Mystery Show: Case #6 Kotter
August 2, 2015 12:17 PM - Subscribe

Starlee investigates a mysterious Welcome Back, Kotter lunch box.
posted by radioamy (52 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I still need to listen to this, but 1hr, 17min?!? I thought these were going to be in the 25-40 minute range. I barely have time to get to my playlist as it is!

grumble grumble, first world problems...
posted by jazon at 12:42 PM on August 2, 2015

Not a spoiler, but a thing they only say at the end: this is the last episode of the season.
posted by Going To Maine at 2:09 PM on August 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Another great episode. I get the impression that people genuinely love talking to Starlee, and she genuinely loves talking to them.
posted by moons in june at 2:27 PM on August 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

This was the weakest episode of the season. I enjoy that the show's mysteries are minute, but they've all been interesting in part because they're the same minute questions that arise in one's head--curiosity about a closing store or a vanity plate--whereas this was incredibly specific and too long given how anticlimactic the ending was. Of course, Starlee Kine is incredibly charismatic and funny, and thus makes each episode enjoyable, but I hope that season two's mysteries are better culled.
posted by lunch at 2:32 PM on August 2, 2015 [3 favorites]

It's long but it's worth it. I think the other episodes are shorter but not by much.

Although I'm a little bummed that it's not "solved," I still loved this. Does Starlee have some innate ability to get people to just spout out interesting stories when they first meet her? I love the guy who just blurts out the Phil Spector story when she first arrives.

Did anyone else get nostalgic for their childhood lunchbox? I had a Sesame Street one made my Aladdin in the '80s (this one I think). I can still taste the no-longer-cold milk that my mom would put in the thermos part, and I can hear the snap of the thermos mouthpiece.
posted by radioamy at 2:33 PM on August 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm still on the fence about this show in general, but I liked this episode a lot (second best after the belt buckle episode). Was the the Jonathan with the mystery Jonathan Goldstein (TAL contributor and host of CBC's Wiretap)? Even before she said his first name I thought it sounded like him.
posted by Emanuel at 8:48 PM on August 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Lots of great little moments in this ep: the Phil Spector story (HOLY WTF!!), hearing about Aladdin passing on Star Wars...really the episode was about the art of Elmer Lenart.

But oy this episode needed an edit. It was all over the place. And like, where the hell did the cowboy at the end come from?? Also this was the first time Starlee's twee-ness started to grate on me. Usually I find it endearing.

But I may just be grumpy about having to wait six weeks between episodes only to be told this was the last for a bit. Hopefully the idea is that she can now move on to "mysteries" that don't come to her from her friends.
posted by dry white toast at 9:03 PM on August 2, 2015

And yes it was Jonathan Goldstein.
posted by dry white toast at 9:04 PM on August 2, 2015

That illustration is so creepy. The drawings on the "thermos" are nice, though.

As for the episode, it was hard to follow as a whole, but it definitely has some great bits: the wrestling stuff, the Phil Spector thing, even the cowboy stories at the end was good.
posted by He Is Only The Imposter at 7:47 AM on August 3, 2015

Worth it for that crazy Phil Spector story, but yes, this one went on too long for me. And yet...I did love all the interviews she did with people--the info about the Aladdin illustrator who had done the Kotter lunchbox (and oh yes, total waves of nostalgia for my 1970s and '80s lunch boxes!) and the interview with that delightful wrestler, and I liked Starlee's total deadpan delivery as she's speaking about this totally ridiculous quest in a totally serious way. Okay, I guess I did like it quite a lot!

I'm looking forward to the next season.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:28 AM on August 4, 2015

I quite liked this episode, I think the cowboy at the end wrapped it up as neatly as it could be short of holding a seance or going back in time. Tying shirts in knots was a prank people did, back in the day, or at least cowboys did it, so there you go. Also every Mystery Show episode is better for having a grizzled old cowboy recount the things he did, by the by.

The pro-wrestler Starlee talked to was just adorable, especially his response to her calling him adorable, you can practically hear him blushing through the radio. A mental image I will cherish forever.

Having a long break followed by ending the season is just cruel. I chose to believe this is because the staff of Mystery Show were called upon to write the 3rd season of True Detective. I expect to see some beautifully shot scenes of Starlee brooding over the mystery of Hans Geordi's belt buckle and getting in high intensity gun fights on HBO next summer.
posted by selenized at 12:49 PM on August 4, 2015 [3 favorites]

Wow, Colt Cabana's website makes him look like such a friendly, fun guy...not what I associate with pro wrestlers! (I know nothing about wrestling.)

