14 Black-and-White Facts About Pretty in Pink

By February 1986, John Hughes had established himself as the king of teen movies with hits like Sixteen Candles, Weird Science, and The Breakfast Club. Pretty In Pink, Hughes’ final collaboration with teen queen Molly Ringwald, was released on February 28, 1986, and with a $7 million budget, it grossed over $40.4 million at the box office. The film became controversial because of a new ending, but it also became synonymous with the across-the-tracks girl winning over the cute, popular guy. Hughes wrote the script and co-executive-produced the film, and Howard Deutch directed (the two would re-team the following year for Some Kind of Wonderful). Thirty years after its initial release, here are 14 rosy facts about the venerable teen flick.

1. JOHN HUGHES NAMED THE FILM PRETTY IN PINK BECAUSE MOLLY RINGWALD LIKED THE TITULAR SONG.

The movie is named after The Psychedelic Furs’ “Pretty In Pink," a song Molly Ringwald told Hughes about. (For the movie, the band recorded a poppier version.) “The title stuck in my head,” Hughes told Ringwald in a 1986 interview with Seventeen. “I thought about your predisposition toward pink. I wrote Pretty In Pink the week after we finished Sixteen Candles. I so desperately hate to end these movies that the first thing I do when I’m done is write another one, then I don’t feel sad about having to leave and everybody going away.” 

The song was not a hit when it was initially released in 1981, but when the movie came out, it launched the Furs’ career in the U.S. Despite its hit factor, Furs lead singer Richard Butler thinks Hughes misinterpreted the meaning of the dark song. “[The movie] was nothing like the spirit of the song at all,” Butler said. “It’s really hard to say whether it was damaging for us. I suppose we got tied in with the story of the film, and if that’s what people thought the story was about and didn’t look much further than that, they were getting a very false impression.”

2. THE STUDIO WANTED JENNIFER BEALS TO PLAY ANDIE.

Although Hughes wrote the role of Andie with Ringwald in mind, Paramount wanted a bigger name like Jennifer Beals, who had found great success at the time with Flashdance. “I remember actually hearing that Jennifer Beals was in the running, and it was sort of upsetting to me to imagine her in that,” Ringwald said in the book You Couldn’t Ignore Me If You Tried. “I felt like she was already an adult by then. It just didn’t seem possible, so I was really glad when I was approached about it.” Deutch and Hughes met with Beals, but she turned it down. Instead, the guys stuck with their first instinct and hired Ringwald, who was grateful. “I couldn’t imagine not doing the movie,” she said.

3. HOWARD DEUTCH WANTED ANTHONY MICHAEL HALL TO PLAY DUCKIE, BUT RINGWALD WANTED ROBERT DOWNEY JR.

Deutch approached Anthony Michael Hall to play Duckie, but Hall felt that Pretty In Pink was just rehashing Sixteen Candles. “How are you going to compete with Michael Hall?” Deutch said in You Couldn’t Ignore Me If You Tried. “Hall, after Breakfast Club was, like, the greatest kid in the universe. And Duckie was Michael Hall. But he wouldn’t do it.”

4. JON CRYER’S CASTING LED TO A CHANGE IN THE ENDING.

Originally, Pretty In Pink ended with Andie and Duckie ending up together. But that changed when Jon Cryer was cast. “Molly dropped the bomb that she would’ve been fine with the original ending if Robert Downey Jr. had played Duckie, but since it was me, she just couldn’t see it,” Cryer said on the film’s 2006 Everything’s Duckie DVD edition. “It was like, ‘Wow, so I’m that unattractive?’ Thanks, Mol!”

Though Deutch wanted Cryer to play Duckie, the director seemed to later regret it. “What I learned was that there are no rules, in the sense that life isn’t fair,” Deutch said in You Couldn’t Ignore Me. “Duckie should have the girl and it was all built for that and it was designed for that. And I could have ended that way, had I not f*cked with one thing: I cast Jon Cryer.”

