Best of '16: Playing Dead, Twinkies Are Back, & Weird School Assemblies

Dec 28, 2016

The New Year is a time to look ahead, but this week we’re looking back. Today a selection of our favorite stories and interviews of 2016. First up, we revisit a conversation about the global disappearance industry that plots, facilitates and documents fake deaths - and the investigators who track them down. 

Then, we'll reminisce about some of the strangest school assemblies we endured growing up.

And  Roman Mars of 99% Invisible looks into the origins of those inflatable tube men you see outside of car washes.

All this week, we're revisiting some of the team's favorite segments from the past year. Read some of the reasons why they were chosen below. 

Playing Dead

 "This segment talks about  one of those things that seems like the plot of a TV show, like a bad TV show, or a movie, but it actually happens in real life, and it is the weirdest sort of crime possible." -Taylor

Elizabeth Greenwood was feeling overwhelmed. After quitting her job teaching in a Bronx public school, she was back in school -- with a new student loan piled onto a mound of undergraduate debt. She was sharing her fantasy of escaping to Belize when a friend joked that she should just fake her death. That got her thinking, and then fairly obsessed with how and why people commit "pseudocide"... The ultimate ticket to a fresh start.

Elizabeth discovered a global disappearance industry that plots, facilitates and documents fraudulent deaths. She spoke to people who tried to pull it off...investigators who track fraudsters down...and to those left behind to pick up the pieces.  Her new book, Playing Dead: A Journey Through the World of Death Fraud plunges into the mechanics and desperation that make ending a life appear to be an act of survival.  

Listen to this segment again at this link. 

Twinkies Are Back and Last Longer Than Ever

"There are times when I pick stories that I am not entirely sure are going to be that great, and we sometimes think: ‘Oh, this is going to be a quick four minute conversation', and the guest for this particular interview about Twinkies was amazing and the story was so fascinating and I was so delighted and completely surprised by how engaged I was with this story about Twinkies." -Logan

In the early aughts, Hostess announced it was on the brink of bankruptcy, and that Twinkies, Honey Buns and Ding Dongs were going down with it. That was before a private equity firm took over and launched what it called "the sweetest comeback in the history of ever" - but not without some heavy costs. Drew Harwell is a staff writer at the Washington Post and wrote What It Took to Save the Twinkie.

Listen  to this segment again at this link

The Sitter Dispatch

"One of my favorite parts of Word of Mouth is not just the interviews, but it’s also being able to share amazing stories from these amazing audio storytellers and radio storytellers and this one comes from two friends in Chicago who are incredible and experimental, and this story will warm any heart." -Jimmy

When you’re far from home, without friends, life can lose some luster. Pair that with having little to no money and freshly graduating from college and you’ve got the recipe for some serious desperation. So when Maya Goldberg-Safir was offered a babysitting gig, you'd think she’d jump at the opportunity. Then she met Louie. The seven-year old was a tornado of destruction, but also, charisma. This is a story of unexpected friendship and following it wherever it takes you. 

This story was produced by Dennis Funk and Maya Goldberg-Safir and first aired on Re:Sound from the Third Coast International Audio Festival.

You can listen to this story again via Third Coast

Remembering Weird School Assemblies

"We aired an interview with a woman who was talking about school assemblies and about how certain religious groups were approaching public schools and doing school assemblies with a religious tone and how that was problematic, but it was what we did before the interview on the air that I thought was really fun and interesting." -Maureen

An annual snake show? How about a song and dance routine about the dangers of popping pimples? Or a rock cover band playing Supertramp songs at middle schools? Sometimes the purpose of a school assembly can be head scratching or downright inappropriate. We asked some people around the station about their memories of school assemblies and the results were fascinating.

Listen to this segment again at this link. 

Inflatable Tube Men

"If you’re a regular listener to Word of Mouth you know that we absolutely adore Roman Mars, he’s a producer who works on a podcast called 99% Invisible that looks at the world of design and this was an episode that he did that was absolutely fascinating, and you know, something I had never thought to look at with so much depth." - Maureen

They dance at gas stations, on street corners, at the car wash. Roman Mars of the podcast 99% Invisible brings us the origin story of inflatable tube men. 

You can listen to this story again at PRX.org.