Podcast Episode 316: A Malaysian Mystery

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Image: Wikimedia Commons

In 1967, Jim Thompson left his silk business in Thailand for a Malaysian holiday with three friends. On the last day, he disappeared from the cottage in which they were staying. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll review the many theories behind Thompson’s disappearance, which has never been explained.

We’ll also borrow John Barrymore’s corpse and puzzle over a teddy bear’s significance.

Intro:

A 1969 contributor to NPL News suggested that orchestras were wasting effort.

Robert Wood cleaned a 40-foot spectrograph by sending his cat through it.

Sources for our feature on Jim Thompson:

William Warren, Jim Thompson: The Unsolved Mystery, 2014.

Joshua Kurlantzick, The Ideal Man: The Tragedy of Jim Thompson and the American Way of War, 2011.

Matthew Phillips, Thailand in the Cold War, 2015.

Taveepong Limapornvanich and William Warren, Thailand Sketchbook: Portrait of a Kingdom, 2003.

Jeffery Sng, “The Ideal Man: The Tragedy of Jim Thompson and the American Way of War by Joshua Kurlantzick,” Journal of the Siam Society 102 (2014), 296-299.

Tim McKeough, “Jim Thompson,” Architectural Digest 71:4 (April 2014).

Alessandro Pezzati, “Jim Thompson, the Thai Silk King,” Expedition Magazine 53:1 (Spring 2011), 4-6.

Daisy Alioto, “The Architect Who Changed the Thai Silk Industry and Then Disappeared,” Time, May 9, 2016.

Anis Ramli, “Jim Thompson Found, 40 Years On,” Malaysian Business, May 1, 2009, 58.

“Thailand: Jim Thompson’s Legacy Lives On,” Asia News Monitor, Feb. 8, 2010.

Peter A. Jackson, “An American Death in Bangkok: The Murder of Darrell Berrigan and the Hybrid Origins of Gay Identity in 1960s Thailand,” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 5:3 (1999), 361-411.

Mohd Haikal Mohd Isa, “Documentary Claims CPM Responsible for Jim Thompson’s Disappearance in Cameron Highland,” Malaysian National News Agency, Dec. 10, 2017.

Barry Broman, “Jim Thompson Was Killed by Malay Communists, Sources Say,” The Nation [Bangkok], Dec. 4, 2017.

Grant Peck, “New Film Sheds Light on Jim Thompson Mystery,” Associated Press, Oct. 21, 2017.

“A 50-Year Mystery: The Curious Case of Silk Tycoon Jim Thompson,” dpa International, March 22, 2017.

George Fetherling, “The Man Who Vanished,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Sept. 29, 2013, B.7.

“Trends: The Mystery of Jim Thompson,” [Hamilton, New Zealand] Waikato Times, May 8, 2013, T.13.

“Bangkok: Remembering Jim Thompson,” The Nation [Bangkok], Oct. 3, 2012.

Bernd Kubisch, “The Riddle of Jim Thompson Continues to Fascinate Bangkok Visitors,” McClatchy-Tribune Business News, Feb. 21, 2012.

Joshua Kurlantzick, “Into the Jungle,” [Don Mills, Ont.] National Post, Dec. 7, 2011, A.16.

Joshua Kurlantzick, “Our Man in Bangkok,” [Don Mills, Ont.] National Post, Dec. 6, 2011, A.14.

Yap Yok Foo, “Mystery of Jim Thompson’s Disappearance,” [Kuala Lumpur] New Straits Times, Feb. 1, 2004, 30.

Robert Frank, “Recipe for a Fashion Brand?”, Wall Street Journal, June 25, 2001, B.1.

Jonathan Napack, “Will Jim Thompson’s House Disappear, Too?”, International Herald Tribune, Aug. 30, 2000.

Michael Richardson, “The Disappearance of Jim Thompson,” International Herald Tribune, March 26, 1997, 2.

Hisham Harun, “Jim Thompson’s Legacy,” [Kuala Lumpur] New Straits Times, Aug. 12, 1996, 09.

Philp Shenon, “What’s Doing In: Bangkok,” New York Times, Jan. 31, 1993.

William Warren, “Is Jim Thompson Alive and Well in Asia?”, New York Times, April 21, 1968.

“Jim Thompson,” Encyclopaedia Britannica (accessed Oct. 4, 2020).

Listener mail:

Wikipedia, “John Barrymore” (accessed Oct. 8, 2020).

“Drew Barrymore Has a Hard Time Processing While Eating Hot Wings,” Hot Ones, Aug. 20, 2020.

Marina Watts, “Drew Barrymore Reveals the Unique Experience Grandfather John Barrymore Had After Death,” Newsweek, Aug. 21, 2020.

Adam White, “Drew Barrymore Says Her Grandfather’s Corpse Was Stolen From the Morgue for ‘One Last Party,'” Independent, Aug. 20, 2020.

Wikipedia, “Hot Ones” (accessed Oct. 8, 2020).

“Earth Does Not Move for Science,” BBC News, Sept. 7, 2001.

Tim Radford, “Children’s Giant Jump Makes Waves for Science,” Guardian, Sept. 7, 2001.

Reuters, “Jump Kids, Jump! Shake That Earth,” Wired, Sept 7, 2001.

“Schoolkids Jump-Start a Quake in Britain,” Los Angeles Times, Sept. 8, 2001.

“Newspaper Clipping of the Day,” Strange Company, Aug. 26, 2020.

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Hanno Zulla, who sent these corroborating links (warning — these spoil the puzzle).

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!

