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 on Apple Podcasts, Android, or Google Play Music or via the RSS feed at http://feedpress.me/futilitycloset.

Support us on Patreon to get post-show discussions, 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 83: Nuclear Close Calls

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

In 1983, Soviet satellites reported that the United States had launched a nuclear missile toward Moscow, and one officer had only minutes to decide whether to initiate a counterstrike. In today’s show we’ll learn about some nuclear near misses from the Cold War that came to light only decades after they occurred.

We’ll also hear listeners’ input about crescent moons and newcomers to India, and puzzle over the fatal consequences of a man’s departure from his job.

Sources for our feature on Stanislav Petrov and Vasili Arkhipov:

Pavel Aksenov, “Stanislav Petrov: The Man Who May Have Saved the World,” BBC, Sept. 26, 2013.

Lynn Berry, “Russian Who ‘Saved the World’ Recalls His Decision as 50/50,” Associated Press, Sept. 17, 2015.

“Soviet Officer Honored for Averting Nuclear War,” Toledo Blade, May 22, 2004.

Mark McDonald, “Cold War, Cool Head,” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Dec. 26, 2004.

Ben Hoyle, “The Russian Who Saved the World,” Southland Times, May 22, 2015, 7.

Glen Pedersen, “Stanislav Petrov, World Hero,” Fellowship, July/August 2005, 9.

“JFK Tried to Drive Wedge Between Cubans, Soviets,” Toledo Blade, Oct. 13, 2002.

“Papers: Annihilation Narrowly Averted,” Lawrence [Kan.] Journal-World, Oct. 12, 2002.

“Revealed: Soviet Sub Almost Attacked in ’62,” Peace Magazine, January-March 2003, 31.

Listener mail:

The Museum of London’s exhibition The Crime Museum Uncovered runs through April 10, 2016.

Wordnik defines griffinism as “In India and the East, the state or character of a griffin or new-comer.”

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Andrew H., 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 82: Stealing Abe Lincoln

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

In 1876, a gang of inept Chicago counterfeiters launched an absurd plot to steal the body of Abraham Lincoln and hold it for ransom. In today’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast, we’ll follow their comical attempts to carry out the bizarre scheme, and uncover the secret society that was formed afterward to protect Lincoln’s corpse.

We’ll also puzzle over an overlooked way to reduce the odds of dying of a heart attack.

Sources for our feature on Lincoln’s bodysnatchers:

Thomas J. Craughwell, Stealing Lincoln’s Body, 2007.

Bonnie Stahlman Speer, The Great Abraham Lincoln Hijack, 1997.

John Carroll Power, History of an Attempt to Steal the Body of Abraham Lincoln, 1890.

Thomas J. Craughwell, “A Plot to Steal Lincoln’s Body,” U.S. News, June 24, 2007.

David B. Williams, “The Odd Reburials of Abraham Lincoln,” Seattle Times, April 13, 2007.

Ray Bendici, “Thomas J. Craughwell Discusses the Odd Plot to Steal Lincoln’s Body,” Connecticut Magazine, Nov. 12, 2013.

Don Babwin, “Presidential Heist,” Associated Press, May 13, 2007.

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle is adapted from a puzzle in 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. Thanks for listening!

Podcast Episode 81: The Typhus Hoax

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

In 1939, as Germany was sending the people of Poland to labor and death camps, two doctors found a unique way to save their countrymen — by faking an epidemic. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll learn about their clever plan, which ultimately saved 8,000 people.

We’ll also consider four schemes involving tiny plots of land and puzzle over why a library would waive its fees for a lost book.

Sources for our feature on Eugene Lazowski:

Damon Adams, “2 Doctors Used Typhus to Save Thousands in Wartime,” American Medical News, July 5, 2004.

Yoav Goor, “When the Test Tube Was Mightier Than the Gun: A Polish Doctor Out-Frightens the Nazis,” Israel Medical Association Journal, 15:4 (April 2013), 198.

Bernard Dixon, “Mimicry and More,” British Medical Journal, Nov. 24, 1990.

Mohammad Mooty and Larry I Lutwick, “Epidemic Typhus Fever,” in Larry I. Lutwick and Suzanne M. Lutwick, Beyond Anthrax: The Weaponization of Infectious Diseases, 2009.

Trevor Jensen, “Dr. Eugene Lazowski: 1913-2006,” Chicago Tribune, Dec. 22, 2006.

Listener mail:

J. Craig Anderson, “Cards Against Humanity Buys Remote Maine Island, Calls It ‘Hawaii 2’,” Portland Press Herald, December 24, 2014.

Sarah Hulett, “Inchvesting In Detroit: A Virtual Realty,” NPR, March 4, 2010.

Wikipedia, The Good Earth (Manfred Mann’s Earth Band album).

Weekend Telegraph, “Sitting on a Slice of the Good Earth,” Sept. 23, 1995.

Patrick Barkham, “What Greenpeace Could Learn From Manfred Mann About Saving the Environment,” Guardian, July 5, 2015.

