Podcast Episode 305: Cast Away in the New World


Marooned in Florida in 1528, four Spanish colonists made an extraordinary journey across the unexplored continent. Their experiences changed their conception of the New World and its people. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe the remarkable odyssey of Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca and his reformed perspective on the Spanish conquest.

We’ll also copy the Mona Lisa and puzzle over a deficient pinball machine.


The Russian navy built two circular warships in 1871.

When shaken, a certain chemical solution will change from yellow to red to green.

Sources for our feature on Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca:

Andrés Reséndez, A Land So Strange: The Epic Journey of Cabeza de Vaca, 2009.

Robin Varnum, Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca: American Trailblazer, 2014.

Donald E. Chipman, Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca: The ‘Great Pedestrian’ of North and South America, 2014.

Alex D. Krieger, We Came Naked and Barefoot: The Journey of Cabeza de Vaca Across North America, 2010.

Peter Stern, “Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca: Conquistador and Sojourner,” in Ian Kenneth Steele and Nancy Lee Rhoden, eds., The Human Tradition in Colonial America, 1999.

Rolena Adorno, “The Negotiation of Fear in Cabeza de Vaca’s Naufragios,” in Stephen Greenblatt, ed., New World Encounters, 1993.

Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, The Journey of Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca and His Companions From Florida to the Pacific, 1528-1536, 1542.

Andrés Reséndez, “A Desperate Trek Across America,” American Heritage 58:5 (Fall 2008), 19-21.

Nancy P. Hickerson, “How Cabeza De Vaca Lived With, Worked Among, and Finally Left the Indians of Texas,” Journal of Anthropological Research 54:2 (Summer 1998), 199-218.

Donald E. Chipman, “In Search of Cabeza de Vaca’s Route Across Texas: An Historiographical Survey,” Southwestern Historical Quarterly 91:2 (October 1987), 127-148.

Paul E. Hoffman, “A Land So Strange: The Epic Journey of Cabeza de Vaca, the Extraordinary Tale of a Shipwrecked Spaniard Who Walked Across America in the Sixteenth Century,” Journal of American History 95:2 (September 2008), 496-497.

R.T.C. Goodwin, “Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca and the Textual Travels of an American Miracle,” Journal of Iberian & Latin American Studies 14:1 (April 2008), 1-12.

John L. Kessell, “A Land So Strange: The Epic Journey of Cabeza de Vaca,” American Historical Review 113:5 (December 2008), 1519-1520.

Robert Wilson, “A Long Walk in the New World,” American Scholar 77:1 (Winter 2008), 137-139.

Nan Goodman, “Mercantilism and Cultural Difference in Cabeza de Vaca’s Relación,” Early American Literature 40:2 (2005), 229-250, 405.

Ali Shehzad Zaidi, “The Spiritual Evolution of Cabeza de Vaca in Shipwrecks,” Theory in Action 7:3 (July 2014), 109-117.

Kun Jong Lee, “Pauline Typology in Cabeza De Vaca’s Naufragios,” Early American Literature 34:3 (1999), 241-262.

“How Cabeza de Vaca, Explorer, Came by His Strange Name,” New York Times, March 9, 1930.

Donald E. Chipman, “Cabeza de Vaca, Álvar Núñez,” Texas State Historical Association (accessed July 12, 2020).

“The Journey of Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca,” American Journeys Collection, Wisconsin Historical Society Digital Library and Archives, 2003.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Listener mail:

Wikipedia, “City of Death” (accessed July 17, 2020).

Encyclopaedia Britannica, “Cloud Seeding” (accessed July 17, 2020).

Wikipedia, “Cloud Seeding” (accessed July 17, 2020).

Andrew Moseman, “Does Cloud Seeding Work?”, Scientific American, Feb. 19, 2009.

Janet Pelley, “Does Cloud Seeding Really Work?”, Chemical & Engineering News 94:22 (May 30, 2016), 18-21.

Lulin Xue, Sarah A. Tessendorf, Eric Nelson, Roy Rasmussen, Daniel Breed, et al., “Implementation of a Silver Iodide Cloud-Seeding Parameterization in WRF. Part II: 3D Simulations of Actual Seeding Events and Sensitivity Tests,” Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology 52:6 (June 2013), 1458-1476.

Rachel Hager, “Idaho Power Can Make It Snow — Increasing Water Reserves, Powering Homes. But Is It Safe?”, Idaho Statesman, July 25, 2019.

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Eric Waldow.

You can listen using the player above, download this episode directly, or subscribe on Google Podcasts, on Apple Podcasts, or via the RSS feed at https://futilitycloset.libsyn.com/rss.

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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!