Mini-Stories: Volume 15

Roman Mars [00:00:01] It’s time to reboot your credit card with Apple Card. Now through December 25th, get 5% daily cash back on products at Apple with a new Apple card, including a new iPhone 14 or Apple Watch Ultra. At everywhere else, Apple Card gives you up to 3% unlimited daily cash back on everything you buy. Apply now in the wallet app on the iPhone and start using it right away. Subject to credit approval, monthly financing through Apple Card monthly installments is ineligible to earn 5% back. Additional exclusions apply. Valid only on qualifying U.S. purchases for new Apple Card customers who open an account and use it from December 1st to 25th, 2022 at Apple. Visit apple.go/savefive for more details.

General [00:00:41] Call of Duty: Modern Warfare is here, and so is Mountain Dew. 

Soldier [00:00:44] Roger that. 

General [00:00:45] Now you can unlock in-game rewards like only Dew can. 

Soldier [00:00:48] Wait, what rewards? 

General [00:00:50] A Dew Operator skin. 

Soldier [00:00:51] Man. I love operator skins. 

General [00:00:52] Dual double XP, and even Call of Duty points. 

Soldier [00:00:55] You’re kidding me. Double XP and Call of Duty points? This is incredible. I can’t believe it. 

General [00:01:00] Soldier, get a hold of yourself. 

Soldier [00:01:02] Oh, roger that. 

General [00:01:03] Look for specially marked packaging and visit for details and restrictions. Open to U.S. residents, 17+. Call of Duty points available at 12 and 24-packs.

Roman Mars [00:01:13] This is 99% Invisible. I’m Roman Mars. The whole premise–the whole conceit–of this show is that if you look at the world in the right way, you’ll see stories everywhere. Some of these stories are epic power struggles chronicling the construction of a world-famous skyscraper or the founding of a city. But other stories are more modest, smaller in scope and scale. We call those “mini stories.” Mini stories are an end-of-the-year tradition where 99PI producers and friends of the show join me on mic to tell me about something cool. That’s all I want. I want to hear something cool, something fun, something that you could tell your friends or family during a holiday get together. Speaking of family, I have someone here with me. Please tell these nice people who you are. 

Leigh Marz [00:02:00] Leigh Marz. I’m your big sister. 

Roman Mars [00:02:03] What do you do besides that? 

Leigh Marz [00:02:04] When I’m not big sistering you, I write books. Or I’ve written a book about silence. 

Roman Mars [00:02:12] The book is called Golden: The Power of Silence in a World of Noise. 

Leigh Marz [00:02:17] And so it is about silence, about why it’s important, about what it is and how to find it in any situation. 

Roman Mars [00:02:24] So what’s an example of finding silence in any situation? 

Leigh Marz [00:02:26] So this is not a book for people running after retreats and silent retreats, for example, for months on end. This is really about finding silence in the midst of a noise-soaked, busy, full life. Something you might know something about. Something I know something about. Something my coauthor, Justin, certainly knows something about. 

Roman Mars [00:02:46] And what kind of noise are we talking about? 

Leigh Marz [00:02:48] So the noise we look at in the world is auditory–that which happens in our ears–informational–that which comes at us usually through our screens–and internal–that which happens inside, internal chatter, rumination, worry about the future, fretting about the past. 

Roman Mars [00:03:04] So I was reading your book, and I’m getting a lot out of it, especially the sections about silencing your inner chatter because my inner chatter is very loud. But I came across this example that is a perfect, little, design-related 99PI mini story. And it’s about the loudness of emergency sirens. Can you tell us about that? 

Leigh Marz [00:03:23] So we use emergency vehicles as a proxy indicator for how loud the surrounding environment is because it has to pierce through the surrounding din in order to get our attention, right? So, the composer and environmentalist, R. Murray Schafer, found that fire engine sirens in 1912 reached about 96 decibels when measured 11 feet away. And then in 1974, it reached 114 decibels at 11 feet away–that same distance. Bianca Bosker, a journalist, recently looked at the sounds of sirens–modern day sirens–and found that they reached up to 123 decibels at about that same distance. 

Roman Mars [00:04:11] That might not sound like a big increase–96 to 114 to 123–but that’s on a logarithmic scale. 

Leigh Marz [00:04:17] So that means that it’s an exponential increase. Every ten decibels is ten times the sound pressure to the ears and twice as loud in our experience of hearing it. So, from 1912 to 2019, the siren levels have increased sixfold. They’re six times louder. So that shows you how loud it’s become in that surrounding environment that our sirens have to be six times as loud to get our attention. 

Roman Mars [00:04:46] That’s so cool. Okay, so tell everyone again the name of the book. 

Leigh Marz [00:04:50] Is called Golden: The Power of Silence in a World of Noise, written by your big sister, Leigh Marz–and Justin Zorn, my other brother. 

Roman Mars [00:04:59] What? Get out! And with that, the 2022-2023 mini stories are underway. 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. And a visit from the Queen. Let’s go. So, I’m here with producer Chris Berube. Chris?

Chris Berube [00:05:29] Roman, it is the most wonderful time of the year. 

Roman Mars [00:05:32] It is fantastic. So, what have you got for me? 

Chris Berube [00:05:34] So my mini story is about Queen Elizabeth, who died this year back in September. And, of course, being Canadian, it’s something I heard about a lot. It was something everybody was talking about for a solid month. 

