Podcast

The Futility Closet podcast is a weekly show featuring forgotten stories from the pages of history. Join us each Monday for surprising and curious tales from the past and to challenge yourself with our lateral thinking puzzles.

You can listen using the streaming players below, or subscribe by RSS or by clicking one of these buttons:

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Support us on Patreon to get behind-the-scenes news, outtakes, extra lateral thinking puzzles, and more.

If you have any questions or comments, please write to us at podcast@futilitycloset.com. Thanks for listening!

Podcast Episode 141: Abducted by Indians, a Captive of Whites

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cynthia_Ann_Parker.jpg

In 1836, Indians abducted a 9-year-old girl from her home in East Texas. She made a new life among the Comanche, with a husband and three children. Then, after 24 years, the whites abducted her back again. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell the story of Cynthia Ann Parker, caught up in a war between two societies.

We’ll also analyze a forger’s motives and puzzle over why a crowd won’t help a dying woman.

Intro:

Mathematician Ernst Straus invented a shape in which a ball might bounce forever without finding a hole.

In 1874 a Massachusetts composer set the American constitution to music.

Sources for our feature on Cynthia Ann Parker:

Margaret Schmidt Hacker, Cynthia Ann Parker: The Life and the Legend, 1990.

Jack K. Selden, Return: The Parker Story, 2006.

Jan Reid, “One Who Was Found: The Legend of Cynthia Ann Parker,” in Michael L. Collins, ed., Tales of Texoma, 2005.

Jo Ella Powell Exley, Frontier Blood, 2001.

Jack C. Ramsay Jr., Sunshine on the Prairie, 1990.

Richard Selcer, “The Robe,” Wild West 28:5 (February 2016), 60-64.

Glen Sample Ely, “Myth, Memory, and Massacre: The Pease River Capture of Cynthia Ann Parker [review],” Southwestern Historical Quarterly 115:1 (July 2011), 91-92.

Gregory Michno, “Nocona’s Raid and Cynthia Ann’s Recapture,” Wild West 23:2 (August 2010), 36-43.

Paul H. Carlson and Tom Crum, “The ‘Battle’ at Pease River and the Question of Reliable Sources in the Recapture of Cynthia Ann Parker,” Southwestern Historical Quarterly 113:1 (July 2009), 32-52.

Anne Dingus, “Cynthia Ann and Quanah Parker,” Texas Monthly 27:5 (May 1999), 226.

“Cynthia Ann Seized History,” Southern Living 25:3 (March 5, 1990), 61.

Lawrence T. Jones III, “Cynthia Ann Parker and Pease Ross: The Forgotten Photographs,” Southwestern Historical Quarterly 93:3 (January 1990), 379-384.

Rupert N. Richardson, “The Death of Nocona and the Recovery of Cynthia Ann Parker,” Southwestern Historical Quarterly 46:1 (July 1942), 15-21.

Listener mail:

Donald MacGillivray, “When Is a Fake Not a Fake? When It’s a Genuine Forgery,” Guardian, July 1, 2005.

Noah Charney, “Why So Many Art Forgers Want to Get Caught,” Atlantic, Dec. 22, 2014.

Jonathon Keats, “Masterpieces for Everyone? The Case of the Socialist Art Forger Tom Keating,” Forbes, Dec. 13, 2012.

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Paul Sophocleous, 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 Google Play Music 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 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 140: Ramanujan

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:RamanujanCambridge.jpg

In 1913, English mathematician G.H. Hardy received a package from an unknown accounting clerk in India, with nine pages of mathematical results that he found “scarcely possible to believe.” In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast, we’ll follow the unlikely friendship that sprang up between Hardy and Srinivasa Ramanujan, whom Hardy called “the most romantic figure in the recent history of mathematics.”

We’ll also probe Carson McCullers’ heart and puzzle over a well-proportioned amputee.

Intro:

W.H. Hill’s signature was unchanged when inverted.

Room 308 of West Java’s Samudra Beach Hotel is reserved for the Indonesian goddess Nyai Loro Kidul.

Sources for our feature on Srinivasa Ramanujan:

Robert Kanigel, The Man Who Knew Infinity, 1991.

