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The Economics of Everyday Things
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The Economics of Everyday Things

Author: Freakonomics Network & Zachary Crockett

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Who decides which snacks are in your office’s vending machine? How much is a suburban elm tree worth, and to whom? How did Girl Scout Cookies become a billion-dollar business? In bite-sized episodes, journalist Zachary Crockett looks at quotidian things and finds amazing stories.

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55 Episodes
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49. Weather Forecasts

49. Weather Forecasts

2024-05-2016:54

With industries relying on them and profits to be made, weather forecasts are more precise and more popular than ever. But there are clouds on the horizon. Zachary Crockett grabs an umbrella. SOURCES:Steve Adelman, head of Adelman Law Group, PLLC and vice president of the Event Safety Alliance.Peter Neilley, director of weather forecasting sciences and technologies for The Weather Company. RESOURCES:"Traders Have Turned Betting on the Weather, a Technique Pioneered by Enron, Into a Booming $25 Billion Market," by Dylan Sloan (Fortune, 2024)."Why Your Weather Forecasts May Soon Become More Accurate," by Dan Stillman (The Washington Post, 2023)."The High-Tech Race to Improve Weather Forecasting," (The Economist, 2023)."Study: Climate Change Has Increased Atmospheric Instability Over Past 40 Years," by University at Albany (Phys.org, 2023)."Beyoncé Concert In D.C. Suburb Highlights Complex Weather Challenges," by Marshall Shepherd (Forbes, 2023)."Forecast Process," by the U.S. National Weather Service. EXTRAS:"How Will We Handle the Heat?" by Freakonomics Radio (2022)."The Folly of Prediction," by Freakonomics Radio (2011).
A fraternity’s budget includes broken windows, liability insurance, chili dog breakfasts, and the occasional $40,000 DJ. Zachary Crockett crashes the party. SOURCES:Anthony Anderson, member of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity.Danielle Logan, owner of Fraternity Management.Charlie O’Neill, member of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity.Stephen J. Schmidt, professor of economics at Union College. RESOURCES:"If Student Deaths Won't Stop Fraternity Hazing, What Will?" by Ben Kesslen (NBC News, 2021)."Social Animal House: The Economic And Academic Consequences Of Fraternity Membership," by Jack Mara, Lewis Davis, and Stephen Schmidt (Contemporary Economic Policy, 2018)."How Fraternities Exacerbate Inequality," by Jillian Berman (MarketWatch, 2017)."18 U.S. Presidents Were in College Fraternities," by Maria Konnikova (The Atlantic, 2014).Inside Greek U.: Fraternities, Sororities, and the Pursuit of Pleasure, Power, and Prestige, by Alan D. DeSantis (2007). EXTRAS:"Freakonomics Radio Goes Back to School," series by Freakonomics Radio (2022).
47. Bail Bonds

47. Bail Bonds

2024-05-0620:281

How does bail work — and who's really paying? Zachary Crockett follows the money. SOURCES:Joshua Page, professor of sociology and law at the University of Minnesota.Steven Zalewski, criminal defense attorney and co-owner of Affordable Bails New York. RESOURCES:"Does Bail Reform Increase Crime in New York State: Evidence from Interrupted Time-Series Analyses and Synthetic Control Methods," by Sishi Wu and David McDowall (Justice Quarterly, 2023)."Profit Over People: The Commercial Bail Industry Fueling America’s Cash Bail Systems," by Allie Preston and Rachael Eisenberg (Center for American Progress, 2022)."All Profit, No Risk: How the Bail Industry Exploits the Legal System," by Wendy Sawyer (Prison Policy Initiative, 2022)."A Debt of Care: Commercial Bail and the Gendered Logic of Criminal Justice Predation," by Joshua Page, Victoria Piehowski, and Joe Soss (RSF: The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences, 2019)."The Economics of Bail and Pretrial Detention," by Patrick Liu, Ryan Nunn, and Jay Shambaugh (The Hamilton Project, 2018)."Selling Off Our Freedom: How Insurance Corporations Have Taken Over Our Bail System," by Color Of Change and ACLU’s Campaign for Smart Justice (2017)."Inside the Wild, Shadowy, and Highly Lucrative Bail Industry," by Shane Bauer (Mother Jones, 2014). EXTRAS:"To Catch a Fugitive," by Freakonomics Radio (2011).
46. Car Colors