Roman Mars [00:05:46] Right. Because I don’t know if I really fully understand the relationship between the queen and Canadians. So, what is she to you exactly? 

Chris Berube [00:05:54] Yeah, she was Canada’s head of state, which is a little esoteric, to be honest. I mean, she’s on the money. She wasn’t really that present in day-to-day life. I mean, it used to be different. It used to be, you know, you look at pictures of old hockey games and during the national anthem, all the players are looking up at a painting of the queen. But mostly for Canadians, you know, especially in the 21st century, the only time we really thought about her were during royal visits, like when she would come to visit Canada. And actually what I want to talk about today is one of those. 

Roman Mars [00:06:29] Oh, fantastic. Okay, hit me. 

Chris Berube [00:06:31] Okay. So back in 2002, the Queen came by my old workplace, the CBC. And this is before I worked there. I did not get to meet the Queen, but I’ve spoken to a couple of people who were involved, and they all tell me it was pretty intense. They were preparing for this thing for months in advance. 

Luciano Casimiri [00:06:49] She only has, like, it might be 12 minutes or 8-to-12 minutes. But there’s been a year of preparation of “We need a bathroom built on that floor in case the Queen has to fart or whatever.” 

Chris Berube [00:07:05] Okay, so this is Luciano Casimiri. He’s a comedy writer. And back in 2002, he was working at the CBC. And all this prep is going on, and his boss comes up to him and says, “Hey. We need a writer to work on the event.” And Luciano was like, “Well, that’s confusing. Like, why would you need a comedy writer? I don’t plan events.” And his boss says, “Well, we need somebody to write all the dialogue.” 

Roman Mars [00:07:31] All the dialogue for a real-life visit? What does that mean? 

Chris Berube [00:07:34] Right. So, the boss tells him, “Okay, everything that is going to be said to the Queen during this visit–it must be written out in advance. And we are going to send all the dialogue to Buckingham Palace.”. 

Roman Mars [00:07:47] For, like, approval. Oh, my goodness. 

Chris Berube [00:07:50] I know. So, okay, his job was to write dialogue for 30 people who worked at CBC–these are regular people–that they were going to say to the Queen of England. 

Roman Mars [00:08:00] So what kind of dialogue is he writing? 

Chris Berube [00:08:02] Yeah, Luciano explained a typical back and forth to me. And the way he described it, it sounded pretty boilerplate. 

Luciano Casimiri [00:08:09] “This is Chris. He’s a writer, he’s a podcaster, and he’s been with us for 17 years.” And then she said, “Oh, Christ. It’s really nice to meet you. What exactly is a podcast?” And then you would go off script. “It’s like radio and, you know, all us nerds do it. It’s crazy. You should do it.”

Roman Mars [00:08:30] Well, he’s got us pegged. 

Chris Berube [00:08:31] Yeah, 100%. So, for, like, a month, Luciano is writing this dialogue for 30 people, and he’s sending it to Buckingham Palace, and they’re coming back with these notes. 

Luciano Casimiri [00:08:41] You can’t hug her. You can’t get a selfie with her unless she asks for one. One of the protocols that still blows me away–they tell you, “Oh, don’t ask if the jewels are real because they’re real.” 

Roman Mars [00:08:58] That is hilarious. Okay, so this just brings to mind a ton of questions. Like, is this how it is all the time? 

Chris Berube [00:09:05] Yeah, me too. So many questions. First question, obviously–is everybody who meets her reading off a script, right? How much does she know about this? Is the Queen living inside The Truman Show? Like, do you remember the movie The Truman Show? 

Roman Mars [00:09:17] I did. I saw it originally when it came out. 

Truman Burbank [00:09:20] Good morning. 

Woman [00:09:21] Morning. 

Girl [00:09:22] Good morning. 

Truman Burbank [00:09:23] Oh, and in case I don’t see you… Good afternoon, good evening, and good night. Yeah. 

Spencer [00:09:30] Morning, Truman. 

Truman Burbank [00:09:31] Morning, Spencer. 

Roman Mars [00:09:32] Jim Carrey’s inside of a TV show. But in that case, everyone else knows it, but he doesn’t know it. Like, she could be the Truman of The Truman Show. Or she could be in on it. I don’t know. 

Chris Berube [00:09:42] Yeah, exactly. So, I asked Luciano, and he doesn’t know, right? He only knows that this one time he had to write dialog for the Queen. So, when I heard that the Queen died, you know, I first heard the story about ten years ago, and I decided, “You know what? I gotta get to the bottom of this.” Like, how common was this for the Queen? 

Roman Mars [00:10:01] Excellent. So, what did you do? 

Chris Berube [00:10:02] Well, first off, I actually called Buckingham Palace. 

Roman Mars [00:10:06] Yeah, I didn’t know you could actually just call it. But yeah, I’ve heard of it. 

Chris Berube [00:10:10] Yeah, they actually have this public phone number for journalists. So, if you have a press inquiry, you can just call and ask Buckingham Palace a question. And the rules are you can’t record. So, I was not allowed to record that. So, I called them up, and I’m like, “Hey, you know, weird question. Did the Queen live inside The Truman Show?” And they’re like, “We’ll get back to you on that.” And they obviously haven’t gotten back to me on that. So, my next step is I decided I was going to email people who had met the Queen on royal visits–so people who were in photos with the Queen. So, I emailed a bunch–and within an hour, I actually heard back from somebody. And I’m kind of surprised he got back to me. 

