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Futility Closet

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United States

Language:

English

Contact:

919-389-3086


Episodes

236-The Last Lap

2/11/2019
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In 1908 a 22-year-old Italian baker's assistant arrived in London to take part in the Olympic marathon. He had no coach, he spoke no English, and he was not expected to challenge the elite runners at the top of the field. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll follow Dorando Pietri on the most celebrated race in Olympic history. We'll also ponder the Great Mull Air Mystery and puzzle over a welcome murder. Intro: In July 1968 ethologist John B. Calhoun built a...

Duration:00:33:54

235-Leon Festinger and the Alien Apocalypse

2/4/2019
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In 1955, aliens from the planet Clarion contacted a Chicago housewife to warn her that the end of the world was imminent. Psychologist Leon Festinger saw this as a unique opportunity to test a new theory about human cognition. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll follow him inside a UFO religion as it approaches the apocalypse. We'll also try to determine when exactly LBJ became president and puzzle over some wet streets. Intro: There's a hexagon of cloud at...

Duration:00:32:17

234-The Dig Tree

1/28/2019
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In 1860 a party of explorers set out to traverse the Australian continent, but bad management and a series of misfortunes sent it spiraling toward tragedy. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll tell the story of the Victorian Exploring Expedition and its dramatic climax at Cooper's Creek. We'll also try to validate Archimedes and puzzle over an unlucky thief. Intro: In 1990 Jon Perez Laraudogoitia wrote a philosophy article that compelled its own acceptance. In 1976...

Duration:00:33:51

233-Flight to Freedom

1/21/2019
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In 1978 two families hatched a daring plan to escape East Germany: They would build a hot-air balloon and sail it by night across the border. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll follow their struggles to evade the authorities and realize their dream of a new life in the West. We'll also shuffle some vehicles and puzzle over a perplexing worker. Intro: In 1993 Tom Peyer and Hart Seely found that Yankees announcer Phil Rizzuto's utterances can be cast as free...

Duration:00:34:37

232-The Indomitable Spirit of Douglas Bader

1/14/2019
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Douglas Bader was beginning a promising career as a British fighter pilot when he lost both legs in a crash. But that didn't stop him -- he learned to use artificial legs and went on to become a top flying ace in World War II. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll review Bader's inspiring story and the personal philosophy underlay it. We'll also revisit the year 536 and puzzle over the fate of a suitcase. Intro: In 1872 Celia Thaxter published an unsettling poem...

Duration:00:31:25

231-The Halifax Explosion

1/7/2019
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In 1917, a munitions ship exploded in Halifax, Nova Scotia, devastating the city and shattering the lives of its citizens. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll follow the events of the disaster, the largest man-made explosion before Hiroshima, and the grim and heroic stories of its victims. We'll also consider the dangers of cactus plugging and puzzle over why a man would agree to be assassinated. Intro: In 1989 an unmanned Soviet MiG-23 flew all the way from Poland...

Duration:00:32:18

230-Lateral Thinking Puzzles

12/24/2018
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Here are six new lateral thinking puzzles -- play along with us as we try to untangle some perplexing situations using yes-or-no questions. 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 episode: Puzzle #1 was contributed by listener Phil Moore. Here are two corroborating links. Puzzle #2 is from Jed's List of Situation Puzzles. Puzzle #3 is adapted from...

Duration:00:29:53

229-The Stone of Destiny

12/17/2018
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In 1950, four patriotic Scots broke in to Westminster Abbey to steal the Stone of Scone, a symbol of Scottish independence that had lain there for 600 years. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll follow the memorable events of that evening and their meaning for the participants, their nation, and the United Kingdom. We'll also evade a death ray and puzzle over Santa's correspondence. Intro: In the 1920s Massachusetts mechanical engineer Elis Stenman fashioned a...

Duration:00:30:45

228-The Children's Champion

12/10/2018
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Polish educator Janusz Korczak set out to remake the world just as it was falling apart. In the 1930s his Warsaw orphanage was an enlightened society run by the children themselves, but he struggled to keep that ideal alive as Europe descended into darkness. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll tell the story of the children's champion and his sacrifices for the orphans he loved. We'll also visit an incoherent space station and puzzle over why one woman needs two...

Duration:00:33:28

227-The Christmas Tree Ship

12/3/2018
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In the late 1800s Chicago families bought their Christmas trees from the decks of schooners that had ferried them across Lake Michigan. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll meet Herman Schuenemann, known as "Captain Santa," who brought Christmas to the city for 30 years until a fateful storm overtook him. We'll also peruse some possums and puzzle over a darkening phone. Intro: In 1991 a Yale physician proposed naming toes. No one's quite sure how cats...

