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 on Apple Podcasts, Android, or Google Play Music or via the RSS feed at https://futilitycloset.libsyn.com/rss.

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

Podcast Episode 257: The Sledge Patrol

Image: NASA Earth Observatory

In 1943 an isolated sledge patrol came upon a secret German weather station in northeastern Greenland. The discovery set off a series of dramatic incidents that unfolded across 400 miles of desolate coast. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll follow this arctic struggle, an often overlooked drama of World War II.

We’ll also catch some speeders and puzzle over a disastrous remedy.


In 1970 the Journal of Organic Chemistry published a paper in blank verse.

In 1899 the Journal of Mental Science described a man who cycled in his sleep.

Sources for our feature on the North-East Greenland Sledge Patrol:

David Howarth, The Sledge Patrol, 1957.

Mark Llewellyn Evans, Great World War II Battles in the Arctic, 1999.

John McCannon, A History of the Arctic: Nature, Exploration and Exploitation, 2012.

Bjørnar Olsen and Þóra Pétursdóttir, Ruin Memories: Materialities, Aesthetics and the Archaeology of the Recent Past, 2014.

Spencer Apollonio, Lands That Hold One Spellbound: A Story of East Greenland, 2008.

Jens Fog Jensen and Tilo Krause, “Wehrmacht Occupations in the New World: Archaeological and Historical Investigations in Northeast Greenland,” Polar Record 48:3 (2012), 269-279.

Leif Vanggaard, “The Effects of Exhaustive Military Activities in Man: The Performance of Small Isolated Military Units in Extreme Environmental Conditions,” Royal Danish Navy Gentofte (Denmark) Danish Armed Forces Health Services, 2001.

“History: The Sledge Patrol,” Arctic Journal, April 6, 2017.

M.J. Dunbar, “Greenland During and Since the Second World War,” International Journal 5:2 (Spring 1950), 121-140.

Maria Ackrén and Uffe Jakobsen, “Greenland as a Self-Governing Sub-National Territory in International Relations: Past, Current and Future Perspectives,” Polar Record 51:4 (July 2015), 404-412.

Anthony K. Higgins, “Exploration History and Place Names of Northern East Greenland,” Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland, Bulletin 21, 2010.

David Howarth, “Secrets of the Unknown War,” Saturday Evening Post 230:9 (Aug. 31, 1957), 30-90.

Stephan Wilkinson, “10 Great POW Escapes,” Military History 28:4 (November 2011), 28-33.

Denver David Robinson, “The World’s Most Unusual Military Unit,” Christian Science Monitor, June 22, 2016.

Robert P. Sables, “Coast Guard Emergency Acquisitions in WWII,” Sea Classics 36:10 (October 2003), 12.

“News From the Field,” American Foreign Service Journal 21:7 (July 1944), 363, 397.

Joe Alex Morris, “The Nazis Get Licked in Greenland,” Saturday Evening Post 216:35 (Feb. 26, 1944), 16-86.

Kevin L. Jamison, “The Sledge Patrol: A WWII Epic of Escape, Survival and Victory [review],” Military Review 83:4 (July/August 2003), 67.

Denver David Robinson, “The Men on the Ice,” Boston Globe, March 19, 2016, 1.

“Danes Get Merit Medals; Group Is Honored for Reporting Nazi Base in Greenland,” New York Times, June 10, 1944.

Sidney Shalett, “Secret Nazi Base in Arctic Erased; U.S. Planes and Coast Guard Discover and Destroy Radio Station Off Greenland,” New York Times, Nov. 10, 1943.

Eric Niderost, “The Weather War of WWII,” Warfare History Network, Dec. 11, 2018.

Listener mail:

“Debate to Decide How ‘Shrewsbury’ Should be Pronounced?”, BBC News, July 2, 2015.

“Shroosbury Voted the Triumphant Pronunciation in Charity Debate,” University Centre Shrewsbury, July 3, 2015.

“What Means ‘Strekningsmåling’ on Norwegian Roads?”, Travel Blog Europe, June 19, 2018.

Tanya Mohn, “Does The U.S. Take Road Safety Seriously? The Low Cost of Traffic Violations Suggests We Don’t,” Forbes, Nov. 27, 2018.

“BBC’s ‘Top Gear’ Allegedly Caught Speeding Through Norway at 151 MPH,” Fox News, June 26, 2017.

“Norway,” Speeding Europe, July 7, 2019.

Wikipedia, “SPECS (speed camera)” (accessed July 3, 2019).

