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 145: The Pied Piper of Saipan

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Gabaldon_1944.jpg

Guy Gabaldon was an untested Marine when he landed on the Pacific island of Saipan during World War II. But he decided to fight the war on his own terms, venturing alone into enemy territory and trying to convince Japanese soldiers to surrender voluntarily. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll follow Gabaldon’s dangerous crusade and learn its surprising results.

We’ll also examine Wonder Woman’s erotic origins and puzzle over an elusive murderer.

Intro:

In 1955 Dodge introduced the La Femme — “the first car ever exclusively designed for the woman motorist.”

In 1911 a 16-year-old English girl died when a gust of wind carried her 20 feet into the air.

Sources for our feature on Guy Gabaldon:

Guy Gabaldon, Saipan: Suicide Island, 1990.

“Diminutive WWII Hero Gabaldon Dies at 80,” Associated Press, Sept. 4, 2006.

Richard Goldstein, “Guy Gabaldon, 80, Hero of Battle of Saipan, Dies,” New York Times, Sept. 4, 2006.

Jocelyn Y. Stewart, “Guy Gabaldon, 80; WWII Hero Captured 1,000 Japanese on Saipan,” Los Angeles Times, Sept. 6, 2006.

“Guy Gabaldon,” Latino Americans, PBS, Sept. 24, 2013.

Richard Gonzalez, “Filmmaker: Pacific War Hero Deserved Higher Honor,” Morning Edition, National Public Radio, April 25, 2008.

“Guy Gabaldon: An Interview and Discussion,” War Times Journal (accessed Feb. 26, 2017).

“Milestones,” Time 168:12, Sept. 18, 2006.

Gregg K. Kakesako, “‘Pied Piper’ Returning to Saipan,” Honolulu Star Bulletin, June 6, 2004.

“Guy Gabaldon,” University of Texas Oral History Project (accessed Feb. 26, 2017).

Gabaldon receives the Navy Cross, 1960:

Listener mail:

Wikipedia, “William Moulton Marston” (accessed March 9, 2017).

“The Man Behind Wonder Woman Was Inspired By Both Suffragists And Centerfolds,” NPR Books, October 27, 2014.

Jill Lepore, “The Surprising Origin Story of Wonder Woman,” Smithsonian Magazine, October 2014.

Katha Pollitt, “Wonder Woman’s Kinky Feminist Roots,” Atlantic, November 2014.

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Steven Jones (thanks also to Hanno Zulla). Here are three corroborating links (warning — these spoil the puzzle).

You can listen using the player above, download this episode directly, or subscribe on iTunes or Google Play Music 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 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 144: The Murder Castle

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:H._H._Holmes_Castle.jpg

When detectives explored the Chicago hotel owned by insurance fraudster H.H. Holmes in 1894, they found a nightmarish warren of blind passageways, trapdoors, hidden chutes, and asphyxiation chambers in which Holmes had killed dozens or perhaps even hundreds of victims. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll follow the career of America’s first documented serial killer, who headlines called “a fiend in human shape.”

We’ll also gape at some fireworks explosions and puzzle over an intransigent insurance company.

Intro:

In 1908 a Strand reader discovered an old London horse omnibus on the outskirts of Calgary.

If Henry Jenkins truly lived to 169, then as an English subject he’d have changed religions eight times.

Sources for our feature on H.H. Holmes:

Erik Larson, The Devil in the White City, 2004.

John Borowski, The Strange Case of Dr. H.H. Holmes, 2005.

Harold Schechter, Depraved: The Definitive True Story of H.H. Holmes, 1994.

Alan Glenn, “A Double Dose of the Macabre,” Michigan Today, Oct. 22, 2013.

John Bartlow Martin, “The Master of the Murder Castle,” Harper’s, December 1943.

Corey Dahl, “H.H. Holmes: The Original Client From Hell,” Life Insurance Selling, October 2013.

“Claims an Alibi: Holmes Says the Murders Were Committed by a Friend,” New York Times, July 17, 1895.

“Holmes in Great Demand: Will Be Tried Where the Best Case Can Be Made,” New York Times, July 24, 1895.

“Accused of Ten Murders: The List of Holmes’s Supposed Victims Grows Daily,” New York Times, July 26, 1895.

“The Holmes Case,” New York Times, July 28, 1895.

“Expect to Hang Holmes: Chicago Police Authorities Say They Can Prove Murder,” New York Times, July 30, 1895.

