Latest Podcast Episode

192 False Alarm

In 1983 a Soviet satellite system erroneously detected five incoming American nuclear missiles. Stanislav Petrov, the man tasked with reporting the alert to the USSR’s leadership, suddenly had a dire choice: He could do his duty and start a nuclear […]



191 The Black Paintings

Francisco Goya is one of the first modern artist, and toward the end of his life he painted his most well-known works, the Black Paintings, into the walls of his home outside Madrid. The most famous of the Black Paintings […]

190 Faro, the Hottest Game in the West

The image of cowboys playing poker has shown up again and again in Westerns. However, if you walked into a saloon in the late 1800s, you likely wouldn’t find poker, blackjack, or other contemporary casino games. Instead, you’d probably find […]


189 Thom Wall on The History of Juggling

Thom Wall is a professional juggler and who’s known both for his feats of dexterity and his enthusiasm for old-style vaudeville performance. His new book Juggling From Antiquity to the Middle Ages traces the history of the art across time […]

188 Swingin’ on the Flippity-Flop

Find out what a badly-sourced article in the Toronto Sun, a fake list of grunge slang in the New York Times, and an oft-repeated anecdote about a floating bordello can tell us about better evaluating sources and looking at how […]


187 Presidential Pets

This week we look at the animal companions of America’s chief executives, including opossums, eagles, and very good dogs.

186 Crystal King on The Chef’s Secret

Crystal King is the author of two novels about Italian food history. Her first book Feast of Sorrow delved into the world of food in ancient Rome, and her follow up moves forward over a thousand year to explore food […]


185 The Georgia Guidestones

In 1980 a mysterious benefactor who only identified himself as “R.C. Christian” commissioned a granite monument in rural Georgia bearing advice on how to reconstruct civilization after the apocalypse. Unfortunately, it’s not very good advice.

184 Is Taiwan a Country?

Taiwan’s status is a matter of debate. In this episode we get into its history and try to suss out whether it’s part of China or an independent country.


183 Krampus and Friends

Over the past decade or so the Krampus, a demonic figure from German folklore, has become something of a Christmas staple in the United States. However, the Krampus is by no means the only German Christmas monster. Frau Berchta, Knecht […]

182 Atlantropa, the Plan to Drain the Mediterranean

In the 1920s German architect Herman Sorgel had a plan: Solve nearly all of Europe’s social, economic, and environmental problems by partially draining the Mediterranean. He called the project “Atlantropa,” and it would have been a massive environmental disaster. View […]


181 Thanksgiving Mummery

Thanksgiving, at least in New York City at the end of the 1800s and early 1900s, used to look a lot like Halloween. Traditional trappings like turkey and family gatherings were certainly present, but it was also a day for […]

180 Lucy Bellwood on Sailor Tattoos

Lucy Bellwood is a cartoonist and author in Portland, Oregon. Last year her illustration of sailor tattoos went viral. We talked about nautical tattoos, their meanings, and what it means to get well-known on the Internet very quickly. We also […]


179 Buried Alive!

Being buried alive was one of the most common phobias of the Victorian era. Fear of premature interment in a coffin inspired the creation of the London Association for the Prevention of Premature Burial, an Edgar Allan Poe short story […]

178 Wendigo

Cannibalism is one of the the most prevalent taboos across human societies, and people who practice cannibalism have frequently been demonized throughout history. The Wendigo, a creature from Algonquin folklore, is one of the most vivid examples of how cannibalism […]


177 How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Be Okay With Ghost Tours

Some reflections on giving tours, ghost tours, and how the Philip experiment is kind of like Dungeons and Dragons.

176 The Cadaver Synod

In 897 Pope Stephen VI put the corpse of one of his predecessors, Formosus, on trial. The current pope ordered that the former pope’s dead body be dressed in papal finery and put on a throne to stand trial. Stephen […]


175 Approved by the Comics Code Authority, Part Two

From 1954 until 2011 the Comics Code Authority exercised control over what could and couldn’t be in comic books. The first version of the code was one of the most restrictive content regimes U.S. media has ever known, banning subject […]

174 Approved by the Comics Code Authority, Part One

From 1964 until 2011 comic books were nominally approved by a content regime called the Comics Code Authority. The Authority grew out of anti-comic book sentiment in the early part of the twentieth century. Anti-comics advocates like Fredric Wertham portrayed […]


173 Roanoke

The disappearance of the Roanoke colony is one of America’s oldest mysteries. However, the story of the Roanoke colony was only a major pillar of American historiography after the 1830s, and later on in the 1800s Virginia Dare, the granddaughter […]

172 Live at the Steep and Thorny Way to Heaven, The Tempest and the New World

Shakespeare’s Tempest is a fantasy, but it’s backgrounded by European encounters with the New World. When the play was written in 1610 or 1611 European sailors had already been exploring the Americas for over a century. References to the New […]