Episodes

  • 177-Averting a Catastrophe in Manhattan

    · 00:31:22 · Futility Closet

    New York's Citicorp Tower was an architectural sensation when it opened in 1977. But then engineer William LeMessurier realized that its unique design left it dangerously vulnerable to high winds. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll describe the drama that followed as a small group of decision makers tried to ward off a catastrophe in midtown Manhattan. We'll also cringe at an apartment mixup and puzzle over a tolerant trooper. Intro: A surprising number of record releases have been made of sandpaper. In high school, Ernest Hemingway wrote a poem composed entirely of punctuation. Sources for our feature on the Citicorp Tower: Joseph Morgenstern, "The Fifty-Nine-Story Crisis," New Yorker, May 29, 1995. "All Fall Down," The Works, BBC, April 14, 1996. Eugene Kremer, "(Re)Examining the Citicorp Case: Ethical Paragon or Chimera?" Arq: Architectural Research Quarterly 6:3 (September 2002), 269-276. Joel Werner, "The Design Flaw That Almost Wiped Out an NYC Skyscraper," Slate, April 17, 2014. Sean Brady, "Citicorp Center Tower: How Failure Was Averted," Engineers Journal, Dec. 8, 2015. Michael J. Vardaro, "LeMessurier Stands Tall: A Case Study in Professional Ethics," AIA Trust, Spring 2013. P. Aarne Vesilind and Alastair S. Gunn, Hold Paramount: The Engineer's Responsibility to Society, 2010. Caroline Whitbeck, Ethics in Engineering Practice and Research, 1998. Ibo van de Poel and Lambèr Royakkers, Ethics, Technology, and Engineering: An Introduction, 2011. Matthew Wells, Skyscrapers: Structure and Design, 2005. Gordon C. Andrews, Canadian Professional Engineering and Geoscience: Practice and Ethics, 2009. "William J. LeMessurier," American Society of Civil Engineers, July 1, 2007. David Langdon, "Citigroup Center / Hugh Stubbins + William Le Messurier," ArchDaily, Nov. 5, 2014. Vanessa Rodriguez, "Citicorp Center - New York City (July 1978)," Failures Wiki (accessed Oct. 28, 2017). Jason Carpenter, "The Nearly Fatal Design Flaw That Could Have Sent the Citigroup Center Skyscraper Crumbling," 6sqft., Aug. 15, 2014. Stanley H. Goldstein and Robert A. Rubin, "Engineering Ethics," Civil Engineering 66:10 (October 1996), 40. "Selected Quotes," Civil Engineering 66:10 (October 1996), 43. "Readers Write," Civil Engineering 66:11 (November 1996), 30. James Glanz and Eric Lipton, "A Midtown Skyscraper Quietly Adds Armor," New York Times, Aug. 15, 2002. "F.Y.I.," New York Times, Feb. 2, 1997, CY2. Anthony Ramirez, "William LeMessurier, 81, Structural Engineer," New York Times, June 21, 2007, C13. Henry Petroski, "Engineering: A Great Profession," American Scientist 94:4 (July-August 2006), 304-307. Richard Korman, "LeMessurier's Confession," Engineering News-Record 235:18 (October 30, 1995), 10. Richard Korman, "Critics Grade Citicorp Confession," Engineering News-Record 234:21(Nov. 20, 1995), 10. Listener mail: Wikipedia, "Relative Hour (Jewish Law)" (accessed Nov. 11, 2017). "The Jewish Day," chabad.org (accessed Nov. 11, 2017). "Hours," chabad.org (accessed Nov. 11, 2017). "Zmanim Briefly Defined and Explained," chabad.org (accessed Nov. 11, 2017). Wikipedia, "Twenty Questions" (accessed Nov. 11, 2017). "Two Types: The Faces of Britain," BBC Four, Aug. 1, 2017. This week's lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Kelly Bruce. 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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  • 176-The Bear That Inspired Winnie-the-Pooh

