Mini-Stories: Volume 1

Over the years, a number of fans have suggested that 99% Invisible cover a series of strange concrete arrows found scattered across the American countryside. They date back to the 1920s and were used to help guide airmail planes across the nation.

1924 U.S. Air Mail route map

While in use, the arrows were painted bright yellow and were accompanied by towers that illuminated them by night. These things are really neat (and fun to find on maps) but, ultimately, there is not much more to the story — not enough around which to build an entire episode.

We come across ideas like this all of the time—great little potential anecdotes and seeds of stories that just don’t warrant a complete audio production. So for this episode, we have compiled some of these shorter stories into a series of conversations between Roman Mars and the show’s producers. Each one also comes with its own little origin tale—the place it was found, person who suggested it and/or reason it made sense to include as a mini-story.

The Squaring of Circleville by Sam Greenspan

While researching the story that would become the episode The Plat of Zion, producer Sam Greenspan was digging through academic databases at the University of California at Berkeley’s Environmental Design Library when he came across a curious citation in an article. In “The Mormon Village, Genesis and Antecedents of the City of Zion Plan” (1977), author Richard H. Jackson writes that most towns built west of Appalachia all developed fairly similarly—with the lone exception of Circleville, Ohio. That led Sam to another journal article from 1955, entitled “Redevelopment in the 19th Century: The Squaring of Circleville.”

Historical town map of Circleville, Ohio

Circleville, Ohio was established in 1810 by a local power broker named Daniel Driesbach. Driesbach decided to build on land that had two Native American earthworks—one in the shape of a square, one in a circle. Dreisbach took inspiration from the shapes of the low earthen walls, and decided that they would be the framework for his city.

He decided to build a circular grid.

Seal of the City of Circleville

The result was an urban layout that looked less like graph paper and more like the steering wheel of a pirate ship—spokes sticking out in all directions from a central plaza, with a concentric ring road wrapping around the plaza, and another ring road around that. Hence: Circleville.

To the dismay of the Dreisbach, however, the Circlevillians hated it. People complained that the round streets forced everyone to build on oddly-shaped lots. Eventually, they appealed to the state government, and in 1837 the Ohio State Assembly decided to ditch the circular grid.

The Circleville Squaring Company was deputized to de-circle Circleville.

The squaring of Circleville. From “Urban Redevelopment in in the 19th Century: The Squaring of Circleville” (1955) by John W. Reps.

It took nearly two decades but it worked. All that is left of the original circular plan are a few rounded buildings, the name of the town, and the city’s municipal seal.



“the view from a foggy window, or your head in the clouds with a fever”- Lullatone
“adventure music for migrating birds”- Lullatone
Plus, all original scoring from Sean Real (Little Teeth)

  1. Juan Rivera

    Dear Roman,

    You mentioned growing up in Newark Ohio. Did you know that there is a concrete air mail beacon arrow, complete with the tower, in Newark, not a mile SW from the Indian Mound Mall you also mentioned on the Circleville story? Isn’t that cool?

  2. Logan

    Maybe there are some BIG design ideas that would fit best in your mini-story format. Low-level social structures are pretty interesting, especially the implications of normalizing the explicit, collaborative management of such systems. Optimizing mundane opportunity-costs is the soul–and practical foundation–of any sustainable society.

  3. Mark I

    Since 99pi started on the radio (is it still broadcast, btw?) I always meant to suggest looking into the origins of radio and a modern product of that.

    In short I found the first piece of radio equipment was a radio receiver. What was it receiving? The radio waves emitted by lightning strikes! Today North America has a huge network of lightning detectors – and needs them. In Canada alone, there are 2.34m strikes a year, and on average one every 3 seconds in summer (peaks at around 400 per minute)!

    Weather organizations use this infrastructure to triangulate the position of lightning and issue warnings, especially to mass events at sports stadiums. People can be killed by lightning – even inside their own homes – but it also causes power outages and starts 4000 forest fires per year in Canada, so the knock on effects are huge.

    But then this also goes around back to architecture and the steps taken to prevent buildings from lightning, which is a fascinating subject (I’m no expert, btw, I just got involved in a project to process data from lightning detectors and got sucked in when looking at the background behind it all).

    Anyway, I think this would be an awesome 99pi story.