John Manley [00:10:48] Hello, John Manley speaking. 

Chris Berube [00:10:49] Oh, hello. This is Chris Berube. Your Honor? The Honorable John Manley? I’m sorry, what do I actually call you? 

John Manley [00:10:56] Whatever you want. It doesn’t matter.

Chris Berube [00:10:58] Okay. So, the Honorable John Manley was the deputy prime minister of Canada from 2002 to 2003. And during the royal visit in 2002, he was the Queen’s escort when she visited Parliament Hill, which sounds very official. But according to him, the whole experience was kind of a little uninspiring. 

John Manley [00:11:16] I met her at the aircraft. I was in the motorcade. But there’s not a lot to do. There’s not a lot of opportunity to talk with her–to be with her. I mean, you don’t travel with the Queen. She’s in her own vehicle. 

Chris Berube [00:11:35] So John Manly says, much like Luciano, he was given this long list of things you’re not supposed to do when you meet the Queen. You’re supposed to bow, you’re supposed to call her “Your Majesty”–stuff like that. So, I’m building up to it. And obviously it’s weird to ask someone, “Were you reading off a script?” But I built up the courage. I asked him. I told him the whole story about Luciano. And John Manley said, “No.” He did not have to read off a script when he met the Queen. 

John Manley [00:12:02] I never experienced the palace being that, you know, involved in the details–moment-by-moment. 

Chris Berube [00:12:10] Does that sound plausible to you? That, like, everybody speaking to the Queen is reading off a script of some kind? 

John Manley [00:12:15] Well, my guess is that wasn’t dictated by the palace. It was probably dictated by the CBC. “The Queen’s coming to our building. Here’s how we’re going to receive her.” Now, somebody may have decided they should tell the palace what they plan to do. So, my guess is that was the CBC’s plan. 

Roman Mars [00:12:41] Huh. So, do you have any, you know, theories as to why the CBC would do that? 

Chris Berube [00:12:44] So I asked a few people about this, and it seems like the big reason was timing. Like, they had less than 15 minutes, they wanted to get to 30 people, it’s just a lot more efficient if you script everything out. But also, like, the CBC is a public institution. I can see them being worried that if somebody goes off the cuff, they offend the Queen, that could be a terrible headline. You know, there’s lots of reasons this might have happened. But regardless–whatever the reason was–that day, everybody was scripted. 

Roman Mars [00:13:13] And so, like, how did it go with the CBC? Did people actually stick to the script? 

Chris Berube [00:13:17] Yeah. So, Luciano told me, you know, after all the prep–writing the dialog for 30 people–they actually did a run through where Luciano played the Queen, and went up, and was like, “Hello. I’m the Queen.” And the whole visit–after all that–it went totally fine. It was 12 minutes long. Luciano actually was able to sneak himself into the line to meet the Queen. 

Luciano Casimiri [00:13:38] And she had, like, an emerald necklace and tiara. And all I could think of was like, “Holy ****. Is that real?”

Roman Mars [00:13:45] Like, I guess that’s why they have the rule. Because you’re so gob smacked by the jewels, like, everyone just–mouth agape–says, “Are those real?” 

Chris Berube [00:13:52] Well, yeah, exactly. I mean, Roman, that’s why I never asked you about your recording tiara. I feel like it’s an important question. 

Roman Mars [00:13:58] Well, and you should just always assume it’s real. This is so great. Well, thank you, Chris. 

Chris Berube [00:14:04] Thanks, Roman.

Roman Mars [00:14:20] This is the sound of the longest escalator in the United States. It’s at Wheaton Station, which is a stop on Washington, D.C.’s metro subway system. The escalator is 230 feet long, and it takes about 3 minutes to travel from top to bottom. 99PI’s intern, Olivia Green, lives in D.C. And she’s going to tell you about this escalator and some of the lore surrounding the metro station that it’s a part of in the length of time it takes for her to ride the escalator. So, here’s Olivia. 

Olivia Green [00:14:52] I’m a regular metro commuter, but standing here is always kind of an eerie experience. In addition to the sounds of the machines and just how deep the tunnel goes, if you look up, the walls are curved, gray, and stark looking. Engineers chose to build this particular station so deep because the rock in this area is especially soft. So, they needed to dig the train tunnels in more solid rock further down. The tunnel’s visual inspiration came from a team of architects led by a man named Harry Weese back in the 1960s. 

Zachary Schrag [00:15:26] So prior to taking on Metro, Weese had not worked on a subway system before. 

Olivia Green [00:15:32] This is Zachary Schrag, a historian who studied the Washington metro system. 

Zachary Schrag [00:15:36] And so as part of his contract, he managed to get a first class round the world trip, spending a lot of time in Western Europe but also in the Soviet Union–I believe in Japan–looking at subway systems, and sketching them rapidly, and trying to think about what parts of them could be adapted to Washington. 

Olivia Green [00:15:55] Weese was inspired by those train systems from around the world, and he ended up designing these vaulted, underground stations with coffered ceilings that look kind of like a waffle. The stations are lit with hidden lights that cast dramatic shadows. 

Zachary Schrag [00:16:11] Harry Weese rightly gets tremendous credit for the overall appearance of metro, its unforgettable appearance, really. But it’s important to understand that he was the leader of a team. And a very crucial member of that team was a lighting designer named William Lam. 

