Lyudmila Pavlichenko was the deadliest female sniper in history

Lyudmila Pavlichenko was training for a career as a history teacher when Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941. She suspended her studies to enlist as a sniper in the Red Army, where she discovered a remarkable talent for shooting enemy soldiers. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll trace the career of "Lady Death," the deadliest female sniper in history.

We'll also learn where in the world futility.closet.podcast is and puzzle over Air Force One.

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Master forger Denis Vrain-Lucas sold 27,000 fake letters by everyone from Plato to Louis XIV

Denis Vrain-Lucas was an undistinguished forger until he met gullible collector Michel Chasles. Through the 1860s Lucas sold Chasles thousands of phony letters by everyone from Plato to Louis the 14th, earning thousands of francs and touching off a firestorm among confused scholars. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll trace the career of the world's most prolific forger.

We'll also count Queen Elizabeth's eggs and puzzle over a destroyed car.

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The 1815 eruption of Mount Tambora induced a climate crisis and changed world history

The eruption of Mount Tambora in 1815 was a disaster for the Dutch East Indies, but its astonishing consequences were felt around the world, blocking the sun and bringing cold, famine, and disease to millions of people from China to the United States. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll review the volcano's devastating effects and surprising legacy.

We'll also appreciate an inverted aircraft and puzzle over a resourceful barber.

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The strange case of Henry Debosnys, who murdered a wealthy widow in New York in 1882

In 1882, a mysterious man using a false name married and murdered a well-to-do widow in Essex County, New York. While awaiting the gallows he composed poems, an autobiography, and six enigmatic cryptograms that have never been solved. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll examine the strange case of Henry Debosnys, whose true identity remains a mystery.

We'll also consider children's food choices and puzzle over a surprising footrace.

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A 69-year-old shoemaker came to the Battle of Gettysburg to "shoot the damned rebels"

In 1863, on the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg, a 69-year-old shoemaker took down his ancient musket and set out to shoot some rebels. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll follow John Burns' adventures in that historic battle, which made him famous across the nation and won the praise of Abraham Lincoln.

We'll also survey some wallabies and puzzle over some underlined 7s.

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Will the human race survive the twenty-first Century?

My guest in this edition of the After On podcast is British Astronomer Royal, Martin Rees. And just to state the obvious? Astronomer Royal is such a cool title. And it’s just one of a long list of positions and honors that Sir Martin has earned over his five decade career in astrophysics.

That said, most of today’s conversation is not about the stars. It’s mostly about how we could possibly survive this century in the face of multiple "existential risks." Along with Bill Joy (who wrote a highly influential Wired cover story on the topic), Sir Martin helped kickstart this urgent conversation back in 2003, with the release of his amazing book Our Final Century? (which had the more breathless title Our Final Hour in the US).

You can hear our full conversation by clicking below:

Despite the interview's main thrust, I couldn't help to ask Sir Martin about two really cool deep space topics. Toward the start of the interview, we discuss the most violent events that have occurred in the universe since the big bang itself - roughly one of which detonates with ZERO warning somewhere in the observable universe, daily. It’s crazy, and fascinating stuff.

Then toward the end of the interview, we discuss a truly eerie phenomenon called fast radio bursts (FRBs). These are intensely strong radio wave sources with utterly mysterious origins. And while this will sound breathless, it's not out of the question that advanced extraterrestrials could be causing them. Now - astronomers have discovered across many mysterious celestial phenomena in the past, which now have well-understood natural explanations. Read the rest

Did the ghost of Zona Shue help convict her murderer in 1897?

In 1897, shortly after Zona Shue was found dead in her West Virginia home, her mother went to the county prosecutor with a bizarre story. She said that her daughter had been murdered -- and that her ghost had revealed the killer's identity. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll tell the story of the Greenbriar Ghost, one of the strangest courtroom dramas of the 19th century.

We'll also consider whether cats are controlling us and puzzle over a delightful oblivion.