  4. Rob F

    A bit of design that has always puzzled me is the building of golf courses on us and allied nation bases. It seems that an installation is not a real base unless it has a golf course, no matter how small or close to the runway it may be. I met a German artist who had a project that touched upon this item of design. A link to his project:
    This might be a small enough story for your current podcast project.

  5. Martin Hald

    A mini-stories part about the hundreds of different signs on El Camino De Santiago? Why a yellow arrow? Why a seashell and not something else? Is there any governmental restrictions on the type of signage you can do?

  6. Michael Hart

    NASA space mission patches. You have to do a story on NASA patches. They’re like like nuggets of of design that tell such a deep story…and go into space. Some of them were aweful. Example: Gemini 5. “8 days or bust” on a covered wagon? WTF? Some were beautiful and filled with meaning like the Apollo-Soyuz and others were iconic like the Apollo 11 patch. It would be every bit as fascinating as the vexillology episode but cooler because it involves space. SPACE!

    1. Aaron Harvey


      Much like the challenge coins in the military all of the space patches are designed by the astronaut crew. So since many of them are not designers they aren’t necessarily all going to be great. Lately designers like Michael Okuda of Star Trek fame has helped NASA out with various patches for larger programs but the individual mission patches are normally created by the crew.

  7. Shay

    Mini story idea: The iconic Fire & Water fountain in Tel-Aviv’s central Dizengoff Square was put into storage this week I’m preparation for the massive renovation planned for the square. But it wasn’t originally designed for Tel-Aviv.

    Artist Yaacov Agam had originally constructed it for Iran’s Shah, whose wife the empress loved Agam’s kinetic art. The elements in the fountain were designed to be in direct discourse with Zoroastrian and Persian influences. Following the Islamic Revolution in 79′, Agam was stuck with an expensive fountain and no buyer.
    … And that’s when Tel-Aviv municipality came in.

    Segue to another story, Dizengoff Square is going through massive renovation to re-lower it the whole square back to street level. It was originally constructed in the 30s, and was a modernist International Style masterpiece for decades in the heart of the White City. In the 60s and 70s it started becoming run down and traffic needs changed, and so the old square was elevated above the road, and redesigned as the brutalist monstrosity it is now. With time, crust punks and musicians and other street artists turned it around, and made it a living place. And so, in February this year, the municipality decided to lower the city’s central square again to street level, hence the massive renovation.

  8. One thing I just recently thought might be ripe for a 99PI story was colorblindness accessibility. I remember reading once that traffic light color standards were changed in the ’70s or ’80s so the green light stood out more to red-green colorblind individuals like me. I’ve seen it myself that most green signals look off-white to me, but I’ve seen older lights in small towns and rural areas that are much more green (and, thus, more similar to the yellow and red lights). It was especially interesting since I recently tried those colorblindness-mitigating sunglasses, and one of the biggest changes was that green lights actually looked green, like those older ones.

    The trouble is, I can’t track down where I heard this anecdote, or any kind of corroborating evidence that proves it really happened and isn’t just a side effect of streetlights getting better over time.

  9. Fox

    Hi, Roman! Here are two of my favorite architecture mini-stories.

    I lived during four years and a half in the city of Buenos Aires, Argentina. During my first year there, I often felt I could see a flash of light resembling that of a lighthouse making its orbit in the night sky. I found out much later that it is, in fact, a lighthouse, in the top of an office building in the middle of the city. The building is called Palacio Barolo. Its architecture is very peculiar as it was designed based on Dante Aligeri’s Divine Comedy. In fact, the construction was started during WWI and its purpose at the time was to house treasures of Italy (including Dante Aligeri’s remains) in case Europe was destroyed in war.

    Perhaps my favorite structure in Buenos Aires is the art deco Kavanagh Building. It was commissioned back in the 30’s by a wealthy young woman, Corina Kavanagh, who was in love with the son of the aristocratic Anchorena family. The family, however, did not approve of the engagement. As revenge, she had the tower built on a plaza, in between the Anchorena palace and the church they had constructed on the other side of the plaza, as to block the family’s view of their own basilica. Today, the church can only be seen from the plaza if you stand on a small passage, aptly named “Corina Kavanagh”.

