Futility Closet

Futility Closet

United Kingdom

A celebration of the quirky and the curious, the thought-provoking and the simply amusing. Each episode explores unusual historical events and other curiosities and features a lateral thinking puzzle that you can try to solve along with us.

Episodes

137-The Mystery of Fiona Macleod  

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!

136-The Boston Molasses Disaster  

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:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8o5TUozjQXw

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!

135-Lateral Thinking Puzzles  

Here are six new lateral thinking puzzles to test your wits and stump your friends -- play along with us as we try to untangle some perplexing situations using yes-or-no questions.

Below are the sources for this week's puzzles. In a few places we've included links to further information -- these contain spoilers, so don't click until you've listened to the episode:

Puzzle #1 is from Dan Lewis' Now I Know newsletter of April 28, 2016.

Puzzle #2 was contributed by listener Jon Sweitzer-Lamme, who sent these corroborating links.

Puzzle #3 is from listener Jonathan Knoell.

Puzzle #4 is from listener Nick Hare.

Puzzle #5 is from Paul Sloane and Des MacHale's 2014 book Remarkable Lateral Thinking Puzzles.

Puzzle #6 was devised by Greg. Here's a link.

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.

If you have any questions or comments you can reach us at podcast@futilitycloset.com. Thanks for listening!

134-The Christmas Truce  

In December 1914 a remarkable thing happened on the Western Front: British and German soldiers stopped fighting and left their trenches to greet one another, exchange souvenirs, bury their dead, and sing carols in the spirit of the holiday season. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll tell the story of the Christmas truce, which one participant called "one of the highlights of my life."

We'll also remember James Thurber's Aunt Sarah and puzzle over an anachronistic twin.

Intro:

In 1898, G.W. Roberts of Birmingham made a full-size piano from 3,776 matchboxes and 5 pounds of glue.

In 1892, 69 men raced 302 miles on stilts, from Bordeaux to Bayonne and Biarritz and back.

Sources for our feature on the Christmas truce:

Terri Blom Crocker, The Christmas Truce: Myth, Memory, and the First World War, 2016.

Stanley Weintraub, Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce, 2001.

Chris Baker, The Truce: The Day the War Stopped, 2014.

Peter Hart, "Christmas Truce," Military History 31:5 (January 2015), 64-70.

Joe Perry, Christmas in Germany: A Cultural History, 2010.

Ian Herbert, "Muddy Truth of the Christmas Truce Game," Independent, Dec. 24, 2014.

David Brown, "Remembering a Victory For Human Kindness," Washington Post, Dec. 25, 2004.

"Alfred Anderson, 109, Last Man From 'Christmas Truce' of 1914," New York Times, Nov. 22, 2005.

"The Christmas Truce, 1914," The Henry Williamson Society (accessed Dec. 16, 2016).

Mike Dash, "The Story of the WWI Christmas Truce," Smithsonian, Dec. 23, 2011.

Stephen Moss, "Truce in the Trenches Was Real, But Football Tales Are a Shot in the Dark," Guardian, Dec. 16, 2014.

Listener mail:

Kirk Ross, The Sky Men: A Parachute Rifle Company's Story of the Battle of the Bulge and the Jump Across the Rhine, 2004.

A short version of the barrel-of-bricks episode from MythBusters:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vt230Pd1oSo

Listener Daniel Sterman recommends the original episode, "Barrel of Bricks," from Oct. 10, 2003.

Wikipedia, "Sandman (Wesley Dodds)" (accessed Dec. 16, 2016).

Wikipedia, "Sala Gang" (accessed Dec. 16, 2016).

This week's lateral thinking puzzle was suggested by listeners Greg Askins, Stacey Irvine, and Donald Mates. 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!

133-Notes and Queries  

In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll explore some more curiosities and unanswered questions from Greg's research, including a pilot who saved Buckingham Palace, a ghost who confronted Arthur Conan Doyle, what Mark Twain learned from a palm reader, and a bedeviling superfluity of Norwegians.

We'll also discover a language used only by women and puzzle over a gift that's best given sparingly.

Intro:

Horatio Nelson's coffin was fashioned from the mast of a French flagship that he had defeated.

In 1994 the city council of Green River, Wyoming, designated an airstrip south of town as an "intergalactic spaceport."

Sources for our feature on notes and queries:

The story of the Singapore tiger shooting appears in this history of the Raffles hotel.

Neil Kagan's 2013 book The Untold Civil War alleges that the 15th Wisconsin Volunteer Regiment was so thick with Norwegians that it contained dozens of men named Ole Olson. The Norwegian American Genealogical Center says that the Roster of Wisconsin Volunteers shows that the 15th had 128 men whose first name was Ole, 75 men whose last name was Olson, Olsen, or Oleson, but just 15 whose names were Ole Olson, Ole Olsen, or Ole Oleson.

The anecdote about the Gettysburg ordinance is mentioned in Michael Sanders' 2006 More Strange Tales of the Civil War, which cites Gregory A. Coco's A Strange and Blighted Land, Gettysburg: The Aftermath of a Battle, 1995. I found it in Allen C. Guelzo's Gettysburg: The Last Invasion, 2013.

Frances Wilson describes Titanic survivor Lawrence Beesley's visit to the set of A Night to Remember in her 2011 book How to Survive the Titanic, Or The Sinking of J. Bruce Ismay.