5. RINGWALD THOUGHT ANDREW MCCARTHY WAS “CUTE” AND PUSHED FOR HIS CASTING.

The filmmakers wanted Andie’s love interest, Blane, to be “a hunky, square-jawed jock,” but Ringwald herself wasn’t attracted to that sort of guy. Ringwald had some say in the casting, and after Andrew McCarthy auditioned she told Hughes and Deutch her thoughts on him. “That’s the kind of guy I would fall in love with,” she said in You Couldn’t Ignore Me. They thought he was a “twerpy guy” and weren’t interested.

“I did push for him to get hired,” Ringwald said. “I thought he was cute and I thought, if I thought he was cute, then Andie would think he was cute! I liked how he wasn’t typical, and he seemed so right for that part. Andrew McCarthy has always seemed so tortured with indecision, at least at that time, and so was Blane, who really is a tortured soul. And Andrew and his eyes—there’s just nobody who has those tortured eyes.”

6. THE ORIGINAL “DUCKIE DANCE” WAS SET TO MICK JAGGER, NOT OTIS REDDING.

What’s now known as “The Duckie Dance” was part of Cryer’s audition process, for a scene where Duckie entertains Andie and Iona (Annie Potts) at the record store, Trax. The script reads “Duckie comes in lip-synching a song with great energy,” so Cryer chose the 1984 Mick Jagger/Michael Jackson tune “State of Shock” and did his best impressions. “It was meant to be comedic, trust me,” Cryer told Entertainment Weekly in 2006. “I performed a chunk of it for [Deutch], and he thought it was very funny. And he was like, 'Just do 'Start Me Up,' because I think the Michael Jackson portion was just too ridiculous for him. Then we couldn’t get the rights to ‘Start Me Up’ anyway. It was Howie who found the Otis Redding song ['Try a Little Tenderness']. Nobody really anticipated that I was gonna go to town on it the way that I did. Although, I completely blame Howie, because he got me together with Kenny Ortega the night before [we shot the scene]. And getting together with a seriously world-class choreographer, you’re gonna come up with something.” Last year, Cryer recreated the dance with James Corden.

Earlier this month, Deutch told Entertainment Weekly why he picked Redding’s song for the scene. “It needed to be a heartbreaking song that would express just how Duckie felt—how hurt he is and how much he’s in love with this woman. And we fall in love with him because we all related to that.” They filmed so many takes that Cryer said he tore through his “Duckie shoes.”

7. CRYER DEVISED A COUPLE OF NOW-ICONIC LINES.

In one scene, bullies push Duckie into the girls’ bathroom. “So this is what it looks like,” he says to a group of women in there. “We don’t have a candy machine in the boys’ room,” referring to a tampon machine. “The one time I was in the girls’ room in my junior high school I saw this machine on the wall, and I was like, ‘What is this? They have a candy machine? This is fantastic!’” Cryer admitted in You Couldn’t Ignore Me. Cryer’s also responsible for the Blane appliance line. “His name is Blane? That’s a major appliance, that’s not a name,” Duckie balks to Andie when she tells him her date’s name.

8. MCCARTHY HAD TO WEAR A WIG TO FILM THE NEW ENDING.

After it was decided the filmmakers needed to reshoot the ending, McCarthy was called away from The Boys of Winter, a play he was doing in New York that required him to shave his head for his role as a soldier. “It looks like a rodent on my head,” McCarthy said of the hairpiece. “I’m sure if they had known we would still be talking about the movie 20 years later, they would’ve paid for a better wig.” Deutch concurred: “It’s a horrible wig. He looked like an axe murderer.”

9. THE CAST AND CREW HAD MIXED FEELINGS ABOUT THE NEW ENDING.

The original ending saw Andie choosing Duckie over Blane at the prom, and Andie and Duckie happily twirling to David Bowie’s “Heroes.” (In real life, Ringwald had the stomach flu and almost passed out during the scene.) When a test audience saw the ending, they literally booed at it, saying they wanted Andie to end up with Blane. “That shocked everyone because the architecture of the story was that love endures and overcomes everything,” Deutch told The Huffington Post. “The girls in the test screening didn’t go for that. They didn’t care about the politics; they wanted her to get the cute boy. And that was it.”

Hughes came up with the idea that Blane would attend the prom alone. “That gave him the breadcrumbs to follow the rest of the ending so that [Blane and Andie] ended up together,” Deutch said. “But that wasn’t an easy thing to unravel.” It took three weeks to film the new ending, in which Andie friend-zones Duckie and chases after Blane. Deutch felt it was “heartbreaking.” “I thought it was unfair and wrong, and that’s not what the movie was intended to be,” he said in You Couldn’t Ignore Me. “It felt immoral.”

