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Futility Closet

History Podcasts

Forgotten stories from the pages of history. Join us for surprising and curious tales from the past and challenge yourself with our lateral thinking puzzles.

Forgotten stories from the pages of history. Join us for surprising and curious tales from the past and challenge yourself with our lateral thinking puzzles.

Location:

United States

Description:

Forgotten stories from the pages of history. Join us for surprising and curious tales from the past and challenge yourself with our lateral thinking puzzles.

Language:

English

Contact:

919-389-3086


Episodes

329-The Cock Lane Ghost

1/24/2021
In 1759, ghostly rappings started up in the house of a parish clerk in London. In the months that followed they would incite a scandal against one man, an accusation from beyond the grave. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll tell the story of the Cock Lane ghost, an enduring portrait of superstition and justice. We'll also see what you can get hit with at a sporting event and puzzle over some portentous soccer fields. Intro: In 1967 British artists Terry Atkinson...

Duration:00:30:46

328-A Canine Prisoner of War

1/17/2021
In 1944, British captives of the Japanese in Sumatra drew morale from an unlikely source: a purebred English pointer who cheered the men, challenged the guards, and served as a model of patient fortitude. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll tell the story of Judy, the canine POW of World War II. We'll also consider the frequency of different birthdays and puzzle over a little sun. Intro: Sherlock Holmes wrote 20 monographs. In 1863, Charles Dickens' hall clock...

Duration:00:30:46

327-The Misplaced Tourist

1/10/2021
In 1977, West German tourist Erwin Kreuz spent three days enjoying the sights, sounds, and hospitality of Bangor, Maine. Unfortunately, he thought he was in San Francisco, on the other side of the continent. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast, we'll describe Kreuz's unlikely adventure, which made him a local hero in his adopted city. We'll also consider an invisible killer and puzzle over a momentous measurement. Intro: In 1712, Sweden observed a February 30. In 1898,...

Duration:00:29:18

326-The Recluse of Herald Square

1/3/2021
In 1931, a 93-year-old widow was discovered to be hoarding great wealth in New York's Herald Square Hotel. Her death touched off an inquiry that revealed a glittering past -- and a great secret. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast, we'll tell the story of Ida Wood, which has been called "one of the most sensational inheritance cases in American history." We'll also revisit the Candy Bomber and puzzle over some excessive travel. Intro: Lyndon Johnson's family shared...

Duration:00:31:12

325-Lateral Thinking Puzzles

12/27/2020
Here are eight new lateral thinking puzzles -- play along with us as we try to untangle some perplexing situations using yes-or-no questions. Intro: In 1940, the Venezuelan post office was said to deliver love letters at half price. In 1890 Mark Twain composed a holiday message for the New York World. The sources for this week's puzzles are below. In a few places we've included links to further information -- these contain spoilers, so don't click until you've listened to the...

Duration:00:31:51

324-The Bizarre Death of Alfred Loewenstein

12/20/2020
In 1928, Belgian financier Alfred Loewenstein fell to his death from a private plane over the English Channel. How it happened has never been explained. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast, we'll describe the bizarre incident, which has been called "one of the strangest fatalities in the history of commercial aviation." We'll also consider whether people can be eaten by pythons and puzzle over an enigmatic horseman. Intro: Philosopher Robin Le Poidevin offers a...

Duration:00:31:52

323-The Blind Traveler

12/13/2020
When a mysterious illness blinded him at age 25, British naval officer James Holman took up a new pursuit: travel. For the next 40 years he roamed the world alone, describing his adventures in a series of popular books. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast, we'll describe Holman's remarkable career and his unique perspective on his experiences. We'll also remember some separating trains and puzzle over an oddly drawn battle plan. Intro: David Tennant's 2008 turn as Hamlet...

Duration:00:30:05

322-Joseph Medicine Crow

12/6/2020
Joseph Medicine Crow was raised on a Montana reservation in the warrior tradition of his Crow forefathers. But during World War II he found himself applying those lessons in very different circumstances. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast, we'll describe Joseph's exploits in the war and how they helped to shape his future. We'll also consider how to distinguish identical twins and puzzle over a physicist's beer. Intro: Two opposing bullets struck one another during the...

Duration:00:30:51

321-The Calculating Boy

11/29/2020
George Parker Bidder was born with a surprising gift: He could do complex arithmetic in his head. His feats of calculation would earn for him a university education, a distinguished career in engineering, and fame throughout 19th-century England. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast, we'll describe his remarkable ability and the stunning displays he made with it. We'll also try to dodge some foul balls and puzzle over a leaky ship. Intro: John Clem joined the Union Army...

Duration:00:32:40

320-John Hornby and the Barren Lands

11/22/2020
John Hornby left a privileged background in England to roam the vast subarctic tundra of northern Canada. There he became known as "the hermit of the north," famous for staying alive in a land with very few resources. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast, we'll spend a winter with Hornby, who's been called "one of the most colorful adventurers in modern history." We'll also consider an anthropologist's reputation and puzzle over an unreachable safe. Intro: In 1902,...

