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United States

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English

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Episodes

209-Lost Off Newfoundland

7/16/2018
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In 1883 fisherman Howard Blackburn was caught in a blizzard off the coast of Newfoundland. Facing bitter cold in an 18-foot boat, he passed through a series of harrowing adventures in a desperate struggle to stay alive and find help. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll follow Blackburn's dramatic story, which made him famous around the world. We'll also admire a runaway chicken and puzzle over a growing circle of dust. Intro: During Oxfordshire's annual stag hunt...

Duration:00:33:55

208-Giving Birth to Rabbits

7/9/2018
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In 1726 London was rocked by a bizarre sensation: A local peasant woman began giving birth to rabbits, astounding the city and baffling the medical community. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll review the strange case of Mary Toft, which has been called "history's most fascinating medical mystery." We'll also ponder some pachyderms and puzzle over some medical misinformation. Intro: The notion of music without substance raises some perplexing philosophical...

Duration:00:32:13

207-The Bluebelle's Last Voyage

7/2/2018
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In 1961, Wisconsin optometrist Arthur Duperrault chartered a yacht to take his family on a sailing holiday in the Bahamas. After two days in the islands, the ship failed to return to the mainland, and the unfolding story of its final voyage made headlines around the world. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll recount the fate of the Bluebelle and its seven passengers and crew. We'll also sympathize with some digital misfits and puzzle over some incendiary...

Duration:00:34:02

206-The Sky and the Sea

6/25/2018
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Swiss physicist Auguste Piccard opened two new worlds in the 20th century. He was the first person to fly 10 miles above the earth and the first to travel 2 miles beneath the sea, using inventions that opened the doors to these new frontiers. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll follow Piccard on his historic journeys into the sky and the sea. We'll also admire some beekeeping serendipity and puzzle over a sudden need for locksmiths. Intro: Herbert Hoover's doctor...

Duration:00:30:18

205-The White Mouse

6/18/2018
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In 1928 Nancy Wake ran away from her Australian home and into an unlikely destiny: She became a dynamo in the French resistance, helping more than a thousand people to flee the Germans and then organizing partisans to fight them directly. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll tell the story of the White Mouse, one of the bravest heroes of World War II. We'll also marvel at mailmen and puzzle over an expensive homework assignment. Intro: The town of Agloe, New York,...

Duration:00:33:22

204-Mary Anning's Fossils

6/11/2018
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In 1804, when she was 5 years old, Mary Anning began to dig in the cliffs that flanked her English seaside town. What she found amazed the scientists of her time and challenged the established view of world history. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll tell the story of "the greatest fossilist the world ever knew.” We'll also try to identify a Norwegian commando and puzzle over some further string pulling. Intro: William Rowan Hamilton was so pleased with the...

Duration:00:30:15

203-Notes and Queries

6/4/2018
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In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll explore some more curiosities and unanswered questions from Greg's research, including a misplaced elephant, a momentous biscuit failure, a peripatetic ax murderer, and the importance of the 9 of diamonds. We'll also revisit Michael Malloy's resilience and puzzle over an uncommonly casual prison break. Intro: In 1846, geologist Adam Sedgwick sent his niece some tips on pronouncing Welsh. In 1961, psychologist Robert Sommer...

Duration:00:30:19

202-The Rosenhan Experiment

5/28/2018
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In the 1970s psychologist David Rosenhan sent healthy volunteers to 12 psychiatric hospitals, where they claimed to be hearing voices. Once they were admitted, they behaved normally, but the hospitals diagnosed all of them as seriously mentally ill. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll describe the Rosenhan experiment, which challenged the validity of psychiatric diagnosis and set off a furor in the field. We'll also spot hawks at Wimbledon and puzzle over a finicky...

Duration:00:31:49

201-The Gardner Heist

5/21/2018
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In 1990, two thieves dressed as policemen walked into Boston's Gardner museum and walked out with 13 artworks worth half a billion dollars. After 28 years the lost masterpieces have never been recovered. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll describe the largest art theft in history and the ongoing search for its solution. We'll also discover the benefits of mustard gas and puzzle over a surprisingly effective fighter pilot. Intro: In 1938, Italian physicist Ettore...

Duration:00:32:21

200-Lateral Thinking Puzzles

5/14/2018
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Here are five new lateral thinking puzzles -- play along with us as we try to untangle some perplexing situations using yes-or-no questions. Here are the sources for this week's puzzles. In a few places we've included links to further information -- these contain spoilers, so don't click until you've listened to the episode: Puzzle #1 was contributed by listener Mary McNally. Puzzle #2 is from listeners Tay Moss and John Russell. Puzzle #3 is from Paul Sloane and Des MacHale's 2014...

