99% Invisible

99% Invisible

Design is everywhere in our lives, perhaps most importantly in the places where we've just stopped noticing. 99% Invisible is a weekly exploration of the process and power of design and architecture. From award winning producer Roman Mars. Learn more at 99percentinvisible.org.


April 16, 2024 44 mins

This week we're featuring an episode from The Sporkful's series on the creation of "Anything's Pastable," Dan Pashman's new pasta cookbook.

Dan talks with Roman about how this massive project came to be and all the design decisions required to put together a cookbook.

And then, in part two of “Anything’s Pastable,” Dan embarks on an epic trip across Italy in search of lesser-known pasta dishes — and to learn about the evolution of pa...

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Hailing from central African cities of Brazzaville and Kinshasa, sapeurs have become increasingly recognizable around the world. Since the 1970s, sapeurs (from: le sape, short for "Société des Ambianceurs et des Personnes Élégantes") have been known for donning technicolored three-piece suits with flamboyant accessories like golden walking sticks and leopard-print fedoras, and then cat-walking through their city streets.

In recent y...

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April 2, 2024 33 mins

A chambre de bonne is usually one small room, on the top floor of a five- or six-story apartment building, and it’s usually just big enough to fit a bed and a table. It’s affordable housing in a city where finding housing is nearly impossible. Reporter Jeanne Boëzec tells about the history of the chambre de bonne apartments, and how while cute, they are also cramped and can be unpleasant spaces for people who have to live there, a ...

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March 29, 2024 36 mins

This is the third and final episode in a three-part series of Roman Mars recording on-location guides to the design features and interesting spots in cities he loves. 

Roman moved to Athens, Georgia, to pursue a PhD in plant genetics, but dropped out and got into the local music and art scene instead, and started making his way toward radio.

Roman Mars Describes Athens GA As It Is

Note: This series is made possible by the all-new 2024...

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March 27, 2024 32 mins

A few years back, journalist Lauren Ober was diagnosed with autism. She then made a podcast about her experience called The Loudest Girl in the World. And she found herself imagining a fantasy world where everything is tailored to Lauren’s very specific autistic needs. And she called this magical imagined place, wonderfully devoid of overwhelming stimuli "Autism Pleasantville."

"Obviously," Ober notes, "there’s not a one-size fits a...

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March 19, 2024 27 mins

In the middle of the 20th century, the small town of Jasper, Indiana did something that no other city had done before: they made garbage illegal. The city would still collect some things, like soup cans and plastics, but yucky junk, like food waste, wouldn't get picked up.

This change was made possible by a new appliance: the garbage disposer – that little grinding machine at the bottom of a lot of kitchen sinks.

The Monster Under th...

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March 15, 2024 127 mins

This is the third official episode, breaking down the 1974 Pulitzer Prize winning book, The Power Broker by our hero Robert Caro. 

Blank Check podcast co-host and The Atlantic movie critic David Sims is our book club guest.

On today’s show, Elliott Kalan, Roman Mars, and David Sims will cover the first section of Part 4 of the book (Chapters 11 through the end of Chapter 15), discussing the major story beats and themes.

The Power Brok...

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March 13, 2024 39 mins

This year marks the 40th anniversary of a lot of landmarks in pop culture, especially sci-fi and fantasy. So many franchises were born in 1984. Some came to define the genre or invent new genres. The great podcast Imaginary Worlds noticed this and produced a three-part series about 1984's Cambrian explosion of creativity that  landed on the big screen, the small screen, bookstore shelves and, of course, the toy store.

In this episod...

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Intimidating Proposition 65 warnings can be found on all kinds of products manufactured or distributed in the State of California. They can seem rather terrifying at first, but within the state, they are ubiquitous, on everyday objects from power tools to potato chips, dietary supplements, leather jackets, gas pumps, coffee tables, the list goes on. All of which raises the question: if these labels are on so many things, are they a...

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Roman Mars is on a mission to describe the cities that shaped who he is and how he thinks about design. Next up, Santa Fe. 

