Sasha Harriet

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Podcast Episode 147: The Call of Mount Kenya

Stuck in an East African prison camp in 1943, Italian POW Felice Benuzzi needed a challenge to regain his sense of purpose. He made a plan that seemed crazy — to break out of the camp, climb Mount Kenya, and break back in. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll follow Benuzzi and two companions as they try to climb the second-highest mountain in Africa using homemade equipment.

We’ll also consider whether mirages may have doomed the Titanic and puzzle over an ineffective oath.


Under the law of the United Kingdom, a sturgeon when caught becomes the personal property of the monarch.

On July 4, 1853, 32 people held a dance on the stump of a California sequoia.

Sources for our feature on Felice Benuzzi:

Felice Benuzzi, No Picnic on Mount Kenya, 1953.

Matthew Power and Keridwen Cornelius, “Escape to Mount Kenya,” National Geographic Adventure 9:7 (September 2007), 65-71.

Stephan Wilkinson, “10 Great POW Escapes,” Military History 28:4 (November 2011),…

Take the Whimsy Out of Your Favorite Pastime With This Super-Serious ‘Executive Coloring Book’

Believe it or not, adult coloring books are not a new phenomenon. Back in 1961, co-authors Marcie Hans, Dennis Altman, and Martin A. Cohen put together a tongue-in-cheek coloring book that poked fun at the stuffy heads running corporate life. Perhaps hitting a nerve, The Executive Coloring Book was a huge hit in its time, and now it is returning to shelves on Tuesday, March 28. Once again, the hilariously blunt book can charm readers while they de-stress—what’s more relaxing than a good chuckle at the expense of those in the C-Suites?

It begins with our main character, who is a very important business man. “This is me. I am an executive. Executives are important. They go to…

People Can’t Stop Crying After Seeing What This Grandpa Gave To His Granddaughter

Lauren Blank has had a strong bond with her grandfather Ron Petrillo since she was born. He helped raise her from a young age, and they spent a lot of time together going to the zoo, flying kites, and simply hanging out. For her 16th birthday, grandpa Ron decided to finally give her the gift he had been working on and saving for years – a notebook filled with their adventures.

From when Lauren was 2 years old to until she turned 5, her grandpa documented every single memory they shared. “The notebook is just filled with daily things that we did,” Blank told Buzzfeed. “We went to the zoo a lot, and flew kites, and throughout the notebooks he gave me advice.” At first, when Lauren received the gift she was a little confused but when she started to…

Fun with Game of Thrones

Literally 100 Really Funny Game Of Thrones Jokes, Memes, and Puns. But you have to know the show to get the jokes.
Is There an Error in this Painting? John Constable was commissioned to paint Wivenhoe Park and include certain important elements.
Spite’s a great motivator, even when building a home. A look into the most famously odd spite houses.
What Actually Happens When…

Cold Comfort: How to Best Use Your Freezer

The following article is from the new book Uncle John’s Uncanny Bathroom Reader.

Did you know that you can keep eggs in your freezer? (There’s a trick to it.) Here are some tips on how to freeze foods you probably thought couldn’t be frozen, and how to better freeze the stuff you’re already freezing, preventing waste and saving money in the process.


• Before freezing, chop raw vegetables to the size you are likely to use when cooking. Thawed vegetables are more difficult to chop.

• Vegetables tend to lose color, favor, texture, and even vitamins when they’re frozen, thanks to the activity of enzymes in the veggies. Blanching the vegetables (immersing them in boiling water for a short period of time) before freezing interrupts the activity of the enzymes, and will keep the frozen vegetables fresher longer.

• Blanching times vary from 11⁄2 minutes for peas and 11 minutes for large ears of corn; consult a cookbook for the correct amount of time for the vegetable you want to freeze.

• After blanching, quickly immerse the vegetables in cool water to prevent them from overcooking.

• Leafy greens, tomatoes, and watery vegetables like zucchini and squash can be frozen without blanching. If you plan on making zucchini bread, grate the zucchini before you freeze it.


• Ground meat is suitable for freezing, but the Styrofoam tray covered with plastic wrap that it comes in is not. The container leaves too much air in the package, causing freezer burn.