  10. Sam

    So this is one weird thing that has less to do with the actual construction of an object, and more to do with the social phenomenon around it. The university that I’m graduating from this semester (in two days!) has a ton of underground tunnels running from building to building. Students are explicitly not allowed to enter them (not that that’s stopped some of us.) I’m really not sure what they’re for–I assume they’re just access tunnels or for transport of large objects–but there’s been a rumor in all of the time I’ve been here that they are, in fact, for riot police to run around in in response to student protests.

    This is connected to another rumor about a set of stairs on the campus that are supposedly structured to prevent mobs from traveling across them easily.

    Generally, I think it’s all just fun rumors. The campus was initially constructed in 1966, so the theory goes that it was built to suppress student protest in an era where that was very common. I guess it’s theoretically possible, but I’ve heard from other people that the timeline doesn’t quite line up.

    If it’s actually true, it’d be interesting to see how engineers and architects changed their approaches to construction in response to changes in student culture. If it’s not, it’s kind of cool to think about how rumors spread about stuff like this—what can be as innocuous as some access tunnels can turn in some students’ minds into part of a government response to suppress student activism. Kinda neat.

    Also, they’re really creepy and industrial-lookin’. I may or may not have been in them, and when I was down there they were flooded and dark and filled with old pipes and generally just gave a vibe of general weirdness. Cool stuff.

  11. Monte

    Nitpick alert!

    LIGO didn’t detect “a sound”. Sounds propagate through air not the vacuum of space. LIGO’s gravitational ripple measurements were just converted to sound files here on Earth, much like they were converted to the graphs in the YouTube video you linked to above, to give us other ways to understand this unfathomably faint natural phenomena. Saying “the sounds travelled through space” is just as inaccurate as saying “the YouTube graphs travelled through space” ;)

    1. Aaron

      Same nitpick here. LIGO is indeed an amazing machine. If someone had told me that humans could engineer such a device, I would probably have not believe it. What they’ve done is truly incredible.

  12. Leeta Yzermans

    Mini-story suggestion:

    The IDS Center in Minneapolis, MN. It’s a weird skyscraper that has these weird zigzag type corners that the architect called “zogs.” He did it to make more corner offices, and therefore, more desirable office spaces. However, in current day the “zogs” make it incredibly hard to build out a floor so that it adheres to a corporate standard office size. I work for Bank of America and we’re currently trying to accomplish this on the 35th floor and it is definitely a challenge.

    The IDS Center also has an interesting atrium area with a glass roof of varying heights. It’s architecturally somewhat interesting, but it’s not a well designed structure for Minnesota. In the spring when all the ice and snow on top of it melts, the glass roofs leak quite a bit and the facilities staff has to put out trash barrels to catch the water and lots of wet floor signs.

  13. Tim Douglas

    I feel as though only your team will be able to answer this. I live and work in Boston, MA. As you probably know, we had a pretty big construction project a few years back (thank you all for pitching in with taxes on that, by the way) when we took an interstate highway that ran through the center of town on a bridge, and moved it underground. Driving through these days you see lights, of course, running the length of the tunnel. What’s odd is that the first couple hundred feet have lights that are yellow. then they turn to white for the rest of the way. I’ve seen this at other tunnels as well, but I cannot figure out why! Do you know?

    1. Seva Loginov

      I think it has to do with helping your eyes adjust from the brightness of outside to the darkness of the tunnel.

  14. David

    The LIGO mini-story could develop into a full episode because there’s a deeper design story to be told.
    One angle is to describe what the chirp is. What was detected was a stretching and squeezing of space: the gravitational wave. The chirp in the mini story is a kind of analog in the audible range. Communicating this nuance is the story of how scientists describe discovery to the public. The fact that the gravitational wave was transformed into audio makes it well-suited to 99 pi.
    A second angle is the story of building a detector for black holes. Black holes don’t send the same signals as other physical phenomena: visible light, radio waves, x-rays. How do you build a detector for a signal that can’t be observed? That’s at the the intersection of the built and physical environments – where 99 pi lives.

  15. Sam Pelelo-Ray

    Hey! I haven’t listened to the back catalog, so if this has been covered, my apologies, but I would be interested to hear more about the striped blanets used in maternity wards for new babies! I see the same blanket on TV for decades, with pictures of myour parents as babies wrapped in these white, blue, and redish blankets. What’s the deal?

