Cynthia Ann Parker was abducted by Comanches, then abducted back by whites 24 years later

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The story of Indian mathematical genius Srinivasa Ramanujan

In 1913, English mathematician G.H. Hardy received a package from an unknown accounting clerk in India, with nine pages of mathematical results that he found "scarcely possible to believe." In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast, we'll follow the unlikely friendship that sprang up between Hardy and Srinivasa Ramanujan, whom Hardy called "the most romantic figure in the recent history of mathematics."

We'll also probe Carson McCullers' heart and puzzle over a well-proportioned amputee.

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Dismissed by critics, Dutch painter Han van Meegeren set out to avenge himself by creating "the ultimate forgery"

When critics dismissed his paintings, Dutch artist Han van Meegeren decided to seek his revenge on the art world: He devoted himself to forgery and spent six years fabricating a Vermeer masterpiece. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast, we'll recount the career of a master forger and the surprising mistake that eventually brought him down.

We'll also drop in on D.B. Cooper and puzzle over an eyeless fruit burglar.

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An Irish cavalryman spent most of World War I living in this cupboard

In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll tell two stories about people who spent years confined in miserably small spaces. North Carolina slave Harriet Jacobs spent seven years hiding in a narrow space under her grandmother's roof, evading her abusive owner, and Irishman Patrick Fowler spent most of World War I hiding in the cabinet of a sympathetic family in German-occupied France.

We'll also subdivide Scotland and puzzle over a ballerina's silent reception.

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Novelist William Sharp had a feminine alter ego with her own literary career

When the Scottish writer William Sharp died in 1905, his wife revealed a surprising secret: For 10 years he had kept up a second career as a reclusive novelist named Fiona Macleod, carrying on correspondences and writing works in two distinctly different styles. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll explore Sharp's curious relationship with his feminine alter ego, whose sporadic appearances perplexed even him.

We'll also hunt tigers in Singapore and puzzle over a surprisingly unsuccessful bank robber.

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2 million gallons of molasses wreaked havoc in Boston in 1919

In 1919 a bizarre catastrophe struck Boston's North End: A giant storage tank failed, releasing 2 million gallons of molasses into a crowded business district at the height of a January workday. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll tell the story of the Boston Molasses Disaster, which claimed 21 lives and inscribed a sticky page into the city's history books.

We'll also admire some Scandinavian statistics and puzzle over a provocative Facebook photo.

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Six lateral thinking puzzles

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

The story behind the Christmas truce of 1914

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

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

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What Mark Twain learned from a palm reader

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

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

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In 1944 hysteria swept Mattoon, Illinois, as residents reported a paralyzing gas being sprayed into their bedrooms

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

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

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A Union soldier's determined efforts to break out of an "escape-proof" Confederate prison

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

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

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This 61-year-old potato farmer won an ultramarathon in 1983

Australia's Westfield ultramarathon had a surprising entrant in 1983: a 61-year-old potato farmer named Cliff Young who defied all expectations to win the 500-mile race against a field of professional runners. In today's show we'll learn about Cliff's unorthodox style and the remarkable strategy that carried him to victory.

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

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The Voynich manuscript has been bewildering scholars for more than a century

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

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

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The strangest battle of World War II took place at this medieval Austrian castle

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In 1896 two New Jersey clam diggers set out to cross the North Atlantic in a rowboat

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

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

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The great Australian poetry hoax, in which deliberate nonsense was hailed as great art

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

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

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A bizarre murder mystery gripped Campden, England, in 1660

When William Harrison disappeared from Campden, England, in 1660, his servant offered an incredible explanation: that he and his family had murdered him. After the family was executed for the crime Harrison reappeared with a bizarre story of his own. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll describe "the Campden wonder," which one historian has called "perhaps the most baffling of all historical mysteries."

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

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