Mindful Play: 
Transforming NPR's Hidden Brain Podcast into an Interactive Learning Adventure

Death By Duck specializes in turning podcasts into games. By working with NineTwoThree, they took on the challenge of transforming the concepts from NPR’s Hidden Brain podcast into an engaging and fun mobile application.

This collaboration resulted in creating the Hidden Brain’s Daily Challenge app. The app cleverly blends scientific theories and interactive gameplay, making complex topics approachable and entertaining. It was specifically designed to deepen listeners’ understanding of psychological concepts.


The app turns the podcast's rich content into a game that encourages listeners to explore and understand scientific ideas through play. This innovative approach broadens the appeal of psychological science and makes it more relevant and exciting to a wider audience.

Death by Duck wanted to create a Minimum Viable Product (MVP),  a basic but functional version of the app, in just one month. In addition to this goal, Death by Duck’s original game idea exceeded their bootstrap budget. NineTwoThree worked with the team to create a focused version of the app that showcased the larger vision. This first version of the app features a game built to help users recognize people from different races and genders.

We also worked with the Death by Duck team to design a revenue model that could grow with the app. The team decided to use an ads-based revenue model with customizable ads for internal or external advertisements.


In addition to the tight timeline, developing the game for the app brought up a few more challenges. The heart of the game relied on users matching faces from multiple angles and varying levels of difficulty. The game also needed to work smoothly for hundreds of people using it every day, while providing a unique experience each time.

On top of those constraints,  the Hidden Brain team needed to be able to easily update and
manage the app themselves. This meant making sure the game could handle more users and features over time without overcomplicating the logic behind it.

To stay on budget, the team needed smart ways to store photos and to make any changes to the game without needing a lot of technical work every time. This meant finding effective solutions that didn't require constant attention from an engineering team.


NineTwoThree researched popular apps, including those from the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, for ideas on how to make the app easy and enjoyable to use. We concentrated on making sure that users could navigate the app smoothly and use simple swiping actions to interact with it.

The Hidden Brain team wanted new users to find the app welcoming and easy to use. We collaborated and added engaging audio introductions featuring Shankar Vedantam, Hidden Brain’s creator and host, to create continuity between the app and the podcast. We also included features to encourage users to share their scores with their friends and family.

In developing the app, NineTwoThree went through several iterations of building and adjusting the app's design and features. This process was crucial in making sure the game was just the right level of challenging and fun. We focused on keeping users engaged while hosting ads that don’t disrupt their experience. Each cycle of development helped us refine the design and validate the app’s financial model.
“NineTwoThree delivered a high-quality MVP that acted as the client's POC and pleased their end clients. Their team helped the client learn the process. They were also professional, delightful, timely, friendly, and responsive. Moreover, they communicated via email, messaging apps, and meetings.”


The Hidden Brain Daily Challenge app was successfully launched on December 5th. The launch was a big achievement for Death by Duck and met the challenging one-month deadline while leaving room for more games to be added in the future.

The finished game is designed as a daily challenge to make learning fun and habitual. By spending three minutes playing this game regularly, users can become more accurate at recognizing different faces.

The Hidden Brain team leveraged its audience by publishing advertisements on the Hidden Brain podcast itself. The initial reactions from users are very positive, with a 5.0 rating based on 15 reviews.

More screens


Thanks for reading!

NineTwoThree. 2024