46. Car Colors

2024-04-2920:233

So many vehicles on the road today are white, black, or gray — but automotive designers find that consumer preferences may be changing lanes. Zachary Crockett surveys the lot. SOURCES:Tom Crockett, classic car enthusiast.Mark Gutjahr, global head of design at BASF.Nikkie Riedel, carline planning manager at Subaru of America. RESOURCES:BASF Color Report 2023 for Automotive OEM Coatings."Beige on an S.U.V. Will Cost You, but for Pickups It’s Golden," by Roy Furchgott (The New York Times, 2021)."A Brief History Of Car Colors — And Why Are We So Boring Now?" (Consumer Reports, 2018)."The Link Between the Colour of Cars and the Economy," (The Economist, 2018). EXTRA:"Car Washes," by The Economics of Everyday Things (2023).
45. Storage Units

45. Storage Units

2024-04-2218:151

Americans love to buy new stuff and hate to get rid of old stuff, which is why storing it all has become a $45 billion business. Zachary Crockett cleans out the garage. SOURCES:Zachary Dickens, executive vice president and chief investment officer of Extra Space Storage.Anne Mari DeCoster, self-storage consultant.Kara Kolodziej, self-storage unit tenant. RESOURCES:"A Fifth Of Americans Rent Self Storage, With Millennials Overtaking Gen Xers In Generational Storage Wars," by Francis Chantree (Storage Cafe, 2024)."Lessors of Mini Warehouses and Self-Storage Units Show Significant Financial Gains During COVID-19 Pandemic," by Ben Chandler and Robin Enlow (United States Census Bureau, 2024)."The Fate of Oversupplied Self-Storage Markets and How to Pull Back From the Brink," by Frank DeSalvo and David Perlleshi (Inside Self Storage, 2023)."A Pandemic Space Race: Self-Storage Roars Back," by Ellen Rosen (The New York Times, 2021)."Need to Store That? Booming Self-Storage Industry Says No Problem," by Liam Pleven (The Wall Street Journal, 2015). EXTRAS:Storage Wars, TV series (2010-present).Auction Hunters, TV series (2010-2015).
44. Movie Sound Effects

44. Movie Sound Effects

2024-04-1521:371

The background noises you hear in film and TV — from footsteps to zombie guts — are produced in specialized studios by professionals known as Foley artists. Zachary Crockett makes some noise. SOURCE:Gregg Barbanell, foley artist at Universal Studios. RESOURCES:"The Weird, Analog Delights of Foley Sound Effects," by Anna Wiener (The New Yorker, 2022)."The Strangest Foley Sounds in Cinema," by Amber Gibson (ACMI, 2021)."The Man Who Makes Hollywood’s Smallest Sounds," by Zachary Crockett (Priceonomics, 2015). EXTRA:"No Hollywood Ending for the Visual Effects Industry," by Freakonomics Radio (2017).
43. Top-Level Domains

43. Top-Level Domains

2024-04-0821:231

Those letters at the end of web addresses can mean big bucks — and, for some small countries, a substantial part of the national budget. Zachary Crockett follows the links. SOURCES:Vince Cate, technical contact for the .ai domain in Anguilla.Kim Davies, Vice President of Internet Assigned Numbers Authority Services and President of Public Technical Identifiers at ICANN.Tianyu Fang, contributing editor at Reboot. RESOURCES:"The Two-Decade Fight for Two Letters on the Internet," by Jacob Judah (The New York Times, 2024)."Whose Domain Is It?" by Tianyu Fang (Reboot, 2023)."How a Tiny Pacific Island Became the Global Capital of Cybercrime," by Jacob Judah (MIT Technology Review, 2023)."The Tropical Island With the Hot Domain Name," by Rachel Metz (Bloomberg, 2023)."The Never-ending ccTLD Story," by Peter K. Yu (SSRN, 2003).
42. Cemeteries

