In 1913, Joe Knowles set out to spend two months naked and alone in the Maine woods

In 1913 outdoorsman Joseph Knowles pledged to spend two months in the woods of northern Maine, naked and alone, using only what he was able to find in the forest. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll describe Knowles' adventures in the woods and the controversy that followed his return to civilization.

We'll also consider the roots of nostalgia and puzzle over some busy brothers.

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A young Marine in WWII set out to capture Japanese soldiers by convincing them to surrender

Guy Gabaldon was an untested Marine when he landed on the Pacific island of Saipan during World War II. But he decided to fight the war on his own terms, venturing alone into enemy territory and trying to convince Japanese soldiers to surrender voluntarily. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll follow Gabaldon's dangerous crusade and learn its surprising results.

We'll also examine Wonder Woman's erotic origins and puzzle over an elusive murderer.

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America's first serial killer built a murder castle in Chicago

When detectives arrested H.H. Holmes in 1894, they thought he was a simple con man. But they were shocked to discover that he'd been operating a bizarre Chicago hotel full of blind passageways, trapdoors, hidden chutes, and asphyxiation chambers in which he'd sadistically murdered dozens of victims. In today's show we'll follow the career of America's first documented serial killer, who headlines called "a fiend in human shape."

We'll also gape at some fireworks explosions and puzzle over an intransigent insurance company.

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Update: The Future of HOME

Here's a brief audio update on the immediate future of HOME: Stories From L.A. The TL;DR version is, I'm slowing down the production schedule to make the project more sustainable over the long term. Give a listen for a little more background on the hows and whys of it all. The show returns this spring for Season 5, and in the meantime, the archive is a great way to load up your podcatcher. (Oh, also: I'm looking for a social media/publicity ninja; if that's you, drop me a line.)

HOME is a proud member of the Boing Boing Podcast Network

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If you're already a subscriber, many thanks. And if you have a minute to leave the show a short review at the iTunes Store it'd be much appreciated.  Read the rest

The U.S. government has a "conscience fund" for repayments from those who have defrauded it

For 200 years the U.S. Treasury has maintained a "conscience fund" that accepts repayments from people who have defrauded or stolen from the government. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll describe the history of the fund and some of the more memorable and puzzling contributions it's received over the years.

We'll also ponder Audrey Hepburn's role in World War II and puzzle over an illness cured by climbing poles.

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The first crime solved by a lie detector

Fingerprint identification and lie detectors are well-known tools of law enforcement today, but both were quite revolutionary when they were introduced. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll describe the memorable cases where these innovations were first used. Read the rest

Cynthia Ann Parker was abducted by Comanches, then abducted back by whites 24 years later

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The story of Indian mathematical genius Srinivasa Ramanujan

In 1913, English mathematician G.H. Hardy received a package from an unknown accounting clerk in India, with nine pages of mathematical results that he found "scarcely possible to believe." In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast, we'll follow the unlikely friendship that sprang up between Hardy and Srinivasa Ramanujan, whom Hardy called "the most romantic figure in the recent history of mathematics."

We'll also probe Carson McCullers' heart and puzzle over a well-proportioned amputee.

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Dismissed by critics, Dutch painter Han van Meegeren set out to avenge himself by creating "the ultimate forgery"

When critics dismissed his paintings, Dutch artist Han van Meegeren decided to seek his revenge on the art world: He devoted himself to forgery and spent six years fabricating a Vermeer masterpiece. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast, we'll recount the career of a master forger and the surprising mistake that eventually brought him down.

We'll also drop in on D.B. Cooper and puzzle over an eyeless fruit burglar.

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An Irish cavalryman spent most of World War I living in this cupboard

In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll tell two stories about people who spent years confined in miserably small spaces. North Carolina slave Harriet Jacobs spent seven years hiding in a narrow space under her grandmother's roof, evading her abusive owner, and Irishman Patrick Fowler spent most of World War I hiding in the cabinet of a sympathetic family in German-occupied France.

We'll also subdivide Scotland and puzzle over a ballerina's silent reception.

