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Futility Closet

Sep 9, 2019

In 1868, Scottish sailor Jack Renton found himself the captive of a native people in the Solomon Islands, but through luck and skill he rose to become a respected warrior among them. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll tell the story of Renton's life among the saltwater people and his return to the Western world.

We'll also catch some more speeders and puzzle over a regrettable book.


Thanks to one representative's 1904 demand, the U.S. House dining room serves a perpetual bean soup.

A 1962 Times correspondent asserts that all thrushes quote Mozart.

Sources for our feature on Jack Renton:

Nigel Randell, The White Headhunter: The Story of a 19-Century Sailor Who Survived a South Seas Heart of Darkness, 2004.

Clive Moore, Making Mala: Malaita in Solomon Islands, 1870s–1930s, 2017.

Judith A. Bennett, Wealth of the Solomons: A History of a Pacific Archipelago, 1800-1978, 1987.

Walter George Ivens, Revival: Melanesians of the South-East Solomon Islands, 1927.

Dennis Chute, "Shipwrecked on an Island Paradise," Edmonton Journal, Feb. 1, 2004, D11.

Christopher Hudson, "Life and Death of a White Headhunter," [Melbourne] Sunday Herald-Sun, Aug. 17, 2003, 37.

"The White Headhunter," Geographical 75:8 (August 2003), 64.

Stephen McGinty, "Portrait of a Head Hunter," Scotsman, July 26, 2003, 1.

"Secret Life of the White Headhunter," Scotsman, March 2, 2003.

"The Adventures of John Renton," [Melbourne] Argus, Oct. 23, 1875.

"The Recovery of John Renton From the Solomon Islands," Rockhampton [Queensland] Bulletin, Sept. 17, 1875.

"Renton, John," Solomon Islands Historical Encyclopaedia 1893-1978 (accessed Aug. 25, 2019).

Listener mail:

"German Constitutional Court Questions Speed Camera Reliability,", July 5, 2019.

"Finland,", July 7, 2019.

Joe Pinsker, "Finland, Home of the $103,000 Speeding Ticket," Atlantic, March 12, 2015.

Wikipedia, "Day-Fine" (accessed Aug. 31, 2019).

Bill McKelvey, "Along the Delaware & Raritan Canal: A History & Resources Database," D&R Canal Watch, 2011.

Ken Hansen, "How-to: Texas Amateur Radio Operator License Plate," Irving Amateur Radio Club, Jan. 25, 2018.

"Speed and Red Light Cameras," Governors Highway Safety Association (accessed Sept. 3, 2019).

"Automated Speed-Camera Enforcement," Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (accessed Sept. 3, 2019).

Wikipedia, "Traffic Enforcement Camera" (accessed Sept. 3, 2019).

This week's lateral thinking puzzle was devised by Sharon. Here are three corroborating links (warning -- these spoil the puzzle).

You can listen using the player above, download this episode directly, or subscribe on Google Podcasts, on Apple Podcasts, 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!