K. Srinivasa Rao, Srinivasa Ramanujan: A Mathematical Genius, 1998.

S.R. Ranganathan, Ramanujan: The Man and the Mathematician, 1967.

Bruce C. Berndt and Robert A. Rankin, Ramanujan: Letters and Commentary, 1991.

G.H. Hardy, “The Indian Mathematician Ramanujan,” American Mathematical Monthly 44:3 (March 1937), 137-155.

Gina Kolata, “Remembering a ‘Magical Genius,'” Science 236:4808 (June 19, 1987), 1519-1521.

E.H. Neville, “Srinivasa Ramanujan,” Nature 149:3776 (March 1942), 293.

Bruce C. Berndt, “Srinivasa Ramanujan,” American Scholar 58:2 (Spring 1989), 234-244.

B.M. Srikantia, “Srinivasa Ramanujan,” American Mathematical Monthly 35:5 (May 1928), 241-245.

S.G. Gindikin, “Ramanujan the Phenomenon,” Quantum 8:4 (March/April 1998), 4-9.

“Srinivasa Ramanujan” in Timothy Gowers, June Barrow-Green, and Imre Leader, eds., Princeton Companion to Mathematics, 2010.

“Srinivasa Aiyangar Ramanujan,” MacTutor History of Mathematics (accessed Jan. 22, 2017).

In the photo above, Ramanujan is at center and Hardy is at far right.

Listener mail:

“Myth Debunked: Audrey Hepburn Did Not Work for the Resistance” [in Dutch], Dutch Broadcast Foundation, Nov. 17, 2016.

“Audrey Hepburn’s Son Remembers Her Life,” Larry King Live, CNN, Dec. 24, 2003.

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Tyler Rousseau.

You can listen using the player above, download this episode directly, or subscribe on iTunes or Google Play Music 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 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 139: The Painter’s Revenge

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:HanVanMeegerenOct1945.jpg
Image: Wikimedia Commons

When critics dismissed his paintings, Dutch artist Han van Meegeren decided to seek his revenge on the art world: He devoted himself to forgery and spent six years fabricating a Vermeer masterpiece. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast, we’ll recount the career of a master forger and the surprising mistake that eventually brought him down.

We’ll also drop in on D.B. Cooper and puzzle over an eyeless fruit burglar.

Intro:

In 1976, the New York Times accidentally dated an issue “March 10, 1075.”

In 1987, University of Illinois freshman Mike Hayes financed his education by asking Chicago Tribune readers for a penny apiece.

Sources for our feature on Han van Meegeren:

Edward Dolnick, The Forger’s Spell, 2008.

Jonathan Lopez, The Man Who Made Vermeers, 2008.

John Raymond Godley, Van Meegeren: A Case History, 1967.

John Raymond Godley, Master Art Forger: The Story of Han Van Meegeren, 1966.

P.B. Coremans, Van Meegeren’s Faked Vermeers and de Hooghs: A Scientific Examination, 1949.

Humphrey Van Loo, “Art Hoax Which Cost the World Millions,” Britannia and Eve 33:4 (October 1946).

“The Man Who Paints: Hans Van Meegeren Stands Trial at Amsterdam,” Sphere 191:2493 (Nov. 15, 1947).

“The Strange Story of the Forged Vermeers,” Sphere 184:2400 (Jan. 19, 1946).

Serena Davies, “The Forger Who Fooled the World,” Telegraph, Aug. 5, 2006.

“Han van Meegeren,” Fake or Fortune?, BBC One.

Peter Schjeldahl, “Dutch Master,” New Yorker, Oct. 27, 2008.

Listener mail:

Chris Ingalls, “Scientists Say They May Have New Evidence in D.B. Cooper Case,” USA Today, Jan. 16, 2017.

Erik Lacitis, “Does That Evidence Truly Tie D.B. Cooper to Boeing? Plot Thickens,” Seattle Times, Jan. 20, 2017.

Citizen Sleuths.

Wikipedia, “Avoidance Speech” (accessed Jan. 27, 2017).

Bryant Rousseau, “Talking to In-laws Can Be Hard. In Some Languages, It’s Impossible,” New York Times, Jan. 9, 2017.