Olivia Green [00:16:31] Lam was responsible for the lights that shine upwards and illuminate the vault, turning it into a kind of underground sky. 

Zachary Schrag [00:16:38] I think what Weese was trying to do was to make the stations seem like a little bit of the outdoors underground. So, the vault is a bit like the sky. The granite edges on the platforms might resemble the curbs of a sidewalk. 

Olivia Green [00:16:53] But as I ride the escalator, I can’t help but feel like the overall effect of this design isn’t always reassuring. It’s kind of spooky, and I don’t think I’m the only one who feels this way. In fact, the D.C. metro system has inspired quite a bit of extraterrestrial lore. You can see hints of it in stations across the city, like small tags of flying saucers on the outsides of stations and lots of stories–mostly shared on Reddit–of encounters with ghost trains passing by, filled with alien creatures. And while it’s mostly playful, there is something about the metro’s design that lends itself to being an imaginative space for its passengers. Zachary Schrag hasn’t personally seen any aliens on the Metro, but he still kind of gets it. 

Zachary Schrag [00:17:40] And so when a train comes in, it casts a shadow up on the vault. So, there’s this, you know, dark shadow coming in, and slowing down, and then speeding up again as it disappears. 

Olivia Green [00:17:50] And here we are at the end of the longest escalator in one of the country’s most iconic metro stations. 

Roman Mars [00:17:58] Thanks, Olivia. This was great. A few months back, a story went around the internet about a bizarre computer issue from the mid 2000s. It was from a blog post by Microsoft developer Raymond Chen. 

Raymond Chen [00:18:16] So a laptop manufacturer came to the Windows team and reported a serious problem. It turns out when they played a song by one specific artist, and in fact it was one specific song, the laptop crashed. 

Roman Mars [00:18:29] But things got even weirder when they started testing it out. 

Raymond Chen [00:18:32] They found that this song crashed some of their competitor’s laptops also. But the weirdest thing was that if you played this song, it not only crashed the laptop that was playing it–it also crashed a laptop that was sitting next to it that wasn’t playing the song at all. 

Roman Mars [00:18:48] Now, before I play this song, if you have a laptop that’s over 15 years old, you might want to cover his ears. This is Janet Jackson’s 1989 smash hit Rhythm Nation. Now, I found this story fascinating and bizarre, but even after reading the blog post, I still didn’t really understand what was going on. So, I asked our engineer, Martín Gonzalez, to come explain. 

Martín Gonzalez [00:19:19] Hey, Roman. What’s up? 

Roman Mars [00:19:19] Hey. So, what do you have for me? 

Martín Gonzalez [00:19:22] Okay, well–disclaimer upfront–I’m a music school dropout not a computer scientist. 

Roman Mars [00:19:28] I wouldn’t have it any other way. 

Martín Gonzalez [00:19:31] So here’s my best understanding of what happened. These engineers were trying to figure out how this particular song was crashing all these different computers, and they narrowed it down to the hard drive. So, all the laptops used the same model of hard drive. So, computer storage has come a long way since then, and solid-state drives are in a lot of laptops now. But the basic concept of a hard drive has been around since the 60s. There’s a spinning platter with the data and an arm over it that reads and writes the data. So, think of, like, a really tiny, little record player inside of a box. 

Roman Mars [00:20:04] Yes. I mean, I remember that you could actually hear the spinning of the drive. It would spin fast when you start it up or click on a file. It was a mechanical thing you felt. 

Martín Gonzalez [00:20:13] Yeah, like, my 2005 era PowerBook would sound kind of like this. 

Roman Mars [00:20:21] Yeah, totally. 

Martín Gonzalez [00:20:22] And so without getting too into the weeds of the physics, it’s spinning fast enough to actually hit a musical note. And the pitch it makes depends on the speed of the hard drive. So, the hard drive has all these resonant frequencies that are actually musical notes. And if you played one loud enough, you could actually knock the hard drive physically out of whack. You know the trope of, like, an opera singer shattering glass with a high note? Same idea. 

Roman Mars [00:20:47] Okay. Got it. 

Martín Gonzalez [00:20:48] Yeah. So, when the laptop manufacturer was trying to pinpoint the problem, they figured out that Rhythm Nation had a frequency in it that was breaking these hard drives that way. And they even narrowed it down to one particular model of hard drive that was used in a bunch of different companies’ laptops. 

Roman Mars [00:21:03] But, like, why just this one song? Because I can’t imagine–I mean, I love Janet Jackson–it’s so musically innovative that it creates a sound that no other songs have ever created. You know what I’m saying? 

Martín Gonzalez [00:21:19] So there’s two big reasons why only Janet Jackson’s song has this frequency. The first one is the song is sped up very slightly to make it a little more exciting. This is a really common trick. So, here’s the speed the song was actually recorded at. And here’s the slightly faster final version. 

Roman Mars [00:21:55] I didn’t know that at all. That’s amazing. That does work. The first one–I was like, “Oh, this totally is the song I recognize.” Then I’m like, “Oh, no. It’s the second one that I really recognize.” Yeah, that’s great. 

Martín Gonzalez [00:22:04] Yeah, it makes it a little more exciting–little groovier. So, this is recorded in the era of tape machine. And you can hear that when you speed the tape up, it also goes up in pitch. So, the notes in Rhythm Nation fall between the ones you’d normally hear in a pop hit. 