Duration:00:35:33

319-Friedrich Kellner's Opposition

11/15/2020
In the 1930s, German civil servant Friedrich Kellner was outraged by the increasing brutality of the Nazi party and the complicity of his fellow citizens. He began to keep a secret diary to record the crimes of the Third Reich and his condemnations of his countrymen. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast, we'll tell the story of Friedrich's diary and his outspoken warnings to future generations. We'll also ponder the problem with tardigrades and puzzle over a seemingly...

Duration:00:33:48

318-Peace Pilgrim

11/1/2020
In 1953 Mildred Norman renounced "an empty life of money and things" and dedicated herself to promoting peace. She spent the next three decades walking through the United States to spread a message of simplicity and harmony. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll describe her unusual life as a peace pilgrim. We'll also admire Wellington's Mittens and puzzle over a barren Christmas. Intro: In 1956, Navy pilot Tom Attridge overtook his own rounds in a supersonic...

Duration:00:33:14

317-Lateral Thinking Puzzles

10/26/2020
Here are six new lateral thinking puzzles -- play along with us as we try to untangle some perplexing situations using yes-or-no questions. Intro: Stonewall Jackson recorded 14 precepts for good conversation. Ben Franklin offered four "rules for making oneself a disagreeable companion." Sources for this episode's puzzles: Puzzle #1 is from listener Allen Houser. Puzzle #2 is from listener Michael Cavanagh. Puzzle #3 is from listener Jessica Aves. Puzzle #4 is from listener Laura...

Duration:00:31:49

316-A Malaysian Mystery

10/19/2020
In 1967, Jim Thompson left his silk business in Thailand for a Malaysian holiday with three friends. On the last day, he disappeared from the cottage in which they were staying. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll review the many theories behind Thompson's disappearance, which has never been explained. We'll also borrow John Barrymore's corpse and puzzle over a teddy bear's significance. Intro: A 1969 contributor to NPL News suggested that orchestras were wasting...

Duration:00:33:21

315-Beryl Markham's Unconventional Life

10/12/2020
Beryl Markham managed to fit three extraordinary careers into one lifetime: She was a champion racehorse trainer, a pioneering bush pilot, and a best-selling author. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll review her eventful life, including her historic solo flight across the Atlantic in 1936. We'll also portray some Canadian snakes and puzzle over a deadly car. Intro: In 1974, Stewart Coffin devised a topological puzzle without a solution. In August 1972, Applied...

Duration:00:33:34

314-The Taliesin Murders

10/5/2020
By 1914 Frank Lloyd Wright had become one of America's most influential architects. But that August a violent tragedy unfolded at his Midwestern residence and studio. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll describe the shocking attack of Julian Carlton, which has been called "the most horrific single act of mass murder in Wisconsin history." We'll also admire some helpful dogs and puzzle over some freezing heat. Intro: In 1992 by Celess Antoine patented an umbrella...

Duration:00:32:57

313-The Santa Claus Association

9/28/2020
In 1913, New York publicist John Duval Gluck founded an association to answer Santa's mail. For 15 years its volunteers fulfilled children's Christmas wishes, until Gluck's motivation began to shift. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll describe the rise and fall of "Santa's Secretary" in New York City. We'll also survey some splitting trains and puzzle over a difference between twins. Intro: Edward Lear once had to prove his own existence. Paul Dirac proposed that...

Duration:00:33:58

312-The Last of the Yahi

9/21/2020
In 1911 an exhausted man emerged from the wilderness north of Oroville, California. He was discovered to be the last of the Yahi, a people who had once flourished in the area but had been decimated by white settlers. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll describe Ishi's sad history and his new life in San Francisco. We'll also consider the surprising dangers of baseball and puzzle over a forceful blackout. Intro: Director Chuck Jones laid out nine rules to govern...

Duration:00:31:13

311-A Disputed Russian Princess

9/14/2020
In 1920, a young woman was pulled from a canal in Berlin. When her identity couldn't be established, speculation started that she was a Russian princess who had escaped the execution of the imperial family. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll describe the strange life of Anna Anderson and her disputed identity as Grand Duchess Anastasia. We'll also revisit French roosters and puzzle over not using headlights. Intro: In 1899, English engineer E.W. Barton-Wright...

Duration:00:34:22

310-The Case of Bobby Dunbar

9/7/2020
In 1912, 4-year-old Bobby Dunbar went missing during a family fishing trip in Louisiana. Eight months later, a boy matching his description appeared in Mississippi. But was it Bobby Dunbar? In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll describe the dispute over the boy's identity. We'll also contemplate a scholarship for idlers and puzzle over an ignorant army. Intro: During his solo circumnavigation of 1895-98, Joshua Slocum met the pilot of the Pinta. In 1868, inventor...

Duration:00:31:11