11 of the Best Podcasts of the Decade

Talaj/iStock via Getty Images
Talaj/iStock via Getty Images

Though broadcast partners Adam Curry and Dave Winer are often credited with pioneering podcasting in 2004, it wasn’t until the 2010s that the audio format began to take on a life of its own. After decades of radio declining in influence due to television and other mass media, aural entertainment came back with a vengeance in the form of comedy, true crime, and even original dramas. Have a look—and listen—to 11 of the most compelling podcasts of the past decade.

1. You Must Remember This (2014-Present)

Old Hollywood meets new media in this fascinating deep dive into some of the film industry’s most compelling and sordid stories, including the fate of Marilyn Monroe, Charles Manson, and, more recently, Disney’s controversial 1946 film Song of the South. Host Karina Longworth’s fascination with her subjects and meticulous research comes through with every episode.

2. Welcome to Night Vale (2012-Present)

While most podcasts offer commentary and other non-fiction entertainment, some take up the baton of presenting the kind of audio drama that was so prevalent in the early part of the 20th century. Onetime playwrights Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor created the fictional town of Night Vale, where conspiracy theories often ring true and listeners enjoy a sprawling cast of eccentric characters—think of it as Twin Peaks without the Lynchian visual flourishes. A sister podcast, Alice Isn’t Dead, details a truck driver’s search for her missing wife.

3. S-Town (2017)

Over the course of seven episodes, S-Town introduces listeners to the peculiar exploits of a man known initially as John B., a disgruntled resident of a small Alabama town. Murder, hidden fortune, and twists follow.

4. Gastropod (2014-Present)

Food meets science in this entertaining mash-up of gastronomic headlines and a closer look at what we put into our bodies. Co-hosts Cynthia Graber and Nicola Twilley bring their journalistic expertise to everything from calories to the dirty secret of strawberries.

5. Comedy Bang! Bang! (2009-Present)

There is probably no podcast genre bigger or harder to sift through than comedy, and what you find funny will depend largely on your sensibilities. But it’s hard to dismiss the genius of Comedy Bang! Bang!, in which host Scott Aukerman professes to have a straightforward interview with a revolving seat of comedians who are playing ludicrous characters and improvising even more ludicrous answers. Perfect for those times when you need to hear a character named Martin Sheffield Lickley (Drew Tarver) relate horrible familial mishaps before bursting into song. It’s weird, and weirdly great.

6. Missing Richard Simmons (2017)

Some listeners believed Dan Taberski’s obsession with locating a reclusive Richard Simmons, who had dropped out of the public eye, bordered on harassment—that Simmons was free to retreat to a private life after spending decades helping devotees achieve their weight-loss goals. What’s undeniable is that Missing Richard Simmons took the relatively low stakes of tracking Simmons and married it with the suspense of a true-crime drama, with Taberski shuffling closer to—and further from—the truth behind Simmons's "disappearance" during its six fascinating episodes.

7. Lore (2015-Present)

Some of history’s darker tales get the campfire treatment in host Aaron Mahnke’s Lore, which looks for the truth behind the headlines. The result is a historically accurate series of spooky narratives that often sound like something Vincent Price might have recited, from World’s Fair serial killer H.H. Holmes to grave robbers.

8. The Joe Rogan Experience (2009-Present)

Stand-up comedian and former Fear Factor host Rogan headlines a freewheeling—and often chemically enhanced—discussion with a laundry list of thinkers, entertainers, and innovators, from Elon Musk to Neil deGrasse Tyson to Bernie Sanders. The conversations, which often last hours, are free from over-the-air broadcast regulations, allowing Rogan to let his talks take hallucinatory turns. It’s now the second most popular podcast on iTunes.

9. Serial (2014-Present)

Podcasting took a significant leap forward with host Sarah Koenig’s Serial, which came from the brain trust behind This American Life and offered a compelling look at Adnan Syed, a Maryland teenager accused of killing his girlfriend, Hae Min Lee, in 1999. Syed’s ferocious protests of his innocence and the show’s dogged search for the truth became the genre’s first example of must-listen programming.

