Podcast Episode 111: Japanese Fire Balloons

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Japanese_war_balloon_-_NARA_-_285257.tif

Toward the end of World War II, Japan launched a strange new attack on the United States: thousands of paper balloons that would sail 5,000 miles to drop bombs on the American mainland. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast, we’ll tell the curious story of the Japanese fire balloons, the world’s first intercontinental weapon.

We’ll also discuss how to tell time by cannon and puzzle over how to find a lost tortoise.

Sources for our feature on Japanese fire balloons:

Ross Coen, Fu-Go, 2014.

James M. Powles, “Silent Destruction: Japanese Balloon Bombs,” World War II 17:6 (February 2003), 64.

Edwin L. Pierce and R C. Mikesh, “Japan’s Balloon Bombers,” Naval History 6:1 (Spring 1992), 53.

Lisa Murphy, “One Small Moment,” American History 30:2 (June 1995), 66.

Larry Tanglen, “Terror Floated Over Montana: Japanese World War II Balloon Bombs, 1944-1945,” Montana: The Magazine of Western History 52:4 (Winter 2002), 76-79.

Henry Stevenson, “Balloon Bombs: Japan to North America,” B.C. Historical News 28:3 (Summer 1995), 22-23.

Associated Press, “Japanese Balloon Bombs Launched in Homeland,” May 30, 1945.

Associated Press, “Japanese Launch Balloon Bombs Against United States From Their Home Islands,” May 30, 1945.

Associated Press, “Balloon Bombs Fall One by One for Miles Over West Coast Area,” May 30, 1945.

Russell Brines, “Japs Gave Up Balloon Bomb System After Launching 9,000 of Them,” Associated Press, Oct. 2, 1945.

“Enemy Balloons Are Still Found,” Spokane Daily Chronicle, Feb. 5, 1946.

Hal Schindler, “Utah Was Spared Damage By Japan’s Floating Weapons,” Salt Lake Tribune, May 5, 1995.

Listener mail:

Wikipedia, “Time Ball” (accessed June 16, 2016).

Wikipedia, “Nelson Monument, Edinburgh” (accessed June 16, 2016).

“One O’Clock Gun,” Edinburgh Castle, Historic Environment Scotland.

“Places to Visit in Scotland – One O’Clock Gun, Edinburgh Castle,” Rampant Scotland.

“Tributes to Castle’s Tam the Gun,” BBC News, Nov. 17, 2005.

Sofiane Kennouche, “Edinburgh Castle: A Short History of the One O’Clock Gun,” Scotsman, Jan. 27, 2016.

Here’s a time gun map of Edinburgh from 1861:

http://www.edinphoto.org.uk/0_maps_2/0_map_edinburgh_time-gun_1861_-_whole_map.jpg

“For every additional circle of distance from the Castle, subtract one second from the instant of the report of the ‘Time-Gun’ to give the exact moment of 1 o’clock.” Additional details are here.

“The Smallest Artillerist,” San Francisco Call, June 20, 1895.

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was devised by Sharon Ross. Here are two 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 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!

Podcast Episode 110: The Brooklyn Chameleon

http://www.loc.gov/pictures/resource/npcc.04706/

Over the span of half a century, Brooklyn impostor Stanley Clifford Weyman impersonated everyone from a Navy admiral to a sanitation expert. When caught, he would admit his deception, serve his jail time, and then take up a new identity. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast, we’ll review Weyman’s surprisingly successful career and describe some of his more audacious undertakings.

We’ll also puzzle over why the police would arrest an unremarkable bus passenger.

Sources for our feature on Stanley Clifford Weyman:

St. Clair McKelway, The Big Little Man From Brooklyn, 1969.

Alan Hynd, “Grand Deception — ‘Fabulous Fraud From Brooklyn,'” Spokane Daily Chronicle, April 13, 1956.

Tom Henshaw, “Bygone State Visits Marked by Incidents,” Associated Press, Sept. 13, 1959.

John F. Murphy, “Notorious Impostor Shot Dead Defending Motel in Hold-Up,” New York Times, Aug. 28, 1960.

Richard Grenier, “Woody Allen on the American Character,” Commentary 76:5 (November 1983), 61-65.

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Josva Dammann Kvilstad. Here are three 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 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!

Podcast Episode 109: Trapped in a Cave

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sand_Cave.jpg
Image: Wikimedia Commons

In 1925, Kentucky caver Floyd Collins was exploring a new tunnel when a falling rock caught his foot, trapping him 55 feet underground. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll follow the desperate efforts to free Collins, whose plight became one of the first popular media sensations of the 20th century.

