Futility Closet

Futility Closet

United Kingdom

Forgotten stories from the pages of history. Join us for surprising and curious tales from the past and challenge yourself with our lateral thinking puzzles.

Episodes

169-John Harrison and the Problem of Longitude  

Ships need a reliable way to know their exact location at sea -- and for centuries, the lack of a dependable method caused shipwrecks and economic havoc for every seafaring nation. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll meet John Harrison, the self-taught English clockmaker who dedicated his life to crafting a reliable solution to this crucial problem.

We'll also admire a dentist and puzzle over a magic bus stop.

Intro:

Working in an Antarctic tent in 1908, Douglas Mawson found himself persistently interrupted by Edgeworth David.

In 1905, Sir Gilbert Parker claimed to have seen the astral body of Sir Crane Rasch in the House of Commons.

Sources for our feature on John Harrison:

Dava Sobel and William H. Andrews, The Illustrated Longitude, 1995.

William J.H. Andrewes, ed., The Quest for Longitude, 1996.

Katy Barrett, "'Explaining' Themselves: The Barrington Papers, the Board of Longitude, and the Fate of John Harrison," Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London 65:2 (June 20, 2011), 145-162.

William E. Carter and Merri S. Carter, "The Age of Sail: A Time When the Fortunes of Nations and Lives of Seamen Literally Turned With the Winds Their Ships Encountered at Sea," Journal of Navigation 63:4 (October 2010), 717-731.

J.A. Bennett, "Science Lost and Longitude Found: The Tercentenary of John Harrison," Journal for the History of Astronomy 24:4 (1993), 281-287.

Arnold Wolfendale, "Shipwrecks, Clocks and Westminster Abbey: The Story of John Harrison," Historian 97 (Spring 2008), 14-17.

William E. Carter and Merri Sue Carter, "The British Longitude Act Reconsidered," American Scientist 100:2 (March/April 2012), 102-105.

Robin W. Spencer, "Open Innovation in the Eighteenth Century: The Longitude Problem," Research Technology Management 55:4 (July/August 2012), 39-43.

"Longitude Found: John Harrison," Royal Museums Greenwich (accessed Aug. 27, 2017).

"John Harrison," American Society of Mechanical Engineers (accessed Aug. 27, 2017).

J.C. Taylor and A.W. Wolfendale, "John Harrison: Clockmaker and Copley Medalist," Notes and Records, Royal Society Journal of the History of Science, Jan. 22, 2007.

An Act for the Encouragement of John Harrison, to Publish and Make Known His Invention of a Machine or Watch, for the Discovery of the Longitude at Sea, 1763.

John Harrison, An Account of the Proceedings, in Order to the Discovery of the Longitude, 1763.

John Harrison, A Narrative of the Proceedings Relative to the Discovery of the Longitude at Sea, 1765.

Nevil Maskelyne, An Account of the Going of Mr. John Harrison's Watch, at the Royal Observatory, 1767.

John Harrison, Remarks on a Pamphlet Lately Published by the Rev. Mr. Maskelyne, 1767.

An Act for Granting to His Majesty a Certain Sum of Money Out of the Sinking Fund, 1773.

John Harrison, A Description Concerning Such Mechanism as Will Afford a Nice, or True Mensuration of Time, 1775.

Steve Connor, "John Harrison's 'Longitude' Clock Sets New Record -- 300 Years On," Independent, April 18, 2015.

Robin McKie, "Clockmaker John Harrison Vindicated 250 Years After 'Absurd' Claims," Guardian, April 18, 2015.

Listener mail:

Charlie Hintz, "DNA Ends 120 Year Mystery of H.H. Holmes' Death," Cult of Weird, Aug. 31, 2017.

"Descendant of H.H. Holmes Reveals What He Found at Serial Killer's Gravesite in Delaware County," NBC10, July 18, 2017.

Brian X. McCrone and George Spencer, "Was It Really 'America's First Serial Killer' H.H. Holmes Buried in a Delaware County Grave?", NBC10, Aug. 31, 2017.

Daniel Hahn, The Tower Menagerie, 2004.

James Owen, "Medieval Lion Skulls Reveal Secrets of Tower of London 'Zoo,'" National Geographic News, Nov. 3, 2005.

Richard Davey, Tower of London, 1910.

Bill Bailey reads from the Indonesian-to-English phrasebook Practical Dialogues:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rZZv6D4hpK8

A few photos of Practical Dialogues.

This week's lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Oskar Sigvardsson, 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.

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!

168-The Destruction of the Doves Type  

In March 1913, Thomas James Cobden-Sanderson threw the most beautiful typeface in the world off of London's Hammersmith Bridge to keep it out of the hands of his estranged printing partner. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll explore what would lead a man to destroy the culmination of his life's work -- and what led one modern admirer to try to revive it.

We'll also scrutinize a housekeeper and puzzle over a slumped child.

Intro:

Gustav Mahler rejected the Berlin Royal Opera because of the shape of his nose.

In 1883, inventor Robert Heath enumerated the virtues of glowing hats.

Sources for our feature on the Doves Press:

Marianne Tidcombe, The Doves Press, 2002.

The Journals of Thomas James Cobden-Sanderson, 1926.

"The Doves Press" -- A Kelmscott Revival," New York Times, Feb. 16, 1901, BR9.

"The Revival of Printing as an Art," New York Tribune, Sept. 14, 1901, 11.

"The Doves Press Bible," Guardian, March 10, 1904.

"The Doves Press," Athenaeum, Jan. 12, 1907, 54-54.

"The Doves Press," Athenaeum, June 13, 1908, 729-730.

Dissolution of the partnership, London Gazette, July 27, 1909, 5759.

"Doves Press Type in River: Memoirs of T.C. Sanderson Tell How He Disposed of It," New York Times, Sept. 8, 1926, 27.

Arthur Millier, "Bookbinding Art Proves Inspiration: Doves Press Exhibit Reveals Devotion to Lofty Ideals," Los Angeles Times, April 2, 1933, A2.

Charles B. Russell, "Cobden-Sanderson and the Doves Press," Prairie Schooner 14:3 (Fall 1940), 180-192.

Carole Cable, "The Printing Types of the Doves Press: Their History and Destruction," Library Quarterly 44:3 (July 1974), 219-230.

Marcella D. Genz, "The Doves Press [review]," Library Quarterly 74:1 (January 2004), 91-94.

"Biographies of the Key Figures Involved in the Doves Press," International League of Antiquarian Booksellers, Dec. 22, 2009.

"The Doves Type Reborn," Association Typographique Internationale, Dec. 20, 2010.

"The Fight Over the Doves," Economist, Dec. 19, 2013.

Justin Quirk, "X Marks the Spot," Sunday Times, Jan. 11, 2015, 22.

Rachael Steven, "Recovering the Doves Type," Creative Review, Feb. 3, 2015.

Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan, "The Gorgeous Typeface That Drove Men Mad and Sparked a 100-Year Mystery," Gizmodo, Feb. 16, 2015.

Rich Rennicks, "The Doves Press Story," New Antiquarian, Feb. 24, 2015.

"One Man's Obsession With Rediscovering the Lost Doves Type," BBC News Magazine, Feb. 25, 2015.

"15 Things You Didn't Know About the Doves Press & Its Type," Typeroom, Oct. 20, 2015.

"An Obsessive Type: The Tale of the Doves Typeface," BBC Radio 4, July 28, 2016.

Sujata Iyengar, "Intermediating the Book Beautiful: Shakespeare at the Doves Press," Shakespeare Quarterly 67:4 (Winter 2016), 481-502.

"The Doves Type," Typespec (accessed Aug. 20, 2017).

"Raised From the Dead: The Doves Type Story," Typespec (accessed Aug. 20, 2017).

"History of the Doves Type," Typespec (accessed Aug. 21, 2017).

"Doves Press," Cheltenham Art Gallery & Museum (accessed Aug. 20, 2017).

"Doves Press Collection," Bruce Peel Special Collections, University of Alberta (accessed Aug. 20, 2017).

Listener mail:

Becky Oskin, "Yosemite Outsmarts Its Food-Stealing Bears," Live Science, March 3, 2014.

Kristin Hohenadel, "Vancouver Bans Doorknobs," Slate, Nov. 26 2013.

Jeff Lee, "Vancouver's Ban on the Humble Doorknob Likely to Be a Trendsetter," Vancouver Sun, Nov. 19, 2013.

Jonathan Goodman, The Slaying of Joseph Bowne Elwell, 1987.

"Housekeeper Admits Shielding Woman by Hiding Garments in Elwell Home," New York Times, June 17, 1920.