Danny Lewis, “Austrian Town Seeks Professional Hermit,” Smithsonian, Jan. 17, 2017.

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Ned Harkness. The “Lincolnshire Household Riddle” appears in Notes and Queries, Nov. 2, 1872.

You can listen using the player above, download this episode directly, or subscribe on iTunes or Google Play Music 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 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 138: Life in a Cupboard

patrick fowler

In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell two stories about people who spent years confined in miserably small spaces. North Carolina slave Harriet Jacobs spent seven years hiding in a narrow space under her grandmother’s roof, evading her abusive owner, and Irishman Patrick Fowler spent most of World War I hiding in the cabinet of a sympathetic family in German-occupied France.

We’ll also subdivide Scotland and puzzle over a ballerina’s silent reception.

Intro:

During a printers’ strike in 1923, New York newspapers put out a paper with 10 nameplates.

Henry Hudson’s journal reports an encounter with a mermaid in 1610.

Sources for our feature on Harriet Jacobs and Patrick Fowler:

Harriet Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, 1861.

Jean Fagan Yellin, Harriet Jacobs: A Life, 2004.

Jean Fagan Yellin, ed., The Harriet Jacobs Family Papers, 2008.

Daneen Wardrop, “‘I Stuck the Gimlet in and Waited for Evening’: Writing and Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl,” Texas Studies in Literature and Language 49:3 (Fall 2007), 209-229.

Christina Accomando, “‘The Laws were Laid Down to Me Anew’: Harriet Jacobs and the Reframing of Legal Fictions,” African American Review 32:2 (Summer 1998), 229-245.

Georgia Kreiger, “Playing Dead: Harriet Jacobs’s Survival Strategy in Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl,” African American Review 42:3/4 (Fall 2008), 607-621, 795.

Anne Bradford Warner, “Harriet Jacobs at Home in Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl,” Southern Quarterly 45.3 (Spring 2008), 30-47.

Miranda A. Green-Barteet, “‘The Loophole of Retreat’: Interstitial Spaces in Harriet Jacobs’s Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl,” South Central Review 30:2 (Summer 2013) 53-72.

Anna Stewart, “Revising ‘Harriet Jacobs’ for 1865,” American Literature 82:4 (2010), 701-724.

John Devine and Chris Glennon, “WWI Film to Tell How Irish Soldier Spent Four Years in Cupboard,” Irish Independent, Jan. 6, 2000.

Frank Moss, “He Lived in Cupboard for 4 Years: True-Life Adventure,” Answers 127:3287 (April 30, 1955).

“By the Skin of His Teeth,” Top Spot, Nov. 28, 1959.

“Left-Hand Door,” Time 9:12 (March 21, 1927), 16.

Tony Millett, “WW 1 Centenary: The Soldier Who Came Home to Devizes After Four Years in Hiding Behind German Lines,” Marlborough News, Aug. 1, 2014.

“Cupboard Used by Trooper Patrick Fowler as Refuge During the First World War,” Imperial War Museums (accessed Jan. 22, 2017).

Listener mail:

Wikipedia, “Islay” (accessed Jan. 21, 2017).

Stand Still, Stay Silent, “The Nordic Languages,” Oct. 13, 2014.

Stand Still, Stay Silent, “Old World Language Families,” Oct. 14, 2014.

Reuters has two photos from the 1999 molasses flood in Delft, the Netherlands.

Listener Vadas Gintautas’ bluegrass band:

molasses disaster

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

You can listen using the player above, download this episode directly, or subscribe on iTunes or Google Play Music 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 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 137: The Mystery of Fiona Macleod

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Croix_celtiques_sur_Inisheer,_%C3%AEles_d%27Aran,_Irlande.jpg
Image: Wikimedia Commons

When the Scottish writer William Sharp died in 1905, his wife revealed a surprising secret: For 10 years he had kept up a second career as a reclusive novelist named Fiona Macleod, carrying on correspondences and writing works in two distinctly different styles. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll explore Sharp’s curious relationship with his feminine alter ego, whose sporadic appearances perplexed even him.

We’ll also hunt tigers in Singapore and puzzle over a surprisingly unsuccessful bank robber.

