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 1855 Pedro Carolino decided to write a Portuguese-English phrasebook despite the fact that he didn’t actually speak English. The result is one of the all-time masterpieces of unintentional comedy, a language guide full of phrases like “The ears are too length” and “He has spit in my coat.” In this episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll sample Carolino’s phrasebook, which Mark Twain called “supreme and unapproachable.”
We’ll also hear Hamlet’s “to be or not to be” rendered in jargon and puzzle over why a man places an ad before robbing a bank.
Eight decades after Jules Verne’s death, his great-grandson opened a family safe and discovered an unpublished manuscript. In this episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll review some of Verne’s remarkable predictions for the 20th century and consider why he never published the novel.
We’ll also discuss listeners’ ideas about the mysterious deaths of nine Soviet ski hikers in 1959 and puzzle over how a man’s breakfast turns deadly.
Here are six new lateral thinking puzzles to test your wits! Solve along with us as we explore some strange scenarios using only yes-or-no questions. Many were submitted by listeners, and most are based on real events.
On February 1, 1959, something terrifying overtook nine student ski-hikers in the northern Ural Mountains. In this episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll recount what is known about the incident at Dyatlov Pass and try to make sense of the hikers’ harrowing final night.
We’ll also hear how Dwight Eisenhower might have delivered the Gettysburg Address and puzzle over why signing her name might entitle a woman to a lavish new home.
In 1943 three men came up with an ingenious plan to escape from the seemingly escape-proof Stalag Luft III prison camp in Germany. In this episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll learn about their clever deception, which made them briefly famous around the world.
We’ll also hear about the chaotic annual tradition of Moving Day in several North American cities and puzzle over how a severely injured hiker beats his wife back to their RV.
It’s been called America’s oldest mystery: A group of 100 English colonists vanished from North Carolina’s Roanoke Island shortly after settling there in 1587. But was their disappearance really so mysterious? In this episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll trace the history of the “lost colony” and consider what might have happened to the settlers.
We’ll also visit an early steam locomotive in 1830 and puzzle over why writing a letter might prove to be fatal.
For centuries, May 1 brought chaos to New York, as most tenants had to move on the same day, clogging the streets with harried people and all their belongings. In this episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll review the colorful history of “Moving Day” and wonder how it lasted through two centuries.
We’ll also recount some surprising escapes from sinking ships and puzzle over a burglar’s ingenuity.
In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll look at the strange phenomenon of poet doppelgängers — at least five notable poets have been seen by witnesses when their physical bodies were elsewhere.
We’ll also share our readers’ research on Cervino, the Matterhorn-climbing pussycat, and puzzle over why a man traveling internationally would not be asked for his passport.
In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll follow the dramatic 14,000-mile clipper ship race of 1866, in which five ships competed fiercely to be the first to London with the season’s tea.
We’ll also track the importance of mulch to the readers of the comic book Groo the Wanderer and puzzle over the effects of Kool-Aid consumption on a woman’s relationships.
In 1950 newspapers around the world reported that a 10-month-old kitten had climbed the Matterhorn, one of the highest peaks in Europe. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll wonder whether even a very determined kitty could accomplish such a feat.
We’ll also marvel at a striking demonstration of dolphin intelligence and puzzle over a perplexed mechanic.