Podcast Episode 72: The Strange Misadventures of Famous Corpses

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What do René Descartes, Joseph Haydn, and Oliver Cromwell have in common? All three lost their heads after death. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast, we’ll run down a list of notable corpses whose parts have gone wandering.

We’ll also hear readers chime in on John Lennon, knitting, diaries and Hitchcock, and puzzle over why a pilot would choose to land in a field of grazing livestock.

Sources for our feature on posthumously itinerant body parts:

Bess Lovejoy, Rest in Pieces: The Curious Fates of Famous Corpses, 2013.

Edith Sitwell, English Eccentrics, 1993.

I’d written previously about Descartes, Haydn, Cromwell, Bentham, Einstein, and Juan Perón. Thanks to listener Alejandro Pareja for the tip about Goya.

Listener mail:

Barney Snow’s documentary about Gerald and Linda Polley is Where Has Eternity Gone?

QI, “Knitting in Code.”

Douglas Martin, “Robert Shields, Wordy Diarist, Dies at 89,” New York Times, Oct. 29, 2007.

Listener Christine Fisher found Charles Thomas Samuels’ interview with Alfred Hitchcock in Sidney Gottlieb’s 2003 book Alfred Hitchcock: Interviews. It appeared originally in Samuels’ 1972 book Encountering Directors.

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle is from Kyle Hendrickson’s 1998 book Mental Fitness Puzzles.

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

Enter coupon code CLOSET at Harry’s and get $5 off their starter set of high-quality razors.

Please consider becoming a patron of Futility Closet — on our Patreon page you can pledge any amount per episode, and all contributions are greatly appreciated. You can change or cancel your pledge at any time, and we’ve set up some rewards to help thank you for your support.

You can also make a one-time donation via the Donate button in the sidebar 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 71: Godless in Missouri

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Image: http://www.ForestWander.com

In 1880, freethinking attorney George Walser tried a new experiment in the American heartland — a community dedicated against Christianity, “the only town of its size in the world without a priest, preacher, saloon, God or hell.” In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast, we’ll tell the story of Liberal, Missouri — its founding, its confrontations with its Christian neighbors, and its ironic downfall.

We’ll also puzzle over how a woman can suddenly be 120 miles away in just a few minutes.

liberal plat

Sources for our feature on Liberal, Mo.:

J.P. Moore, This Strange Town — Liberal, Missouri: A History of the Early Years, 1880 to 1910, 1963.

Lawrence O. Christensen, William E. Foley, and Gary Kremer, Dictionary of Missouri Biography, 1999.

Tom Flynn, ed., The New Encyclopedia of Unbelief, 2007.

Steve Everly, “History of Southwest Missouri Town Shows Triumph of Faith Over Skepticism,” Nevada Daily Mail, Dec. 26, 2001.

Marvin Vangilder, “Missouri Town Might Assure Stockton as Atheist Target,” Associated Press, Sept. 4, 1963.

“Necrology,” Missouri Historical Review, July 1910.

“Missouri Geography: Community Experiments,” in Walter Barlow Stevens, Missouri the Center State: 1821-1915, Volume 2, 1915.

George Henry Walser, The Life and Teachings of Jesus, 1909.

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener David White, who sent these corroborating links (warning — these spoil the puzzle).

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

Please consider becoming a patron of Futility Closet — on our Patreon page you can pledge any amount per episode, and all contributions are greatly appreciated. You can change or cancel your pledge at any time, and we’ve set up some rewards to help thank you for your support.

You can also make a one-time donation via the Donate button in the sidebar 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 70: Sunk by a Whale

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In 1820, the Nantucket whaleship Essex was attacked and sunk by an 85-foot sperm whale in the South Pacific, a thousand miles from land. In this episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell the story of the attack, which left 20 men to undertake an impossible journey to South America in three small whaleboats.

We’ll also learn about an Australian athlete who shipped himself across the world in a box in 1964 and puzzle over an international traveler’s impressive feat of navigation.

Sources for our feature on the whaleship Essex:

Owen Chase, Narrative of the Most Extraordinary and Distressing Shipwreck of the Whaleship Essex, 1821.

Thomas Farel Heffernan, Stove by a Whale: Owen Chase and the Essex, 1981.

Thomas Nickerson et al., The Loss of the Ship Essex, Sunk by a Whale, 2000.

Nathaniel Philbrick, In the Heart of the Sea, 2000.

Herman Melville, Moby-Dick, 1851.

Adam Summers, “Fat Heads Sink Ships,” Natural History 111:7 (September 2002): 40-41.

David R. Carrier, Stephen M. Deban, and Jason Otterstrom, “The Face That Sank the Essex: Potential Function of the Spermaceti Organ in Aggression,” Journal of Experimental Biology 205:12 (June 15, 2002), 1755-1763.