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In 1769, a Peruvian noblewoman found herself lost and alone in the Amazon rain forest

In 1769, a Peruvian noblewoman set out with 41 companions to join her husband in French Guiana. But a series of terrible misfortunes left her alone in the Amazon jungle. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll follow Isabel Godin des Odonais on her harrowing adventure in the rain forest.

We'll also learn where in the world "prices slippery traps" is and puzzle over an airport's ingenuity.

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One of the worst scientific feuds in history arose between two paleontologists in the 1870s

The end of the Civil War opened a new era of fossil hunting in the American West -- and a bitter feud between two rival paleontologists, who spent 20 years sabotaging one another in a constant struggle for supremacy. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll tell the story of the Bone Wars, the greatest scientific feud of the 19th century.

We'll also sympathize with Scunthorpe and puzzle over why a driver can't drive.

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A group of African slaves spent 15 years shipwrecked on this tiny island

In 1761 a French schooner was shipwrecked in the Indian Ocean, leaving more than 200 people stranded on a tiny island. The crew departed in a makeshift boat, leaving 60 Malagasy slaves to fend for themselves and wait for rescue. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll tell the story of the Tromelin Island castaways, which one observer calls "arguably the most extraordinary story of survival ever documented."

We'll also admire some hardworking cats and puzzle over a racer's death.

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Catalina de Erauso fled a convent, dressed as a man, and became a soldier in the New World

In 1607, a 15-year-old girl fled her convent in the Basque country, dressed herself as a man, and set out on a series of unlikely adventures across Europe. In time she would distinguish herself fighting as a soldier in Spain's wars of conquest in the New World. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll tell the story of Catalina de Erauso, the lieutenant nun of Renaissance Spain.

We'll also hunt for some wallabies and puzzle over a quiet cat.

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In 1902, a "poison squad" tested dubious food additives by eating them

In 1902, chemist Harvey Wiley launched a unique experiment to test the safety of food additives. He recruited a group of young men and fed them meals laced with chemicals to see what the effects might be. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll describe Wiley's "poison squad" and his lifelong crusade for food safety.

We'll also follow some garden paths and puzzle over some unwelcome weight-loss news.

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In 1893 Grover Cleveland had a secret surgery aboard a moving yacht

In 1893, Grover Cleveland discovered a cancerous tumor on the roof of his mouth. It was feared that public knowledge of the president's illness might set off a financial panic, so Cleveland suggested a daring plan: a secret surgery aboard a moving yacht. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll describe the president's gamble -- and the courageous reporter who threatened to expose it.

We'll also audit some wallabies and puzzle over some welcome neo-Nazis.

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Fortnite's 'More Cowbell' tribute

And if Bruce Dickinson wants more cowbell, we should probably give him more cowbell!

Fortnite has added a new dance. I had to have it. Epic may want to organize these as part of the "Dad dance series" because my 11 year-old star player doesn't get the joke.

Guess what? I got a fever! And the only prescription.. is more cowbell! Read the rest

The story of one man's obsessive search for the lost treasure of Cocos Island

Cocos Island, in the eastern Pacific, was rumored to hold buried treasure worth millions of dollars, but centuries of treasure seekers had failed to find it. That didn’t deter August Gissler, who arrived in 1889 with a borrowed map and an iron determination. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll follow Gissler’s obsessive hunt for the Treasure of Lima.

We’ll also marvel at the complexity of names and puzzle over an undead corpse.

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In 1869 14 German polar explorers were stranded on an ice floe for six months

Germany's polar expedition of 1869 took a dramatic turn when 14 men were shipwrecked on an ice floe off the eastern coast of Greenland. As the frozen island carried them slowly toward settlements in the south, it began to break apart beneath them. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll follow the crew of the Hansa on their desperate journey toward civilization.

We'll also honor a slime mold and puzzle over a reversing sunset.

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Six lateral thinking puzzles

Here are six 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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