    · 00:32:44 · Futility Closet

    In 1914, Canadian Army veterinarian Harry Colebourn was traveling to the Western Front when he met an orphaned bear cub in an Ontario railway station. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll follow the adventures of Winnie the bear, including her fateful meeting with A.A. Milne and his son, Christopher Robin. We'll also marvel at some impressive finger counting and puzzle over an impassable bridge. Intro: At least two British television series have included Morse code in their theme music. A map of the American Midwest depicts an elf making chicken. Sources for our feature on Winnie the bear: Ann Thwaite, A.A. Milne, 1990. Val Shushkewich, The Real Winnie, 2005. Christopher Milne, The Enchanted Places, 1974. A.R. Melrose, ed., Beyond the World of Pooh, 1998. Paul Brody, In Which Milne's Life Is Told, 2014. Jackie Wullschläger, Inventing Wonderland, 1995. Gary Dexter, Why Not Catch-21?, 2008. Anna Tyzack, "The Story of Winnie the Pooh Laid Bare," Telegraph, Dec. 20, 2015. Lindsay Mattick, "The Story of How Winnie the Pooh Was Inspired by a Real Bear -- in Pictures," Guardian, Nov. 24, 2015. Tessa Vanderhart, "Winnie The Pooh Story Turns 99," Winnipeg Sun, Aug. 25, 2013. Jim Axelrod, "The Story of the Real Winnie the Pooh," CBS News, March 21, 2016. The Real Winnie, Ryerson University (accessed Oct. 22, 2017). "The True Tale of Winnie the Pooh, an Unlikely First World War Legacy," CBC Radio, Nov. 11, 2015. Christopher Klein, "The True Story of the Real-Life Winnie-the-Pooh," history.com, Oct. 13, 2016. Sean Coughlan, "The Skull of the 'Real' Winnie Goes on Display," BBC News, Nov. 20, 2015. "Winnie and Lieutenant Colebourn, White River, 1914," Canadian Postal Archives Database (accessed Oct. 22, 2017). Michael Palmer, "Artefact of the Month: Winnie the Bear and Lt. Colebourn Statue," Zoological Society of London, Nov. 28, 2014. "Winnie-the-Pooh: Inspired by a Canadian Bear," Canada Post Corporation (accessed Oct. 22, 2017). "Major Harry Colebourn," Canadian Great War Project (accessed Oct. 22, 2017). "The Real-Life Canadian Story of Winnie-the-Pooh," CBC Kids (accessed Oct. 22, 2017). Christopher Robin Milne feeding Winnie in her enclosure at the London Zoo in the 1920s. Listener mail: A demonstration of a binary or base 2 finger-counting method. Wikipedia, "Benford's Law" (accessed Nov. 3, 2017). "Counting," QI (accessed Nov. 3, 2017). "Sumerian/Babylonian Mathematics," The Story of Mathematics (accessed Nov. 3, 2017). Wikipedia, "Sexagesimal" (accessed Nov. 3, 2017). Wikipedia, "Chisanbop" (accessed Nov. 3, 2017). "Math Lesson Plan: Chisanbop (Korean Counting to 99)," LessonThis (accessed Nov. 3, 2017). A 3-year-old doing arithmetic using the Chisanbop method. A kindergartener doing more complicated arithmetic using the Chisanbop method. Older kids doing very fast, advanced arithmetic using a mental abacus. Wikipedia, "Mental Abacus" (accessed Nov. 3, 2017). Alex Bellos, "World's Fastest Number Game Wows Spectators and Scientists," Guardian, Oct. 29, 2012. This week's lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Jack McLachlan. 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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  • 175-The Lone Woman of San Nicolas Island

