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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: Sunk by a Whale

Follow the desperate journey of 20 surviving seamen stranded a thousand miles from land.

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In 1820, the Nantucket whaleship Essex was attacked and sunk by an 85-foot sperm whale in the South Pacific, a thousand miles from land. In this episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll tell the story of the attack, which left 20 men to undertake an impossible journey to South America in three small whaleboats.

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LISTEN: Lateral Thinking Puzzles

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Here are four new lateral thinking puzzles to test your wits!

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LISTEN: The Niihau Incident

What happens when a Japanese fighter pilot crash-lands on a remote Hawaiian island after the attack on Pearl Harbor? Read the rest

LISTEN: Composing Beyond the Grave

beethoven

Did the spirits of dead composers contact British medium Rosemary Brown to dictate new music?

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LISTEN: How the U.S. Air Force rescued a downed navigator

When the largest rescue operation of the Vietnam War failed to reach downed navigator Gene Hambleton, how did his lifelong passion for golf become the key to his rescue?Read the rest

LISTEN: Was Cyrano de Bergerac plagiarized from a Chicago real estate developer?

That being the highly successful French play.

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And is it still illegal to perform it in the U.S. today?

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LISTEN: Murder at the Priory

Can you solve "the prize puzzle of British criminal jurisprudence"?Read the rest

LISTEN: Was "rainmaker" Charles Hatfield responsible for San Diego's calamitous flood of 1916?

Coincidence, correlation, or something else? Read the rest

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