I fully support selenized reasoning about the break and season end.
posted by radioamy at 12:55 PM on August 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Despite not having really clicked with the early episodes, I actually really liked this one too. Maybe I finally just came around to accepting it on its own terms...
posted by primethyme at 3:00 PM on August 4, 2015

This was a big long for my tastes, but always enjoyable to listen to Starlee find something interesting in the most unexpected interviews. But it worries me that this show might be in a rough spot. Delays, a seemingly unedited episode and a shortened season, makes me wonder if something is going on behind the scenes.
posted by skewed at 8:04 PM on August 4, 2015 [3 favorites]

Does anyone else think that Starlee and Jonathan misinterpreted the image on the lunch box? They did note that the jacket was wrong because Epstein cut off his jacket sleeves, but the jacket he's holding actually looks almost identical to Horshack's. It doesn't look like Vinnie's, certainly. I think what's actually happening is that Vinnie pranked Horshack, Epstein is outraged on Horshack's behalf, and Horshack is like, "Hey c'mon guys, it's no big deal, really."

posted by Enemy of Joy at 9:15 AM on August 6, 2015 [2 favorites]

THIS WAS GREAT. HATERZ GOTTA HATE BUT I LOVED EVERY LONG MINUTE ESPECIALLY PHIL SPECTOR which I totally knew would end in... "Lunch box? I have no idea." which it did.

Really great show and loved the Elmer story which is the meat of this one.
posted by latkes at 9:22 AM on August 6, 2015


This is an excellent and terrifying observation.
posted by latkes at 9:23 AM on August 6, 2015

Weirdly, I accidentally discovered a lot more about one of the central mysteries today: What the heck sort of prank is knotting a shirt? I was reading Harold Lloyd's autobiography, and he mentions that as a boy in Nebraska and Colorado he used to head to the swimming hole with friends. If someone wasn't looking, they would knot the shirt's sleeves, and especially do so when the shirt was wet, so it was almost impossible to unknot. This meant that the prankee would often have to use his teeth to get the knot out, and so the prank was called "chaw beef," because you were chewing at your shirt like it was a flank of steak.

Once I had that name, it became easy to find examples of it. The first example I find is an article titled "Chinamen at a picnic" from the Macon Telegraph from June 15, 1883: The story told of 200 Chinese immigrants who had gone to a picnic, and, when swimming, were pranked by neighborhood boys. "To 'chaw beef,'" the article tells us, "is to tie the sleeves and legs of the garments into knots."

On August 19, 1892, the Trenton Evening Times printed an article titled "The Free Baths Where the Boys of Trenton Take a Swim" where they write that "Many a boy leaves the water to find his clothes all tied up in great knots and then his companions shout at him. Cries of 'Chaw beef' is heard and frequently a chorus of a hundred voices take up the strain much to the discomfiture of the already peevish boy."

On Wednesday, July 1, 1896, the Daily Register-Gazette published a story whose title tells the whole sad story:



They Then Stole What Money He Had and Later Stole Away -- The Sad Tale of a Man from Peoria.

The hobo's name was Prof. J. Dusty Rhodes, and the newspaper explains the name of the prank thus: "Dusty began to 'chaw beef' that being the description of the processof untying a hard knot with the teeth."

On April 5, 1936, the Reading Eagle published a story called "'Chaw Beef' Tactics used by Holdup Men" telling of four criminals who held up a Broadway bridge game, and made good their escape by stealing the trousers from the players, dunking them in water, and then knotting them up so that they could not be chased. However, the best laid aft ganged aglay when one of the victims threw a chair through a window, alerting a nearby policeman.

There's actually a lithograph by artist Raymond Jones called "Chaw Beef" that shows am angry young boy dressed in leaves carrying his knotted clothes home from the swimming hole. Here it is, although it's on eBay, so may be temporary.

