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.
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.
Peter Tabb, “‘You and I Will Eat Grass …,'” History Today 55:5 (May 2005), 2-3.
Paul Sanders, “Managing Under Duress: Ethical Leadership, Social Capital and the Civilian Administration of the British Channel Islands During the Nazi Occupation, 1940-1945,” Journal of Business Ethics 93, Supplement 1 (2010), 113-129.
William Tuohy, “Britain Files Reveal a Dark Chapter of War Years Nazis Occupied the Channel Islands Until Mid-1945, and Many Residents Collaborated,” Los Angeles Times, Dec. 5, 1992, 3.
Marcus Binney, “Release of War Files Reopens the Wounds of Nazi Occupation,” Times, Dec. 2, 1992.
Julia Pascal, “Comment & Analysis: Our Hidden History: Sixty Years After the Deportation of Britons from the Channel Islands, the Suffering Is Neither Acknowledged Nor Compensated,” Guardian, Sept. 5, 2002, 1.23.
Ray Clancy, “War Files Show How Alderney Was Left Alone Against Nazis,” Times, Dec. 2, 1992.
William Montalbano, “Nazi Reports Raise Islands’ Painful Past: Channel Islands’ Invasion Created Moral Dilemmas,” Toronto Star, Dec. 1, 1996, A.8.
Andrew Phillips, “The Ghosts of War,” Maclean’s 106:1 (Jan. 4, 1993), 50-51.
“Taylor: Remembering the Channel Islands Occupation,” Toronto Sun, Nov. 3, 2018.
Rosemary F. Head et al., “Cardiovascular Disease in a Cohort Exposed to the 1940–45 Channel Islands Occupation,” BMC Public Health 8:303 (2008).
Madeleine Bunting, “Living With the Enemy,” The World Today 71:3 (June/July 2015), 10.
This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was offered by M. Lobak in the old Soviet popular science magazine Kvant (collected with other such puzzles by Timothy Weber in the excellent 1996 book Quantum Quandaries).
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Many thanks to Doug Ross for the music in this episode.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
At the height of her fame in 1943, movie star Gene Tierney contracted German measles during pregnancy and bore a daughter with severe birth defects. The strain ended her marriage to Oleg Cassini and sent her into a breakdown that lasted years. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe Tierney’s years of heartbreak and the revelation that compounded them.
We’ll also visit some Japanese cats and puzzle over a disarranged corpse.
The first woman to circumnavigate the world did so dressed as a man. In 1766, 26-year-old Jeanne Baret joined a French expedition hoping to conceal her identity for three years. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell the story of her historic journey around the globe.
We’ll also hear Mark Twain’s shark story and puzzle over a foiled con artist.
In February 1943, hundreds of German women joined in a spontaneous protest in central Berlin. They were objecting to the roundup of some of the city’s last Jews — their husbands. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe the Rosenstrasse protest, a remarkable example of civil disobedience.
We’ll also ponder whether a computer can make art and puzzle over some unusual phone calls.