Intro:

In 1904 Mrs. Membury, of Hyde Corner, Bridport, Dorset, set out to make a snake of stamps.

In 1996, mathematician Michael J. Bradley noticed that his son’s Little League rulebook specified a geometrically impossible home plate.

Sources for our feature on Fiona Macleod:

Flavia Alaya, William Sharp — “Fiona Macleod,” 1855-1905, 1970.

Terry L. Meyers, The Sexual Tensions of William Sharp, 1996.

John Sutherland, Curiosities of Literature, 2013.

“Sharp’s Death Solves a Literary Mystery,” New York Times, Dec. 15, 1905.

Emmeline Pethick Lawrence, “A Man With Two Souls,” Votes for Women, Jan. 6, 1911.

“The Past Year’s Literary Output,” Sydney Morning Herald, Feb. 16, 1901.

“Fiona Macleod,” Athenaeum 3733 (May 13, 1899), 596.

“Fiona Macleod,” The Academy, May 15, 1897, 525-526.

Georgiana Goddard King, “Fiona Macleod,” Modern Language Notes 33:6 (June 1918), 352-356.

Alfred Noyes, “Fiona Macleod,” Fortnightly Review 79:469 (January 1906), 163.

“Fiona Macleod,” The Academy, Dec. 16, 1905, 1312-1313.

Ethel Rolt-Wheeler, “Fiona Macleod — The Woman,” Fortnightly Review 106:635 (November 1919), 780-790.

Frank Rinder, “William Sharp — ‘Fiona Macleod,'” Art Journal, February 1906, 44-45.

“Miss Fiona Macleod,” The Sketch 23:296 (Sept. 28, 1898), 430.

“Fiona Macleod,” Vogue 13:13 (March 30, 1899), 206.

Catharine A. Janvier, “Fiona Macleod and Her Creator William Sharp,” North American Review 184:612 (April 5, 1907), 718-732.

William Sharp “Fiona Macleod” Archive, Institute of English Studies, University of London.

James Norman Hall, Oh Millersville!, 1940.

Edward Brunner, “‘Writing Another Kind of Poetry’: James Norman Hall as ‘Fern Gravel’ in Oh Millersville!”, Iowa Journal of Cultural Studies 8/9 (Spring 2006), 44-59.

Listener mail:

Cara Giaimo, “How Millions of Secret Silk Maps Helped POWs Escape Their Captors in WWII,” Atlas Obscura, Dec. 20, 2016.

“A Tiger in Town,” Straits Times, Aug. 13, 1902.

“Notes of the Day,” Straits Times, Oct. 27, 1930.

Tom Standage, A History of the World in Six Glasses, 2010.

Mark Pendergrast, Uncommon Grounds: The History of Coffee and How It Transformed Our World, 2010.

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Davide Tassinari, 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 Google Play Music 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 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 136: The Boston Molasses Disaster

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:BostonMolassesDisaster.jpg

In 1919 a bizarre catastrophe struck Boston’s North End: A giant storage tank failed, releasing 2 million gallons of molasses into a crowded business district at the height of a January workday. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell the story of the Boston Molasses Disaster, which claimed 21 lives and inscribed a sticky page into the city’s history books.

We’ll also admire some Scandinavian statistics and puzzle over a provocative Facebook photo.

Intro:

In 1888 three women reported encountering a 15-foot flying serpent in the woods near Columbia, S.C.

In 1834 the American Journal of Science and Arts reported the capture of a pair of conjoined catfish near Fort Johnston, N.C.

Sources for our feature on the Boston Molasses Disaster:

Stephen Puleo, Dark Tide: The Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919, 2003.

Fred Durso Jr., “The Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919,” NFPA Journal 105:3 (May/June 2011), 90-93.

Sean Potter, “Retrospect: January 15, 1919: Boston Molasses Flood,” Weatherwise 64:1 (January/February 2011), 10-11.

Kaylie Duffy, “Today in Engineering History: Molasses Tanker Explodes, Kills 21,” Product Design & Development, Jan. 15, 2015.

Steve Puleo, “Death by Molasses,” American History 35:6 (February 2001), 60-66.

Chuck Lyons, “A Sticky Tragedy,” History Today 59.1 (January 2009), 40-42.