"Elwell Crime Still Mystery," Los Angeles Times, June 19, 1920.

"Housekeeper Gives New Elwell Facts," New York Times, June 25, 1920.

This week's lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Dean Gootee.

Please visit Littleton Coin Company to sell your coins and currency, or call them toll free 1-877-857-7850.

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!

167-A Manhattan Murder Mystery  

In May 1920, whist expert Joseph Bowne Elwell was found shot to death alone in his locked house in upper Manhattan. The police identified hundreds of people who might have wanted Elwell dead, but they couldn't pin the crime on any of them. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll review a locked-room murder that the Chicago Tribune called "one of the toughest mysteries of all times."

We'll also learn a new use for scuba gear and puzzle over a sympathetic vandal.

Intro:

The Dodgers, Yankees, and Giants played a three-way baseball game in 1944.

Avon, Colorado, has a bridge called Bob.

Sources for our feature on Joseph Elwell:

Jonathan Goodman, The Slaying of Joseph Bowne Elwell, 1987.

Joseph Bowne Elwell, Bridge, Its Principles and Rules of Play, 1903

"J.B. Elwell, Whist Expert and Race Horse Owner, Slain," New York Times, June 12, 1920, 1.

"Seek Young Woman in Elwell Mystery," New York Times, June 13, 1920, 14.

"Scour City Garages for Elwell Clue," New York Times, June 14, 1920, 1.

"'Woman in Black' at the Ritz Enters Elwell Mystery," New York Times, June 16, 1920, 1.

"Two Men and Women Hunted in New Trail for Slayer of Elwell," New York Tribune, June 16, 1920, 1.

"Housekeeper Admits Shielding Woman by Hiding Garments in Elwell Home," New York Times, June 17, 1920, 1.

"Mrs. Elwell Bares Divorce Project," New York Times, June 17, 1920, 1.

"Swann Baffled at Every Turn in Elwell Mystery," New York Times, June 19, 1920, 1.

"'Mystery Girl in Elwell Case Is Found," Washington Times, June 19, 1920, 1.

"Elwell, Discarding Palm Beach Woman, Revealed Threats," New York Times, June 20, 1920, 1.

"Elwell, the Man of Many Masks," New York Times, June 20, 1920, 12.

"Elwell Traced to Home at 2:30 on Day of Murder," New York Times, June 21, 1920, 1.

"'Unwritten Law' Avenger Sought in Elwell Case," New York Times, June 22, 1920, 1.

"Think Assassin Hid for Hours in Elwell Home," New York Times, June 23, 1920, 1.

"Admits Breakfasting With Von Schlegell," New York Times, June 23, 1920, 3.

"Officials Baffled by Contradictions Over Elwell Calls," New York Times, June 24, 1920, 1.

"Housekeeper Gives New Elwell Facts," New York Times, June 25, 1920, 1.

"Pendleton, Amazed Awaiting Inquiry in Elwell Case," New York Times, June 28, 1920, 1.

"'Bootlegger' Clue in Elwell Case Bared by Check," New York Times, June 29, 1920, 1.

"Elwell Rum Ring Bared by Shevlin," New York Times, July 2, 1920, 14.

"Viola Kraus Again on Elwell Grill," New York Times, July 3, 1920, 14.

"The People and Their Daily Troubles," Los Angeles Times, July 6, 1920: II2.

"Says Witness Lied in Elwell Inquiry," New York Times, July 7, 1920, 11.

"Whisky Is Seized in Elwell Mystery," New York Times, July 10, 1920, 10.

"New Elwell Clue Found by Police," New York Times, July 11, 1920, 16.

"'Beatrice,' New Witness Sought in Elwell Case," New York Tribune, July 11, 1920, 6.

"Says He Murdered Elwell," New York Times, July 14, 1920, 17.

"Quiz Figueroa Again in Elwell Mystery," New York Times, July 17, 1920, 14.

"Chauffeur Quizzed in Elwell Mystery," New York Times, July 20, 1920, 8.

"Elwell Evidence Put Up to Whitman," New York Times, April 2, 1921, 11.

"Confesses Murder of Elwell and Says Woman Paid for It," New York Times, April 7, 1921, 1.

"Admits Elwell Murder," Los Angeles Times, April 7, 1921, I1.

"Confessed Elwell Slayer Identifies Woman Employer," New York Times, April 8, 1921, 1.

"Confessed Slayer of Elwell Is Sane, Alienist Declares," New York Times, April 9, 1921, 1.

"Harris Admits His Elwell Murder Tale Was All a Lie," New York Times, April 11, 1921, 1.

"Elwell and Keenan Slayers Are Known," Fort Wayne [Ind.] Sentinel, Oct. 17, 1923, 1.

"Elwell's Slayer Known to Police," New York Times, Oct. 21, 1923, E4.

"Fifth Anniversary of the Elwell Murder Finds It Listed as the Perfect Mystery," New York Times, June 12, 1925, 21.

"Elwell Cut Off," New York Times, April 12, 1927, 19.

"Murder of Elwell Recalled in Suicide," New York Times, Oct. 15, 1927, 21.

"Joseph Elwell Murder in 1920 Still Mystery," Chicago Tribune, Feb. 21, 1955.

David J. Krajicek, "Who Would Want to Kill Joe Elwell?" New York Daily News, Feb. 13, 2011.

Douglas J. Lanska, "Optograms and Criminology: Science, News Reporting, and Fanciful Novels," in Anne Stiles et al., Literature, Neurology, and Neuroscience: Historical and Literary Connections, 2013.

Kirk Curnutt, "The Gatsby Murder Case," in Alfred Bendixen and Olivia Carr Edenfield, eds., The Centrality of Crime Fiction in American Literary Culture, 2017.

Listener mail:

Paul Rubin, "Burning Man: An Attorney Says He Escaped His Blazing Home Using Scuba Gear; Now He's Charged with Arson," Phoenix New Times, Aug. 27, 2009.

Michael Walsh, "Autopsy Shows Michael Marin, Arizona Man Who Was Former Wall Street Trader, Killed Self With Cyanide After Hearing Guilty Verdict," New York Daily News, July 27, 2012.

"Michael Marin Update: Canister Labeled 'Cyanide' Found in Arsonist's Vehicle, Investigators Say," CBS News/Associated Press, July 12, 2012.

Ed Lavandera, "Ex-Banker's Courtroom Death an Apparent Suicide," CNN, July 11, 2012.

At the guilty verduct, Marin put his hands to his mouth, apparently swallowed something, and collapsed in court:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fWO_O4ScAsg

Alex Papadimoulis, "Suzanne the 1000th Malone," The Daily WTF, Jan. 15, 2008.

Oxford Dictionaries, "What Are the Plurals of 'Octopus', 'Hippopotamus', 'Syllabus'?"

"Octopus," "Ask the Editor," Merriam-Webster.

This week's lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Oliver Bayley. Here are some corroborating links (warning -- these spoil the puzzle).

Please visit Littleton Coin Company to sell your coins and currency, or call them toll free 1-877-857-7850.

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!

166-A Dangerous Voyage  

After Japan invaded the Philippines in 1941 two American servicemen hatched a desperate plan to sail 3,000 miles to Allied Australia in a 20-foot wooden fishing boat. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll join Rocky Gause and William Osborne as they struggle to avoid the Japanese and reach safety.

We'll also tell time in Casablanca and puzzle over a towing fatality.

Intro:

H.M. Small patented a hammock for railway passenger cars in 1889.

The clock face on the Marienkirche in Bergen auf Rügen, Germany, has 61 minutes.

Sources for our feature on Damon Gause:

Damon Gause, The War Journal of Major Damon "Rocky" Gause, 1999.

William L. Osborne, Voyage into the Wind, 2013.

Stephan Wilkinson, "10 Great POW Escapes," Military History 28:4 (November 2011), 28-33,5.

"Two U.S. Officers Flee Philippines By a 159-Day Journey to Australia," New York Times, Oct. 20, 1942, 6.

"Bataan-to-Australia Escape Takes 159 Days," Los Angeles Times, Oct. 20, 1942, 1.

"U.S. Officers in Australia After Fleeing Philippines," New York Times, Oct. 24, 1942, 5.

"Angry Officer Who Fled Luzon Tells Odyssey," Los Angeles Times, Nov. 4, 1942, A1.

"Crash Kills Gause, Who Fled Bataan," New York Times, March 17, 1944, 7.

Mark Pino, "Bataan Survivors Meet, Share Stories of Strength," Orlando Sentinel, May 4, 1997, 1.

Tunku Varadarajan, "Bidding War for Diary of Great Escape," Times, May 8, 1998, 20.