42. Cemeteries

2024-04-0121:281

The verdant lawns promise everlasting rest — but what does it mean to sign a lease for all eternity? Zachary Crockett finds out where the bodies are buried. SOURCES:Terry Arellano, co-founder and president of Cemetery Property Resales, Inc.Jeff Lindeman, C.E.O. and General Manager of Mountain View Cemetery.Tanya Marsh, professor of law at Wake Forest University.Maureen Walton, founder and president of The Cemetery Exchange. RESOURCES:"Los Angeles Burial Crypt Near Marilyn Monroe, Hugh Hefner on Sale for $2 Million," by Stephanie Nolasco (Fox 10 Phoenix, 2023)."Why the Brooklyn-Queens Border Is Full of Dead People," by Keith Williams (The New York Times, 2017)."Death in the City: What Happens When All Our Cemeteries Are Full?" by Ana Naomi de Sousa (The Guardian, 2015)."Our First Public Parks: The Forgotten History of Cemeteries," by Rebecca Greenfield (The Atlantic, 2011)."Selling a Burial Plot is a Grave Decision," by Erin Peterson (Kiplinger, 2010). EXTRAS:"How to Be Better at Death," by Freakonomics Radio (2021).
41. Pet Movers

41. Pet Movers

2024-03-2518:171

Relocating halfway across the world is hard enough for humans. For pets it can require a specialist. Zachary Crockett waits at the airport, holding a sign saying "Fluffy." SOURCES:Amelia Barklow, owner of two pet ducks, Wobbles and Bean.Mike Gays, managing director of Global Pet Relocation.Gemma Tappin, pet relocation consultant team leader at Global Pet Relocation. RESOURCES:"Service Dogs Are Allowed on Planes, but There Are Some Requirements to Get Them There," by Zach Wichter (USA Today, 2023)."More Dogs Die on United Than on Any Other Airline. Here’s Why," by Martine Powers (The Washington Post, 2018)."Emotional support peacock denied flight by United Airlines," by Daniella Silva (NBC News, 2018)."Banned by Many Airlines, These Bulldogs Fly Private," by Christine Haughney (The New York Times, 2011).Pet Travel information, by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. EXTRAS:"Should You Trust Private Equity to Take Care of Your Dog?" by Freakonomics Radio (2023).
40. Prosthetic Limbs

40. Prosthetic Limbs

2024-03-1819:442

More and more Americans rely on prostheses. They’re custom-fitted, highly personal, and extremely expensive. Zachary Crockett investigates. SOURCES:Jordan Beckwith, YouTuber and advocate.Eric Neufeld, owner and medical director of Agile Orthopedics. RESOURCES:"Medicare Coverage of Durable Medical Equipment & Other Devices," by Medicare (2024)."Limb Loss in the U.S.," infographic by the Amputee Coalition (2022)."A Robot Hand Helps Amputees 'Feel' Again," by Jeffery Delviscio (Scientific American, 2019)."Differences in Myoelectric and Body-Powered Upper-Limb Prostheses: Systematic Literature Review," by Stephanie L. Carey, Derek J. Lura, and Jason Highsmith (Journal of Rehabilitation Research and Development, 2015)."Local Coverage Determination: Lower Limb Prostheses," from the Medicare Coverage Database (effective 2015)."Variation in the Care of Surgical Conditions: Diabetes and Peripheral Arterial Disease," by Philip P. Goodney, Nino Dzebisashvili, David C. Goodman, and Kristen K. Bronner (Dartmouth Atlas of Health Care Series, 2014)."Estimating the Prevalence of Limb Loss in the United States: 2005 to 2050," by Kathryn Ziegler-Graham, Ellen J. MacKenzie, Patti L. Ephraim, Thomas G. Travison, and Ron Brookmeyer (Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, 2008).
39. Houseplants