Dick Sinnott, “21 Persons Drowned in Molasses Flood,” Reading [Pa.] Eagle, Jan. 15, 1959.

Edwards Park, “Without Warning, Molasses in January Surged Over Boston,” Smithsonian 14:8 (November 1983), 213-230.

“12 Killed When Tank of Molasses Explodes,” New York Times, Jan. 16, 1919.

Ferris Jabr, “The Science of the Great Molasses Flood,” Scientific American, Aug. 1, 2013.

United Press International, “The Great Boston Molasses Disaster of 1919,” Jan. 17, 1979.

Peter Schworm, “Nearly a Century Later, Structural Flaw in Molasses Tank Revealed,” Boston Globe, Jan. 14, 2015.

William J. Kole, “Slow as Molasses? Sweet but Deadly 1919 Disaster Explained,” Associated Press, Nov. 24, 2016.

Erin McCann, “Solving a Mystery Behind the Deadly ‘Tsunami of Molasses’ of 1919,” New York Times, Nov. 26, 2016. (The corn syrup video is midway down the page.)

Jason Daley, “The Sticky Science Behind the Deadly Boston Molasses Disaster,” Smithsonian, Nov. 28, 2016.

Jennifer Ouellette, “Incredible Physics Behind the Deadly 1919 Boston Molasses Flood,” New Scientist, Nov. 24, 2016.

The Boston Public Library has photos and newspaper headlines.

Listener mail:

Erik Bye’s song on the 15th Wisconsin Regiment:

Statistics Norway’s names database.

Wikipedia, “Old Norse” (accessed Jan. 5, 2017).

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Tommy Honton, 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 Google Play Music 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 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 135: Lateral Thinking Puzzles

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Thinking#mediaviewer/File:Mono_pensador.jpg

Here are six new lateral thinking puzzles to test your wits and stump your friends — play along with us as we try to untangle some perplexing situations using yes-or-no questions.

Below are the sources for this week’s puzzles. In a few places we’ve included links to further information — these contain spoilers, so don’t click until you’ve listened to the episode:

Puzzle #1 was devised by Sharon. Here’s some more information.

Puzzle #2 was contributed by listener Jon Sweitzer-Lamme, who sent these corroborating links.

Puzzle #3 is from listener Jonathan Knoell.

Puzzle #4 is from listener Nick Hare.

Puzzle #5 is from Paul Sloane and Des MacHale’s 2014 book Remarkable Lateral Thinking Puzzles.

Puzzle #6 was devised by Greg. Here’s a link.

You can listen using the player above, download this episode directly, or subscribe on iTunes or Google Play Music 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 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.

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

Podcast Episode 134: The Christmas Truce

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Illustrated_London_News_-_Christmas_Truce_1914.jpg

In December 1914 a remarkable thing happened on the Western Front: British and German soldiers stopped fighting and left their trenches to greet one another, exchange souvenirs, bury their dead, and sing carols in the spirit of the holiday season. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell the story of the Christmas truce, which one participant called “one of the highlights of my life.”

We’ll also remember James Thurber’s Aunt Sarah and puzzle over an anachronistic twin.

Intro:

In 1898, G.W. Roberts of Birmingham made a full-size piano from 3,776 matchboxes and 5 pounds of glue.

In 1892, 69 men raced 302 miles on stilts, from Bordeaux to Bayonne and Biarritz and back.

Sources for our feature on the Christmas truce:

Terri Blom Crocker, The Christmas Truce: Myth, Memory, and the First World War, 2016.

Stanley Weintraub, Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce, 2001.

Chris Baker, The Truce: The Day the War Stopped, 2014.

Peter Hart, “Christmas Truce,” Military History 31:5 (January 2015), 64-70.

Joe Perry, Christmas in Germany: A Cultural History, 2010.

Ian Herbert, “Muddy Truth of the Christmas Truce Game,” Independent, Dec. 24, 2014.

David Brown, “Remembering a Victory For Human Kindness,” Washington Post, Dec. 25, 2004.

“Alfred Anderson, 109, Last Man From ‘Christmas Truce’ of 1914,” New York Times, Nov. 22, 2005.