The observation about John Ford's eye for camerawork appears in Robert L. Carringer's 1996 book The Making of Citizen Kane.

Dan Murphy's Puritan name is spelled out in Willard R. Espy's An Almanac of Words at Play, 1975. (I first wrote about unusual Puritan names in 2009.) The two long names cited by H.L. Mencken appear in his 1921 study The American Language.

Douglas Hofstadter describes Stanford art professor Matt Kahn's confetti illusion in his foreword to Al Seckel's 2004 book Masters of Deception.

Mark Twain wrote about Cheiro's prophecy in his notebook in 1903. His affidavit regarding the palmist's insight into his character is described in Sarah E. Chinn's 2000 book Technology and the Logic of American Racism.

Three sources regarding Georges Simenon's prolificity:

Stanley G. Eskin, Simenon, A Critical Biography, 1987.

Henry Anatole Grunwald, "World's Most Prolific Novelist," Life 45:18 (Nov. 3, 1958).

Aubrey Dillon-Malone, Stranger Than Fiction: A Book of Literary Lists, 1999.

Also in Stranger Than Fiction, Dillon-Malone says that Anthony Trollope's quota of seven pages a day would sometimes carry him out of one book and into the next. Dillon-Malone says he's quoting Malcolm Cowley, who indeed says as much in this Paris Review interview, but I'd like to confirm the anecdote.

British fighter pilot Ray Holmes' severing of a Dornier bomber's tail is depicted in this painting. In his 2010 book Royal Prayer: A Surprising History, David Baldwin says "the whole engagement was captured on film," but I've never been able to find it. The best I've found is the opening moments of this National Geographic documentary:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lACDhxSLbYQ

The anecdote about Arthur Conan Doyle in Africa is from Russell Miller's 2008 book The Adventures of Arthur Conan Doyle: A Biography.

Among other places, the story about Kant's soul appears in Arthur Stone Dewing's 1903 Introduction to the History of Modern Philosophy.

And Cornelia Parker's comment about her conversation with Noam Chomsky appears in "Apocalypse Later," Guardian, Feb. 11, 2008.

Listener mail:

Noah Shachtman, "They Cracked This 250-Year-Old Code, and Found a Secret Society Inside," Wired, Nov. 16, 2012.

Wikipedia, "Copiale cipher" (accessed Dec. 8, 2016).

"Scientists Crack Mysterious 'Copiale Cipher,'" Guardian, Oct. 26, 2011.

Jon Watts, "The Forbidden Tongue," Guardian, Sept. 23, 2005.

Wikipedia, "Nüshu script" (accessed Dec. 8, 2016).

David Kahn, The Codebreakers, 1967.

This week's lateral thinking puzzle is from Paul Sloane and Des MacHale's 2014 book Remarkable Lateral Thinking Puzzles.

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

132-The Mad Gasser of Mattoon  

In 1944, a bizarre criminal assaulted the small town of Mattoon, Illinois. Victims reported smelling a sickly sweet odor in their bedrooms before being overcome with nausea and a feeling of paralysis. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll pursue the mad gasser of Mattoon, who vanished as quickly as he had struck, leaving residents to wonder whether he had ever existed at all.

We'll also ponder the concept of identical cousins and puzzle over a midnight stabbing.

Intro:

Enterprise, Ala., erected an $1,800 monument to the boll weevil.

In the late 1930s, a plaster mannequin named Cynthia archly toured the New York social scene.

Sources for our feature on the Mad Gasser of Mattoon:

Bob Ladendorf and Robert E. Bartholomew, "The Mad Gasser of Mattoon: How the Press Created an Imaginary Chemical Weapons Attack," Skeptical Inquirer 26:4 (July/August 2002), 50-54.

Robert E. Bartholomew and Jeffrey S. Victor, "A Social-Psychological Theory of Collective Anxiety Attacks: The 'Mad Gasser' Reexamined," Sociological Quarterly 45:2 (March 2004), 229–248.

Robert E. Bartholomew and Erich Goode, "Phantom Assailants & the Madness of Crowds: The Mad Gasser of Botetourt County," Skeptic 7:4 (1999), 50.

D.M. Johnson, "The 'Phantom Anesthetist' of Mattoon: A Field Study of Mass Hysteria," Journal of Abnormal Psychology 40:2 (April 1945), 175-186.

Debbie Carlson, "The Mattoon Mad Gasser -- Looking Back at a Textbook Case of Mass Hysteria," Belt Magazine, June 4, 2015.

Romeo Vitelli, "The Mad Gasser of Mattoon," James Randi Educational Foundation Swift Blog, April 23, 2011.

Robert E. Bartholomew, Little Green Men, Meowing Nuns and Head-Hunting Panics, 2001.

Mike Dash, Borderlands, 2000.

Listener mail:

Wikipedia, "Battle of Blair Mountain" (accessed December 2, 2016).

Wikipedia, "Shelton Brothers Gang" (accessed December 2, 2016).

Wikipedia, "Tulsa race riot" (accessed December 2, 2016).

Wikipedia, "The Patty Duke Show" (accessed December 2, 2016).

The Dubliners -- The Sick Note:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T_Vfxuk8x_A

The Corries -- The Bricklayer's Song:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NZwGk5xmlq0

This week's lateral thinking puzzle was devised by Greg, who gathered 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.

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!

