Futility Closet book ad

“Up in the Air”


“This gentleman had an idea that he could fly by the aid of this ingenious machinery. You will see that his wings are arranged so that they are moved by his legs, and also by cords attached to his arms. The umbrella over his head is not intended to ward off the rain or the sun, but is to act as a sort of parachute, to keep him from falling while he is making his strokes. The basket, which hangs down low enough to be out of the way of his feet, is filled with provisions, which he expects to need in the course of his journey.

“That journey lasted exactly as long as it took him to fall from the top of a high rock to the ground below.”

– Frank R. Stockton, Round-About Rambles in Lands of Fact and Fancy, 1910

Rat Kings

Every so often someone finds a bunch of rats whose tails are knotted together. It’s called a rat king. (This one, with 32 rats, was found in a German miller’s fireplace in 1828.)

The rats are usually dead when they’re discovered, and no one has suggested a natural cause, so presumably humans are involved somehow.

Typically the rats are fully grown adults, so they’re not born this way, and their tails are often broken and callused, which means they’ve survived in this state for some time, fed by humans or by other rats.

Why would anyone do this? Who knows?

Seeing Double

In January 2005, Canadian police officer Chris Legere pulled over an 18-year-old woman for driving 96 mph.

That afternoon he pulled over the same car doing 92 mph in the opposite direction. At first he thought it was driven by the same driver, but he was mistaken.

It was her identical twin sister.

Victoria Punk’d

From The Private Life of the Queen, by “One of Her Majesty’s Servants,” 1897:

Her Majesty [Queen Victoria] takes delight in a clever riddle or rebus, but on one occasion she was very angry at having been hoaxed over a riddle which was sent to her with a letter to the effect that it had been made by the Bishop of Salisbury.

For four days the Queen and Prince Albert sought for the reply, when Charles Murray (Controller of the Household) was directed to write to the bishop and ask for the solution.

The answer received was that the bishop had not made the riddle nor could he solve it.

“Am I Talking Too Much?”


When It’s a Wonderful Life was released in 1946, the FBI labeled it “subversive.”

They said that its depiction of a greedy businessman was “a common trick used by communists.”

The Flynn Effect

Are we getting smarter? IQ scores around the world have been going up by about three IQ points per decade.

Suggested reasons include improved nutrition, smaller families, better education, and the stimulating modern environment, but no one really knows what’s causing it.

It’s called the Flynn effect, after New Zealand political scientist who discovered it.

A Daughter’s Farewell

Forgive your dying daughter. I have but a few moments to live. My native soil drinks my blood. I expected to deliver my country but the fates would not have it so. I am content to die. Pray, Pa, forgive me. Tell ma to kiss my daguerreotype.

P.S. — Give my gold watch to little Eph.

– Telegram dictated by “Emily” (last name unknown), who left home to join the Union army as a man and was fatally wounded in Tennessee at age 17

In a Word

n. learned dinner conversation

She Ain’t Heavy

Kailashgiri Brahmachari is carrying his mother across India. They left the northern village of Piparia eight years ago and hope to reach Varanasi in 2013.

He says it’s the will of God.

“He is a nice son, but I am getting tired,” his mother told the BBC. “I sometimes feel like ending the journey and getting back home.”

The Cottingley Fairies


In 1920 two English cousins, Frances Griffiths and Elsie Wright, produced a series of photos that seemed to show them cavorting with fairies and gnomes.

The images were published in The Strand and convinced Arthur Conan Doyle, among others. In The Coming of the Fairies (1922), he wrote: “It is hard for the mind to grasp what the ultimate results may be if we have actually proved the existence upon the surface of this planet of a population which may be as numerous as the human race, which pursues its own strange life in its own strange way, and which is only separated from ourselves by some difference of vibrations.”

But see Fairies Unmasked.