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A Podcast Playlist to Help Distract You (for the Most Part)

As you shelter in place or take other measures to help stop the spread of the coronavirus, you may find yourself with silence to fill. And though podcasts are famously calibrated for a commuter’s journey, there are plenty out there to help pass the time and calm you at home, too.

To find the most distracting of them, I turned to the super listeners on social media, like The New York Times Podcast Club, a Facebook group of more than 32,000 members who often debate and recommend podcasts. Here are the podcast community’s top episode recommendations to lift your spirits or distract you during this time.

From mandatory lockdown in Milan, Jonathan Zenti, a Times Podcast Club member, found some comfort in the “Patient Zero” episode of “Radiolab,” which first aired in 2014. “I think it helps to calm down, believe in maths and data, and make reasonable choices (even when it’s hard to make one),” he wrote.

But if that’s a little too close to the headlines, try hearing an old song in a new way. Seth Lind, a creator of the sci-fi improv podcast “Mission to Zyxx,” found the “Semisonic” episode of “Song Exploder” surprisingly touching. Each episode of the podcast features an artist taking apart a song to explain how it was made, and the band Semisonic breaks down the end of the dive-bar standard “Closing Time.” “I admittedly went into it thinking, ‘So you’re going to try to tell me this song means something?’ And I was kind of blown away,Lind tweeted.

For another examination of an underappreciated song, Jakob Lewis recommended “Rumble Strip,” which weaves extraordinary narratives out of interviews with ordinary people. Lewis says the episode “Fifty. A Phoenix Moment” is a can’t miss: “Erica’s radio making is among the most human I’ve ever encountered,” Lewis tweeted, referring to the show’s creator Erica Heilman. “It’s rough, raw, unpolished, yet crafted and utterly true. This story is about confronting the truth of our mortality (turning 50) and rising above — by singing Total Eclipse of The Heart.”

Another episode that might help you appreciate that we’re all in this together comes from “The Science of Happiness” podcast. José Claudio Treviño, a Podcast Club member, suggests the episode “Who Would You Be Without Them,” for introducing the gratitude practice of “mental subtraction”: an imagination exercise that may help you tap into a newfound appreciation for overlooked blessings. “It helps to be appreciative of all the wonderful things one has,” Treviño shared. “Especially our loved ones.”

Perhaps you’ve braved the grocery stores and stocked as much food as your home can hold, but now you’re uninspired by the task of having to cook it all? If so, Arielle Vetro in London suggests you tune into the James Beard Award-winning podcast “The Sporkful,” specifically the episode “Where All The Chefs Are Grandmas.” It’s a tender listen that will inspire you to actually use all that pasta you’ve stockpiled. A bonus, Vetro said, is it “will remind you to check in on the elderly folks in your community who need support right now.”

For home bakers, the Podcast Club member Mary Beth Martini-Lyons recommended “Preheated.” “The hosts seem to enjoy each other and their baking hobby so much, it totally puts my mind in a different, happier place,” she said. “And the recipes are a bonus.”

If you’re feeling socially starved, Melissa Nelson Gonzales recommended “Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend” for the entertaining conversations. “The tone is slightly different than his show, which I like,” Gonzales shared in the group. “I get a sense of genuine respect between Conan and his guests.” Her go-to episode? The Keegan-Michael Key interview. And Joanna Solotaroff (a WNYC producer behind “2 Dope Queens,” and “Scattered”) recommended Conan’s Tig Notaro interview for “pure joy.”

Another way to feel as though you’re hanging out with friends is by tuning in to the pop culture podcasting duo Crissle and Kid Fury on “The Read.” Linette Lopez shared on Twitter that their chatter “can make you feel as funny, fierce and unapologetically black/queer as they are, even if you’re not.” Their latest episode, “Running From Rona,” opens with a Squarespace ad for your newfound apocalypse readiness website (it’s a joke, mostly). The comedians, who aren’t afraid to swear, will make you laugh at your own situation as they compare their end-of-days skills and resources, as well as dish advice for keeping the peace at home.

Sometimes the best audio accompaniment is the kind you don’t have to pay close attention to. For that, the podcast club member Elizabeth Ellers turns to “No Such Thing as a Fish” for informative, funny entertainment. “If your mind drifts (whose doesn’t these days), you’ve just missed a fact or two, not the whole thread of the episode,” she said.

Need some laughs? Mara Severin of the Podcast Club said “Judge John Hodgman” will not fail you. “Judge John decides low-stakes (usually) disputes between friends and family with the help of bailiff Jesse Thorn,” she said. “The rivalries are always gentle, funny and loving. The advice is always thoughtful, often hilarious and occasionally touching.” No doubt some of the humorist’s verdicts can offer perspective on whatever pet peeves your partner is pushing by your eighth day inside together.

Jen Robinson, a podcast fan on Twitter, says her 9-year-old likes “Story Seeds,” in which children suggest story ideas and authors write about them. Robinson said her daughter laughed in the car to “Pants on Fire,” a media literacy game show about misinformation in which children have to decide which seemingly honest “expert” is telling the truth. For younger listeners, here’s a list of podcasts to distract 2- through 6-year-olds and their caretakers.

While live sports may have dried up elsewhere, up in Alaska, there is still a great race to follow. This month, sled dogs race across 938 miles in the Iditarod, and Alaska Public Media is reporting race updates to the finish line on the “Iditapod.” Penny Gage, a Podcast Club member, says there’s “nothing better than thinking about and hearing about doggos during this time.”

Though not necessarily lighthearted, the history podcast “Throughline” from NPR is always eye-opening for Allison Brown, a Podcast Club member. A recent episode about the Public Universal Friend left her smiling, because it was something that as a Canadian, she had never heard before, she said. Though I’m sure the average American has also never heard of this pre-revolutionary self-proclaimed genderless prophet.

New from the team behind the calming, introspective interview show “On Being With Krista Tippett” comes “Poetry Unbound.” Audie Alcorn, a longtime Podcast Club member, said he loved the refreshing brevity of each roughly 10-minute episode, featuring wonderful poems, chosen, read and interpreted by the soothingly voiced Irish poet and theologian Pádraig Ó Tuama. Sandhya Nankani, a fellow club member, seconded the recommendation, calling it “the perfect antidote to the anxiety we’re all feeling right now.”

Another short, soothing meditation on an underexamined piece of history comes from the perennial Podcast Club favorite, “The Memory Palace,” which Valentina Tonidandel recommended from her quarantine in Trentino, Italy. Tonidandel said the episode “If You Have to Be a Floor” “always manages to lift my spirits so much — by the time the episode gets to the end, I just want to dance!”

Finally, for an audio experience that proves that your ears can also appreciate art, Sara Brooke Curtis recommends a recent episode of “Short Cuts called “Call Me.” A triptych of short, beautifully sound-designed documentaries about the sounds of phones and what they contain. Curtis tweeted that the stories dug into her in unexpectedly healing ways. “Catharsis, deep delight and a surprising love story that had me saying ‘no way’ so loud in my car, I almost woke up my sleeping son.”

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