David Usborne, "Hero's Voyage Ends in Hollywood," Independent, May 9, 1998, 13.

Don O'Briant, "Georgia Officer's Great Escape to Get Hollywood Treatment," Atlanta Constitution, March 4, 1999, 1.

Mark Pino, "War Hero's Tribute Marching On," Orlando Sentinel, April 21, 1999, 1.

Bill Baab, "Journal Documents Great Escapes During War," Augusta Chronicle, Jan. 16, 2000, F5.

Christopher Dickey, "The Great Escape," New York Times, Jan. 23, 2000.

Don O'Briant, "Veterans Day: Sons Relive WWII Tale of Perilous Getaway," Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Nov. 11, 2001, 1.

"The Firsthand Account of One of the Greatest Escapes of World War II," Book TV, CSPAN2, 2000.

Robert E. Hood, "The Incredible Escape," Boys' Life, May 2002.

Chris Petrikin and Benedict Carver, "Miramax Escapes With 'War Journal,'" Variety, Feb. 9, 1999.

Listener mail:

Telling time in Casablanca.

We discussed English as She Is Spoke in Episode 58.

Deb Belt, "Chesapeake Bay Lighthouse Is the Right House for $15K," Baltimore Patch, Aug. 1, 2017.

Beth Dalbey, "5 Historic Great Lakes Lighthouses for Sale in Michigan," Baltimore Patch, July 28, 2017.

A Maryland lighthouse for sale by the General Services Administration.

To see all the lighthouses currently at auction, search for "lighthouse" on this page.

This week's lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener David Pruessner.

Please visit Littleton Coin Company to sell your coins and currency, or call them toll free 1-877-857-7850.

Get your free trial set from Harry's, including a handle, blade, shave gel, and travel blade cover, by visiting http://harrys.com/closet.

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!

165-A Case of Mistaken Identity  

In 1896, Adolf Beck found himself caught up in a senseless legal nightmare: Twelve women from around London insisted that he'd deceived them and stolen their cash and jewelry. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll follow Beck's incredible ordeal, which ignited a scandal and inspired historic reforms in the English justice system.

We'll also covet some noble socks and puzzle over a numerical sacking.

Intro:

A 1631 edition of the Bible omitted not in "Thou shalt not commit adultery."

When the first hydrogen balloon landed in 1783, frightened villagers attacked it with pitchforks.

Sources for our feature on Adolph Beck:

Tim Coates, The Strange Story of Adolph Beck, 1999.

Jim Morris, The Who's Who of British Crime, 2015.

"An English Dreyfus," Goodwin's Weekly, Sept. 22, 1904, 6.

"Police Effort Was Tragedy," [Grand Forks, N.D.] Evening Times, Dec. 24, 1909, 1.

"Errors of English Court," Holt County [Mo.] Sentinel, Dec. 2, 1904, 2.

"England's Dreyfus Case Is at an End," [Scotland, S.D.] Citizen-Republican, Dec. 1, 1904, 3.

"Sir Arthur Conan Doyle a Detective in Real Life," New York Sun, May 31, 1914, 3.

"Jailed for Another's Crime," [Astoria, Ore.] Morning Astorian, Aug. 13, 1904, 4.

Judith Rowbotham, Kim Stevenson, and Samantha Pegg, Crime News in Modern Britain: Press Reporting and Responsibility, 1820-2010.

Graham Davies and Laurence Griffiths, "Eyewitness Identification and the English Courts: A Century of Trial and Error," Psychiatry, Psychology and Law 15:3 (November 2008), 435-449.

Haia Shpayer-Makov, "Journalists and Police Detectives in Victorian and Edwardian England: An Uneasy Reciprocal Relationship," Journal of Social History 42:4 (Summer 2009), 963-987.

D. Michael Risinger, "Unsafe Verdicts: The Need for Reformed Standards for the Trial and Review of Factual Innocence Claims," Houston Law Review 41 (January 2004), 1281.

"Remarkable Case of A. Beck: Innocent Man Twice Convicted of a Mean Offense," New York Times, Aug 13, 1904, 6.

J.H. Wigmore, "The Bill to Make Compensation to Persons Erroneously Convicted of Crime," Journal of the American Institute of Criminal Law and Criminology 3:5 (January 1913), 665-667.

C. Ainsworth Mitchell, "Handwriting and Its Value as Evidence," Journal of the Royal Society of Arts 71:3673 (April 13, 1923), 373-384.

Brian Cathcart, "The Strange Case of Adolf Beck," Independent, Oct. 16, 2004.

"Adolf Beck, Unlawfully Obtaining From Fanny Nutt Two Gold Rings," Proceedings of the Old Bailey, Feb. 24, 1896.

In the photo above, Adolph Beck is on the left, John Smith on the right. In July 1904, Smith was actually brought to Brixton Prison while Beck was being held there. Beck wrote, "I saw him at chapel two or three times. There is no resemblance between us."

Listener mail:

"Why Weren't the Clothes of the Pompeii Victims Destroyed by the Heat of a Pyroclastic Current?" Pompeii: The Mystery of the People Frozen in Time, Learning Zone, BBC, March 28, 2013.

Natasha Sheldon, "How Did the People of Pompeii Die? Suffocation Versus Thermal Shock," Decoded Past, April 1, 2014.

Harriet Torry, "It's a Vasectomy Party! Snips, Chips and Dips With Your Closest Friends," Wall Street Journal, July 23, 2017.

This week's lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Anees Rao, who sent this corroborating link (warning -- this spoils the puzzle).

Please visit Littleton Coin Company to sell your coins and currency, or call them toll free 1-877-857-7850.

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!

164-Vigil on the Ice  

In 1930, British explorer Augustine Courtauld volunteered to spend the winter alone on the Greenland ice cap, manning a remote weather station. As the snow gradually buried his hut and his supplies steadily dwindled, his relief party failed to arrive. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll follow Courtauld's increasingly desperate vigil on the ice.

We'll also retreat toward George III and puzzle over some unexpected evidence.

Intro:

Rudyard Kipling hid messages in his illustrations for the Just So Stories.

In the early 1900s, Danes bred pigs colored to resemble the Danish flag.

Sources for our feature on Augustine Courtauld:

Nicholas Wollaston, The Man on the Ice Cap, 1980.

Mollie Butler, August and Rab, 1987.

"Augustine Courtauld," Encyclopedia Arctica (accessed July 23, 2017).

"Augustine Courtauld," Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (accessed July 23, 2017).

"The British Arctic Air Route Expedition," Geographical Journal 76:1 (July 1930), 67-68.

"British Air Route to the Arctic Regions," Science, New Series, 72:1857 (Aug. 1, 1930), 108-109.

"Swedish Flier Ready to Hop for Greenland to Rescue Courtauld, Young British Explorer," New York Times, April 27, 1931, 4.

Svend Carstensen, "Ahrenberg to Start Rescue Flight Today," New York Times, April 29, 1931, 12.

Svend Carstensen, "Ahrenberg on Way to Save Courtauld, Lost in Greenland," New York Times, April 30, 1931, 1.

"Rescuers Race to Locate Lost Arctic Explorer," China Press, May 2, 1931, 13.

E. Lemon, "Plane in Greenland to Hunt Courtauld," New York Times, May 3, 1931, 2.

Percy Lemon, "Ahrenberg Ready to Fly to Ice Cap," New York Times, May 5, 1931, 6.

"Courtauld Hunted by Sea, Air And Land: Area of Great Arctic Search," New York Times, May 8, 1931, 12.

"Courtauld Rescued," Los Angeles Times, May 8, 1931, 3.

Percy Lemon, "Courtauld Is Found Safe on the Greenland Ice Cap," New York Times, May 8, 1931, 1.

Albin Ahrenberg, "Ahrenberg to Guide Courtauld To Camp," New York Times, May 9, 1931, 1.

Percy Lemon, "Courtauld Back Safely on Greenland Coast," New York Times, May 12, 1931, 1.

H.G. Watkins, "Courtauld Search a Surprise to Him," New York Times, May 14, 1931, 12.

"Courtauld Buried in Igloo 2 Months," Associated Press, May 15, 1931.

"Arctic Burial Escape Told," Los Angeles Times, May 15, 1931, 4.

"Courtauld Tells Story of Long Imprisonment," China Press, May 15, 1931, 1.

"Rescued From Greenland's Icy Cap," Sphere 125:1634 (May 16, 1931), 278.

"Courtauld to Sail Home on First Ship," New York Times, May 17, 1931, 2.

