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Futility Closet

Dec 19, 2016

In December 1914 a remarkable thing happened on the Western Front: British and German soldiers stopped fighting and left their trenches to greet one another, exchange souvenirs, bury their dead, and sing carols in the spirit of the holiday season. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll tell the story of the Christmas truce, which one participant called "one of the highlights of my life."

We'll also remember James Thurber's Aunt Sarah and puzzle over an anachronistic twin.


In 1898, G.W. Roberts of Birmingham made a full-size piano from 3,776 matchboxes and 5 pounds of glue.

In 1892, 69 men raced 302 miles on stilts, from Bordeaux to Bayonne and Biarritz and back.

Sources for our feature on the Christmas truce:

Terri Blom Crocker, The Christmas Truce: Myth, Memory, and the First World War, 2016.

Stanley Weintraub, Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce, 2001.

Chris Baker, The Truce: The Day the War Stopped, 2014.

Peter Hart, "Christmas Truce," Military History 31:5 (January 2015), 64-70.

Joe Perry, Christmas in Germany: A Cultural History, 2010.

Ian Herbert, "Muddy Truth of the Christmas Truce Game," Independent, Dec. 24, 2014.

David Brown, "Remembering a Victory For Human Kindness," Washington Post, Dec. 25, 2004.

"Alfred Anderson, 109, Last Man From 'Christmas Truce' of 1914," New York Times, Nov. 22, 2005.

"The Christmas Truce, 1914," The Henry Williamson Society (accessed Dec. 16, 2016).

Mike Dash, "The Story of the WWI Christmas Truce," Smithsonian, Dec. 23, 2011.

Stephen Moss, "Truce in the Trenches Was Real, But Football Tales Are a Shot in the Dark," Guardian, Dec. 16, 2014.

Listener mail:

Kirk Ross, The Sky Men: A Parachute Rifle Company's Story of the Battle of the Bulge and the Jump Across the Rhine, 2004.

A short version of the barrel-of-bricks episode from MythBusters:

Listener Daniel Sterman recommends the original episode, "Barrel of Bricks," from Oct. 10, 2003.

Wikipedia, "Sandman (Wesley Dodds)" (accessed Dec. 16, 2016).

Wikipedia, "Sala Gang" (accessed Dec. 16, 2016).

This week's lateral thinking puzzle was suggested by listeners Greg Askins, Stacey Irvine, and Donald Mates. Here are three corroborating links (warning -- these spoil the puzzle).

You can listen using the player above, download this episode directly, or subscribe on iTunes or Google Play Music or via the RSS feed at

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Many thanks to Doug Ross for the music in this episode.

If you have any questions or comments you can reach us at Thanks for listening!