SImilarly, Collier's had a cover from 1907 called Chaw Beef that showed a naked boy biting his clothes to get them untangled while surrounded by laughing boys. Here's almost exactly the same image from a 1927 eduction of Liberty. A cartoonish version from Them was the good old days, in Davenport, Scott County Iowa, from 1920.
posted by maxsparber at 10:53 AM on August 6, 2015 [58 favorites]

Education of Liberty? Of course I mean edition.
posted by maxsparber at 11:03 AM on August 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

Starlee Kine: 0
maxsparber: 1
posted by Going To Maine at 11:14 AM on August 6, 2015 [7 favorites]

We're all just seeking mysteries, wonder, and amazement.
posted by maxsparber at 11:19 AM on August 6, 2015 [5 favorites]

And Dusty Rhodes is the famous (late) pro all comes full circle!
posted by Enemy of Joy at 11:21 AM on August 6, 2015 [4 favorites]

Oh my god.
posted by maxsparber at 11:22 AM on August 6, 2015

Omg you must tweet this to starlee!
posted by latkes at 11:36 AM on August 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

Already tweeted. Also to Goldstein.
posted by maxsparber at 11:37 AM on August 6, 2015 [4 favorites]

This changes everything.
posted by radioamy at 12:46 PM on August 6, 2015 [4 favorites]

It definitely shows that the prank existed, was associated with children, and was a theme in art before the Kotter lunchbox, so I'd say it adds an extra layer to the answers found in the episode.
posted by maxsparber at 1:00 PM on August 6, 2015

That's some amazing detective work, maxsparber. Plus alarmingly, the Kotter lunchbox is just about exactly as far from 1936 as it is from today. So whoever designed it would have grown up with those pranks.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:27 AM on August 9, 2015 [4 favorites]

This was the weakest episode of the season.

What?! I think this one might have been my favorite. To me, the point is not the solution, but the people Starlee talks to and learns about along the way (that's why she doesn't google things; talking to people is the point). I found this one to be wonderfully evocative.
posted by ocherdraco at 7:26 PM on August 9, 2015

The Phil Spector thing made my skin crawl, given that he's currently in prison for murder. If more people had known that Spector had a penchant for holding colleagues at gunpoint, I'd have to imagine that they would have stayed the fuck away from him.

Instead, he was famous, so he got a pass.

I wonder how many more Phil Spectors and Bill Cosbys there are out there... monsters hiding in plain sight.
posted by schmod at 6:06 AM on August 10, 2015 [2 favorites]

In related news: Starlee was on Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me this week to talk about Mystery Show.
posted by schmod at 6:08 AM on August 10, 2015

Seems like she could spend a whole season on unresolved AskMe questions
posted by one_bean at 4:59 PM on August 10, 2015 [2 favorites]

Not gonna lie, I have been seriously considering writing to her about the 80s-credits-paint-roller question.
posted by Stacey at 5:49 PM on August 10, 2015 [13 favorites]

Me too!
posted by ocherdraco at 7:22 PM on August 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

So did we hear anything back from her / them?
posted by rebent at 8:15 AM on August 11, 2015

From Starlee: "Wow."
posted by maxsparber at 8:24 AM on August 11, 2015 [2 favorites]

Yeah, but nary a public tweet. :(
posted by Going To Maine at 12:28 PM on August 11, 2015

I know! Boo!
posted by maxsparber at 12:57 PM on August 11, 2015

(My guess would be that no public tweet implies an eventual audio update. I mean, I get that the answers aren't really the point, but what you tracked down opens up a whole new rabbit hole.)
posted by nobody at 7:24 PM on August 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

Does Starlee have some innate ability to get people to just spout out interesting stories when they first meet her?

In short, yes.
This is something Starlee excels at, and you can too! She teaches her method to others, and shared it with the world on This American Life about 12(!) years ago.

The Rundown

posted by LEGO Damashii at 9:58 AM on August 12, 2015 [8 favorites]

Oh my God, that bit on The Rundown! It explains so much. Still, I think she must have a very charming personality to be able to pull it off so consistently. Also, a lot of chutzpah. Because I really can't imagine many people being able to segue from ramen to asking about the number of one night stands someone has had.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 1:24 AM on August 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

Wow, this triggered an old memory. There was an "Our Gang" short where a rival group knot the kid's clothes while they are swimming. Fightin' Fools
posted by wrnealis at 10:55 AM on August 17, 2015 [4 favorites]

"No, I didn't dress for the lunchbox! That would have been fucked up!"
posted by fiercecupcake at 11:58 AM on August 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

