Thursday, August 03, 2017

Sideways Glance

"Things we simply don't have the answers to." That's the subject of the podcast Thinking Sideways. It's a sort of In Search Of / Unsolved Mysteries hybrid, albeit from a more skeptical perspective.

In each weekly episode, the three hosts -- Devin, Joe, and Steve -- gather to talk through a mystery. Their topics range widely on a continuum from gritty to outlandish. Sometimes they examine crimes, like that of serial abductor/rapist Mr. Cruel. Sometimes it's "crime with an unexplained twist," like the "Taman Shud" case involving an unidentified victim with an unsolved cipher in his pocket. They'll also get into "crime? maybe?", like the disappearance of the pilots of a Navy blimp in the 1940s. They'll talk about purely unexplained phenomena, like the powerful aquatic noise dubbed "the Bloop," or the "Dog Suicide Bridge" in Overtoun, Scotland. At times, for fun, they even play with whackadoodle conspiracy material, like the Carnac Stones of France.

This wide-ranging interest in topics kept me trying out the podcast for several episodes. What ultimately pulled me in was their approach to telling these tales. Thinking Sideways isn't out to tell you cheesy ghost stories. Its hosts recognize that the simple facts can be spooky enough themselves.

After catching their listeners up in the initial segment, the bulk of each episode is devoted to discussing theories of the case. Here, they'll cover almost every possible angle, treating each with the appropriate level of consideration. They'll talk outlandish ideas, often just for a laugh. They'll pick through more factually supported theories, pointing out the unaddressed holes along the way.

I'm reminded a lot of another podcast I tried out for a time and quickly dropped: Lore. That's another podcast about the spooky and bizarre, but one that's definitely out for the creepy vibes. It's not about to let facts or reason get in the way of a campfire story, and that's one approach. I've found Thinking Sideways to be more compelling.

I will say, though, that the production on Thinking Sideways is basically at the bare minimum. It's three people talking. There's little sign of editing work; there are no sound effects and only music to bookend each episode. The microphone quality is subpar; some episodes sound like they were recorded on a tin can phone coming from a bathroom. (Lore is superior in all these aspects.) Given the distinctly "lo-fi" quality, it's not a podcast I find I can listen to for multiple episodes at a time.

Still, the content itself I enjoy, even if I wish the presentation were better. I'd give Thinking Sideways a B. If you like true crime and the unknown, I think you'll find it worth a try.

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