“Chicago and Holmes,” New York Times, July 31, 1895.

“No Case Against Holmes: Chicago Police Baffled in the Attempt to Prove Murder,” New York Times, Aug. 2, 1895.

“Did Holmes Kill Pitzel: The Theory of Murder Gaining Ground Steadily,” New York Times, Nov. 20, 1894.

“Holmes Fears Hatch: Denies All the Charges of Murder Thus Far Made Against Him,” New York Times, Aug. 2, 1895.

“Quinlan’s Testimony Against Holmes: They Think He Committed Most of the Murders in the Castle,” New York Times, Aug. 4, 1895.

“Modern Bluebeard: H.H. Holmes’ Castles Reveals His True Character,” Chicago Tribune, Aug. 18, 1895.

“The Case Opened: A Strong Plea, by the Prisoner for a Postponement,” New York Times, Oct. 29, 1895.

“Holmes and His Crimes: Charged with Arson, Bigamy, and Numerous Murders,” New York Times, Oct. 29, 1895.

“Holmes Grows Nervous: Unable to Face the Portrait of One of His Supposed Victims,” New York Times, Oct. 30, 1895.

“Holmes Is Found Guilty: The Jury Reaches Its Verdict on the First Ballot,” New York Times, Nov. 3, 1895.

“Holmes Sentenced to Die: The Murderer of Benjamin F. Pietzel to Be Hanged,” New York Times, Dec. 1, 1895.

“The Law’s Delays,” New York Times, Feb. 4, 1896.

“Holmes’ Victims,” Aurora [Ill.] Daily Express, April 13, 1896.

“Holmes Cool to the End,” New York Times, May 8, 1896.

Rebecca Kerns, Tiffany Lewis, and Caitlin McClure of Radford University’s Department of Psychology have compiled an extensive profile of Holmes and his crimes (PDF).

Listener mail:

The Seest disaster:

Wikipedia, “Seest Fireworks Disaster” (accessed March 3, 2017).

“Dutch Fireworks Disaster,” BBC News, May 14, 2000.

Wikipedia, “Enschede Fireworks Disaster” (accessed March 3, 2017).

“Vuurwerkramp,” Visit Enschede (accessed March 3, 2017).

Beverly Jenkins, “10 Worst Fireworks Disasters Ever,” Oddee, July 4, 2013.

Jessie Guy-Ryan, “Inside the World’s Deadliest Fireworks Accident,” Atlas Obscura, July 4, 2016.

Wikipedia, “Puttingal Temple Fire” (accessed March 3, 2017).

Rajiv G, “Kollam Temple Fire: Death Toll Reaches 111, 40 Badly Wounded,” Times of India, April 12, 2016.

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Daniel Sterman, who sent this corroborating link (warning — this spoils the puzzle).

You can listen using the player above, download this episode directly, or subscribe on iTunes or Google Play Music 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 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 143: The Conscience Fund

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Albert_Gallatin_statue_-_U.S._Department_of_Treasury_headquarters_-_Washington_D.C._-_2.JPG
Image: Wikimedia Commons

For 200 years the U.S. Treasury has maintained a “conscience fund” that accepts repayments from people who have defrauded or stolen from the government. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe the history of the fund and some of the more memorable and puzzling contributions it’s received over the years.

We’ll also ponder Audrey Hepburn’s role in World War II and puzzle over an illness cured by climbing poles.

Intro:

Wisconsin banker John Krubsack grafted 32 box elders into a living chair.

According to his colleagues, Wolfgang Pauli’s mere presence would cause accidents.

Sources for our feature on the conscience fund:

Warren Weaver Jr., “‘Conscience Fund’ at New High,” New York Times, March 18, 1987.

“$10,000 to Conscience Fund,” New York Times, July 21, 1915.

“$6,100 to Conscience Fund,” New York Times, Feb. 4, 1925.

“Swell Conscience Fund; Two Remittances, Small and Large, Bring In $4,876.70,” New York Times, Feb. 6, 1916.

“Sends $50 to War Department for Equipment Stolen in 1918,” New York Times, March 2, 1930.

“Depression Swells Total of Federal Conscience Fund,” New York Times, April 21, 1932.

“Federal Treasury Gets $300 to Add to Conscience Fund,” New York Times, March 25, 1932.