Duration:00:31:07

199-The Mystery of the Carroll A. Deering

5/7/2018
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In 1921 a schooner ran aground on the treacherous shoals off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. When rescuers climbed aboard, they found signs of a strange drama in the ship's last moments -- and no trace of the 11-man crew. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll examine the curious case of the Carroll A. Deering, which has been called "one of the enduring mysteries of maritime history." We'll also experiment with yellow fever and puzzle over a disputed time of...

Duration:00:33:41

198-The Man Who Wouldn't Die

4/30/2018
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In 1932 a quartet of Bronx gangsters set out to murder a friend of theirs in order to collect his life insurance. But Michael Malloy proved to be almost comically difficult to kill. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll review what one observer called "the most clumsily executed insurance scam in New York City history." We'll also burrow into hoarding and puzzle over the value of silence. Intro: In May 1856 Abraham Lincoln gave a fiery speech of which no record...

Duration:00:33:02

197-Alone Across the Outback

4/23/2018
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In 1977, a young woman named Robyn Davidson set out to pursue what she called a "lunatic idea" -- to lead a group of camels 1,700 miles across western Australia, from the center of the continent to the Indian Ocean. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll follow Davidson's remarkable journey alone through the Outback and learn what it taught her. We'll also dive into the La Brea Tar Pits and puzzle over some rejected customers. Intro: O.E. Young of Petersburg, Va.,...

Duration:00:32:32

196-The Long Way Home

4/16/2018
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When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, the crew of an American seaplane were caught off guard near New Zealand. Unable to return across the Pacific, they were forced to fly home "the long way" -- all the way around the world. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll follow the adventures of the Pacific Clipper on its 30,000-mile journey through a world engulfed in war. We'll also delve into the drug industry and puzzle over a curious case of skin lesions. Intro: In the...

Duration:00:30:04

195-A Case of Musical Plagiarism

4/9/2018
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When the English concert pianist Joyce Hatto died in 2006, she was remembered as a national treasure for the brilliant playing on her later recordings. But then doubts arose as to whether the performances were really hers. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll review a surprising case of musical plagiarism, which touched off a scandal in the polite world of classical music. We'll also spot foxes in London and puzzle over a welcome illness. Intro: In 1964 a British...

Duration:00:32:40

194-The Double Life of Clarence King

3/26/2018
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American geologist Clarence King led a strange double life in the late 1800s: He invented a second identity as a black railroad porter so he could marry the woman he loved, and then spent 13 years living separate lives in both white and black America. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll consider the extraordinary lengths that King went to in order to be with the woman he loved. We'll also contemplate the dangers of water and puzzle over a policeman's strange...

Duration:00:32:50

193-The Collyer Brothers

3/19/2018
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In the 1930s, brothers Homer and Langley Collyer withdrew from society and began to fill their Manhattan brownstone with newspapers, furniture, musical instruments, and assorted junk. By 1947, when Homer died, the house was crammed with 140 tons of rubbish, and Langley had gone missing. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll tell the strange, sad story of the Hermits of Harlem. We'll also buy a bit of Finland and puzzle over a banker's misfortune. Intro: When New...

Duration:00:31:34

191-The Longest Flight

3/5/2018
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The world's longest airplane flight took place in 1958, when two aircraft mechanics spent 64 days above the southwestern U.S. in a tiny Cessna with no amenities. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll follow the aerial adventures of Bob Timm and John Cook as they set a record that still stands today. We'll also consider a derelict kitty and puzzle over a movie set's fashion dictates. Intro: The Pythagorean theorem can be demonstrated using tangrams. Sculptor Marc...

Duration:00:31:57

190-Mary Patten and the Neptune's Car

2/26/2018
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In 1856, an American clipper ship was approaching Cape Horn when its captain collapsed, leaving his 19-year-old wife to navigate the vessel through one of the deadliest sea passages in the world. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll tell the story of Mary Patten and the harrowing voyage of the Neptune's Car. We'll also consider some improbable recipes and puzzle over a worker's demise. Intro: In 1943, the U.S. considered releasing glowing foxes in Japan to...

Duration:00:31:33

189-The "Wild White Man"

2/19/2018
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In 1835, settlers in Australia discovered a European man dressed in kangaroo skins, a convict who had escaped an earlier settlement and spent 32 years living among the natives of southern Victoria. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll review the extraordinary life of William Buckley, the so-called "wild white man" of colonial Australia. We'll also try to fend off scurvy and puzzle over some colorful letters. Intro: Radar pioneer Sir Robert Watson-Watt wrote a poem...

Duration:00:31:59