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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

365-Lateral Thinking Puzzles

11/29/2021
For this final episode of the Futility Closet podcast we have eight new lateral thinking puzzles — play along with us as we try to untangle some perplexing situations using yes-or-no questions. Intro: Sears used to sell houses by mail. Many of Lewis Carroll's characters were suggested by fireplace tiles in his Oxford study. The sources for this week's puzzles are below. In some cases we've included links to further information -- these contain spoilers, so don't click until you've...

Duration:00:31:59

364-Sidney Cotton's Aerial Reconnaissance

11/22/2021
One of the most remarkable pilots of World War II never fired a shot or dropped a bomb. With his pioneering aerial reconnaissance, Sidney Cotton made a vital contribution to Allied planning. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll describe his daring adventures in the war's early months. We'll also revisit our very first story and puzzle over an unknown Olympian. Intro: Hall's Law holds that a group's social class is reflected in its members' initials. In 1814 Richard...

Duration:00:34:11

363-The Lambeth Poisoner

11/15/2021
In 1891, a mysterious figure appeared on the streets of London, dispensing pills to poor young women who then died in agony. Suspicion came to center on a Scottish-Canadian doctor with a dark past in North America. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll describe the career of the Lambeth Poisoner, whose victims remain uncounted. We'll also consider a Hungarian Jules Verne and puzzle over an ambiguous sentence. Intro: How can an investor responsibly divest herself of...

Duration:00:33:33

362-The Leatherman

10/25/2021
In 1856, a mysterious man appeared on the roads of Connecticut and New York, dressed in leather, speaking to no one, and always on the move. He became famous for his circuits through the area, which he followed with remarkable regularity. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll describe the Leatherman, whose real identity remains unknown. We'll also consider the orientation of churches and puzzle over some balky ponies. Intro: Western Poland contains a grove of 400...

Duration:00:32:29

361-A Fight Over Nutmeg

10/18/2021
In 1616, British officer Nathaniel Courthope was sent to a tiny island in the East Indies to contest a Dutch monopoly on nutmeg. He and his men would spend four years battling sickness, starvation, and enemy attacks to defend the island's bounty. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll describe Courthope's stand and its surprising impact in world history. We'll also meet a Serbian hermit and puzzle over an unusual business strategy. Intro: Should orangutans be regarded...

Duration:00:29:29

360-Haggard's Dream

10/11/2021
In 1904, adventure novelist H. Rider Haggard awoke from a dream with the conviction that his daughter's dog was dying. He dismissed the impression as a nightmare, but the events that followed seemed to give it a grim significance. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll describe Haggard's strange experience, which briefly made headlines around the world. We'll also consider Alexa's expectations and puzzle over a college's name change. Intro: Marshall Bean got himself...

Duration:00:30:37

359-Stranded in Shangri-La

10/4/2021
In 1945, a U.S. Army transport plane crashed in New Guinea, leaving three survivors marooned in the island's mountainous interior. Injured, starving, and exhausted, the group seemed beyond the hope of rescue. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll describe the plight of the stranded survivors and the remarkable plan to save them. We'll also reflect on synthetic fingerprints and puzzle over a suspicious notebook. Intro: What's the shortest possible game of Monopoly if...

Duration:00:30:02

358-The Radium Girls

9/13/2021
In 1917, a New Jersey company began hiring young women to paint luminous marks on the faces of watches and clocks. As time went on, they began to exhibit alarming symptoms, and a struggle ensued to establish the cause. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll tell the story of the Radium Girls, a landmark case in labor safety. We'll also consider some resurrected yeast and puzzle over a posthumous journey. Intro: Joseph Underwood was posting phony appeals for money in...

Duration:00:30:33

357-Scenes From an Earthquake

9/6/2021
The San Francisco earthquake of 1906 is remembered for its destructive intensity and terrible death toll. But the scale of the disaster can mask some remarkable personal stories. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll describe the experiences of some of the survivors, which ranged from the horrific to the surreal. We'll also consider a multilingual pun and puzzle over a deadly reptile. Intro: In the 1600s, a specialized verb described the carving of each dish. The...

Duration:00:33:44

356-A Strawberry's Journey

8/30/2021
The modern strawberry has a surprisingly dramatic story, involving a French spy in Chile, a perilous ocean voyage, and the unlikely meeting of two botanical expatriates. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll describe the improbable origin of one of the world's most popular fruits. We'll also discuss the answers to some of our queries and puzzle over a radioactive engineer. Intro: Williston Fish bequeathed everything. Philip Cohen invented an English contraction with...

