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Serial
Serial

10 Crazy Serial Theories

Serial
Serial

In the five weeks since Serial debuted, it's become a veritable phenomenon. Averaging roughly one million unique listeners an episode, it reaches an audience on par with the most recent season of America's Next Top Model. But Serial isn't found on network television: It's a podcast. A modern-day radio program. And its viral popularity has reached a fever pitch.

A spin-off of the popular NPR radio program This American Life, “Serial is a podcast where we unfold one nonfiction story, week by week, over the course of a season,” the podcast’s website says. “We'll stay with each story for as long as it takes to get to the bottom of it.” 

So, as co-producer (and This American Life veteran) Sarah Koenig unravels the story of Adnan Syed, the Baltimore boy who, at age 18, was convicted of killing his ex-girlfriend in 1999, the audience listens along in rapture. We rejoice when Koenig reveals potential breaks in the case and struggle with the same feelings of doubt when she gets stuck. We have become armchair investigators, looking for clues in a real-life crime. And as such, we’ve developed some theories of our own.

1. Adnan Killed Hae

The simplest solution may in fact be the most difficult to believe (or at least, it is for me). And that is that Syed really did plot to kill his ex-girlfriend, Hae Min Lee, and then strangle her in the Best Buy parking lot after school on January 13, 1999. In short, it all went down just as his friend Jay told the police—or, it all went down one of the ways Jay told the police. Adnan acted alone and then asked Jay to help him hide the body, just as Jay claims. And the Asia letters? And the sketchy testimony? And the questionable cell phone evidence? And Adnan’s continued insistence on his innocence? Forget ‘em. 

2. Adnan and Jay Were in Cahoots 

If Adnan was involved with Hae’s murder, it seems more likely that he had some help from Jay. The call log, which the prosecution put so much stock in, seems to indicate that the boys were together for most of the afternoon. It shows multiple calls made to Jenn—a friend of Jay’s, not Adnan’s—between noon and 4 p.m. on the 13th. Because Adnan wasn’t friends with Jenn, these calls were most likely made by Jay. 

The two boys aren’t placed together until they arrive at Cathy’s house in the evening. Adnan, Jay, and Cathy all agree that they spent a bit of time—stoned—at her apartment. And it’s here that Adnan gets a phone call from the police (on the log, the incoming call at 6:24), asking whether he knows where Hae is. After leaving Cathy’s, Adnan’s cell phone pings a tower near Leakin Park, supposedly confirming that Adnan and Jay went there to bury Hae’s body.

For members of the Serial subreddit (a rabbit hole I don’t really recommend you go down), the most convincing bit of evidence that Jay and Adnan conspired to kill Hae together is an under-his-breath comment made by Adnan during the trial. In an early episode, Koenig reveals that during the trial, Adnan murmurs a comment that sounds like “pathetic” under his breath during Jay’s examination. Reddit commenters have a whole thread about this point, feeling that Adnan’s aside corroborates Jay and Adnan’s partnership. What a strange choice of words: pathetic. Many commenters believe it indicates that Adnan was angry at Jay for breaking an oath and ratting him out.

3. Jay Framed Adnan 

Full disclosure: This is where I’m leaning. Call me naive, but Adnan’s professions of innocence sound sincere. And there is nothing unusual about his lack of memory about the day in question—do you know where you were on a Wednesday afternoon six weeks ago? I sure don’t. So Asia’s pronouncement that he was in the library and Adnan’s assumption that he was at track practice seem equally likely. Jay, however, by his own confession, was in possession of Adnan’s car and his telephone. The vast majority of the calls made by said cell phone were to people that only Jay knew. And the two boys were not seen in the same place until Cathy’s apartment, after sunset. So really, what prevented Jay from killing and burying Hae before ever meeting up with Adnan in the evening?

Oh right, the Nisha Call.

4. The Nisha Call is a Red Herring 

I’m not convinced the Nisha Call, in capital letters, is as much of a smoking gun as Koenig makes it out to be. In fact, I think it only further corroborates my theory that Jay (with a little coverup help from his friend Jenn) killed Hae on his own and then pointed to Adnan. Because if you were in possession of your friend’s car and your friend’s phone, how would you make it look like your friend was with you? By calling someone in your friend’s phonebook whom you did not know.