Santa Fe wasn’t always on the proverbial map — in fact, the Santa Fe railroad just passed it on by. A lot of care has been taken to keep Santa Fe cute and quaint over its history, with steps to preserve native architecture and historical design. The result is a mixture of structures old and new, but mostly made...

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February 27, 2024 41 mins

Since the mid-1970s, almost every jazz musician has owned a copy of the same book. It has a peach-colored cover, a chunky, 1970s-style logo, and a black plastic binding. It’s delightfully homemade-looking—like it was printed by a bunch of teenagers at a Kinkos. And inside is the sheet music for hundreds of common jazz tunes—also known as jazz “standards”—all meticulously notated by hand. It’s called the Real Book. But if you were g...

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It’s been said that history is written by the person at the typewriter. But who did the person who made history depend on? Often, it’s impossible to find out. But once in a while, we get lucky, and the story was not only recorded, it’s really good.
Well that’s what this podcast is all about. “Significant Others” is a show that tells a story you might not know about a person you probably do.

For example, in this episode we explore how...

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February 21, 2024 31 mins

What we see on screen has this way of influencing our perception of the world, which makes sense because the average American spends 2 hours and 51 minutes watching movies and TV each day. That’s a whopping 19 percent of our waking hours. Walt Hickey is a data journalist and author of a new book called You Are What You Watch. In it, Walt makes a case for how much film and television shapes us as individuals and as a society, far be...

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February 16, 2024 105 mins

This is the second official episode, breaking down the 1974 Pulitzer Prize winning book, The Power Broker by our hero Robert Caro. 

New York Times political columnist Jamelle Bouie is our book club guest.

On today’s show, Elliott Kalan and Roman Mars will cover Part 3 of the book (Chapters 6 through the end of Chapter 10), discussing the major story beats and themes, with occasional asides from Jamelle Bouie guiding us through the po...

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White Castle has its own take on fast food hamburgers. For starters, the patties are square, with five holes in each patty. And they’re small, too –- two-and-a-half inch sliders. Just big enough to fit into the palm of your hand. And since they’re steamed on a bed of onions, everything is infused with this very specific onion-esque flavor.

Today, White Castles can be hard to find, depending on where you live. But KCUR's Mackenzie Ma...

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February 6, 2024 33 mins

Seen from above, Sofia, Bulgaria, looks less like a city and more like a forest. Large "interblock park" green spaces between big apartment structures are a defining characteristic of the city. They're not so much "parks" in the formal sense, with fences and gates, just open green areas growing up in interstitial spaces left behind.

But as green as it still looks today, Sofia used to be even greener.  Since the fall of Bulgarian com...

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January 30, 2024 39 mins

When a highway gets made, there’s a clear and consistent process for doing so. Not so, public memorials. From the Vietnam Wall to the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, it’s always different. Sometimes a handful of concerned citizens get together and make it happen. Sometimes a nonprofit pushes for it, or a foundation. There’s usually a lot of activism, and a lot of fraught conversations – about design, location, the story it...

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January 26, 2024 37 mins

A few years ago, at the very start of the pandemic, Roman Mars wrote an episode of 99pi in which he simply talked about design details in his house -- realizing that he, like the audience, didn't have many other places to go.  (You should check it out. It's called "Roman Mars Describes Things As They Are"-- it’s a real time capsule and a fan favorite.) Since then, he's been thinking about and wanting to record a companion episode o...

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January 24, 2024 51 mins

Watch a skate video today, and you'll notice how similarly shaped the boards are. It’s called the “popsicle” design, because the deck is narrow in the middle and rounded off at both ends, like a popsicle stick. This may seem stupid simple, but that basic, clean popsicle shape is actually the product of a lot of experimentation and iteration. In 1989, one particular board would cement skateboard design as we know it. But to understa...

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January 19, 2024 93 mins

Welcome to our first official episode, breaking down the 1974 Pulitzer Prize winning book, The Power Broker by our hero Robert Caro. Robert Caro happens to be our special guest for this episode and you do not get more special than that.

On today’s show, Elliott Kalan and Roman Mars will cover the Introduction, Part 1, and Part 2 of the book (the intro through the end of Chapter 5), discussing the major story beats and themes, and th...

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