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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: 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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Crossing Africa for Love

When Ewart Grogan was denied permission to marry his sweetheart, he set out to walk the length of Africa to prove himself worthy of her.

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LISTEN: Ballooning to the North Pole

In 1897, Swedish engineer S.A. Andrée made the world's only attempt to balloon to the North Pole.

Andree balloon

In 1897, Swedish engineer S.A. Andrée made the world's only attempt to balloon to the North Pole.

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LISTEN: Ben Franklin's Guide to Living

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In this episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll explore Benjamin Franklin's self-improvement plan and find out which vices gave him the most trouble.

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LISTEN: The Balmis Expedition: Using Orphans to Combat Smallpox

The Balmis Expedition

In this episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll tell how Spanish authorities found an ingenious way to use orphans to bring the smallpox vaccine to the American colonies in 1803. The Balmis Expedition overcame the problems of transporting a fragile vaccine over a long voyage and is credited with saving at least 100,000 lives in the New World.

We'll also get some listener updates to the Lady Be Good story and puzzle over why a man would find it more convenient to drive two cars than one.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

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LISTEN: the desperate last days of a lost WWII bomber

Lady Be Good

The American bomber Lady Be Good left North Africa for a bombing run over Italy in 1943. It wasn't seen again until 15 years later, when explorers discovered its broken remains deep in the Libyan desert. In this episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll review the strange history of the lost aircraft and trace the desperate last days of its nine crewmen.

We'll also climb some twisted family trees and puzzle over the Greek philosopher Thales' struggles with a recalcitrant mule.

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LISTEN: The Mary Celeste: A Great Sea Mystery

The Mary Celeste

In 1872 the British merchant ship Mary Celeste was discovered drifting and apparently abandoned 600 miles off the coast of Portugal. In this episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll review this classic mystery of the sea: Why would 10 people flee a well-provisioned, seaworthy ship in fine weather?

We'll also get an update on the legal rights of apes and puzzle over why a woman would not intervene when her sister is drugged.

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LISTEN: Lateral Thinking Puzzles

Lateral Thinking Puzzles

Here are eight new lateral thinking puzzles that you can try on your friends and family -- see who can make sense of these odd scenarios using only yes-or-no questions.

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