• Remove ground meat from the container and place it in a plastic freezer bag, taking care to squeeze as much air out of the bag as possible before placing it in the freezer. Press the bag of meat as flat as you can before freezing—the flatter the meat, the faster it freezes, preserving quality.

• If you want individual servings, lay the unfrozen bag of meat flat on the kitchen counter and press a chopstick or the handle of a wooden spoon lengthwise against the outside of the bag to create indentations that divide the meat into single-sized squares. Now when you need some but not all of the meat, you can easily snap off as many squares as you need and return the rest to the freezer, instead of having to thaw out the entire bag.


• Eggs expand while freezing and should not be frozen in the shell. Instead, beat raw eggs just until the whites and yolks have blended together, then pour the mixture into an ice cube tray and freeze. Each compartment of a standard ice cube tray will hold about one egg’s worth of the mixture. When the eggs have frozen, they can be popped out of the ice cube tray and stored in a freezer bag for up to a year.

• Yolks and whites can be separated before freezing if you expect to use them separately. Separated whites will freeze just fine as they are, but separated yolks can become gelatinous over time. To prevent this, beat in 11⁄2 teaspoons of sugar (if you plan to use the yolks in a dessert) or 1⁄8 teaspoon of salt (for other dishes) for every four egg yolks before freezing. Thaw in the refrigerator overnight before using.


• Fresh herbs and spices can also be frozen in ice cube trays. Fill each compartment about two-thirds full with chopped fresh herbs or spices and cover with your choice of water, chicken or beef stock, olive oil, or melted unsalted butter before freezing. When the cubes are frozen, remove them from the tray and store them in freezer bags.

• Two more candidates for ice cube freezing: coffee and leftover wine (for cooking). Coffee cubes can be used to keep iced coffee cold without watering it…

Overnight, Bulgaria’s Capital Gets the City’s First Monuments to Women

Bulgaria’s capital, Sofia, has plenty of historic monuments to men. But there are no statues of real, historic women in the city (as opposed to symbols like “a mother”). In the entire city, only 6 percent of memorials, like plaques, honor a female figure at all, according to official city data. But, on March 24, seven new monuments seemed to pop up overnight, Mashable reports.

MONUMENT #1—an art piece by Irina Tomova-Erka—highlights the lack of women’s accomplishments celebrated throughout the city by adding new, neon-colored busts of female figures. Well, just one figure, actually—the artist herself.

“The sculptures are a portrait of me, as I wanted to take a strong personal, public stance as a contemporary woman and artist,” Tomova-Erka says in a press release. “However, they are also anonymous, as they do not bear my name. They are only marked by a sign ‘The first monument of a woman in Sofia’. In…

Remembering MiniDisc, the Audio Format that Flopped in America

Sony introduced the MiniDisc (MD) format in 1992 in an attempt to replace the CD. MD was a nice format because it was digital and recordable, so it could functionally replace CDs and cassettes in one package. But in the United States, MD never really caught on as a consumer technology. Why not? The answer is complex, and it’s hard to pinpoint a single point…

15 Killer Facts About Zodiac

“This is the Zodiac speaking …”

So began one of the first cryptic letters from one of history’s most notorious murderers, whose identity remains unknown but whose story was brilliantly immortalized onscreen in David Fincher’s 2007 film Zodiac. The unsung masterpiece about a serial killer in 1960s San Francisco who manages to evade police, all while sending taunting letters to the media to further promote his agenda, just celebrated its 10-year anniversary. We’re no closer to solving the mystery of the Zodiac’s identity, but we can solve the mystery of how Fincher and his collaborators—including stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, and Robert Downey Jr.—created one of the greatest procedural thrillers ever made.

Here are 15 facts to help you decode Zodiac.


Disney owned the rights to former San Francisco Chronicle cartoonist and author Robert Graysmith’s source material and tried to make the film for over a decade before the rights to the books, 1986’s Zodiac and 2002’s Zodiac Unmasked, lapsed back to Graysmith in the mid-2000s. According to This is the Zodiac Speaking, the feature-length documentary found on the Blu-ray release, that gave screenwriter James Vanderbilt and producer Bradley Fischer the opportunity to approach Graysmith themselves to option the books to potentially make a film without the Mouse House.