Roman Mars [00:22:18] Oh, okay. I see. So that’s why the song contains frequencies that other songs might not have ever had. 

Martín Gonzalez [00:22:26] Exactly. And when you first asked me about this, I naturally went, “Well, what is that frequency?” I was doing a little research, and this YouTuber, Adam Neely, explained the speed change. And he theorized that it moved the bass notes into the frequency range that would just vibrate this platter out of control. 

Roman Mars [00:22:46] Right. Right. And this makes sense to me because, you know, if you’re at a show or you’re just walking down a neighborhood and a car is playing loud music, it is the bass that you feel in your sternum. Like, that’s what’s really rattling you. 

Martín Gonzalez [00:22:59] Right. Right. But here’s why I think it might not actually be the bass. Like, remember when there was that Mazda virus? And people were like, “Maybe Roman’s voice is so bassy it’s breaking the stereos.” The amount of bass you would need to break a laptop sitting next to it would be way beyond the capability of, like, a 2005 era laptop. Like, you need some Jamaica-size subwoofers. And, you know, also the bassline moves around a lot. It doesn’t hang out on any one sustained frequency for very long. So, I looked up this study of laptop hard drive resonant frequencies and saw that there’s a couple around 2000 hertz, which is the same whiny, high pitch that the hard drive I played earlier was making. So that’s why I suspect it may actually be that frequency that was the issue. 

Roman Mars [00:23:50] And so does Rhythm Nation have that frequency buried in there? 

Martín Gonzalez [00:23:54] Yep, it is not buried. It is loud and clear. It’s these couple sustained, piercing synthesizer notes. 

Roman Mars [00:24:14] Whoa. 

Martín Gonzalez [00:24:16] Yeah. And this third sustained one is at right about 2000 hertz–which if that was the resonant frequency of that one particular hard drive, it happens enough in the song where it could totally knock it out of whack. And tiny little laptop speakers can really blast this frequency clearly. So, it would be possible, if you played it loud enough, that it could affect a neighboring hard drive. 

Roman Mars [00:24:39] That’s so cool. Wow. 

Martín Gonzalez [00:24:40] Yeah. And there’s this other kind of crazy sound in there that might be a factor as well. 

Roman Mars [00:24:48] I mean, that itself sounds like a broken hard drive. 

Martín Gonzalez [00:24:52] Right. Right. And it’s a very weird sound. It’s like a jankily-looped hi-hat kind of thing. It’s got a lot of energy around that same 2000 hertz area. So, if my theory is right, those two sounds together could really cause a lot of chaos. 

Roman Mars [00:25:06] So this is an amazing string of coincidences. This song happened to have these uncommon pitches. They lined up exactly with the frequencies of one specific model of hard drive. To me, it’s really something. 

Martín Gonzalez [00:25:18] Yeah. And in the blog post, Raymond Chen said there was actually a fairly simple solution. They programmed in a really sharp EQ cut that just targeted the problem frequency without affecting any of the other ones. And it’s way easier to narrowly remove individual high frequencies than bass ones. So, here’s what it sounds like if I just took 2000 hertz completely out of the song. 

Roman Mars [00:25:49] Am I supposed to be hearing a difference? Because I really don’t. 

Martín Gonzalez [00:25:54] Well, that’s exactly the point. Like, the only difference is that that synthesizer part is almost inaudible, but it would be totally impossible to notice the difference through these crappy laptop speakers. 

Roman Mars [00:26:04] Wow. That’s such a great solution. I love it. 

Martín Gonzalez [00:26:06] Yeah. And the funny part is, Raymond says there’s also a possibility this code is just still lurking out there, cutting out frequencies on certain models of laptop for hard drives that aren’t used anymore. 

Roman Mars [00:26:17] That’s so funny to me that there’s, you know, this code that may be still out there in hard drives–legacy code–that is, you know, deprecating your speakers just a little bit just to guard us from Janet Jackson. 

Martín Gonzalez [00:26:32] Yeah, the people who put it in there are all long gone. No one dares touch it in case it breaks something. Just a remnant of the mid 2000s. 

Roman Mars [00:26:41] Yeah. No. It’s so funny. Okay, well, this is perfect. Thank you so much for explaining this to me. It is such a fun story. 

Martín Gonzalez [00:26:47] Yeah, no problem. Bye, Roman.

Roman Mars [00:26:58] After the break, Operation Beaver Drop. I mean, how could you not come back for that? 

Roman Mars [00:27:12] Do you ever look up from your life and realize that nothing turned out quite like you expected? One day you’re 20, you’re working on your Ph.D. in genetics, and you have a whole life of academia just, like, right there in front of you. That is what is going to happen. And then you wake up, and you’re in your late forties, and you host a podcast. Try explaining that to your 20-year-old self. First of all, he would say, “Uh, what’s ‘podcast?'” But, you know, maybe a life of academia would have worked out; I love teaching. You know, as much as we try to plan for every moment in life, sometimes we get stuck in those what ifs. But no matter what what-ifs, life throws your way, State Farm provides the coverage you need to feel supported. They do it by showing up for you how and when you need it. With a real person, when you want clarity–or digital support, when you’re seeking something more efficient. Let’s imagine what a future could look like as a State Farm customer.

Gina [00:28:01] Hi! I’m Gina.

Matt [00:28:02] And I’m Matt.

Gina [00:28:02] We’ve been together for, what, like, 15 years now?

