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Radio Lab – Black Box

Man—love those hour-long Radio Labs. The latest one’s called Black Box, and it’s all about the beauty of not knowing. Nothing too deep, nothing too scary. Just a few Abumrad style whodunnits. Mysteries of nature. Mysteries of magic. And mysteries of medicine.

The first story took a look at a mystery specific to the medical discipline of anesthesiology: what the mind does with that gap between consciousness and chemically-assisted unconsciousness. I can’t tell you too much, but much was revealed about what the brain does when you’re about to go under. Lots of short-acting, intravenously administered hypnotic/amnestic agents in this one, and thinky stuff.


The story that will undoubtedly stick with you the most is that of Sydney and Lesley Piddington (pictured), who were popular radio performers in the 1950s. The story, as told by their grandson, revolves around a trick they did for millions of listeners.

They claimed to be able to read people’s minds, and they never revealed to anyone in their family how they did it. Even though the trick is far from amazing, and in no way convinces me of anything regarding psychic phenomenon (it’s more about the art of secret keeping), Penn Jillete helps crack the code, which is not revealed on the actual episode. You have to follow this link to learn¬† how the Piddingtons did the trick. I found the reveal in a message board, by the way. The link supplied on air was, and it does NOT work. Probably a trick too.

Then there’s the caterpillar story, my personal favorite. The big mystery: what happens inside the pupae before a caterpillar turns into a butterfly or a moth. There’s a great deal of goo, existentialist pontification, and other weirdness that’ll make you rethink the little critters flying around your porch light.

Great episode.

Radio Lab – Rodney Versus Death

Here’s a little story from WNYC’s Peabody Award-winning program, Radio Lab. It’s about death incarnate; more specifically, rabies. Happy Monday!

Anyone who’s ever listened to Radio Lab would have a hard time denying its genius There’s an exclusivity with these shows you don’t find in the more prolific podcasts. They air few and far between, but when they do, they almost always leave an indelable impression. I still cite the one that sort of proved the sky’s not blue.¬† Plus, the hosts have some amazing NPR names: Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich.

Radio Lab’s a real A-gamer. I can’t think of a single dud. Even the “shorts” can get you to rethink what you assume to be objective truth. And the most recent episode, morbid as it was, stayed true to that model.

Though short by podcast standards (30ish minutes), this one really packed a punch. They delved into the 100% mortality rate associated with the rabies virus once it hits the brain. A couple interesting facts: It seems the mania associated with being “rabid” exists for transmission purposes; and biting is a near-perfect delivery system. The afflicted also have a very difficult time swallowing, even a fear of water, making the host’s mouth a repository for the virus.

They covered one case in particular where a doctor tried an experimental treatment on the deadly virus. I don’t want to spoil this one for you, as Radio Lab’s all about the twist. But there WAS mention of “rooster’s anus cure.” I’ll leave you with that.