Mar 15

Obsessed: Stuff You Should Know

StuffYouShouldKnowWhile I’ve been a longtime fan of This American Life, I’ve never really been into podcasts. I wasn’t against them, but I just never gave them much thought. Then came Serial, and everything changed.

But after 12 short weeks, Serial was over, and I felt like I had nothing to listen to on my longish commute to and from work. This American Life is only once a week, and there are only so many times I can listen to the same 100 songs on my phone.

Somewhere along the way it suddenly occurred to me that there were probably a gazillion free podcasts out there for me to listen to. However, a gazillion is a lot, and I had no idea how to get started.

Then I happened upon this article in Mental Floss about noteworthy podcasts. Jackpot! I tried a bunch, and while I like Criminal and Here’s the Thing (Alec Baldwin has his own podcast, who knew?), what I really like is Stuff You Should Know.

Some of you might know I love trivia about random stuff (someday I’m writing a book called The History of Random Shit — you’d buy it, right?), and that’s exactly what SYSK is. The hosts are Josh Clarke and Chuck Bryant, two normal dudes who happen to be interested in a lot of different things. They’re also pretty hilarious.

I don’t know how many episodes I’ve listened to so far, but I’ve gone way back to the beginning when the podcasts were super short, ie, less than 20 minutes. Now they’re about 40 minutes, give or take, and include more banter and off-topic meandering, which I actually kind of like. For instance, one or both of them almost always ends up mentioning some movie that reminds them of the topic, and I end up jotting down the movie to watch later.

I’ve enjoyed all the episodes, but here are 10 that I particularly liked, and which you might want to start with if you’re interested.

How Pizza Works!

The guys cover the history of pizza is from 17th century Italy, to Italian immigrants setting up pizza shops in New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia, to the Big Pizza industry. Warning: this episode will make you very hungry and very much want pizza.

How Muppets Work

According to Josh and Chuck, this is SYSK’s most popular podcast ever, and understandably so. It’s fascinating stuff, and in fact, inspired me to write a piece on Muppet lingo.

How Jim Henson Worked

This is a really nice companion piece to the above.

How Foot Binding Worked

Learn about when a whole country had a (gross) foot fetish.

How Charles Darwin Worked

Listening to this episode, I realized I didn’t know much about Charles Darwin. When he was in his early 20s, he got invited to accompany this rich dude on his ship and explore exotic lands for five years. Darwin recorded everything he saw, and many years later, that became the Origin of the Species.

He was also very nervous — often throwing up out of anxiety — and so he didn’t enjoy the fame and notoriety associated with his famous work. In addition, he married his first cousin before they knew about the possible negative affects of inbreeding, and when I say “they,” I mean him. Darwin was the one who discovered that while married to his cousin, who by the way was a devout Christian so there was that whole conflict.

What makes a one-hit wonder?

This is a fun episode if mostly because of the walk down ’80s memory lane (remember Kajagoogoo?).

What makes a serial killer?

I’ve always been fascinated by serial killers (although in a guilty way) so this episode was a must-listen for me. Josh and Chuck give some history, describe what distinguishes a serial killer from, say, a mass murderer or a spree killer, and discuss some of the most famous serials killers, including Son of Sam, the Green River killer, and Jeffrey Dahmer.

What’s the deal with Rasputin’s death?

The guys clear up the lore around the death of the “mystical faith healer,” namely that he wasn’t some sort of unkillable vampire. He was a pretty tough mofo though.

Capgras Syndrome: You Are Not Who You Think You Are

Capgras Syndrone is a neurological disorder in which you think your loved ones are imposters. In other words, you see a man who looks like your father, but you feel like he’s just someone wearing a Dad-costume.

This might have something to do with a misfire in the brain causing you to not feel emotion when you see someone you know, which your brain chalks up to, “Must be an imposter.”

Taste and How It Works

The guys talk about taste beyond salty, sweet, bitter, and sour, how taste buds work, and supertasters, that small part of the population who taste certain flavors super-strongly.

Those are just a handful of hundreds of information-packed episodes available. You can get the SYSK podcast via the app, Podcasts. Not all the episodes are available there, but they are all available on their site.

Happy listening!