10. Blank Check with Griffin & David (2015-Present)

So many podcasts have a preoccupation with movies, particularly ones that were met with a mixed reception, but few hosts are as thorough in their film postmortems as Griffin Newman and David Sims, who spend multiple episodes analyzing the deficiencies of everything from 1999’s Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace to 2006’s Lady in the Water. The blank check of the title refers to the show’s continuing focus on directors who have a hit and then get a pass to make anything they want. As Griffin and David observe, a little oversight never hurt anyone.

11. Reply All (2014-Present)

It was inevitable that a podcast would eventually turn its attention to the internet, creating a snake-eating-its-tail scenario. But Alex Goldman and PJ Vogt aren’t content to point out some of the web’s blunders for the sake of a joke. They take a magnifying glass to everything from physician Instagram accounts to the world of domain name squabbles with a devotion usually reserved for matters of greater global importance. Then again, exposing the plague of robocalls might be worthy of Pulitzer recognition.

9 Royally Interesting Facts About King Cake

iStock
iStock

It’s Carnival season, and that means bakeries throughout New Orleans are whipping up those colorful creations known as King Cakes. And while today it’s primarily associated with Big Easy revelry, the King Cake has a long and checkered history that reaches back through the centuries. Here are a few facts about its origins, its history in America, and how exactly that plastic baby got in there.

1. The King Cake is believed to have Pagan origins.

The king cake is widely associated with the Christian festival of the Epiphany, which celebrates the three kings’ visit to the Christ child on January 6. Some historians, however, believe the cake dates back to Roman times, and specifically to the winter festival of Saturnalia. Bakers would put a fava bean—which back then was used for voting, and had spiritual significance—inside the cake, and whoever discovered it would be considered king for a day. Drinking and mayhem abounded. In the Middle Ages, Christian followers in France took up the ritual, replacing the fava bean with a porcelain replica engraved with a face.

2. The King Cake stirred up controversy during the French Revolution.

To bring the pastry into the Christian tradition, bakers got rid of the bean and replaced it with a crowned king’s head to symbolize the three kings who visited baby Jesus. Church officials approved of the change, though the issue became quite thorny in late 18th century France, when a disembodied king’s head was seen as provocation. In 1794, the mayor of Paris called on the “criminal patissiers” to end their “filthy orgies.” After they failed to comply, the mayor simply renamed the cake the “Gateau de Sans-Culottes,” after the lower-class sans-culottes revolutionaries.

3. The King Cake determined the early kings and queens of Mardi Gras.


A Mardi Gras King in 1952.

Two of the oldest Mardi Gras krewes (NOLA-talk for "crew," or a group that hosts major Mardi Gras events, like parades or balls) brought about the current cake tradition. The Rex Organization gave the festival its colors (purple for justice, green for faith, and gold for power) in 1872, but two years earlier, the Twelfth Night Revelers krewe brought out a King Cake with a gold bean hidden inside and served it up to the ladies in attendance. The finder was crowned queen of the ball. Other krewes adopted the practice as well, crowning the kings and queens by using a gold or silver bean. The practice soon expanded into households throughout New Orleans, where today the discovery of a coin, bean or baby trinket identifies the buyer of the next King Cake.

4. The King Cake's baby trinkets weren't originally intended to have religious significance.

Although today many view the baby trinkets found inside king cakes to symbolize the Christ child, that wasn’t what Donald Entringer—the owner of the renowned McKenzie’s Bakery in New Orleans, which started the tradition—had in mind. Entringer was instead looking for something a little bit different to put in his king cakes, which had become wildly popular in the city by the mid-1900s. One story has it that Entringer found the original figurines in a French Quarter shop. Another, courtesy of New Orleans food historian Poppy Tooker (via NPR’s The Salt), states that a traveling salesman with a surplus of figurines stopped by the bakery and suggested the idea. "He had a big overrun on them, and so he said to Entringer, 'How about using these in a king cake,'" said Tooker.

5. Bakeries are afraid of getting sued.

What to many is an offbeat tradition is, to others, a choking hazard. It’s unclear how many consumers have sued bakeries over the plastic babies and other trinkets baked inside king cakes, but apparently it’s enough that numerous bakeries have stopped including them altogether, or at least offer it on the side. Still, some bakeries remain unfazed—like Gambino’s, whose cinnamon-infused king cake comes with the warning, "1 plastic baby baked inside."