    · 00:30:36 · Futility Closet

    In 1835, a Native American woman was somehow left behind when her dwindling island tribe was transferred to the California mainland. She would spend the next 18 years living alone in a world of 22 square miles. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll tell the poignant story of the lone woman of San Nicolas Island. We'll also learn about an inebriated elephant and puzzle over an unattainable test score. Intro: As construction began on Scotland’s Forth Bridge, engineers offered a personal demonstration of its cantilever design. In the 1880s, Manhattan's rationalist "Thirteen Club" held a dinner on the 13th of each month to flout superstition. Sources for our feature on the Lone Woman of San Nicolas Island: Sara L. Schwebel, ed., Island of the Blue Dolphins: The Complete Reader's Edition, 2016. William Henry Ellison, ed., The Life and Adventures of George Nidever, 1937. Robert F. Heizer and Albert B. Elsasser, eds., "Original Accounts of the Lone Woman of San Nicolas Island," in Aboriginal California: Three Studies of Cultural History, University of California Archaeological Research Facility, 1963. Travis Hudson, "Recently Discovered Accounts Concerning the 'Lone Woman' of San Nicolas Island," Journal of California and Great Basin Anthropology 3:2 (1981), 187-199. Marla Daily, "The Lone Woman of San Nicolas Island: A New Hypothesis on Her Origin," California History 68:1/2 (Spring-Summer 1989) 36-41. Jon M. Erlandson, Lisa Thomas-Barnett, René L. Vellanoweth, Steven J. Schwartz, and Daniel R. Muhs, "From the Island of the Blue Dolphins: A Unique Nineteenth-Century Cache Feature From San Nicolas Island, California," Journal of Island and Coastal Archaeology 8:1 (2013), 66-78. Amira F. Ainis, et al. "A Cache Within a Cache: Description of an Abalone 'Treasure-Box' from the CA-SNI-14 Redwood Box Cache, San Nicolas Island, Alta California," California Archaeology 9:1 (2017), 79-105. Eighth California Islands Symposium, National Park Service, Oct. 25, 2012. Steve Chawkins, "Island of the Blue Dolphins' Woman's Cave Believed Found," Los Angeles Times, Oct. 29, 2012. S.J. Schwartz, "Some Observations on the Material Culture of the Nicoleño," in Proceedings of the Sixth California Island Symposium 2005, 83–91. Ron Morgan, "An Account of the Discovery of a Whale-Bone House on San Nicolas Island," Journal of California and Great Basin Anthropology 1:1 (1979), 171-177. Louis Sahagun, "With Island Dig Halted, Lone Woman Still a Stinging Mystery," Los Angeles Times, March 5, 2015. "The Woman of San Nicolas Island," [Lake Providence, La.] Banner-Democrat, Dec. 28, 1901. Associated Press, "Traces of Prehistoric People are Found on Pacific Island," Dec. 14, 1940. Robert L. Carl, "The Lost Woman of San Nicolas Island," Western Folklore 11:2 (April 1952), 123-124. "A Female Crusoe," London Journal 69:1785 (April 26, 1879), 268-268. Ron Givens, "Island of Blue Dolphins Revisited," American History 48:1 (April 2013), 10. Emma C. Hardacre, "Eighteen Years Alone," Century Magazine, September 1880, 657-663. L.L. Hanchett, Lennox Tierney, and Austin E. Fife, "The Lost Woman of San Nicolás," California Folklore Quarterly 3:2 (April 1944), 148-149. C.F. Holder, "The Wind-Swept Island of San Nicolas," Scientific American 81:15 (Oct. 7, 1899), 233-234. Margaret Romer, "The Last of the Canalinos," Historical Society of Southern California Quarterly 41:3 (September 1959), 241-246. Clement W. Meighan and Hal Eberhart, "Archaeological Resources of San Nicolas Island, California," American Antiquity 19:2 (October 1953), 109-125. "On an Isle of Skulls," New York Times, Dec. 1, 1895, 29. "Relics of Vanished Race Found on a Desert Isle," New York Times, May 1, 1927, XX4. "Relic Hunt in the Pacific," New York Times, June 22, 1897, 1. "Old California Islanders," New York Times, June 16, 1897, 2. Gladwin Hill, "California's Little-Known Offshore Island," New York Times, Jan. 12, 1958, XX22. "Sea Lion Herds Bask on Island," Los Angeles Times, April 25, 1949, A1. S.J. Mathis, "The Lone Woman of San Nicolas," Los Angeles Times, Jan. 8, 1899, B11. Harold Orlando Wright, "San Nicolas -- Abode of Demons," Los Angeles Times, Nov. 29, 1931, K6. "Indians Once Lived on Channel Islands," Los Angeles Times, July 9, 1951, 2. "Centerpiece: Once Upon a Time There Was a Little Girl Stranded on a Channel Island," Los Angeles Times, Dec. 13, 1990, VCJ1. William Crosby Bennett, "Mrs. Robinson Crusoe," Los Angeles Times, Aug. 9, 1936, I3. William S. Murphy, "5,000-Year-Old Mystery Probed," Los Angeles Times, Dec. 20, 1970, C1. "Story of Lost Woman Retold," Los Angeles Times, Feb. 28, 1928, A14. Listener mail: Wikipedia, "Pasilalinic-Sympathetic Compass" (accessed Oct. 27, 2017). Toby Howard, "Progress at Snail's Pace," Skeptic, 1995. Daniel Hahn, The Tower Menagerie, 2004. Isabelle Janvrin and Catherine Rawlinson, The French in London, 2016. Laura Bannister, "Rare Beasts, Birds, and the Calaboose," Paris Review, Sept. 22, 2016. This week's lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Robert Cairns. 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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  • 174-Cracking the Nazi Code

