Podcast Episode 205: The White Mouse


In 1928 Nancy Wake ran away from her Australian home and into an unlikely destiny: She became a dynamo in the French resistance, helping more than a thousand people to flee the Germans and then organizing partisans to fight them directly. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell the story of the White Mouse, one of the bravest heroes of World War II.

We’ll also marvel at mailmen and puzzle over an expensive homework assignment.


The town of Agloe, New York, was invented by a pair of mapmakers.

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s This Side of Paradise contains two hidden poems.

Sources for our feature on Nancy Wake:

Peter FitzSimons, Nancy Wake, 2001.

Nancy Wake, The White Mouse, 1985.

Russell Braddon, The White Mouse, 1956.

“Dispatches,” World War II 26:4 (November/December 2011), 16.

“History in the Media,” History Today 55:4 (April 2005), 9.

“Sound Off,” Leatherneck 85:6 (June 2002), 2.

Adam Bernstein, “Nancy Wake, ‘White Mouse’ of World War II, Dies at 98,” Washington Post, Aug. 9, 2011.

Paul Vitello, “Nancy Wake, Proud Spy and Nazi Foe, Dies at 98,” New York Times, Aug. 13, 2011.

“Obituary: Nancy Wake,” Economist 400:8746 (Aug. 13, 2011), 82.

Chris Brice, “The Mouse That Roared,” [Adelaide] Advertiser, June 2, 2001.

Bruce Wilson, “Forever in Her Debt,” [Brisbane] Courier-Mail, Feb. 15, 2003, 34.

“War Heroine Nancy Wake Dies,” ABC Premium News, Aug. 8, 2011.

“Prince Helps Pauper Heroine,” [Adelaide] Advertiser, Feb. 11, 2003, 22.

“Australian ‘White Mouse’ Was a Guerrilla to Nazis Selling Her War Medals Did Not Endear Her to Countrymen, Though,” Christian Science Monitor, June 8, 1994.

Sandra Laville, “Penniless Resistance Hero Stays On … and On … at Hotel,” Vancouver Sun, Feb. 11, 2003, A16.

Red Harrison, “All Guts and Garters,” Weekend Australian, June 9, 2001.

Lydia Clifford, “Secrets and White Lies,” Daily Telegraph, June 1, 2001, 117.

Bruce Wilson, “Penniless Wake Is Also Priceless,” Daily Telegraph, Feb. 14, 2003, 23.

Nate Rawlings, “Nancy Wake,” Time 178:8 (Aug. 29, 2011), 20.

Roderick Bailey, “Wake, Nancy Grace Augusta,” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Jan. 8, 2015.

Listener mail:

A 1797 George III Cartwheel penny, a handgun, and a selection of pottery and pipes found on the Thames foreshore.

The Bozeman Daily Chronicle’s “Police Reports.”

The neural net that Dave Lawrence fed them through.

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Simone Hilliard, who sent this corroborating link (warning — this spoils the puzzle).

You can listen using the player above, download this episode directly, or subscribe on Apple Podcasts or Google Play Music or via the RSS feed at http://feedpress.me/futilitycloset.

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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 204: Mary Anning’s Fossils


In 1804, when she was 5 years old, Mary Anning began to dig in the cliffs that flanked her English seaside town. What she found amazed the scientists of her time and challenged the established view of world history. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell the story of “the greatest fossilist the world ever knew.”

We’ll also try to identify a Norwegian commando and puzzle over some further string pulling.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 203: Notes and Queries

Image: Wikimedia Commons

In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll explore some more curiosities and unanswered questions from Greg’s research, including a misplaced elephant, a momentous biscuit failure, a peripatetic ax murderer, and the importance of the 9 of diamonds.

We’ll also revisit Michael Malloy’s resilience and puzzle over an uncommonly casual prison break.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 202: The Rosenhan Experiment

Image: Wikimedia Commons

In the 1970s psychologist David Rosenhan sent healthy volunteers to 12 psychiatric hospitals, where they claimed to be hearing voices. Once they were admitted, they behaved normally, but the hospitals diagnosed all of them as seriously mentally ill. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe the Rosenhan experiment, which challenged the validity of psychiatric diagnosis and set off a furor in the field.

We’ll also spot hawks at Wimbledon and puzzle over a finicky payment processor.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 201: The Gardner Heist


In 1990, two thieves dressed as policemen walked into Boston’s Gardner museum and walked out with 13 artworks worth half a billion dollars. After 28 years the lost masterpieces have never been recovered. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe the largest art theft in history and the ongoing search for its solution.

We’ll also discover the benefits of mustard gas and puzzle over a surprisingly effective fighter pilot.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 199: The Mystery of the Carroll A. Deering


In 1921 a schooner ran aground on the treacherous shoals off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. When rescuers climbed aboard, they found signs of a strange drama in the ship’s last moments — and no trace of the 11-man crew. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll examine the curious case of the Carroll A. Deering, which has been called “one of the enduring mysteries of maritime history.”

We’ll also experiment with yellow fever and puzzle over a disputed time of death.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 198: The Man Who Wouldn’t Die


In 1932 a quartet of Bronx gangsters set out to murder a friend of theirs in order to collect his life insurance. But Michael Malloy proved to be almost comically difficult to kill. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll review what one observer called “the most clumsily executed insurance scam in New York City history.”

We’ll also burrow into hoarding and puzzle over the value of silence.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 197: Alone Across the Outback


In 1977, a young woman named Robyn Davidson set out to pursue what she called a “lunatic idea” — to lead a group of camels 1,700 miles across western Australia, from the center of the continent to the Indian Ocean. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll follow Davidson’s remarkable journey alone through the Outback and learn what it taught her.

We’ll also dive into the La Brea Tar Pits and puzzle over some striking workers.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 196: The Long Way Home


When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, the crew of an American seaplane were caught off guard near New Zealand. Unable to return across the Pacific, they were forced to fly home “the long way” — all the way around the world. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll follow the adventures of the Pacific Clipper on its 30,000-mile journey through a world engulfed in war.

We’ll also delve into the drug industry and puzzle over a curious case of skin lesions.

See full show notes …