Duration:00:30:22

355-The Auckland Islands Castaways

8/23/2021
In 1864, two ships' crews were cast away at the same time on the same remote island in the Southern Ocean. But the two groups would undergo strikingly different experiences. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll tell the story of the Auckland Islands castaways and reflect on its implications for the wider world. We'll also consider some fateful illnesses and puzzle over a street fighter's clothing. Intro: Lewis Carroll proposed fanciful logic problems. In 1946, a...

Duration:00:32:16

354-Falling Through a Thunderstorm

8/16/2021
In 1959, Marine pilot William Rankin parachuted from a malfunctioning jet into a violent thunderstorm. The ordeal that followed is almost unique in human experience. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll describe Rankin's harrowing adventure, which has been called "the most prolonged and fantastic parachute descent in history." We'll also hear your thoughts on pronunciation and puzzle over mice and rice. Intro: How do mirrors "know" to reverse writing? Artist Alex...

Duration:00:33:04

353-Lateral Thinking Puzzles

8/9/2021
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: Lili McGrath's 1915 "floor polisher" is a pair of slippers connected by a cord. Eighteenth-century English landowners commissioned custom ruins. The sources for this week's puzzles are below. In some cases we've included links to further information -- these contain spoilers, so don't click until you've listened to the episode: Puzzle #1 is...

Duration:00:32:21

352-A Victorian Hippopotamus

7/26/2021
In 1850, England received a distinguished guest: A baby hippopotamus arrived at the London Zoo. Obaysch was an instant celebrity, attracting throngs of visitors while confounding his inexperienced keepers. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll describe his long tenure at the zoo, more than 4,000 miles from his Egyptian home. We'll also remark on a disappearing signature and puzzle over a hazardous hand sign. Intro: In 1969 Rolling Stone invented a fake album with a...

Duration:00:31:43

351-Notes and Queries

7/19/2021
In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll explore some curiosities and unanswered questions from Greg's research, including a novelist's ashes, some bathing fairies, the mists of Dartmoor, and a ballooning leopard. We'll also revisit the Somerton man and puzzle over an armed traveler. Intro: Amanda McKittrick Ros is widely considered the worst novelist of all time. John Cummings swallowed 30 knives. Sources for our notes and queries: The Pony Express ad is quoted in...

Duration:00:33:20

350-Symmes' Hole

7/12/2021
In 1818, Army veteran John Cleves Symmes Jr. declared that the earth was hollow and proposed to lead an expedition to its interior. He promoted the theory in lectures and even won support on Capitol Hill. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll describe Symmes' strange project and its surprising consequences. We'll also revisit age fraud in sports and puzzle over a curious customer. Intro: Grazing cattle align their bodies with magnetic north. The Conrad Cantzen Shoe...

Duration:00:32:18

349-The National Hotel Disease

7/5/2021
In 1857 guests at Washington D.C.'s National Hotel began to come down with a mysterious illness. One of them was James Buchanan, who was preparing to assume the presidency of the United States. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll describe the deadly outbreak and the many theories that were offered to explain it. We'll also contemplate timpani and puzzle over an Old West astronaut. Intro: The words overnervousnesses and overnumerousnesses are vertically...

Duration:00:32:14

348-Who Killed the Red Baron?

6/28/2021
In 1918, German flying ace Manfred von Richthofen chased an inexperienced Canadian pilot out of a dogfight and up the Somme valley. It would be the last chase of his life. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll describe the last moments of the Red Baron and the enduring controversy over who ended his career. We'll also consider some unwanted name changes and puzzle over an embarrassing Oscar speech. Intro: In the early 1970s, AI researcher James Meehan tried to teach...

Duration:00:32:57

347-The Cottingley Fairies

6/21/2021
In 1917, two young cousins carried a camera into an English dell and returned with a photo of fairies. When Arthur Conan Doyle took up the story it became a worldwide sensation. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll tell the story of the Cottingley Fairies, a curiosity that would remain unexplained for most of the 20th century. We'll also remember a ferocious fire and puzzle over a troublesome gnome. Intro: Poet Harry Graham found "a simple plan / Which makes the...

Duration:00:30:24

346-A Desperate Winter in Antarctica

6/14/2021
In 1898 a Belgian ship on a scientific expedition was frozen into the sea off the coast of Antarctica. During the long polar night, its 18 men would confront fear, death, illness, and despair. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll describe life aboard the Belgica during its long, dark southern winter. We'll also consider a devaluing signature and puzzle over some missing music. Intro: George S. Kaufman was uninterested in Eddie Fisher's dating problems. The Hatter...

Duration:00:33:16