“9,896 Two-Cent Stamps Sent to City’s Conscience Fund,” New York Times, May 15, 1930.

“$30,000 to Conscience Fund; Contributor Says He Has Sent Four Times Amount He Stole,” New York Times, March 10, 1916.

“Guilt: Settling With Uncle Sam,” Time, March 30, 1987.

“The Conscience Fund: Many Thousands Contributed — Some Peculiar Cases,” New York Times, Aug. 5, 1884.

“Pays Government Fourfold; Conscience Bothered Man Who Took $8,000 from Treasury,” New York Times, June 13, 1908.

Rick Van Sant, “Guilt-Stricken Pay Up to IRS ‘Conscience Fund’ Gets Cash, Quilts,” Cincinnati Post, Jan. 26, 1996.

John Fairhall, “The Checks Just Keep Coming to the ‘Conscience Fund,'” Baltimore Sun, Dec. 10, 1991.

Donna Fox, “People Who Rip Off Uncle Sam Pay the ‘Conscience Fund,'” Christian Science Monitor, Feb. 24, 1987.

Associated Press, “Ten Thousand Dollars in Currency Is Sent to U.S. ‘Conscience Fund,'” Harrisburg [Pa.] Telegraph, July 20, 1915.

“Washington Letter,” Quebec Daily Telegraph, July 3, 1889.

“Figures of the Passing Show,” Evening Independent, Sept. 16, 1909.

James F. Clarity and Warren Weaver Jr., “Briefing: The Conscience Fund,” New York Times, Dec. 24, 1985.

Warren Weaver Jr., “‘Conscience Fund’ at New High,” New York Times, March 18, 1987.

“Conscience Fund Too Small,” Los Angeles Times, Aug. 16, 1925.

“Laborer Swells Conscience Fund,” New York Times, June 28, 1912.

“A Conscience Fund Contribution,” New York Times, Feb. 14, 1895.

“The Conscience Fund,” New York Times, March 27, 1932.

“Swells Conscience Fund: Californian, Formerly in the Navy, Gets Religion and Pays for Stationery on His Ship,” Los Angeles Times, May 5, 1915.

“2 Cents, Conscience Fund: Sent to Pay for Twice-Used Stamp — Costs Post Office a Dollar,” New York Times, June 2, 1910.

“$30,000 to Conscience Fund: Contributor Says He Has Sent Four Times Amount He Stole,” New York Times, March 10, 1916.

“‘Conscience Fund’ Rises: New Yorker’s $8 Is Item in $896.49 Sent Treasury,” New York Times, Nov. 28, 1937.

“The Conscience Fund: Many Thousands Contributed — Some Peculiar Cases,” New York Times, Aug. 5 1884.

“The Conscience Fund: Young Woman Seeks a Loan From It From a Belief It Was Created for Benefit of Honest People,” Los Angeles Times, July 13, 1914.

“Gives to Conscience Fund: Contributor of $36 ‘Forgot Tax Item’ — Another Sends $32,” New York Times, April 3, 1936.

“Conscience-Fund Flurries: Due to Religious Revivals,” Los Angeles Times, Nov. 28, 1903.

“$100 for Conscience Fund: Customs Officials Think Same Person Sent $10c a Few Days Ago,” New York Times, March 10, 1928.

“Swell Conscience Fund: Two Remittances, Small and Large, Bring In $4,876.70,” New York Times, Feb. 6, 1916.

“Conscience Fund for President: Pasadena Writer Sends Dollar to Harding to Make Good for 20-Year-Old Theft,” Los Angeles Times, April 17, 1921.

“$33 for Conscience Fund: Smuggler Sent Taft the Money After Selling His Goods,” New York Times, May 21, 1911.

“$1 to Conscience Fund: Remorseful Laborer Pays Off Debt to Government by Installments,” New York Times, Nov. 10, 1912.

“The Nation’s Conscience Fund,” Scrap Book, May 1906.

“Uncle Sam’s Conscience Fund,” Book of the Royal Blue, November 1904.

“The Conscience Fund,” Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine, July 1894.

“Gives $18,669 to Conscience Fund,” Chicago Tribune, Nov. 26, 1901.

“Large and Small Sums Swell Conscience Fund,” Virginia Chronicle, March 6, 1925.

“Miscellaneous Revenue Collections, or Conscience Fund,” Internal Revenue Manual 3.8.45.7.35 (01-01-2011), U.S. Internal Revenue Service (accessed Feb. 12, 2017).

