Podcast Episode 321: The Calculating Boy

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George Parker Bidder was born with a surprising gift: He could do complex arithmetic in his head. His feats of calculation would earn for him a university education, a distinguished career in engineering, and fame throughout 19th-century England. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast, we’ll describe his remarkable ability and the stunning displays he made with it.

We’ll also try to dodge some foul balls and puzzle over a leaky ship.

Intro:

John Clem joined the Union Army at age 10.

Actress Tippi Hedren kept an African lion as a house pet in the 1970s.

Sources for our feature on George Bidder:

E.F. Clark, George Parker Bidder: The Calculating Boy, 1983.

Steven Bradley Smith, The Great Mental Calculators: The Psychology, Methods, and Lives of Calculating Prodigies, Past and Present, 1983.

Frank D. Mitchell, Mathematical Prodigies, 1907.

Henry Budd Howell, A Foundational Study in the Pedagogy of Arithmetic, 1914.

A.W. Skempton and Mike Chrimes, A Biographical Dictionary of Civil Engineers in Great Britain and Ireland: 1500-1830, 2002.

George Eyre Evans, Midland Churches: A History of the Congregations on the Roll of the Midland Christian Union, 1899.

David Singmaster, “George Parker Bidder: The Calculating Boy by E.F. Clark,” Mathematical Gazette 71:457 (October 1987), 252-254.

Antony Anderson, “Fairgrounds to Railways With Numbers,” New Scientist 100:1385 (Nov. 24, 1983), 581.

Frank D. Mitchell, “Mathematical Prodigies,” American Journal of Psychology 18:1 (January 1907), 61-143.

Richard A. Proctor, “Calculating Boys,” Belgravia Magazine 38:152 (June 1879), 450-470.

Martin Gardner, “Mathematical Games,” Scientific American 216:4 (April 1967), 116-123.

“A Short Account of George Bidder, the Celebrated Mental Calculator: With a Variety of the Most Difficult Questions, Proposed to Him at the Principal Towns in the Kingdom, and His Surprising Rapid Answers, Etc.,” pamphlet, 1821.

Louis McCreery, “Mathematical Prodigies,” Mathematics News Letter 7:7/8 (April-May 1933), 4-12.

“Memoirs of Deceased Members,” Minutes of Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers 57 (1878-1879), Part III, 294.

“George Parker Bidder,” Devon Notes and Queries, Vol. 2, 1903.

“Calculating Boys,” Strand 10 (1895), 277-280.

“Bidder, George Parker,” Encyclopædia Britannica, 1911.

H.T. Wood, “Bidder, George Parker,” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Sept. 23, 2004.

Listener mail:

Todd S. Purdum, “His Best Years Past, Veteran in Debt Sells Oscar He Won,” New York Times, Aug. 7, 1992.

“In Financial Straits, Actor Sells ’46 Oscar,” Chicago Tribune, Aug. 7, 1992.

“Harold Russell Selling ‘Best Years of Our Lives’ Oscar,” Los Angeles Times, July 31, 1992.

Heathcliff Rothman, “I’d Really Like to Thank My Pal at the Auction House,” New York Times, Feb. 12, 2006.

Stephen Ceasar, “You Can’t Put a Price on Oscar: Even Heirs of Winners Are Bound by Rules Against Selling the Statue,” Los Angeles Times, Feb. 25, 2016.

“Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane Oscar Auctioned in US,” BBC News, Dec. 21, 2011.

Allen St. John, “Does Japanese Baseball Have the Answer for MLB’s Dangerous Foul Ball Problem?”, Forbes, Sept. 30, 2017.

“Foul Balls in Japanese Baseball,” Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel, HBO, April 20, 2016.

“A Look at Some Extended Protective Nettings in the KBO and NPB,” Fan Interference, Feb, 2, 2016.

Andrew W. Lehren and Michelle Tak, “Every Major League Baseball Team Will Expand Netting to Protect Fans From Foul Balls,” NBC News, Dec. 11, 2019.

Bill Shaikin, “A Lawsuit Could Make Baseball Teams Liable for Foul Balls That Injure Fans,” Los Angeles Times, Feb 20, 2020.

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Jon Jerome.

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 320: John Hornby and the Barren Lands

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Image: Wikimedia Commons

John Hornby left a privileged background in England to roam the vast subarctic tundra of northern Canada. There he became known as “the hermit of the north,” famous for staying alive in a land with very few resources. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast, we’ll spend a winter with Hornby, who’s been called “one of the most colorful adventurers in modern history.”

We’ll also consider an anthropologist’s reputation and puzzle over an unreachable safe.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 319: Friedrich Kellner’s Opposition

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Image: Wikimedia Commons

In the 1930s, German civil servant Friedrich Kellner was outraged by the increasing brutality of the Nazi party and the complicity of his fellow citizens. He began to keep a secret diary to record the crimes of the Third Reich and his condemnations of his countrymen. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast, we’ll tell the story of Friedrich’s diary and his outspoken warnings to future generations.

We’ll also ponder the problem with tardigrades and puzzle over a seemingly foolish choice.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 318: Peace Pilgrim

peace pilgrim

In 1953 Mildred Norman renounced “an empty life of money and things” and dedicated herself to promoting peace. She spent the next three decades walking through the United States to spread a message of simplicity and harmony. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe her unusual life as a peace pilgrim.

We’ll also admire Wellington’s Mittens and puzzle over a barren Christmas.

Intro:

In 1956, Navy pilot Tom Attridge overtook his own rounds in a supersonic jet.

Flemish artist Cornelius Gijsbrechts painted a rendering of the back of a painting.

See full show notes …

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.

See full show notes …

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 …

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 …

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 …

Podcast Episode 312: The Last of the Yahi

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In 1911 an exhausted man emerged from the wilderness north of Oroville, California. He was discovered to be the last of the Yahi, a people who had once flourished in the area but had been decimated by white settlers. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe Ishi’s sad history and his new life in San Francisco.

We’ll also consider the surprising dangers of baseball and puzzle over a forceful blackout.

See full show notes …