How an inept gang of crooks tried to steal Abraham Lincoln's corpse


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How two Polish doctors saved 8,000 people from the Nazis by faking an epidemic

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In 1959, a white journalist traveled the Deep South posing as a black man. The conditions horrified him.


In 1959, Texas journalist John Howard Griffin darkened his skin and lived for six weeks as a black man in the segregated South. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll describe his harrowing story and what it showed about the true state of race relations in America.

We'll also ponder crescent moons, German submarines, and griffins in India and puzzle over why a man would be arrested for winning a prize at a county fair.

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Enter coupon code CLOSET at Harry's and $5 off their starter set of high-quality razors.

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What's one square inch of Yukon land worth?

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If you opened a box of Quaker Oats in 1955, you'd find a deed to one square inch of land in northwestern Canada. Read the rest

In the 1850s, mail was carried through the California mountains by one guy on skis.


In the 1850s, settlers in western Nevada were cut off from the rest of the world each winter by deep snow. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll learn about their lifeline, Norwegian immigrant John Thompson, who for 20 years carried mail, medicine, and supplies through 90 miles of treacherous snowdrifts on a pair of homemade skis.

We'll also hear listener contributions regarding prison camp escape aids in World War II and puzzle over how lighting a cigarette results in a lengthy prison sentence.

Show notes

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How the Allies used Monopoly sets to smuggle escape equipment into Nazi POW camps


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The Sea Devil: the gentleman pirate who made friends of his enemies in World War I


Felix von Luckner was a romantic hero in the Great War, a dashing nobleman who commanded an old-style sailing ship. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll describe Luckner's uniquely civilized approach to warfare, which won admiration even from his enemies.

We'll also puzzle over how a product intended to prevent drug abuse ends up encouraging it.

Show notes

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LISTEN: Back From the Dead?

Was an Australian butcher really a long-lost English aristocrat?

The Strange Misadventures of Famous Corpses

Being well known can make it harder to rest in peace.

LISTEN: Godless in Missouri

What happens to a town founded explicitly to reject Christianity?

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LISTEN: Sunk by a Whale

Follow the desperate journey of 20 surviving seamen stranded a thousand miles from land.

LISTEN: Lateral Thinking Puzzles


Here are four new lateral thinking puzzles to test your wits! Read the rest

LISTEN: The Niihau Incident

What happens when a Japanese fighter pilot crash-lands on a remote Hawaiian island after the attack on Pearl Harbor?

LISTEN: Composing Beyond the Grave


Did the spirits of dead composers contact British medium Rosemary Brown to dictate new music?

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LISTEN: How the U.S. Air Force rescued a downed navigator

When the largest rescue operation of the Vietnam War failed to reach downed navigator Gene Hambleton, how did his lifelong passion for golf become the key to his rescue?

LISTEN: Was Cyrano de Bergerac plagiarized from a Chicago real estate developer?

That being the highly successful French play.

LISTEN: Murder at the Priory

Can you solve "the prize puzzle of British criminal jurisprudence"?

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