Listener mail:

“Myth Debunked: Audrey Hepburn Did Not Work for the Resistance” [in Dutch], Dutch Broadcast Foundation, Nov. 17, 2016.

The official Audrey Hepburn site.

To see the mentioned image of Hepburn and her mother in a musical benefit concert in 1940, Samantha gives these steps:

  1. From the homepage, go to the “life & career” section.
  2. On the left side of the page, choose “1929-1940,” then “Audrey’s childhood.”
  3. Click the down arrow below the image 15 times.

A screen test of Hepburn in 1953, in which she says she gave secret ballet performances to raise money for “the underground”:

Airborne Museum’s exhibition on Audrey Hepburn and her mother, Ella van Heemstra.

Two obituaries of Michael Burn:

William Grimessept, “Michael Burn, Writer and Adventurer, Dies at 97,” New York Times, Sept. 14, 2010.

“Michael Burn,” Telegraph, Sept. 6, 2010.

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Alexander Loew. Here are two corroborating links (warning — these spoil the puzzle).

You can listen using the player above, download this episode directly, or subscribe on iTunes or Google Play Music 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 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 142: Fingerprints and Polygraphs

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

Fingerprint identification and lie detectors are well-known tools of law enforcement today, but both were quite revolutionary when they were introduced. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe the memorable cases where these innovations were first used.

We’ll also see some phantom ships and puzzle over a beer company’s second thoughts.

Intro:

In 1892, Bostonians realized that the architects of their new library had hidden their name in the façade.

In 1918, a California businessman built a 7,900-ton steamer out of ferrocement.

Sources for our feature on fingerprints and polygraphs:

Ken Alder, The Lie Detectors, 2007.

Jack Fincher, “Lifting ‘Latents’ Is Now Very Much a High-Tech Matter,” Smithsonian, October 1989, 201.

James O’Brien, The Scientific Sherlock Holmes, 2013.

Ian Leslie, Born Liars, 2011.

William J. Tilstone, Kathleen A. Savage, and Leigh A. Clark, Forensic Science: An Encyclopedia of History, Methods, and Techniques, 2006.

Benjamin Netanyahu, Criminal Justice: New Technologies and the Constitution, 1989.

Kenneth R. Moses et al., “Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS),” in The Fingerprint Sourcebook, Scientific Working Group on Friction Ridge Analysis Study and Technology and National Institute of Justice, 2011, 1-33.

Raymond Dussault, “The Latent Potential of Latent Prints,” Government Technology, Dec. 31, 1998.

Barbara Bradley, “Fingered by the Police Computer,” Christian Science Monitor, June 9, 1988.

U.S. Office of Technology Assessment, “New Technology for Investigation, Identification, and Apprehension,” in Special Report: Criminal Justice, New Technologies, and the Constitution, May 1988.

Thanks to listener Pål Grønås Drange for suggesting the Ken Moses story.

Listener mail:

Wikipedia, “Mirage” (accessed Feb. 17, 2017).

W.H. Lehn, “The Nova Zemlya Effect: An Arctic Mirage,” Journal of the Optical Society of America 69:5 (May 1979), 776-781.

Wikipedia, “Novaya Zemlya Effect” (accessed Feb. 17, 2017).

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Tommy Honton, 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 Google Play Music or via the RSS feed at http://feedpress.me/futilitycloset.

If you have a moment, please go to podcastsurvey.net to take a very short anonymous survey about today’s episode.

Please consider becoming a patron of Futility Closet — on our Patreon page you can pledge any amount per episode, 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 141: Abducted by Indians, a Captive of Whites

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

In 1836, Indians abducted a 9-year-old girl from her home in East Texas. She made a new life among the Comanche, with a husband and three children. Then, after 24 years, the whites abducted her back again. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell the story of Cynthia Ann Parker, caught up in a war between two societies.

We’ll also analyze a forger’s motives and puzzle over why a crowd won’t help a dying woman.

Intro:

Mathematician Ernst Straus invented a shape in which a ball might bounce forever without finding a hole.

In 1874 a Massachusetts composer set the American constitution to music.

Sources for our feature on Cynthia Ann Parker:

Margaret Schmidt Hacker, Cynthia Ann Parker: The Life and the Legend, 1990.

Jack K. Selden, Return: The Parker Story, 2006.

