Who was D.B. Cooper? Did Lee Harvey Oswald really act alone? What happened to Jimmy Hoffa? The world is full of mysteries. The big ones have certainly gotten their share of attention, but what about the little ones? Everyone has encountered one of these in their lives at one time, and they can really drive you nuts trying to figure them out.
I had one myself a few years ago when I came home to find five huge dragonfly-shaped Mylar balloons tied to my back porch with colorful ribbon. Everyone I knew denied putting them there, and I was inclined to believe them. It was a real head-scratcher, and one that tormented me for some time. I of course decided that the culprit was a sadistic clown killer marking me for later death. But that’s just me.
These kinds of unexplained incidents are the topic of a new podcast, appropriately titled Mystery Show. Produced and hosted by Starlee Kine, who you may know from This American Life, the show tackles puzzles from everyday life, submitted by everyday people. Once Kine takes the case, she vows to get to the bottom of things, and her only rule is that it can’t be something she can solve with a Google search. Because that’s just no fun.
In the first episode, a woman named Laura has long been perplexed by an incident involving a DVD she rented from a mom-and-pop video store in Tribeca in 2005. The day after she rented the movie, she went to return it and found the shop closed and completely abandoned. Why had they even let her open an account if they knew they were about to close? Or did something happen overnight that caused them to shutter unexpectedly? And, most importantly, what on earth was she going to do with her very own copy of Must Love Dogs?
The cases Kine tackles on Mystery Show are low-stakes, but that doesn’t take away any of the fun or the suspense. Laura’s case may not sound compelling at the outset, but as you listen, you begin to feel like you’ll go crazy if you don’t find out what the deal is with this store. An unsolved mystery, whether large or small, can really gnaw at you.
The investigations are surprisingly riveting, but the real joy of this podcast is the way Kine uncovers all sorts of other fascinating tidbits as she goes. Kine possesses an uncanny ability to find the story within the story. In another case involving Britney Spears, a paparazzi photo and an obscure novel, Kine finds herself on the phone with a Ticketmaster customer service representative. During a conversation about VIP passes, she ends up talking with the young man about the death of his father when he was five, his doubts about his personal worth and how easy it is to get addicted to sadness. The phone call ends with a hilarious and charming pep talk from Kine to the representative and it’s absolutely genuine and totally compelling. Real human moments like this are like lightning in a bottle. When they happen it’s a beautiful thing to witness.
Kine is a story magnet and I’ll listen to people with that particular gift regardless of what they set out to do. Mystery Show truly demonstrates the truth of that old chestnut: it’s about the journey, not the destination. Sidetracks and detours are always where the really good stuff lives.
That being said, Kine does eventually get to the heart of the matter and never leaves her audience hanging. I won’t give any spoilers, but I promise you’ll be more than satisfied at the end of every episode. I, on the other hand, will be a little less considerate concerning my own little mystery. If you’re on the fence about whether this podcast is something you’d enjoy, here’s a little litmus test: I’m not going to tell you what ever happened with my scary porch balloons. If you’re cool with that, then maybe Mystery Show won’t enchant you as much as it does me. If it bothers you that you’ll never know the answer, well you’re my kind of people. Go download Mystery Show right now. And watch out for anyone wielding Mylar and ribbons.