We’ll also learn how Ronald Reagan invented a baseball record and puzzle over a fatal breakfast.

Sources for our feature on Floyd Collins:

Robert K. Murray and Roger W. Brucker, Trapped!, 1979.

Gary Alan Fine and Ryan D. White, “Creating Collective Attention in the Public Domain: Human Interest Narratives and the Rescue of Floyd Collins,” Social Forces 81:1 (September 2002), 57-85.

“Floyd Collins Is Found Dead,” Madison Lake [Minn.] Times, Feb. 19, 1925.

Associated Press, “Sand Cave Is to Be Grave of Explorer,” Feb. 18, 1925.

Associated Press, “Floyd Collins Will Be Left in Sand Cave for His Last Sleep,” Feb. 18, 1925.

Associated Press, “Ancient ‘Floyd Collins’ Found in Mammoth Cave,” June 19, 1935.

Ray Glenn, “Floyd Collins Trapped in Cave 35 Years Ago,” Park City [Ken.] Daily News, Feb. 7, 1960.

Carl C. Craft, “Floyd Collins Case Recalled After 40 Years,” Kentucky New Era, Feb. 1, 1965.

William Burke Miller, “40 Years Ago, World Prayed for Floyd Collins,” Eugene [Ore.] Register-Guard, Feb. 11, 1965.

Paul Raupp, “Floyd Collins Finds Final Resting Place,” Bowling Green [Ken.] Daily News, March 26, 1989.

Listener mail:

Howard Breuer et al., “Dumb Criminals,” People 81:1 (Jan. 13, 2014).

Ronald Reagan, “Remarks at a White House Luncheon for Members of the Baseball Hall of Fame, March 27, 1981,” The American Presidency Project.

Ronald Reagan, An American Life, 1990.

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Stephen Harvey.

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!

Podcast Episode 108: The Greenwich Time Lady

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

As recently as 1939, a London woman made her living by setting her watch precisely at the Greenwich observatory and “carrying the time” to her customers in the city. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll meet Ruth Belville, London’s last time carrier, who conducted her strange occupation for 50 years.

We’ll also sample the colorful history of bicycle races and puzzle over a stymied prizewinner.

Sources for our feature on Ruth Belville:

David Rooney, Ruth Belville: The Greenwich Time Lady, 2008.

Ian R. Bartky, Selling the True Time, 2000.

Patricia Fara, “Modest Heroines of Time and Space,” Nature, Oct. 30, 2008.

Stephen Battersby, “The Lady Who Sold Time,” New Scientist, Feb. 25, 2006.

Carlene E. Stephens, “Ruth Belville: The Greenwich Time Lady,” Technology and Culture 51:1 (January 2010), 248-249.

Michael R. Matthews, Colin Gauld, and Arthur Stinner, “The Pendulum: Its Place in Science, Culture and Pedagogy,” in Michael R. Matthews, Colin F. Gauld, and Arthur Stinner, eds., The Pendulum: Scientific, Historical, Philosophical and Educational Perspectives, 2005.

Listener mail:

Eric Niiler, “Tour de France: Top 10 Ways the Race Has Changed,” Seeker, June 29, 2013.

Julian Barnes, “The Hardest Test: Drugs and the Tour de France,” New Yorker, Aug. 21, 2000.

Race Across America.

Wikipedia, “Race Across America” (accessed June 3, 2016).

Wikipedia, “Trans Am Bike Race” (accessed June 3, 2016).

Neil Beltchenko, “2014 Trans Am Race,” Bikepackers Magazine, June 6, 2014.

Trans Am Bike Race 2016.

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Tommy Honton, 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 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!

Podcast Episode 107: Arthur Nash and the Golden Rule

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Arthur_Nash,_formal_sitting,_circa_1927.jpg

In 1919, Ohio businessman Arthur Nash decided to run his clothing factory according to the Golden Rule and treat his workers the way he’d want to be treated himself. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll visit Nash’s “Golden Rule Factory” and learn the results of his innovative social experiment.

We’ll also marvel at metabolism and puzzle over the secrets of Chicago pickpockets.

Sources for our feature on Arthur Nash:

Arthur Nash, The Golden Rule in Business, 1923.

(Undercover journalist Ruth White Colton’s September 1922 article for Success Magazine is quoted in full in this book.)

Jeffrey Wattles, The Golden Rule, 1996.