T.J.C. Martyn, "Greenland Is Still a Scientific Puzzle," New York Times, May 24, 1931, 4.

Augustine Courtauld, "Courtauld's Story of the Five Months He Spent on Ice Cap," New York Times, May 29, 1931, 1.

"The Ice-Cap Hero," New York Times, May 30, 1931, 8.

"The British Arctic Air Route Expedition," Geographical Journal 77:6 (June 1931), 551-554.

"From the Four Winds: Mr. Courtauld's Arctic Vigil," China Herald, June 30, 1931, 459.

"The British Arctic Air Route Expedition," Geographical Journal 78:3 (September 1931), 291.

F.S. Chapman, "Watkins and Aides Held in No Danger," New York Times, Sept. 19, 1931, 17.

"Explorers Return From Greenland," New York Times, Nov. 14, 1931, 8.

William Goodenough, Augustine Courtauld, Lauge Koch, J.M. Wordie, and H.R. Mill, "The British Arctic Air Route Expedition: Discussion," Geographical Journal 79:6 (June 1932), 497-501.

Percy Cox, Helge Larsen, Augustine Courtauld, M.A. Spender and J.M. Wordie, "A Journey in Rasmussen Land: Discussion," Geographical Journal 88:3 (September 1936), 208-215.

Henry Balfour, E.C. Fountaine, W.A. Deer, Augustine Courtauld, L.R. Wager, and Ebbe Munck, "The Kangerdlugssuak Region of East Greenland: Discussion," Geographical Journal 90:5 (November 1937), 422-425.

"Augustine Courtauld Dies at 54: Explored Greenland in Thirties," New York Times, March 4, 1959, 31.

L.R. Wager, "Mr. Augustine Courtauld," Nature 183:4666 (April 4, 1959).

Quintin Riley, "Obituary: Augustine Courtauld 1904-1959," Geographical Journal 125:2 (June 1959), 286-287.

Ronald Porter, "Lady Butler of Saffron Walden,'" Independent, April 1, 2009.

Listener mail:

Matthew J. Kinservik, Sex, Scandal, and Celebrity in Late Eighteenth-Century England, 2007.

Chris Best, "Watch: Hungry Bear Opens Fridge, Rummages Through Home," wkrg.com, July 6, 2017.

"NC Bear Opens SUV Door, Climbs Inside and Destroys It," wncn.com, July 8, 2017.

Mark Price, "NC's Bears Are Now Opening Car Doors, Leading to Strange Driveway Encounters," Charlotte Observer, July 9, 2017.

"Bear and the SUV," Sylva Herald, June 21, 2017.

This week's lateral thinking puzzle was devised by Sharon. Here are three corroborating links (warning -- these spoil the puzzle).

You can listen using the player above, download this episode directly, or subscribe on Apple Podcasts 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 or browse our online store for Futility Closet merchandise.

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!

163-Enslaved in the Sahara  

In 1815 an American ship ran aground in northwestern Africa, and its crew were enslaved by merciless nomads. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll follow the desperate efforts of Captain James Riley to find a way to cross the Sahara and beg for help from Western officials in Morocco.

We'll also wade through more molasses and puzzle over a prospective guitar thief.

Intro:

In 1972 archaeologists in northwestern Iran found evidence of one couple's tender final moment.

An anonymous author recast "A Visit From St. Nicholas" in legal language.

Sources for our feature on James Riley:

Dean King, Skeletons on the Zahara, 2004.

James Riley, An Authentic Narrative of the Loss of the American Brig Commerce, 1817.

Archibald Robbins, A Journal, Comprising an Account of the Loss of the Brig Commerce, of Hartford Conn., 1847.

James Riley and William Willshire Riley, Sequel to Riley's Narrative, 1851.

Robert J. Allison, The Crescent Obscured: The United States and the Muslim World, 1776-1815, 1995.

Christine E. Sears, American Slaves and African Masters, 2012.

Paul Baepler, ed., White Slaves, African Masters: An Anthology of American Barbary Captivity Narratives, 1999.

Eamonn Gearon, The Sahara: A Cultural History, 2011.

Dean King, "The Cruelest Journey," National Geographic Adventure 6:1 (February 2004), 46.

Paul Michel Baepler, "The Barbary Captivity Narrative in American Culture," Early American Literature 39:2 (2004), 217-246.

Sven D. Outram-Leman, "Alexander Scott: Constructing a Legitimate Geography of the Sahara From a Captivity Narrative, 1821," History in Africa 43 (2016), 63-94.

Gordon M. Sayre, "Renegades From Barbary: The Transnational Turn in Captivity Studies," American Literary History 22:2 (Summer 2010), 347-359.

Glenn James Voelz, "Images of Enemy and Self in the Age of Jefferson: The Barbary Conflict in Popular Literary Depiction," War & Society 28:2 (2009), 21-47.

Hester Blum, "Pirated Tars, Piratical Texts: Barbary Captivity and American Sea Narratives," Early American Studies 1:2 (Fall 2003), 133-158.

Paul Baepler, "White Slaves, African Masters," Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 588:1 (July 2003), 90-104.

R. Gerald McMurtry, "The Influence of Riley's Narrative Upon Abraham Lincoln," Indiana Magazine of History 30:2 (June 1934), 133-138.

K. Gerald McMurtry, "Some Books That Lincoln Read," Journal of Developmental Reading 1:2 (Winter 1958), 19-26.

Mark Kirby, "Author's Sahara Trek Inspired by Classic Tale," National Geographic Adventure, Jan. 27, 2004.

"Riley's Sufferings in the Great Desert," Chambers's Edinburgh Journal, Dec. 24, 1836, 382-383.

Robert C. Davis, "Slavery in North Africa -- The Famous Story of Captain James Riley," Public Domain Review (accessed July 9, 2017).

Lev Grossman, "Sailing the Seas of Sand," Time 163:9 (March 1, 2004), 47.

Listener mail:

Dana Rieck, "Loveland's Sticky Situation Reaches 25-Year Anniversary," Loveland [Colo.] Reporter-Herald, Feb. 16, 2015.

"Meet Stan, the New Flemish Hermit!" Flanders News, Feb. 5, 2017.

Ben Gilbert, "These Incredible Photos Show One 72-Year-Old Woman's Hermit Lifestyle in Siberia," Business Insider, July 1, 2017.

Jennifer Schaffer, "The Snatching of Hannah Twynnoy."

"Hannah Twynnoy and the Tiger of Malmesbury."

Steve Winters' decimal clock.

This week's lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Dan White, who sent this corroborating photo (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 or browse our online store for Futility Closet merchandise.

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!

162-John Muir and Stickeen  

One stormy morning in 1880, naturalist John Muir set out to explore a glacier in Alaska's Taylor Bay, accompanied by an adventurous little dog that had joined his expedition. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll describe the harrowing predicament that the two faced on the ice, which became the basis of one of Muir's most beloved stories.

We'll also marvel at some phonetic actors and puzzle over a season for vasectomies.

Intro:

In 1904 a 12-year-old J.R.R. Tolkien sent this rebus to a family friend.

In 1856 Preston Brooks beat Charles Sumner with a gold-headed cane on the floor of the U.S. Senate.

Sources for our feature on John Muir and Stickeen:

John Muir, Stickeen, 1909.

Ronald H. Limbaugh, John Muir's "Stickeen" and the Lessons of Nature, 1996.

Kim Heacox, John Muir and the Ice That Started a Fire, 2014.

Ronald H. Limbaugh, "Stickeen and the Moral Education of John Muir," Environmental History Review 15:1 (Spring 1991), 25-45.

Hal Crimmel, "No Place for 'Little Children and Tender, Pulpy People': John Muir in Alaska," Pacific Northwest Quarterly 92:4 (Fall 2001), 171-180.

Stefan Beck, "The Outdoor Kid," New Criterion 33:4 (December 2014), 1-6.

Edward Hoagland, "John Muir's Alaskan Rhapsody," American Scholar 71:2 (Spring 2002), 101-105.

Ronald H. Limbaugh, "John Muir and Modern Environmental Education," California History 71:2 (Summer 1992), 170-177.

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, "John Muir" (accessed July 2, 2017).

"John Muir: Naturalist," Journal of Education 81:6 (Feb. 11, 1915), 146.

William Frederic Badè, "John Muir," Science 41:1053 (March 5, 1915), 353-354.

Charles R. Van Hise, "John Muir," Science 45:1153 (Feb. 2, 1917), 103-109.

Listener mail:

Delta Spirit, "Ballad of Vitaly."

Wikipedia, "Aftermath (2017 Film)" (accessed July 14, 2017).