Henry F. Pommer, “Herman Melville and the Wake of The Essex,” American Literature 20:3 (November 1948): 290-304.

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Fourteen-year-old cabin boy Thomas Nickerson was at the helm at the time of the attack; he made this sketch later in life. “I heard a loud cry from several voices at once, that the whale was coming foul of the ship. Scarcely had the sound of their voices reached my ears when it was followed by a tremendous crash. The whale had struck the ship with his head directly under the larboard fore chains at the waters edge with such force as to shock every man upon his feet.”

Thanks to listener David Balmain (and David McRaney’s “You Are Not So Smart” podcast) for the tip about penurious javelinist Reg Spiers’ 1964 postal odyssey to Australia. Further sources for that segment:

Jason Caffrey, “The Man Who Posted Himself to Australia,” BBC World Service, March 6, 2015.

Reg Spiers, “I Posted Myself in a Box From England to Australia,” Financial Times, June 19, 2015.

“Going East in a Coffin,” Chicago Herald, Oct. 25, 1887.

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

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

Use this link to get video and audio lectures at up to 80 percent off the original price from The Great Courses.

Please consider becoming a patron of Futility Closet — on our Patreon page you can pledge any amount per episode, and all contributions are greatly appreciated. You can change or cancel your pledge at any time, and we’ve set up some rewards to help thank you for your support.

You can also make a one-time donation via the Donate button in the sidebar 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 69: Lateral Thinking Puzzles

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Here are four new lateral thinking puzzles to test your wits! Solve along with us as we explore some strange situations using only yes-or-no questions.

Puzzles 1 and 2 are from Kyle Hendrickson’s 1998 book Mental Fitness Puzzles and Jed’s List of Situation Puzzles.

Thanks to listeners Saber and Tommy Honton for puzzles 3 and 4. Here are two corroborating links — these spoil the puzzles, so don’t click until you’ve listened to the episode:

Puzzle #3

Puzzle #4

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

Use this link to get video and audio lectures at up to 80 percent off the original price from The Great Courses.

Please consider becoming a patron of Futility Closet — on our Patreon page you can pledge any amount per episode, and all contributions are greatly appreciated. You can change or cancel your pledge at any time, and we’ve set up some rewards to help thank you for your support.

You can also make a one-time donation via the Donate button in the sidebar of the Futility Closet website.

If you have any questions or comments you can reach us at podcast@futilitycloset.com. Thanks for listening!

Podcast Episode 68: The Niihau Incident

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Images: Wikimedia Commons

After taking part in the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese fighter pilot Shigenori Nishikaichi crash-landed on the isolated Hawaiian island of Niihau. In this episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll recount the six days of escalating drama that unfolded between the desperate pilot and the terrified islanders.

We’ll also hear a list of open questions from Greg’s research and puzzle over why a man can’t sell a solid gold letter opener.

Sources for our feature on the Niihau incident:

William Hallstead and Raymond Denkhaus, “The Niihau Incident,” World War II 14:5 (January 2000), 38.

Andrew Carroll, “A Japanese Pilot Brings World War II to Hawaii’s Farthest Shore,” American History 48:5 (December 2013): 29-30.

Richard B. Frank, “Zero Hour on Niihau,” World War II 24:2 (July 2009): 54-61.

“U.S. Won First WWII Victory Just Days After Pearl Harbor,” Associated Press, Dec. 27, 1991.

One particularly gruesome account of the whipping of Emmanuel Dannan appeared in The Living Age in 1855:

Accordingly, the man procured six whips — the toughest kind of swamp willow — which, by his own confession, were four feet in length, and as large at the butt as one’s little finger and about 9 o’clock at night took Emanuel — who still persisted in telling the truth — to the loft of the cabin, and having stripped him to his shirt, wound that around his neck, and tied him up, by a cord, by both wrists, to a rafter, so that his feet but barely touched the ground.

Here he whipped him for two hours, only resting at intervals to procure a fresh whip, or to demand of his victim that he should own that he told a lie. The boy’s only answer was, ‘Pa, I told the truth. Pa, I did not lie.’ The girl [his sister, the only witness] said that Emanuel did not cry much; and it is probable that he fainted during a portion of the time, as the injuries upon his body, testified that there was not a spot, from the armpits to the ankles, large enough to place your finger upon, but was covered with livid welts; and that in very many places the skin was broken!

In this account, which is explicitly directed “to the Sabbath school children of the United States,” the foster father tries to “whip the lie out of” Emmanuel — that is, persuade him to agree that he had imagined his mother’s crime. In other tellings the lie is whipped into him — he’s urged to tell a cover story to protect his mother, and he cries, “Pa, I will not lie!”

Sources for this week’s lateral thinking puzzles:

Kyle Hendrickson, Mental Fitness Puzzles, 1998.