Arthur Nash, “A Bible Text That Worked a Business Miracle,” American Magazine 92:4 (October 1921), 37.

“Golden Rule Plan at Clothing Mill Makes Profits for Owners,” Deseret News, Dec. 16, 1920.

“Golden Rule Nash Offers 7-Hour Day,” Schenectady Gazette, July 4, 1923.

“Arthur Nash, Who Shared With Employees, Is Dead,” Associated Press, Oct. 31, 1927.

The poem “Miss T.” appears in Walter de la Mare’s 1913 collection Peacock Pie:

It’s a very odd thing —
As odd as can be —
That whatever Miss T. eats
Turns into Miss T.;
Porridge and apples,
Mince, muffins and mutton,
Jam, junket, jumbles —
Not a rap, not a button
It matters; the moment
They’re out of her plate,
Though shared by Miss Butcher
And sour Mr. Bate;
Tiny and cheerful,
And neat as can be,
Whatever Miss T. eats
Turns into Miss T.

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle is taken from Henry O. Wills’ memorably titled 1890 autobiography Twice Born: Or, The Two Lives of Henry O. Wills, Evangelist (Being a Narrative of Mr. Wills’s Remarkable Experiences as a Wharf-Rat, a Sneak-Thief, a Convict, a Soldier, a Bounty-Jumper, a Fakir, a Fireman, a Ward-Heeler, and a Plug-Ugly. Also, a History of His Most Wondrous Conversion to God, and of His Famous Achievements as an Evangelist).

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 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 106: The Popgun War

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:USArmy_M114_howitzer.jpg

During wargames in Louisiana in September 1941, the U.S. Army found itself drawn into a tense firefight with an unseen enemy across the Cane River. The attacker turned out to be three boys with a toy cannon. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll revisit the Battle of Bermuda Bridge and the Prudhomme brothers’ account of their historic engagement.

We’ll also rhapsodize on guinea pigs and puzzle over some praiseworthy incompetence.

Sources for our feature on the “Battle of Bermuda Bridge”:

Elizabeth M. Collins, “Patton ‘Bested’ at the Battle of Bermuda Bridge,” Soldiers 64:9 (September 2009), 10-12.

Terry Isbell, “The Battle of the Bayous: The Louisiana Maneuvers,” Old Natchitoches Parish Magazine 2 (1997), 2-7.

Special thanks to the staff at the University of North Carolina’s Wilson Library for access to the Prudhomme family records.

Listener mail:

Alastair Bland, “From Pets To Plates: Why More People Are Eating Guinea Pigs,” The Salt, National Public Radio, April 2, 2013.

Christine Dell’Amore, “Guinea Pigs Were Widespread as Elizabethan Pets,” National Geographic, Feb. 9, 2012.

Wikipedia, “Guinea Pig” (accessed May 20, 2016).

David Adam, “Why Use Guinea Pigs in Animal Testing?”, Guardian, Aug. 25, 2005.

Maev Kennedy, “Elizabethan Portraits Offer Snapshot of Fashion for Exotic Pets,” Guardian, Aug. 20, 2013.

“How Did the Guinea Pig Get Its Name?”, Grammarphobia, Dec. 22, 2009.

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Tommy Honton, who sent 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.

Enter code CLOSET to get $5 off your first purchase of high-quality razor blades at Harry’s.

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 105: Surviving on Seawater

alain bombard

In 1952, French physician Alain Bombard set out to cross the Atlantic on an inflatable raft to prove his theory that a shipwreck victim can stay alive on a diet of seawater, fish, and plankton. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll set out with Bombard on his perilous attempt to test his theory.

We’ll also admire some wobbly pedestrians and puzzle over a luckless burglar.

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 Alain Bombard:

Alain Bombard, The Voyage of the Hérétique, 1953.

William H. Allen, “Thirst,” Natural History, December 1956.

Richard T. Callaghan, “Drift Voyages Across the Mid-Atlantic,” Antiquity 89:345 (2015), 724-731.

T.C. Macdonald, “Drinking Sea-Water,” British Medical Journal 1:4869 (May 1, 1954), 1035.

Dominique Andre, “Sea Fever,” Unesco Courier, July/August 1998.

N.B. Marshall, “Review: The Voyage of L’hérétique,” Geographical Journal 120:1 (March 1954), 83-87.

Douglas Martin, “Alain Bombard, 80, Dies; Sailed the Atlantic Alone,” New York Times, July 24, 2005.

Anthony Smith, “Obituary: Alain Bombard,” Guardian, Aug. 24, 2005.