    1. VCD

      99PI didn’t cover that, but it’s worth noting that had an article about that in their article “5 Really Specific Products You Didn’t Know Were Monopolies”

  16. Christian

    Mini-story suggestion:

    I loved your ligo story about isolating the experiment from noise. That is a pretty common thread in physics, you are always trying to avoid unwanted environmental factors that could affect your measurements. I wanted to suggest a story where the exact opposite was the key to its success.

    First, a small primer. In early physics courses, the first variable you ignore is air resistance. How far will this cannonball go, assume zero air resistance. How long will it take this ball to drop, assume zero air resistance. In particle physics, you try to get everything done in a vacuum because atmosphere can throw everything off. This constant avoidance of air is why i love the Millikan oil drop experiment so much. It helped to usher in the modern age of particle physics, and it did so by relying on the much despised air resistance.

    It began like this. In the late 1800’s a lot of work was being done in particle physics. In 1896, JJ Thompson proved “cathode rays” were actually a new particle that we now refer to as electrons. At the time it, and also now, it is a relatively simple matter to measure a particle’s charge-to-mass ratio if you could reliably produce it in a near vacuum. You take the particle, apply a magnetic field, and because the magnetic field induces a circular path, you can find the charge-to-mass ratio using basic algebra. The trick however is finding either the charge or the mass so you can accurately predict its counterpart. It took 15 years for that to occur.

    Millikan’s experiment atomized oil droplets. Millikan assumed the tiny tiny droplets of oil would be kept as near-perfect spheres by surface tension, and so he could calculate their mass from their terminal velocity, which he observed. Then, he applied an electric field until the oil drops were suspended in midair. From all this he was able to calculate the charge on each droplet, and the charges were each a multiple of the elementary charge on an electron! So without air resistance, Millikan could not have found the terminal velocity, and without terminal velocity he could not have figured out the mass of the oil drops, and without knowing the mass, he could not have figured out the charge on each oil drop and without knowing that, he could not have realized they were integer multiples of the elementary charge!

    I love this experiment. It found an extremely critical piece of information by entirely relying on an environmental factor that is usually a nuisance.

  17. Tom


    Loved this episode!

    Always loved the details in your stories. I pitched a story to you folks a year or so ago – which I suppose I always felt was a little small, or maybe a little to English, for 99PI.

    But it might be something people could be interested in – it’s the story of what very nearly happened to arguably the most iconic modern building in the UK: Battersea Power Station.

    The majestic power station is currently undergoing a grim, soulless redevelopment, it will be transformed into apartments for the super rich, and a shopping mall. Great. However in the late 1980s, the station was moments away from being turned into one of the most audacious, ambitious theme parks ever conceived. The plan and the blueprints still exist, and it would have been awesome. It’s a story which is sadly indicative of the direction many cities – especially London – are heading.

    Anyway, after I pitched this to you guys, I wrote an article about it for Vice. Take a look here if you are interested – its sad to think what could’ve been!

    Keep up the grand work you do!


  18. Clarissa W

    Hey 99pi,
    Sending you a big hello from Brisbane, Australia! I have been a fan of this podcast for a while and have a suggestion for a miniseries topic. The idea came to me courtesy of a friend who is studying medicine in Adelaide, South Australia.

    Outside my friend’s clinical skills lab is a wall introducing the staff working there. Studying it one day, she noticed a portrait that looked out of place amongst the others – a black and white shot of a young woman in a 19th century dress, with a familiar face. Since there are no teachers or administrators at her university called L’Inconnue de la Seine, she decided to investigate.

    I’ll continue in her words:

    “Apparently an unknown body was pulled out of the Seine River in the late 1880s, and the cause of death was drowning. Her face was deemed so hauntingly beautiful that a death mask was made. The mask was used to produce the first CPR manikins in the 1950s, and has been used ever since.

    “No wonder that face looked familiar. I feel that there is much irony in us all learning how to save lives on a manikin fashioned from a mysterious dead woman.”

    I hope you find the topic as intriguing as we do.


    (Full credit to my friend Olivia Anderson who allowed me to use her story here.)

