Douglas Bader became Britain's top flying ace in World War II despite losing his legs

Douglas Bader was beginning a promising career as a British fighter pilot when he lost both legs in a crash. But that didn't stop him -- he learned to use artificial legs and went on to become a top flying ace in World War II. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll review Bader's inspiring story and the personal philosophy underlay it.

We'll also revisit the year 536 and puzzle over the fate of a suitcase.

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In 1917 Halifax, Nova Scotia, was devastated by an exploding munitions ship

In 1917, a munitions ship exploded in Halifax, Nova Scotia, devastating the city and shattering the lives of its citizens. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll follow the events of the disaster, the largest man-made explosion before Hiroshima, and the grim and heroic stories of its victims.

We'll also consider the dangers of cactus plugging and puzzle over why a man would agree to be assassinated.

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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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In 1950, four patriotic Scots stole a historic national relic from Westminster Abbey

In 1950, four patriotic Scots broke in to Westminster Abbey to steal the Stone of Scone, a symbol of Scottish independence that had lain there for 600 years. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll follow the memorable events of that evening and their meaning for the participants, their nation, and the United Kingdom.

We'll also evade a death ray and puzzle over Santa's correspondence.

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Janusz Korczak tried to build an ideal society of children inside the Warsaw ghetto in 1942

Polish educator Janusz Korczak set out to remake the world just as it was falling apart. In the 1930s his Warsaw orphanage was an enlightened society run by the children themselves, but he struggled to keep that ideal alive as Europe descended into darkness. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll tell the story of the children's champion and his sacrifices for the orphans he loved.

We'll also visit an incoherent space station and puzzle over why one woman needs two cars.

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Image: By Jolanta Dyr - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link Read the rest

"Captain Santa" sailed Christmas trees to Chicago until he disappeared in 1912

In the late 1800s Chicago families bought their Christmas trees from the decks of schooners that had ferried them across Lake Michigan. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll meet Herman Schuenemann, known as "Captain Santa," who brought Christmas to the city for 30 years until a fateful storm overtook him.

We'll also peruse some possums and puzzle over a darkening phone.

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The first American sports spectacle was an 1823 horse race between North and South

America's first national sports spectacle took place in 1823, when the North and South sent their best horses for a single dramatic race that came to symbolize the regional tensions of a changing nation. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll tell the story of the Great Match Race, which laid the foundations of modern American thoroughbred racing.

We'll also ponder a parasite's contribution to culture and puzzle over a misinformed criminal.

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The Great Stork Derby rewarded the Toronto mother who had the most babies between 1926 and 1936

When Toronto attorney Charles Vance Millar died in 1926, he left behind a mischievous will that promised a fortune to the woman who gave birth to the most children in the next 10 years. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll follow the Great Stork Derby and the hope and controversy it brought to Toronto's largest families during the Great Depression.

We'll also visit some Portuguese bats and puzzle over a suspicious work crew.

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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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Criminal mastermind arrested for robbing same bank, twice

Armed with the knowledge that comes from damned dear experience, you go back in time and correct the terrible wrongs of your life. Old loves could be mended. Lost chances would be taken. It's something that most of us have dreamed of at one point in our lives or another.

While dwelling on such things might be a balm against the pain of wistful regrets, it is, as 50-year-old Brent Allen Drees of Wichita, Kansas discovered, an absolutely terrible idea when applied to bank robbery.

After spending 46 months in prison for bank robbery, Drees, having repaid his debt to society, was ready to leave the clink behind and start a new life. His time behind bars at an end, he celebrated his new-found freedom... by robbing a bank he'd already robbed back in 2011.

From the Wichita Eagle:

Drees allegedly robbed the Conway Bank at 121 E. Kellogg on Tuesday, giving the teller a note saying, “Give me $3,000 and you won’t get hurt,” a criminal affidavit states.

He was arrested Thursday afternoon in connection to the robbery after a Crime Stoppers tip led investigators to an area on the south side of Wichita, police Officer Paul Cruz said in a release.

Drees was released from Federal Bureau of Prisons custody in July 2017, prison records show. He had served a 46-month sentence for bank robbery, McAllister’s release said.

Drees was dinged for robbing the E. Kellogg branch of Conway Bank back in 2011. It was his first conviction for bank robbery. Read the rest

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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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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