Erwin Brecher, Lateral Thinking Puzzles, 2010.

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

Please consider becoming a patron of Futility Closet — on our Patreon page you can pledge any amount per episode, and all contributions are greatly appreciated. You can change or cancel your pledge at any time, and we’ve set up some rewards to help thank you for your support.

You can also make a one-time donation via the Donate button in the sidebar 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. You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter. Thanks for listening!

Podcast Episode 67: Composing Beyond the Grave

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In 1933, violinist Jelly d’Aranyi declared that the spirit of Robert Schumann was urging her to find a concerto that he’d written shortly before his death in 1856. In this episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe the discovery of Schumann’s lost violin concerto, as well as a similar case in which a London widow claimed to receive new compositions from 12 dead composers.

We’ll also puzzle over how a man earns $250,000 for going on two cruises.

Sources for our feature on Jelly d’Aranyi and Rosemary Brown:

Joseph Macleod, The Sisters d’Aranyi, 1969.

Erik Palmstierna and Adila Fachiri, Horizons of Immortality, 1938.

Rosemary Brown, Unfinished Symphonies, 1971.

Douglas Martin, “Rosemary Brown, a Friend of Dead Composers, Dies at 85,” New York Times, Dec. 2, 2001.

Michael Steinberg, The Concerto: A Listener’s Guide, 1998.

Nicolas Slonimsky, Slonimsky’s Book of Musical Anecdotes, 1948.

Here’s the Schumann violin concerto played by Frank Peter Zimmermann, and here’s a rather blurry interview with Rosemary Brown, in which she transcribes a composition for Beethoven.

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle is from Jed’s List of Situation Puzzles.

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

Please consider becoming a patron of Futility Closet — on our Patreon page you can pledge any amount per episode, and all contributions are greatly appreciated. You can change or cancel your pledge at any time, and we’ve set up some rewards to help thank you for your support.

You can also make a one-time donation via the Donate button in the sidebar 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. You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter. Thanks for listening!

Podcast Episode 66: Eighteen Holes in Vietnam

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In 1972, Air Force navigator Gene Hambleton was shot down over enemy territory in Vietnam, and a ferocious offensive beat back every attempt to rescue him. In today’s show we’ll learn how his lifelong passion for golf became the key to his escape.

We’ll also learn about a videogame based on the Dyatlov Pass incident and puzzle over why a military force drops bombs on its friends.

Sources for our feature on Gene Hambleton:

William C. Anderson, BAT-21, 1980.

Darrell D. Whitcomb, The Rescue of BAT 21, 1998.

George Esper, “Commando Team Snatches Downed Airmen From Midst of Enemy’s Invasion Force,” Associated Press, April 25, 1972.

Dennis McLellan, “‘Gene’ Hambleton, 85; His Rescue Depicted in ‘Bat-21’ Books, Film,” Los Angeles Times, Sept. 27, 2004.

In 1981 TriStar released a dramatization of Hambleton’s experience, Bat*21, starring Gene Hackman and Danny Glover.

Listener mail:

The full text of Arthur Conan Doyle’s story “The Problem of Thor Bridge” is on Wikisource.

The videogame about the Dyatlov Pass incident is called Kholat. (It’s named after Kholat Syakhyl, the mountain on which the Dyatlov hikers pitched their tent.)

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Mike Martin. Here are two corroborating links (warning — these spoil the puzzle).

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

Please consider becoming a patron of Futility Closet — on our Patreon page you can pledge any amount per episode, and all contributions are greatly appreciated. You can change or cancel your pledge at any time, and we’ve set up some rewards to help thank you for your support.

You can also make a one-time donation via the Donate button in the sidebar 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. You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter. Thanks for listening!

Podcast Episode 65: The Merchant Prince of Cornville

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Edmond Rostand’s hit play Cyrano de Bergerac met an unexpected obstacle in 1898 — a Chicago real estate developer who claimed that it plagiarized his own play. In this week’s podcast we’ll review the strange controversy and the surprising outcome of the lawsuit that followed.

We’ll also hear an update on the German author who popularized an American West that he had never seen and puzzle over a Civil War private who refuses to fight.

Sources for our feature on Cyrano de Bergerac and The Merchant Prince of Cornville:

“Gross-Rostand Controversy,” in George Childs Kohn, New Encyclopedia of American Scandal, 2001.

Edmond Rostand, Cyrano de Bergerac, 1897.

Samuel Eberly Gross, The Merchant Prince of Cornville, 1896.

Jay Pridmore, “Recalling ‘Merchant Prince’ of the 1880s,” Chicago Tribune, Feb. 28, 1992.

“Chronicle and Comment,” The Bookman, November 1910.

The Critic, February 1899, p. 116.

“Samuel Gross’s Cyrano,” New York Times, June 1, 1902.

“Rostand Indignant,” The Pittsburgh Press, June 1, 1902.