Paul Evans, “Diversionary Tactics — The Imaginative Campaigns Protecting the Countryside From Developers,” Guardian, March 31, 2009.

Wikipedia, “Alice’s Meadow.”

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Lawrence Miller.

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 80: ‘Black Like Me’: Race Realities Under Jim Crow

john howard griffin

In 1959, Texas journalist John Howard Griffin darkened his skin and lived for six weeks as a black man in the segregated South. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe his harrowing experience and what it taught him about the true state of race relations in America.

We’ll also ponder crescent moons, German submarines, and griffins in India and puzzle over why a man would be arrested for winning a prize at a county fair.

Sources for our feature on John Howard Griffin:

John Howard Griffin, Black Like Me, 1961.

Robert Bonazzi, Man in the Mirror: John Howard Griffin and the Story of Black Like Me, 2010.

Maurice Dolbier, “Blinding Disguise in South,” Miami News, Oct. 15, 1961.

Jerome Weeks, “‘Black Like Me’ Just One of Many Roles for John Howard Griffin,” Dallas Morning News, Sept. 19, 1997.

H.W. Quick, “He Finds Bias Blighting North, South,” Milwaukee Sentinel, Jan. 16, 1964.

Karen De Witt, “Oppressor Shown What Being Oppressed Is Like,” Ottawa Citizen, Nov. 1, 1977.

Ray Sprigle, In the Land of Jim Crow, 1949.

Lucile Torkelson, “Writer Crosses the Race Barrier,” Milwaukee Sentinel, Oct. 29, 1969.

Research questions:

Here’s the image of the star and crescent:

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Star_and_Crescent.svg

And here are the sources I’ve found that describe the German submarine rescue:

Wolfgang Frank, The Sea Wolves, 1955.

Arch Whitehouse, Subs and Submariners, 1961.

Jacques Yves Cousteau, Captain Cousteau’s Underwater Treasury, 1959.

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Lawrence Miller.

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.

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

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 79: One Square Inch of the Yukon

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Klondike_Big_Inch_Land_Promotion_Certificate.jpg
Image: Wikimedia Commons

If you opened a box of Quaker Oats in 1955, you’d find a deed to one square inch of land in northwestern Canada. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell the story behind the Klondike Big Inch land giveaway, whose bizarre consequences are still being felt today.

We’ll also hear about a time traveler who visited the British Museum in 1997 and puzzle over why a prizewinning farmer gives away his best seed to his competitors.

Sources for our feature on the Klondike Big Inch land promotion:

Jack McIver, “The Great Klondike Big Inch Land Caper,” Ottawa Citizen, March 27, 1975.

“The Great Klondike Rush of ’55,” Ottawa Citizen, Dec. 8, 1955.

“Sgt. Preston Inspired Great Yukon Land Deals,” Reading (Pa.) Eagle, Jan. 1, 1987.

Dave White, “Quaker Oats Klondike Deed Scam Still Sizzling,” Yukon News, Jan. 26, 1990.

“Cereal Giveaway Now a Pain,” Montreal Gazette, May 12, 1971.

“The Klondike Big Inch,” yukoninfo, accessed 10/23/2015.

John Robert Colombo, Canadian Literary Landmarks, 1984.

Big Inch deeds can sometimes be found on eBay — here are two that sold in March.

Sources for our feature on Enoch Soames, time travel, and literary memory:

Max Beerbohm, “Enoch Soames: A Memory of the Eighteen-Nineties,” 1916.

Teller, “A Memory of the Nineteen-Nineties,” Atlantic, November 1997.

Chris Jones, “The Honor System,” Esquire, October 2012.

The Flickr photo of Soames is here, and there’s a bit more background here. 10/27/2015 UPDATE: Listener Steve Winters has found another photo (about midway down the page). (Thanks, Steve.)

This week’s lateral thinking puzzles are from Paul Sloane and Des MacHale’s 1996 book Intriguing 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. Thanks for listening!

Podcast Episode 78: Snowshoe Thompson

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Snowshoe_Thompson.jpg

In the 1850s, settlers in western Nevada were cut off from the rest of the world each winter by deep snow. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll learn about their lifeline, Norwegian immigrant John Thompson, who for 20 years carried mail, medicine, and supplies through 90 miles of treacherous snowdrifts on a pair of homemade skis.

We’ll also hear listener contributions regarding prison camp escape aids in World War II and puzzle over how lighting a cigarette results in a lengthy prison sentence.

Sources for our feature on Snowshoe Thompson:

Alton Pryor, Classic Tales in California History, 1999.

Erling Ylvisaker, Eminent Pioneers, 1934.

Kay Grant, “‘Snowshoe’ Thompson: The Norwegian Who Mastered the Rugged Sierra Nevada to Deliver the U.S. Mail,” Wild West 18:4 (December 2005): 10, 68-69.

“‘Snowshoe’ Thompson Finally Gets His Due,” Deseret News, May 15, 1976.

Alan Drummer, “Miracle on Skis,” Milwaukee Journal, March 1, 1985.

Larry Walsh, “‘Snowshoe’ Thompson Knew How to Carry the Mail,” Pittsburgh Press, Feb. 26, 1992.