39. Houseplants

2024-03-1117:521

Interest in houseplants has exploded in recent years. But what causes floral trends, and prices, to grow? Zachary Crockett sows a few seeds. SOURCES:Justin Hancock, director of research and development at Costa Farms.Brian Williams, co-owner of Brian's Botanicals.Sarah Williams, co-owner Brian's Botanicals. RESOURCES:"Bidding Wars and $1,000 Succulents: The Wild World of Rare Houseplants," by Hannah Holland (The Washington Post, 2023)."Houseplants Boomed During the Pandemic. Gen Z and Millennials Say the Popularity Is Here to Stay," by Lucia Starbuck (KUNR, 2022)."The Most Iconic Houseplant Trends Through the Decades," by Wretched Flowers (Architectural Digest, 2021)."Meet the Plantfluencers," by Penelope Green (The New York Times, 2018).
Once America’s favorite recreational activity, bowling has been in the gutter for decades. But some surviving alleys are resetting the pins. Zachary Crockett laces up. SOURCES:Mike Leong, owner of Bel Mateo Bowl.Devon Stewart, head coach of Florida State University bowling team, C.E.O. of Bowl Connect, and consultant with the Hansell Group. RESOURCES:"Cornhole and Bowling Are the Sports Most Americans Played Last Year," by Mallory Newall, Johnny Sawyer, Charlie Rollason, and Tyler Ivey (Ipsos, 2023)."Overview of the Bowling Industry," by The Hansell Group (2022)."How Bowling Alleys Made a Comeback," by Justin Fox (Bloomberg, 2019)."New Look Keeps Bel Mateo Bowl Thriving," by Curtis Driscoll (The Daily Journal, 2017)."Inside the Ugly Road Bowlmor Took to Make Bowling Cool," by Gabrielle Fonrouge (New York Post, 2017)."The (Short) History of the National Bowling League," by Bob Johnson (United States Bowling Congress News, 2015). EXTRAS:"Is It Harder to Make Friends as an Adult?" by No Stupid Questions (2023).
38. Junk Mail

38. Junk Mail

2024-02-2620:502

Why does the mailman bring us so many catalogs, credit card offers, and pizza coupons? Because his job depends on it. Zachary Crockett checks the mailbox. SOURCES:Brett Chamberlin, program manager at Catalog Choice.Aaron Gordon, journalist.Mike Gunderson, president of Gunderson Direct. RESOURCES:"U.S. Postal Service Reports Fiscal Year 2023 Results," by the U.S. Postal Service (2023)."How We Ended Up With All This Junk Mail," by Aaron Gordon (Vice, 2020)."Here Are the Data Brokers Quietly Buying and Selling Your Personal Information," by Steven Melendez and Alex Pasternack (Fast Company, 2019)."How to Stop Junk Mail and Save Trees — and Your Sanity," by Elisabeth Leamy (The Washington Post, 2018)."How The Post Office Sells Your Address Update To Anyone Who Pays (And The Little-Known Loophole To Opt Out)," by Adam Tanner (Forbes, 2013).The Postal Reorganization Act of 1970. EXTRAS:"Is It Worth It for Charities to Harass Their Donors?" by No Stupid Questions (2022).
If you can make it through three years of law school, you too might end up on a billboard.  Zachary Crockett makes the case. SOURCES:Jason Abraham, managing partner of Hupy & Abraham.Nora Engstrom, professor at Stanford Law School.Kyle Hebenstreit, C.E.O. of Practice Made Perfect. RESOURCES:“Personal Injury Settlement Amounts Examples (2024 Guide),” by Jeffrey Johnson (Forbes Advisor, 2022).“Low Ball: An Insider’s Look at How Some Insurers Can Manipulate Computerized Systems to Broadly Underpay Injury Claims,” by Mark Romano and J. Robert Hunter (Consumer Federation of America, 2012).“A Century of Change in Personal Injury Law,” by Stephen D. Sugarman (UC Berkeley Public Law Research Paper, 2000).Bates v. State Bar of Arizona, in the Supreme Court of Arizona (1977).
36. ATMs

