LISTEN: The Thunder Stone

Thunder Stone

In 1768, Catherine the Great ordered her subjects to move a 3-million-pound granite boulder intact into Saint Petersburg, a task that seemed flatly impossible with the technology of the time. In this episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll learn how some inspired engineering moved the Thunder Stone 13 miles from its forest home to Senate Square, making it the largest stone ever moved by man.

We'll also learn whether mutant squid are attacking Indiana and puzzle over why a stamp collector would be angry at finding a good bargain.

Show notes

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LISTEN: Edgar Allan Poe's Graveyard Visitor

The Poe Toaster

For most of the 20th century, a man in black appeared each year at the grave of Edgar Allan Poe. In the predawn hours of January 19, he would drink a toast with French cognac and leave behind three roses in a special pattern. No one knows who he was or why he did this. In this episode of the Futility Closet podcast we review the history of the "Poe Toaster" and his long association with the great poet's memorial.

We'll also consider whether Winnie-the-Pooh should be placed on Ritalin and puzzle over why a man would shoot an unoffending monk.

LISTEN: The Great Moon Hoax

Great Moon Hoax

In 1835 the New York Sun announced that astronomers had discovered bat-winged humanoids on the moon, as well as reindeer, unicorns, bipedal beavers and temples made of sapphire. The fake news was reprinted around the world, impressing even P.T. Barnum; Edgar Allan Poe said that "not one person in ten" doubted the story. In this episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll review the Great Moon Hoax, the first great sensation of the modern media age.

We'll also learn why Montana police needed a rabbi and puzzle over how a woman's new shoes end up killing her.

Lateral Thinking Puzzles

Lateral Thinking Puzzles

For this Thanksgiving episode of the Futility Closet podcast, enjoy seven lateral thinking puzzles that didn't make it onto our regular shows. Solve along with us as we explore some strange scenarios using only yes-or-no questions. Happy Thanksgiving!

LISTEN: Spring-Heeled Jack -- A Victorian Supervillain

2014-11-17-spring-heeled-jack-a-victorian-supervillain

Between 1837 and 1904, rumors spread of a strange bounding devil who haunted southern England, breathing blue flames and menacing his victims with steel talons. In the latest Futility Closet podcast we'll review the career of Spring-Heeled Jack and speculate about his origins.

We'll also recount Alexander Graham Bell's efforts to help the wounded James Garfield before his doctors' treatments could kill him and puzzle over why a police manual gives instructions in a language that none of the officers speak.

Death and Robert Todd Lincoln

robert todd lincoln

Abraham Lincoln's eldest son, Robert, is the subject of a grim coincidence in American history: He's the only person known to have been present or nearby at the assassinations of three American presidents. In the latest Futility Closet podcast we'll describe the circumstances of each misfortune and explore some further coincidences regarding Robert's brushes with fatality.

We'll also consider whether a chimpanzee deserves a day in court and puzzle over why Australia would demolish a perfectly good building.

The Wow! Signal

The Wow! Signal

In August 1977 a radio telescope in Ohio received a signal that bore all the hallmarks of an extraterrestrial intelligence, leading astronomer Jerry Ehman to write "Wow!" in the margin of a printout. In the latest Futility Closet podcast we'll describe the signal and why researchers found it so compelling.

We'll also share some more nuggets from Greg's database of oddities and puzzle over why a man chooses to drive a long distance at only 15 mph.

Pigs on Trial

pig

For 500 years of European history, animals were given criminal trials: Bulls, horses, dogs, and sheep were arrested, jailed, given lawyers, tried, and punished at community expense. In the latest Futility Closet podcast we'll explore this strange practice and try to understand its significance to the people of the time.

We'll also rediscover the source of Futility Closet's name and puzzle over how a ringing bell relates to a man's death.

Podcast Episode 31: Pigs on Trial

The Mystery of Kaspar Hauser

Kaspar-HauserIn 1828, a 16-year-old boy appeared in Nuremberg, claiming that he'd spent his whole life alone in a dark cell. In the latest Futility Closet podcast we'll follow the short, sad life of Kaspar Hauser and ponder who he might have been.

We'll also revisit the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus, encounter some self-landing planes, and puzzle over why a man would bury 15 luxury cars in the desert.

Futility Closet 26: A Practical Joke on a Grand Scale

berners street hoaxIn 1810 someone told hundreds of London merchants that Mrs. Tottenham at 54 Berners Street had requested their services. She hadn't. For a full day the street was packed with crowds of deliverymen struggling to reach a single door -- and the practical joker was never caught.

In this episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll hear descriptions of the chaos in Berners Street and meet Theodore Hook, the man who probably planned the whole thing. We'll also revisit the mysterious corpse found on an Australian beach in 1948 and puzzle over an octopus stuck in a tree.

Show notes

A Victorian poisoning mystery

On New Year’s Day 1886, London grocer Edwin Bartlett was discovered dead in his bed with a lethal quantity of liquid chloroform in his stomach. Strangely, his throat showed none of the burns that chloroform should have caused.

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The Devil's Hoofmarks - the great Devon mystery of 1855

On Feb. 9, 1855, the residents of Devon in southern England awoke to find a bewildering set of footprints in the newfallen snow. “These are to be found in fields, gardens, roads, house-tops, & other likely and unlikely places, deeply embedded in snow,” ran one contemporary account. “The shape was a hoof.”

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The story of Franz Stigler, gallant German fighter ace

Futility Closet on a dramatic encounter in the skies over Germany in 1943, whether animals follow the 10 commandments, and why a man would falsely tell his nephew that his dog was shot.

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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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