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.

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 We'll also take a tour through Greg's database of unpublished oddities and puzzle over how having your car damaged might be a good thing.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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The Mystery of the Disappearing Airmen

Futility Closet on the curious cases of Ernest Cody and Charles Adams, two naval officers who vanished from a World War II surveillance blimp over the Pacific.

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A 2-million-ton aircraft carrier made of ice

In this episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll follow the strange history of the WWII project to construct a 2-million-ton aircraft carrier made of ice.

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H.L. Mencken translates the Declaration of Independence into American English

In episode 16 of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll hear H.L. Mencken’s translation of the Declaration of Independence into American English, and learn why a merchant repeatedly auctioned the same 50-pound sack of flour, raising $250,000.

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The lighthouse keepers who vanished forever [Futility Closet 015]

In 1900 three lighthouse keepers vanished from a remote, featureless island in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides. The lighthouse was in good order and the log showed no sign of trouble, but no trace of the keepers has ever been found.

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The importance of toothbrushes in ocean disasters [Futility Closet 014]

Stewardess Violet Jessop was both cursed and blessed — during the 1910s she met disaster on all three of the White Star Line’s Olympic class of gigantic ocean liners, but she managed to escape each time.

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