1. When Rubbish Went Curbside And Garbage Went Underground

I love this story — not only because it was a fun, minor mystery to solve and a slice of uniquely local history, but also a true WGBH News team effort. One day this spring, reporter Craig Lemoult came over to my desk excitedly, his cell phone in hand, pointing at a picture he’d taken. “Look at this! Look at this! What is it?!”

Lemoult had recently torn down an old shed in his backyard, and beneath it he found a concrete-lined cavity in the ground, with a mysterious, hinged metal cover that you could pop open by stepping on it. I quickly learned that ones just like it could be found in backyards and side lots across the region to this day. I also learned that they were some sort of trash receptacle and that the company that made them had been based in Somerville. Beyond that, the information found was conflicting, and I needed someone who had some first-hand experience using these things who could connect the dots.

That’s when reporter Stephanie Lydon said, “You know, my dad grew up in Somerville. I bet he’ll know what they are.” Jackpot! And as a bonus, I learned from Stephanie’s father that there was a time when no civilized person would even think about mixing their garbage and their rubbish.

2. How Did Jamaica Plain Get Its Name?

As that famed, fictional, wise old wizard Albus Dumbledore once said to Harry Potter, “Words are … our most inexhaustible source of magic.” They’re also a steady wellspring for the curious — and the Curiosity Desk. Some of my favorite stories have been ones where I’ve examined the words we use, whether they mean what we think they mean, where those words come from, and why we call certain things what we call them. In this case, listener Cathy Harrington reached out to The Curiosity Desk to ask, “Why is Jamaica Plain called Jamaica Plain?”

The simplicity of this question belies the complexity of its answer, which is to say that nobody really knows for sure. For me, that strangely made this story all the more satisfying. As much as I enjoy solving mysteries, I think I like it even more that there are still some out there.

3. Why Do Fans Get To Keep Foul Balls At Baseball Games?

Most of the time when people reach out to The Curiosity Desk, it’s with a question — which we love. And keep ‘em coming in 2020, by the way! Occasionally, though, we hear from someone who simply has a curious story to tell — and to share. And boy, in listener Patrick Cotter’s yarn did we hear a good one.

Like a lot of baseball lovers, one of the things I love about the sport is its long and colorful history. But in all my years, I’d never heard this tale. And if you’ve ever gone to a baseball game with a dream of snagging a foul ball to bring home as a souvenir, you might want to learn about why you should thank Cotter’s grandfather for spending that night in jail as an 11-year-old boy. Also, I promised my mom I would include this in my “best-of” list because it was her favorite story of the year, mainly, I think, because it allowed her to stump two of her brothers — both serious baseball lovers — on a baseball-related question.

4. Who Decides When Drivers Can And Can't Turn Right On Red?

Maybe it’s because I, like many of our radio listeners, spend plenty of time driving in my car from here to there and from there to here, but there’s just something about exploring questions about things we see and experience on the roadways that always seem to make for satisfying and resonant stories. In the past, I’ve looked at the origin of obscure road signs, examined what happens at those ubiquitous (and seemingly always closed) highway weigh stations, and dug into why Google Maps goes haywire in the highway tunnels under Boston. This year, my favorite “road-worthy” story came courtesy of listener Maryann Merigan, who reached out to The Curiosity Desk to ask why so many stoplights seem to have “No Turn on Red” signs, who decides which stoplights get them, and why?

5. How Ukraine's Turn in The American Political Spotlight Is Resonating With Ukrainian Americans

Boston comes in at the top of any list of “The Most Irish Cities in America,” and with good reason. Immigrants from Ireland came here in staggering numbers, beginning in the 1820s, completely transforming the city. But like many U.S. cities, Boston has long attracted immigrants from all corners of the globe. Look at the North End, or Chinatown. There were the folks from Scotland who came to this region as indentured servants in the 1600s — a small, steady pipeline that led to the creation of the oldest charitable organization in the Western Hemisphere, The Scots’ Charitable Society, founded in Boston in 1657. There were immigrants from Haiti, who began arriving in significant numbers in the 1950s. So much so that, today, only two states — New York and Florida — have larger Haitian populations than Massachusetts.

As the country of Ukraine increasingly came to dominate the headlines this year, I got to wondering about the Boston area’s Ukrainian and Ukrainian-American community. As I learned, Ukrainians have been emigrating to the Boston area since the 19th century. While the community isn’t especially large, it’s active and vibrant. And it was illuminating and educational to spend a Sunday at one of the community’s most important gathering places, Christ the King Ukrainian Catholic Church in Jamaica Plain, talking with mostly recent immigrants about their culture, their lives here in the area, and their feelings about Ukraine’s turn in the American political spotlight.