John Scott Hughes, “Deep Sea in Little Ships,” The Field, May 27, 1954.

“Will This Be Another ‘Kon Tiki’?” The Sphere, June 7, 1952.

“Mishap And Survival At Sea,” The Sphere, April 2, 1955.

Bryan Kasmenn, “Teach a Man to Fish …,” Flying Safety 57:5 (May 2001), 20.

Listener mail:

National Public Radio, “In The 1870s And ’80s, Being A Pedestrian Was Anything But,” April 3, 2014.

Wikipedia, “Edward Payson Weston” (accessed May 7, 2016).

Wikipedia, “6 Day Race” (accessed May 7, 2016).

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was adapted from the book Lateral Mindtrap Puzzles (2000). Here’s a 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.

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 104: The Harvey’s Casino Bombing

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

In August 1980, an extortionist planted a thousand-pound bomb in Harvey’s Wagon Wheel Casino in western Nevada. Unless the owners paid him $3 million within 24 hours, he said, the bomb would go off and destroy the casino. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe the tense drama that followed and the FBI’s efforts to catch the criminal behind it.

We’ll also consider some dubious lawn care shortcuts and puzzle over why a man would tear up a winning ticket.

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 the Harvey’s bombing:

Jim Sloan, Render Safe: The Untold Story of the Harvey’s Bombing, 2011.

Adam Higginbotham, “1,000 Pounds of Dynamite,” The Atavist 39.

“5 Charged in Harveys Bombing,” Associated Press, Aug. 17, 1981.

“Five Suspects Arrested in Harvey’s Extortion Bombing,” Associated Press, Aug. 17, 1981.

“Son Pitted Against Father in Harvey’s Bombing Trial,” Associated Press, Oct. 17, 1982.

Robert Macy, “Ex-Freedom Fighter Found Guilty of Bombing Hotel,” Telegraph, Oct. 23, 1982.

Melinda Beck, “A Real Harvey’s Wallbanger,” Newsweek, Sept. 8, 1980.

Phillip L. Sublett, “30 Years Later: Trail of Clues Led Authorities to Harvey’s Casino Bombers,” Tahoe Daily Tribune, Aug. 28, 2010.

Guy Clifton, “35 Years Ago Today: The Bomb That Shook Lake Tahoe,” Reno Gazette-Journal, Aug. 26, 2015.

A brief FBI article about the case.

Full text of the extortion note.

Video discussion of the case by retired FBI special agent Chris Ronay (transcript):

Listener mail:

The imgur gallery with the German saboteur cache is here — click the link “Load remaining 44 images” just above the comments to see the photo we mentioned.

The book quoted by Stephanie Guertin is Weapons of the Navy SEALs, by Kevin Dockery, 2004.

Video of workers spray-painting the ground in preparation for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

Malcolm Moore, “China Officials Caught Spray-Painting Grass Green in Chengdu,” Telegraph, March 4, 2013.

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Matt Sargent.

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.

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 103: Legislating Pi

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Detroit_Photographic_Company_(0340).jpg

In 1897, confused physician Edward J. Goodwin submitted a bill to the Indiana General Assembly declaring that he’d squared the circle — a mathematical feat that was known to be impossible. In today’s show we’ll examine the Indiana pi bill, its colorful and eccentric sponsor, and its celebrated course through a bewildered legislature and into mathematical history.

We’ll also marvel at the confusion wrought by turkeys and puzzle over a perplexing baseball game.

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 the Indiana pi bill:

Edward J. Goodwin, “Quadrature of the Circle,” American Mathematical Monthly 1:7 (July 1894), 246–248.

Text of the bill.

Underwood Dudley, “Legislating Pi,” Math Horizons 6:3 (February 1999), 10-13.

Will E. Edington, “House Bill No. 246, Indiana State Legislature, 1897,” Proceedings of the Indiana Academy of Science 45, 206-210.

Arthur E. Hallerberg, “House Bill No. 246 Revisited,” Proceedings of the Indiana Academy of Science 84 (1974), 374–399.

Arthur E. Hallerberg, “Indiana’s Squared Circle,” Mathematics Magazine 50:3 (May 1977), 136–140.

David Singmaster, “The Legal Values of Pi,” Mathematical Intelligencer 7:2 (1985), 69–72.

Listener mail:

Zach Goldhammer, “Why Americans Call Turkey ‘Turkey,'” Atlantic, Nov. 26, 2014.

Dan Jurafsky, “Turkey,” The Language of Food, Nov. 23, 2010 (accessed April 21, 2016).

