English teenager Edward Jones broke repeatedly into Buckingham Palace in the 1830s.

Between 1838 and 1841, an enterprising London teenager repeatedly broke into Buckingham Palace, sitting on the throne, eating from the kitchen, and generally causing headaches for Queen Victoria's attendants, who couldn't seem to keep him out. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll describe the exploits of Edward Jones -- who some have called the first celebrity stalker.

We'll also salute some confusing flags and puzzle over an extraterrestrial musician.

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Five lateral thinking puzzles

Here are five 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.

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How a Spanish chicken farmer became the greatest double agent of World War II

In 1941, Catalonian chicken farmer Juan Pujol made an unlikely leap into the world of international espionage, becoming a spy first for the Germans, then for the British, and rising to become one of the greatest double agents of World War II. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll describe Pujol's astonishing talent for deceiving the Nazis, which led one colleague to call him "the best actor in the world."

We'll also contemplate a floating Chicago and puzzle over a winding walkway.

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Con man Gregor MacGregor sent shiploads of emigrants to a place that didn't exist

In 1821, Scottish adventurer Gregor MacGregor undertook one of the most brazen scams in history: He invented a fictional Central American republic and convinced hundreds of his countrymen to invest in its development. Worse, he persuaded 250 people to set sail for this imagined utopia with dreams of starting a new life. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll describe the disastrous results of MacGregor's deceit.

We'll also illuminate a hermit's behavior and puzzle over Liechtenstein's flag.

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Meet the North Pond hermit, who lived alone in the Maine woods for 27 years

Without any forethought or preparation, Christopher Knight walked into the Maine woods in 1986 and lived there in complete solitude for the next 27 years, subsisting on what he was able to steal from local cabins. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll tell the story of the North Pond hermit, one man's attempt to divorce himself completely from civilization.

We'll also look for coded messages in crosswords and puzzle over an ineffective snake.

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Did William Wallace commit the perfect murder in 1931?

Insurance agent William Herbert Wallace had a terrible night in January 1931 -- summoned to a nonexistent address in Liverpool, he returned home to find that his wife had been murdered in his absence. An investigation seemed to show a senseless crime with no weapon, no motive, and no likely suspects. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll revisit the slaying of Julia Wallace, which Raymond Chandler called "the impossible murder."

We'll also recount some wobbly oaths and puzzle over an eccentric golfer.

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This mountain inspired a prison break in 1943

Stuck in an East African prison camp in 1943, Italian POW Felice Benuzzi needed a challenge to regain his sense of purpose. He made a plan that seemed crazy -- to break out of the camp, climb Mount Kenya, and break back in. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll follow Benuzzi and two companions as they try to climb the second-highest mountain in Africa using homemade equipment.

We'll also consider whether mirages may have doomed the Titanic and puzzle over an ineffective oath.

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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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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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