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Futility Closet

May 11, 2020

In 1932, Yorkshireman Maurice Wilson chose a startling way to promote his mystical beliefs: He would fly to Mount Everest and climb it alone. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll follow Wilson's misguided adventure, which one writer called "the most incredible story in all the eventful history of Mount Everest."

Well also explore an enigmatic musician and puzzle over a mighty cola.


The Sanskrit epic poem Shishupala Vadha contains a palindrome that can be read in any of four directions.

Type designer Matthew Carter offered a typeface for public buildings that comes with its own graffiti.

Sources for our feature on Maurice Wilson:

Dennis Roberts, I'll Climb Mount Everest Alone: The Story of Maurice Wilson, 2013.

Scott Ellsworth, The World Beneath Their Feet: Mountaineering, Madness, and the Deadly Race to Summit the Himalayas, 2020.

Geoff Powter, Strange and Dangerous Dreams: The Fine Line Between Adventure and Madness, 2006.

Sherry B. Ortner, Life and Death on Mt. Everest: Sherpas and Himalayan Mountaineering, 2001.

Maurice Isserman, Stewart Angas Weaver, and Dee Molenaar, Fallen Giants: A History of Himalayan Mountaineering From the Age of Empire to the Age of Extremes, 2010.

Conrad Anker, The Call of Everest: The History, Science, and Future of the World's Tallest Peak, 2013.

Jon Krakauer, Into Thin Air, 1998.

Eric Shipton, Upon That Mountain, 1943.

Martin Gutmann, "Wing and a Prayer," Climbing, Dec. 6, 2010.

Robert M. Kaplan, "Maurice Wilson’s Everest Quest," Quadrant, June 18, 2016.

T.S. Blakeney, "Maurice Wilson and Everest, 1934," Alpine Journal 70 (1965), 269-272.

John Cottrell, "The Madman of Everest," Sports Illustrated, April 30, 1973.

Audrey Salkeld, "The Struggle for Everest," Climbing 188 (Sept. 15, 1999), 108-116.

Colin Wells, "Everest the Mad Way," Climbing 224 (Sept. 15, 2003), 40-44.

Troy Lennon, "Deadly Lure of Being on Top of the World," [Surry Hills, N.S.W.] Daily Telegraph, May 26, 2006, 74.

Ed Douglas, "Rivals Race to Solve Everest Body Mystery," Guardian, May 15, 2004.

Graham Hoyland, "The Complete Guide to: Mount Everest," Independent, May 10, 2003.

Nick Ravo, "Charles Warren, 92; Introduced Top Sherpa to Everest Climbers," New York Times, May 3, 1999.

Eric E. Shipton, "Body of Climber Found on Everest," New York Times, March 23, 1936.

"Perishes in Effort to Scale Everest," [Hendersonville, N.C.] Times-News, July 27, 1934, 4.

"Briton Perishes High on Everest," New York Times, July 20, 1934.

"The Eccentric Everest Adventurer," Inside Out, BBC One, Sept. 24, 2014.

Listener mail:

Wikipedia, "Sixto Rodriguez" (accessed April 27, 2020).

David Malitz, "'Searching for Sugar Man' Documentary Rediscovers Musician Sixto Rodriguez," Washington Post, July 26, 2012.

Alexis Petridis, "The Singer Who Came Back From the Dead," Guardian, Oct. 6, 2005.

Greg Myre, "In Tragic Twist to Poignant Tale, Oscar-Winning Director Commits Suicide," Parallels, National Public Radio, May 14, 2014.

Geoffrey Macnab, "Searching for Sugar Man (12A)," Independent, July 27, 2012.

Wikipedia, "Franz von Werra" (accessed April 29, 2020).

Luis Rees-Hughes et al., "Multi-Disciplinary Investigations at PoW Camp 198, Bridgend, S. Wales: Site of a Mass Escape in March 1945," Journal of Conflict Archaeology 11:2-3 (2016), 166-191.

"Story of German POW to Escape Captivity in Britain Disclosed After 94 Years," Telegraph, Feb. 11, 2011.

David J. Carter, "Prisoner of War Camps in Canada," Canadian Encyclopedia, June 17, 2015.

Robin Quinn, Hitler's Last Army: German POWs in Britain, 2015.

This week's lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Paul Heitkemper, who sent this corroborating link (warning -- this spoils 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!