Jan Reid, “One Who Was Found: The Legend of Cynthia Ann Parker,” in Michael L. Collins, ed., Tales of Texoma, 2005.

Jo Ella Powell Exley, Frontier Blood, 2001.

Jack C. Ramsay Jr., Sunshine on the Prairie, 1990.

George U. Hubbard, The Humor and Drama of Early Texas, 2003.

Richard Selcer, “The Robe,” Wild West 28:5 (February 2016), 60-64.

Glen Sample Ely, “Myth, Memory, and Massacre: The Pease River Capture of Cynthia Ann Parker [review],” Southwestern Historical Quarterly 115:1 (July 2011), 91-92.

Gregory Michno, “Nocona’s Raid and Cynthia Ann’s Recapture,” Wild West 23:2 (August 2010), 36-43.

Paul H. Carlson and Tom Crum, “The ‘Battle’ at Pease River and the Question of Reliable Sources in the Recapture of Cynthia Ann Parker,” Southwestern Historical Quarterly 113:1 (July 2009), 32-52.

Anne Dingus, “Cynthia Ann and Quanah Parker,” Texas Monthly 27:5 (May 1999), 226.

“Cynthia Ann Seized History,” Southern Living 25:3 (March 5, 1990), 61.

Lawrence T. Jones III, “Cynthia Ann Parker and Pease Ross: The Forgotten Photographs,” Southwestern Historical Quarterly 93:3 (January 1990), 379-384.

Rupert N. Richardson, “The Death of Nocona and the Recovery of Cynthia Ann Parker,” Southwestern Historical Quarterly 46:1 (July 1942), 15-21.

Listener mail:

Donald MacGillivray, “When Is a Fake Not a Fake? When It’s a Genuine Forgery,” Guardian, July 1, 2005.

Noah Charney, “Why So Many Art Forgers Want to Get Caught,” Atlantic, Dec. 22, 2014.

Jonathon Keats, “Masterpieces for Everyone? The Case of the Socialist Art Forger Tom Keating,” Forbes, Dec. 13, 2012.

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Paul Sophocleous, who sent this corroborating link (warning — this spoils the puzzle).

You can listen using the player above, download this episode directly, or subscribe on iTunes or Google Play Music 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 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 140: Ramanujan

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

In 1913, English mathematician G.H. Hardy received a package from an unknown accounting clerk in India, with nine pages of mathematical results that he found “scarcely possible to believe.” In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast, we’ll follow the unlikely friendship that sprang up between Hardy and Srinivasa Ramanujan, whom Hardy called “the most romantic figure in the recent history of mathematics.”

We’ll also probe Carson McCullers’ heart and puzzle over a well-proportioned amputee.

Intro:

W.H. Hill’s signature was unchanged when inverted.

Room 308 of West Java’s Samudra Beach Hotel is reserved for the Indonesian goddess Nyai Loro Kidul.

Sources for our feature on Srinivasa Ramanujan:

Robert Kanigel, The Man Who Knew Infinity, 1991.

K. Srinivasa Rao, Srinivasa Ramanujan: A Mathematical Genius, 1998.

S.R. Ranganathan, Ramanujan: The Man and the Mathematician, 1967.

Bruce C. Berndt and Robert A. Rankin, Ramanujan: Letters and Commentary, 1991.

G.H. Hardy, “The Indian Mathematician Ramanujan,” American Mathematical Monthly 44:3 (March 1937), 137-155.

Gina Kolata, “Remembering a ‘Magical Genius,'” Science 236:4808 (June 19, 1987), 1519-1521.

E.H. Neville, “Srinivasa Ramanujan,” Nature 149:3776 (March 1942), 293.

Bruce C. Berndt, “Srinivasa Ramanujan,” American Scholar 58:2 (Spring 1989), 234-244.

B.M. Srikantia, “Srinivasa Ramanujan,” American Mathematical Monthly 35:5 (May 1928), 241-245.

S.G. Gindikin, “Ramanujan the Phenomenon,” Quantum 8:4 (March/April 1998), 4-9.

“Srinivasa Ramanujan” in Timothy Gowers, June Barrow-Green, and Imre Leader, eds., Princeton Companion to Mathematics, 2010.

“Srinivasa Aiyangar Ramanujan,” MacTutor History of Mathematics (accessed Jan. 22, 2017).

In the photo above, Ramanujan is at center and Hardy is at far right.