Podcast Episode 315: Beryl Markham’s Unconventional Life

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Beryl Markham managed to fit three extraordinary careers into one lifetime: She was a champion racehorse trainer, a pioneering bush pilot, and a best-selling author. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll review her eventful life, including her historic solo flight across the Atlantic in 1936.

We’ll also portray some Canadian snakes and puzzle over a deadly car.

See full show notes …

Miss and Hit

At the commencement of this battle [Gettysburg], as the Regiment was rushing forward toward the enemy, a cannon ball passed between the legs of Captain Robert Story, of Company B, plowing up the earth beyond, yet he rushed on until, half an hour later, he lay mortally wounded, in the enemy’s lines. He was struck in the left thigh by a Minnie ball, which, on reaching and fracturing the bone, divided into three parts.

— Abram P. Smith, History of the Seventy-Sixth Regiment New York Volunteers, 1867

The Burned House Phenomenon

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Image: Wikimedia Commons

The Cucuteni-Trypillian culture of Neolithic Europe left behind a curious puzzle for archaeologists: It appears that, for more than a thousand years, the houses in every settlement were burned. It’s not clear why. Possibly the fires arose accidentally or through warfare, or possibly they were set deliberately. The extent of each fire must have been considerable, because the raw clay in the walls has been vitrified by intense heat, an effect that has not appeared in modern experiments with individual houses. But the reason for the phenomenon, and for its longevity, remains unknown.

Podcast Episode 314: The Taliesin Murders

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By 1914 Frank Lloyd Wright had become one of America’s most influential architects. But that August a violent tragedy unfolded at his Midwestern residence and studio. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe the shocking attack of Julian Carlton, which has been called “the most horrific single act of mass murder in Wisconsin history.”

We’ll also admire some helpful dogs and puzzle over some freezing heat.

See full show notes …

Magic

A “kinde of Divination” “to tell your friend how many pence or single peeces, reckoning them one with another, he hath in his purse, or should thinke in his minde,” from Robert Recorde’s The Ground of Arts, 1618:

[F]irst bid him double the peeces hee hath in his purse, or the number hee thinketh. … Now after hee hath doubled his number, bid him adde thereunto 5 more, which done, bid him multiply that his number by 5 also: which done bid him tell you the just sum of his last multiplication, which sum the giver thinking it nothing availeable, because it is so great above his pretended imagination: yet thereby shall you presently with the helpe of Subtraction tell his proposed number.

https://books.google.com/books?id=i8NJomIVzlgC&pg=PA508

Apparently the section on “divers Sportes and Pastimes, done by Number” was contributed by Southwark schoolmaster John Mellis in 1582. “[T]he fact that this chapter on mathematical games was included in every subsequent edition of The Ground of Artes, save one, indicates that the idea of mathematical games found a receptive audience among arithmetic students.”

(Jessica Marie Otis, “‘Sportes and Pastimes, done by Number’: Mathematical Games in Early Modern England,” in Allison Levy, ed., Playthings in Early Modernity: Party Games, Word Games, Mind Games, 2017.)

Duty

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In 1936 the Princess learnt that their father had become king. Margaret Rose asked her sister, ‘Does that mean you will have to be the next queen?’ ‘Yes, some day’, replied Elizabeth. ‘Poor you!’ came the response.

— Lucinda Hawksley, Elizabeth Revealed: 500 Facts About the Queen and Her World, 2018

Podcast Episode 313: The Santa Claus Association

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In 1913, New York publicist John Duval Gluck founded an association to answer Santa’s mail. For 15 years its volunteers fulfilled children’s Christmas wishes, until Gluck’s motivation began to shift. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe the rise and fall of “Santa’s Secretary” in New York City.

We’ll also survey some splitting trains and puzzle over a difference between twins.

See full show notes …

First Things First

An odd encounter between Thomas Edison and Henry Ford at a Democratic fundraising luncheon at New York’s Biltmore Hotel, 1916, from the memoir of Navy Secretary Josephus Daniels:

I do not suppose anything so strange ever occurred at a luncheon in New York and elsewhere. … After the first course, Edison, pointing to a large chandelier, with many globes, in the middle of the room, said, ‘Henry, I’ll bet anything you want that I can kick the globe off that chandelier.’ It hung high toward the ceiling. Ford said he would take the bet. Edison rose, pushed the table to one side of the room, took his stand in the center and with his eye fixed on the globe, made the highest kick I have ever seen a man make and smashed the globe into smithereens. He then said, ‘Henry, let’s see what you can do.’ The automobile manufacturer took careful aim, but his foot missed the chandelier by a fraction of an inch. Edison had won and for the balance of the meal or until the ice-cream was served, he was crowing over Ford, ‘You are a younger man than I am, but I can out-kick you.’ He seemed prouder of that high kick than if he had invented a means of ending the U-boat warfare.

(Via Edmund Morris’ 2019 biography Edison.) (Thanks, Aditya.)

Outreach

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Images: Wikimedia Commons

In August 1945, a few weeks before the end of World War II, a Soviet delegation presented a replica of the Great Seal of the United States as a gift to American ambassador W. Averell Harriman, who hung it in the study of his Moscow residence.

In 1951, a radio operator at the British embassy overheard American voices on an open radio traffic channel used by the Russian air force. An investigation showed that they’d been beaming radio waves at the ambassador’s office: The gift had contained a passive listening device that could be activated by a radio signal. The Soviets had been listening in on the ambassador’s residence for six years.

When a U-2 spy plane was shot down over Soviet territory in 1960, Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. displayed the device to show that both sides had been guilty of spying.