The unlikely battle between the creator of the New York Public Library children's reading room and the beloved children’s classic Goodnight Moon.
Happy National Train Day, everyone – for those of you who missed it: that was May 13th this year. A year ago, we started down this path with Train Set: Track One, which gave way to Track Two …and now, here we are for the final part of our train-fecta.
Slip coaches, the worlds shortest trains, private cars, torpedoes, and of course, Thomas.
LA might be the most extreme parking city on the planet. Parking regulations have made it nearly impossible to build new affordable housing, or to renovate old buildings. And parking has a massive impact on how the city looks. LA is chock full of commercial strip malls, where buildings sit alone and isolated in a sea of asphalt. And all of this is the result of one policy decision that has reshaped American cities for the last eighty years.
Henry Grabar's Paved Paradise: How Parking Explains the World, tells a mesmerizing story about the strange and wonderful super-organism that is the modern American city. In a beguiling and often absurdly hilarious mix of history, politics, and reportage, Grabar brilliantly surveys the pain points of the nation’s parking crisis, from Los Angeles to Disney World to New York, stopping at every major American city in between.
In her new book Nuts and Bolts: Seven Small Inventions That Changed the World (in a Big Way), structural engineer Roma Agrawal identifies and examines the seven of most basic building blocks of engineering that have shaped the modern world: the nail, the wheel, the spring, the lens, the magnet, the string, and the pump.
Click here to get the book! Available for pre-order at W. W. Norton in the US and Bookshop.org in the UK.
Bad closed captions can be entertaining, but they can be serious, too, because captions are a critical tool for lots of lots of people. There are the people learning a new language and of course captions are essential for people who are deaf or hard of hearing. In the US, that’s about 15% of the adult population.
There's a new movie out called Pinball: The Man Who Saved the Game. It’s a fun and extremely meta biopic telling the story of Roger Sharpe, who, with one perfect shot, helped legalize pinball in New York. That’s right – pinball was banned in many states up until the 1970s. We told that story and interviewed the REAL Roger about, oh, 400 episodes or so ago. So if you haven’t gone that far back in the catalog, we wanted to give you a free replay. After that, we’ve got a new segment with Keith Elwin, a tournament champion who made the move into designing pinball machines.
Last year, Roman Mars teamed up with Hank Green to guest host Dear Hank & John -- this year he's back on the Greens' show once again, but this time with Hank's brother John Green (Turtles All the Way Down, The Fault in Our Stars, The Anthropocene Reviewed).
In their podcast Dear Hank & John, "hosts John and Hank Green (who are also best-selling authors and pioneering YouTubers) offer both humorous and heartfelt advice about life’s big and small questions. They bring their personal passions to each episode by sharing the week’s news from Mars (the planet) and AFC Wimbledon (the third-tier English football club)."
This week, guest host Roman Mars joins the show to discuss things like: Are roaches a moral failing? How do they do surgery on a fish? Why do only old people like stinky cheese?
From scratchers to the Powerball, the lottery is the most popular form of gambling in the United States, even though the odds of winning a big jackpot is infinitesimally small. Jonathan D. Cohen is a historian and the author of the book For a Dollar and a Dream; State Lotteries in Modern America and he says it isn’t just the people playing the lottery who irrationally think the game will solve their financial woes, the states running the lotteries suffer from the same delusion.
Today the Netherlands has a reputation as a kind of bicycling paradise. Dutch people own more bicycles per capita than any other place in the world. The country has more than 20,000 miles of dedicated cycling paths. International policymakers make pilgrimages to the Netherlands to learn how to create good bike infrastructure.
But none of that was inevitable. It wasn't something that magically emerged from Dutch culture.
In fact, in the 1960s and 70s, it looked like the Netherlands would follow the same path as the United States. The Dutch had fallen in love with cars and they were rebuilding their cities to make room for them. It was only because of a multi-decade pro-cycling movement that cars didn't take over the country entirely.
The “panopticon” might be the best known prison concept in the world. In the original design, all the cells are built around a central guard tower, designed to maintain order just by making prisoners believe that they are constantly being watched. Over time, the panopticon has turned into something way bigger than just a blueprint for penitentiaries. It’s become the metaphor for the surveillance state. Philosopher Michel Foucault had probably the most popular take on the panopticon concept. He used it to warn society that what actually keeps all of us in check isn’t necessarily that someone is watching you. It’s just the feeling that someone might be watching you. But very few actual prisons were built around this idea. Breda Dome is one of them.