    · 00:33:47 · Futility Closet

    In 1940, Germany was sending vital telegrams through neutral Sweden using a sophisticated cipher, and it fell to mathematician Arne Beurling to make sense of the secret messages. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll describe the outcome, which has been called "one of the greatest accomplishments in the history of cryptography." We'll also learn about mudlarking and puzzle over a chicken-killing Dane. Intro: In 1836, three boys discovered 17 tiny coffins entombed near Edinburgh. On his 1965 album A Love Supreme, John Coltrane "plays" a poem on the saxophone. Sources for our feature on Arne Beurling: Bengt Beckman, Codebreakers: Arne Beurling and the Swedish Crypto Program During World War II, 1996. David Kahn, The Codebreakers: The Story of Secret Writing, 1967. David Joyner, ed., Coding Theory and Cryptography, 2000. Bengt Beckman and Jonathan Beard, "Codebreakers: Arne Beurling and the Swedish Crypto Program During World War II," Intelligence and National Security 18:4 (January 2004), 206-207. Lars Ulfving, "The Geheimschreiber Secret: Arne Beurling and the Success of Swedish Signals Intelligence," in Bo Hugemark and Probus Förlag, eds., I Orkanens Öga, 1941 -- Osäker neutralitet, 1992. Louis Kruh, "Arne Beurling and Swedish Crypto," Cryptologia 27:3 (July 2003), 231. John Wermer, "Recollections of Arne Beurling," Mathematical Intelligencer 15:3 (January 1993), 32–33. Jurgen Rohwer, "Signal Intelligence and World War II: The Unfolding Story," Journal of Military History 63:4 (October 1999), 939-951. Bo Kjellberg, "Memories of Arne Beurling, February 3, 1905–November 20, 1986," Mathematical Intelligencer 15:3 (January 1993), 28–31. Håkan Hedenmalm, "Codebreakers: Arne Beurling and the Swedish Crypto Program During World War II," Mathematical Intelligencer 28:1 (December 2006), 57–59. Craig Graham McKay, "Swedish Cryptanalysis and the Saga of Arne Beurling: A Book Review," Cryptologia 23:3 (July 1999), 257. Louis Kruh, "Swedish Signal Intelligence History," Cryptologia 27:2 (April 2003), 186-187. "How Sweden Cracked the Nazi Code," Swedish History, Jan. 22, 2017. Lars Ahlfors and Lennart Carleson, "Arne Beurling In Memoriam," Acta Mathematica 161 (1988), 1-9. John Borland, "Looking Back at Sweden's Super-Code-Cracker," Wired, Aug. 11, 2007. "Arne Carl-August Beurling," MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive (accessed Oct. 8, 2017). "Arne Beurling," Mathematics Genealogy Project (accessed Oct. 8, 2017). "Joins Advanced Study School," New York Times, Oct. 10, 1954. "Arne Beurling," Physics Today, February 2015. Listener mail: "Two Types: The Faces of Britain," BBC Four, Aug. 1, 2017. "Who Are the Mudlarks?", Thames Museum (accessed 10/21/2017). Lara Maiklem, "London's History in Mud: The Woman Collecting What the Thames Washes Up," Guardian, Sept. 14, 2016. Military High Command Department for War Maps and Communications, German Invasion Plans for the British Isles, 1940. This week's lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Carsten Hamann, 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!