36. ATMs

2024-02-1223:061

Why do you have to pay $4 to get $40 cash at a bar? And who does it go to? Zachary Crockett checks his balance. SOURCES:Bernardo Batiz-Lazo, professor in the Newcastle Business School at Northumbria University.Patricia Tuz, president of New York ATM.Jon Weilbaker, general manager of New York ATM.Sasha Weilbaker, freelance writer and daughter of Patricia and Jon. RESOURCES:"The Number of ATMs Has Declined as People Rely Less on Cash," by Jim Carlton (The Wall Street Journal, 2023)."Survey: ATM Fees Hit Record High While Overdraft and NSF Fees Fell Sharply," by Karen Bennett and Matthew Goldberg (Bankrate, 2023)."More Americans Are Joining the ‘Cashless’ Economy," by Michelle Faverio (Pew Research Center, 2022)."Thieves Target ATMs Flush With Cash During Covid-19," by Scott Calvert (The Wall Street Journal, 2021),"Locational Study of ATMs in the US by Ownership," by Lian An, Christopher Baynard, Chriadip Chatterjee, and Chun-Ping A Loh (2018)."A Brief History of the ATM," by Bernardo Bátiz-Lazo (The Atlantic, 2015). EXTRA:"Why Are We Still Using Cash?" Freakonomics Radio (2016).
35. Dental Insurance

35. Dental Insurance

2024-02-0518:182

Why is it separate from medical insurance? And is it really insurance at all? Zachary Crockett goes in for a cleaning. SOURCES:Brad Bolman, postdoctoral member of the School of Historical Studies at the Institute for Advanced Study.Pamela Maragliano-Muniz, prosthodontist and chief editor for Dental Economics.Wendell Potter, president of the Center for Health and Democracy; former executive at Cigna. RESOURCES:"Dental Medical Loss Ratios: Understanding the Landscape in Massachusetts and Beyond," by Shaza Stevenson, Megan D’Alessandro, Sandra Wilkniss, and Nicole Evans (National Academy for State Health Policy Blog, 2023)."Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2021," by Katherine Keisler-Starkey and Lisa N. Bunch (U.S. Census Bureau Reports, 2022)."Medicare and Dental Coverage: A Closer Look," by Meredith Freed, Nancy Ochieng, Nolan Sroczynski, Anthony Damico, and Krutika Amin (KFF, 2021)."Dentists’ Group Fights Plan to Cover Dental Benefits Under Medicare," by Julie Bykowicz (The Wall Street Journal, 2021)."Antisocial Dentistry," by Brad Bolman (Hypocrite Reader, 2021). EXTRAS:"'Insurance Is Sexy.' Discuss," by Freakonomics Radio (2023)."Does Health Insurance Make You Healthier?" by Freakonomics, M.D. (2022).
34. Store-Brand Products

34. Store-Brand Products

2024-01-2921:023

Those low-priced staples on grocery-store shelves — where do they come from? Zachary Crockett finds out at a national convention for private-label manufacturers. SOURCES:Kusum Ailawadi, professor of marketing at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College.Eric Beringause, C.E.O. of Winland Foods.Ryan Boyle, vice president of sales at Kitchen Innovations.Samantha Burd, co-owner of Lady Burd Cosmetics.Dean Erstad, senior vice president of sales at Seneca.Harry Overly, president and C.E.O. of Flagstone Foods. RESOURCES:"The Backlash to Price Hikes Is Building," by Julia Waldow (Modern Retail, 2024)."For U.S. Consumers, It’s a Matter of ‘And’ — Not ‘Or,'" by Kari Alldredge and Warren Teichner (McKinsey & Company, 2023)."Those Doritos Too Expensive? More Stores Offer Their Own Alternatives," by Julie Creswell (The New York Times, 2023)."Why Private Label Brands Are Having Their Moment," by Errol Schweizer (Forbes, 2022)."The Hidden Makers of Costco’s Kirkland Signature and Trader Joe’s O’s," by Nathaniel Meyersohn (CNN Business, 2022)."Pursuing the Value-Conscious Consumer: Store Brands versus National Brand Promotions," by Kusum Ailawadi, Scott A. Neslin, and Karen Gedenk (Journal of Marketing, 2001)."The Effect of Generic Products on Consumer Perceptions and Brand Choice," by John J. Wheatley (NA - Advances in Consumer Research, 1981). EXTRAS:"Should America Be Run by … Trader Joe’s?" by Freakonomics Radio (2018)."How to Save $1 Billion Without Even Trying," by Freakonomics Radio (2014).
33. Sex Scenes

