Experience the early days of flight in Edwardian England.

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In the early days of English aviation, journalist C.C. Turner seemed to be everywhere, witnessing bold new feats and going on some harrowing adventures of his own. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll sample Turner's record of those exciting times, including his own clumsy first attempt to fly an airplane and a record-setting balloon voyage to Sweden.

We'll also ponder the nuances of attempted murder and puzzle over a motel guest's noisemaking.

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The 27th amendment was ratified largely because a college student got a C on a term paper

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For a government class in 1982, college sophomore Gregory Watson argued that a long-forgotten constitutional amendment could still be ratified. His instructor found this implausible and gave him a C on the assignment. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll follow Watson's 10-year mission to prove his professor wrong -- and ultimately get the amendment added to the Constitution.

We'll also learn an underhanded way to win a poetry contest and puzzle over how someone can murder a corpse.

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Voyage of the Damned: In 1939, the U.S. turned back a ship carrying refugees from Nazi Germany.

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In 1947, Canadian kids went on "strike" to protest candy-bar prices.

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The curious story of an "African" from Baltimore

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In the 1920s Bata Kindai Amgoza ibn LoBagola toured the United States and Europe to share the culture of his African homeland with fascinated audiences. The reality was actually much more mundane: His name was Joseph Lee and he was from Baltimore. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll tell the curious story of this self-described "savage" and trace the unraveling of his imaginative career.

We'll also dump a bucket of sarcasm on Duluth, Minnesota, and puzzle over why an acclaimed actor loses a role.

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An amazing tale of interspecies friendship

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The lyrebirds of Australia were highly mysterious and rarely seen until one fell in love with an elderly widow in 1930. In this episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll trace the development of their surprising friendship and how it led to an explosion of knowledge about this extraordinary species.

We'll also learn how Seattle literally remade itself in the early 20th century and puzzle over why a prolific actress was never paid for her work.

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Aesop's fables as written by a computer

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Six new lateral thinking puzzles to test your wits and stump your friends

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How Chicago jacked itself up in the 1860s

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In the 1860s Chicago underwent an amazing transformation in which dozens of buildings were moved around the city and gangs of men raised giant hotels and banks on jackscrews. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll follow the city's astounding 20-effort to rid itself of sewage and disease.

We'll also hear about how dangerously close the U.S. and the Soviet Union came to nuking each other, and puzzle over the importance of a ringing phone.

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How the Allies fooled the Nazis using a person who never existed

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The Soviet Union came perilously close to launching a nuclear strike on the U.S. in 1983

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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.

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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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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.

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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.

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

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