Vintage crosscuts that were made between 1880 and 1930 are often the tool of choice for trail workers who maintain the country’s roughly 112 million acres of protected land. That’s ahead of chain saws and newly made crosscuts. And the reason this old tool has stuck around so long -- even in an age when there’s a newer, better gadget coming out every year -- it goes way beyond the physical saw itself. The rise, fall, and unexpected second life of the crosscut saw is also the story of how America created the very concept of wilderness.
The podcast Twenty Thousand Hertz is a show about the world's most interesting and recognizable sounds. I think of it as almost a sibling of 99% Invisible: lovingly produced and reported deep dives into everyday things that make you see the world differently. In case of Twenty Thousand Hertz, hear the world differently.
We’ve collaborated a number of times, but we’re featuring them today because our sibling podcast produced an episode with my actual sibling Leigh Marz, co-author of the book Golden: The Power of Silence in a World of Noise.
Leigh showed up on a mini-story episode 99pi a few months talking about the ever increasing loudness of sirens as a way of measuring just how loud our world has become. But the story Twenty Thousand Hertz produced tackles the main thesis of Golden more head on. I love how this episode turned out and I’m so proud of everyone involved, that I want to share it with you as a bonus episode.
In a noisy, tumultuous world, how can we find inner peace? This episode features two stories about the transformative power of silence. In the first, the Lieutenant Governor of Washington State abandons politics to become a Jesuit novice, and takes a temporary vow of silence. In the second, a death row inmate at San Quentin discovers Buddhist practices that help to calm his mind, and embrace compassion.
Featuring Cyrus Habib, Jarvis Masters, Leigh Marz, and Justin Zorn.
Back when whale oil was mainly used as a fuel to burn in lanterns and streetlights, an enterprising man named William F. Nye found a new way to sell whale oil to a rapidly changing world: as a lubricant for all the new fangled machines. Nye specialized in specialization- selling different oils for watches, sewing machines, bicycles. Lubrication has had a largely invisible role in the design of the modern world, but its importance cannot be overstated.
If we’ve learned anything from watching the turnover of tech giants like Yahoo! and MySpace, it’s that internet darlings rise and fall. And there’s something darkly fascinating about watching it happen in realtime.
Maybe we’re seeing it now with Twitter and Facebook– some of us will mourn the loss of the communities and connections that we’ve created in the virtual spaces owned by these billion dollar companies...
While others will enjoy visiting the graves of these once unstoppable behemoths to tramp the dirt down.
Either way, the values and trends and hopes and ambitions that go into the architecture of the virtual world say as much about us as the architecture of the real world. And that’s what these two stories are all about.
One study from 2018 found that Major League Baseball umpires blow about 14 calls every game. That’s 34,000 bad calls every year. And it makes a difference. A blown strike call can decide a win or a loss, a championship or six months at home, wondering what could have been. And while umpires are about 97% accurate in calling balls and strikes, Major League Baseball has been considering something drastic. Something to take us up to 100% accuracy. They have a plan to replace human umpires with robots.
In the 1980s a Polish anti-communist group called the Orange Alternative used cute images of a mythical creature with a tiny pointed hat to spread its anti-authoritarian message. That innocent symbol of an impish dwarf amplified a powerful political message to the world, which ultimately contributed to the fall of the Soviet Union. This approach is being used in creative and clever ways today by people protesting Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
When LA punks were looking for a place to play in the late 1970s, Chinatown welcomed the unruly scene. But it was an uneasy alliance that led to fierce rivalries, hurt feelings, blatant racism, and broken toilets. At the center of it all was a 62 year old Chinese immigrant named Esther Wong, aka Madame Wong, aka The Godmother of Punk.
On Aug. 1, 1942, the nation’s recording studios went silent. Musicians were fed up with the new technologies threatening their livelihoods, so they refused to record until they got their fair share. One Year's Evan Chung explores one of the most consequential labor actions of the 20th century, and how it coincided with an underground revolution in music led by artists like Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie.
Subscribe to the fantastic One Year: 1942
In the 20th century, Iowa high school girls basketball was HUGE but it was not the game we know today. In 6-on-6 basketball, the three forwards only play offense. And the three guards only play defense. No one is allowed to leave their assigned half of the court. 6-on-6 still uses the full length of a basketball court, but in a different way than 5-on-5. In 6-player, three forwards from one team and three guards from the opposing team play at one end of the court. Meanwhile their teammates wait at the half court line. This basketball variant made for high scores, quick action, and the girls who played it were local superstars.
If you live in South Africa, you definitely know someone who runs ultra-marathons, probably lots of someones. Here, ultras are the stuff of a whole country’s new years resolutions and mid-life crises. They’re the kind of thing that a totally ordinary, not-athletic person wakes up one day and decides they’re going to do -- and then does. In one of the most economically unequal countries in the world, extreme distance running is a sport that feels like it includes everybody. And improbably, that inclusiveness happened during one of the darkest, most divided moments in South Africa’s history – during the final years of apartheid.
