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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.

LISTEN: Marconi Catches a Murderer

Dew and Crippen

In 1910 Scotland Yard exploited a new invention, the wireless telegraph, to capture the main suspect in a gruesome murder.

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LISTEN: The Strange Custom of Garden Hermits

We explore an odd custom: how, in the 1700s, English landowners would pay people to live in primitive isolation on their estates.

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In the 1700s, English landowners would pay people to live in primitive isolation on their estates.

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LISTEN: The Day They Hanged an Elephant

Mary the Elephant

In 1916 an American circus elephant named Mary was hanged from a railroad crane before a crowd of 3,000 onlookers.

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LISTEN: The Wizard of Mauritius: The Man Who Could See Beyond the Horizon

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In 1764 a French engineer on a tiny African island claimed that he could see ships beyond the horizon.

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LISTEN: English as She Is Spoke: The World's Worst Phrasebook

English as She Is Spoke 600

Pedro Carolino's Portuguese-English phrasebook includes such tortured English phrases as "The ears are too length" and "He has spit in my coat."

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LISTEN: Jules Verne's lost novel, discovered 8 decades after his death

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How accurately did the father of science fiction predict the modern world?

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LISTEN: Lateral Thinking Puzzles

Here are six new lateral thinking puzzles to test your wits!Read the rest

LISTEN: The Incident at Dyatlov Pass

What happened to nine student hikers on a winter's night in 1959?

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LISTEN: Escape From Stalag Luft III

In 1943 three men came up with an ingenious plan to escape from the seemingly escape-proof Stalag Luft III prison camp in Germany.Read the rest

LISTEN: The Lost Colony: America's Oldest Mystery

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What is actually known about the disappearance of the English settlement at Roanoke Island in 1587?

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LISTEN: Moving Day in New York

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For centuries, May 1 brought chaos to New York, as most tenants had to move on the same day, clogging the streets with harried people and all their belongings.

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LISTEN: Poet Doppelgängers

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In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll look at the strange phenomenon of poet doppelgängers -- at least five notable poets have been seen by witnesses when their physical bodies were elsewhere.

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LISTEN: The Great Tea Race

Follow the dramatic 14,000-mile clipper ship race of 1866, in which five ships competed fiercely to be the first to London with the season's tea.

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LISTEN: Can a Kitten Climb the Matterhorn?

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In 1950 newspapers around the world reported that a 10-month-old kitten had climbed the Matterhorn, one of the highest peaks in Europe. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll wonder whether even a very determined kitty could accomplish such a feat.

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LISTEN: The Shark Arm Affair

Shark Arm Affair

In 1935 a shark in an Australian aquarium vomited up a human forearm, a bizarre turn of events that sparked a confused murder investigation. This week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast presents two cases in which a shark supplied key evidence of a human crime.

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LISTEN: The Scariest Travel Books Ever Written

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Victorian children's author Favell Lee Mortimer published three bizarre travel books that described a world full of death, vice, and peril. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll sample her terrifying descriptions of the lands beyond England and wonder what led her to write them.

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LISTEN: the great dog race of mercy

1925 Nome serum run

Follow the dramatic story of the 1925 serum run to Nome, in which 20 men and 150 dogs struggled through arctic blizzards in a desperate effort to save the town from a lethal illness.

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