Decoder Ring

Decoder Ring: Murphy’s Law

The origin of the saying “If it can go wrong, it will go wrong.”

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About the Show

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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A banana peel on the ground, surrounded by stripes
Benjamin Frisch

Decoder Ring is a podcast about cracking cultural mysteries. Every month, host Willa Paskin takes on a cultural question, object, idea, or habit and speaks with experts, historians, and obsessives to try to figure out where it comes from, what it means, and why it matters.

Nick Spark fell down a rabbit hole tracking down the origins of Murphy’s law, the ubiquitous phrase that says, “If it can go wrong, it will go wrong.” On this episode of Decoder Ring, we follow spark on his journey while taking a few detours of our own to find out how Murphy’s law was (maybe) born out of the rocket sled experiments of the dawning jet age. We talk to Spark, hear some of the recordings he collected during his own research, and speak to researchers who are skeptical of Nick’s hypothesis, all to try to find out how an obscure engineering aphorism spread to become a world-conquering philosophical observation. Some of the voices in this episode include Nick Spark, Craig Ryan (author of Sonic Wind, a biography of John Paul Stapp), George Nichols, David Hill Sr., Fred Shapiro, and Stephen Goranson.*

Email: decoderring@slate.com

Correction, Dec. 11, 2019: This show page originally misspelled Stephen Goranson’s last name.