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Novelist William Sharp had a feminine alter ego with her own literary career

When the Scottish writer William Sharp died in 1905, his wife revealed a surprising secret: For 10 years he had kept up a second career as a reclusive novelist named Fiona Macleod, carrying on correspondences and writing works in two distinctly different styles. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll explore Sharp's curious relationship with his feminine alter ego, whose sporadic appearances perplexed even him.

We'll also hunt tigers in Singapore and puzzle over a surprisingly unsuccessful bank robber.

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The neuroscience of changing your mind

This is the first of three You Are Not So Smart episodes about the "backfire effect." In it, I interview a team of neuroscientists who put people in a brain scanner and then challenged their beliefs, some political and some not, with counter-evidence and then compared which brain regions lit up for which beliefs. The crazy takeaway was that for political beliefs, but not for others, people seemed to react as if their very bodies were being threatened by the challenging evidence.

We don’t treat all of our beliefs the same.

If you learn that the Great Wall of China isn’t the only man-made object visible from space, and that, in fact, it’s actually very difficult to see the Wall compared to other landmarks, you update your model of reality without much fuss. Some misconceptions we give up readily, replacing them with better information when alerted to our ignorance.

For others constructs though, for your most cherished beliefs about things like climate change or vaccines or Republicans, instead of changing your mind in the face of challenging evidence or compelling counterarguments, you resist. Not only do you fight belief change for some things and not others, but if you successfully deflect such attacks, your challenged beliefs then grow stronger.

The research shows that when a strong-yet-erroneous belief is challenged, yes, you might experience some temporary weakening of your convictions, some softening of your certainty, but most people rebound and not only reassert their original belief at its original strength, but go beyond that and dig in their heels, deepening their resolve over the long run. Read the rest

Boars, Gore, and Swords podcast covers Westworld episode nine, "The Well-Tempered Clavier"

As HBO's Westworld nears its conclusion, Boars, Gore, and Swords is there to keep up with all the twists and turns. For this week's "The Well-Tempered Clavier," Ivan and Red discuss Arnold's true identity, the relative lack of value of human cognition, Logan wearing a "Hand of The King" pin, when and where Dolores is, and the male nudity everyone's been waiting for.

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To catch up on previous episodes of Westworld, previous seasons of Game of Thrones, the A Song of Ice And Fire books, and other TV and movies, check out the BGaS archive. You can find them on Twitter @boarsgoreswords, like their Facebook fanpage, and email them. If you want access to extra episodes and content, you can donate to the Patreon. Read the rest

2 million gallons of molasses wreaked havoc in Boston in 1919

In 1919 a bizarre catastrophe struck Boston's North End: A giant storage tank failed, releasing 2 million gallons of molasses into a crowded business district at the height of a January workday. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll tell the story of the Boston Molasses Disaster, which claimed 21 lives and inscribed a sticky page into the city's history books.

We'll also admire some Scandinavian statistics and puzzle over a provocative Facebook photo.

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Boars, Gore, and Swords podcast covers Westworld sequel Futureworld

Having watched the 1973 Westworld film last week, Boars, Gore, and Swords moves on to the Crichton-less sequel Futureworld. Ivan and Red discuss how much more it influenced the HBO series, Yul Brynner's guest appearance, and the advantages of roboticizing the workplace. Over on the BGaS Patreon, you can listen to the last exclusive episode of Ivan and Red's politics podcast and suggest what future bonus content you'd like to see

To catch up on previous episodes of Westworld, previous seasons of Game of Thrones, the A Song of Ice And Fire books, and other TV and movies, check out the BGaS archive. You can find them on Twitter @boarsgoreswords, like their Facebook fanpage, and email them. If you want access to extra episodes and content, you can donate to the Patreon. Read the rest

Six lateral thinking puzzles

Here are six new lateral thinking puzzles to test your wits and stump your friends -- play along with us as we try to untangle some perplexing situations using yes-or-no questions. Read the rest

The story behind the Christmas truce of 1914

In December 1914 a remarkable thing happened on the Western Front: British and German soldiers stopped fighting and left their trenches to greet one another, exchange souvenirs, bury their dead, and sing carols in the spirit of the holiday season. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll tell the story of the Christmas truce, which one participant called "one of the highlights of my life."

We'll also remember James Thurber's Aunt Sarah and puzzle over an anachronistic twin.

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