131-Escape From Libby Prison  

Libby Prison was one of the most infamous prison camps of the Civil War -- thousands of Union prisoners were packed together in a converted warehouse, facing months or years of starvation and abuse. The Confederates thought the prison was escape-proof, and in this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll show how a determined group of prisoners set out to prove them wrong.

We'll also duel with a barrel and puzzle over why an admitted forger would be found innocent.

Intro:

Iowa attorney Townsend M. Zink directed that his money be used to build a library that would exclude women and stock books written only by men.

In the early 1960s, the American Automobile Association forgot to include Seattle on its road map of the United States.

Sources for our feature on the Libby Prison breakout:

Joseph Wheelan, Libby Prison Breakout, 2010.

Jonathan Franklin William Vance, Encyclopedia of Prisoners of War and Internment, 2006.

Bruce Klee, "Libby Prison," Civil War Times Illustrated 37:7 (February 1999), 32-38.

Steven Trent Smith, "The Great Libby Prison Breakout," Civil War Times 49:4 (August 2010), 46-53.

Michael Morgan, "Breakout From Rat Hell," Civil War Times Illustrated 40:5 (October 2001), 28-37.

A.G. Hamilton, "Story of the Famous Tunnel Escape From Libby Prison," 1893.

Emeric Szabad, "Diary in Libby Prison," Fraser's Magazine for Town and Country 77:459 (March 1868), 385-406.

Frank E. Moran, "Libby Prison's Tunnel," Toledo Blade, Nov. 9, 1882.

This diagram accompanied "Colonel Rose's Tunnel at Libby Prison," Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine, March 1888:

Second feature:

"Five Accidents, But Only One Indemnity," American Lawyer, August 1906.

This story was a staple of vaudeville, made most famous, I think, by Fred Allen. But Allen was 12 when this version appeared, and 1 when the joke made its debut.

This week's lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Adam Behring, 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!

130-The Unlikely Ultramarathoner  

Australia's Westfield ultramarathon had a surprise entrant in 1983: A 61-year-old potato farmer named Cliff Young joined a field of elite professional runners for the 500-mile race from Sydney to Melbourne. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll describe Young's fortunes in the race and the heart, tenacity, and humor that endeared him to a nation.

We'll also learn the difference between no and nay and puzzle over a Japanese baby shortage.

Intro:

Thomas Wedders exhibited his 7.5-inch nose throughout Yorkshire in the 1770s.

Two meteorologists played ping-pong on a solid block of snow atop Scotland's Ben Nevis in 1902.

Sources for our feature on Cliff Young:

Julietta Jameson, Cliffy: The Cliff Young Story, 2013.

Phil Essam, ed., I've Finally Found My Hero, 2016.

Matthew Ricketson, "Cliff's Not Finished Yet," The Age, Nov. 29, 1983.

J. Freeman, "Cliff Calls It a Day," Telegraph, April 17, 1985.

Greg Truman, "A Long-Running Favorite Draws to an End," The Advertiser, May 5, 1986.

Louise Evans, "Cliff, the Battler's Hero, Refuses to Shuffle Off Into the Sunset," Sydney Morning Herald, June 4, 1988.

R. Reed, "Westfield Highway Closed to Cliff: Old Shuffler 'Saved' From Himself," Sunday Herald, March 11, 1990.

G. Legg, "Cliff, 70, Has Enough Puff for 170km," Courier-Mail, May 23, 1992.

Derek Ballantine, "For Cliff, a Long Road to Nowhere," The Advertiser, April 10, 1993.

Alan Rider, "'Where's Cliffy?': In Hobart Run-Walk!," Hobart Mercury, April 20, 1993.

Tony Baker, "An Epic of Eccentricity," Hobart Mercury, April 25, 1997.

"End of the Road for Cliff," Sydney Morning Herald, Nov. 3, 2003.

Graeme Leech, "Shy Runner Shuffled Into a Nation's Heart," The Australian, Nov. 7, 2003.

Charles Happell, "A Gumbooted Forrest Gump, Cliff Young Ran His Own Race," The Australian, March 23, 2013.

"Running Legend's Cup Will Return to District," Colac Herald, April 17, 2015.

Here's Neil Kearney's 1983 documentary Cliffy, made shortly after Young's victory and showing his trademark shuffling gait:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R276S1KMgQ0

Listener mail:

"Frenemies — Churchill’s Planned 1945 Surprise Attack on the Soviets," Military History Now, Oct. 15, 2012.

Wikipedia, "Operational Unthinkable" (accessed Nov. 18, 2016).

Historical Board Gaming: Operation Unthinkable Custom Map & Rules.

BoardGameGeek: Castle Itter.

Digital Capricorn Studios: Castle Itter.

National Public Radio, "No, Yes, Definitely: On the Rise of 'No, Totally' as Linguistic Quirk," Morning Edition, April 12, 2015.

Kathryn Schulz, "What Part of 'No, Totally' Don't You Understand?", New Yorker, April 7, 2015.

This week's lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Jon Sweitzer-Lamme, 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!

129-The Voynich Manuscript  

In 1912, bookseller Wilfrid Voynich discovered an illustrated manuscript that was written in a mysterious alphabet that had never been seen before. The text bears the hallmarks of natural language, but no one has ever been able to determine its meaning. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll learn about the Voynich manuscript, which has been bewildering scholars for more than a century.

We'll also ponder some parliamentary hostages and puzzle over a tormenting acquisition.

Intro:

In 1851, George Merryweather invented the Tempest Prognosticator, a rack of bottled leeches who would ring a bell when a storm approached.

