Podcast Episode 224: Lady Death


Lyudmila Pavlichenko was training for a career as a history teacher when Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941. She suspended her studies to enlist as a sniper in the Red Army, where she discovered a remarkable talent for shooting enemy soldiers. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll trace the career of “Lady Death,” the deadliest female sniper in history.

We’ll also learn where in the world futility.closet.podcast is and puzzle over Air Force One.


Andy Warhol’s Brillo Boxes creates a host of puzzles in the philosophy of art.

German architect Herman Sörgel wanted to dam the Congo to create two African seas.

Sources for our feature on Lyudmila Pavlichenko:

Lyudmila Pavlichenko, Lady Death: The Memoirs of Stalin’s Sniper, 2018.

Roger Reese, “Soviet Women at War,” Military History 28:1 (May 2011), 44-53,5.

Drew Lindsay, “Why Not Send Women to War?” MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History 25:3 (Spring 2013), 50-55, 58-61.

Karl E. Friedl, “Biases of the Incumbents: What If We Were Integrating Men Into a Women’s Army?” Military Review 96:2 (March/April 2016), 69-75.

Jonathan W. Jordan, “Master of the Long Rifle,” MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History 18:4 (Summer 2006), 49-53.

D’Ann Campbell, “Women in Combat: The World War II Experience in the United States, Great Britain, Germany, and the Soviet Union,” Journal of Military History 57:2 (April 1993), 301-323.

E.M. Tenney, “Mrs. Roosevelt, the Russian Sniper, and Me,” American Heritage 43:2 (April 1992), 28.

John Kass, “This Soldier’s Skill Had Nothing to Do With Gender,” Chicago Tribune, Jan. 25, 2013.

Peter Sheridan, “Meet Lady Death: The Deadliest Female Sniper That Ever Lived,” Express, Feb. 5, 2018.

Marea Donnelly, “‘Lady Death’ Sniper Made 309 Kills After Young Comrade Shot,” Daily Telegraph, July 12, 2016, 23.

Gilbert King, “Eleanor Roosevelt and the Soviet Sniper,” Smithsonian.com, Feb. 21, 2013.

Alex Lockie, “Meet the World’s Deadliest Female Sniper Who Terrorized Hitler’s Nazi Army,” Independent, March 18, 2018.

“Soviet Girl Sniper Learned to Shoot as University Co-Ed,” [Washington, D.C.] Evening Star, August 28, 1942, 2-X.

“Africa a Prelude, Maisky Declares,” New York Times, Nov. 15, 1942.

“Rifle Match Proposed,” New York Times, Sept. 3, 1942.

Public Radio International, “The Life and Myths of Lyudmila Pavlichenko, Soviet Russia’s Deadliest Sniper,” PRI’s The World, March 9, 2018.

“Sharp-Shooting Women Best Soviet Snipers,” USA Today Magazine, 135:2739 (December 2006), 3-4.

Listener mail:

Wikipedia, “Maidenhead Locator System” (accessed Nov. 3, 2018).

Wikipedia, “Contesting” (accessed Nov. 4, 2018).

“An Evaluation of Location Encoding Systems,” GitHub, (accessed Nov. 9, 2018).

Our territory on What3Words.



The Silly Party takes Luton.

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was devised by Greg. Here’s a corroborating link (warning — this spoils 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.

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 223: The Prince of Forgers


Denis Vrain-Lucas was an undistinguished forger until he met gullible collector Michel Chasles. Through the 1860s Lucas sold Chasles thousands of phony letters by everyone from Plato to Louis the 14th, earning thousands of francs and touching off a firestorm among confused scholars. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll trace the career of the world’s most prolific forger.

We’ll also count Queen Elizabeth’s eggs and puzzle over a destroyed car.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 222: The Year Without a Summer

Image: Wikimedia Commons

The eruption of Mount Tambora in 1815 was a disaster for the Dutch East Indies, but its astonishing consequences were felt around the world, blocking the sun and bringing cold, famine, and disease to millions of people from China to the United States. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll review the volcano’s devastating effects and surprising legacy.

We’ll also appreciate an inverted aircraft and puzzle over a resourceful barber.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 220: The Old Hero of Gettysburg

Image: Wikimedia Commons

In 1863, on the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg, a 69-year-old shoemaker took down his ancient musket and set out to shoot some rebels. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll follow John Burns’ adventures in that historic battle, which made him famous across the nation and won the praise of Abraham Lincoln.

We’ll also survey some wallabies and puzzle over some underlined 7s.

See full show notes …

The Sincerest Form


The Soviet Tupolev Tu-4 strategic bomber of the 1950s was a reverse-engineered copy of the American Boeing B-29 Superfortress. Stalin wanted a strategic bomber, so when three B-29s were forced to land in Soviet territory in 1944, he ordered clones made, and 20 were ready by 1947, despite the engineering challenges caused by non-metric American specifications.

The Soviets revealed their coup during a Moscow parade in August 1947. When three aircraft flew overhead, Western analysts assumed they were the three captured B-29s. Then a fourth appeared.

(Thanks, Kevin.)

Podcast Episode 219: The Greenbrier Ghost


In 1897, shortly after Zona Shue was found dead in her West Virginia home, her mother went to the county prosecutor with a bizarre story. She said that her daughter had been murdered — and that her ghost had revealed the killer’s identity. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell the story of the Greenbrier Ghost, one of the strangest courtroom dramas of the 19th century.

We’ll also consider whether cats are controlling us and puzzle over a delightful oblivion.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 218: Lost in the Amazon


In 1769, a Peruvian noblewoman set out with 41 companions to join her husband in French Guiana. But a series of terrible misfortunes left her alone in the Amazon jungle. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll follow Isabel Godin des Odonais on her harrowing adventure in the rain forest.

We’ll also learn where in the world “prices slippery traps” is and puzzle over an airport’s ingenuity.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 217: The Bone Wars


The end of the Civil War opened a new era of fossil hunting in the American West — and a bitter feud between two rival paleontologists, who spent 20 years sabotaging one another in a constant struggle for supremacy. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell the story of the Bone Wars, the greatest scientific feud of the 19th century.

We’ll also sympathize with Scunthorpe and puzzle over why a driver can’t drive.

See full show notes …


Churchill himself is a talented heckler. Sir William Joynson-Hicks was making a speech before Commons and noticed Churchill shaking his head so vigorously that attention was distracted from the address. ‘I see my right honourable friend shaking his head,’ cried Joynson-Hicks with exasperation. ‘I wish to remind him that I am only expressing my own opinion!’

‘And I wish to remind the speaker that I am only shaking my own head,’ replied Churchill.

— Brisbane Courier-Mail, 1952

Podcast Episode 216: The Tromelin Island Castaways

Image: Wikimedia Commons

In 1761 a French schooner was shipwrecked in the Indian Ocean, leaving more than 200 people stranded on a tiny island. The crew departed in a makeshift boat, leaving 60 Malagasy slaves to fend for themselves and wait for rescue. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell the story of the Tromelin Island castaways, which one observer calls “arguably the most extraordinary story of survival ever documented.”

We’ll also admire some hardworking cats and puzzle over a racer’s death.

See full show notes …