THINKING Sideways is a non-fiction podcast, released once a week. Episodes can vary dramatically in length, from half an hour to an hour and a half. While many episodes do address murder, the murders themselves are not the core interest of the podcast.
Instead, what it is truly interested in is the unsolved mystery that these murders represent. While many episodes are about murders, the show addresses a wide variety of other sorts of mysteries, from a bridge which seems to cause dogs to kill themselves to unexplained radio signals and other bizarre occurrences, all of which have attracted a wide variety of speculative explanations, including conspiracy theories.
Each episode begins with an introduction to the bizarre occurrence of the week, followed by an introduction to the various hypotheses that have been concocted to explain the incident, after which the hosts make an assessment of which (if any) they think is most plausible.
In contrast to podcasts like Sword and Scale, Lore and 99% Invisible, which feel more like being told a story about something interesting every week, Thinking Sideways feels less like being told a story and more like listening in to three friends chatting about weird stuff over the kitchen table (although storytelling is still a big part of what the three hosts lead to the show). This doesn’t make the show worse; while it does make it feel slightly less professional and manufactured it doesn’t detract from the quality, but this can lead to the show being somewhat confusing at times.
In particular, the format of a fairly free-form discussion of the mystery of the week frequently leads to one of the hosts mentioning something which the presenter that week had planned to talk about later. It’s informal, but at a price. the discussion diverts to talk about that issue out of sequence, leading to things being discussed in a somewhat circular order that can be hard to keep track of.
While the podcast is framed around the notion of “investigating things we simply don’t have the answers to”, what investigation occurs doesn’t seem to be particularly in-depth and, from what I have seen, consists entirely of what a person could discover using Google and a bit of spare time.
This isn’t necessarily a problem; these stories are for entertainment after all, and not everyone wants to spend their spare time researching conspiracy theories. Hearing about something in a morning podcast is much easier than actually devoting time to researching a topic that, while interesting, doesn’t have a great deal of impact on your life unless you are a professional ghost hunter or UFO spotter. From this perspective, Thinking Sideways gets credit for being entertaining even if it doesn’t seem to bring any original research to the table.
Similarly, while the show initially appears to be about finding answers, a firm one is rarely decided. This is fine, as what the podcast is really about is discussing weird and unusual events and phenomena rather than finding solid answers, but you may find it unsatisfying if you are the sort of person who needs a firm answer to every question.
Apart from these minor gripes, Thinking Sideways remains a thoroughly interesting, entertaining and well-produced podcast. Although early episodes have a minor audio hum, production quality appears to have increased dramatically since then. I recommend giving it a listen if you are at all interested in mysteries or the unexplained.
Thinking Sideways is available on iTunes, Podbay and here on their own site.