Between 1884 and 1896, visitors to Coney Island could stay in a 31-room hotel shaped like an elephant.

Sources for our feature on the Voynich manuscript:

Gerry Kennedy and Rob Churchill, The Voynich Manuscript, 2004.

"Voynich Manuscript," Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Yale University.

Klaus Schmeh, "The Voynich Manuscript: The Book Nobody Can Read," Skeptical Inquirer 35:1 (January/February 2011).

Diego R. Amancio et al., "Probing the Statistical Properties of Unknown Texts: Application to the Voynich Manuscript," PLoS One, July 2, 2013.

Andreas Schinner, "The Voynich Manuscript: Evidence of the Hoax Hypothesis," Cryptologia 31:2 (March 2007).

Marcelo A. Montemurro and Damián H. Zanette, "Keywords and Co-Occurrence Patterns in the Voynich Manuscript: An Information-Theoretic Analysis," PLoS One, June 21, 2013.

Bec Crew, "Researcher Finds Evidence That the 'World's Most Mysterious Book' Is an Elaborate Hoax," Science Alert, Sept. 23, 2016.

Melissa Hogenboom, "Mysterious Voynich Manuscript Has 'Genuine Message'," BBC News, June 22, 2013.

Reed Johnson, "The Unread: The Mystery of the Voynich Manuscript," New Yorker, July 9, 2013.

Rich McCormick, "Decrypting the Most Mysterious Book in the World," The Verge, Feb. 28, 2014.

Wikipedia has scans of the entire manuscript, sortable by page, folio, or topic.

Listener mail:

Wikipedia, "Hostage MP" (accessed Nov. 12, 2016).

Wikipedia, "State Opening of Parliament" (accessed Nov. 12, 2016).

Matt Field, "Queen's Speech: Your Guide to All the Parliamentary Pomp and Pageantry," Guardian, May 27, 2015.

"Intertwined Love Story: Twins Who Married Twins," Morning Edition, National Public Radio, May 28, 2010.

"Identical Twins Marry, Give Birth to Identical Twins," Telegraph, July 22, 2008.

Danielle Centoni, "The Secret Life of Pears (in Brandy)," Oregon Live, September 2011.

This week's lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Jake Koethler.

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!

128-The Battle for Castle Itter  

The closing days of World War II witnessed a bizarre battle with some unlikely allies: American and German soldiers joined forces to rescue a group of French prisoners from a medieval castle in the Austrian Alps. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll follow the Battle for Castle Itter, the only time that Allies and Germans fought together in the war.

We'll also dodge another raft of aerial bombs and puzzle over a bottled pear.

Intro:

In 1917, Royal Flying Corps trainee Graham Donald fell out of his plane at the top of a loop.

In 1750, the 1st Earl of Hardwicke installed an artificial ruin near his country house, Wimpole Hall.

Sources for our feature on the Battle for Castle Itter:

Stephen Harding, The Last Battle, 2013.

Stephen Harding, "The Battle for Castle Itter," World War II 23:3 (August/September 2008), 38-45.

George Hodge, "The Last Battle: When U.S. and German Soldiers Joined Forces in the Waning Hours of World War II in Europe," Military Review 94:4 (July/August 2014), 100.

John G. Mayer, "12th Men Free French Big-Wigs," 12th Armored Division Hellcat News, May 26, 1945.

Andrew Roberts, "World War II's Strangest Battle: When Americans and Germans Fought Together," Daily Beast, May 12, 2013.

Bethany Bell, "The Austrian Castle Where Nazis Lost to German-US Force," BBC News, May 7, 2015.

Listener mail:

Roadside America, "Omaha, Nebraska: Plaque: Japanese Balloon Bomb Exploded Here."

"B-52 Accidentally Bombs Kansas Lake," Aero News Network, Dec. 16, 2006.

Bill Kaczor, "Bombs Rained on Florida Family in 1944," Los Angeles Times, Aug. 14, 1994.

Wikipedia, "MOVE: 1985 bombing" (accessed Nov. 4, 2016).

Wikipedia, "Pavlovsk Experimental Station" (accessed Nov. 4, 2016).

Ian Crofton, A Curious History of Food and Drink, 2014.

Wikipedia, "1958 Tybee Island Mid-Air Collision" (accessed Nov. 4, 2016).

This week's lateral thinking puzzles were adapted from the Soviet popular science magazine Kvant and the 2000 book Lateral Mindtrap Puzzles and contributed by listener Steve Scheuermann. We refer to this image in the second 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!

127-Rowing Across the Atlantic  

In 1896 two New Jersey clam diggers made a bold bid for fame: They set out to cross the North Atlantic in a rowboat, a feat that had never been accomplished before. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll follow the adventure of George Harbo and Frank Samuelsen, which one newspaper called "the most remarkable event in the way of ocean navigation that ever transpired."

We'll also meet some military mammals and puzzle over a thwarted burglar.

Intro:

The score for Telemann's Gulliver Suite includes "Lilliputian" and "Brobdingnagian" note values.

In 1964 Zambia announced a rather low-tech space program.

Sources for our feature on Harbo and Samuelsen:

David W. Shaw, Daring the Sea, 1998.

William Longyard, A Speck on the Sea, 2003.

David W. Shaw, "A Fool's Errand, but a Nautical Landmark," Scandinavian Review 102:1 (Spring 2015), 46-60.

