False Glory

1956 olympic torch hoax

Sydney mayor Pat Hills had a trying day on Nov. 18, 1956. That year’s Olympic torch had been wending its way across Australia and was scheduled to arrive in town that evening, carried by former marathon champion Harry Dillon. Huge crowds lined the streets, perching on fences and climbing poles for a better view.

Presently a runner appeared, holding a torch aloft. He bounded up the steps and handed it to Hills, who started his welcome address and then stopped, realizing that the handle he was holding bore wet paint.

It turned out to be a chair leg surmounted by a plum pudding can. Students at the University of Sydney had organized the hoax to protest thoughtless reverence for the Olympic torch. “It was being treated as a god, whereas in fact it was originally invented by the Nazis for the Berlin Games in 1936,” said veterinary student Barry Larkin, who had melted into the crowd after handing the fake torch to Hills.

“Our friends from the university think things like that are funny,” Hill told the crowd. “I hope you are enjoying the joke.” He was lucky it hadn’t gone off as planned — the torch had originally contained a pair of burning underwear.

Podcast Episode 151: Double-Crossing the Nazis

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Joan_Pujol_7th_Light_Infantry.jpg

In 1941, Catalonian chicken farmer Juan Pujol made an unlikely leap into the world of international espionage, becoming a spy first for the Germans, then for the British, and rising to become one of the greatest double agents of World War II. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe Pujol’s astonishing talent for deceiving the Nazis, which led one colleague to call him “the best actor in the world.”

We’ll also contemplate a floating Chicago and puzzle over a winding walkway.

Intro:

In 1999, Kevin Baugh declared his Nevada house an independent republic.

Foxie the dog stayed by her master’s side for three months after his hiking death in 1805.

Sources for our feature on Juan Pujol:

Juan Pujol, Operation Garbo, 1985.

Jason Webster, The Spy With 29 Names, 2014.

Tomás Harris, Garbo: The Spy Who Saved D-Day, 2000.

Stephan Talty, Agent Garbo, 2012.

Thomas M. Kane, Understanding Contemporary Strategy, 2012.

David C. Isby, “Double Agent’s D-Day Victory,” World War II 19:3 (June 2004), 18,20.

Marc De Santis, “Overlooked Reasons Overlord Succeeded,” MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History 26:4 (Summer 2014), 15-16.

David Kahn, “How I Discovered World War II’s Greatest Spy,” Cryptologia 34:1 (December 2009), 12-21.

Stephen Budiansky, “The Art of the Double Cross,” World War II 24:1 (May 2009), 38-45,4.

Kevin D. Kornegay, “Double Cross: The True Story of the D-Day Spies,” Army Lawyer, April 2014, 40-43.

Gene Santoro, “Harbor of Hope and Intrigue,” World War II 26:2 (July/August 2011), 26-28.

P.R.J. Winter, “Penetrating Hitler’s High Command: Anglo-Polish HUMINT, 1939-1945,” War in History 18:1 (January 2011), 85-108.

Neville Wylie, “‘An Amateur Learns his Job’? Special Operations Executive in Portugal, 1940–42,” Journal of Contemporary History 36:3 (July 2001), 441-457.

“An Unexpected Threat to the Normandy Invasion,” World War II 31:5 (January/February 2017), 16.

“‘Agent Garbo,’ The Spy Who Lied About D-Day,” All Things Considered, National Public Radio, July 7, 2012.

Tom Morgan, “Revealed: How a Homesick Wife Nearly Blew It for the British Double Agent Who Fooled Hitler,” Telegraph, Sept. 28, 2016.

Adam Lusher, “How a Dozen Silk Stockings Helped Bring Down Adolf Hitler,” Independent, Sept. 27, 2016.

Ian Cobain, “D-Day Landings Put at Risk by Double-Agent’s Homesick Wife,” Guardian, Sept. 27, 2016.

Listener mail:

Mark Torregrossa, “Superior Mirages Over Chicago Skyline Now Appearing,” mlive, April 18, 2017.

Allison Eck, “The Perfectly Scientific Explanation for Why Chicago Appeared Upside Down in Michigan,” Nova Next, May 8, 2015.

Jonathan Belles, “Fata Morgana Provides Eerie Look at Chicago Across Lake Michigan,” weather.com, April 18, 2017.

Listener Jason Gottshall directed us to these striking photos of the Chicago mirage.