Cryer also felt the ending wasn’t exactly right. “I was disappointed,” he told Entertainment Weekly. “You sorta go, ‘Oh, guess I’m not the leading man.’ But I think it was kind of appropriate. Duckie always thought he was the leading man, and that was his fatal flaw.” In You Couldn’t Ignore Me, Cryer said that “I was a little hurt because you feel it reflects on you as an actor, because you didn’t get an audience to invest enough in an Andie and Duckie relationship in such a way that it would be satisfying that they would end up together.” However, Cryer recognizes the point of the new ending was to prove you could bridge the gap between classes. “You can’t give people the impression that it can’t be bridged. You can’t send a message that interclass romance just can’t possibly work.” Pretty in Pink producer Lauren Shuler Donner thinks, “it’s a good message. It’s Cinderella, and I think it will always resonate that way,” she said in You Couldn’t Ignore Me. And McCarthy considers the ending “tapping into the fantasy of what young women want.” (Which is apparently a guy wearing a terrible wig.)

10. CRYER DIDN’T THINK RINGWALD OR MCCARTHY LIKED HIM.

 “Molly and Andrew were very reserved people and I’m a very outgoing person,” Cryer told CBS News Sunday Morning. “That could have worked out great, that dynamic, but it didn’t. I think they were irritated by me from day one.” Cryer elaborated to MSN: “I think I made them uncomfortable. They would later label me as ‘needy.’ Not untrue, actually. What I later found out from the director, Howie Deutch, was we were kind of cast to take advantage of that, that it was supposed to be an uncomfortable three-way relationship. And that happened. [Molly’s] so reserved that I always took that as that means she hates me.”

In You Couldn’t Ignore Me, McCarthy confirmed the neediness. “Jon was very Duckie-like when we were making that movie,” he said. “He was very sweet, and very needy, and I had no patience for it.”

11. JAMES SPADER PLAYED STEFF SO WELL IN HIS AUDITION THAT HE ALMOST REPELLED THE PRODUCERS.

According to You Couldn’t Ignore Me, when Spader auditioned for Deutch and Hughes, he completely immersed himself in the jerky character of Steff. He smoked a cigarette in the room, and crushed the cig on his way out. Hughes and Deutch almost didn’t cast him until they realized just how much he embodied the role. After Spader got the part, Cryer complimented Spader’s prior works. “I figure I got a lock on this teenage a**hole thing,” Spader told Cryer.

Last year Spader and McCarthy reunited when McCarthy directed Spader in an episode of The Blacklist.

12. ANDIE’S PROM DRESS WAS CREATED FROM TWO DRESSES.

Costume designer Marilyn Vance bought the dresses from two locations in L.A., cut them apart, then reassembled them the two into one pink dress. Unfortunately, Ringwald “hated the pink dress,” Vance told Yahoo!. “She hated it with such a passion.” Thankfully, Hughes disagreed. “I said, ‘I think John should be involved in this. I really do,’” Vance said. “It’s just important enough for him to make that decision. And he said, ‘No way. This is it.’ That was the character. It wasn’t that he loved it or didn’t love it. It was just right for her character.”

Vance also curated Duckie’s over-the-top wardrobe. “Marilyn put me in these insane outfits, and at first I thought why does it have to be so goofy? And then I realized, of course, that’s Duckie’s f**k you to the world,” Cryer said in You Couldn’t Ignore Me.

13. OMD HAD TWO DAYS TO WRITE “IF YOU LEAVE.”

The British band had originally penned a finale song called “Goddess of Love” for the movie, which appears on their record, The Pacific Age. But when the ending was re-shot, they scrambled to write a new song. “We worked until 4 a.m. writing a rough version and sent a motorbike to Paramount,” band co-founder Andy McCluskey told Songfacts. “John heard it, liked it, and our manager phoned us at 8 a.m. and told us to go back in and mix it.”