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  • 173-The Worst Journey in the World

    · 00:30:19 · Futility Closet

    In 1911, three British explorers made a perilous 70-mile journey in the dead of the Antarctic winter to gather eggs from a penguin rookery in McMurdo Sound. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll follow the three through perpetual darkness and bone-shattering cold on what one man called "the worst journey in the world." We'll also dazzle some computers and puzzle over some patriotic highways. Intro: In 2014, mathematician Kevin Ferland determined the largest number of words that will fit in a New York Times crossword puzzle. In 1851, phrenologist J.P. Browne examined Charlotte Brontë without knowing her identity. Sources for our feature on Apsley Cherry-Garrard: Apsley Cherry-Garrard, The Worst Journey in the World, 1922. Sara Wheeler, Cherry: A Life of Apsley Cherry-Garrard, 2007. "Scott Perishes Returning From Pole," Salt Lake Tribune, Feb. 11, 1913. Paul Lambeth, "Captain Scott's Last Words Electrify England and World by Their Pathetic Eloquence," San Francisco Call, Feb. 12, 1913. Hugh Robert Mill, "The Worst Journey in the World: Antarctic, 1910-1913," Nature 111:2786 (March 24, 1923), 386-388. "Cherry-Garrard, Explorer, Dead," New York Times, May 19, 1959. "Obituary: Apsley Cherry-Garrard," Geographical Journal 125:3/4 (September-December 1959), 472. James Lees-Milne, "From the Shavian Past: XCII," Shaw Review 20:2 (May 1977), 62. W.N. Bonner, "British Biological Research in the Antarctic," Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 14:1 (August 1980), 1-10. John Maxtone-Graham, "How Quest for Penguin Eggs Ended," New York Times, Oct. 2, 1994. Gabrielle Walker, "The Emperor's Eggs," New Scientist 162:2182 (April 17, 1999), 42-47. Gabrielle Walker, "It's Cold Out There," New Scientist 172:2315 (Nov. 3, 2001), 54. Edward J. Larson, "Greater Glory," Scientific American 304:6 (June 2011), 78-83. "When August Was Cold and Dark," New York Times, Aug. 8, 2011, A18. Robin McKie, "How a Heroic Hunt for Penguin Eggs Became 'The Worst Journey in the World,'" Guardian, Jan. 14, 2012. Matilda Battersby, "Cache of Letters About Scott Found as Collection of His Possessions Acquired for the Nation," Independent, July 19, 2012. Karen May, "Could Captain Scott Have Been Saved? Revisiting Scott's Last Expedition," Polar Record 49:1 (January 2013), 72-90. Karen May and Sarah Airriess, "Could Captain Scott Have Been Saved? Cecil Meares and the 'Second Journey' That Failed," Polar Record 51:3 (May 2015), 260-273. Shane McCorristine and Jane S.P. Mocellin, "Christmas at the Poles: Emotions, Food, and Festivities on Polar Expeditions, 1818-1912," Polar Record 52:5 (September 2016), 562-577. Carolyn Philpott, "Making Music on the March: Sledging Songs of the 'Heroic Age' of Antarctic Exploration," Polar Record 52:6 (November 2016), 698-716. Listener mail: Robinson Meyer, "Anti-Surveillance Camouflage for Your Face," Atlantic, July 24, 2014. Adam Harvey, "Face to Anti-Face," New York Times, Dec. 14, 2013. "How to Find a Spider in Your Yard on a Tuesday at 8:47pm." This week's lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Petr Smelý, 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!

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  • 172-An American in Feudal Japan

