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Futility Closet

Mar 28, 2016

In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll take a tour through some oddities and unanswered questions from our research, including whether a spider saved Frederick the Great's life, a statue with the wrong face, and a spectacularly disaster-prone oil tanker.

We'll also revisit the lost soldiers of World War I and puzzle over some curiously lethal ship cargo.

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Sources for this week's feature:

The story about Frederick the Great is from Ebenezer Cobham Brewer's The Reader's Handbook of Famous Names in Fiction, Allusions, References, Proverbs, Plots, Stories, and Poems, 1899.

The footnote about spiders and flashlights accompanies J.D. Memory's poem "The Eightfold Way, Lie Algebra, and Spider Hunting in the Dark" in Mathematics Magazine 79:1 (February 2006), 74.

The case of the self-abnegating heir is cited as Beamish v. Beamish, 9 H.L.C. 274, 11 Eng. Rep. 735 (1861) in Peter Suber's 1990 book The Paradox of Self-Amendment.

John Waterhouse's 1899 proof of the Pythagorean theorem appears in Elisha Scott Loomis' 1940 book The Pythagorean Proposition. My notes say it's also in Scientific American, volume 82, page 356.

The story of the ill-starred oil tanker Argo Merchant is taken from Stephen Pile's 1979 Book of Heroic Failures. For an exceptionally well-reported history of the ship, see Ron Winslow's 1978 book Hard Aground.

Physicist Leonard Mlodinow recounts the story of Antoine Lavoisier's statue in The Upright Thinkers (2015). A contemporary description of the unveiling is here, but it mentions nothing amiss.

Ross Eckler addresses accidental acrostics in Making the Alphabet Dance, 1997.

F.R. Benson's iambic ponging is mentioned in Jonathan Law, ed., Methuen Drama Dictionary of the Theatre, 2013.

William Kendal's accomplished blanching is described in Eric Johns' Dames of the Theatre, 1975.

In The Book of the Harp (2005), John Marson notes that Luigi Ferrari Trecate's Improvviso da Concerto (1947), for the left hand, is dedicated to harpist Aida Ferretti Orsini, described as grande mutilata di guerre.

Mable LaRose's 1897 auction is recounted in Pierre Berton's The Klondike Fever, 2003, and Douglas Fetherling's The Gold Crusades, 1997.

Listener mail:

Here's the scene in which the dead of World War I arise in Abel Gance's 1919 feature J'Accuse:

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This week's lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Price Tipping.

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

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