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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How a brutal 1883 blizzard turned an unlucky fisherman into "the fingerless navigator"

In 1883 fisherman Howard Blackburn was caught in a blizzard off the coast of Newfoundland. Facing bitter cold in an 18-foot boat, he passed through a series of harrowing adventures in a desperate struggle to stay alive and find help. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll follow Blackburn's dramatic story, which made him famous around the world.

We'll also admire a runaway chicken and puzzle over a growing circle of dust.

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In 1726, Mary Toft gave birth to 17 rabbits

In 1726 London was rocked by a bizarre sensation: A local peasant woman began giving birth to rabbits, astounding the city and baffling the medical community. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll review the strange case of Mary Toft, which has been called "history's most fascinating medical mystery."

We'll also ponder some pachyderms and puzzle over some medical misinformation.

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In November 1961, the two-masted ketch Bluebelle sailed out of the Bahamas and toward a dramatic fate

In 1961, Wisconsin optometrist Arthur Duperrault chartered a yacht to take his family on a sailing holiday in the Bahamas. After two days in the islands, the ship failed to return to the mainland, and the unfolding story of its final voyage made headlines around the world. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll recount the fate of the Bluebelle and its seven passengers and crew.

We'll also sympathize with some digital misfits and puzzle over some incendiary cigarettes.

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Explorer Auguste Piccard conquered both the stratosphere and the deep ocean

Swiss physicist Auguste Piccard opened two new worlds in the 20th century. He was the first person to fly 10 miles above the earth and the first to travel 2 miles beneath the sea, using inventions that opened the doors to these new frontiers. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll follow Piccard on his historic journeys into the sky and the sea.

We'll also admire some beekeeping serendipity and puzzle over a sudden need for locksmiths.

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New Zealander Nancy Wake became an intrepid leader in the French resistance against the Nazis

In 1928 Nancy Wake ran away from her Australian home and into an unlikely destiny: She became a dynamo in the French resistance, helping more than a thousand people to flee the Germans and then organizing partisans to fight them directly. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll tell the story of the White Mouse, one of the bravest heroes of World War II.

We'll also marvel at mailmen and puzzle over an expensive homework assignment.

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In the 1810s Mary Anning begin to unearth strange creatures near her English seaside town

In 1804, when she was 5 years old, Mary Anning began to dig in the cliffs that flanked her English seaside town. What she found amazed the scientists of her time and challenged the established view of world history. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll tell the story of "the greatest fossilist the world ever knew.”

We'll also try to identify a Norwegian commando and puzzle over some further string pulling.

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Dark Star Rising: Magick and Power in the Age of Trump

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How did Trump manage to become president of the United States? There's no simple answer. It involves fear, racism, nationalism, populism, hatred, dirty tricks, manipulation, and more. But the one thing I never suspected was that occult beliefs and practices played a part in Trump's surprising victory. In Gary Lachman's new book, Dark Star Rising: Magick and Power in the Age of Trump, I learned that occult and esoteric thinking permeates the alt-right, Putin's inner circle, and even Trump himself.

Before I read Dark Star Rising, I had no idea that Trump was a devoted follower of the New Thought movement, which has it roots in 19th century mysticism. Trump's family attended Marble Collegiate Church in New York, which was ministered by a pro-Christian nationalist named Norman Vincent Peale, who promulgated a doctrine of "positive thinking" -- the idea that you can use your mind to cure yourself of disease, get rich, or even become president ("Change your thoughts and you can change the world"). I also didn't know that the alt-right bases much of its ideology on an Italian philosopher and mystic born in 1889 named Julius Evola, who thought the problem with Mussolini was that he wasn't a big enough fascist. And then there's Aleksandr Dugin, a very influential Russian fascist philosopher who is a kind of Rasputin figure for Putin and who pushes the idea that the only way to return Russia to greatness is by wiping liberal democracy off the face of the earth. Read the rest

Little Bighorn's victors on the bravest man they fought

In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll explore some more curiosities and unanswered questions from Greg's research, including a misplaced elephant, a momentous biscuit failure, a peripatetic ax murderer, and the importance of the 9 of diamonds.

We'll also revisit Michael Malloy's resilience and puzzle over an uncommonly casual prison break.

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