"To Row Across the Atlantic," New York World, Feb. 13, 1896, 16.

"To Cross Ocean in Rowboat," New York Herald, June 6, 1896, 7.

The log of the Fox.

"Over the Sea With Oars," New York World, Aug. 2, 1896, 10.

"The Fox Arrives at Havre," Daily Telegraph, Aug 7, 1896.

"They Rowed to Havre," National Police Gazette, Aug. 22, 1896.

"The Following Is Worth Reading," National Police Gazette, Sept. 12, 1896.

"Harbo and Samuelson and the Tiny Boat in Which They Rowed Across the Atlantic," New York Herald, March 21, 1897, 2.

Andy Philpott and Geoff Leyland, "Rowing to Barbados," OR/MS Today, April 2006.

Thao Hua, "Manager Backs Atlantic Crossing," Pensions & Investments 36:12 (June 9, 2008), 8.

BBC News, "Artemis Rowing Crew Smashes Transatlantic Record," July 31, 2010.

Listener mail:

Yuko, Cher Ami, 2016.

Leah Tams, "How Did Animals (Even Slugs) Serve in World War I?", National Museum of American History, Nov. 14, 2014.

Jessica Talarico, "15 Animals That Went to War," Imperial War Museums (accessed Oct. 22, 2016).

History.com, "War Animals From Horses to Glowworms: 7 Incredible Facts," Dec. 22, 2011.

Nick Tarver, "World War One: The Circus Animals That Helped Britain," BBC News, Nov. 11, 2013.

U.S. Navy Marine Mammal Program (accessed Oct. 22, 2016).

Mark Strauss, "These Are the Brave and Fluffy Cats Who Served in World War I," io9, Aug. 22, 2014.

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!

126-The Great Australian Poetry Hoax  

In 1943, fed up with modernist poetry, two Australian servicemen invented a fake poet and submitted a collection of deliberately senseless verses to a Melbourne arts magazine. To their delight, they were accepted and their author hailed as "one of the most remarkable and important poetic figures of this country." In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll tell the story of the Ern Malley hoax, its perpetrators, and its surprising legacy in Australian literature.

We'll also hear a mechanized Radiohead and puzzle over a railroad standstill.

Intro:

In 1896 an English statistician decided that "brass instruments have a fatal influence on the growth of the hair."

The Lincoln Electric Company presented a check made of steel to each winner of a 1932 essay contest.

Sources for our feature on Ern Malley:

Michael Heyward, The Ern Malley Affair, 1993.

Brian Lloyd, "Ern Malley and His Rivals," Australian Literary Studies 20:1 (May 2001) 20.

Philip Mead, "1944, Melbourne and Adelaide: The Ern Malley Hoax," in Brian McHale and Randall Stevenson, eds., The Edinburgh Companion to Twentieth-Century Literatures in English, 2006.

The Ern Malley website contains the complete story and poems.

In June 2002 Jacket Magazine ran a special "hoax" issue, with much background and commentary on the Malley story.

Listener mail:

Radiohead's "Nude" played by a Sinclair ZX Spectrum, an Epson LX-81 dot matrix printer, an HP Scanjet 3c, and an array of hard drives.

Queen's "Don't Stop Me Now" via Super Mario World.

"Logická Hádanka" by Horkýže Slíže -- a Slovak punk band sings a lateral thinking puzzle (translation and solution in video description).

Guy Clifton and Emerson Marcus, "A Tale of the '70s: When D.B. Cooper's Plane Landed in Reno," Reno Gazette-Journal, July 13, 2016.

Ralph P. Himmelsbach and Thomas K. Worcester, Norjak: The Investigation of D.B. Cooper, 1986.

This week's lateral thinking puzzle was devised by Greg, who collected 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

125-The Campden Wonder  

When William Harrison disappeared from Campden, England, in 1660, his servant offered an incredible explanation: that he and his family had murdered him. The events that followed only proved the situation to be even more bizarre. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll describe "the Campden wonder," an enigma that has eluded explanation for more than 300 years.

We'll also consider Vladimir Putin's dog and puzzle over a little girl's benefactor.

Intro:

In 1921, Pennsylvania surgeon Evan O'Neill Kane removed his own appendix. (Soviet physician Leonid Rogozov did the same 40 years later.)

John Cowper Powys once promised to visit Theodore Dreiser "as a spirit or in some other astral form" -- and, according to Dreiser, did so.

Sources for our feature on the Campden Wonder:

Sir George Clark, ed., The Campden Wonder, 1959.

"The Campden Wonder," Arminian Magazine, August 1787, 434.

"Judicial Puzzles -- The Campden Wonder," Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, July 1860, 54-64.

Andrew Lang, Historical Mysteries, 1904.

J.A. Cannon, "Campden Wonder," in The Oxford Companion to British History, 2015.

Bruce P. Smith, "The History of Wrongful Execution," Hastings Law Journal, June 2005.

Frances E. Chapman, "Coerced Internalized False Confessions and Police Interrogations: The Power of Coercion," Law & Psychology Review 37 (2013), 159.

Listener mail:

Tim Hume, "Vladimir Putin: I Didn't Mean to Scare Angela Merkel With My Dog," CNN, Jan. 12, 2016.

Roland Oliphant, "Vladimir Putin Denies Setting His Dog on Angela Merkel," Telegraph, Jan. 12, 2016.