Wikipedia, "Überlingen Mid-Air Collision" (accessed July 14, 2017).

Anthony Breznican, "'The Princess Bride': 10 Inconceivable Facts From Director Rob Reiner," Entertainment Weekly, Aug. 16, 2013.

Wikipedia, "Charlotte Kate Fox" (accessed July 14, 2017).

Wikipedia, "Incubus (1966 film)" (accessed July 14, 2017).

Wikipedia, "Esperanto" (accessed July 14, 2017).

Toño del Barrio, "Esperanto and Cinema" (accessed July 14, 2017).

Wikipedia, "Phonetical Singing" (accessed July 14, 2017).

Wikipedia, "Deliver Us (The Prince of Egypt)" (accessed July 14, 2017).

This week's lateral thinking puzzle was inspired by an item in Dan Lewis' Now I Know enewsletter. (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 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!

161-The Girl Who Fell From the Sky  

In 1971 high school student Juliane Koepcke fell two miles into the Peruvian rain forest when her airliner broke up in a thunderstorm. Miraculously, she survived the fall, but her ordeal was just beginning. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll describe Juliane's arduous trek through the jungle in search of civilization and help.

We'll also consider whether goats are unlucky and puzzle over the shape of doorknobs.

Intro:

Before writing about time machines, H.G. Wells calculated that he'd earned a single pound in his writing endeavors.

In 1868, as an engineering trainee, Robert Louis Stevenson explored the foundation of a breakwater at Wick.

Sources for our feature on Juliane Koepcke:

Juliane Diller, When I Fell From the Sky, 2011.

"She Lived and 91 Others Died," Life 72:3 (Jan. 28, 1972), 38.

"Jungle Trek: Survivor of Crash Tells of Struggle," Los Angeles Times, Jan. 6, 1972, A11.

"Didn't Want to Steal: Survivor of Crash Passed Up Canoe," Los Angeles Times, Jan. 9, 1972, A7.

Jennings Parrott, "The Newsmakers: It's Back to School for Peru Survivor," Los Angeles Times, March 20, 1972, A2.

Werner Herzog, Wings of Hope, 2000.

Dan Koeppel, "Taking a Fall," Popular Mechanics, February 2010.

Jason Daley, "I Will Survive," Outside 29:9 (Sept. 1, 2004), 64.

Stephan Wilkinson, "Amazing But True Stories," Aviation History, May 2014.

Tom Littlewood, "The Woman Who Fell to Earth," Vice, Sept. 2, 2010.

"Juliane Koepcke: How I Survived a Plane Crash," BBC News, March 24, 2012.

Frederik Pleitgen, "Survivor Still Haunted by 1971 Air Crash," CNN, July 2, 2009.

Sally Williams, "Sole Survivor: The Woman Who Fell to Earth," Telegraph, March 22, 2012.

Katherine MacDonald, "Survival Stories: The Girl Who Fell From the Sky," Reader's Digest (accessed July 2, 2017).

Listener mail:

"America's First Serial Killer - H.H. Holmes," geocaching.com (accessed July 7, 2017).

Colin Ainsworth, "Mystery in Yeadon: Who Is Buried in Serial Killer's Grave?" Delaware County [Pa.] Daily Times, May 21, 2017.

Robert McCoppin and Tony Briscoe, "Is 'Devil in White City' Buried in Tomb? Remains to Be Unearthed to Find Out," Chicago Tribune, May 4, 2017.

ShaoLan Hsueh, "The Chinese Zodiac, Explained," TED2016, February 2016.

Wikipedia, "Erdős–Bacon Number" (accessed July 7, 2017).

Erdos, Bacon, Sabbath.

Natalie Portman (Erdős-Bacon number 7) co-authored this paper under her birth name, Natalie Hershlag:

Abigail A.Baird, Jerome Kagan, Thomas Gaudette, Kathryn A. Walz, Natalie Hershlag, and David A.Boas, "Frontal Lobe Activation During Object Permanence: Data From Near-Infrared Spectroscopy," NeuroImage 16:4 (August 2002), 1120–1126.

Colin Firth (Erdős-Bacon number 7) was credited as a co-author of this paper after suggesting on a radio program that such a study could be done:

Ryota Kanai, Tom Feilden, Colin Firth, and Geraint Rees, "Political Orientations Are Correlated With Brain Structure in Young Adults," Current Biology 21:8 (April 2011), 677–680.

This week's lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Alon Shaham, 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 or browse our online store for Futility Closet merchandise.

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!

 

160-The Birmingham Sewer Lion  

Birmingham, England, faced a surprising crisis in 1889: A lion escaped a traveling menagerie and took up residence in the city's sewers, terrifying the local population. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll descend into the tunnels with Frank Bostock, the 21-year-old manager who set out to capture the desperate beast.

We'll also revisit a cosmic mystery and puzzle over an incomprehensible language.

Intro:

Historian Bell Wiley collected the misspellings of Confederate soldiers.

The minuet in Haydn's Piano Sonata in A Major is a palindrome.

Sources for our feature on the Birmingham lion escape:

"The Escape of Lions From the Menagerie at Birmingham," Graphic, Oct. 5, 1889, 412.

"A Lion Hunt in Birmingham," Graphic 40:1036 (Oct. 5, 1889), 407.

"Hunting a Lion in a Sewer," New York Times, Oct. 20, 1889, 9.

"Lion Hunting in Birmingham," Scientific American Supplement, No. 724 (Nov. 16, 1889), 11568.

"Lion-Hunting in Birmingham," Poverty Bay (New Zealand) Herald, 16:5625 (Nov. 21, 1889), 3.

Frank Charles Bostock, The Training of Wild Animals, 1903.

Frank C. Bostock and H.J. Shepstone, "A Lion-Hunt in a Sewer," Wide World Magazine 21:126 (October 1908), 523-529.

Frank C. Bostock, "The Tightest Corner I Was Ever In," Boys' Life 1:4 (June 1911), 44-46.

Will Oliphant, "The Lion Tamer of Birmingham," Birmingham Evening Mail, July 31, 2010, 3.

Helen Cowie, "Philadelphia Zebras: Six Great Animal Escapes of the Victorian Era," Independent, Nov. 17, 2015.

Ben Hurst, "Panic on Streets as Circus Lion Runs Free," Birmingham Evening Mail, Nov. 27, 2015.

Bethan Bell, "When a Lion Prowled the Streets of Birmingham," BBC News, May 14, 2017.

"A terrific fight took place between the two animals." From Wide World Magazine.

Listener mail:

Jesse Emspak, "Has Mysterious Signal From Space Finally Been Explained?" NBC News, June 14, 2017.

"The 'Wow!' Signal," Center for Planetary Science (accessed June 30, 2017).

Rachel Premack, "Why Korean Companies Are Forcing Their Workers to Go by English Names," Washington Post, May 12, 2007.

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 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 or browse our online store for Futility Closet merchandise.

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!

159-The Mozart of Mathematics  

Mathematician Paul Erdős had no home, no job, and no hobbies. Instead, for 60 years he wandered the world, staying with each of hundreds of collaborators just long enough to finish a project, and then moving on. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll meet the "magician of Budapest," whose restless brilliance made him the most prolific mathematician of the 20th century.

We'll also ponder Japanese cannibalism in World War II and puzzle over a senseless stabbing.

Intro:

Elbert Hubbard published 12 blank pages in 1905.

A duck spent 18 months in the U.S. 2nd Marine Division in 1943.

Sources for our feature on Paul Erdős:

Paul Hoffman, The Man Who Loved Only Numbers, 1999.

The magisterial biography of Erdős. The first chapter is here.

Bruce Schechter, My Brain Is Open, 2000.

Béla Bollobás, "Paul Erdős (1913-96)," Nature, 383:6601 (Oct. 17, 1996), 584.

Melvin Henriksen, "Reminiscences of Paul Erdős," Mathematical Association of America (accessed June 10, 2017).

László Babai, Carl Pomerance, and Péter Vértesi, "The Mathematics of Paul Erdős," Notices of the AMS 45:1 (January 1998).

László Babai and Joel Spencer, "Paul Erdős (1913–1996)," Notices of the AMS 45:1 (January 1998).

Ronald L. Graham, Jaroslav Nesetril, Steve Butler, eds., The Mathematics of Paul Erdős, 2013.

Rodrigo De Castro and Jerrold W. Grossman, "Famous Trails to Paul Erdős," Mathematical Intelligencer 21:3 (January 1999), 51–53.

Bruce Torrence and Ron Graham, "The 100th Birthday of Paul Erdős/Remembering Erdős," Math Horizons 20:4 (April 2013), 10-12.