Matt [00:28:05] Since we were 16. And we’ve been with State Farm for almost as long.

Gina [00:28:09] After high school, then packed it up to move across the country

Matt [00:28:12] A.k.a. I followed her to school, so we could start our lives together. We really had no clue how much work that would be.

Gina [00:28:18] Our first big adult thing was, really, buying the car we drove in. 

Matt [00:28:23] We didn’t know the first thing about cars or insurance.

Gina [00:28:26] Oh yeah. It took a while to get what a deductible was.

Matt [00:28:29] But of course, State Farm made it super easy. Our agent was with us every step of the way, and it was just such a relief to connect with a real person who could actually explain everything to us.

Gina [00:28:39] And they’ve always been like that. I can’t tell you how many times throughout the years I’ve given them a call for help with our coverage. The other day, I accidentally called our State Farm Agent “mom.”

Matt [00:28:49] Wow, babe. Embarrassing.

Gina [00:28:51] I know, I know. Anyway, they really are so supportive. And for smaller things that don’t need a full office visit, it’s super easy to connect with them online or through the mobile app.

Matt [00:29:01] Oh yeah. I mean, I don’t know how we could have done life without State Farm. Gina and I were finally able to buy a home last year. And the only part of it that wasn’t a total headache was getting our insurance coverage set up.

Gina [00:29:13] Yep. And it was so nice not to add home insurance to the list of things keeping me up at night. And even now, with the baby on the way, I’m sure we’ll need to make a few changes to our policy. But I’m not even stressing ’cause I know State Farm will have it under control. Matt keeps joking that we should name the baby “Jake” with how much I talk about State Farm.

Matt [00:29:33] What? It’s a good name.

Gina [00:29:34] Can we talk about this later?

Roman Mars [00:29:36] It’s kind of impossible to know where life will take you, but you can always answer those what ifs with State Farm. Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there. Call or go to for a quote today. This show is sponsored by BetterHelp. This holiday season, do something for a special person in your life–you. Give yourself a gift to raise your spirits and not just for the day. The holidays can be a really tough time. Between managing family dynamics, racing from thing to thing, and braving the cold and dark weather, it is normal to feel down. Having someone to talk to about how you’re feeling and what you can do about it is truly a gift. Therapy isn’t just for those times when everything is falling apart. A therapist is a great person to just bounce ideas off of or plan a difficult conversation or thing at work. Therapy works in so many ways. As the world’s largest therapy service, BetterHelp has matched 3 million people with professionally licensed and vetted therapists 100% online. Plus, it’s affordable. Just fill out a brief questionnaire to match with a therapist. If things aren’t clicking, you can easily switch to a new therapist anytime. It couldn’t be simpler. No waiting rooms, no traffic, no endless searching for the right therapist. Learn more and save 10% off your first month at That’s Property crimes, like burglaries and package thefts, spike over the winter. That’s why now is the best time to secure your home with the award-winning SimpliSafe home security system. Start the New Year with a greater peace of mind and safety for you and your family. SimpliSafe was named the best home security system for 2022 by U.S. News and World Report a third year in a row. In an emergency, 24/7 professional monitoring agents use Fast Protect technology, exclusively from SimpliSafe, to capture critical evidence and verify that the threat is real, so you can get higher priority police response. SimpliSafe is whole home security with advanced sensors in every room, window, and door. Plus, 24/7 professional monitoring service costs less than $1 a day. Plus, with the top rated SimpliSafe app, you can arm or disarm, unlock for a guest, access your cameras, and adjust system settings. That’s one of the greatest things about SimpliSafe is it’s really easy to set up and also it has the most advanced stuff that you can do all from your app. Customize the perfect system for your home in just a few minutes. Go today and claim a free indoor security camera, plus 20% off your order with interactive monitoring. That’s There’s no safe like SimpliSafe. Everyone loves finding great deals, and there’s some amazing deals at T-Mobile. T-Mobile believes customers deserve even more without paying more. They’re always looking for ways to give customers more bang for their buck. Their plans are packed with incredible perks. T-Mobile customers get over $225 of value and benefits every single month on their max family plans. They have so many great things like travel benefits and streaming services, like Netflix, all included. And with Netflix, you can check out Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio, airing this December. Check out the amazing trailer. Get more for the holidays now at T-Mobile with over $225 worth of benefits every single month, including Netflix. This holiday season, get used to getting even more at T-Mobile. $225 based on retail value of available monthly benefits with max family plans, like Netflix standard 2-screen with up to $15.49 value per month. See details at So, I’m here with Kurt Kolstedt, digital director, and coauthor of The 99% Invisible City. Hey, Kurt!

Kurt Kolstedt [00:33:25] Hey, Roman. 

Roman Mars [00:33:25] What is your mini story this year? 

Kurt Kolstedt [00:33:27] A few years back, an employee of Idaho Fish and Game turned up this long-lost archival video, filmed in the late 1940s, entitled Fur for the Future. Now, this film had been misfiled and mislabeled for over half a century, and it gained a kind of legendary quality around the office for reasons we’ll get into in a bit. 

Roman Mars [00:33:47] Okay, keep going. 

Kurt Kolstedt [00:33:48] But basically, it documents Idaho’s practice of relocating specific mammal species for conservation purposes, including muskrats, and martens, and beavers. And the film starts off simply enough–just explaining conventional relocation projects like this one. 