“The Christmas Truce, 1914,” The Henry Williamson Society (accessed Dec. 16, 2016).

Mike Dash, “The Story of the WWI Christmas Truce,” Smithsonian, Dec. 23, 2011.

Stephen Moss, “Truce in the Trenches Was Real, But Football Tales Are a Shot in the Dark,” Guardian, Dec. 16, 2014.

Listener mail:

Kirk Ross, The Sky Men: A Parachute Rifle Company’s Story of the Battle of the Bulge and the Jump Across the Rhine, 2004.

A short version of the barrel-of-bricks episode from MythBusters:

Listener Daniel Sterman recommends the original episode, “Barrel of Bricks,” from Oct. 10, 2003.

Wikipedia, “Sandman (Wesley Dodds)” (accessed Dec. 16, 2016).

Wikipedia, “Sala Gang” (accessed Dec. 16, 2016).

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was suggested by listeners Greg Askins, Stacey Irvine, and Donald Mates. Here are three corroborating links (warning — these spoil the puzzle).

You can listen using the player above, download this episode directly, or subscribe on iTunes or Google Play Music 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 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 133: Notes and Queries

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Samuel_L_Clemens,_1909.jpg

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 pilot who saved Buckingham Palace, a ghost who confronted Arthur Conan Doyle, what Mark Twain learned from a palm reader, and a bedeviling superfluity of Norwegians.

We’ll also discover a language used only by women and puzzle over a gift that’s best given sparingly.

Intro:

Horatio Nelson’s coffin was fashioned from the mast of a French flagship that he had defeated.

In 1994 the city council of Green River, Wyoming, designated an airstrip south of town as an “intergalactic spaceport.”

Sources for our feature on notes and queries:

The story of the Singapore tiger shooting appears in this history of the Raffles hotel.

Neil Kagan’s 2013 book The Untold Civil War alleges that the 15th Wisconsin Volunteer Regiment was so thick with Norwegians that it contained dozens of men named Ole Olson. The Norwegian American Genealogical Center says that the Roster of Wisconsin Volunteers shows that the 15th had 128 men whose first name was Ole, and 75 men whose last name was Olson, Olsen, or Oleson, but just 15 whose names were Ole Olson, Ole Olsen, or Ole Oleson.

The anecdote about the Gettysburg ordinance is mentioned in Michael Sanders’ 2006 More Strange Tales of the Civil War, which cites Gregory A. Coco’s A Strange and Blighted Land, Gettysburg: The Aftermath of a Battle, 1995. I found it in Allen C. Guelzo’s Gettysburg: The Last Invasion, 2013.

Frances Wilson describes Titanic survivor Lawrence Beesley’s visit to the set of A Night to Remember in her 2011 book How to Survive the Titanic, Or The Sinking of J. Bruce Ismay.

The observation about John Ford’s eye for camerawork appears in Robert L. Carringer’s 1996 book The Making of Citizen Kane.

Dan Murphy’s Puritan name is spelled out in Willard R. Espy’s An Almanac of Words at Play, 1975. (I first wrote about unusual Puritan names in 2009.) The two long names cited by H.L. Mencken appear in his 1921 study The American Language.

Douglas Hofstadter describes Stanford art professor Matt Kahn’s confetti illusion in his foreword to Al Seckel’s 2004 book Masters of Deception.

Mark Twain wrote about Cheiro’s prophecy in his notebook in 1903. His affidavit regarding the palmist’s insight into his character is described in Sarah E. Chinn’s 2000 book Technology and the Logic of American Racism.

Three sources regarding Georges Simenon’s prolificity:

Stanley G. Eskin, Simenon, A Critical Biography, 1987.

Henry Anatole Grunwald, “World’s Most Prolific Novelist,” Life 45:18 (Nov. 3, 1958).

Aubrey Dillon-Malone, Stranger Than Fiction: A Book of Literary Lists, 1999.

Also in Stranger Than Fiction, Dillon-Malone says that Anthony Trollope’s quota of seven pages a day would sometimes carry him out of one book and into the next. Dillon-Malone says he’s quoting Malcolm Cowley, who indeed says as much in this Paris Review interview, but I’d like to confirm the anecdote.

