Podcast Episode 328: A Canine Prisoner of War


In 1944, British captives of the Japanese in Sumatra drew morale from an unlikely source: a purebred English pointer who cheered the men, challenged the guards, and served as a model of patient fortitude. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell the story of Judy, the canine POW of World War II.

We’ll also consider the frequency of different birthdays and puzzle over a little sun.


Sherlock Holmes wrote 20 monographs.

In 1863, Charles Dickens’ hall clock stopped sounding.

Sources for our feature on Judy:

Robert Weintraub, No Better Friend: One Man, One Dog, and Their Incredible Story of Courage and Survival in World War II, 2016.

S.L. Hoffman, “Judy: The Unforgettable Story of the Dog Who Went to War and Became a True Hero,” Military History 32:1 (May 2015), 72-72.

Rebecca Frankel, “Dogs at War: Judy, Canine Prisoner of War,” National Geographic, May 18, 2014.

Robert Weintraub, “The True Story of Judy, the Dog Who Inspired Her Fellow Prisoners of War to Survive,” Irish Times, June 2, 2015.

Jane Dalton, “Judy, the Life-Saving PoW Who Beat the Japanese,” Sunday Telegraph, May 31, 2015.

“Heroine Dog’s Medal Goes on Display,” [Cardiff] Western Mail, Aug. 26, 2006.

“Medal Awarded to Dog Prisoner of War Goes on Public Display,” Yorkshire Post, Aug. 23, 2006.

Amber Turnau, “The Incredible Tale of Frank Williams,” Burnaby [B.C] Now, March 19, 2003.

Nicholas Read, “Prison Camp Heroine Judy Was History’s Only Bow-Wow PoW,” Vancouver Sun, March 12, 2003.

“London Salutes Animal Veterans,” Charlotte Observer, May 28, 1983.

Frank G. Williams, “The Dog That Went to War,” Vancouver Sun, April 6, 1974.

“Judy, Dog VC, Dies,” [Montreal] Gazette, March 23, 1950.

“Judy, British War Dog, Dies; to Get Memorial,” [Wilmington, Del.] Morning News, March 21, 1950.

“The Tale of a V.C. Dog,” [Adelaide] Chronicle, Jan. 30, 1947.

“Judy to Receive Dogs’ V.C.,” The Age, May 2, 1946.

“Judy: The Dog Who Became a Prisoner of War,” gov.uk, July 24, 2015.

“Prisoner of War Dog Judy — PDSA Dickin Medal and Collar to Be Presented to the Imperial War Museum,” People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals, Aug. 21, 2006.

“PDSA Dickin Medal Stories: Judy,” PDSA Schools (accessed Jan. 3, 2021).

Listener mail:

Andrew Gelman et al., “Bayesian Data Analysis (Third Edition),” 1995-2020.

“Keynote: Andrew Gelman – Data Science Workflow” (video), Dec. 21, 2017.

Becca R. Levy, Pil H. Chung, and Martin D. Slade, “Influence of Valentine’s Day and Halloween on Birth Timing,” Social Science & Medicine 73:8 (2011), 1246-1248.

“Tony Meléndez,” Wikipedia (accessed Dec. 24, 2020).

“Thalidomide,” Wikipedia (accessed Jan. 9, 2020).

Neil Vargesson, “Thalidomide-Induced Teratogenesis: History and Mechanisms,” Birth Defects Research Part C: Embryo Today: Reviews 105:2 (2015), 140-156.

“Biography,” tonymelendez.com (accessed Jan. 10, 2021).

“Tony Melendez Sings for Pope John Paul II – 1987” (video), Heart of the Nation, Sept. 27, 2016.

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Lucie. 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 327: The Misplaced Tourist


In 1977, West German tourist Erwin Kreuz spent three days enjoying the sights, sounds, and hospitality of Bangor, Maine. Unfortunately, he thought he was in San Francisco, on the other side of the continent. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast, we’ll describe Kreuz’s unlikely adventure, which made him a local hero in his adopted city.

We’ll also consider an invisible killer and puzzle over a momentous measurement.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 326: The Recluse of Herald Square

ida wood

In 1931, a 93-year-old widow was discovered to be hoarding great wealth in New York’s Herald Square Hotel. Her death touched off an inquiry that revealed a glittering past — and a great secret. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast, we’ll tell the story of Ida Wood, which has been called “one of the most sensational inheritance cases in American history.”

We’ll also revisit the Candy Bomber and puzzle over some excessive travel.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 324: The Bizarre Death of Alfred Loewenstein


In 1928, Belgian financier Alfred Loewenstein fell to his death from a private plane over the English Channel. How it happened has never been explained. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast, we’ll describe the bizarre incident, which has been called “one of the strangest fatalities in the history of commercial aviation.”

We’ll also consider whether people can be eaten by pythons and puzzle over an enigmatic horseman.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 323: The Blind Traveler


When a mysterious illness blinded him at age 25, British naval officer James Holman took up a new pursuit: travel. For the next 40 years he roamed the world alone, describing his adventures in a series of popular books. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast, we’ll describe Holman’s remarkable career and his unique perspective on his experiences.

We’ll also remember some separating trains and puzzle over an oddly drawn battle plan.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 322: Joseph Medicine Crow


Joseph Medicine Crow was raised on a Montana reservation in the warrior tradition of his Crow forefathers. But during World War II he found himself applying those lessons in very different circumstances. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast, we’ll describe Joseph’s exploits in the war and how they helped to shape his future.

We’ll also consider how to distinguish identical twins and puzzle over a physicist’s beer.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 321: The Calculating Boy


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.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 320: John Hornby and the Barren Lands

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

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 …