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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In the 1970s, David Rosenhan showed that healthy people could be diagnosed as mentally ill

In the 1970s psychologist David Rosenhan sent healthy volunteers to 12 psychiatric hospitals, where they claimed to be hearing voices. Once they were admitted, they behaved normally, but the hospitals diagnosed all of them as seriously mentally ill. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll describe the Rosenhan experiment, which challenged the validity of psychiatric diagnosis and set off a furor in the field.

We'll also spot hawks at Wimbledon and puzzle over a finicky payment processor.

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Interview with Scotty Allen, host of the Strange Parts Youtube channel

My Cool Tools podcast guest this week is Scotty Allen. Scotty is a nomadic engineer, entrepreneur, adventurer and storyteller who orbits around San Francisco and Shenzhen, China. He runs a YouTube channel Strange Parts, a travel adventure show for geeks where he goes on adventures ranging from building his own iPhone in China to trying to make a manhole cover in India.

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1080P HDMI digital camera video microscope ($299)

“So one of the things that I have gotten an outsized amount of value from over the past year has been this microscope that I bought here in the electronics markets in China. It's a no-brand-name microscope that I got from a little tiny microscope booth in the market, and it's really been this incredibly high-leverage tool for me, and I didn't realize how much I was missing out until I bought it. It's been really great for doing detail work. And I use it for really small soldering work on iPhones and related circuit boards … It's a binocular microscope. It's not super high magnification, but because it's binocular you get depth of field, and so you can really see well. So you can look through the microscope and work underneath it with tweezers or a soldering iron or other tools and in great depth see what you're doing."

Frame.io

"Frame.io is an online tool that I use for collaborating on the videos I'm making. Read the rest

The largest art theft in history remains unsolved

In 1990, two thieves dressed as policemen walked into Boston's Gardner museum and walked out with 13 artworks worth half a billion dollars. After 28 years the lost masterpieces have never been recovered. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll describe the largest art theft in history and the ongoing search for its solution.

We'll also discover the benefits of mustard gas and puzzle over a surprisingly effective fighter pilot.

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Rating stranger's attractiveness to their face

This might be the most awkward thing I've seen in a while.

It's a video by The Cut where people are rated how attractive they are on a scale from 1 to 10, by strangers, in person. Read the rest

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.

Show notes

Please support us on Patreon! Read the rest

In 1921 the schooner Carroll A. Deering was discovered aground off North Carolina. The crew had vanished.

In 1921 a schooner ran aground on the treacherous shoals off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. When rescuers climbed aboard, they found signs of a strange drama in the ship's last moments -- and no trace of the 11-man crew. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll examine the curious case of the Carroll A. Deering, which has been called "one of the enduring mysteries of maritime history."

We'll also experiment with yellow fever and puzzle over a disputed time of death.

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In 1932 four gangsters set out to kill their friend and failed five times in a row

In 1932 a quartet of Bronx gangsters set out to murder a friend of theirs in order to collect his life insurance. But Michael Malloy proved to be almost comically difficult to kill. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll review what one observer called "the most clumsily executed insurance scam in New York City history."

We'll also burrow into hoarding and puzzle over the value of silence.

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In 1975 a woman set out alone to lead four camels across the deserts of western Australia

In 1977, a young woman named Robyn Davidson set out to pursue what she called a "lunatic idea" -- to lead a group of camels 1,700 miles across western Australia, from the center of the continent to the Indian Ocean. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll follow Davidson's remarkable journey alone through the Outback and learn what it taught her.

We'll also dive into the La Brea Tar Pits and puzzle over some striking workers.

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