Back in 2017 we ran an episode about the history of Brazil's iconic, yellow national soccer jersey. We were reminded of that story during the recent world cup, and then again on January 8th as a mob of right wing rioters attacked the Brazilian capital, many of them wearing those iconic yellow shirts. Needless to say the story of the yellow jersey has taken some real twists and turns in recent years, so today we’re going to rerun the original story about the jersey’s origins, and then producer Emmett Fitzgerald is going to update us on everything that has happened since.
We’re kicking off the new year at 99pi with a fresh installment of mini-stories, including: what lies at the intersection of a street and a road; the most unlikely of theme parks; and the evolution of ancient alleyways in Beijing, China.
This time of year, right in the middle of the holiday season, there's a beloved, frenzied tradition playing out in Filipino households all around the world, with which reporter Gabrielle Berbey is intimately familiar. A Balikbayan box is a huge cardboard box (often weighing over 100 pounds) that Filipinos living all over the world send to family members who are still living in the Philippines. The word Balikbayan literally means homecoming in Tagalog.
The whole conceit of this show is that if look at the world in the right way, you’ll see stories everywhere. Some of the stories are epic power struggles chronicling the construction of a famous skyscraper or the founding of a city; but other stories are more modest, smaller in scope and scale. We call those mini-stories and they're part of an ongoing, end-of-the-year tradition in which 99pi producers and friends of the show talk to host Roman Mars about something cool and fun that you can tell your friends or family about during a holiday get together.
You’ll hear about a very, very long escalator! Beavers dropping from the sky! We’ll hear from Janet, Miss Jackson if you’re nasty! Plus a visit from the queen!
If you’ve ever flipped through the radio dial — not satellite, not podcasts, but good old-fashioned AM and FM radio — you may have noticed something. Right wing radio talk is everywhere.
But the airwaves weren't always so dominated by such a narrow range of voices. Reporter and friend of the show Katie Thornton has the story of how talk radio has evolved (and perhaps devolved at times) over the past century, and what all of it means for the airwaves today.
Hear the rest of the the series from On the Media
Wildlife and urban development don’t usually go well together. Roads in particular fracture the habitats of wide-ranging animals. It restricts their movements and makes it harder for them to find food or a mate. But biologists and urban planners have started working together –- crafting a plan to try to help pumas move more safely around the city. And in the process this one cat, dubbed P-22, has turned into something of a celebrity—the symbol of a movement to redesign our cities and make the built environment more friendly to animals.
Los Angeles' El Peatonito is part of a subset of real life superheroes who are more focused on things like picking up trash and taking on civic issues than catching criminals in alleys.
These super citizens take their inspiration from comic books but in some ways have more ambitious goals than defeating a make believe villain. They are out to solve big societal problems. Wherever a city is plagued by traffic accidents, or people are living on the streets…these heroes heed the call of service.
Check out David Weinberg's brilliant series The Superhero Complex
When people ask me what my favorite episode of 99% Invisible is, I have a hard time answering. Not because they’re all my precious little babies or some such nonsense, but mostly it’s because I just can’t remember them all and there’s no simple criteria to judge them against each other. But the show is definitely in contention for the best episode we’ve ever made. It just has everything– engaging storytellers, brilliant reporting, and a compelling history of a moment when the world really changed. It’s called the Freedom House Ambulance Service. It originally aired in the summer of 2020, when a lot of the fundamental aspects of work, life, health, law enforcement, structural racism, cities were all being questioned by more and more people because of COVID and the George Floyd protests. Kevin Hazzard, who reported the piece, subsequently released a whole book on the Freedom House Ambulance Service called American Sirens: The Incredible Story of the Black Men Who Became America's First Paramedics. It’s new, it’s out now, you should buy it. should read it, it should be on all your Christmas lists. To celebrate the book’s release, I’m proud to re-present to you: The remarkable story of the Freedom House Ambulance Service.
Funiculars are great, which is why the main image from our previous train episode featured one -- except we didn't actually talk about that one during the show. It's a cable car from Wellington, and as it turns out it's one of hundreds of funiculars in this city. Roman and Kurt are back with another series of railroad tales. All aboard!
Articles of Interest is a show about what we wear. Host and producer Avery Trufelman investigates our collectively held beliefs about fashion and explores topics like the intellectual property law behind knockoffs, creation of tartan and the history of plaid, and how a dolls in a rural museum in Washington state saved French haute couture. This new season investigates a style that keeps coming back again and again and again.
Previously part of 99% Invisible, the show is now an independent production and a proud member of Radiotopia from PRX.