“5.17a- Supplemental Gregor MacGregor,” Revolutions, Oct. 24, 2016.

Brooke Borel, The Chicago Guide to Fact-Checking, 2016.

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Alon Shaham, who sent this corroborating link (warning: this spoils the puzzle).

You can listen using the player above, download this episode directly, or subscribe on iTunes or Google Play Music or via the RSS feed at http://feedpress.me/futilitycloset.

Please consider becoming a patron of Futility Closet — on our Patreon page you can pledge any amount per episode, and we’ve set up some rewards to help thank you for your support.

You can also make a one-time donation on the Support Us page of the Futility Closet website.

Many thanks to Doug Ross for the music in this episode.

If you have any questions or comments you can reach us at podcast@futilitycloset.com. Thanks for listening!

Podcast Episode 150: The Prince of Nowhere

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:General_Gregor_MacGregor_retouched.jpg

In 1821, Scottish adventurer Gregor MacGregor undertook one of the most brazen scams in history: He invented a fictional Central American republic and convinced hundreds of his countrymen to invest in its development. Worse, he persuaded 250 people to set sail for this imagined utopia with dreams of starting a new life. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe the disastrous results of MacGregor’s deceit.

We’ll also illuminate a hermit’s behavior and puzzle over Liechtenstein’s flag.

Intro:

In 1878, a neurologist noted that French-Canadian lumberjacks tended to startle violently.

Each year on Valentine’s Day, someone secretly posts paper hearts in Montpelier, Vt.

Sources for our feature on Gregor MacGregor:

David Sinclair, Sir Gregor MacGregor and the Land That Never Was, 2003.

Matthew Brown, “Inca, Sailor, Soldier, King: Gregor MacGregor and the Early Nineteenth-Century Caribbean,” Bulletin of Latin American Research 24:1 (January 2005), 44-70.

T. Frederick Davis, “MacGregor’s Invasion of Florida, 1817,” Florida Historical Society Quarterly 7:1 (July 1928), 2-71.

Emily Beaulieu, Gary W. Cox, and Sebastian Saiegh, “Sovereign Debt and Regime Type: Reconsidering the Democratic Advantage,” International Organization 66:4 (Fall 2012), 709-738.

R.A. Humphreys, “Presidential Address: Anglo-American Rivalries in Central America,” Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 18 (1968), 174-208.

Courtenay de Kalb, “Nicaragua: Studies on the Mosquito Shore in 1892,” Journal of the American Geographical Society of New York 25:1 (1893), 236-288.

A.R. Hope Moncrieff, “Gregor MacGregor,” Macmillan’s Magazine 92:551 (September 1905), 339-350.

“The King of Con-Men,” Economist 405:8816 (Dec. 22, 2012), 109-112.

“Sir Gregor MacGregor,” Quebec Gazette, Oct. 18, 1827.

Guardian, “From the Archive, 25 October 1823: Settlers Duped Into Believing in ‘Land Flowing With Milk and Honey,'” Oct. 25, 2013.

Maria Konnikova, “The Con Man Who Pulled Off History’s Most Audacious Scam,” BBC Future, Jan. 28, 2016.

“Thomas Strangeways”, Sketch of the Mosquito Shore, 1822.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Bank_of_Poyais-1_Hard_Dollar_(1820s)_SCAM.jpg

A Bank of Poyais dollar, printed by the official printer of the Bank of Scotland. MacGregor traded these worthless notes for the settlers’ gold as they departed for his nonexistent republic.

Listener mail:

Robert McCrum, “The 100 Best Novels: No 42 – The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan (1915),” Guardian, July 7, 2014.

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was inspired by an item in Dan Lewis’ Now I Know newsletter. Here’s a corroborating link (warning — both links spoil the puzzle).

You can listen using the player above, download this episode directly, or subscribe on iTunes or Google Play Music or via the RSS feed at http://feedpress.me/futilitycloset.

Please consider becoming a patron of Futility Closet — on our Patreon page you can pledge any amount per episode, and we’ve set up some rewards to help thank you for your support.

You can also make a one-time donation on the Support Us page of the Futility Closet website.

Many thanks to Doug Ross for the music in this episode.

If you have any questions or comments you can reach us at podcast@futilitycloset.com. Thanks for listening!