Krishnaswami Alladi et al., "Reflections on Paul Erdős on His Birth Centenary," Parts I and II, Notices of the American Mathematical Society, 03/2015, 62:2 and 62:3 (February and March 2015).

Béla Bollobás, "To Prove and Conjecture: Paul Erdős and His Mathematics," American Mathematical Monthly 105:3 (March 1998), 209-237.

"Information About Paul Erdős (1913-1996)," Oakland University (accessed June 13, 2017).

Calla Cofield, "An Arbitrary Number of Years Since Mathematician Paul Erdős's Birth," Scientific American, March 26, 2013.

Béla Bollobás, "Obituary: Paul Erdős," Independent, Oct. 2, 1996.

N Is a Number: A Portrait of Paul Erdős, Kanopy Streaming, 2014.

"Paul Erdős," MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive (accessed June 10, 2017).

Above: Erdős teaching 10-year-old Terence Tao in 1985. Tao is now recognized as one of the world's finest mathematicians; he received the Fields Medal in 2006.

Listener mail:

Wikipedia, "Chichijima Incident" (accessed June 23, 2017).

Charles Laurence, "George HW Bush Narrowly Escaped Comrades' Fate of Being Killed and Eaten by Japanese Captors," Telegraph, Feb. 6, 2017.

James Bradley, Flyboys, 2003.

This week's lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Waldo van der Waal, 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 or buy merchandise in our store.

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!

158-The Mistress of Murder Farm  

Belle Gunness was one of America's most prolific female serial killers, luring lonely men to her Indiana farm with promises of marriage, only to rob and kill them. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll tell the story of The LaPorte Black Widow and learn about some of her unfortunate victims.

We'll also break back into Buckingham Palace and puzzle over a bet with the devil.

Intro:

Lee Sallows offered this clueless crossword in November 2015 -- can you solve it?

Souvenir hunters stole a rag doll from the home where Lee surrendered to Grant.

Sources for our feature on Belle Gunness:

Janet L. Langlois, Belle Gunness, 1985.

Richard C. Lindberg, Heartland Serial Killers, 2011.

Ted Hartzell, "Belle Gunness' Poisonous Pen," American History 3:2 (June 2008), 46-51.

Amanda L. Farrell, Robert D. Keppel, and Victoria B. Titterington, "Testing Existing Classifications of Serial Murder Considering Gender: An Exploratory Analysis of Solo Female Serial Murderers," Journal of Investigative Psychology and Offender Profiling 10:3 (October 2013), 268-288.

Kristen Kridel, "Children's Remains Exhumed in 100-Year-Old Murder Mystery," Chicago Tribune, May 14, 2008.

Dan McFeely, "DNA to Help Solve Century-Old Case," Indianapolis Star, Jan. 6, 2008.

Kristen Kridel, "Bones of Children Exhumed," Chicago Tribune, May 14, 2008.

Ted Hartzell, "Did Belle Gunness Really Die in LaPorte?" South Bend [Ind.] Tribune, Nov. 18, 2007.

Edward Baumann and John O'Brien, "Hell's Belle," Chicago Tribune, March 1, 1987.

Associated Press, "Authorities Question Identity of Suspect in Matrimonial Farm," St. Petersburg [Fla.] Evening Independent, July 18, 1930.

"Hired Hand on Murder Farm," Bryan [Ohio] Democrat, Jan. 11, 1910.

"The First Photographs of the 'American Siren' Affair: Detectives and Others at Work on Mrs. Belle Gunness's Farm," The Sketch 62:801 (June 3, 1908), 233.

"Horror and Mystery at Laporte Grow," Los Angeles Times, May 7, 1908.

"Police Are Mystified," Palestine [Texas] Daily Herald, May 6, 1908.

"Federal Authorities Order All Matrimonial Agencies in Chicago Arrested Since Gunness Exposure," Paducah [Ky.] Evening Sun, May 8, 1908.

"Tale of Horror," [Orangeburg, S.C.] Times and Democrat, May 8, 1908.

"Lured to Death by Love Letters," Washington Herald, May 10, 1908.

"Fifteen Victims Die in Big Murder Plot," Valentine [Neb.] Democrat, May 14, 1908.

"Murderess," Stark County [Ohio] Democrat, May 22, 1908.

"Mrs. Belle Gunness of LaPorte's Murder Farm," Crittenden [Ky.] Record-Press, May 29, 1908.

"The La Porte Murder Farm," San Juan [Wash.] Islander, July 11, 1908.

"Ray Lamphere Found Guilty Only of Arson," Pensacola [Fla.] Journal, Nov. 27, 1908.

"Lamphere Found Guilty of Arson," Spanish Fork [Utah] Press, Dec. 3, 1908.

Listener mail:

"Text of Scotland Yard's Report on July 9 Intrusion Into Buckingham Palace," New York Times, July 22, 1982.

Martin Linton and Martin Wainwright, "Whitelaw Launches Palace Inquiry," Guardian, July 13, 1982.

Wikipedia, "Michael Fagan Incident" (accessed June 16, 2017).

Wikipedia, "Isn't She Lovely" (accessed June 16, 2017).

Wikipedia, "Body Farm" (accessed June 16, 2017).

Kristina Killgrove, "These 6 'Body Farms' Help Forensic Anthropologists Learn To Solve Crimes," Forbes, June 10, 2015.

This week's lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Frank Kroeger.

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!

 

157-The Brutal History of Batavia's Graveyard  

In 1629, a Dutch trading vessel struck a reef off the coast of Australia, marooning 180 people on a tiny island. As they struggled to stay alive, their leader descended into barbarity, gathering a band of cutthroats and killing scores of terrified castaways. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll document the brutal history of Batavia's graveyard, the site of Australia's most infamous shipwreck.

We'll also lose money in India and puzzle over some invisible Frenchmen.

Intro:

In 1946, an Allied dentist inscribed "Remember Pearl Harbor" on Hideki Tojo's dentures.

Sigourney Weaver named herself after a character in The Great Gatsby.

Sources for our feature on the Batavia mutiny:

Mike Dash, Batavia's Graveyard, 2002.

Mike Sturma, "Mutiny and Narrative: Francisco Pelsaert's Journals and the Wreck of the Batavia," The Great Circle 24:1 (2002), 14-24.

"We Are Still on the Batavia," Queen's Quarterly 12:4 (Winter 2005), 489.

Bruce Bennett, "Politics and Spying: Representations of Pre- and Early Australia," Antipodes 22:1 (June 2008), 17-22.

"Batavia," Ships of the World: An Historical Encyclopedia, 1997, 52-53.

D. Franklin, "Human Skeletal Remains From a Multiple Burial Associated With the Mutiny of the VOC Retourschip Batavia, 1629," International Journal of Osteoarchaeology 22:6 (Jan. 19, 2011), 740-748.

Michael Titlestad, "'Changed as to a Tiger': Considering the Wreck of the Batavia," Antipodes 27:2 (December 2013), 149-156.

Mark Staniforth, "Murder and Mayhem," dig 8:4 (April 2006), 20-21.

Christopher Bray, "The Wreck of the Batavia [review]," Financial Times, Aug 17, 2007.

"Batavia's History," Western Australian Museum (accessed May 28, 2017).

Sarah Taillier, "Unearthed Grave Sheds Light on Batavia Shipwreck Mass Murder," Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Feb. 3, 2015.

"Australia Dig Unearths Batavia Mutiny Skeleton," BBC News, Feb. 4, 2015.

Libby-Jane Charleston, "The Batavia Mutiny and Massacre of 1629 Is Still Revealing Secrets," Huffington Post, July 2, 2016.

Karl Quinn, "Mutiny, Shipwreck, Murder: The Incredible True Story Russell Crowe Wants to Film," Sydney Morning Herald, March 30, 2016.

Interest in the Batavia was reawakened in the 1960s, when archaeologists began to examine the site of the mutiny. This victim, excavated in 1963, had received a cutting wound to the head; the right shoulder blade was broken, and the right foot was missing.

Listener mail:

Andrew Levy, "Doctors Solve Mystery of a Man Who 'Died From Laughter' While Watching The Goodies After His Granddaughter Nearly Dies From Same Rare Heart Condition," Daily Mail, June 20, 2012.

Wikipedia, "2016 Indian Banknote Demonetisation" (accessed June 9, 2017).

"The Dire Consequences of India's Demonetisation Initiative," Economist, Dec. 3, 2016.

Micheline Maynard, "The 'Zion Curtain' Is About to Fall in Utah, and Restaurants Can't Wait," Forbes, March 29, 2017.