    · 00:33:35 · Futility Closet

    In 1848, five years before Japan opened its closed society to the West, a lone American in a whaleboat landed on the country's northern shore, drawn only by a sense of mystery and a love of adventure. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll follow Ranald MacDonald as he travels the length of Japan toward a destiny that will transform the country. We'll also remember a Soviet hero and puzzle over some security-conscious neighbors. Intro: In 1794, two French Hussars began an episodic duel that would last until 1813. In 1945, the Arkansas legislature accidentally repealed every law in the state. Sources for our feature on Ranald MacDonald: Frederik L. Schodt, Native American in the Land of the Shogun, 2003. Jo Ann Roe, Ranald MacDonald: Pacific Rim Adventurer, 1997. William S. Lewis and Naojiro Murakami, Ranald MacDonald: The Narrative of His Early Life on the Columbia Under the Hudson's Bay Company's Regime, 1990. Herbert H. Gowen, Five Foreigners in Japan, 1936. Gretchen Murphy, Shadowing the White Man's Burden: U.S. Imperialism and the Problem of the Color Line, 2010. Joel E. Ferris, "Ranald MacDonald: The Sailor Boy Who Visited Japan," Pacific Northwest Quarterly 48:1 (January 1957), 13-16. Benjamin MacDonald, "Narrative of Benjamin MacDonald," Washington Historical Quarterly 16:3 (July 1925), 186-197. David N. Cooper, "Behind the Bamboo Curtain: A Nineteenth-Century Canadian Adventurer in Japan," Manitoba History 74 (Winter 2014), 40-44. Gretchen Murphy, "'A Home Which Is Still Not a Home': Finding a Place for Ranald MacDonald," American Transcendental Quarterly 15:3 (September 2001), 225-244. Frederik L. Schodt, "The Chinook Who Paved the Way for Perry: Ranald MacDonald's Adventure in Japan, 1848-1849," Whispering Wind 33:3 (June 30, 2003), 20. Frederik L. Schodt and Shel Zolkewich, "Ranald MacDonald's Excellent Adventure," The Beaver 83:4 (August/September 2003), 29-33. "When Japan Was a Secret: Japanese Sea-Drifters," Economist 385:8560 (December 22, 2007), 93. Jeffrey Dym, "Native American in the Land of the Shogun: Ranald MacDonald and the Opening of Japan [review]," Canadian Journal of History 39:2 (August 2004), 446-448. F.G. Notehelfer, "Native American in the Land of the Shogun: Ranald MacDonald and the Opening of Japan [review]," Journal of Asian Studies 63:2 (May 2004), 513-514. Gordon B. Dodds, "Ranald MacDonald: Pacific Rim Adventurer [review]," Journal of American History 85:2 (September 1998), 663-664. Stephen W. Kohl, "Ranald MacDonald: Pacific Rim Adventurer [review]," Pacific Historical Review 68:1 (February 1999), 103-104. Herman J. Deutsch, "Ranald MacDonald: Adventurer by Marie Leona Nichols [review]," Pacific Historical Review 10:2 (June 1941), 231-232. Listener mail: "Stanislav Petrov, Who Averted Possible Nuclear War, Dies at 77," BBC News, Sept. 18, 2017. Associated Press, "Stanislav Petrov, 'The Man Who Saved the World' From Nuclear War, Dies at 77," Sept. 21, 2017. Roland Oliphant, "Stanislav Petrov, the 'Man Who Saved the World' Dies at 77," Telegraph, Sept. 18, 2017. Kristine Phillips, "The Former Soviet Officer Who Trusted His Gut -- And Averted a Global Nuclear Catastrophe," Washington Post, Sept. 18, 2017. This week's lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Mike Davis. 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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  • 171-The Emperor of the United States