Back Channels

In 1863 Union soldiers seized a bag of rebel correspondence as it was about to cross Lake Pontchartrain. In one of the letters, a woman named Anna boasted of a trick she’d played on a Boston newspaper — she’d sent them a poem titled “The Gypsy’s Wassail,” which she assured them was written in Sanskrit:

Drol setaredefnoc evarb ruo sselb dog
Drageruaeb dna htims nosnhoj eel
Eoj nosnhoj dna htims noskcaj pleh
Ho eixid ni stif meht evig ot

The paper published this “beautiful and patriotic poem, by our talented contributor.” A few days later a reader discovered the trick — it was simply English written in reverse:

God bless our brave Confederates, Lord!
Lee, Johnson, Smith, and Beauregard!
Help Jackson, Smith, and Johnson Joe,
To give them fits in Dixie, oh!

She had signed her name only “Anna,” but in the same bag they found a letter from her sister to her husband, saying “Anna writes you one of her amusing letters,” and this contained her signature and address. Union general Wickham Hoffman wrote to her: “I told her that her letter had fallen into the hands of one of those ‘Yankee’ officers whom she saw fit to abuse, and who was so pleased with its wit that he should take great pleasure in forwarding it to its destination; that in return he had only to ask that when the author of ‘The Gypsy’s Wassail’ favored the expectant world with another poem, he might be honored with an early copy. Anna must have been rather surprised.”

(From Hoffman’s 1877 memoir Camp, Court and Siege.)

Podcast Episode 126: The Great Australian Poetry Hoax

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In 1943, fed up with modernist poetry, two Australian servicemen invented a fake poet and submitted a collection of deliberately senseless verses to a Melbourne arts magazine. To their delight, they were accepted and their author hailed as “one of the most remarkable and important poetic figures of this country.” In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell the story of the Ern Malley hoax, its perpetrators, and its surprising legacy in Australian literature.

We’ll also hear a mechanized Radiohead and puzzle over a railroad standstill.

Intro:

In 1896 an English statistician decided that “brass instruments have a fatal influence on the growth of the hair.”

The Lincoln Electric Company presented a check made of steel to each winner of a 1932 essay contest.

Sources for our feature on Ern Malley:

Michael Heyward, The Ern Malley Affair, 1993.

Brian Lloyd, “Ern Malley and His Rivals,” Australian Literary Studies 20:1 (May 2001) 20.

Philip Mead, “1944, Melbourne and Adelaide: The Ern Malley Hoax,” in Brian McHale and Randall Stevenson, eds., The Edinburgh Companion to Twentieth-Century Literatures in English, 2006.

The Ern Malley website contains the complete story and poems.

In June 2002 Jacket Magazine ran a special “hoax” issue, with much background and commentary on the Malley story.

Listener mail:

Radiohead’s “Nude” played by a Sinclair ZX Spectrum, an Epson LX-81 dot matrix printer, an HP Scanjet 3c, and an array of hard drives:

Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” via Super Mario World:

“Logická Hádanka” by Horkýže Slíže — a Slovak punk band sings a lateral thinking puzzle (translation and solution in video description):

Guy Clifton and Emerson Marcus, “A Tale of the ’70s: When D.B. Cooper’s Plane Landed in Reno,” Reno Gazette-Journal, July 13, 2016.

Ralph P. Himmelsbach and Thomas K. Worcester, Norjak: The Investigation of D.B. Cooper, 1986.

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was devised by Greg, who collected these corroborating links (warning — these spoil the puzzle).

You can listen using the player above, download this episode directly, or subscribe on iTunes or Google Play Music or via the RSS feed at http://feedpress.me/futilitycloset.

Please consider becoming a patron of Futility Closet — on our Patreon page you can pledge any amount per episode, and we’ve set up some rewards to help thank you for your support. You can also make a one-time donation on the Support Us page of the Futility Closet website.

Many thanks to Doug Ross for the music in this episode.

If you have any questions or comments you can reach us at podcast@futilitycloset.com. Thanks for listening!

Podcast Episode 117: The Road to En-dor

https://www.flickr.com/photos/scriptingnews/3418293087
Image: Flickr

In 1917 a pair of Allied officers combined a homemade Ouija board, audacity, and imagination to hoax their way out of a remote prison camp in the mountains of Turkey. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe the remarkable escape of Harry Jones and Cedric Hill, which one observer called “the most colossal fake of modern times.”

We’ll also consider a cactus’ role in World War II and puzzle over a cigar-smoking butler.