During the trial, the lawyers question Nisha about a time in which Adnan called her and then put Jay—at Jay’s insistence—on the phone to say hello. While Nisha confirms that such a call did happen, she is adamant that it was made from the adult video store where Jay worked. The thing is, Jay didn’t start working at the adult video store until a few weeks after Hae’s murder. So it’s clear that the phone call Nisha remembers, and testifies about, is not the same phone call that took place on January 13. According to the call log, the phone call made to Nisha’s home phone (not her cell) on January 13 was placed at 3:32 p.m. and lasted two minutes and 22 seconds. Since Nisha testifies that this number is not connected to an answering machine, someone must have answered the phone and spoken for a little over two minutes. Since this was Nisha’s home phone, any number of people (her parents, any siblings she may have, anyone spending time at the Nisha Family Homestead) could have answered the call. And who’s to say that Jay didn’t either chat this person up under false pretenses—say, pretending to be a telemarketer or a friend of Nisha’s from school?

All I’m saying is, there’s no proof Adnan himself placed this call and spoke to Nisha.

5. Jenn Killed or Helped Jay Kill Hae 

Based on what we’ve heard so far, there’s no substantial proof that Jenn—or Jay, for that matter—had any motive to kill Hae. What we do know is that Jenn’s knowledge of Adnan’s alleged murder seems pretty dang convenient. And also that Adnan’s phone called Jenn’s home or pager seven times on January 13. Seems mighty fishy to me, and I’m hoping we clear up some of this murkiness in Thursday’s episode, which will focus on Jay.

6. The Streaker Killed Hae 

The police were a little quick to exonerate “Mr. S,” the streaker who found Hae’s body buried in Leakin Park, if you ask me. By Koenig’s own admission, Hae’s body, despite being buried in such a shallow grave, was incredibly hard to see—especially by a person who had just pulled his car over to the side of the road for an emergency pee break. So then, how did Mr. S know where Hae was buried? He was the one to bury her there, of course. Here’s how it all went down: Hae came across a nude Mr. S in the woods. Surprised, she screamed and started to run away. Not wanting to be arrested again, Mr. S. ran after Hae and attempted to subdue her. He accidentally killed her in the process. Plausible, right?

This theory has more holes than a piece of Swiss cheese (How did Hae’s car get to the park and ride? Why would Jay make up such an elaborate story if he had nothing to do with the crime? What was Hae doing in Leakin Park?), but it brings up an important point... 

7. Someone Completely Random Killed Hae 

Hae’s murder may have been a random event. Or, as Deirdre Enright, director of investigation at the University of Virginia School of Law’s Innocence Project, and her team suggest, it may be the work of an unidentified serial killer. As revealed in Episode 7, Enright and her students’ preliminary investigation unearthed a few possible bits of evidence that were dismissed out of hand by the law enforcement officials handling the case. Once Jay stepped forward, they zeroed in on Adnan—perhaps to their detriment. 

8. Stephanie and Jenn Killed Hae 

Here’s where things get a little crazy. If you dive deep into the Serial subreddit (again, not recommended), you get some pretty out-there—but then, maybe not so far out-there?—theories. One that crops up again and again is the idea that Stephanie, Jay’s girlfriend and Adnan’s close friend, was involved with Hae’s murder. Despite being close with both Jay and Adnan, no calls were placed to Stephanie on January 13. This is especially strange because January 13 was Stephanie’s birthday, and the whole reason Jay needed to borrow Adnan’s car was to buy Stephanie a birthday present. 

To add more fuel to this theory, Adnan did speak to Stephanie twice on the night of January 12. Could it be he told her something about Hae that angered her? Made her angry enough to kill Hae? If Stephanie was Hae’s murderer, it would make perfect sense for her to turn to Jay—her boyfriend—to help her cover it up.