“Snowshoe Thompson,” Carroll Herald, Dec. 22, 1886.

Red Smith, “Snowshoe Thompson Would Have Chuckled,” Ottawa Citizen, Feb. 18, 1960.

Listener mail:

Wikipedia, Snakes and Ladders.

“Clutty and His Escape Devices,” in Ian Dear, Escape and Evasion, 2004.

H. Keith Melton, Ultimate Spy, 1996.

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 77: The Sourdough Expedition

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In 1910, four Alaskan gold miners set out to climb Mount McKinley, the highest peak in North America, to win a two-cent bar bet. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell the surprising story of the Sourdough Expedition, a mountaineering effort that one modern climber calls “superhuman by today’s standards.”

We’ll also hear about a ghoulish tourist destination and puzzle over why a painter would blame himself for World War II.

Sources for our feature on the Sourdough expedition:

Bill Sherwonit, “The Sourdough Expedition,” Alaska 68:4 (May/June 2002), 28.

Jason Strykowski, “Impossible Heights: The Alaskan Miners Who Conquered Mount McKinley,” Wild West 24:4 (December 2011), 20.

Terrence Cole, ed., The Sourdough Expedition, 1985.

W.F. Thompson, “First Account of Conquering Mt. McKinley,” New York Times, June 5, 1910.

Listener mail:

The Telegraph has a photo of the mummies in the Capuchin catacombs in Palermo, Sicily.

Wikipedia has a photo of Rosalia Lombardo, the immaculately preserved 2-year-old embalmed in 1920, and another appears here:

Karen Lange, “Lost ‘Sleeping Beauty’ Mummy Formula Found,” National Geographic News, Jan. 26, 2009 (accessed 10/10/2015).

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle is from Paul Sloane and Des MacHale’s 2005 book Outstanding 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. Thanks for listening!

Podcast Episode 76: Get Out of Jail Free

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

During World War II, the British Secret Service found a surprising way to help Allies in Nazi prisoner-of-war camps: They used doctored Monopoly sets to smuggle in maps, files, compasses, and real money. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell the story behind this clever ploy, which may have helped thousands of prisoners escape from Nazi camps.

We’ll also hear listeners’ thoughts on Jeremy Bentham’s head, Victorian tattoos, and phone-book-destroying German pirates and puzzle over murderous cabbies and moviegoers.

Sources for our feature on MI9’s use of Monopoly sets to help Allied prisoners escape during World War II:

Philip E. Orbanes, Monopoly: The World’s Most Famous Game — And How It Got That Way, 2006.

Ki Mae Heussner, “Get Out of Jail Free: Monopoly’s Hidden Maps,” ABC News, Sept. 18, 2009 (retrieved Sept. 27, 2015).

Listener mail:

Myths and legends surrounding Jeremy Bentham’s auto-icon, from University College London.

This week’s lateral thinking puzzles are from Matthew Johnstone’s 1999 book What’s the Story?

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 75: The Sea Devil

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Luckner.png
Image: Wikimedia Commons

Felix von Luckner was a romantic hero of World War I, a dashing nobleman who commanded one of the last sailing ships to fight in war. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe Luckner’s uniquely civilized approach to warfare, which won admiration even from his enemies.

We’ll also puzzle over how a product intended to prevent drug abuse ends up encouraging it.

Sources for our feature on Felix von Luckner:

Lowell Thomas, Count Luckner, The Sea Devil, 1928.

Edwin P. Hoyt, Count von Luckner: Knight of the Sea, 1969.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Auxiliary_Cruiser_Seeadler_1916-17.png
Image: Wikimedia Commons

In all, Seeadler captured 16 ships totaling 30,099 tons between Dec. 21, 1916, and Sept. 8, 1917.

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 74: Charley Parkhurst’s Secret

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“One-Eyed Charley” Parkhurst drove a stagecoach throughout California during the height of the Gold Rush, rising to the top of a difficult, dangerous, and highly competitive profession at its historic peak. Only after his death in 1879 at age 67 was it discovered that Charley was a woman. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast, we’ll tell what’s known of Charley Parkhurst’s courageous and enigmatic life story.

We’ll also hear listeners’ input on the legalities of an anti-Christian town and puzzle over a lucky driver and his passenger.

Sources for our feature on Charley Parkhurst:

Dan L. Thrapp, ed., Encyclopedia of Frontier Biography, 1991.

Gloria G. Harris and Hannah S. Cohen, Women Trailblazers of California: Pioneers to the Present, 2012.

Alton Pryor, Fascinating Women in California History, 2003.

“Thirty Years in Disguise,” New York Times, Jan. 9, 1880.

Mark McLaughlin, “Sierra History: The Strange Tale of Stagecoach Driver Charley Parkhurst,” Tahoe Daily Tribune, July 11, 2015.

“The Secret of One-Eyed Charley,” Palm Beach Post, June 29, 1958.

2015-09-21-podcast-episode-74-charley-parkhursts-secret-2

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Jillian Caldwell, 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!

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