Fur for the Future Narrator [00:34:03] This man is carrying beaver live traps. He’s on his way to a beaver pond where he will remove the busy engineers who have become too numerous. When this happens, or when activities of the beaver cause damage to private lands, they are live trapped and moved to distant mountain lakes and streams. 

Kurt Kolstedt [00:34:24] By the 1930s, relocating beavers was actually a pretty common practice. And partly this was to get them out of the way of encroaching humans. But it also had become increasingly clear to ecologists that beavers were hugely important to ecosystems. They helped establish and maintain wetlands, reduced erosion, created habitats, and so on. 

Roman Mars [00:34:43] Okay. So, it was in part to keep the beavers clear of people but also in part to preserve the population. 

Kurt Kolstedt [00:34:50] Right. And we’re talking about a population in serious crisis at this point. So, for context, when colonists first arrived in America, there were hundreds of millions of American beavers. But by the turn of the 20th century, that number had dropped to around 100,000. And so, conservationists naturally wanted to seed small populations all over the place to try to build those numbers back up. 

Roman Mars [00:35:14] Okay. So how were these beavers relocated? 

Kurt Kolstedt [00:35:17] Well, often they were just caught, crated, and taken by truck somewhere up the road. But in a lot of cases, the best places to move beavers were really far out there–located in remote stretches of wilderness with few, if any, roads or trails. And so, agencies like the Department of Natural Resources tried all kinds of solutions, including strapping boxes of beavers to the backs of horses and mules. And these pack animals were then led by people–sometimes for days–deep into the wilderness with their live cargo. And as you might imagine, none of the animals involved in this liked this. 

Roman Mars [00:35:51] You mean angry beavers in crates strapped to horses–no one like that?

Kurt Kolstedt [00:35:55] Nobody liked that. Nobody liked that. 

Roman Mars [00:35:57] That’s fair enough. 

Kurt Kolstedt [00:35:58] Yeah. And it was so bad, in fact, that some of the beavers that were moved around this way didn’t actually survive the journey. I assume they were just essentially scared to death. 

Roman Mars [00:36:08] Oh, that’s awful. 

Kurt Kolstedt [00:36:09] And of course, the horses are spooked, too. It just wasn’t a good time. And so finally, in the late 1940s, this employee of Idaho Fish and Game began trying to figure out how to relocate beavers more safely–in this case to a very remote part of the state, which has since come to be known as the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness. 

Roman Mars [00:36:31] The Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness. Okay, that sounds very remote. 

Kurt Kolstedt [00:36:36] Yes, yes. Very far out there. I think there’s a warning in the name. I think it’s probably best if you don’t wander out there by yourself. 

Roman Mars [00:36:42] Totally. Yeah. “No return.” 

Kurt Kolstedt [00:36:43] And it’s hard to get beavers out there, too, right? And so, they had to start thinking outside the proverbial box and work on faster, and cheaper, and ultimately safer ways to ship dozens of beavers into the middle of nowhere. And in the end, they came up with this pretty wild idea. 

Fur for the Future Narrator [00:36:59] On the shores of Payette Lake are crates full of beavers–part of a shipment to be dropped by parachute from an airplane. 

Roman Mars [00:37:07] Okay, just let me get this straight. They got these boxes full of beavers that they’re going to drop with parachutes into the wilderness? How did they settle on this as the way to do this? 

Kurt Kolstedt [00:37:20] Well, it was a lot of circumstance involved in the decision. Like, for example, this was the postwar era. And so, they were looking around for available materials and realized they could secure some World War II parachutes for pretty cheap at this point, right? They’re not being used anymore. And so, with those in hand, they then worked on designing a delivery box that would open once it landed to let out the beavers. And they considered some pretty crazy ideas for that too–like using a kind of wood that would be easy for the beavers to chew so that there wouldn’t need to be a door. They would just let themselves out. But they realized there could be a problem if they got working on that, you know, before they were dropped from the airplane. 

Roman Mars [00:38:01] Right. That would be a problem.

Kurt Kolstedt [00:38:03] Or if they’re dropped in midair. 

Roman Mars [00:38:04] Right. Well, either way, it’s a problem because either they chew their way out while the plane is flying and then there’s beavers wreaking havoc all over your airplane. Or even worse–maybe, I don’t even know–is that they chew their way while they’re floating down, and then that would be just a mess. 

Kurt Kolstedt [00:38:22] Yeah. I mean that certainly for the beavers that would be the worst. And so, they pretty quickly abandoned that approach. And what they landed on instead was this fairly plain wooden box with a rope and hinged system that would pop the door open automatically on impact. 

Fur for the Future Narrator [00:38:36] Into the drop box. Nearly ready for that flight back into the mountain. 

Kurt Kolstedt [00:38:41] And the box has this array of circular air holes. It kind of looks like a giant block of Swiss cheese. 

Fur for the Future Narrator [00:38:47] The drop crates are loaded into the airplane. Parachutes are attached to cargo lines. 

Kurt Kolstedt [00:38:52] Two to a crate–Noah’s Ark style–because the point is to get them to start a colony. 

Fur for the Future Narrator [00:38:56] 10 boxes to a load. 20 beaver ready for the flight to Mountain Meadows. 

Kurt Kolstedt [00:39:01] And then they’re off, heading toward the River of No Return. 

Fur for the Future Narrator [00:39:04] The plane makes a careful approach, ready for the drop. Now into the air and down they swing! Down to the ground near a stream or a lake. 

