And even better, tell your friends.
    If you’re a fan of the show, please sign up for Slate Plus. Members get to listen to Decoder Ring and all other Slate podcasts without any ads and have total access to Slate’s website. Your support is also crucial to our work. Go to Slate.com/decoderplus to join Slate Plus today. 
    Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices

    • 33 min
    2024 Teaser

    2024 Teaser

    We’re back with a new batch of cultural mysteries! This year, we’re putting out more new episodes—like many more of them. We’ll be diving down a new rabbit hole every two weeks all year long. Starting with a question hiding in plain sight: why do so many coffee shops look the same? We’re also heading back to the early 1990s to ask if you can successfully sell a soda by celebrating that it’s just… OK?
    You can hear these episodes and more on Decoder Ring — now in your feed every two weeks beginning Feb. 14. Make sure to follow us so you never miss an episode.
    Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices

    • 1 min
    The Forgotten Video Game About Slavery

    The Forgotten Video Game About Slavery

    In 1992, a Minnesota-based software company known for its educational hit The Oregon Trail released another simulation-style game to school districts across the country. Freedom! took kids on a journey along the Underground Railroad, becoming the first American software program to use slavery as its subject matter.

    Less than four months later, it was pulled from the market. In this episode, we revisit this well-intentioned, but flawed foray into historical trauma that serves as a reminder that teaching Black history in America has always been fraught. 

    This episode was written by Willa Paskin. Decoder Ring is produced by Willa Paskin and Katie Shepherd. This episode was also produced by Benjamin Frisch, and edited by Erica Morrison. Derek John is executive producer. Joel Meyer is senior editor-producer and Merritt Jacob is senior technical director.

    We’re grateful to Julian Lucas for his expertise, reporting, and generosity, without which this episode would not have been possible. His New Yorker article, “Can Slavery Reenactments Set Us Free?,” revisits the Freedom! story as part of an exploration of the live Underground Railroad re-enactments that Kamau Kambui pioneered.

    Thank you to Jesse Fuchs for suggesting this topic. Thanks also to Coventry Cowens, Brigitte Fielder, Bob Whitaker, Alan Whisman, Wayne Studer, Alicia Montgomery, Rebecca Onion, Luke Winkie, and Kamau Kambui’s children: Yamro Kambui Fields, Halim Fields, Mawusi Kambui Pierre, Nanyamka Salley, and Kamau Sababu Kambui Jr. 

    If you haven’t please yet, subscribe and rate our feed in Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts. And even better, tell your friends.

    If you’re a fan of the show, please sign up for Slate Plus. Members get to listen to Decoder Ring without any ads and have total access to Slate’s website. Your support is also crucial to our work. Go to Slate.com/decoderplus to join Slate Plus today.
    Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices

    • 47 min
    The Dating Manual Unlike Any Other

    The Dating Manual Unlike Any Other

    From the moment it was released in 1995, The Rules was controversial. Some people loved it—and swore that the dating manual’s throwback advice helped them land a husband. Others thought it was retrograde hogwash that flew in the face of decades of feminist progress. The resulting brouhaha turned the book into a cultural phenomenon. In this episode, Slate’s Heather Schwedel explores where The Rules came from, how it became so popular, and why its list of 35 commandments continue to be so sticky—whether we like it or not. 
    Decoder Ring is produced by Willa Paskin and Katie Shepherd. This episode was edited by Willa Paskin. Derek John is executive producer. Joel Meyer is senior editor/producer. Merritt Jacob is our senior technical director.
    We’d like to to thank Benjamin Frisch, Rachel O'Neill, Penny Love, Heather Fain, Elif Batuman, Laura Banks, Marlene Velasquez-Sedito, Leigh Anderson, Caroline Smith. We also want to mention two sources that were really helpful: Labour of Love by Moira Weigel, a paper called Shrinking Violets and Caspar Milquetoasts by Patricia McDaniel
    If you haven’t yet, please subscribe and rate our feed in Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts. And even better, tell your friends.
    If you’re a fan of the show, we’d love for you to sign up for Slate Plus. Members get to listen to Decoder Ring without any ads. Their support is also crucial to our work. So please go to Slate.com/decoderplus to join Slate Plus today.
    Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices

    • 37 min
    Mailbag: The Recorder, Limos, and “Baby on Board” Signs

    Mailbag: The Recorder, Limos, and “Baby on Board” Signs

    We receive a lot of fantastic show ideas from our listeners—and we’re grateful for each and every one. For our latest mailbag episode, we’re tackling five of your questions, including “Why the hell do we teach kids to play the recorder?” (We’re paraphrasing a bit.) Also: We’ll explore the rise and fall of the stretch limo, the incredible versatility of the word “like,” the meaning of the “Baby on Board” sign, and why it took so long to develop luggage with wheels. 

    Decoder Ring is produced by Willa Paskin and Katie Shepherd. This episode was also produced by Rosemary Belson. Derek John is executive producer. Joel Meyer is senior editor/producer. Merritt Jacob is our senior technical director.

    Thank you to every listener who has submitted a suggestion for an episode. We truly appreciate your ideas. We read them all, even if we don’t always respond. Thanks for being a listener and for thinking creatively about this show. 

    If you haven’t yet, please subscribe and rate our feed in Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts. And even better, tell your friends.

    If you’re a fan of the show, we’d love for you to sign up for Slate Plus. Members get to listen to Decoder Ring without any ads. Their support is also crucial to our work. So please go to Slate.com/decoderplus to join Slate Plus today.
    Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices

    • 40 min

Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5
1.8K Ratings

1.8K Ratings

Rafferbee ,

Compelling!

I just listened to a very interesting story about “OK Soda”, something I had never heard about before. I always learn something new from Decoder Ring!

Daily podcast listener ,

Great podcast

At times enlightening, strange, moving but always interesting and informative. This podcast is very well done.

amitiel ,

Mostly Good

Interesting topics. Please though, consider how your interviewee sounds before you decide to do a topic with them.

Do not ever let Kyle Chayka on again. He is so so annoying to listen to. It was like listening to a painfully bad Andy Warhol impression. I couldn’t even finish the episode.

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