According to the same Blu-ray documentary, Graysmith informed Vanderbilt and Fischer that he was personally taking pitches from a handful of filmmakers now that he owned the rights to his books again, but only via a fax number through a local Kinko’s. The pair built their pitch—which Vanderbilt described as asking, “What if Garry Trudeau woke up one morning and tried to solve the Son of Sam”?—and eventually won the rights to make the film after they successfully sent the fax.

Vanderbilt explained that, “Getting to know Robert during this process was actually invaluable because the script changed as we became friends; and very rarely in order to make him look better. Robert truly invited us into his life warts and all, and that’s how I think we ended up portraying him onscreen.”


After directing the 2002 thriller Panic Room, starring Jodie Foster and Kristen Stewart, Fincher began work on a five-hour, $80 million miniseries adaptation of author James Ellroy’s true crime novel The Black Dahlia. That project, chronicling the infamous unsolved 1947 murder of aspiring actress Elizabeth Short, eventually fell through (it was later made into a 2006 feature film by Brian De Palma). But according to This is the Zodiac Speaking, Fincher’s newly minted freedom led Vanderbilt and Fischer to approach him about directing Zodiac because it dealt with similar, noir-tinged police procedural themes.


In addition to having an interest in the Zodiac Killer’s story from a filmmaking perspective, Fincher had a personal connection to the story, too. Though the director was born in Denver in 1962, his family relocated to California when he was two years old—just a few years before the Zodiac committed his first murder. So he grew up fearing the serial killer.

“I grew up in Marin and now I know the geography of where the crimes took place, but when you’re in grade school, children don’t think about that,” Fincher said in the film’s production notes. “They think, ‘He’s going to show up at our school.’”

In an interview with The New York Times, Fincher recalled that what drew him to Zodiac was the same thing that drew him to Se7en: the fear that you never knew what the people around you were capable of. “That’s what Zodiac was for a 7-year-old growing up in San Anselmo,” Fincher said. “He was the ultimate bogeyman.”


Once Fincher was on board, he, Vanderbilt, and Fischer agreed to develop further drafts of the screenplay to emphasize fact over fiction. They spent months poring over police documents and interviewing witnesses, investigators, and the case’s two surviving victims: Mike Mageau and Bryan Hartnell.

“It was really quite simple,” Fischer said of their approach. “Let’s find everyone we can who was materially involved in the investigation, and let’s sit down across from them, look them in the eye, ask them direct and sometimes difficult questions, and then hear what they have to say … We did our best to get it right.”

“I said, ‘I won’t use anything in this book that we don’t have a police report for,’” Fincher told The New York Times. “There’s an enormous amount of hearsay in any circumstantial case, and I wanted to look some of these people in the eye and see if I believed them.”


Fincher wanted absolute verisimilitude in depicting the Zodiac attacks, so the only time the killer appears onscreen is during incidents where there are on-the-record survivors or witnesses to the real-life events. This includes the opening attack on Darlene Ferrin and Mike Mageau at Blue Rock Springs, the attack on Bryan Hartnell and Cecelia Shepherd at Lake Berryessa, and the killing of taxi driver Paul Stine at Washington and Cherry Streets in San Francisco.


5 Ways to Get the Most Out of Your Washing Machine

If you feel like your clothes aren’t coming out of the washing machine quite as sparkling clean as you expect, there are a few adjustments you can make in order to ensure your clothes look (and smell) fresh. Consumer Reports recently listed a few tips for boosting your machine’s efficiency, discovered by its washing-machine testers:


It’s tempting to shove as much laundry as possible into one machine (especially if you’re at a laundromat or using a shared machine), but it will come back to bite you. If your clothes don’t have enough room to move around in the drum, they won’t get as clean. Refer to your owner’s manual for the maximum load weight and stick to it. Exceed it, and the detergent won’t be able to distribute evenly throughout the load, and some stains might be left untouched.


If you feel like your clothes are coming out dirty, more detergent probably isn’t the answer. For one thing, clothes need to rub against each other in the wash to get clean, and too many suds can get in the way. Instead of using more detergent, use better detergent, like Tide…