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 1897, confused physician Edward J. Goodwin submitted a bill to the Indiana General Assembly declaring that he’d squared the circle — a mathematical feat that was known to be impossible. In today’s show we’ll examine the Indiana pi bill, its colorful and eccentric sponsor, and its celebrated course through a bewildered legislature and into mathematical history.
We’ll also marvel at the confusion wrought by turkeys and puzzle over a perplexing baseball game.
In 1928, 199 runners set out on a perilous 3,400-mile footrace across America, from Los Angeles to Chicago and on to New York. The winner would receive $25,000 — if anyone finished at all. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll follow the Trans-American Footrace, better known as the Bunion Derby, billed as the greatest footrace the world had ever known.
We’ll also learn some creepy things about spiders and puzzle over why one man needs three cars.
In 1863 the residents of Sandy Cove, Nova Scotia, discovered a legless man on the shore of St. Mary’s Bay. He spoke no English and could not tell them who he was or where he had come from. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell the story of “Jerome” and what is known or guessed of his past.
We’ll also learn about explosive rats in World War II and puzzle over a computer that works better when its users sit.
In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll take a tour through some oddities and unanswered questions from our research, including whether a spider saved Frederick the Great’s life, a statue with the wrong face, and a spectacularly disaster-prone oil tanker.
We’ll also revisit the lost soldiers of World War I and puzzle over some curiously lethal ship cargo.
Seemingly safe in northern New England, the residents of St. Albans, Vermont, were astonished in October 1864 when a group of Confederate soldiers appeared in their midst, terrorizing residents, robbing banks, and stealing horses. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell the story of the St. Albans raid, the northernmost land action of the Civil War.
We’ll also learn about Charles Darwin’s misadventures at the equator and puzzle over a groundskeeper’s strange method of tending grass.
Early one morning in 1912, the residents of Villisca, Iowa, discovered a horrible scene: An entire family had been brutally murdered in their sleep. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe the gruesome crime, which has baffled investigators for a hundred years.
We’ll also follow the further adventures of German sea ace Felix von Luckner and puzzle over some fickle bodyguards.
On June 23, 1858, the Catholic Church removed 6-year-old Edgardo Mortara from his family in Bologna. The reason they gave was surprising: The Mortaras were Jewish, and Edgardo had been secretly baptized. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell the story of little Edgardo and learn how his family’s plight shaped the course of Italian history.
We’ll also hear Ben Franklin’s musings on cultural bigotry and puzzle over an unexpected soccer riot.
In 1862, slave Robert Smalls was working as a pilot aboard a Confederate transport ship in Charleston, S.C., when he siezed a unique chance to escape. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll follow his daring predawn journey, which rescued 17 people from slavery and changed the course of South Carolina history.
We’ll also reflect on justice for bears and puzzle over a hijacker’s surprising request.
A quarter million Frenchmen vanished in World War I, leaving their families no clue whether they were still alive. During these anxious years, a lone man appeared on a Lyon railway platform without memory, possessions, or identification. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell the strange story of Anthelme Mangin, whose enigmatic case attracted hundreds of desperate families.
We’ll also consider some further oddities of constitutional history and puzzle over an unpopular baseball victory.