Stefan Kornelius, "Six Things You Didn't Know About Angela Merkel," Guardian, Sept. 10, 2013.

Wikipedia, "Spall" (retrieved Oct. 7, 2016).

Associated Press, "Boise City to Celebrate 1943 Bombing Misguided B-17 Crew Sought," Nov. 21, 1990.

Owlcation, "The WWII Bombing of Boise City in Oklahoma," May 9, 2016.

"World War II Air Force Bombers Blast Boise City," Boise City News, July 5, 1943.

"County Gets Second Air Bombardment," Boise City News, April 5, 1945.

Antony Beevor, D-Day, 2009.

This week's lateral thinking puzzle is from Paul Sloane and Des MacHale's 2014 book Remarkable Lateral Thinking Puzzles.

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!

 

124-D.B. Cooper  

In 1971 a mysterious man hijacked an airliner in Portland, Oregon, demanding $200,000 and four parachutes. He bailed out somewhere over southwestern Washington and has never been seen again. In today's show we'll tell the story of D.B. Cooper, the only unsolved hijacking in American history.

We'll also hear some musical disk drives and puzzle over a bicyclist's narrow escape.

Intro:

In 1973, Swedish mathematician Per Enflo won a goose for solving a problem posed 37 years earlier.

Established in 1945 by a sympathetic actor, the Conrad Cantzen Shoe Fund will reimburse working artists $40 toward a pair of shoes.

Sources for our feature on D.B. Cooper:

Ralph P. Himmelsbach and Thomas K. Worcester, Norjak: The Investigation of D.B. Cooper, 1986.

Kay Melchisedech Olson, The D.B. Cooper Hijacking, 2011.

Associated Press, "First D.B. Cooper Clue Discovered," Jan. 18, 1979.

Associated Press, "Clue to D.B. Cooper's Fate Found by a Washington Family on Picnic," Feb. 13, 1980.

Farida Fawzy, "D.B. Cooper: FBI Closes the Books 45 Years After Skyjacking Mystery," CNN, July 14, 2016.

Christine Hauser, "Where Is D.B. Cooper? F.B.I. Ends 45-Year Hunt," New York Times, July 13, 2016.

FBI, "D.B. Cooper Hijacking" (retrieved Sept. 18, 2016).

FBI, "Update on Investigation of 1971 Hijacking by D.B. Cooper" (retrieved Sept. 18, 2016).

David A. Graham and Juleyka Lantigua-Williams, "D.B. Cooper's Final Escape," Atlantic, July 12, 2016.

Peter Holley, "The D.B. Cooper Case Has Baffled the FBI for 45 Years. Now It May Never Be Solved," Washington Post, July 12, 2016.

Listener mail:

Listener Mike Burns sent these photos from the Museum of World War II in Natick, Mass.:

A coal torpedo with instructions.

Playing cards concealing maps.

A baby carriage rigged by the French Resistance to conceal sabotage equipment and a radio.

Brian Dewan's song "The Cowboy Outlaw," about Elmer McCurdy.

MrSolidSnake745's Musical Floppy Drives on Facebook.

Star Wars' "Imperial March" on eight floppy drives.

"In the Hall of the Mountain King," from Grieg's Peer Gynt, by Sammy1Am.

This week's lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Philip Ogren.

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!

123-Washington D.C.'s Hidden Tunnels  

 

In 1924 a curious network of catacombs was discovered in Washington D.C. They were traced to Harrison Dyar, a Smithsonian entomologist who had been industriously digging tunnels in the city for almost two decades. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll describe Dyar's strange hobby -- and the equally bizarre affairs in his personal life.

We'll also revisit balloons in World War II and puzzle over a thief's change of heart.

Intro:

The melody of Peter Cornelius' 1854 composition "Ein Ton" is a single repeated note.

Japanese puzzle maven Nob Yoshigahara devised this optical illusion.

Sources for our feature on Harrison Dyar:

Marc E. Epstein, Moths, Myths, and Mosquitoes, 2016.

Marc E. Epstein and Pamela M. Henson, "Digging for Dyar: The Man Behind the Myth," American Entomologist 38:3 (July 1, 1992), 148-169.

Ryan P. Smith, "The Bizarre Tale of the Tunnels, Trysts and Taxa of a Smithsonian Entomologist," Smithsonian, May 13, 2016.

John Kelly, "Who Was Harrison G. Dyar?", Washington Post, Oct. 27, 2012.

John Kelly, "Inside the Tunnels of Washington's Mole Man, Harrison G. Dyar," Washington Post, Nov. 3, 2012.

John Kelly, "A Final Look at D.C.'s Tunnel-Digging Bug Man," Washington Post, Nov. 7, 2012.

Associated Press, "Secret Tunnels Shrouded in Mystery," Oct. 21, 1992.

United Press, "Scientist Admits He Dug Tunnels That Caused Furore," Sept. 28, 1924.

Modern Mechanics published this diagram of Dyar's B Street catacomb in its August 1932 issue. The inset photo at top left corresponds to the 32-foot shaft at right, which was lined in concrete and fitted with iron pipes to serve as ladder rungs. Two more shafts (partially obscured) can be seen to the left. The inset photo at bottom shows the inscription H.G. DYAR FEB 14 1923 on an archway near the cellar entrance. That date was Dyar's 57th birthday.

Listener mail:

David Hambling, "How 100,000 Weather Balloons Became Britain's Secret Weapon," Guardian, Sept. 15, 2016.