9. Some Dude Named Roy Davis Killed Hae

Leave it to reddit to hone in on a specific, seemingly unrelated suspect. But maybe the craziest part about this theory is that it might not be so crazy at all. In 2004, DNA evidence helped to convict a 50-year-old man named Roy Sharonnie Davis III of raping and strangling 18-year-old Woodlawn resident Jada Lambert. Lambert’s murder happened in May 1998—just nine months before Hae went missing. Even creepier, Davis lived just six miles away from Woodlawn High School and even closer to Campfield Early Learn Center, the school where Hae was supposed to pick up her cousin. The redditor points out that Davis was also charged in 1996 with possession of marijuana. Could he possibly have purchased said marijuana from … Jay?

10. Jay Is a Criminal Informant

One rather imaginative redditor proposes that Jay was actually a criminal informant. According to this commenter, this would explain why the police were so quick to trust Jay and rely on his testimony, and would also explain why there is no record of a private meeting that was known to take place between Jay, his lawyer, and the judge residing over his plea hearing.

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Flurry Road: 5 Tips for Safe Driving on Winter Roads
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For drivers in the Upper Midwest, traveling during the winter can range from slightly unsettling to deadly. Between 2011 and 2015, according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Auto Insurance Center, an average of 800 fatalities occurred annually as a result of weather-related accidents. Icy roads, poor visibility, and other factors can make cold-weather commuting a dicey proposition.

While we can’t control the weather (yet), we can increase our odds of navigating slush-filled roadways successfully. Mental Floss spoke with American Automobile Association (AAA) driving education expert William Van Tassel, Ph.D., for some key tips on how to get your winter driving in gear.

1. GATHER SUPPLIES.

Before you even start your car up for a trip through inclement weather, Van Tassel recommends you pack a worst-case scenario trunk full of supplies. “In case of emergency, you want things on board like water, a blanket, a flashlight, gloves, and kitty litter,” he says. (That last one is for traction in case you get stuck in a snowbank.) You should also have road flares, a shovel, an ice scraper, and a fully-charged cell phone to call for assistance if needed.

2. SLOW DOWN.

Posted speed limit signs assume you’re driving on clear and clean roadways. If snow or ice has accumulated, you need to adjust your speed accordingly. “In slick conditions, tires lose a lot of traction,” Van Tassel says. “You should be cutting your speed down by half or more.” Unfortunately, a lot of people learn this the hard way. “After a snowstorm, we’ll see more crashes on day one than days two or three.”

Van Tassel also cautions to avoid becoming overconfident on snow tires. While they provide better traction in bad weather, it’s not license to speed up.

3. MAINTAIN A SAFE DISTANCE FROM OTHER CARS.

You should be doing this regardless, but bad weather makes it even more crucial. Keep your vehicle at a safe distance from cars behind, in front, and off to the sides, as well as away from pedestrians or cyclists. If you need to brake suddenly, you need time—and space—to avoid a collision. “You really want more space in front,” Van Tassel says. Try to stay between seven and 10 seconds behind the vehicle ahead. That means seeing a landmark and then counting down until you pass the same marker. If you’re only a few seconds behind, you’re too close.

4. DON’T STEER INTO SKIDS.

“That was an old rule of thumb,” Van Tassel says. “The problem is, by the time I remember to steer into a skid, I’m already in a ditch.” If you feel your vehicle sliding, it’s better to steer in the direction you want to go. “You’ll drive where you look, so don’t look at a telephone pole.”

To help maintain control of the car, you want to focus on doing one thing at a time. “If you’re going through a turn, brake, finish braking, then turn. Don’t brake and turn at the same time.”

5. KEEP YOUR HEADLIGHTS ON.

Yep, even in broad daylight. Bad weather limits visibility, and headlights allow both you and your fellow drivers to orient a vehicle. “You’re twice as visible to other drivers that way,” Van Tassel says. “When people can see you, they can avoid you.”

Van Tassel also recommends that drivers avoid relying on fancy car technology to keep them safe. While blind spot monitoring and lane changing sensors are useful, they’re not there so you can zone out. “The tech is there to back you up if you need it. Drive the car, but don’t rely on those things,” he says.