Listener mail:

“Myth Debunked: Audrey Hepburn Did Not Work for the Resistance” [in Dutch], Dutch Broadcast Foundation, Nov. 17, 2016.

“Audrey Hepburn’s Son Remembers Her Life,” Larry King Live, CNN, Dec. 24, 2003.

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Tyler Rousseau.

You can listen using the player above, download this episode directly, or subscribe on iTunes or Google Play Music 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 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 139: The Painter’s Revenge

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:HanVanMeegerenOct1945.jpg
Image: Wikimedia Commons

When critics dismissed his paintings, Dutch artist Han van Meegeren decided to seek his revenge on the art world: He devoted himself to forgery and spent six years fabricating a Vermeer masterpiece. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast, we’ll recount the career of a master forger and the surprising mistake that eventually brought him down.

We’ll also drop in on D.B. Cooper and puzzle over an eyeless fruit burglar.

Intro:

In 1976, the New York Times accidentally dated an issue “March 10, 1075.”

In 1987, University of Illinois freshman Mike Hayes financed his education by asking Chicago Tribune readers for a penny apiece.

Sources for our feature on Han van Meegeren:

Edward Dolnick, The Forger’s Spell, 2008.

Jonathan Lopez, The Man Who Made Vermeers, 2008.

John Raymond Godley, Van Meegeren: A Case History, 1967.

John Raymond Godley, Master Art Forger: The Story of Han Van Meegeren, 1966.

P.B. Coremans, Van Meegeren’s Faked Vermeers and de Hooghs: A Scientific Examination, 1949.

Humphrey Van Loo, “Art Hoax Which Cost the World Millions,” Britannia and Eve 33:4 (October 1946).

“The Man Who Paints: Hans Van Meegeren Stands Trial at Amsterdam,” Sphere 191:2493 (Nov. 15, 1947).

“The Strange Story of the Forged Vermeers,” Sphere 184:2400 (Jan. 19, 1946).

Serena Davies, “The Forger Who Fooled the World,” Telegraph, Aug. 5, 2006.

“Han van Meegeren,” Fake or Fortune?, BBC One.

Peter Schjeldahl, “Dutch Master,” New Yorker, Oct. 27, 2008.

Listener mail:

Chris Ingalls, “Scientists Say They May Have New Evidence in D.B. Cooper Case,” USA Today, Jan. 16, 2017.

Erik Lacitis, “Does That Evidence Truly Tie D.B. Cooper to Boeing? Plot Thickens,” Seattle Times, Jan. 20, 2017.

Citizen Sleuths.

Wikipedia, “Avoidance Speech” (accessed Jan. 27, 2017).

Bryant Rousseau, “Talking to In-laws Can Be Hard. In Some Languages, It’s Impossible,” New York Times, Jan. 9, 2017.

Danny Lewis, “Austrian Town Seeks Professional Hermit,” Smithsonian, Jan. 17, 2017.

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Ned Harkness. The “Lincolnshire Household Riddle” appears in Notes and Queries, Nov. 2, 1872.

You can listen using the player above, download this episode directly, or subscribe on iTunes or Google Play Music 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 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 138: Life in a Cupboard

patrick fowler

In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell two stories about people who spent years confined in miserably small spaces. North Carolina slave Harriet Jacobs spent seven years hiding in a narrow space under her grandmother’s roof, evading her abusive owner, and Irishman Patrick Fowler spent most of World War I hiding in the cabinet of a sympathetic family in German-occupied France.

We’ll also subdivide Scotland and puzzle over a ballerina’s silent reception.

Intro:

During a printers’ strike in 1923, New York newspapers put out a paper with 10 nameplates.

Henry Hudson’s journal reports an encounter with a mermaid in 1610.

Sources for our feature on Harriet Jacobs and Patrick Fowler:

Harriet Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, 1861.

Jean Fagan Yellin, Harriet Jacobs: A Life, 2004.

Jean Fagan Yellin, ed., The Harriet Jacobs Family Papers, 2008.

Daneen Wardrop, “‘I Stuck the Gimlet in and Waited for Evening’: Writing and Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl,” Texas Studies in Literature and Language 49:3 (Fall 2007), 209-229.

Christina Accomando, “‘The Laws were Laid Down to Me Anew’: Harriet Jacobs and the Reframing of Legal Fictions,” African American Review 32:2 (Summer 1998), 229-245.

