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Geek Out With the Best Podcast You Should Be Listening To

By Cindy Davis | Miscellaneous | December 18, 2014 |

By Cindy Davis | Miscellaneous | December 18, 2014 |

I’ve been a little slow to hop on the podcast train, but after getting sucked into Serial and Radiolab, things may never be the same. Even if (like me) your usual inclination is to read a book or watch a film or television show, take a chance on Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich’s science-based radio program cum podcast; I can practically guarantee you’ll be hooked. The hosts, who coincidentally attended the same college 25 years apart, are engaging and funny as they thoughtfully discuss everything from time, to reasons behind why people do or feel certain things; from evolution to physics (Slinkys!), to poop (really) and how we measure pain. Guests range from physicists Brian Greene and Neil deGrasse Tyson, to Carlton Cuse, to Jad’s brother-in-law. Combining fascinating conversation and expert interviews with music and sound effects, Jad and Robert have fun with every subject they approach, and that means you’ll have fun too.

Here to entice you are my favorites (of the episodes I’ve listened to so far).

“Patient Zero”


I started with this episode and so far, it remains one of my favorites. “Think you know the story of Typhoid Mary,” the hosts ask? The guys trace back the origins of several diseases to beginnings you’ve never imagined, and an interesting add-in story about the first “high-five.”

“In the Dust of This Planet”


A guy who writes books nobody reads suddenly sees Jay-Z wearing his book cover on a jacket…what’s with the popularity of nihilism throughout the years, and why is it hip again to be fascinated by the idea of Earth’s (and mankind’s) destruction. Includes True Detective references, and traces that book cover’s journey from obscurity to a Beyonce/Jay-Z video.

“For the Love of Numbers”


To mathematicians, numbers are inanimate figures, but what are they to the rest of us? Surprisingly, besides having favorites, many people unknowingly assign male and female qualities to numbers. Why, and how far back do those ideals go? How are advertisers using that information to influence us? (Hint: Ask the Colonel.)



What is time? The hosts explore how we experience time, and what can we learn by manipulating it. What happens if we take away the clocks? Personal time is different from clock time, and time really isn’t universal. Back in the day, clocks weren’t synchronized — “there were as many times as there were clocks.” Find out what changed and why, hear about the “time wars” (not even Doctor Who related!)…and what do horses and movies have to do with it? Recreating an Einstein experiment in Central Park, the hosts amusingly try to work it all out.

“What’s Left When You’re Right?”


How do we approach a fight or an argument? Whether it’s through our particular mindset, or influenced by morals, a personality type (aggressive extrovert vs. conflict avoiding introvert), and how might left or right-handedness affect your choices — and abilities (you mean my brain might be naturally wired for violence?) And a nifty look at the strategies used in the crazy UK game show, Golden Balls.



I loved this one where the guys puzzle over when and why kids stopped being afraid of quicksand, which used to be horror movies’ go-to terror. Carlton Cuse (Lost, The Strain, Bates Motel) stops in to chat, and…uh, there are apparently people who like to have sex in the stuff.



The sometimes upsetting story of how and why the Galpagos tortoise nearly became extinct, and extreme measures taken to bring their numbers back up. Goats, and finches and pirates…oh my! (Note: My family listened to this together in the car, and it does involve some necessary but bothersome killing of another species. If you’re an animal lover, this one may prove too much for you — or children.

“Poop Train”


NYC: How much human waste accumulates in a New York day, and where does all the poop go? Do you really want to know? YES. (Maybe don’t listen during lunch?) The boys go on a walking tour, discovering how and where Manhattan’s waste is processed; “spookily similar to what happens in our own stomachs.” Then things get emotional…



Speaking of emotional, this one really got to me. A family with two young children picks up and moves to a new state; almost immediately their younger son’s behavior begins to change. They chalk it up to the move until things degrade to the point they have to take him to the doctor, who gives the parents a diagnoses they don’t want to hear. In an almost unbelievable bit of magic (Disney), the parents find a way to reconnect with the boy they knew — but does that mean anything for other kids with the same diagnosis? Probably not.



Fascinating discussion on how and why men, women and other species perceive color differently, and the distinctions between the way creatures experience it. Don’t even get me started on those mantis shrimp.

“The Bitter End”


Ask most people what kind of life-saving measures they would want performed, and the answers given by “regular folk” vs. physicians are markedly different. Why? Listening to this one might change your answers.

Since Radiolab has been on air since 2002, there’s a plethora of episodes to work your way through; a little something for everyone.

Cindy Davis, (Twitter)