Wikipedia, "Operation Outward" (accessed Sept. 24, 2016).

Wanderlust has a short video about the operation.

This week's lateral thinking puzzle was devised by Sharon, who offers 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.

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!

122-The Bear Who Went to War  

During World War II a Polish transport company picked up an unusual mascot: a Syrian brown bear that grew to 500 pounds and traveled with his human friends through the Middle East and Europe. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll meet Wojtek, the "happy warrior," and follow his adventures during and after the war.

We'll also catch up with a Russian recluse and puzzle over a murderous daughter.

Intro:

In 1956, U.S. Navy pilot Tom Attridge overtook his cannon rounds and shot down his own plane.

At Petersburg, Va., during the American Civil War, a Union and a Confederate bullet met in midair.

Sources for our feature on Wojtek the shell-toting bruin:

Aileen Orr, Wojtek the Bear, 2012.

Karen Jensen, "Private Wojtek, Reporting for Duty," World War II 27:3 (September-October 2012), 54.

The Wojtek Memorial Trust raised £250,000 to build Wojtek's memorial statue in Edinburgh.

"Scottish District News," Glasgow Herald, Nov. 21, 1947.

"Smarter Than the Average Bear ... by Far," Edinburgh News, March 28, 2007.

David Sapsted, "Private Wojtek the 'Hero Bear' to be Honoured in Edinburgh," Abu Dhabi National, Jan. 7, 2012.

David McCann, "Soldier Bear Wojtek to Be Given Statue in Edinburgh," Berwickshire Advertiser, Dec. 28, 2012.

"Krakow Votes for WWII Soldier Bear Statue," Radio Poland, April 26, 2013.

David McCann, "Prince Street Gardens Statue of Polish Army Bear," Scotsman, May 29, 2013.

Alistair Grant, "Polish War Hero Bear Wojtek to Appear on Bus," Edinburgh Evening News, Nov. 11, 2014.

Wojtek's unit, the 22nd Artillery Support Company of the 2nd Polish Corps, adopted this design as its emblem. In Wojtek the Bear, Aileen Orr writes, "It was very much 22nd Company's trademark; the bear logo even appeared on regimental equipment. Within weeks of its being created and approved, shortly after the Battle of Monte Cassino, the Wojtek military logo was everywhere. The bear had pretty much become a legend in his own not inconsiderable lunchtime as curious Allied soldiers from other regiments inquired about the badge's significance."

Listener mail:

Some recent photos of Agafia Lykov can be seen on this Facebook page.

This week's lateral thinking puzzle was composed by Greg, who gathered 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.

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!

121-Starving for Science  

 

During the siege of Leningrad in World War II, a heroic group of Russian botanists fought cold, hunger, and German attacks to keep alive a storehouse of crops that held the future of Soviet agriculture. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll tell the story of the Vavilov Institute, whose scientists literally starved to death protecting tons of treasured food.

We'll also follow a wayward sailor and puzzle over how to improve the safety of tanks.

Intro:

Tippi Hedren, star of Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds, shared her home with a 400-pound lion.

In 2009, a California consumer sued PepsiCo for implying that crunchberries are a fruit.

Sources for our feature on Nikolai Vavilov:

S.M. Alexanyan and V.I. Krivchenko, "Vavilov Institute Scientists Heroically Preserve World Plant Genetic Resources Collections During World War II Siege of Leningrad," Diversity 7:4 (1991), 10-13.

James F. Crow, “N. I. Vavilov, Martyr to Genetic Truth,” Genetics 134:4 (May 1993).

Olga Elina, Susanne Heim, and Nils Roll-Hansen, "Plant Breeding on the Front: Imperialism, War, and Exploitation," Osiris 20 (2005), 161-179.

Peter Pringle, The Murder of Nikolai Vavilov, 2008.

Boyce Rensberger, "Soviet Botanists Starved, Saving Seeds for Future," Washington Post, May 12, 1992.

Michael Woods, “Soviet Union's Fall Threatens 'Gene Bank' for Food Crops,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, April 26, 1993.

Joel I. Cohen and Igor G. Loskutov, “Exploring the Nature of Science Through Courage and Purpose,” SpringerPlus 5:1159 (2016).

Listener mail:

Peter Nichols, A Voyage for Madmen, 2001.

Nicholas Tomalin and Ron Hall, The Strange Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst, 1970.

Ed Caesar, "Drama on the Waves: The Life and Death of Donald Crowhurst," Independent, Oct. 27, 2006.

This week's lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Tommy Honton, who cites this source (warning: this link 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 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 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!

120-The Barnes Mystery  

In 1879 a ghastly crime gripped England: A London maid had dismembered her employer and then assumed her identity for two weeks, wearing her clothes and jewelry and selling her belongings. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll describe the murder of Julia Thomas and its surprising modern postscript.

We'll also discover the unlikely origins of a Mary Poppins character and puzzle over a penguin in a canoe.

Intro:

Early airplanes were sometimes attacked by confused eagles.

Alberta, Canada, has been rat-free for 50 years.

Sources for our feature on the murder of Julia Thomas:

Elliott O'Donnell, ed., Trial of Kate Webster, 1925.

Transcript of Kate Webster's trial at the Old Bailey.

"The Richmond Murder," Glasgow Herald, May 29, 1879.

"Kate Webster Hanged," Reading [Pa.] Eagle, July 31, 1879.