Intro:

A 1962 writer to the London Times contends that all thrushes “sooner or later sing the tune of the first subject of Mozart’s G minor Symphony.”

The U.S. Senate maintains a tradition of hiding candy in a desk on the chamber floor.

Sources for our feature on the Yozgad escape:

E.H. Jones, The Road to En-dor, 1919.

Tony Craven Walker’s En-dor Unveiled (2014) (PDF) is a valuable source of background information, with descriptions of Harry Jones’ early life; the siege of Kut-el-Amara, where he was captured; his punishing trek across Syria; the prison camp; and his life after the war. It includes many letters and postcards, including some hinting at his efforts toward an escape.

S.P. MacKenzie, “The Ethics of Escape: British Officer POWs in the First World War,” War in History 15:1 (January 2008), 1-16.

“A Note for Spiritualists,” The Field, March 27, 1920, 457.

“Jones, Elias Henry,” Dictionary of Welsh Biography (accessed 07/30/2016).

“En-dor,” in Rudyard Kipling’s Verse, 1919.

Listener mail:

Associated Press, “Japanese Submarine Attack in California Unnerved U.S.,” Feb. 23, 1992.

William Scheck, “Japanese Submarine Commander Kozo Nishino Gained Personal Satisfaction From Shelling the California Coast,” World War II 13:2 (July 1998), 16.

Wikipedia, “Bombardment of Ellwood” (accessed Aug. 12, 2016).

California Military Museum, “The Shelling of Ellwood” (accessed Aug. 12, 2016).

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was adapted from Paul Sloane and Des MacHale’s 1998 book Ingenious Lateral Thinking Puzzles.

You can listen using the player above, download this episode directly, or subscribe on iTunes or Google Play Music or via the RSS feed at http://feedpress.me/futilitycloset.

Please consider becoming a patron of Futility Closet — on our Patreon page you can pledge any amount per episode, and all contributions are greatly appreciated. You can change or cancel your pledge at any time, and we’ve set up some rewards to help thank you for your support. You can also make a one-time donation on the Support Us page of the Futility Closet website.

Many thanks to Doug Ross for the music in this episode.

If you have any questions or comments you can reach us at podcast@futilitycloset.com. Thanks for listening!

Different Strokes

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Brassau.jpg

In 1964, Swedish journalist Åke Axelsson paid a zookeeper to give a brush and paint to a 4-year-old chimpanzee named Peter. Then he chose the best of Peter’s paintings and exhibited them at the Gallerie Christinae in Göteborg, saying they were the work of a previously unknown French artist named Pierre Brassau.

Critic Rolf Anderberg of the Göteborgs-Posten wrote, “Brassau paints with powerful strokes, but also with clear determination. His brush strokes twist with furious fastidiousness. Pierre is an artist who performs with the delicacy of a ballet dancer.”

After Axelsson revealed the hoax, Anderberg maintained that Peter’s work was “still the best painting in the exhibition.”

Reverses

In one oft-repeated anecdote from the memoirs of Melville Stone, publisher of the Chicago Daily News in the 1870s, the News suspected that the Chicago Post and Mail, published by the McMullen brothers, was pirating its stories. The News retaliated by printing an account of a famine in Serbia, in which the local mayor was quoted as saying (ostensibly in Serbian) ‘Er us siht la Etsll iws nel lum cmeht.’ When the afternoon edition of the Post and Mail duly reproduced the quote, Stone ran to all the other Chicago papers to reveal the hoax: read backward, the supposed quote said ‘The McMullens will steal this sure.’ According to Stone, the Post and Mail never recovered from the embarrassment, and the Daily News was able to buy it for a pittance less than two years later.

— Stuart Banner, American Property: A History of How, Why, and What We Own, 2011

(Thanks, Keith.)

Podcast Episode 89: An African From Baltimore

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In the 1920s Bata Kindai Amgoza ibn LoBagola toured the United States and Europe to share the culture of his African homeland with fascinated audiences. The reality was actually much more mundane: His name was Joseph Lee and he was from Baltimore. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell the curious story of this self-described “savage” and trace the unraveling of his imaginative career.

We’ll also dump a bucket of sarcasm on Duluth, Minnesota, and puzzle over why an acclaimed actor loses a role.

Please consider becoming a patron of Futility Closet — on our Patreon page you can pledge any amount per episode, and all contributions are greatly appreciated. You can change or cancel your pledge at any time, and we’ve set up some rewards to help thank you for your support.