But there was a problem: “The song had to be 120 BPM ‘cuz that’s the tempo of ‘Don’t You (Forget About Me),’ which is the track they actually shot the prom scene to,” McCluskey said. “Unfortunately, the editor obviously had no sense of rhythm because they are all dancing out of time in the final film.” The song peaked at number four on the U.S. charts and, to this day, is their best known song even though they have many songs in their discography. “It’s a blessing to have such a big hit, but a shame that it overshadows so many other good songs for the U.S. audience,” he said. “We have many European fans who hate the song.”

14. RINGWALD THINKS DUCKIE IS GAY. CRYER DISAGREES.

During a 2010 Entertainment Weekly reunion, Ringwald said Duckie would’ve probably come out by now, and Cryer joked Duckie would’ve shown up to Gay Pride wearing his suspenders and no shirt. Then he said, “I never quite saw him that way, but perhaps that’s because I’m married now.”

“Duckie doesn’t know he’s gay,” Ringwald told Out. “I think he loves Andie in the way that [my gay best friend] always loved me.” Cryer contradicted Ringwald in an interview with Zap2It: “I want to stand up for all the slightly effeminate dorks that are actually heterosexual. Just ‘cause the gaydar is going off, doesn’t mean your instruments aren’t faulty. I’ve had to live with that, and that’s okay.”

Though Duckie didn’t get the girl, Ringwald told Entertainment Weekly she thinks “Andie and Blane probably did not end up together, but Duckie and Andie ended up friends for life.”

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Marvel Entertainment
10 Facts About Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian
Marvel Entertainment
Marvel Entertainment

Nearly every sword-wielding fantasy hero from the 20th century owes a tip of their horned helmet to Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian. Set in the fictional Hyborian Age, after the destruction of Atlantis but before our general recorded history, Conan's stories have depicted him as everything from a cunning thief to a noble king and all types of scoundrel in between. But beneath that blood-soaked sword and shield is a character that struck a nerve with generations of fantasy fans, spawning adaptations in comics, video games, movies, TV shows, and cartoons in the eight decades since he first appeared in the December 1932 issue of Weird Tales. So thank Crom, because here are 10 facts about Conan the Barbarian.

1. THE FIRST OFFICIAL CONAN STORY WAS A KULL REWRITE.

Conan wasn’t the only barbarian on Robert E. Howard’s resume. In 1929, the writer created Kull the Conqueror, a more “introspective” brand of savage that gained enough interest to eventually find his way onto the big screen in 1997. The two characters share more than just a common creator and a general disdain for shirts, though: the first Conan story to get published, “The Phoenix on the Sword,” was actually a rewrite of an earlier rejected Kull tale titled “By This Axe I Rule!” For this new take on the plot, Howard introduced supernatural elements and more action. The end result was more suited to what Weird Tales wanted, and it became the foundation for future Conan tales.

2. BUT A “PROTO-CONAN” STORY PRECEDED IT.

A few months before Conan made his debut in Weird Tales, Howard wrote a story called "People of the Dark" for Strange Tales of Mystery and Terror about a man named John O’Brien who seemed to relive his past life as a brutish, black-haired warrior named … Conan of the reavers. Reave is a word from Old English meaning to raid or plunder, which is obviously in the same ballpark as barbarian. And in the story, there is also a reference to Crom, the fictional god of the Hyborian age that later became a staple of the Conan mythology. This isn't the barbarian as we know him, and it's certainly not an official Conan tale, but the early ideas were there.

3. ROBERT E. HOWARD NEVER INTENDED TO WRITE THESE STORIES IN ORDER.

Howard was meticulous in his world-building for Conan, which was highlighted by his 8600-word history on the Hyborian Age the character lived in. But the one area the creator had no interest in was linearity. Conan’s first story depicted him already as a king; subsequent stories, though, would shift back and forth, chronicling his early days as both a thief and a youthful adventurer.

There’s good reason for that, as Howard himself once explained: “In writing these yarns I've always felt less as creating them than as if I were simply chronicling his adventures as he told them to me. That's why they skip about so much, without following a regular order. The average adventurer, telling tales of a wild life at random, seldom follows any ordered plan, but narrates episodes widely separated by space and years, as they occur to him.”