6. The French version of the King Cake comes with a paper crown.


iStock

In France, where the flaky, less colorful (but still quite tasty) galette de rois predates its American counterpart by a few centuries, bakers often include a paper crown with their cake, just to make the “king for a day” feel extra special. The trinkets they put inside are also more varied and intricate, and include everything from cars to coins to religious figurines. Some bakeries even have their own lines of collectible trinkets.

7. There's also the Rosca de Reyes, the Bolo Rei, and the Dreikönigskuchen.


"Roscón de Reyes" by Tamorlan - Self Made (Foto Propia).

Versions of the King Cake can be found throughout Europe and Latin America. The Spanish Rosca de Reyes and the Portugese Bolo Rei are usually topped with dried fruit and nuts, while the Swiss Dreikönigskuchen has balls of sweet dough surrounding the central cake. The Greek version, known as Vasilopita, resembles a coffee cake and is often served for breakfast.

8. The King Cake is no longer just a New Orleans tradition.

From New York to California, bakeries are serving up King Cakes in the New Orleans fashion, as well as the traditional French style. On Long Island, Mara’s Homemade makes their tri-colored cakes year round, while in Los Angeles you can find a galette de rois (topped with a nifty crown, no less) at Maison Richard. There are also lots of bakeries that deliver throughout the country, many offering customizable fillings from cream cheese to chocolate to fruits and nuts.

9. The New Orleans Pelicans have a King Cake baby mascot—and it is terrifying.

Every winter you can find this monstrosity at games, local supermarkets, and in your worst nightmares.

5 Wild Facts About Mall Madness

Jason Tester Guerrilla Futures, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
Jason Tester Guerrilla Futures, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

The mall, home of fashion brands, bookstores, and anchor locations like Sears, was a must-visit location for Americans in the 1980s and 1990s—and especially for teenagers. Teens also played Mall Madness, a board game from Milton Bradley introduced in 1988 that tried to capture the excitement of soft pretzels and high-interest credit card shopping in one convenient tabletop game. Navigating a two-story shopping mall, the player who successfully spends all of their disposable income to acquire six items from the shopping list and return to the parking lot wins.

If you’re nostalgic for this simulated spending spree, you're in luck: Hasbro will be bringing Mall Madness back in fall 2020. Until then, check out some facts about the game’s origins.

1. Mall Madness was the subject of a little controversy.

In the 1980s and early 1990s, Milton Bradley put a focus on the tween demographic. Their Dream Phone tasked young players with finding the boy of their dreams; Mall Madness, which began as an analog game but quickly added an electronic voice component, served to portray tweens as frenzied shoppers. As a result, the game drew some criticism upon release for its objective—to spend as much money as possible—and for ostensibly portraying the tweens playing as “bargain-crazy, credit-happy fashion plates,” according to Adweek. Milton Bradley public relations manager Mark Morris argued that the game taught players “how to judiciously spend their money.”

2. The original Mall Madness may not be the same one you remember.

The electronic version of Mall Madness remains the most well-known version of the game, but Milton Bradley introduced a miniature version in 1988 that was portable and took the form of an audio cassette. With the game board folded in the case, it looks like a music tape. Opened, the tri-fold board resembles the original without the three-dimensional plastic mall pieces. It was one of six games the company promoted in the cassette packaging that year.

3. Mall Madness was not the only shopping game on the market.

At the same time Mall Madness was gaining in popularity, consumers could choose from two other shopping-themed board games: Let’s Go Shopping from the Pressman Toy Corporation and Meet Me At the Mall from Tyco. Let’s Go Shopping tasks girls with completing a fashion outfit, while Meet Me At the Mall rewards the player who amasses the most items before the mall closes.

4. There was a Hannah Montana version of Mall Madness.

In the midst of Hannah Montana madness in 2008, Hasbro—which acquired Milton Bradley—released a Miley Cyrus-themed version of the game. Players control fictional Disney Channel singing sensation Hannah Montana as she shops for items. There was also A Littlest Pet Shop version of the game, with the tokens reimagined as animals.

5. Mall Madness is a collector’s item.

Because, for the moment, Hasbro no longer produces Mall Madness, a jolt of nostalgia will cost you a few dollars. The game, which originally sold for $30, can fetch $70 or more on eBay and other secondhand sites.

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