  19. Arthur

    The equator story reminded me of this: anything laid out in an orderly format is going to have one or more axes upon which it is based, but in very few cases is an axis actually based on something else.
    Wake Forest University was moved to its current location in the 1950s and the plan for the campus called for the center axis to be the straight line between Pilot Mountain (of Andy Griffith fame) and the Reynolds Tower (which served as the model for the Empire State Building and was at the time the tallest building in the South). School officials felt that it was the perfect symbolism of the unification of God’s creation and man’s creation (Wake Forest was a Baptist institution at the time).

    (For those wondering, it’s exact…here’s a screencap from Google Earth with the yellow line connecting the two monuments:

  20. Corban Lindsay

    My favorite story that could be pretty fun mini episode, or a full blown episode is the story of the Star Wars Logo. What I found fascinating about the Logo is that their were no brand guide lines to the original logo. So on all of the merchandise, toys, and posters the logo was slightly different from each other. It wasn’t until Marvel did the first comics for Star Wars that we receive the logo we know all to well today. I just find it funny too now that Disney owns both Star Wars and Marvel, Marvel has started making comic books again for Star Wars after a long hiatus.

  21. Chris H

    Hi Roman, I thought I’d send a story suggestion:

    Imagine you build a tree fort for your son and he enjoys it until he gets too old and moves away. Many years later, your neighbor decides to move into the fort and declare himself the Prince of Pineland. You’re not really sure how to approach him, but when you step outside to turn off the sprinkler he pulls a gun and fires warning shots into the air. When the police arrive, they determine that you built the fort in a tree just outside your property; there isn’t anything they can do.

    This is the story of the United Kingdom and the Prince of Sealand. It involves pirate radio, a German jet ski attack, and building forts too far away. I would contact the current Prince Michael Bates, son of the founder of Sealand, and/or Alexander Achenbach, Prime Minister of the Sealand Rebel Government.

  22. Connor Magyar

    A bit of infrastructure design I noticed last summer driving on Highway 215 north of Las Vegas: whenever you reach a major north-south street (heading west), the highway veers to the right and uphill, as though you were taking an off-ramp. There’s typically a traffic light at the top of the hill where highway actually meets artery, and you can turn left and head into town across an overpass.

    What you’ll notice before veering, however, is that the straightaway of the highway continues for another couple hundred feet. Below the underpass it’s either cleared and ready for concrete lanes to be laid, OR the “overpass” is actually sitting on top of a berm. No doubt this is so that the highway can continue to built in stages as increased traffic requires it. There are even some intersections that have already been converted, in fact!

    You can see on Google Maps if you find Highway 215 north of Vegas. First, look at where 215 meets N Pecos Rd., or Losee Rd. Then, just west of those two intersections, at N 5th St. you will see a typical highway exit scheme, with off- and on-ramps, and the primary lanes of traffic travelling *under* the overpass.

    Hope this isn’t common practice everywhere! I certainly hadn’t seen it before!

  23. Kendall Sutton

    I don’t know if it’s that interesting, but I’ve always had a small fascination with the history and design of Toronto’s public transit system. The largest streetcar network in the Americas (as far as I know), it has some unusual quirks. One of my favourites is the unique ‘gauge’ (distance between rails) of the tracks. For some reason, when installing the first streetcar networks, Toronto decided that the gauge shouldn’t follow any regional or industrial standard and instead came up with its own ‘Toronto gauge’, as its come to be called by some.

    I’ve heard the reason was so that horse-drawn carriages could run ‘on’ the tracks, alongside streetcars, as the distance between the rails supposedly closely mirrored the width of the average carriage axle.

    Regardless of the specific reason, one small benefit of this system is that the Toronto subway and streetcar systems, technically, could be unified into a single rail system. Subways (if they could be powered somehow) could be run on the streetcar rail network, and vice versa. To my knowledge, its never been done, but its a fascinating idea to imagine a streetcar pulling up to the platform in a subway station.

    The new LRT being built in Toronto, though, is using standard gauge, marking the first departure the use of “Toronto gauge” in the city since the system was established.

