Who’s On First?

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Mount Everest has lost a lot of its intrigue since Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay reached the summit in 1953. Indeed, it’s become a big business in Nepal: Between 1998 and 2001, 560 people reached the “top of the world”; last year Pemba Dorjie Sherpa set a new record by making the climb — five miles straight up — in 8 hours and 10 minutes.

Still, it’s perilous, particularly in the “death zone” above 26,000 feet. Hundreds have died, and most of the corpses remain where they fell, frozen solid.

One of those bodies may hold some astounding evidence — proof that the summit was reached 29 years before Hillary’s achievement.

In June 1924, two British climbers, George Mallory and Andrew Irvine, had climbed to within a few hours of the top. They were using oxygen, which doubled their speed; their geologist reported seeing them climbing “with great alacrity … near the base of the final pyramid” shortly after noon. But the climbers were obscured by mist, and vanished. Had they succeeded?

In 1933 one of their ice axes was found above a large snow terrace. This narrowed the search. If the bodies could be found, Eastman Kodak thought it could retrieve “fully printable images” from their cameras, which would presumably show the summit if they’d reached it. (Irvine was an avid photographer.)

At first the mystery only deepened. A Chinese porter told of finding an “English dead” near the terrace in 1975, but he died in an avalanche before he could reveal any details. Then, in 1999, Eric Simonson found Mallory’s body, with rope trauma indicating that the two climbers had fallen together. But there were no cameras, and still no sign of Irvine’s body.

That’s where the mystery stands now. Last year a new effort began to recover Irvine’s body — details are at Mallory & Irvine: The Final Chapter. So far they’ve retrieved some puzzling artifacts, but no clear answer. Stay tuned.

“The Flour City”

Cities with dubious epithets:

  • Eau Claire, Mich.: Cherry Pit Spitting Capital of the World
  • Burlington, Iowa: Loader/Backhoe Capital of the World
  • Sturgis, Mich.: Curtain Rod Capital of the World
  • Beaver, Okla.: Cow Chip Throwing Capital of the World
  • La Crosse, Kan.: Barbed Wire Capital of the World
  • Clearwater, Fla.: Lightning Capital of the World
  • Gallup, N.M.: Drunk Driving Capital of the World

Wichita, Kan., calls itself the “Air Capital of the World.” Touché.

Showoffs

Only nine people have won an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar, and a Tony award:

  1. Mel Brooks
  2. John Gielgud
  3. Marvin Hamlisch
  4. Helen Hayes
  5. Audrey Hepburn
  6. Rita Moreno
  7. Mike Nichols
  8. Jonathan Tunick
  9. Richard Rodgers

If you count honorary awards, then Barbra Streisand and Liza Minnelli also qualify. If you count “daytime Emmys,” then so does Whoopi Goldberg.

Lexicon Balatronicum

Excerpts from the Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue: A Dictionary of Buckish Slang, University Wit, and Pickpocket Eloquence, by Captain Grose (1811):

  • ADMIRAL OF THE NARROW SEAS. One who from drunkenness vomits into the lap of the person sitting opposite to him.
  • ANGLING FOR FARTHINGS. Begging out of a prison window with a cap, or box, let down at the end of a long string.
  • APPLE DUMPLIN SHOP. A woman’s bosom.
  • BACK GAMMON PLAYER. A sodomite.
  • DUCK F-CK-R. The man who has the care of the poultry on board a ship of war.
  • GREEN GOWN. To give a girl a green gown; to tumble her on the grass.
  • HEMPEN WIDOW. One whose husband was hanged.
  • HISTORY OF THE FOUR KINGS, or CHILD’S BEST GUIDE TO THE GALLOWS. A pack of cards.
  • MANOEUVRING THE APOSTLES. Robbing Peter to pay Paul, i.e. borrowing of one man to pay another.
  • PISS PROPHET. A physician who judges of the diseases of his patients solely by the inspection of their urine.
  • SON OF PRATTLEMENT. A lawyer.

And a THOROUGH-GOOD-NATURED WENCH is “one who being asked to sit down, will lie down.”

Densa

Famous members of Mensa:

  • Isaac Asimov, writer
  • Jean Auel, author
  • Scott Adams, cartoonist (Dilbert)
  • Richard Bolles, author of What Color Is Your Parachute?
  • Asia Carrera, adult film star
  • Geena Davis, actress
  • Jodie Foster, actress
  • Mell Lazarus, cartoonist (Miss Peach, Momma)

An alternative society is open to the stupidest 2 percent of the population. It’s called Densa.