Accidental acrostics from Julian Bravo:

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn:
STASIS starts at line 7261 (“Says I to myself” in Chapter XXVI).

Frankenstein:
CASSIA starts at line 443 (“Certainly; it would indeed be very impertinent” in Letter 4).
MIGHTY starts at line 7089 (“Margaret, what comment can I make” in Chapter 24).

Moby Dick:
BAIT starts at line 12904 (“But as you come nearer to this great head” in Chapter 75). (Note that this includes a footnote.)

The raw output of Julian’s program is here; he warns that it may contain some false positives.

At the paragraph level (that is, the initial letters of successive paragraphs), Daniel Dunn found these acrostics (numbers refer to paragraphs):

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare: SEMEMES (1110)

Emma: INHIBIT (2337)

King James Bible: TAIWAN (12186)

Huckleberry Finn: STASIS (1477)

Critique of Pure Reason: SWIFTS (863)

Anna Karenina: TWIST (3355)

At the word level (the initial letters of successive words), Daniel found these (numbers refer to the position in a book’s overall word count — I’ve included links to the two I mentioned on the show):

Les Miserables: DASHPOTS (454934)

Critique of Pure Reason: TRADITOR (103485)

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare: ISATINES (373818)

Through the Looking Glass: ASTASIAS (3736)

War and Peace: PIRANHAS (507464) (Book Fifteen, Chapter 1, paragraph 19: “‘… put it right.’ And now he again seemed …”)

King James Bible: MOHAMAD (747496) (Galatians 6:11b-12a, “… mine own hand. As many as desire …”)

The Great Gatsby: ISLAMIC (5712)

Huckleberry Finn: ALFALFA (62782)

Little Women: CATFISH (20624)

From Vadas Gintautas: Here is the complete list of accidental acrostics of English words of 8 letters or more, found by taking the first letter in successive paragraphs:

TABITHAS in George Sand: Some Aspects of Her Life and Writings by René Doumic

BASSISTS in The Pilot and his Wife by Jonas Lie

ATACAMAS in Minor Poems of Michael Drayton

MAINTAIN in The Stamps of Canada by Bertram W.H. Poole

BATHMATS in Fifty Years of Public Service by Shelby M. Cullom

ASSESSES in An Alphabetical List of Books Contained in Bohn’s Libraries

LATTICES in History of the Buccaneers of America by James Burney

ASSESSES in Old English Chronicles by J.A. Giles

BASSISTS in Tales from the X-bar Horse Camp: The Blue-Roan “Outlaw” and Other Stories by Barnes

CATACOMB in Cyrano De Bergerac

PONTIANAK in English Economic History: Select Documents by Brown, Tawney, and Bland

STATIONS in Haunted Places in England by Elliott O’Donnell

TRISTANS in Revolutionary Reader by Sophie Lee Foster

ALLIANCE in Latter-Day Sweethearts by Mrs. Burton Harrison

TAHITIAN in Lothair by Benjamin Disraeli

Vadas’ full list of accidental acrostics in the King James Bible (first letter of each verse) for words of at least five letters:

ASAMA in The Second Book of the Kings 16:21
TRAIL in The Book of Psalms 80:13
AMATI in The Book of the Prophet Ezekiel 3:9
STABS in The Acts of the Apostles 23:18
ATTAR in The Book of Nehemiah 13:10
FLOSS in The Gospel According to Saint Luke 14:28
SANTA in The First Book of the Chronicles 16:37
WATTS in Hosea 7:13
BAATH in The Acts of the Apostles 15:38
ASSAM in The Book of the Prophet Ezekiel 12:8
CHAFF in The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans 4:9
FIFTH in The Book of Psalms 61:3
SAABS in The Third Book of the Kings 12:19
SATAN in The Book of Esther 8:14
TANGS in Zephaniah 1:15
STOAT in The Book of the Prophet Jeremiah 16:20
IGLOO in The Proverbs 31:4
TEETH in Hosea 11:11
RAILS in The Book of Psalms 80:14
STATS in The First Book of the Kings 26:7
HALON in The Fourth Book of the Kings 19:12
TATTY in The Gospel According to Saint John 7:30
DIANA in The Second Book of the Kings 5:4
ABAFT in The Third Book of Moses: Called Leviticus 25:39
BAHIA in The Book of Daniel 7:26
TRAILS in The Book of Psalms 80:13
FIFTHS in The Book of Psalms 61:3
BATAAN in The First Book of Moses: Called Genesis 25:6
DIANAS in The Second Book of the Kings 5:4
BATAANS in The Second Book of the Chronicles 26:16