  24. Dan Alden

    Dear Roman,

    Texas has many lakes but only one of them is natural. All of the other lakes in Texas are man made. They were built for flood control, irrigation, and safety. When many of these lakes were built (and my guess others around the country/world) entire cities vanished from exisitance and are now literally at the bottom of the lake. These old cities and man made lakes are fascinating. The three gorges project in China in one of the largest projects in modern day. I think the story of these lakes, old cities and the people who were affected would be a great story for you.

    Dan Alden

  25. Liam

    Hey Roman!

    A quick little story about a local oddity. It’s the first church in a little local town, Duncan, BC, Canada, and it’s known as the butter church. Namely, because it was built off of the funds raised by a local dairy farm. However! It becomes even more interesting when you look into what happened after it was built. It shortly became deserted, as it was an unofficial claim and the church wanted an official land title, and the man who built it was peeved.

    There’s a bit more, not much, and you can read about it here:

  26. Mason Remel

    Hey there 99pi team! Thank you all for being so amazing and taking the time and energy to produce insanely good shows, y’all are my podcast super heroes and have inspired me to (after six years of debating with myself) finally produce my own and have been gathering stories over the last few months. One little thing I came across (being based in New Orleans) is a building now known as The Eiffel Society. The structure of the building once was the Restaurant de La Tour Eiffel that stood atop of the Eiffel Tower. In 1981 two chefs paid 1.5 million dollars to have the structure shipped to New Orleans and rebuilt in the Garden District off of the famous St. Charles St. Car Line. Cool side note, I also learned that the street cars here in New Orleans and the cable cars in San Fransisco are the only mobile national monuments in the country.
    You can find a little bit more info here:

    If anything I hope you find this interesting! Cheers!
    Thanks again!

  27. Father Pachomius Meade, OSB

    Dear Roman,

    You are famously a fan of flags, but I wonder if you would be interested in doing something on heraldry – I know snooty and often overwrought and bad genealogical rip-off schlock, but… Specifically, I think you could do something on ecclessiastical heraldry. I am a Benedictine monk and as I listen to your podcast I am painting the coat of arms that I designed for our new abbot. Every bishop, abbot/abbess, diocese, etc., etc. has a right to (and, like my abbot, is compelled to get one despite his druthers) and unlike nobility and generic family arms, these often say something specifically about the person, patron saint, and history of the place. AND in the U.S. at least, they are often quite bad – like clip-art, tell your entire life story bad… But sometimes its done very well by a persnickety group of heraldic artists and experts, and incorporates the best of design.

  28. Sophie Henderson

    Hi Roman,

    I have an idea of a story from Australia. In Canberra we have a new parliament house, which is shaped like a hill and covered in grass. The idea was that the public could walk over the house and remind the law makers who they work for.
    Unfortunately, because of the rising fear of terrorism, they have decided to put up fences so that you will no longer be able to walk up the hill or roll down it. There was even a news story recently when there was a mass public hill-roll to protest the fence.
    Also, because Canberra was designed, there is a nice view from Ainslie hill where you can see the war memorial, anzac parade, old parliament house and new parliament house, all in a straight line.

    Enjoy your break over Christmas and I hope there will continue to be more 99pi into the future.

  29. Carla Smith

    Roman, upon seeing the squared Circleville, you commented that it “. . .looks like every other boring town in central Ohio”. I encourage you to consider an alternative point of view: that Central Ohio – and much of the non-coastal US – is 99% invisible.

    Because of the influence of our nation’s coastal regions, we get lulled into thinking that very few other areas really exist in any meaningful way. This cloak of invisibility worn by the central (and still quite populous) states seems, to me, to be uniquely aligned with the reason for 99PI’s existence; to rip away the veil of invisibility and reveal the reality beneath. It was the voters in the 99% invisible states who created an Electoral College map resulting in Donald Trump as our next President. And, no one saw it coming.

    Please don’t denigrate those who live in the 99% invisible towns, cities, and villages across the US. Rather, explore, unveil, and acknowledge.

    Thank you, 99PI team for your extraordinary podcasts. I have learned so much and am gratified to be one of the “beautiful nerds” who delight in each episode. Thank you for listening. Signed, a devoted fan born and raised (but no longer living in) Ohio.