    · 00:32:55 · Futility Closet

    In the 1860s, San Francisco's most popular tourist attraction was not a place but a person: Joshua Norton, an eccentric resident who had declared himself emperor of the United States. Rather than shun him, the city took him to its heart, affectionately indulging his foibles for 21 years. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll consider the reign of Norton I and the meaning of madness. We'll also keep time with the Romans and puzzle over some rising temperatures. Intro: Amazon customers have been reviewing a gallon of milk since 2005. G.W. Blake patented a flyswatter pistol in 1919. Sources for our feature on Joshua Norton: William Drury, Norton I: Emperor of the United States, 1986. William M. Kramer, Emperor Norton of San Francisco, 1974. Catherine Caufield, The Emperor of the United States of America and Other Magnificent British Eccentrics, 1981. Benjamin E. Lloyd, Lights and Shades in San Francisco, 1876. Fred Dickey, "Norton I: Ruler of All He Imagined," American History 41:4 (October 2006), 65-66,68,70,6. Robert Ernest Cowan, "Norton I: Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico (Joshua A. Norton, 1819-1880)," California Historical Society Quarterly 2:3 (October 1923), 237-245. Eric Lis, "His Majesty's Psychosis: The Case of Emperor Joshua Norton," Academic Psychiatry 39:2 (April 2015), 181–185. Gary Kamiya, "How Emperor Norton Rose to Power," San Francisco Chronicle, April 1, 2017. "Street Characters of San Francisco," Overland Monthly 19:113 (May 1892), 449-459. "Death of an American Emperor," Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper 49:1271 (Feb. 7, 1880), 428-429. "Emperor Norton," Sacramento Daily Record-Union, Jan. 26, 1880, 1. "Collections: The Emperor's Cane," California History 82:2 (2004), 3, 59. Alejandro Lazo and Daniel Huang, "Who Is Emperor Norton? Fans in San Francisco Want to Remember," Wall Street Journal, Aug. 13, 2015. David Warren Ryder, "The Strange Story of Emperor Norton," Saturday Evening Post 218:6 (Aug. 11, 1945), 35-41. Julian Dana, "San Francisco's Fabulous Fools," Prairie Schooner 27:1 (Spring 1953), 45-49. Jed Stevenson, "Notes Issued by the Self-Crowned Emperor of the United States Have Become Collector's Items," New York Times, Dec. 9, 1990, 84. "Death of an Eccentric Californian," New York Times, Jan. 10, 1880, 5. Listener mail: Leonhard Schmitz, "Hora," in William Smith, A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, 1875. Wikipedia, "Roman Timekeeping" (accessed Sept. 23, 2017). "A Brief Guide to Roman Timekeeping and the Calendar," World History (accessed Sept. 23, 2017). Wikipedia, "Finger-Counting" (accessed Sept. 23, 2017). Aditya Singhal, "Math Teachers Should Encourage Their Students to Count Using Fingers," Math Blog, July 20, 2016. Nancy Szokan, "Think Counting on Your Fingers Is Dumb? Think Again," Washington Post, July 30, 2016. An Indian 5-year-old doing mental sums. This week's lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Sofia Hauck de Oliveira, 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. Get a free audiobook with a 30-day trial at Audible. 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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  • 170-The Mechanical Turk

