Futility Closet

Futility Closet is a collection of entertaining curiosities in history, literature, language, art, philosophy, and mathematics, designed to help you waste time as enjoyably as possible.

Lateral Thinking Puzzles

Lateral Thinking Puzzles

For this Thanksgiving episode of the Futility Closet podcast, enjoy seven lateral thinking puzzles that didn't make it onto our regular shows. Solve along with us as we explore some strange scenarios using only yes-or-no questions. Happy Thanksgiving!

LISTEN: Spring-Heeled Jack -- A Victorian Supervillain

2014-11-17-spring-heeled-jack-a-victorian-supervillain

Between 1837 and 1904, rumors spread of a strange bounding devil who haunted southern England, breathing blue flames and menacing his victims with steel talons. In the latest Futility Closet podcast we'll review the career of Spring-Heeled Jack and speculate about his origins.

We'll also recount Alexander Graham Bell's efforts to help the wounded James Garfield before his doctors' treatments could kill him and puzzle over why a police manual gives instructions in a language that none of the officers speak.

Death and Robert Todd Lincoln

robert todd lincoln

Abraham Lincoln's eldest son, Robert, is the subject of a grim coincidence in American history: He's the only person known to have been present or nearby at the assassinations of three American presidents. In the latest Futility Closet podcast we'll describe the circumstances of each misfortune and explore some further coincidences regarding Robert's brushes with fatality.

We'll also consider whether a chimpanzee deserves a day in court and puzzle over why Australia would demolish a perfectly good building.

The Wow! Signal

The Wow! Signal

In August 1977 a radio telescope in Ohio received a signal that bore all the hallmarks of an extraterrestrial intelligence, leading astronomer Jerry Ehman to write "Wow!" in the margin of a printout. In the latest Futility Closet podcast we'll describe the signal and why researchers found it so compelling.

We'll also share some more nuggets from Greg's database of oddities and puzzle over why a man chooses to drive a long distance at only 15 mph.

Pigs on Trial

pig

For 500 years of European history, animals were given criminal trials: Bulls, horses, dogs, and sheep were arrested, jailed, given lawyers, tried, and punished at community expense. In the latest Futility Closet podcast we'll explore this strange practice and try to understand its significance to the people of the time.

We'll also rediscover the source of Futility Closet's name and puzzle over how a ringing bell relates to a man's death.

Podcast Episode 31: Pigs on Trial

The Oak Island Money Pit


http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Oak_Island,_Nova_Scotia#mediaviewer/File:Digs_and_Buildings,_photo_2,_Oak_Island,_Nova_Scotia,_Canada,_August_1931.jpg

Nova Scotia’s Oak Island hides a famously booby-trapped treasure cache — or so goes the legend. In this episode of the Futility Closet podcast, we review the many attempts to recover the treasure and wonder who could have engineered such a site, what might be hidden there — and whether, indeed, it contains anything at all. We also puzzle over what a woman’s errands can tell us about how her husband died.

The Mystery of Kaspar Hauser

Kaspar-HauserIn 1828, a 16-year-old boy appeared in Nuremberg, claiming that he'd spent his whole life alone in a dark cell. In the latest Futility Closet podcast we'll follow the short, sad life of Kaspar Hauser and ponder who he might have been.

We'll also revisit the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus, encounter some self-landing planes, and puzzle over why a man would bury 15 luxury cars in the desert.

The real-life Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes was based on a real man, a physician who trained Arthur Conan Doyle at the University of Edinburgh. During his medical lectures, Joseph Bell regularly astonished his students with insights into his patients' lives and characters.

"From close observation and deduction, gentlemen," he said, "it is possible to make a diagnosis that will be correct in any and every case. However, you must not neglect to ratify your deductions."

In this episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll meet Joseph Bell and review the stories of his legendary acuity. We'll also take a tour through Greg's database of unpublished oddities and puzzle over how having your car damaged might be a good thing.

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Futility Closet 26: A Practical Joke on a Grand Scale

berners street hoaxIn 1810 someone told hundreds of London merchants that Mrs. Tottenham at 54 Berners Street had requested their services. She hadn't. For a full day the street was packed with crowds of deliverymen struggling to reach a single door -- and the practical joker was never caught.

In this episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll hear descriptions of the chaos in Berners Street and meet Theodore Hook, the man who probably planned the whole thing. We'll also revisit the mysterious corpse found on an Australian beach in 1948 and puzzle over an octopus stuck in a tree.

Show notes

Futility Closet: mystery of the well-dressed corpse

On Dec. 1, 1948, a well-dressed corpse appeared on a beach in South Australia. Despite 66 years of investigation, no one has ever been able to establish who he was, how he came to be there, or even how he died.

In this episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll delve into the mystery of the Somerton man, a fascinating tale that involves secret codes, a love triangle, and the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. We'll also hear Franklin Adams praise the thesaurus and puzzle over some surprising consequences of firing a gun.

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A Victorian poisoning mystery

On New Year’s Day 1886, London grocer Edwin Bartlett was discovered dead in his bed with a lethal quantity of liquid chloroform in his stomach. Strangely, his throat showed none of the burns that chloroform should have caused.

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The Devil's Hoofmarks - the great Devon mystery of 1855

On Feb. 9, 1855, the residents of Devon in southern England awoke to find a bewildering set of footprints in the newfallen snow. “These are to be found in fields, gardens, roads, house-tops, & other likely and unlikely places, deeply embedded in snow,” ran one contemporary account. “The shape was a hoof.”

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The story of Franz Stigler, gallant German fighter ace

Futility Closet on a dramatic encounter in the skies over Germany in 1943, whether animals follow the 10 commandments, and why a man would falsely tell his nephew that his dog was shot.

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The 1944 science fiction story that predicted the atomic bomb

In 1944, fully a year before the first successful nuclear test, Astounding Science Fiction magazine published a remarkably detailed description of an atomic bomb in a story called Deadline. The story, by the otherwise undistinguished author Cleve Cartmill, sent military intelligence racing to discover the source of his information — and his motives for publishing it.

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The Man Who Mailed Frying Pans

In the latest episode of the Futility Closet podcast, we follow postal enthusiast W. Reginald Bray as he sends bowler hats, seaweed, his dog and even himself through the British mail.

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