  30. Gabe

    Hey there!
    I’d like to know why radio stations have seemingly random letter designations, eg. KALW.
    Why have three or four letters when you could just describe them by the frequency they broadcast on? Is there any way the letters are chosen, are the location related or designated by some central authority? Do they stand for something? I live in Melbourne, Australia, and some local stations off the top of my head are JJJ, RRR, MMM, Gold and Smooth, so a mix of random letters and descriptive short names.


  31. Adriel Watt

    Dear 99pi Team,

    I know that someone has submitted a picture of a “Stolperstein” (Stumbling Block) to , but I think the Stolpersteine would make a great mini-story for you all.

    They are little (10×10 cm) brass plaques put in between the paving stones with mini-biographies of people who used to live at that address. These are not biographies of famous people, but people who were “victims of Nazi extermination or persecution”.(1) According to the official website there are now more than 60,000 Stolperteine in 21 countries in Europe.(2)

    I ran across them for the first time while living in Leipzig. At first I just walked right past them, having more pressing things to do than read a paving stone. After hearing the dictum “always read the plaque” I decided to stop and read one of those small brass plaques in the pavement. I was slightly shocked to read, what was written there.

    I like them for a number of reasons, but mainly because of their understated character. They do not force themselves upon you. They do not even give you that much information, but for anyone who is willing to stop and read a plaque, they bear witness to the undeniable fact, that an ordinary citizen was forced from the building you are standing in front of and more often than not put to death. That is the power of a properly placed plaque.


  32. Ben

    Mini story idea: My college design told a rumor that thousands of dollars worth of precious stones were secretly dumped in the Pearl River that flows through Jackson Mississippi. These stones were the huge lithographic stones used for printing the local newspapers. When the Clarion Ledger swapped to a mechanized press, the owner scrapped the metal but marble was too costly and unwanted to keep. So they hauled to an undisclosed pier and illegally dumped them in. Today printmakers gladly pay a high price for large used stones. There have been divers looking for these treasures but none have been found yet.

  33. Roger

    As a corollary to the Emmett Fitzgerald story on the Big Zero, there is a rugby pitch on the island of Taveuni (Fiji) where, due to the positioning of the international date line, the teams change days at half time.

  34. Bryon

    Mini-story idea:
    It could be called 100% invisible.

    There is a really cool sub-culture of people who are using cheap TV tuners (~$10) and open sources software to tune into various types of radio signals (thus 100% invisible :)

    Some cool things to listen for with your tuner include:
    Images from the ISS –
    Weather satellite data / images –
    Aircraft Traffic –

    Here are some links:
    Sub-reddit –
    Software –

  35. Jennifer


    I live and teach near Washington DC. Many of our buildings look ancient in nature, and my architect husband said that DC borrowed an old look. I would love to know why and how that was decided for our nation’s capital.


  36. Daniel Gonzales

    For Episode 2 check our Poly Canyon, a mile or so hidden behind Cal Poly State University is a canyon filled with experimental architecture, built by decades of architecture and engineering students. The gravel access road is not well marked and it’s gated so the only way average people get there is by hiking in, and of course knowing that it’s there.

  37. Dirk Frey

    I always find small little wonders about Cincinnati. There is a 20% complete subway that was never built. Underground tunnels for the breweries. I find the best one is in the Americanizing of the cities German streets. During WWI a lot of the cities streets were German names like Bremen or Hapsburg but were converted to Republic and Merrimac to extinguish any German sympathy.

  38. James Landay

    Re: LIGO

    It is not a sound that is traveling through space that they detected. You just heard the signal (the gravity wave) translated to a sound so that you had a representation that you could hear on the radio.

  39. David Wright

    I live on the edge Adair Village, Oregon, a few miles north of Corvallis (home of the Oregon State Beavers). In World War II, tens of thousands of acres here served as an army base, and after WWII there was an Air Force Station. In the center of the town sits a three-story concrete cube, and this cube once housed an enormous computer. Its task was to calculate intercept points for Bomarc surface-to-air missiles to shoot down Soviet nuclear bombers. The Bomarc launcher installation was halfway built before construction stopped in 1959 due to budget cuts and strategic changes. But the computer ran for ten more years until technological advances rendered the system obsolete.

    My dad told me that if you walk out by the city’s water treatment plant (in an area where you’re not supposed to go), the unfinished Bomarc launchers are still there. I’ve never gone out there myself, but out in the local wildlife refuge there are still remains of the buildings from the WWII Army base days, so I believe him.

