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 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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An ingenious escape from slavery [Futility Closet 013]

Georgia slaves Ellen and William Craft made a daring bid for freedom in 1848: Ellen dressed as a white man and, attended by William as her servant, undertook a perilous 1,000-mile journey by carriage, train, and steamship to the free state of Pennsylvania in the North. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll follow the couple’s harrowing five-day adventure through the slave-owning South.

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The Great Race, Grace Kelly's Tomahawk, and Dreadful Penmanship [Futility Closet #012]

The New York Times proposed an outrageous undertaking in 1908: An automobile race westward from New York to Paris, a journey of 22,000 miles across all of North America and Asia in an era when the motorcar was “the most fragile and capricious thing on earth.”

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The Abyssinian Princes Hoax of 1910 [Futility Closet #011]

Irish practical joker Horace de Vere Cole orchestrated his masterpiece in 1910: He dressed four friends as Abyssinian princes and inveigled a tour of a British battleship. One of the friends, improbably, was Virginia Woolf disguised in a false beard and turban (far left in above photo).

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A Baboon Soldier & Lighthouse Rescues (Futility Closet Podcast #010)

When Albert Marr joined the South African army in 1915, he received permission to bring along his pet baboon, Jackie.

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The Monkey Signalman (Futility Closet Podcast #009)

This episode is brought to you by Squarespace, the all-in-one platform that makes it fast and easy to create your own professional website or online portfolio. For a free trial and 10% off, go to squarespace.com and use offer code CLOSET.

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Futility Closet Podcast #008: Owney the Mail Dog, Candy Bombers, and Bertrand Russell

futilitydog

Hosted by Greg and Sharon Ross, Futility Closet is a celebration of the quirky and the curious, the thought-provoking and the simply amusing. This podcast is an audio companion to the popular website that catalogs more than 7,000 curiosities in history, language, mathematics, literature, philosophy, and art. In each episode we explore intriguing finds from our research, share listener contributions, and offer a contest in which listeners can match their wits.

In 1888 a mixed-breed terrier appointed himself mascot of America’s railway postal service, accompanying mailbags throughout the U.S. and eventually traveling around the world. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll recount Owney’s postal adventures and the wave of human affection that followed him.

We’ll also look at an Air Force pilot who dropped candy on parachutes to besieged German children in 1948, learn the link between drug lord Pablo Escobar and feral hippos in Colombia, and present the next Futility Closet Challenge.

(See show notes for the episode.)

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Futility Closet Podcast #007: Louisiana Hippos, Imaginary Epidemics, and Charles Lindbergh

Hosted by Greg and Sharon Ross, Futility Closet is a celebration of the quirky and the curious, the thought-provoking and the simply amusing. This podcast is an audio companion to the popular website that catalogs more than 7,000 curiosities in history, language, mathematics, literature, philosophy, and art. In each episode we explore intriguing finds from our research, share listener contributions, and offer a contest in which listeners can match their wits.

Two weeks before Charles Lindbergh's famous flight, a pair of French aviators attempted a similar feat. Their brave journey might have changed history -- but they disappeared en route. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll follow the flight of the "White Bird" -- and ponder what became of it.

We'll also examine a proposal to build hippo ranches in the Louisiana bayou in 1910, investigate historical outbreaks of dancing, laughing, and other strange behavior, and present the next Futility Closet challenge.

(See show notes for the episode.)

This episode is brought to you by Squarespace, the all-in-one platform that makes it fast and easy to create your own professional website or online portfolio. For a free trial and 10% off, go to squarespace.com and use offer code CLOSET.

GET Futility Closet: RSS | On iTunes | Download episode | Listen on Stitcher

Futility Closet Podcast #006: Texas Camels, Zebra Stripes, and an Immortal Piano

Hosted by Greg and Sharon Ross, Futility Closet is a celebration of the quirky and the curious, the thought-provoking and the simply amusing. This podcast is an audio companion to the popular website that catalogs more than 7,000 curiosities in history, language, mathematics, literature, philosophy, and art. In each episode we explore intriguing finds from our research, share listener contributions, and offer a contest in which listeners can match their wits.

The 1850s saw a strange experiment in the American West: The U.S. Army imported 70 camels for help in managing the country’s suddenly enormous hinterland. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll see how the animals acquitted themselves in an unfamiliar land under inexperienced human masters.

We’ll also learn a surprising theory regarding the origin of zebra stripes; follow the further adventures of self-mailing ex-slave Henry “Box” Brown; ask whether a well-wrought piano can survive duty as a beehive, chicken incubator, and meat safe; and present the next Futility Closet Challenge. (See show notes for the episode.)

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