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25 Polite Compliments You Can Pay a Coworker
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January 24 is National Compliment Day, and a great way to celebrate is by making a concerted effort to praise the people you work with. Be sure to consider when an appropriate time and place for a compliment would be (for instance, shy people would rather be commended on their stellar presentation in private rather than in front of a crowd), but know that whether a coworker is a longtime friend or more of an acquaintance, lauding their work performance and letting them know you appreciate their skills could really make their day.

1. "YOU HAVE A GREAT SENSE OF HUMOR."

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Every office has one person who knows how to ease tensions at work by cracking a quick joke or sharing a funny link. If this person's sense of humor makes your job a little more enjoyable, make sure to let them know.

2. "NICE JOB ON THAT PRESENTATION."

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Public speaking is intimidating, especially to someone who's new to their job and not used to giving presentations. Notice your coworker is nervous before a big meeting? Seek them out afterwards. Letting them know you enjoyed and learned from what they said will hopefully make them feel more confident next time.

3. "YOU ALWAYS KNOW WHEN TO LEND A HAND."

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You probably know someone who's always willing to help out with a project when you need it most, and odds are they rarely receive the recognition they deserve. Next time a coworker offers some relief when you're feeling overwhelmed, don't let it go unnoticed. Set aside time to tell them you see the great work they're doing and you appreciate it.

4. "YOU'RE A SAVVY PROBLEM-SOLVER."

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Being able to see problems differently is a valuable skill in the workplace. It can open up a team to new ideas and save precious time and resources. Sometimes you may be the person to spot the way out of a problem, and other times it's a coworker who points out the solution that was right in front of your face. If you're grateful for their point of view, they deserve to hear it.

5. "YOU'RE A GREAT COMMUNICATOR."

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Without communication, collaborating with the people in your workplace would be impossible. A great communicator knows how to understand other people's perspectives, explain their own, and make sure they're never keeping anyone in the dark. They're also not above receiving a compliment every now and then.

6. "I LOVE YOUR ENTHUSIASM."

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For some people, getting up and going to work each day is easy: They're personally invested in the company they work for and enjoy helping it succeed. Maybe you're not there yet, but you might see this level of passion and enthusiasm in at least one person you work with. Don't let that inspiring attitude go unrecognized.

7. "I APPRECIATE YOUR TRUST."

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Effective management is just as much about offering guidance and support as knowing when to back off. Sometimes leaving employees room to breathe is the best thing managers can do to encourage growth and creativity. It's also a thankless move that often goes unrewarded. Expressing your appreciation to your manager can make a big difference in their day.

8. "WHAT A FUN PARTY (LUNCH/HAPPY HOUR/ETC.)."

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People take certain work events for granted without stopping to consider the employees who make them possible. Birthday cakes don't magically appear and after-work happy hours don't plan themselves. Behind every fun break you get from your day-to-day duties, there's a coworker who took the initiative to make it happen, and they would like to hear that you enjoyed the fruits of their labor.

9. "YOU'VE GOT A KILLER WORK ETHIC."

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We all wish we could be the employee who blows through projects without breaking a sweat. If you're not that person, the least you can do is pay the tireless person in your workplace a compliment—especially after a big project that had them tackling most of the work.

10. "YOUR POSITIVE ATTITUDE IS INFECTIOUS."

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Just like one pessimistic employee can bring down the whole office, a positive person can have the opposite effect. It's hard to feel grumpy about starting a new week when the colleague sitting next to you does everything with a smile on their face.

11. "YOU ASK GREAT QUESTIONS."

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Asking about something you're not familiar with at work can be intimidating, whether it's about a new policy or procedure or perhaps about the ins and outs of a department you don't usually work with. But asking for help or clarification is also the only way to learn and grow. Complimenting a coworker who asks a lot of questions lets them know that not only is that OK, it's valued.

12. "I LOVE YOUR IDEAS."

