About Futility Closet

Futility Closet is a collection of entertaining curiosities in history, literature, language, art, philosophy, and mathematics, designed to help you waste time as enjoyably as possible.

The database contains more than 12,000 items, and more are added each day. You can read them chronologically, by topic, or randomly, using the Random Post button in the sidebar. If you’re looking for a particular item, click the magnifying glass at top right.

From March 2014 to November 2021, my wife Sharon and I also hosted a weekly podcast featuring “forgotten stories from the pages of history” — surprising and curious tales from the past. We’ve ended the show, but all 365 episodes are still available — click the Podcast link in the main menu, or subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.

You can read Futility Closet on the web, subscribe by RSS, or sign up to receive a daily email (see Subscribe by Email in the sidebar). I’ve published two collections of my favorite items, and there’s a store full of merchandise bearing Von Glitschka’s distinctive logo.

Who writes this?

My name is Greg Ross. I spent 25 years as an editor and writer in science, engineering, and education publishing, most recently at IEEE, UNext.com, the National Educational Service, and American Scientist magazine. I started Futility Closet as an excuse to learn new things, and it grew into a full-time job. I’ve retired now, but I’m keeping up the website as a pastime.

Where do you find this stuff?

Endless prospecting. I live in the Research Triangle of North Carolina, and I mine the libraries of Duke University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and North Carolina State University. And readers send me tips. All this goes into a big database that I comb daily for story ideas, striving for maximum interest and variety.

How can I learn more about a particular item?

I keep notes on my sources for each post — if you’d like to know more, you can always write to me. For artwork, wherever possible I provide a link to each source in the alt field of the image metadata. The most common exceptions are math and chess diagrams, which I produce myself.

Can I contribute material?

I don’t accept guest posts, but I always welcome suggestions. If you can include some sort of supporting documentation, that’s greatly appreciated.

Do you accept advertising?


How can I contact you?

You can write to me at greg@futilitycloset.com. Thanks for reading!