“Rostand’s Champion,” The Carroll Herald, June 4, 1902.

“‘Cyrano de Bergerac’ a Plagiarism,” Boston Evening Transcript, May 21, 1902.

“The Law and the Nose,” Pittsburgh Press, Sept. 10, 1902.

“Dollar Is Spent,” The Milwaukee Journal, Sept. 17, 1902.

Listener mail:

Wikipedia, Hadschi Halef Omar (retrieved July 8, 2015).

Dschinghis Khan’s disco song “Hadschi Halef Omar” is here. Translated lyrics are here.

Listener Krisztián Vida sent links to some pages and a video on “American Indians” in Central Europe.

Wikipedia, Emilio Salgari (retrieved July 8, 2015).

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Jackie Speir.

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

Please consider becoming a patron of Futility Closet — on our Patreon page you can pledge any amount per episode, and all contributions are greatly appreciated. You can change or cancel your pledge at any time, and we’ve set up some rewards to help thank you for your support.

You can also make a one-time donation via the Donate button in the sidebar 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. You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter. Thanks for listening!

Podcast Episode 64: Murder at the Priory

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In 1876 London was riveted by the dramatic poisoning of a young barrister and the sordid revelations that emerged about his household. In today’s show we’ll review the baffling case of Charles Bravo’s murder, which Agatha Christie called “one of the most mysterious poisoning cases ever recorded.”

We’ll also get an update on career possibilities for garden hermits and puzzle over how the police know that a shooting death is not a homicide.

Many thanks to Ronald Hackston for his evocative photo of The Priory, Balham, the site of Charles Bravo’s unsolved 1876 poisoning.

Sources for that feature:

James Ruddick, Death at the Priory: Sex, Love, and Murder in Victorian England, 2001.

Chirag Trivedi, “Victorian Whodunnit Solved,” BBC, Jan. 13, 2003 (accessed June 28, 2015).

“The Bravo Inquiry” and “The Theory of Suicide in the Bravo Case,” Medical Times and Gazette, Aug. 19, 1876.

Joyce Emmerson Muddock, Pages From an Adventurous Life, 1907.

Listener mail:

Amanda Williams, “Wanted: ‘Outgoing’ Hermit,” Daily Mail, May 5, 2014 (retrieved July 3, 2015).

Greater Manchester News, “Hermit Wanted for Historic Gardens,” July 3, 2009 (retrieved July 3, 2015).

“Hermit Wanted for ‘Ivory Tower’,” BBC, July 1, 2009 (retrieved July 3, 2015).

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Sam B., who sent this corroborating link (warning: this spoils the puzzle).

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

Enter coupon code CLOSET to get $5 off your first purchase at Harry’s.

Please consider becoming a patron of Futility Closet — on our Patreon page you can pledge any amount per episode, and all contributions are greatly appreciated. You can change or cancel your pledge at any time, and we’ve set up some rewards to help thank you for your support.

You can also make a one-time donation via the Donate button in the sidebar 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. You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter. Thanks for listening!

Podcast Episode 63: The Rainmaker

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In 1915 San Diego hired “rainmaker” Charles Hatfield to relieve a four-year drought. After he set to work with his 23 secret chemicals, the skies opened and torrential rains caused some of the most extreme flooding in the city’s history. In this week’s podcast we’ll discuss the effects of “Hatfield’s flood” and ponder how to assign the credit or blame.

We’ll also puzzle over why a flagrant housebreaker doesn’t get prosecuted.

Sources for our feature on “moisture accelerator” Charles Hatfield:

Garry Jenkins, The Wizard of Sun City, 2005.

Cynthia Barnett, Rain: A Natural and Cultural History, 2015.

“Hatfield Made the Sky Fall (and Fall),” Kingman [Ariz.] Daily Miner, Nov. 14, 1978.

“Hatfield Again Gambling Upon Making of Rain,” Berkeley [Calif.] Daily Gazette, Jan. 29, 1926.

“Rainmaker Wins Bet With Farmers,” Ellensburg [Wash.] Daily Record, July 28, 1921.

“With the Rainmaker,” Dawson [Yukon] Daily News, July 4, 1905.

“Rainstorms at $50 Each,” St. John [New Brunswick] Daily Sun, March 8, 1904.

This week’s first lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Hanno Zulla, who sent these corroborating links (warning: these spoil the puzzle).

The second puzzle is from Edward J. Harshman’s 1996 book Fantastic Lateral Thinking Puzzles.

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

Please consider becoming a patron of Futility Closet — on our Patreon page you can pledge any amount per episode, and all contributions are greatly appreciated. You can change or cancel your pledge at any time, and we’ve set up some rewards to help thank you for your support.

You can also make a one-time donation via the Donate button in the sidebar 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. You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter. Thanks for listening!