33. Sex Scenes

2024-01-2221:153

Behind these steamy sequences, there are body doubles, pubic wigs, legal documents, and dedicated choreographers who make sure everyone is comfortable. Zachary Crockett fast-forwards straight to the good parts.  SOURCES:Alicia Rodis, intimacy coordinator.Matthew Swanlund, founder and principal attorney at Aesthetic Legal. RESOURCES:"Romance or Nomance? Adolescents Prefer to See Less Sex, More Friendships, Platonic Relationships on Screen," by Elizabeth Kivowitz (UCLA Newsroom, 2023)."You're Not Seeing Things —'Nudity Creep' in Streaming TV Reveals More of Its Stars," by Neda Ulaby (All Things Considered, 2023)."Jennifer Aniston Rejected Offer for an Intimacy Coordinator in Sex Scenes with 'Gentleman' Jon Hamm," by Esther Kang (People, 2023)."How the Sausage Gets Made: Inside Hollywood's Prosthetic Penis Craze," by Emma Fraser (Thrillist, 2022)."The Disturbing Story Behind the Rape Scene in Bernardo Bertolucci’s Last Tango in Paris, Explained," by Anna North (Vox, 2018)."Two James Francos. Porn. 1970s New York. The Deuce Could Go So Wrong — but It Doesn't," by Emily St. James (Vox, 2017)."Shooting Film and TV Sex Scenes: What Really Goes On," by Melena Ryzik (The New York Times, 2015)."Sexually Explicit Casting Contract for HBO’s ‘Westworld’ Extras Has SAG-AFTRA Concerned," by Jonathan Handel (The Hollywood Reporter, 2015). EXTRAS:"Why is Everyone Having Less Sex?" by No Stupid Questions (2023).
32. Used Golf Balls

32. Used Golf Balls

2024-01-1519:352

American golfers lose 300 million balls a year — and all those bad swings are someone else’s business opportunity. Zachary Crockett hits the links. SOURCES:Todd Hutchinson, president and owner of BallHawker.Lashan Wanigatunga, founder of Two Guys With Balls. RESOURCES:"BallHawker, Challenge Enterprises Turn Wayward Golf Shots Into Successful Endeavor," Natalie Gilstrap (Clay Today, 2023)."Temecula Golf Ball Diver Nets $100,000 a Year," by Jeff Zevely (CBS8, 2022)."Golf’s Recycled Ball Market is Big Business," by Erik Matuszewski (Link, 2021)."The Inside Story of What the Original Titleist Pro V1 Launch Was Really Like," Andrew Tursky (Golf Digest, 2020)."Head of Golf Ball Retrieval Company Sentenced for Manslaughter After Diving Death at Wales Golf Course," by Alex Myers (Golf Digest, 2017)."Man Dies While Illegally Diving for Golf Balls," by Alex Myers (Golf Digest, 2015). EXTRAS:"Greg Norman Takes On the P.G.A. Tour," by People I (Mostly) Admire (2023).
The market for gustatory pain is surprisingly competitive. Zachary Crockett feels the burn. SOURCES:Ed Currie, founder and president of the PuckerButt Pepper Company.Stephanie Walker, associate professor and Extension Vegetable Specialist at New Mexico State University RESOURCES:"Pepper X Dethrones Carolina Reaper as World’s Hottest Chili Pepper," by Sanj Atwal (Guinness World Records, 2023)."The Shocking, Stupendous Rise of Superhot Chillies: ‘The Stomach Cramps Can Last for 14 Hours,’" by Tim Dowling (The Guardian, 2023)."14-Year-Old Dies After Trying The Paqui ‘One Chip Challenge,’" by Bruce Y. Lee (Forbes, 2023)."Beyond Neuronal Heat Sensing: Diversity of TRPV1 Heat-Capsaicin Receptor-Channel Functions," by Yaroslav M. Shuba (Frontiers in Cellular Neuroscience, 2021)."Training Your Tongue to Love Spicy Food Benefits More Than Your Taste Buds," by Maddie Oatman (Mother Jones, 2019)."Fire-Eaters," by Lauren Collins (The New Yorker, 2013)."The Arms Race to Grow World's Hottest Pepper Goes Nuclear," by Spencer Jakab (The Wall Street Journal, 2013). EXRAS:"Why Do People Love Horror Movies?" by No Stupid Questions (2022).Hot Ones, YouTube talk show.
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