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13 of Vox’s best podcast episodes of 2018

From week-old fish to nuclear war to Janet from The Good Place, everything you need to get through the holidays.

Byrd Pinkerton is a senior producer and reporter on Unexplainable, Vox's science podcast. She covers everything scientists don’t yet know but are trying to figure out, so her work explores everything from the inner workings of the human body to the distant edges of the universe.

This holiday season, you might find yourself traveling to visit family or spend time with friends. Or you might decide to stay home and use some of your holiday time to organize your spice rack. Either way, you’ll need several hours of stimulating podcasts to help get you through to the New Year, and Vox has you covered. We’ve created the perfect playlist to get you over the river, through the woods, and into 2019.

1) The Impact: Is fixing campaign finance as easy as giving everyone $100?

This season, Sarah Kliff and her team traveled to eight US cities and states to learn about policy experiments happening at the local level. As a producer for the Impact team, I’m biased, but believe me: The whole season is great.

In this first episode, we stop off in Seattle to figure out why the city decided to give every resident $100 to donate to the political candidate of their choice — and whether or not this plan actually got more people to donate.

2) The Ezra Klein Show: The age of “mega-identity” politics

This episode starts with a 1950s report that found that the two big American political parties weren’t different enough, and that voters were having trouble distinguishing between them.

Lilliana Mason, author of Uncivil Agreement: How Politics Became Our Identity, spends the rest of the episode explaining how we got from the America described in that report to the extremely polarized country we have today. She digs into all kinds of weird and wacky social science experiments along the way.

3) The Weeds: Caught in the intellectual dark web

This episode tackles some of the same themes in the Lilliana Mason interview, but from a different perspective. Hosts Matt Yglesias, Dara Lind, and Jane Coaston focus on the effect identity politics have had on dividing the country. Pick up some useful talking points for any heated holiday dinner conversation.

4) Today, Explained: All my friends are robocalls

If the holiday conversations get too heated, you can turn the topic back to something everyone can agree on: terrible, invasive, cellphone spam calls.

If it feels like you’re getting a lot of really annoying robocalls these days, you’re not wrong. This episode of Vox’s daily news podcast, Today, Explained, will tell you why.

It also features a very good old-timey radio play recreated from archival sources.

5) Future Perfect: How to be a better carnivore

This is the episode where host Dylan Matthews eats a raw, week-old fish.

It turns out that fish is actually better if you age it. But most fish are killed in a way that results in the fish rotting too quickly.

The episode also dives into the thorny question of fish pain and the ethics of eating fish at all.

6) The Impact: Food fight!

In this tale of two cities — Chicago and New York — Sarah Kliff explores two very different approaches to fighting obesity.

One city tried to make healthy foods more available so people could buy apples as easily as they bought cheese doodles.

And one city made sugary beverages more expensive so people would drink less soda.

One was more politically palatable, but one was more effective.

7) Worldly: Why Europe turned its back on migrants

Host Zack Beauchamp goes to Hungary and brings back the story of Ibrar Hussein Mirzai, a young migrant who made the harrowing journey to Hungary from Pakistan. Mirzai describes his experience in a camp on Hungary’s border.

The Worldly team uses Mirzai’s personal story to explain Europe’s anti-migration standpoint, and what it means for the future of the continent.

8) Worldly: Duck and cover

Tucked in the middle of this holiday playlist is an episode to scare you out of any listening complacency.

It’s all about how a nuclear war would kill you, and the three most-likely scenarios that could lead to nuclear war.

Come for the radiation side effects, stay for the breakdown of US-North Korea relations.

9) Future Perfect: How to cool the planet with a fake volcano

As long as we’re scaring you, let’s talk about climate change:

The episode starts with a grim radio play set in 2050. Host Dylan Matthews wakes up to a view of a grim, grey sea wall. Trapped indoors, struggling with high energy prices, and eating lots and lots of soy-based gloop, the future looks bleak.

Could periodically pumping particle clouds into the atmosphere help keep that future at bay?

10) I Think You’re Interesting: Janet from The Good Place and Kelli from Insecure on making TV’s funniest shows even funnier

And now for something lighter: host Todd VanDerWerff talking to some of the funniest women on TV.

First, Natasha Rothwell, who plays Kelli on HBO’s Insecure, talks about her character and her role in the writers’ room.

D’Arcy Carden, who plays Janet, a humanoid entity with limitless knowledge, on NBC’s The Good Place discusses the challenges and comic possibilities that exist in the uncanny valley.

If you enjoy either TV show, you’ll learn a lot about the work that goes into making them. If you don’t, you might discover your next favorite binge watch.

11) Today, Explained: Crazy, rich and finally seen

Host Sean Rameswaram talks to radio reporter Stephanie Foo about the emotional resonance she had when watching Crazy Rich Asians, including the specific scenes that brought her to tears.

He also talks to Jen Yamato, a film critic for the LA Times, about the 25-year build-up to Crazy Rich Asians, and the fight for increased representation for Asian stories in Hollywood.

12) I Think You’re Interesting: Why 2001: A Space Odyssey is still one of the greatest films ever made, 50 years later

Despite being a part of the modern canon, 2001’s path to iconic status was a rocky one. The film’s budget almost destroyed its studio, and reviewers savaged it upon release.

Todd VanDerWerff and his guests walk through the creation and legacy of 2001.

13) The Ezra Klein Show: I build a world with fantasy master N.K. Jemisin

Spend what’s left of your holiday trying to truly get away from it all. N.K. Jemisin, an award-winning science fiction writer, talks host Ezra Klein through creating a fictional universe of his own.

They start off with human-like creatures (who happen to have prehensile tails) living in a desert environment.

But then N.K. asks Ezra to add an “Element X” — something that will serve as a big point of divergence from his imaginary planet and the world as we know it.

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