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CULT STATUS

Three podcast gems for your listening pleasure

Let the voices in your head come from a podcast for a change

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STUCK in traffic or crammed up against a stranger's armpit on the train? These podcasts will let you instantly be somewhere else. Other side-effects include having more interesting things to say and a renewed fascination with the world. Stream them from their respective websites, or download them with a podcast app like Stitcher or Apple's Podcasts.

The Sporkful

Have you perfected a technique for eating your burger so as to prevent Soggy End Syndrome? Do you believe in an optimal curry-to-rice ratio for each bite?

If you have devoted embarrassing amounts of time to pondering such gustatory things, you need to listen to The Sporkful. Hosted by Dan Pashman, this podcast is an exploration of culinary quirks, fuelled by an obsession with food.

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Each episode is a delightful otaku-esque romp through any number of food-related topics, such as whether you should be putting tomatoes in the refrigerator, what the optimal crust-to-filling ratio for a pie is, and whether a tart even qualifies as a pie. If you can masticate it, The Sporkful can be counted on to obsess over its origins, how to cook it, and which end should enter your maw first.

In one episode, comedian Hasan Minhaj reveals that he eats his cereal and milk separately, because he doesn't like the "mushy texture of milk curdling into your cereal".

A mediocre host would have left it at that, but Pashman is a Rottweiler for the truth: "Do you hold the cereal in your mouth and then take the sip (of milk)?" he wants to know. Minhaj is horrified at the prospect, and demonstrates how he really does it (chew and swallow cereal, and then drink the milk). It is always a beautiful moment when a podcast zeros in on something simultaneously idiosyncratic and universal, and The Sporkful inhabits this cross-section masterfully. There is no food topic too trivial or pedestrian to tackle, and every facet of this glorious pursuit we call "eating" is explored with unfettered enthusiasm.

Planet Money

I'm preaching to the choir, recommending a podcast about money and the economy to this paper's readers. But Planet Money is about more than just the green stuff, for its range of coverage is breathtaking.

Thanks to the show, I have learnt how spreadsheets came into existence, been introduced to a hit telenovela called La Reina Del Sur, and listened slackjawed as the Planet Money team set out to buy - literally buy - 100 physical barrels of oil just so they can see what the process is like.

The show's hosts make the material accessible enough, even to listeners with a fear of numbers. Terms such as "Q2", or the second quarter of the year, are explained, but complex measures such as demonetisation are also gamely tackled.

My favourite episode is a January 2016 one on the lottery. In it, you meet a fellow who figured out how to strike a US$27 million lottery jackpot in 1992 by buying up every possible combination of numbers - all 7.1 million of them.

This enterprising chap, who went on to live on a tropical island (of course he did), tells Planet Money just how he pulled off the great lottery corner of 1992.

It is an episode that embodies the best of Planet Money, packed with whimsy, derring-do and obscure knowledge. Every episode leaves your world a little larger.

Mystery Show

Mystery Show is like the Freaks and Geeks of the podcast world - a strangely compelling hit that ended in its prime. The podcast now hangs suspended in the ether of the Internet as a single six-episode season, after it was cancelled last year.

Hosted by Starlee Kine, the show investigates everyday mysteries that are simultaneously trivial but have the potential to grip listeners. One entire episode revolves around a car bearing the licence plate "ILUV911" which Kine and her friend happen to spot while they're driving in Los Angeles. This sighting would've been a footnote in anyone else's day, displaced by distraction and self-absorption. But Kine will not let it go.

"What could it mean?" she muses. "The most obvious explanation, that the driver was a terrorist, that didn't even make sense since the last thing a terrorist would do is get a licence plate that said: 'I'm a terrorist'."

We follow Kine as she consults the police, an investigative journalist and an investigator, before finally tracking down the vehicle's owner and uncovering the story of the licence plate.

In all six episodes, Kine displays a doggedness that borders on the audacious, helped considerably by her gift for getting people to tell her just about anything.

The most charming episode is one in which Kine goes on a mission to find out how tall Jake Gyllenhaal truly is (the Internet could not agree on this fact). Yes, she does eventually get Gyllenhaal on the phone and yes, he does tell her exactly how tall he is.

This show and its quirkiness might be an acquired taste, but if you're already unable to stop wondering how tall Jake Gyllenhaal is, this podcast is for you.

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