Georgia Kreiger, “Playing Dead: Harriet Jacobs’s Survival Strategy in Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl,” African American Review 42:3/4 (Fall 2008), 607-621, 795.

Anne Bradford Warner, “Harriet Jacobs at Home in Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl,” Southern Quarterly 45.3 (Spring 2008), 30-47.

Miranda A. Green-Barteet, “‘The Loophole of Retreat’: Interstitial Spaces in Harriet Jacobs’s Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl,” South Central Review 30:2 (Summer 2013) 53-72.

Anna Stewart, “Revising ‘Harriet Jacobs’ for 1865,” American Literature 82:4 (2010), 701-724.

John Devine and Chris Glennon, “WWI Film to Tell How Irish Soldier Spent Four Years in Cupboard,” Irish Independent, Jan. 6, 2000.

Frank Moss, “He Lived in Cupboard for 4 Years: True-Life Adventure,” Answers 127:3287 (April 30, 1955).

“By the Skin of His Teeth,” Top Spot, Nov. 28, 1959.

“Left-Hand Door,” Time 9:12 (March 21, 1927), 16.

Tony Millett, “WW 1 Centenary: The Soldier Who Came Home to Devizes After Four Years in Hiding Behind German Lines,” Marlborough News, Aug. 1, 2014.

“Cupboard Used by Trooper Patrick Fowler as Refuge During the First World War,” Imperial War Museums (accessed Jan. 22, 2017).

Listener mail:

Wikipedia, “Islay” (accessed Jan. 21, 2017).

Stand Still, Stay Silent, “The Nordic Languages,” Oct. 13, 2014.

Stand Still, Stay Silent, “Old World Language Families,” Oct. 14, 2014.

Reuters has two photos from the 1999 molasses flood in Delft, the Netherlands.

Listener Vadas Gintautas’ bluegrass band:

molasses disaster

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Sid Collins, who sent two corroborating links (warning — these spoil the puzzle).

You can listen using the player above, download this episode directly, or subscribe on iTunes or Google Play Music 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 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 137: The Mystery of Fiona Macleod

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Croix_celtiques_sur_Inisheer,_%C3%AEles_d%27Aran,_Irlande.jpg
Image: Wikimedia Commons

When the Scottish writer William Sharp died in 1905, his wife revealed a surprising secret: For 10 years he had kept up a second career as a reclusive novelist named Fiona Macleod, carrying on correspondences and writing works in two distinctly different styles. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll explore Sharp’s curious relationship with his feminine alter ego, whose sporadic appearances perplexed even him.

We’ll also hunt tigers in Singapore and puzzle over a surprisingly unsuccessful bank robber.

Intro:

In 1904 Mrs. Membury, of Hyde Corner, Bridport, Dorset, set out to make a snake of stamps.

In 1996, mathematician Michael J. Bradley noticed that his son’s Little League rulebook specified a geometrically impossible home plate.

Sources for our feature on Fiona Macleod:

Flavia Alaya, William Sharp — “Fiona Macleod,” 1855-1905, 1970.

Terry L. Meyers, The Sexual Tensions of William Sharp, 1996.

John Sutherland, Curiosities of Literature, 2013.

“Sharp’s Death Solves a Literary Mystery,” New York Times, Dec. 15, 1905.

Emmeline Pethick Lawrence, “A Man With Two Souls,” Votes for Women, Jan. 6, 1911.

“The Past Year’s Literary Output,” Sydney Morning Herald, Feb. 16, 1901.

“Fiona Macleod,” Athenaeum 3733 (May 13, 1899), 596.

“Fiona Macleod,” The Academy, May 15, 1897, 525-526.

Georgiana Goddard King, “Fiona Macleod,” Modern Language Notes 33:6 (June 1918), 352-356.

Alfred Noyes, “Fiona Macleod,” Fortnightly Review 79:469 (January 1906), 163.

“Fiona Macleod,” The Academy, Dec. 16, 1905, 1312-1313.

Ethel Rolt-Wheeler, “Fiona Macleod — The Woman,” Fortnightly Review 106:635 (November 1919), 780-790.

Frank Rinder, “William Sharp — ‘Fiona Macleod,'” Art Journal, February 1906, 44-45.

“Miss Fiona Macleod,” The Sketch 23:296 (Sept. 28, 1898), 430.

“Fiona Macleod,” Vogue 13:13 (March 30, 1899), 206.

