Photo of crowded New York City street with one woman highlighted in blue.
Photo illustration by Slate. Screengrab from Tootsie, Columbia Pictures.
Slate Fare

Decoder Ring Summer Season

Slate’s podcast about cracking cultural mysteries returns with six episodes available to Slate Plus members on launch day.

The culture of the past has never been more accessible. And yet so many of its mysteries remain unresolved. That’s where Decoder Ring comes in, taking listeners on unexpected voyages to find larger truths.

On every episode of the podcast, host Willa Paskin takes on a cultural question, object, idea, or habit and speaks with experts, historians, and obsessives to try and figure out where it comes from, what it means, and why it matters. As New York Magazine writes, “It’s a pop-culture podcast that comes with the same level of research, investigation, and sincerity as any investigative journalism podcast.”

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The new season launches Tuesday with an episode about how a soap opera turned an award-winning storyline about sexual assault from the victim’s point of view into a redemption arc for the rapist—much to the chagrin of the actor who played him. You can listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Below you’ll find more information about what’s ahead this season—and Slate Plus members can listen to all of these episodes today. If you’re not a member, join for only $1 for your first month and get early access to this season of Decoder Ring.

The Soap Opera Machine

On this episode, we investigate the wild world of soap operas through the lens of one legendary, decades-long, ripped-from-the-headlines storyline that dared to combine the melodrama of soaps with a serious examination of sexual assault, and how that soap turned an award-winning story about believing victims into a redemption arc for the rapist at its heart. This is the story of those who made it happen: the producers, actors, writers, and the soap opera machine itself: the perpetually moving, forever-churning, complex system that create the miracle that is the daily soap opera.

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The Invention of Hydration

Why do we all carry water bottles around with us everywhere? We explore the surprisingly contrived history of hydration, and how sports drinks and big water conspired to make us all obsessed with drinking lots and lots of water.

That Seattle Muzak Sound

Muzak, the purveyors of elevator music, had become a complete joke by the 1990s when it found many of the players in the Seattle grunge scene working in its offices. Why did one of the most important musical institutions in America become so hated?

The Sign Painter

Ilona Granet won the praise of the art world when she put up anti-harassment street signs in lower Manhattan in the early ‘90s. Her career seemed like a sure thing, but it never happened, even as her contemporaries are now hanging in museums. This is a portrait of an artist and the haunting paradoxes of failing while you still have work to show.

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Who Killed The Segway?

In 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 how Dan may or may not have doomed The Segway, how the hype and speculation about the Segway got out of control, and how that speculation helped birth the modern internet.

The Tootsie Shot

You know the Tootsie Shot. It’s the shot from the movies where the protagonist is walking down a New York City street that looks impossibly crowded. This shot has its own fascinating history, but also tells the story of New York City itself, transforming with each new era: from the dilapidated, dangerous city of the ‘70s, the capitalistic ‘80s, the optimistic ‘90s, and beyond.