Matt Blake, "Attenborough Skull Mystery Finally Solved," Independent, July 5, 2011.

Cigdem Iltan, "The Skull in the Backyard," Maclean's 124:28 (July 25, 2011), 37.

Park Road, Richmond, today. At left is the site of the former Mayfield Cottages, where the murder took place. At center is the home of naturalist Sir David Attenborough. At right is the site of the former Hole in the Wall pub. Thomas' skull was discovered in 2010 at the site of the pub's stables.

Listener mail:

GitHub, "System Bus Radio" (retrieved Sept. 2, 2016).

Catalin Cimpanu, "Emitting Radio Waves From a Computer with No Radio-Transmitting Hardware," Softpedia, March 2, 2016.

A 40-second rendition of the discarded Mary Poppins song "Admiral Boom."

Wikipedia, "Mary Poppins (film)" (retrieved Sept. 2, 2016).

This week's lateral thinking puzzles were contributed by listeners Matt Sargent and Jacob Bandes-Storch.

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 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 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!

119-Lost in the Taiga  

In 1978 a team of geologists discovered a family of five living deep in the Siberian forest, 150 miles from the nearest village. Fearing persecution, they had lived entirely on their own since 1936, praying, tending a meager garden, and suffering through winter temperatures of 40 below zero. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll meet the Lykov family, whose religious beliefs committed them to "the greatest solitude on the earth."

We'll also learn about Esperanto's role in a Spanish prison break and puzzle over a self-incriminating murderer.

Intro:

The London Review and Literary Journal of August 1796 records a cricket match "by eleven Greenwich Pensioners with one leg against eleven with one arm, for one thousand guineas, at the new Cricket ground, Montpelier Gardens, Walworth."

The British Veterinary Journal of March 1888 reports that a Manchester horse fitted with eyeglasses "now stands all the morning looking over the half-door of his stable with his spectacles on, gazing around him with an air of sedate enjoyment."

Sources for our feature on the Lykov family:

Vasily Peskov, Lost in the Taiga, 1994.

Mike Dash, "For 40 Years, This Russian Family Was Cut Off From All Human Contact, Unaware of World War II," Smithsonian, Jan. 28, 2013.

Russia Today, "From Taiga to Kremlin: A Hermit's Gifts for Medvedev," Feb. 24, 2010.

Alexis Sostre, "Siberia: Woman Who Lived Her Entire Life in Wilderness Airlifted to Hospital," Sostre News, Jan. 16, 2016.

Listener mail:

The original article on the 1938 San Cristobál prison break, by Jose Antonio del Barrio, in Esperanto.

An article (in Spanish) about the escape on del Barrio's blog.

A description (in Spanish) of conditions in San Cristobál, by one of the successful escapees.

A description (in Spanish) of the escape plot, from research carried out by Fermín Ezkieta.

A documentary film (in Spanish) about the escape.

A study (in Esperanto) on the role of Esperanto in the working-class culture in Spain.

Del Barrio's presentation (in Esperanto) on the use of Esperanto by socialists in the Basque region.

A presentation (in Esperanto) by Ulrich Lins and del Barrio on the use of Esperanto during the Spanish Civil War. Lins is the German author of "La Dangera Lingvo," on the persecutions suffered by esperantists.

This week's lateral thinking puzzle was devised by Sharon, who collected 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.

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 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!

118-The Restless Corpse of Elmer McCurdy  

 

In 1976 a television crew discovered a mummified corpse in a California funhouse. Unbelievably, an investigation revealed that it belonged to an Oklahoma outlaw who had been shot by sheriff's deputies in 1911 and whose remains had been traveling the country ever since. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll trace the postmortem odyssey of Elmer McCurdy, "the bandit who wouldn't give up."

We'll also reflect on a Dutch artist's disappearance and puzzle over some mysterious hospital deaths.

Intro:

In 1922, mechanical engineer Elis Stenman built a summer home with walls of varnished newspaper.

Winston Churchill's country home Chartwell must perpetually maintain a marmalade cat named Jock.

Sources for our feature on Elmer McCurdy:

Mark Svenvold, Elmer McCurdy, 2002.

Robert Barr Smith, "After Elmer McCurdy's Days as a Badman, He -- or at Least His Corpse -- Had a Fine Second Career," Wild West 12:1 (June 1999), 24-26.

United Press International, "Amusement Park Mummy Was Elmer McCurdy, a Wild West Desperado," Dec. 10, 1976.

Associated Press, "Died With His Boots On," Dec. 11, 1976.

Associated Press, "Wax Figure Maybe No Dummy, May Be Old Outlaw's Mummy," Dec. 12, 1976.

Associated Press, "Elmer McCurdy Goes Home to Boot Hill," April 23, 1977.

Listener mail:

Alexander Dumbadze, Bas Jan Ader: Death Is Elsewhere, 2013.

Jan Verwoert, Bas Jan Ader: In Search of the Miraculous, 2006.

Brad Spence, "The Case of Bas Jan Ader," www.basjanader.com (accessed 08/18/2016) (PDF).

Rachel Kent, "Pun to Paradox: Bas Jan Ader Revisited," Parkett 75 (2005), 177-181.

Wikipedia, "Bas Jan Ader" (accessed 08/18/2016).

Richard Dorment, "The Artist Who Sailed to Oblivion," Telegraph, May 9, 2006.

This week's lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Steven Jones.

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 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 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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