Catharine A. Janvier, “Fiona Macleod and Her Creator William Sharp,” North American Review 184:612 (April 5, 1907), 718-732.

William Sharp “Fiona Macleod” Archive, Institute of English Studies, University of London.

James Norman Hall, Oh Millersville!, 1940.

Edward Brunner, “‘Writing Another Kind of Poetry’: James Norman Hall as ‘Fern Gravel’ in Oh Millersville!”, Iowa Journal of Cultural Studies 8/9 (Spring 2006), 44-59.

Listener mail:

Cara Giaimo, “How Millions of Secret Silk Maps Helped POWs Escape Their Captors in WWII,” Atlas Obscura, Dec. 20, 2016.

“A Tiger in Town,” Straits Times, Aug. 13, 1902.

“Notes of the Day,” Straits Times, Oct. 27, 1930.

Tom Standage, A History of the World in Six Glasses, 2010.

Mark Pendergrast, Uncommon Grounds: The History of Coffee and How It Transformed Our World, 2010.

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Davide Tassinari, who sent this corroborating link (warning — this spoils the puzzle).

You can listen using the player above, download this episode directly, or subscribe on iTunes or Google Play Music 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 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 136: The Boston Molasses Disaster

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

In 1919 a bizarre catastrophe struck Boston’s North End: A giant storage tank failed, releasing 2 million gallons of molasses into a crowded business district at the height of a January workday. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell the story of the Boston Molasses Disaster, which claimed 21 lives and inscribed a sticky page into the city’s history books.

We’ll also admire some Scandinavian statistics and puzzle over a provocative Facebook photo.

Intro:

In 1888 three women reported encountering a 15-foot flying serpent in the woods near Columbia, S.C.

In 1834 the American Journal of Science and Arts reported the capture of a pair of conjoined catfish near Fort Johnston, N.C.

Sources for our feature on the Boston Molasses Disaster:

Stephen Puleo, Dark Tide: The Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919, 2003.

Fred Durso Jr., “The Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919,” NFPA Journal 105:3 (May/June 2011), 90-93.

Sean Potter, “Retrospect: January 15, 1919: Boston Molasses Flood,” Weatherwise 64:1 (January/February 2011), 10-11.

Kaylie Duffy, “Today in Engineering History: Molasses Tanker Explodes, Kills 21,” Product Design & Development, Jan. 15, 2015.

Steve Puleo, “Death by Molasses,” American History 35:6 (February 2001), 60-66.

Chuck Lyons, “A Sticky Tragedy,” History Today 59.1 (January 2009), 40-42.

Dick Sinnott, “21 Persons Drowned in Molasses Flood,” Reading [Pa.] Eagle, Jan. 15, 1959.

Edwards Park, “Without Warning, Molasses in January Surged Over Boston,” Smithsonian 14:8 (November 1983), 213-230.

“12 Killed When Tank of Molasses Explodes,” New York Times, Jan. 16, 1919.

Ferris Jabr, “The Science of the Great Molasses Flood,” Scientific American, Aug. 1, 2013.

United Press International, “The Great Boston Molasses Disaster of 1919,” Jan. 17, 1979.

Peter Schworm, “Nearly a Century Later, Structural Flaw in Molasses Tank Revealed,” Boston Globe, Jan. 14, 2015.

William J. Kole, “Slow as Molasses? Sweet but Deadly 1919 Disaster Explained,” Associated Press, Nov. 24, 2016.

Erin McCann, “Solving a Mystery Behind the Deadly ‘Tsunami of Molasses’ of 1919,” New York Times, Nov. 26, 2016. (The corn syrup video is midway down the page.)

Jason Daley, “The Sticky Science Behind the Deadly Boston Molasses Disaster,” Smithsonian, Nov. 28, 2016.

Jennifer Ouellette, “Incredible Physics Behind the Deadly 1919 Boston Molasses Flood,” New Scientist, Nov. 24, 2016.

The Boston Public Library has photos and newspaper headlines.

Listener mail:

Erik Bye’s song on the 15th Wisconsin Regiment:

Statistics Norway’s names database.

Wikipedia, “Old Norse” (accessed Jan. 5, 2017).

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Tommy Honton, who sent this corroborating link (warning — this spoils the puzzle).

You can listen using the player above, download this episode directly, or subscribe on iTunes or Google Play Music 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 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!

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