Duration:00:32:26

226-The Great Match Race

11/26/2018
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America's first national sports spectacle took place in 1823, when the North and South sent their best horses for a single dramatic race that came to symbolize the regional tensions of a changing nation. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll tell the story of the Great Match Race, which laid the foundations of modern American thoroughbred racing. We'll also ponder a parasite's contribution to culture and puzzle over a misinformed criminal. Intro: Quentin Tarantino's...

Duration:00:35:55

225-The Great Stork Derby

11/19/2018
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When Toronto attorney Charles Vance Millar died in 1926, he left behind a mischievous will that promised a fortune to the woman who gave birth to the most children in the next 10 years. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll follow the Great Stork Derby and the hope and controversy it brought to Toronto's largest families during the Great Depression. We'll also visit some Portuguese bats and puzzle over a suspicious work crew. Intro: The programming language...

Duration:00:31:54

224-Lady Death

11/12/2018
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Lyudmila Pavlichenko was training for a career as a history teacher when Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941. She suspended her studies to enlist as a sniper in the Red Army, where she discovered a remarkable talent for shooting enemy soldiers. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll trace the career of "Lady Death," the deadliest female sniper in history. We'll also learn where in the world futility.closet.podcast is and puzzle over Air Force One. Intro: Andy...

Duration:00:34:08

223-The Prince of Forgers

11/5/2018
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Denis Vrain-Lucas was an undistinguished forger until he met gullible collector Michel Chasles. Through the 1860s Lucas sold Chasles thousands of phony letters by everyone from Plato to Louis the 14th, earning thousands of francs and touching off a firestorm among confused scholars. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll trace the career of the world's most prolific forger. We'll also count Queen Elizabeth's eggs and puzzle over a destroyed car. Intro: In 2011...

Duration:00:33:19

222-The Year Without a Summer

10/29/2018
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The eruption of Mount Tambora in 1815 was a disaster for the Dutch East Indies, but its astonishing consequences were felt around the world, blocking the sun and bringing cold, famine, and disease to millions of people from China to the United States. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll review the volcano's devastating effects and surprising legacy. We'll also appreciate an inverted aircraft and puzzle over a resourceful barber. Intro: The Veterinary Record...

Duration:00:31:42

221-The Mystery Man of Essex County

10/22/2018
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In 1882, a mysterious man using a false name married and murdered a well-to-do widow in Essex County, New York. While awaiting the gallows he composed poems, an autobiography, and six enigmatic cryptograms that have never been solved. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll examine the strange case of Henry Debosnys, whose true identity remains a mystery. We'll also consider children's food choices and puzzle over a surprising footrace. Intro: In 1972 two Canadian...

Duration:00:33:08

220-The Old Hero of Gettysburg

10/8/2018
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In 1863, on the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg, a 69-year-old shoemaker took down his ancient musket and set out to shoot some rebels. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll follow John Burns' adventures in that historic battle, which made him famous across the nation and won the praise of Abraham Lincoln. We'll also survey some wallabies and puzzle over some underlined 7s. Intro: Alberta has no rats. In a 1963 travel book, Ian Fleming gives James Bond's...

Duration:00:31:44

219-The Greenbrier Ghost

10/1/2018
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In 1897, shortly after Zona Shue was found dead in her West Virginia home, her mother went to the county prosecutor with a bizarre story. She said that her daughter had been murdered -- and that her ghost had revealed the killer's identity. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll tell the story of the Greenbrier Ghost, one of the strangest courtroom dramas of the 19th century. We'll also consider whether cats are controlling us and puzzle over a delightful...

Duration:00:35:03

218-Lost in the Amazon

9/24/2018
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In 1769, a Peruvian noblewoman set out with 41 companions to join her husband in French Guiana. But a series of terrible misfortunes left her alone in the Amazon jungle. In this week's episode we'll follow Isabel Godin des Odonais on her harrowing adventure in the rain forest. We'll also learn where in the world "prices slippery traps" is and puzzle over an airport's ingenuity. Intro: In 1949 neurophysiologist Grey Walter built electronic "tortoises" with primitive nervous systems. In...

Duration:00:32:58

217-The Bone Wars

9/17/2018
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The end of the Civil War opened a new era of fossil hunting in the American West -- and a bitter feud between two rival paleontologists, who spent 20 years sabotaging one another in a constant struggle for supremacy. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll tell the story of the Bone Wars, the greatest scientific feud of the 19th century. We'll also sympathize with Scunthorpe and puzzle over why a driver can't drive. Intro: Nepal's constitution contains instructions for...

Duration:00:34:29