Donald Hoffman, "Do We See Reality As It Is?" TED, March 2015.

This week's lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Aden Lonergan. Here's a 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!

156-The Most Dedicated Soldier  

When American forces overran the Philippine island of Lubang in 1945, Japanese intelligence officer Hiroo Onoda withdrew into the mountains to wait for reinforcements. He was still waiting 29 years later. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll meet the dedicated soldier who fought World War II until 1974.

We'll also dig up a murderer and puzzle over an offensive compliment.

Intro:

In 1896, Austrian engineers designed a mountain railway pulled by a balloon.

In 1965 Kingsley Amis inventoried Ian Fleming's unsavory descriptions of M.

Sources for our feature on Hiroo Onoda:

Hiroo Onoda, No Surrender: My Thirty-Year War, 1974.

Mark Felton, "The Soldiers Who Would Not Surrender," World War II 18:4 (November 2003), 18.

Robert D. McFadden, "Hiroo Onoda, Soldier Who Hid in Jungle for Decades, Dies at 91," New York Times, Jan. 17, 2014.

Adam Bernstein, "Hiroo Onoda, Japanese Soldier Who Hid in Philippine Jungle for 29 Years, Dies at 91," Washington Post, Jan. 17, 2014.

David Powers, "Japan: No Surrender in World War Two," BBC, Feb. 17, 2011.

"Last Man Fighting: Hiroo Onoda," Economist 410:8871 (Jan. 25, 2014).

"Hiroo Onoda - Obituary," Telegraph, Jan. 17, 2014.

Justin McCurry, "Hiroo Onoda: Japanese Soldier Who Took Three Decades to Surrender, Dies," Guardian, Jan. 17, 2014.

"Japan WW2 Soldier Who Refused to Surrender Hiroo Onoda Dies," BBC News, Jan. 17, 2014.

Jethro Mullen, Yoko Wakatsuki and Chandrika Narayan, "Hiroo Onoda, Japanese Soldier Who Long Refused to Surrender, Dies at 91," CNN, Jan. 17, 2014.

Noah Rayman, "Hiroo Onoda, World's 'Last Ninja', Dead at 91," Time.com, Jan. 21, 2013.

Mike Dash, "Final Straggler: The Japanese Soldier Who Outlasted Hiroo Onoda," Mike Dash History, Sept. 15, 2015.

Associated Press, "Bulletins," March 16, 1974.

Listener mail:

Travis M. Andrews, "An Infamous and Sadistic American Serial Killer Was Hanged in 1896. Or Was He?" Washington Post, May 4, 2017.

Kristen De Groot, "Body of 19th Century Serial Killer Exhumed Near Philadelphia," Associated Press, May 3, 2017.

"New Jersey Couple Says They Found Note in Family Bible Signed by Notorious Serial Killer H.H. Holmes," NBC Philadelphia, May 22, 2017.

Craig Cook, "Scientist at Centre of DNA Break-Throughs in Cold Case Appeals for Government to Exhume the Body Somerton Man to Finally 'Give Him Name,'" The Advertiser, Oct. 1, 2016.

Dan Vergano, "DNA Just Tied a Mystery Death in Australia to Thomas Jefferson," BuzzFeed, Sept. 24, 2016.

This week's lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Noah Kurland.

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!

155-The Giraffe Who Walked to Paris  

In 1824 the viceroy of Egypt sent a unique gift to the new king of France: a two-month-old giraffe that had just been captured in the highlands of Sudan. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll follow the 4,000-mile journey of Zarafa, the royal giraffe, from her African homeland to the king's menagerie in Paris.

We'll also visit Queen Victoria's coronation and puzzle over a child's surprising recovery.

Intro:

In 1952 a stray cat made a home in Classroom 8 of a California elementary school.

Abe Lincoln's ghost seems to spend a lot of time in the Lincoln Bedroom.

Sources for our feature on Zarafa the giraffe:

Michael Allin, Zarafa, 1998.

Erik Ringmar, "Audience for a Giraffe: European Expansionism and the Quest for the Exotic," Journal of World History 17:4 (December 2006), 375-397.

Heather J. Sharkey, "La Belle Africaine: The Sudanese Giraffe Who Went to France," Canadian Journal of African Studies 49:1 (2015), 39-65.

Olivier Lagueux, "Geoffroy's Giraffe: The Hagiography of a Charismatic Mammal," Journal of the History of Biology, 36:2 (June 2003), 225–247.

Samuel J.M.M. Alberti, "Objects and the Museum," Isis 96:4 (December 2005), 559-571.

Philip McCouat, "The Art of Giraffe Diplomacy: How an African Giraffe Walked Across France and Became a Pawn in an International Power Struggle," Journal of Art in Society (accessed May 14, 2017).

Olivier Lagueux, "Zarafa: A Giraffe's True Story, From Deep in Africa to the Heart of Paris [review]," Isis 92:1 (March 2001), 186-187.

S. Mary P. Benbow, "Death and Dying at the Zoo," Journal of Popular Culture 37:3 (2004), 379-398.

Elena Passarello, "Beautiful Animal of the King," Paris Review, Dec. 20, 2016.

Henry Nicholls, "Meet Zarafa, the Giraffe That Inspired a Crazy Hairdo," Guardian, Jan. 20, 2014.

Olivier Lebleu, "Long-Necked Diplomacy: The Tale of the Third Giraffe," Guardian, Jan. 11, 2016.

Today Zarafa stands on the landing of a stone staircase in the Museum of Natural History in La Rochelle.

Listener mail:

Julia Baird, Victoria, 2016.

C. Dack, "The Coronation of Queen Victoria," Pall Mall Magazine 48:219 (July 1911), 2-5.

Wikipedia, "East Asian Age Reckoning" (accessed May 26, 2017).

Josh Clark, "How Thoroughbred Horses Work," How Stuff Works, Oct. 4, 2011.

This week's lateral thinking puzzle was devised by Greg. 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!

154-Spared by a Volcano  

The worst volcanic disaster of the 20th century struck Martinique in 1902, killing 30,000 people in the scenic town of Saint-Pierre. But rescuers found one man alive -- a 27-year-old laborer in a dungeon-like jail cell. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll meet Ludger Sylbaris, who P.T. Barnum called "The Only Living Object That Survived in the Silent City of Death."

We'll also address some Indian uncles and puzzle over a gruesome hike.

Intro:

The French newspaper La Bougie du Sapeur is published only on Leap Day.

When a vat burst in 1814, 323,000 imperial gallons of beer flooded a London street.

Sources for our feature on Ludger Sylbaris:

Peter Morgan, Fire Mountain, 2003.

Edmund Otis Hovey, The 1902-1903 Eruptions of Mont Pelé, Martinique and the Soufrière, St. Vincent, 1904.

Ludger Sylbaris, "Buried Alive in St. Pierre," Wide World Magazine, November 1903.

Matthew St. Ville Hunte, "Inside the Volcano," Paris Review, Sept. 16, 2016.

"Prison Cell of 'The Man Who Lived Through Doomsday,'" Slate, July 31, 2013.

Brian Morton, "There's No Smoke Without Fire," Financial Times, Feb. 13, 2003.

Tony Jones, "Lone Survivor," New Scientist 177:2382 (Feb. 15, 2003), 48-49.

"[front page -- no title]," New York Times, Oct. 13, 1906.

Listener mail:

Kate Connolly, "He's Hired: Belgian Lands 'Dream Job' as Hermit for Austrian Cliffside Retreat," Guardian, April 19, 2017.

This week's lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener David White, who sent two sets of corroborating links -- these contain explicit photos, and these don't.

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!

153-A Victorian Stalker  

Between 1838 and 1841, an enterprising London teenager broke repeatedly into Buckingham Palace, sitting on the throne, eating from the kitchen, and posing a bewildering nuisance to Queen Victoria's courtiers, who couldn't seem to keep him out. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll describe the exploits of Edward Jones -- and the severe measures that were finally taken to stop them.

We'll also salute some confusing flags and puzzle over an extraterrestrial musician.

Intro:

Tourists who remove rocks from Hawaii Volcanoes National Park face a legendary curse.

Periodicals of the 19th century featured at least two cats that got along on two legs.

Sources for our feature on "the boy Jones":

Jan Bondeson, Queen Victoria's Stalker: The Strange Case of the Boy Jones, 2011.

Joan Howard, The Boy Jones, 1943.

Lytton Strachey, Queen Victoria, 1921.

John Ashton, Gossip in the First Decade of Victoria's Reign, 1903.

Thomas Raikes, A Portion of the Journal Kept by Thomas Raikes, Esq., from 1831 to 1847, vol. 4, 136.