    · 00:32:21 · Futility Closet

    In 1770, Hungarian engineer Wolfgang von Kempelen unveiled a miracle: a mechanical man who could play chess against human challengers. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll meet Kempelen's Mechanical Turk, which mystified audiences in Europe and the United States for more than 60 years. We'll also sit down with Paul Erdős and puzzle over a useful amateur. Intro: Lewis Carroll sent a birthday wish list to child friend Jessie Sinclair in 1878. An octopus named Paul picked the winners of all seven of Germany’s World Cup games in 2010. Sources for our feature on the Mechanical Turk: Tom Standage, The Turk, 2002. Elizabeth Bridges, "Maria Theresa, 'The Turk,' and Habsburg Nostalgia," Journal of Austrian Studies 47:2 (Summer 2014), 17-36. Stephen P. Rice, "Making Way for the Machine: Maelzel's Automaton Chess-Player and Antebellum American Culture," Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Third Series, 106 (1994), 1-16. Dan Campbell, "'Echec': The Deutsches Museum Reconstructs the Chess-Playing Turk," Events and Sightings, IEEE Annals of the History of Computing 26:2 (April-June 2004), 84-85. John F. Ohl and Joseph Earl Arrington, "John Maelzel, Master Showman of Automata and Panoramas," Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 84:1 (January 1960), 56-92. James W. Cook Jr., "From the Age of Reason to the Age of Barnum: The Great Automaton Chess-Player and the Emergence of Victorian Cultural Illusionism," Winterthur Portfolio 30:4 (Winter 1995), 231-257. W.K. Wimsatt Jr., "Poe and the Chess Automaton," American Literature 11:2 (May 1939), 138-151. Peggy Aldrich Kidwell, "Playing Checkers With Machines -- From Ajeeb to Chinook," Information & Culture 50:4 (2015), 578-587. Brian P. Bloomfield and Theo Vurdubakis, "IBM's Chess Players: On AI and Its Supplements," Information Society 24 (2008), 69-82. Nathan Ensmenger, "Is Chess the Drosophila of Artificial Intelligence? A Social History of an Algorithm," Social Studies of Science 42:1 (February 2012), 5-30. Martin Kemp, "A Mechanical Mind," Nature 421:6920 (Jan. 16, 2003), 214. Marco Ernandes, "Artificial Intelligence & Games: Should Computational Psychology Be Revalued?" Topoi 24:2 (September 2005), 229–242. Brian P. Bloomfield and Theo Vurdubakis, "The Revenge of the Object? On Artificial Intelligence as a Cultural Enterprise," Social Analysis 41:1 (March 1997), 29-45. Mark Sussman, "Performing the Intelligent Machine: Deception and Enchantment in the Life of the Automaton Chess Player," TDR 43:3 (Autumn 1999), 81-96. James Berkley, "Post-Human Mimesis and the Debunked Machine: Reading Environmental Appropriation in Poe's 'Maelzel's Chess-Player' and 'The Man That Was Used Up,'" Comparative Literature Studies 41:3 (2004), 356-376. Kat Eschner, "Debunking the Mechanical Turk Helped Set Edgar Allan Poe on the Path to Mystery Writing," Smithsonian.com, July 20, 2017. Lincoln Michel, "The Grandmaster Hoax," Paris Review, March 28, 2012. Adam Gopnik, "A Point of View: Chess and 18th Century Artificial Intelligence," BBC News, March 22, 2013. http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-21876120 Ella Morton, "The Mechanical Chess Player That Unsettled the World," Slate, Aug. 20, 2015. "The Automaton Chess Player," Scientific American 48:7 (February 17, 1883), 103-104. Robert Willis, An Attempt to Analyse the Automaton Chess Player, of Mr. de Kempelen, 1821. "The Automaton Chess-Player," Cornhill Magazine 5:27 (September 1885), 299-306. Edgar Allan Poe, "Maelzel's Chess-Player," Southern Literary Messenger, April 1836, 318-326. You can play through six of the Turk's games on Chessgames.com. Listener mail: Nicholas Gibbs, "Voynich Manuscript: The Solution," Times Literary Supplement, Sept. 5, 2017. Annalee Newitz, "The Mysterious Voynich Manuscript Has Finally Been Decoded," Ars Technica, Sept. 8, 2017. Natasha Frost, "The World's Most Mysterious Medieval Manuscript May No Longer Be a Mystery," Atlas Obscura, Sept. 8, 2017. Sarah Zhang, "Has a Mysterious Medieval Code Really Been Solved?" Atlantic, Sept. 10, 2017. Annalee Newitz, "So Much for That Voynich Manuscript 'Solution,'" Ars Technica, Sept. 10, 2017. "Imaginary Erdős Number," Numberphile, Nov. 26, 2014. Oleg Pikhurko, "Erdős Lap Number," Mathematics Institute, University of Warwick (accessed Sept. 15, 2017). This week's lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Alex Baumans, who sent this corroborating link (warning -- this spoils the puzzle). You can listen using the player above, download this episode directly, or subscribe on iTunes or Google Play Music or via the RSS feed at http://feedpress.me/futilitycloset. Please consider becoming a patron of Futility Closet -- on our Patreon page you can pledge any amount per episode, and we've set up some rewards to help thank you for your support. You can also make a one-time donation on the Support Us page of the Futility Closet website. Many thanks to Doug Ross for the music in this episode. If you have any questions or comments you can reach us at podcast@futilitycloset.com. Thanks for listening!

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  • 169-John Harrison and the Problem of Longitude

    · 00:33:02 · Futility Closet

    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!

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  • 168-The Destruction of the Doves Type

    · 00:33:31 · Futility Closet

    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!

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  • 167-A Manhattan Murder Mystery

    · 00:32:10 · Futility Closet

    In May 1920, wealthy womanizer Joseph 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 quite pin the crime on any of them. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll review the sensational 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!

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  • 166-A Dangerous Voyage

    · 00:33:20 · Futility Closet

    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!

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  • 165-A Case of Mistaken Identity

    · 00:31:17 · Futility Closet

    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!

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  • 164-Vigil on the Ice

    · 00:33:01 · Futility Closet

    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!

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  • 163-Enslaved in the Sahara

    · 00:31:56 · Futility Closet

    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!

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  • 162-John Muir and Stickeen

    · 00:32:30 · Futility Closet

    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!

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  • 161-The Girl Who Fell From the Sky

    · 00:30:27 · Futility Closet

    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!  

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  • 160-The Birmingham Sewer Lion

    · 00:32:56 · Futility Closet

    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!

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  • 159-The Mozart of Mathematics

    · 00:32:29 · Futility Closet

    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 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!

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  • 158-The Mistress of Murder Farm

    · 00:33:38 · Futility Closet

    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!  

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