You can also make a one-time donation via the Donate button in the sidebar of the Futility Closet website.

Sources for our feature on Bata LoBagola:

Bata Kindai Amgoza ibn LoBagola, LoBagola: An African Savage’s Own Story, 1930.

David Killingray and Willie Henderson, “Bata Kindai Amgoza ibn LoBagola and the Making of An African Savage’s Own Story,” in Bernth Lindfors, Africans on Stage: Studies in Ethnological Show Business, 1999.

Alex Pezzati, “The Scholar and the Impostor,” Expedition 47:2 (Summer 2005), 6.

James Olney, Tell Me Africa: An Approach to African Literature, 2015.

Louis Chude-Sokei, The Last “Darky”: Bert Williams, Black-on-Black Minstrelsy, and the African Diaspora, 2005.

John Strausbaugh, Black Like You: Blackface, Whiteface, Insult & Imitation in American Popular Culture, 2007.

Bata Kindai Amgoza Ibn LoBagola papers, New York Public Library Archives & Manuscripts.

Jim Christy, “Scalawags: Bata Kindai Amgoza ibn LoBagola,” Nuvo, Summer 2013.

Kentucky representative James Proctor Knott’s derisive panegyric on Duluth, Minnesota, was delivered in the U.S. House of Representatives on Jan. 27, 1871.

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Ben Snitkoff, who sent this corroborating link (warning — this spoils the puzzle).

You can listen using the player above, download this episode directly, or subscribe on iTunes or via the RSS feed at http://feedpress.me/futilitycloset.

Many thanks to Doug Ross for the music in this episode.

Enter promo code CLOSET at Harry’s and get $5 off your first order of high-quality razors.

If you have any questions or comments you can reach us at podcast@futilitycloset.com. Thanks for listening!

Podcast Episode 84: The Man Who Never Was

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Please consider becoming a patron of Futility Closet — on our Patreon page you can pledge any amount per episode, and all contributions are greatly appreciated. You can change or cancel your pledge at any time, and we’ve set up some rewards to help thank you for your support.

You can also make a one-time donation via the Donate button in the sidebar of the Futility Closet website.

In 1942, Germany discovered a dead British officer floating off the coast of Spain, carrying important secret documents about the upcoming invasion of Europe. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe Operation Mincemeat, which has been called “the most imaginative and successful ruse” of World War II.

We’ll also hear from our listeners about Scottish titles and mountain-climbing pussycats and puzzle over one worker’s seeming unwillingness to help another.

Sources for our feature on Operation Mincemeat:

Denis Smyth, Deathly Deception: The Real Story of Operation Mincemeat, 2010.

Richard E. Gorini, “Operation Mincemeat: How a Dead Man and a Bizarre Plan Fooled the Nazis and Assured an Allied Victory,” The Army Lawyer, March 2011, 39-42.

Klaus Gottlieb, “The Mincemeat Postmortem: Forensic Aspects of World War II’s Boldest Counterintelligence Operation,” Military Medicine 174:1 (January 2009), 93-9.

Gerald Kloss, “‘Dead Man’ Trick That Fooled Hitler,” Milwaukee Journal, Jan. 28, 1954.

“The Germans Fooled by False Documents,” Montreal Gazette, April 30, 1954.

Ewen Montagu, “The Debt the Allies Owe to the Man Who Never Was,” Sydney Morning Herald, March 15, 1953.

“Mourner for ‘Man Who Never Was'”, Glasgow Herald, Dec. 24, 1959.

Listener mail:

Highland Titles

“Can You Really Become a Lord of the Scottish Highlands for Less than $50.00?”, HG.org (retrieved Dec. 3, 2015).

Links on mountain-climbing cats:

Peter Glaser, “Die Katze, die das Matterhorn bestieg,” Neue Zürcher Zeitung, July 6, 2015 (retrieved Dec. 3, 2015).

“Hello Kitty? The Curious History of Cats Who Climb Mountains,” One Hundred Mountains, Feb. 25, 2013 (retrieved Dec. 3, 2015).

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle is from Edward J. Harshman’s 1996 book Fantastic Lateral Thinking Puzzles.

You can listen using the player above, download this episode directly, or subscribe on iTunes or via the RSS feed at http://feedpress.me/futilitycloset.

Many thanks to Doug Ross for the music in this episode.

If you have any questions or comments you can reach us at podcast@futilitycloset.com. Thanks for listening!