    I was born in 1984, so it’s interesting to think how things would have been different (or if my parents would have even moved here in 1974) if I had spent my preschool years in the shadow of a missile station.

    1. David Wright

      I’ll add this: the former generator building for the computer building now houses a distillery.

  40. Jake

    The largest miniature in the world. Really interesting how design principals might scale with the size of the subject :)

  41. Q

    Have you every done the history of the QWERTY keyboard and the attempts to replace it? Seems like common knowledge, but QWERTY is deliberately cumbersome as a carryover from typewriters.

  42. Damian M

    Dear Roman and the whole 99pi team!

    I’m a long-time fan and listener, and since I really enjoyed the last short stories episodes I thought I give it a try and write some suggestions for another shortie :)

    So, I’m majoring in Modern China Studies and currently (again) travelling around China for a couple of weeks. Whilst here, I stumble upon potential 99pi storylines basically on every step I take… The urban development of the last 30 years has been both impressively exceptional and dreadfully rapid. While huge cities grew out of little villages (Shenzhen being maybe the most stunning example), millions of people faced relocation and saw their hometowns disappear (the Three Gorges Dam could act as an extreme example:

    I could start naming fascinating topics of all the 99pi spheres of interest without stop, but that would result in changing the podcast into a fully China-focused one… (Idea: maybe you can do a full episode on China ode day?? :)

    Instead, let me give you three short story propositions to consider for the newest collection:

    1. The biggest city square in the world, covering an area of 1.1 million m2 in Dalian, northeast China ( The story of its creation and all the symbolical elements it is covered with run a fascinating pararel to the political aspirations and eventual downfall of the now infamous Party leader Bo Xilai.

    2. The freshly opened high-speed railway connection between Shanghai and Kunming, 2266 km long and with an average velocity of 300 km/h ( The plans are to eventually connect Shanghai and Lhasa, making it not only the longest high-speed trainway (over 4000km!) but also the highest one in the world, for the tracks will run on 3500m high mountains. The Gaotie system in itself also deserves a treatment – I mean, which other country’s railway network could face a mass-migration of over 650 million citizens in one week (Chinese New Year time) and actually be able to manage it?

    3. Finally something more techy: we always tend to describe Chinese websites and apps as “the Chinese Facebook” or “the eBay of China” etc. Putting aside the obvious chauvinism of those statements, let me give you an example of how the reality here looks like. Let’s say Roman is really into Star Wars and just can’t wait to see Rogue One in his favourite cinema. Would Roman be in China, he would start by checking out the reviews and comments of fellow cineasts on Douban. There he would see that 42090 people rated the movie with a 7.5 out of 10, and that the 21653 reviews were critical but mostly positive. He would then open his Baidu Maps app, check the area for the nearest cinema, see the screening times, watch the trailer again, select his desired seat, proceed to buy it for 1/4 of the regular price, select to pay for it with virtual money and get another 6 rmb discount, get the QR code for the tickets pickup, check the fastest way to get there with his car and start a navigation voiced by his favorite voice. Yup, all this in one app.

    After arriving at the cinema and skipping the queue to simply get his tickets printed out from a machine once it scanned the QR code, Roman would then buy a huge popcorn and a beer, for which he would pay with Alipay, since carrying around cash was so 2014. After the seance, Roman would order a ride home with Didi, for which he would not only pay less than for a regular taxi but also select his preferred car class and music setting beforehand. In the car, he would open WeChat to message with his friends and colleagues, and while posting some pics of the day, checking the latest news, and realising that everything I’ve just described he actually could’ve done in this single app (instead of using four different ones) he would book a flight to Hainan and a stay in his favorite spa and beach resort to relax a bit.

    So these are my three suggestions, hope you enjoy them guys and even if not, keep up the good work you are doing! :)

  43. Sarah Marks

    I LOVE the idea of the mini stories! Would you consider doing a short, easy, audio version of the article stories as well?

    I listen to episodes straight from your website while at work, and usually feel like I am missing out on the articles since I don’t have time to read them, but I would definitely listen to someone reading the short articles to hear all of the interesting topics that you guys find!

    Thanks for everything you guys do, I always have fun facts for friends thanks to 99PI!

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