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 1908 a 22-year-old Italian baker’s assistant arrived in London to take part in the Olympic marathon. He had no coach, he spoke no English, and he was not expected to challenge the elite runners at the top of the field. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll follow Dorando Pietri on the most celebrated race in Olympic history.
We’ll also ponder the Great Mull Air Mystery and puzzle over a welcome murder.
In 1955, aliens from the planet Clarion contacted a Chicago housewife to warn her that the end of the world was imminent. Psychologist Leon Festinger saw this as a unique opportunity to test a new theory about human cognition. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll follow him inside a UFO religion as it approaches the apocalypse.
We’ll also try to determine when exactly LBJ became president and puzzle over some wet streets.
In 1860 a party of explorers set out to traverse the Australian continent, but bad management and a series of misfortunes sent it spiraling toward tragedy. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell the story of the Victorian Exploring Expedition and its dramatic climax at Cooper’s Creek.
We’ll also try to validate Archimedes and puzzle over an unlucky thief.
In 1978 two families hatched a daring plan to escape East Germany: They would build a hot-air balloon and sail it by night across the border. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll follow their struggles to evade the authorities and realize their dream of a new life in the West.
We’ll also shuffle some vehicles and puzzle over a perplexing worker.
Douglas Bader was beginning a promising career as a British fighter pilot when he lost both legs in a crash. But that didn’t stop him — he learned to use artificial legs and went on to become a top flying ace in World War II. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll review Bader’s inspiring story and the personal philosophy underlay it.
We’ll also revisit the year 536 and puzzle over the fate of a suitcase.
In 1917, a munitions ship exploded in Halifax, Nova Scotia, devastating the city and shattering the lives of its citizens. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll follow the events of the disaster, the largest man-made explosion before Hiroshima, and the grim and heroic stories of its victims.
We’ll also consider the dangers of cactus plugging and puzzle over why a man would agree to be assassinated.
In 1950, four patriotic Scots broke in to Westminster Abbey to steal the Stone of Scone, a symbol of Scottish independence that had lain there for 600 years. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll follow the memorable events of that evening and their meaning for the participants, their nation, and the United Kingdom.
We’ll also evade a death ray and puzzle over Santa’s correspondence.
Polish educator Janusz Korczak set out to remake the world just as it was falling apart. In the 1930s his Warsaw orphanage was an enlightened society run by the children themselves, but he struggled to keep that ideal alive as Europe descended into darkness. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell the story of the children’s champion and his sacrifices for the orphans he loved.
We’ll also visit an incoherent space station and puzzle over why one woman needs two cars.
In the late 1800s Chicago families bought their Christmas trees from the decks of schooners that had ferried them across Lake Michigan. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll meet Herman Schuenemann, known as “Captain Santa,” who brought Christmas to the city for 30 years until a fateful storm overtook him.
We’ll also peruse some possums and puzzle over a darkening phone.