Podcast Episode 301: Tschiffely’s Ride


In 1925, Swiss schoolteacher Aimé Tschiffely set out to prove the resilience of Argentina’s criollo horses by riding two of them from Buenos Aires to New York City. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll follow Tschiffely’s unprecedented journey, which has been called “the most exciting and influential equestrian travel tale of all time.”

We’ll also read an inscrutable cookbook and puzzle over a misbehaving coworker.


English was Joseph Conrad’s third language, but it held a peculiar mystique for him.

Thanks to a mathematical oddity, one measurement suffices to establish the area of a carousel deck.

Sources for our feature on Aimé Tschiffely:

A.F. Tschiffely, Tschiffely’s Ride: Ten Thousand Miles in the Saddle From Southern Cross to Pole Star, 1933.

Lawrence Scanlan, Wild About Horses: Our Timeless Passion for the Horse, 2012.

Sam Leith, “The Incredible Journey,” Spectator 324:9694 (June 14, 2014), 36-37.

“Long Ride,” Time 21:16 (April 17, 1933), 51.

Bacil F. Kirtley, “Unknown Hominids and New World Legends,” Western Folklore 23:2 (April 1964), 77-90.

Aimé Tschiffely – Long Rider.

“Tschiffely’s 10,000-Mile, Three-Year Ride,” Horse Canada, Jan. 2, 2014.

Filipe Masetti Leite, “Journey to the End of the World,” Toronto Star (Online), Dec. 19, 2016.

Paul Theroux, “Run for Your Life,” New York Times, March 5, 1989.

“A.F. Tschiffely, Made Noted Trip,” New York Times, Jan. 6, 1954.

“Noted Horse Dies in Argentina at 37,” [Washington D.C.] Evening Star, Dec. 26, 1947, A-11.

“Famous ‘Trek’ Horse Embalmed,” New York Times, Dec. 25, 1947.

“A Homeric Exploit in the Saddle,” New York Times, April 23, 1933.

“10,000-Mile, Ride Recounted in Book,” New York Times, April 10, 1933.

“Argentinian Horseman Home Again,” New York Times, Dec. 20, 1928.

“Nelson Extols Ponies,” New York Times, Oct. 6, 1928.

“Argentine Rider Glad to Rest Here,” [Washington D.C.] Evening Star, Aug. 30, 1928, 17.

“Yipee! (or Spanish Meaning That): Look, Girls! a Pampas Cowboy!”, Indianapolis Times, July 10, 1928.

“6,000 Miles on Horseback,” New York Times, May 12, 1927.

“Testing Endurance of Horse by Long Ride,” New Britain [Conn.] Herald, Oct. 30, 1925, 15.

Tschiffely’s ride on Google Maps:

Listener mail:

Samille Mitchell, “Sophie Matterson Ditched City Life and Embraced the Isolation of a 5,000km Solo Trek Across Australia,” ABC News, May 16, 2020.

Sophie Matterson’s website.

Sian Johnson, “Victorian Man ‘Crayfish Dan’ Spent 40 Years Living in a Coastal Cave Near Warrnambool,” ABC News, May 9, 2020.

local student, “Evan got scammed on a cookbook he bought off amazon? It’s like it was written by a neural network,” Twitter, May 23, 2020.

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Dave Lawrence.

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.

Please consider becoming a patron of Futility Closet — you can choose the amount you want to pledge, 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 299: Ursula Graham Bower and the Nagas

Image: Wikimedia Commons

In 1937, Englishwoman Ursula Graham Bower became fascinated by the Naga people of northeastern India. She was living among them when World War II broke out and Japan threatened to invade their land. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe Bower’s efforts to organize the Nagas against an unprecedented foe.

We’ll also consider a self-censoring font and puzzle over some perplexing spacecraft.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 298: The Theft of the Mona Lisa


In 1911, the Mona Lisa disappeared from the Louvre. After an extensive investigation it made a surprising reappearance that inspired headlines around the world. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell the story of the painting’s abduction, which has been called the greatest art theft of the 20th century.

We’ll also shake Seattle and puzzle over a fortunate lack of work.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 297: A Sinto Boxer in Nazi Germany


In the 1930s, Sinto boxer Johann Trollmann was reaching the peak of his career when the Nazis declared his ethnic inferiority. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe Trollmann’s stand against an intolerant ideology and the price he paid for his fame.

We’ll also consider a British concentration camp and puzzle over some mysterious towers.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 295: An Unlikely Attempt on Everest


In 1932, Yorkshireman Maurice Wilson chose a startling way to promote his mystical beliefs: He would fly to Mount Everest and climb it alone. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll follow Wilson’s misguided adventure, which one writer called “the most incredible story in all the eventful history of Mount Everest.”

Well also explore an enigmatic musician and puzzle over a mighty cola.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 294: ‘The Murder Trial of the Century’


In 1957, an English doctor was accused of killing his patients for their money. The courtroom drama that followed was called the “murder trial of the century.” In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe the case of John Bodkin Adams and its significance in British legal history.

We’ll also bomb Calgary and puzzle over a passive policeman.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 293: Lennie Gwyther


In 1932, 9-year-old Lennie Gwyther set out to ride a thousand kilometers to see the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Along the way he became a symbol of Australian grit and determination. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell the story of Lennie’s journey, and what it meant to a struggling nation.

We’ll also recall a Moscow hostage crisis and puzzle over a surprising attack.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 292: Fordlandia

Image: Wikimedia Commons

In 1927, Henry Ford decided to build a plantation in the Amazon to supply rubber for his auto company. The result was Fordlandia, an incongruous Midwestern-style town in the tropical rainforest. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe the checkered history of Ford’s curious project — and what it revealed about his vision of society.

We’ll also consider some lifesaving seagulls and puzzle over a false alarm.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 291: Half-Safe


In 1946, Australian engineer Ben Carlin decided to circle the world in an amphibious jeep. He would spend 10 years in the attempt, which he called an “exercise in technology, masochism, and chance.” In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe Carlin’s unlikely odyssey and the determination that drove him.

We’ll also salute the Kentucky navy and puzzle over some surprising winners.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 290: Voss’ Last Stand


In 1917, German pilot Werner Voss had set out for a patrol over the Western Front when he encountered two flights of British fighters, including seven of the best pilots in the Royal Flying Corps. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe the drama that followed, which has been called “one of the most extraordinary aerial combats of the Great War.”

We’ll also honk at red lights in Mumbai and puzzle over a train passenger’s mistake.

See full show notes …