“Speed Cameras Catch One Million Offenders on A2 and A12 Last Year,” DutchNews.nl, Feb. 7, 2018.

Patrick Scott and Ellie Kempster, “A Record Two Million Speeding Tickets Were Handed Out Last Year — How Punitive Are the Roads You Drive on?”, Telegraph, Oct. 25, 2018.

Wikipedia, “Pit Stop” (accessed July 4, 2019).

Wikipedia, “Denny Hulme” (accessed July 4, 2019).

“Denny Hulme,” New Zealand History, Nov. 8, 2017.

“Denny Hulme,” ESPN (accessed July 4, 2019).

Susan Orlean, Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend, 2011.

Susan Orlean, “The Dog Star,” New Yorker, Aug. 22, 2011.

Bruce Davis, “No, Rin Tin Tin Didn’t Really Win the First Best Actor Oscar,” The Wrap, Feb. 15, 2017.

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was devised by Greg. 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 256: Lasseter’s Reef


In 1930 Harold Lasseter claimed he’d discovered an enormous deposit of gold in the remote interior of Australia, and a small group of men set off into the punishing desert in search of a fortune estimated at 66 million pounds. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell the story of Lasseter’s reef, one of the most enduring legends of the Australian outback.

We’ll also reconsider the mortality rates of presidents and puzzle over an unlocked door.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 255: Death on the Ice


In 1914, 132 sealers found themselves stranded on a North Atlantic icefield as a bitter blizzard approached. Thinly dressed and with little food, they faced a harrowing night on the ice. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell the story of the Newfoundland sealing disaster, one of the most dramatic chapters in Canadian maritime history.

We’ll also meet another battlefield dog and puzzle over a rejected necklace.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 254: The Porthole Murder

Image: Wikimedia Commons

In 1947 actress Gay Gibson disappeared from her cabin on an ocean liner off the coast of West Africa. The deck steward, James Camb, admitted to pushing her body out a porthole, but insisted she had died of natural causes and not in a sexual assault. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll review the curious case of the porthole murder, which is still raising doubts today.

We’ll also explore another fraudulent utopia and puzzle over a pedestrian’s victory.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 253: The Dame of Sark

Image: Flickr

In June 1940, German forces took the Channel Islands, a small British dependency off the coast of France. They expected the occupation to go easily, but they hadn’t reckoned on the island of Sark, ruled by an iron-willed noblewoman with a disdain for Nazis. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell the story of Sibyl Hathaway and her indomitable stand against the Germans.

We’ll also overtake an earthquake and puzzle over an inscrutable water pipe.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 252: The Wild Boy of Aveyron


In 1800 a 12-year-old boy emerged from a forest in southern France, where he had apparently lived alone for seven years. His case was taken up by a young Paris doctor who set out to see if the boy could be civilized. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll explore the strange, sad story of Victor of Aveyron and the mysteries of child development.

We’ll also consider the nature of art and puzzle over the relationship between salmon and trees.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 251: Joseph Palmer’s Beard


In 1830 Joseph Palmer created an odd controversy in Fitchburg, Massachusetts: He wore a beard when beards were out of fashion. For this social sin he was shunned, attacked, and ultimately jailed. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell the story of a bizarre battle against irrational prejudice.

We’ll also see whether a computer can understand knitting and puzzle over an unrewarded long jump.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 250: The General Slocum


In 1904 a Manhattan church outing descended into horror when a passenger steamboat caught fire on the East River. More than a thousand people struggled to survive as the captain raced to reach land. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe the burning of the General Slocum, the worst maritime disaster in the history of New York City.

We’ll also chase some marathon cheaters and puzzle over a confusing speeding ticket.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 249: The Robbers Cave Experiment

robbers cave

In 1954 a social psychologist started a war between two teams of fifth graders at an Oklahoma summer camp. He wanted to investigate the sources of human conflict and how people might overcome them. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll review the Robbers Cave Experiment and examine its evolving reputation.

We’ll also dredge up a Dalek and puzzle over a hazardous job.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 248: Smoky the War Dog


In 1944, an American soldier discovered a Yorkshire terrier in an abandoned foxhole in New Guinea. Adopted by an Army photographer, she embarked on a series of colorful adventures that won the hearts of the humans around her. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell the story of Smoky the dog, one of the most endearing characters of World War II.

We’ll also contemplate chicken spectacles and puzzle over a gratified diner.

See full show notes …