How Allied prisoners used a Ouija board to escape a Turkish prison camp in World War I

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In 1917 a pair of Allied officers combined a homemade Ouija board, audacity, and imagination to hoax their way out of a remote prison camp in the mountains of Turkey. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll describe the remarkable escape of Harry Jones and Cedric Hill, which one observer called “the most colossal fake of modern times.”

We'll also consider a cactus' role in World War II and puzzle over a cigar-smoking butler.

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Oklahoma outlaw Elmer McCurdy had a career that lasted 100 years -- two-thirds of it as a corpse.

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In 1976 a television crew discovered a mummified corpse in a California funhouse. Unbelievably, an investigation revealed that it belonged to an Oklahoma outlaw who had been shot by sheriff's deputies in 1911 and whose remains had been traveling the country ever since. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll trace the postmortem odyssey of Elmer McCurdy, "the bandit who wouldn't give up."

We'll also reflect on a Dutch artist's disappearance and puzzle over some mysterious hospital deaths.

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The love affair that inspired the Rolls Royce hood ornament

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Could a dead Gettysburg soldier be identified by the photograph he held?

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After the Battle of Gettysburg, a dead Union soldier was found near the center of town. He bore no identification, but in his hands he held a photograph of three children. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll follow the efforts of one Philadelphia physician to track down the lost man's family using only the image of his children.

We'll also sample a 9-year-old's comedy of manners and puzzle over a letter that copies itself.

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The story of Donald Crowhurst, who tried to fake sailing around the world in 1968.

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In 1968 British engineer Donald Crowhurst entered a round-the-world yacht race, hoping to use the prize money to save his failing electronics business. Woefully unprepared and falling behind, he resorted to falsifying a journey around the world. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll describe the desperate measures that Crowhurst turned to as events spiraled out of his control.

We'll also get some updates on Japanese fire balloons and puzzle over a computer that turns on the radio.

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Why the founder of Mother's Day came to hate the holiday

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Anna Jarvis organized the first observance of Mother's Day in 1908 and campaigned to have it adopted throughout the U.S. But she then spent the next 40 years bitterly fighting to control every aspect of the holiday. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll follow the evolution of Mother's Day and Jarvis' belligerent efforts to dictate how it should be celebrated.

We'll also meet a dog that flummoxed the Nazis and puzzle over why a man is fired for doing his job too well.

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Was a son of the powerful Rockefeller family eaten by cannibals?

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During World War II, Japan floated balloons across the Pacific to drop bombs on the U.S.

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Toward the end of World War II, Japan launched a strange new attack on the United States: thousands of paper balloons that would sail 5,000 miles to drop bombs on the American mainland. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast, we'll tell the curious story of the Japanese fire balloons, the world's first intercontinental weapon.

We'll also discuss how to tell time by cannon and puzzle over how to find a lost tortoise.

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The adventures of serial impostor Stanley Clifford Weyman

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Over the span of half a century, Brooklyn impostor Stanley Clifford Weyman impersonated everyone from a Navy admiral to a sanitation expert. When caught, he would admit his deception, serve his jail time, and then take up a new identity. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast, we'll review Weyman's surprisingly successful career and describe some of his more audacious undertakings.

We'll also puzzle over why the police would arrest an unremarkable bus passenger.

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Trapped in a cave in 1925, Floyd Collins became one of the first media sensations of the 20th century

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In 1925, Kentucky caver Floyd Collins was exploring a new tunnel when a falling rock caught his foot, trapping him 55 feet underground. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll follow the desperate efforts to free Collins, whose plight became one of the first popular media sensations of the 20th century.

We'll also learn how Ronald Reagan invented a baseball record and puzzle over a fatal breakfast.

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For 50 years, a London woman made a living selling the correct time.

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How one man ran a company according to the Golden Rule

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In 1919, Ohio businessman Arthur Nash decided to run his clothing factory according to the Golden Rule and treat his workers the way he'd want to be treated himself. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll visit Nash's “Golden Rule Factory” and learn the results of his innovative social experiment.

We'll also marvel at metabolism and puzzle over the secrets of Chicago pickpockets.

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Three boys with a toy cannon briefly held off U.S. Army during 1941 wargames

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During wargames in Louisiana in September 1941, the U.S. Army found itself drawn into a tense firefight with an unseen enemy across the Cane River. The attacker turned out to be three boys with a toy cannon. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll revisit the Battle of Bermuda Bridge and the Prudhomme brothers' account of their historic engagement. Read the rest

Can a castaway survive on fish, plankton, and seawater?

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In 1952, French physician Alain Bombard set out to cross the Atlantic on an inflatable raft to prove his theory that a shipwreck victim can stay alive on a diet of seawater, fish, and plankton. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll set out with Bombard on his perilous attempt to test his theory.

We'll also admire some wobbly pedestrians and puzzle over a luckless burglar.

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The FBI's race against a casino bomber in 1980

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In August 1980, an extortionist planted a thousand-pound bomb in Harvey’s Wagon Wheel Casino in western Nevada. Unless the owners paid him $3 million within 24 hours, he said, the bomb would go off and destroy the casino. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll describe the tense drama that followed and the FBI's efforts to catch the criminal behind it.

We'll also consider some dubious lawn care shortcuts and puzzle over why a man would tear up a winning ticket.

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In 1928, 199 men set out to run 3,400 miles across the United States.

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In 1928, 199 runners set out on a perilous footrace across America, from Los Angeles to Chicago and on to New York. The winner would receive $25,000 -- if anyone finished at all. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll tell the story of the Bunion Derby, billed as the greatest footrace the world had ever known.

We'll also learn some creepy things about spiders and puzzle over why one man needs three cars.

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Image: Flickr

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Who was the legless man discovered on a Nova Scotia beach in 1863?

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In 1863 the residents of Nova Scotia discovered a legless man on the shore of St. Mary's Bay. He spoke no English and couldn't tell them who he was or where he'd come from. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll tell what we know about the strange man they called Jerome and the guesses that have been made about his story.

We'll also learn about explosive rats in World War II and puzzle over a computer that works better when its users sit.

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