Kurt Kolstedt [00:39:13] And because the planes are flying so low, the chutes open basically right away and then land pretty gently, at which point… 

Fur for the Future Narrator [00:39:21] The box opens, and a most unusual and novel trip ends for Mr. Beaver. He is on his way now; his nose and his instinct tell him where to find the water. There’s room here for a new home. 

Roman Mars [00:39:39] This is amazing. And so, did they know this would work? I mean, how much testing that they do before they just started throwing beavers off of planes? 

Kurt Kolstedt [00:39:47] They did a fair amount of testing, actually. Their primary test candidate was this beaver, aptly named Geronimo. And apparently Geronimo got so used to these flights, he started just waiting for the crew to come and pick him up after each landing. Yeah. And thanks in part to these tests, they determined that the optimal altitude for a drop was around 500 to 800 feet, and–this is a bit obvious–but ideally in low wind conditions. 

Roman Mars [00:40:15] Well, yeah, of course. You don’t want to drop your beavers in high winds. 

Kurt Kolstedt [00:40:19] Definitely not. 

Roman Mars [00:40:20] But I’m glad to hear that they put a good amount of thought into this, you know? 

Kurt Kolstedt [00:40:24] Yeah. No, no, they really did. And not only into the production of these crates and the kind of design of this experimental relocation process but also into documenting it all. And so, you know, somebody as part of this program had the brilliant idea of filming this–everything from the box designs, to the field test, to the actual deployments in 1950. And so, this video is really rich, resulting in this thing that got lost for a long time but is now out in the world. And just… the world is better for it. 

Roman Mars [00:40:55] That’s amazing. So, in the end, how many beavers did they actually relocate in this way? 

Kurt Kolstedt [00:41:00] In the end, they airdropped a total of 76 beavers. And thanks to all of that design and testing and planning, only one beaver perished. 75 of them made it to the ground safe and sound. And so, the program was a success. These beavers started multiplying, and spreading out, and really redeveloping the local ecosystem. 

Roman Mars [00:41:18] Wow. 

Kurt Kolstedt [00:41:19] But on a grander scale, perhaps the more lasting legacy of this project is all the other animal airlifts that are now normal today–like suspending goats from helicopters to relocate them or dumping tons of fish from the bellies of planes into lakes to repopulate them. 

Roman Mars [00:41:37] Well, this is cool stuff. And it’s fun to imagine a bunch of beavers floating gently down in boxes, seeding the landscape. 

Kurt Kolstedt [00:41:45] And, you know, when I was telling somebody this story a couple of days ago, they told me that they were picturing beavers with little parachutes on them. And honestly, it’s such a brilliant mental image that I kind of wish that’s what they’d done. Obviously, it probably would not have worked as well and would have caused all kinds of problems. But it’s so cute. Beaver paratroopers. You can imagine them just single file, like, hopping out of the plane. “Go, go, go!” Oh, I love it. 

Roman Mars [00:42:15] Yeah. If only. It seems like they landed on the right solution, but it is fun to imagine little beaver paratroopers. 

Kurt Kolstedt [00:42:25] It really is. 

Roman Mars [00:42:25] Taking over the River of No Return. This is awesome. Well, thank you so much, Kurt. I appreciate it. 

Kurt Kolstedt [00:42:32] Yeah. Thank you. 

Roman Mars [00:42:48] 99% Invisible was produced this week by Chris Berube, Martín Gonzalez, Kurt Kohlstedt, and our intern, Olivia Green. This is her last week with us as an intern; she will be missed. Music by our director of sound, Swan Real. Delaney Hall is the senior editor. The rest of the team is Vivian Le, Christopher Johnson, Emmett FitzGerald, Lasha Madan, Jayson De Leon, Jeyca Maldonado-Medina, Kelly Prime, Joe Rosenberg, Sofia Klatzker, and me, Roman Mars. Special thanks this week to Alex Molotkow, Jonathan Torrens, Raymond Chen, and my sister Leigh Marz. Her book is called Golden. You should buy it. We are part of the Stitcher and SiriusXM podcast family, now headquartered six blocks north in the Pandora Building… in beautiful… uptown… Oakland, California. You can find the show and join discussions about the show on Facebook. You can tweet me @romanmars and the show @99piorg, while it lasts. We’re on Instagram and Reddit, and TikTok too. You can find links to other Stitcher shows I love as well as every past episode of 99PI at 

Christmas Singers [00:44:08] Stitcher having a SiriusXM time! Stitcher having a SiriusXM time! 

General [00:44:35] Call of Duty: Modern Warfare is here, and so is Mountain Dew. 

Soldier [00:44:38] Roger that. 

General [00:44:39] Now you can unlock in-game rewards like only Dew can. 

Soldier [00:44:42] Wait, what rewards? 

General [00:44:44] A Dew Operator skin. 

Soldier [00:44:45] Man. I love operator skins. 

General [00:44:47] Dual double XP, and even Call of Duty points. 

Soldier [00:44:49] You’re kidding me. Double XP and Call of Duty points? This is incredible. I can’t believe it. 

General [00:44:54] Soldier, get a hold of yourself. 

Soldier [00:44:56] Oh, roger that. 

General [00:44:57] Look for specially marked packaging and visit for details and restrictions. Open to U.S. residents, 17+. Call of Duty points available at 12 and 24-packs.

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