4. THERE ARE NUMEROUS CONNECTIONS TO THE H.P. LOVECRAFT MYTHOS.

For fans of the pulp magazines of the early 20th century, one of the only names bigger than Robert E. Howard was H.P. Lovecraft. The two weren’t competitors, though—rather, they were close friends and correspondents. They’d often mail each other drafts of their stories, discuss the themes of their work, and generally talk shop. And as Lovecraft’s own mythology was growing, it seems like their work began to bleed together.

In “The Phoenix on the Sword,” Howard made reference to “vast shadowy outlines of the Nameless Old Ones,” which could be seen as a reference to the ancient, godlike “Old Ones” from the Lovecraft mythos. In the book The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian, editor Patrice Louinet even wrote that Howard’s earlier draft for the story name-dropped Lovecraft’s actual Old Ones, most notably Cthulhu.

In Lovecraft’s “The Shadow of Time,” he describes a character named Crom-Ya as a “Cimmerian chieftain,” which is a reference to Conan's homeland and god. These examples just scratch the surface of names, places, and concepts that the duo’s work share. Whether you want to read it all as a fun homage or an early attempt at a shared universe is up to you.

5. SEVERAL OF HOWARD’S STORIES WERE REWRITTEN AS CONAN STORIES POSTHUMOUSLY.

Howard was only 30 when he died, so there aren’t as many completed Conan stories out in the world as you’d imagine—and there are even less that were finished and officially printed. Despite that, the character’s popularity has only grown since the 1930s, and publishers looked for a way to print more of Howard’s Conan decades after his death. Over the years, writers and editors have gone back into Howard’s manuscripts for unfinished tales to doctor up and rewrite for publication, like "The Snout in the Dark," which was a fragment that was reworked by writers Lin Carter and L. Sprague de Camp. There were also times when Howard’s non-Conan drafts were repurposed as Conan stories by publishers, including all of the stories in 1955's Tales of Conan collection from Gnome Press.

6. FRANK FRAZETTA’S CONAN PAINTINGS REGULARLY SELL FOR SEVEN FIGURES.

Chances are, the image of Conan you have in your head right now owes a lot to artist Frank Frazetta: His version of the famous barbarian—complete with rippling muscles, pulsating veins, and copious amounts of sword swinging—would come to define the character for generations. But the look that people most associate with Conan didn’t come about until the character’s stories were reprinted decades after Robert E. Howard’s death.

“In 1966, Lancer Books published new paperbacks of Robert E. Howard's Conan series and hired my grandfather to do the cover art,” Sara Frazetta, Frazetta's granddaughter owner and operator of Frazetta Girls, tells Mental Floss. You could argue that Frazetta’s powerful covers were what drew most people to Conan during the '60s and '70s, and in recent years the collector’s market seems to validate that opinion. In 2012, the original painting for his Lancer version of Conan the Conqueror sold at auction for $1,000,000. Later, his Conan the Destroyer went for $1.5 million.

Still, despite all of Frazetta’s accomplishments, his granddaughter said there was one thing he always wanted: “His only regret was that he wished Robert E. Howard was alive so he could have seen what he did with his character.”

7. CONAN’S FIRST MARVEL COMIC WAS ALMOST CANCELED AFTER SEVEN ISSUES.

The cover to Marvel's Conan the Barbarian #21
Marvel Entertainment

Conan’s origins as a pulp magazine hero made him a natural fit for the medium’s logical evolution: the comic book. And in 1970, the character got his first high-profile comic launch when Marvel’s Conan The Barbarian hit shelves, courtesy of writer Roy Thomas and artist Barry Windsor-Smith.

Though now it’s hailed as one of the company’s highlights from the ‘70s, the book was nearly canceled after a mere seven issues. The problem is that while the debut issue sold well, each of the next six dropped in sales, leading Marvel’s then editor-in-chief, Stan Lee, to pull the book from production after the seventh issue hit stands.

Thomas pled his case, and Lee agreed to give Conan one last shot. But this time instead of the book coming out every month, it would be every two months. The plan worked, and soon sales were again on the rise and the book would stay in publication until 1993, again as a monthly. This success gave way to the Savage Sword of Conan, an oversized black-and-white spinoff magazine from Marvel that was aimed at adult audiences. It, too, was met with immense success, lasting from 1974 to 1995.