I really liked this episode - how it swings around from here to there and then over to there. To get from the Smithsonian to a lunchbox painter who had worked as a professional wrestler (!) to Phil Spector to an old cowboy...
That's a freakin home run.
The one thing I hate about the show is how she talks about her 'agents' - there's something about it that just evokes for me interns slaving for her Starlee-ness for the leg up it will give them later on and basically I just hate the intern culture and... it's just a lame conceit, it suggests she has this whole office at her neck and call and who pays for that? Huh? There's no fictional justification for it - and that's all I need. Tell me you're playing hooky from your steady gig and you've enlisted the help of these other people and I'm with you, but evoke an office ready and willing and compensated to support all the very varied side-roads the investigation goes down... Sorry. Had to get that off my chest.
posted by From Bklyn at 3:03 AM on September 6, 2015

- there's something about it that just evokes for me interns slaving for her Starlee-ness for the leg up it will give them later on and basically I just hate the intern culture and... it's just a lame conceit, it suggests she has this whole office at her neck and call and who pays for that?

Her agents are her other producers/staff and other Gimlet staff, largely.
posted by listen, lady at 4:05 PM on November 29, 2015

omg I just found these via this post and now I need moar.
posted by juv3nal at 2:57 AM on May 23, 2016

*waves at long dormant Mystery Show thread*

Sooooooo I don't know if it will be released afterwards but there is a live Mystery Show in Toronto on Sunday November 20th and you can grab tickets here now!
posted by yellowbinder at 11:43 AM on October 4, 2016

oh geez

Hi everyone.
Many of you have been asking what's going on with Mystery Show, wondering when it will come back. This has often been phrased as “help me solve the mystery of what happened to Mystery Show.” Okay. I kind of left myself open for that one. Really though, I can’t begin to tell you how much this means to me, to have produced something that is so actively missed. But it’s unfair for me to do all the appreciating and you to do all the wondering. I owe every listener an explanation. So here goes.
In April, Gimlet let me go. This came without warning while I was in the midst of working on the second season. I’d been having trouble figuring out the new season – second seasons can be tricky – and so I'd gone away, to work on an episode. I didn't make as much progress as I had hoped, but the season was starting to take shape. The day I returned, Alex Blumberg told me the show was unsustainable. I was out. I lost my staff, my salary, my benefits, my budget and my email address. Mystery Show is the only show this has happened to at Gimlet. Just a few months prior, iTunes voted it Best Podcast of the Year.
Since then, I’ve been working every day to figure out a new plan for the show. I have things in the works but nothing I can announce just yet. And listen, I know the lack of updates has been maddening. I know how frustrating it has been to go to the Mystery Show accounts and be greeted with silence. You guys are so patient, so loyal and it’s pained me not to be able to say anything until now. Frankly, I was at a loss as to what to say. But the time has come to let you in on what’s been going on, to solve this one mystery for you while I work to solve even more.
Mystery Show is my heart and soul. I've never enjoyed working on anything more. I couldn’t ask for better listeners, better sleuths, better humans. I look forward to opening a new case soon. Thank you.

posted by juv3nal at 5:11 PM on October 6, 2016

The Hot Docs Podcast Festival is running in Toronto this weekend. If you were lucky enough to snag a now-sold-out ticket, you'll see Starlee present a live Mystery Show tonight.

If, like me, you're not lucky enough to get in tonight, you can play this old Moth piece about waiting in line for Marina Abramovic.
posted by maudlin at 7:37 AM on November 20, 2016

I can offer a spoiler free report. At the beginning of the show we were sworn to secrecy regarding the mystery.

We had technical difficulties so the show was late. When the show finally started it was cool, we were treated to the opening of a cool mystery, with Starlee telling the story and supplying interview clips. It was easy to get lost in the mood the mystery evoked, especially with a musical component. But then she just admitted she hit a brick wall and the only way to solve the mystery was to open it up as wide as possible. She passed out a card with a link to download some files, with an explanation that we are to subtlely propagate them in the world and hope the mystery is solved.

It was a weird catch-22 in that I totally get that not all mysteries are solvable by one person, but she explicitly requested we don't talk about the mystery, but then she expects us to solve it.

All in all there were traces of the wonder that is Mystery Show, but this show was a bit muddled, suffered from tech issues and lateness, and was very short. I'm at peace with the experience but there was a lot of grumbling as the show let out and on Twitter today.
posted by yellowbinder at 7:19 AM on November 21, 2016

Her XOXO talk is on youtube now.
posted by juv3nal at 12:56 AM on November 26, 2016

I saw the lunchbox at the American History Museum this weekend! It really is an inexplicable illustration.
posted by Etrigan at 7:41 AM on April 20, 2017

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