Paul Thomas Murphy, "Jones, Edward," Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (accessed April 22, 2017).

"The Boy Jones," Examiner 1750 (Aug. 14, 1841), 524-524.

"The Boy Jones," Court and Lady's Magazine, Monthly Critic and Museum 21 (September 1841), 223-225.

Punch, July–December 1841.

"Occurrences," Examiner 1793 (June 11, 1842), 381-381.

"The Boy Jones," Reynold's Miscellany of Romance, General Literature, Science, and Art 17:424 (Aug. 23, 1856), 56.

"The Boy Jones," All the Year Round 34:814 (July 5, 1884), 234-237.

"The Latest News of the Boy Jones," Examiner 1902 (July 13, 1844), 434-434.

"Palace Intruder Stayed 3 Days and Sat on Throne," Globe and Mail, July 21, 1982.

"Strange Tale of the First Royal Stalker," Express, Nov. 6, 2010, 14.

"Story of Boy Jones Who Stole Queen Victoria's Underwear," BBC News, Feb. 2, 2011.

Helen Turner, "Royal Rumpus of First Celebrity Stalker," South Wales Echo, Feb. 3, 2011, 26.

Jan Bondeson, "The Strange Tale of the First Royal Stalker," Express, Nov. 1, 2010.

Listener mail:

Wikipedia, "Chad–Romania Relations" (accessed May 12, 2017).

"'Identical Flag' Causes Flap in Romania," BBC News, April 14, 2004.

Wanderlust, "10 of the World's Most Confusing Flags -- and How to Figure Them Out," Aug. 9, 2016.

Erin Nyren, "'Whitewashing' Accusations Fly as Zach McGowan Cast as Hawaiian WWII Hero," Variety, May 9, 2017.

Kamlesh Damodar Sutar, "Highway Liquor Ban: Bar Owners Say They Will Be Forced to Commit Suicide Like Farmers," India Today, April 3, 2017.

"Government Officials Rush to Denotify Highways Running Through Cities," Economic Times, April 4, 2017.

This week's lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Greg Yurkovic, 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!

152-Lateral Thinking Puzzles  

Here are five 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.

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

Puzzle #1 was contributed by listener Dave Lawrence.

Puzzle #2 is from listener Michael Berman.

Puzzle #3 is from Paul Sloane and Des MacHale's Ingenious Lateral Thinking Puzzles, 1998.

Puzzle #4 is from listener Paul Sophocleous. Here are two associated links.

Puzzle #5 is from listener Noah Kurland. Here's an associated 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.

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!

151-Double-Crossing the Nazis  

In 1941, Catalonian chicken farmer Juan Pujol made an unlikely leap into the world of international espionage, becoming a spy first for the Germans, then for the British, and rising to become one of the greatest double agents of World War II. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll describe Pujol's astonishing talent for deceiving the Nazis, which led one colleague to call him "the best actor in the world."

We'll also contemplate a floating Chicago and puzzle over a winding walkway.

Intro:

In 1999, Kevin Baugh declared his Nevada house an independent republic.

Foxie the dog stayed by her master's side for three months after his hiking death in 1805.

Sources for our feature on Juan Pujol:

Juan Pujol, Operation Garbo, 1985.

Jason Webster, The Spy With 29 Names, 2014.

Tomás Harris, Garbo: The Spy Who Saved D-Day, 2000.

Stephan Talty, Agent Garbo, 2012.

Thomas M. Kane, Understanding Contemporary Strategy, 2012.

David C. Isby, "Double Agent's D-Day Victory," World War II 19:3 (June 2004), 18,20.

Marc De Santis, "Overlooked Reasons Overlord Succeeded," MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History 26:4 (Summer 2014), 15-16.

David Kahn, "How I Discovered World War II's Greatest Spy," Cryptologia 34:1 (December 2009), 12-21.

Stephen Budiansky, "The Art of the Double Cross," World War II 24:1 (May 2009), 38-45,4.

Kevin D. Kornegay, "Double Cross: The True Story of the D-Day Spies," Army Lawyer, April 2014, 40-43.

Gene Santoro, "Harbor of Hope and Intrigue," World War II 26:2 (July/August 2011), 26-28.

P.R.J. Winter, "Penetrating Hitler's High Command: Anglo-Polish HUMINT, 1939-1945," War in History 18:1 (January 2011), 85-108.

Neville Wylie, "'An Amateur Learns his Job'? Special Operations Executive in Portugal, 1940–42," Journal of Contemporary History 36:3 (July 2001), 441-457.

"An Unexpected Threat to the Normandy Invasion," World War II 31:5 (January/February 2017), 16.

"'Agent Garbo,' The Spy Who Lied About D-Day," All Things Considered, National Public Radio, July 7, 2012.

Tom Morgan, "Revealed: How a Homesick Wife Nearly Blew It for the British Double Agent Who Fooled Hitler," Telegraph, Sept. 28, 2016.

Adam Lusher, "How a Dozen Silk Stockings Helped Bring Down Adolf Hitler," Independent, Sept. 27, 2016.

Ian Cobain, "D-Day Landings Put at Risk by Double-Agent's Homesick Wife," Guardian, Sept. 27, 2016.

Listener mail:

Mark Torregrossa, "Superior Mirages Over Chicago Skyline Now Appearing," mlive, April 18, 2017.

Allison Eck, "The Perfectly Scientific Explanation for Why Chicago Appeared Upside Down in Michigan," Nova Next, May 8, 2015.

Jonathan Belles, "Fata Morgana Provides Eerie Look at Chicago Across Lake Michigan," weather.com, April 18, 2017.

Listener Jason Gottshall directed us to these striking photos of the Chicago mirage.

"5.17a- Supplemental Gregor MacGregor," Revolutions, Oct. 24, 2016.

Brooke Borel, The Chicago Guide to Fact-Checking, 2016.

This week's lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Alon Shaham, 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!

150-The Prince of Nowhere  

In 1821, Scottish adventurer Gregor MacGregor undertook one of the most brazen scams in history: He invented a fictional Central American republic and convinced hundreds of his countrymen to invest in its development. Worse, he persuaded 250 people to set sail for this imagined utopia with dreams of starting a new life. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll describe the disastrous results of MacGregor's deceit.

We'll also illuminate a hermit's behavior and puzzle over Liechtenstein's flag.

Intro:

In 1878, a neurologist noted that French-Canadian lumberjacks tended to startle violently.

Each year on Valentine's Day, someone secretly posts paper hearts in Montpelier, Vt.

Sources for our feature on Gregor MacGregor:

David Sinclair, Sir Gregor MacGregor and the Land That Never Was, 2003.

Matthew Brown, "Inca, Sailor, Soldier, King: Gregor MacGregor and the Early Nineteenth-Century Caribbean," Bulletin of Latin American Research 24:1 (January 2005), 44-70.

T. Frederick Davis, "MacGregor's Invasion of Florida, 1817," Florida Historical Society Quarterly 7:1 (July 1928), 2-71.

Emily Beaulieu, Gary W. Cox, and Sebastian Saiegh, "Sovereign Debt and Regime Type: Reconsidering the Democratic Advantage," International Organization 66:4 (Fall 2012), 709-738.

R.A. Humphreys, "Presidential Address: Anglo-American Rivalries in Central America," Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 18 (1968), 174-208.

Courtenay de Kalb, "Nicaragua: Studies on the Mosquito Shore in 1892," Journal of the American Geographical Society of New York 25:1 (1893), 236-288.

A.R. Hope Moncrieff, "Gregor MacGregor," Macmillan's Magazine 92:551 (September 1905), 339-350.

"The King of Con-Men," Economist 405:8816 (Dec. 22, 2012), 109-112.

"Sir Gregor MacGregor," Quebec Gazette, Oct. 18, 1827.

Guardian, "From the Archive, 25 October 1823: Settlers Duped Into Believing in 'Land Flowing With Milk and Honey,'" Oct. 25, 2013.

Maria Konnikova, "The Con Man Who Pulled Off History's Most Audacious Scam," BBC Future, Jan. 28, 2016.

"Thomas Strangeways", Sketch of the Mosquito Shore, 1822.

A Bank of Poyais dollar, printed by the official printer of the Bank of Scotland. MacGregor traded these worthless notes for the settlers' gold as they departed for his nonexistent republic.

Listener mail:

Robert McCrum, "The 100 Best Novels: No 42 - The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan (1915)," Guardian, July 7, 2014.

This week's lateral thinking puzzle was inspired by an item in Dan Lewis' Now I Know newsletter. Here's a corroborating link (warning -- both links 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!

 

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