Vadas’ full list of accidental acrostics (words of at least eight letters) found by text-wrapping the Project Gutenberg top 100 books (of the last 30 days) to line lengths from 40 to 95 characters (line length / word found):

Ulysses
58 / SCOFFLAW

Great Expectations
75 / HIGHTAIL

Dracula
58 / PONTIACS

Emma
52 / BRAINWASH

War and Peace
43 / MISCASTS

The Romance of Lust: A Classic Victorian Erotic Novel by Anonymous
42 / FEEBLEST
77 / PARAPETS

Steam, Its Generation and Use by Babcock & Wilcox Company
52 / PRACTISE

The Count of Monte Cristo
46 / PLUTARCH

The Republic
57 / STEPSONS

A Study in Scarlet
61 / SHORTISH

The Essays of Montaigne
73 / DISTANCE

Crime and Punishment
49 / THORACES

Complete Works–William Shakespeare
42 / HATCHWAY
58 / RESTARTS
91 / SHEPPARD

The Time Machine
59 / ATHLETIC

Democracy in America, VI
89 / TEARIEST

The King James Bible
41 / ATTACKING
56 / STATUSES
61 / CATBOATS
69 / ASTRAKHAN
85 / SARATOVS

Anna Karenina
46 / TSITSIHAR
74 / TRAILING

David Copperfield
48 / COMPACTS
58 / SABBATHS

Le Morte d’Arthur, Volume I
55 / KAWABATA

Vadas also points out that there’s a body of academic work addressing acrostics in Milton’s writings. For example, in Book 3 of Paradise Lost Satan sits among the stars looking “down with wonder” at the world:

Such wonder seis’d, though after Heaven seen,
The Spirit maligne, but much more envy seis’d
At sight of all this World beheld so faire.
Round he surveys, and well might, where he stood
So high above the circling Canopie
Of Nights extended shade …

The initial letters of successive lines spell out STARS. Whether that’s deliberate is a matter of some interesting debate. Two further articles:

Mark Vaughn, “More Than Meets the Eye: Milton’s Acrostics in Paradise Lost,” Milton Quarterly 16:1 (March 1982), 6–8.

Jane Partner, “Satanic Vision and Acrostics in Paradise Lost,” Essays in Criticism 57:2 (April 2007), 129-146.

And listener Charles Hargrove reminds us of a telling acrostic in California’s recent political history.

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Lawrence Miller, based on a Car Talk Puzzler credited to Willie Myers.

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!

Podcast Episode 102: The Bunion Derby

https://www.flickr.com/photos/kaibabnationalforest/5734775201
Image: Flickr

In 1928, 199 runners set out on a perilous 3,400-mile footrace across America, from Los Angeles to Chicago and on to New York. The winner would receive $25,000 — if anyone finished at all. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll follow the Trans-American Footrace, better known as the Bunion Derby, billed as the greatest footrace the world had ever known.

We’ll also learn some creepy things about spiders and puzzle over why one man needs three cars.

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Sources for our feature on the Trans-American Footrace:

Charles B. Kastner, The Bunion Derby, 2007.

“Mr. Pyle’s Professional Bunion Derby,” Pittsburgh Press, April 19, 1928.

“Payne Wins First Prize in Pyle’s Bunion Derby,” Associated Press, May 27, 1928.

“C.C. Pyle Hopes Bunion Derby to Net Him Profit,” Ottawa Citizen, March 29, 1929.

“Sport: Bunion Derby,” Time, June 24, 1929, 58.

“Bunion Derby’ Hero Elected,” Associated Press, Nov. 8, 1934.

“Bunion Derby Director Dies,” Associated Press, Feb. 4, 1939.

“Mapping the Way,” Runner’s World, July 1992, 94.

“Harry Abrams Is Dead at 87; Ran Across the Country Twice,” New York Times, Nov. 28, 1994.

Jack Rockett, “The Great ‘Bunion Derby,'” Runner’s World, Nov. 7, 2006.

Laura Ruttum, “Endurance Racing: First Leg, the Bunion Derby,” New York Public Library, April 2, 2010.

Some footage from the race — winner Andy Payne wears number 43:

Listener mail:

Kiona Smith-Strickland, “This Is How to Find the Spiders That Are Staring At You in the Dark,” Gizmodo, Aug. 2, 2015.

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Patrick Riehl.

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!