8. OLIVER STONE WROTE A FOUR-HOUR, POST-APOCALYPTIC CONAN MOVIE.

John Milius’s 1982 Conan movie is a classic of the sword and sorcery genre, but its original script from Oliver Stone didn’t resemble the final product at all. In fact, it barely resembled anything related to Conan. Stone’s Conan would have been set on a post-apocalyptic Earth, where the barbarian would do battle against a host of mutant pigs, insects, and hyenas. Not only that, but it would have also been just one part of a 12-film saga that would be modeled on the release schedule of the James Bond series.

The original producers were set to move ahead with Stone’s script with Stone co-directing alongside an up-and-coming special effects expert named Ridley Scott, but they were turned down by all of their prospects. With no co-director and a movie that would likely be too ambitious to ever actually get finished, they sold the rights to producer Dino De Laurentiis, who helped bring in Milius.

9. BARACK OBAMA IS A FAN (AND WAS TURNED INTO A BARBARIAN HIMSELF).

When President Barack Obama sent out a mass email in 2015 to the members of Organizing for Action, he was looking to get people to offer up stories about how they got involved within their community—their origin stories, if you will. In this mass email, the former Commander-in-Chief detailed his own origin, with a shout out to a certain barbarian:

“I grew up loving comic books. Back in the day, I was pretty into Conan the Barbarian and Spiderman.

Anyone who reads comics can tell you, every main character has an origin story—the fateful and usually unexpected sequence of events that made them who they are.”

This bit of trivia was first made public in 2008 in a Daily Telegraph article on 50 facts about the president. That led to Devil’s Due Publishing immortalizing the POTUS in the 2009 comic series Barack the Barbarian, which had him decked out in his signature loincloth doing battle against everyone from Sarah Palin to Dick Cheney.

10. J.R.R. TOLKIEN WAS ALSO A CONAN DEVOTEE.

The father of 20th century fantasy may always be J.R.R. Tolkien, but Howard is a close second in many fans' eyes. Though Tolkien’s work has found its way into more scholarly literary circles, Howard’s can sometimes get categorized as low-brow. Quality recognizes quality, however, and during a conversation with Tolkien, writer L. Sprague de Camp—who himself edited and touched-up numerous Conan stories—said The Lord of the Rings author admitted that he “rather liked” Howard’s Conan stories during a conversation with him. He didn’t expand upon it, nor was de Camp sure which Conan tale he actually read (though it was likely “Shadows in the Moonlight”), but the seal of approval from Tolkien himself goes a long way toward validation.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
15 Podcasts That Will Make You Feel Smarter
iStock
iStock

It's easy to feel overwhelmed by all the podcast options out there, but narrowing down your choices to the titles that will teach you something while you listen is a good place to start. If you're interested in learning more about philosophy, science, linguistics, or history, here are podcasts to add to your queue.

1. THE HABITAT

The Habitat is the closest you can get to listening to a podcast recorded on Mars. At the start of the series, five strangers enter a dome in a remote part of Hawaii meant to simulate a future Mars habitat. Every part of their lives over the next year, from the food they eat to the spacesuits they wear when they step outside, is designed to mimic the conditions astronauts will face if they ever reach the red planet. The experiment was a way for NASA to test plans for a manned mission to Mars without leaving Earth. The podcast, which is produced by Gimlet media and hosted by science writer Lynn Levy, ends up unfolding like a season of the Real World with a science fiction twist.

2. STUFF YOU SHOULD KNOW

Can’t pick a topic to educate yourself on? Stuff You Should Know from How Stuff Works is the podcast for you. In past episodes, hosts Chuck Bryant and Josh Clark (both writers at How Stuff Works) have discussed narwhals, Frida Kahlo, LSD, Pompeii, hoarding, and Ponzi schemes. And with three episodes released a week, you won’t go long without learning about a new subject.

3. THE ALLUSIONIST

Language nerds will find a kindred spirit in Helen Zaltzman. In each episode of her Radiotopia podcast The Allusionist, the former student of Latin, French, and Old English guides listeners through the exciting world of linguistics. Past topics include swearing, small talk, and the differences between British and American English.