British fighter pilot Ray Holmes’ severing of a Dornier bomber’s tail is depicted in this painting. In his 2010 book Royal Prayer: A Surprising History, David Baldwin says “the whole engagement was captured on film,” but I’ve never been able to find it. The best I’ve found is the opening moments of this National Geographic documentary:

The anecdote about Arthur Conan Doyle in Africa is from Russell Miller’s 2008 book The Adventures of Arthur Conan Doyle: A Biography.

Among other places, the story about Kant’s soul appears in Arthur Stone Dewing’s 1903 Introduction to the History of Modern Philosophy.

And Cornelia Parker’s comment about her conversation with Noam Chomsky appears in “Apocalypse Later,” Guardian, Feb. 11, 2008.

Listener mail:

Noah Shachtman, “They Cracked This 250-Year-Old Code, and Found a Secret Society Inside,” Wired, Nov. 16, 2012.

Wikipedia, “Copiale cipher” (accessed Dec. 8, 2016).

“Scientists Crack Mysterious ‘Copiale Cipher,'” Guardian, Oct. 26, 2011.

Jon Watts, “The Forbidden Tongue,” Guardian, Sept. 23, 2005.

Wikipedia, “Nüshu script” (accessed Dec. 8, 2016).

David Kahn, The Codebreakers, 1967.

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle is from Paul Sloane and Des MacHale’s 2014 book Remarkable Lateral Thinking Puzzles.

You can listen using the player above, download this episode directly, or subscribe on iTunes or Google Play Music 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 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 132: The Mad Gasser of Mattoon

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Peeping_Tom_.jpg
Image: Wikimedia Commons

In 1944, a bizarre criminal assaulted the small town of Mattoon, Illinois. Victims reported smelling a sickly sweet odor in their bedrooms before being overcome with nausea and a feeling of paralysis. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll pursue the mad gasser of Mattoon, who vanished as quickly as he had struck, leaving residents to wonder whether he had ever existed at all.

We’ll also ponder the concept of identical cousins and puzzle over a midnight stabbing.

Intro:

Enterprise, Ala., erected an $1,800 monument to the boll weevil.

In the late 1930s, a plaster mannequin named Cynthia archly toured the New York social scene.

Sources for our feature on the mad gasser of Mattoon:

Bob Ladendorf and Robert E. Bartholomew, “The Mad Gasser of Mattoon: How the Press Created an Imaginary Chemical Weapons Attack,” Skeptical Inquirer 26:4 (July/August 2002), 50-54.

Robert E. Bartholomew and Jeffrey S. Victor, “A Social-Psychological Theory of Collective Anxiety Attacks: The ‘Mad Gasser’ Reexamined,” Sociological Quarterly 45:2 (March 2004), 229–248.

Robert E. Bartholomew and Erich Goode, “Phantom Assailants & the Madness of Crowds: The Mad Gasser of Botetourt County,” Skeptic 7:4 (1999), 50.

D.M. Johnson, “The ‘Phantom Anesthetist’ of Mattoon: A Field Study of Mass Hysteria,” Journal of Abnormal Psychology 40:2 (April 1945), 175-186.

Debbie Carlson, “The Mattoon Mad Gasser — Looking Back at a Textbook Case of Mass Hysteria,” Belt Magazine, June 4, 2015.

Romeo Vitelli, “The Mad Gasser of Mattoon,” James Randi Educational Foundation Swift Blog, April 23, 2011.

Robert E. Bartholomew, Little Green Men, Meowing Nuns and Head-Hunting Panics, 2001.

Mike Dash, Borderlands, 2000.

Listener mail:

Wikipedia, “Battle of Blair Mountain” (accessed December 2, 2016).

Wikipedia, “Shelton Brothers Gang” (accessed December 2, 2016).

Wikipedia, “Tulsa race riot” (accessed December 2, 2016).

Wikipedia, “The Patty Duke Show” (accessed December 2, 2016).

The Dubliners — The Sick Note:

The Corries — The Bricklayer’s Song:

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was devised by Greg, who gathered these corroborating links (warning — these spoil the puzzle).

You can listen using the player above, download this episode directly, or subscribe on iTunes or Google Play Music 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 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!

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