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When someone introduces a great idea at work, people often respond in one of two ways: They get upset that they didn't think of it themselves, or they admire the person for their brilliance. If you want to strengthen work relationships and feel better in the long run, we suggest expressing the latter.

13. "YOU'RE GREAT AT TAKING INITIATIVE."

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Employees who take initiative help businesses run smoothly. Managers don't have to worry about babysitting them, and their coworkers never end up picking up their slack. Next time you go into work, find the person you know who always takes initiative and compliment them for their efforts.

14. "YOU'RE VERY CREATIVE."

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Even if your job isn't particularly inspiring, you may have coworkers who find everyday opportunities to be creative. Their creativity might shine through in the form of a sharply designed flyer, a well-written memo, or an innovative solution to the problem at hand. Sometimes people who don't work in a traditionally artistic field are rarely complimented for their creativity—you can change that.

15. "I APPRECIATE YOU TAKING RESPONSIBILITY."

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Do you know someone at work who's taken responsibility—whether for a botched performance, a failed pitch, or a missed deadline—even when they could have gotten away with keeping quiet? That's not easy to do. Recognize their actions, and they may be inclined to do it more often.

16. "YOU'RE SO FLEXIBLE."

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Sure, you can promise your coworker this is the absolute last time you'll ask them to push a meeting back a couple of days or move up a deadline by a week. Or, you can compliment them on being so flexible and thank them for working around the changes so efficiently.

17. "I LOVE YOUR CONFIDENCE."

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Confidence in the workplace is hard to ignore. It radiates from everything a person does, and when you're working on a project with such a person, it can make you feel more confident as well. Let this employee know that you appreciate their poise and self-assuredness.

18. "I APPRECIATE HOW TECH-SAVVY YOU ARE."

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Who do you turn to when your screen freezes, or when the long email you spent the last 15 minutes crafting suddenly disappears? Likely, instead of running to I.T. every time, you ask a nearby coworker who always seems to have the answers. Even if they don't share their know-how for the praise, they deserve a compliment and gratitude.

19. "YOU'RE A GREAT BAKER."

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People who bake for their coworkers are a special breed. By sharing what they made with the office, it means that they not only took the time to cook with you in mind, but also that they're sharing a bit of their personal likes or hobbies with you. What better time to compliment the chef than when they bring platter of fresh cookies to the morning meeting?

20. "I ADMIRE YOUR LEADERSHIP."

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A good leader is many things, including fair, compassionate, and hard-working. But whatever qualities your manager exhibits that make you appreciate working for him or her, find a chance to let them know you commend their leadership, and that you're a better employee because of it.

21. "YOU HAVE A MIND FOR DETAIL."

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Details make a big difference at work, whether you're writing a big report or a thank you email. Sometimes the details that make the biggest impact on a project are hard to notice on their own. See if you can spot the smart, subtle details the next time you're evaluating your coworker's work, and tell them if you're impressed by what you find.

22. "YOU'RE ON MY WAVELENGTH."

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It may not always top lists of most valuable skills to take into the workplace, but empathy can do wonders for office culture. When team members practice empathy and really make an effort to understand the people they work with, they make everyone's job easier. This is one skill that definitely deserves recognition.

23. "THANKS FOR BEING SO RELIABLE."

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No matter what you do for work, it's impossible to do your job entirely on your own. Reliable coworkers you can depend on for support, guidance, and inspiration are a priceless resource. If they make the effort to show up and work hard consistently, the least you can do is show them you appreciate it.

24. "YOU'RE A REAL TEAM PLAYER."

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In order to succeed as a team, your colleagues need to have the right attitude. Maybe there's one person on your team who sets a good example for the rest of you: They know exactly when to step back and listen to other people's ideas and when to come forward with their own. Sometimes being a good team player means swallowing your pride to do what's best for the group, and that's behavior worth celebrating.

25. "YOU GIVE GREAT ADVICE."

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At some point in your career, you've likely relied on a more experienced coworker for advice. Without mentors, many of the world's most successful people wouldn't be where they are today. Never be ashamed to ask for guidance, and once you receive it, make sure to show your gratitude.

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