4. PHILOSOPHIZE THIS!

Listening to all of Philosophize This! is cheaper than taking a philosophy class—and likely more entertaining. In each episode, host Stephen West covers different thinkers and ideas from philosophy history in an approachable and informative way. The show proceeds in chronological order, starting with the pre-Socratic era and leading up most recently to Jacques Derrida.

5. MORE PERFECT

In 2016, Radiolab, one of the most popular and well-established educational podcasts out there, launched a show called More Perfect. Led by Radiolab host Jad Abumrad, each episode visits a different Supreme Court case or event that helped shape the highest court in the land. Because of that, the podcast ends up being about a lot more than just the Supreme Court, exploring topics like police brutality, gender equality, and free speech online.

6. SLOW BURN

The Watergate scandal was such a important chapter in American history that it has its own suffix—but when asked to summarize the events, many people may draw a blank. Slow Burn, a podcast from Slate, gives listeners a refresher. In eight episodes, host Leon Neyfakh tells the story of the Nixon’s demise as it unfolded, all while asking whether or not citizens would be able to recognize a Watergate-sized scandal if it happened today.

7. LETTERS FROM WAR

Instead of using a broad scope to examine World War II, the Washington Post podcast Letters From War focuses on hundreds of letters exchanged by four brothers fighting in the Pacific during the period. Living U.S. military veterans tell the sibling's story while reflecting on their own experiences with war.

8. LEVAR BURTON READS

Just because you’re a grown-up doesn’t mean you have to miss out on the soothing sound of LeVar Burton’s voice reading to you. The former host of Reading Rainbow now hosts LeVar Burton Reads, a podcast from Stitcher aimed at adults. In each episode, he picks a different piece of short fiction to narrate: Just settle into a comfortable spot and listen to him tell stories by authors like Haruki Murakami, Octavia Butler, and Ursula K. Le Guin.

9. BRAINS ON!

Brains On! is an educational podcast for young audiences, but adults have something to gain from listening as well. Every week, host Molly Bloom is joined by a new kid co-host who helps her explore a different topic. Tune in for answers to questions like "What makes paint stick?" and "How do animals breathe underwater?"

10. SCIENCE VS

There’s a lot of misinformation out there—if you’re determined to sort out fact from fiction, it can be hard to know where to start. The team of “friendly fact checkers” at the Science Vs podcast from Gimlet is here to help. GMOs, meditation, birth control, Bigfoot—these are just a few of the topics that are touched upon in the weekly show. The goal of each episode is to replace any preconceived notions you have with hard science.

11. FLASH FORWARD

No one knows for sure what the future holds, but Flash Forward lays out the more interesting possibilities. Some of the potential futures that host and producer Rose Eveleth explores are more probable than others (a future where no one knows which news sources to trust isn’t hard to imagine; one where space pirates drag a second moon into orbit perhaps is), but each one is built on real science.

12. HIDDEN BRAIN

What motivates the everyday choices we make? That’s the question Shankar Vedantam tries to answer on the NPR podcast Hidden Brain. The show looks at how various unconscious patterns shape our lives, like what we wear and who we choose to spend time with.

13. PART-TIME GENIUS

The fact that it’s hosted by Mental Floss founders Will Pearson and Mangesh Hattikudur isn’t the only reason we love Part-Time Genius. The podcast from How Stuff Works wades into topics you didn’t know you were curious about, like the origins of Nickelodeon and the hidden secrets at the Vatican. Each episode will leave you feeling educated and entertained at the same time.

14. ASTRONOMY CAST

It’s a big universe out there—if you want to learn as much about it as possible, start with Astronomy Cast. Fraser Cain, publisher of the popular site Universe Today, and Dr. Pamela L. Gay, director of the virtual research facility CosmoQuest, host the podcast. They cover a wide range of topics, from the animals we’ve sent to orbit to the color of the universe.

15. SCIENCE OF HAPPINESS

The Science of Happiness podcast from PRI is here to improve your life, one 20-minute episode at a time. Science has proven that adopting certain practices, like mindfulness and gratitude, can make us happier—as does letting go of less unhealthy patterns like grudges and stressful thinking. With award-winning professor Dacher Keltner as your host, you can learn how to incorporate these science-backed strategies for happiness into your own life.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios