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 1944, British captives of the Japanese in Sumatra drew morale from an unlikely source: a purebred English pointer who cheered the men, challenged the guards, and served as a model of patient fortitude. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell the story of Judy, the canine POW of World War II.
We’ll also consider the frequency of different birthdays and puzzle over a little sun.
In 1977, West German tourist Erwin Kreuz spent three days enjoying the sights, sounds, and hospitality of Bangor, Maine. Unfortunately, he thought he was in San Francisco, on the other side of the continent. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast, we’ll describe Kreuz’s unlikely adventure, which made him a local hero in his adopted city.
We’ll also consider an invisible killer and puzzle over a momentous measurement.
In 1931, a 93-year-old widow was discovered to be hoarding great wealth in New York’s Herald Square Hotel. Her death touched off an inquiry that revealed a glittering past — and a great secret. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast, we’ll tell the story of Ida Wood, which has been called “one of the most sensational inheritance cases in American history.”
We’ll also revisit the Candy Bomber and puzzle over some excessive travel.
In 1928, Belgian financier Alfred Loewenstein fell to his death from a private plane over the English Channel. How it happened has never been explained. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast, we’ll describe the bizarre incident, which has been called “one of the strangest fatalities in the history of commercial aviation.”
We’ll also consider whether people can be eaten by pythons and puzzle over an enigmatic horseman.
When a mysterious illness blinded him at age 25, British naval officer James Holman took up a new pursuit: travel. For the next 40 years he roamed the world alone, describing his adventures in a series of popular books. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast, we’ll describe Holman’s remarkable career and his unique perspective on his experiences.
We’ll also remember some separating trains and puzzle over an oddly drawn battle plan.
Joseph Medicine Crow was raised on a Montana reservation in the warrior tradition of his Crow forefathers. But during World War II he found himself applying those lessons in very different circumstances. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast, we’ll describe Joseph’s exploits in the war and how they helped to shape his future.
We’ll also consider how to distinguish identical twins and puzzle over a physicist’s beer.
George Parker Bidder was born with a surprising gift: He could do complex arithmetic in his head. His feats of calculation would earn for him a university education, a distinguished career in engineering, and fame throughout 19th-century England. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast, we’ll describe his remarkable ability and the stunning displays he made with it.
We’ll also try to dodge some foul balls and puzzle over a leaky ship.
John Hornby left a privileged background in England to roam the vast subarctic tundra of northern Canada. There he became known as “the hermit of the north,” famous for staying alive in a land with very few resources. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast, we’ll spend a winter with Hornby, who’s been called “one of the most colorful adventurers in modern history.”
We’ll also consider an anthropologist’s reputation and puzzle over an unreachable safe.
In the 1930s, German civil servant Friedrich Kellner was outraged by the increasing brutality of the Nazi party and the complicity of his fellow citizens. He began to keep a secret diary to record the crimes of the Third Reich and his condemnations of his countrymen. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast, we’ll tell the story of Friedrich’s diary and his outspoken warnings to future generations.
We’ll also ponder the problem with tardigrades and puzzle over a seemingly foolish choice.