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Hacking the Nobel Prize Medals
85 points by sanj on Aug 30, 2008 | hide | past | web | favorite | 24 comments
This is so deliciously brilliant I can't stop geeking happily over it:

When Germany invaded Denmark in World War II, the Hungarian chemist George de Hevesy dissolved the gold Nobel Prizes of Max von Laue and James Franck into aqua regia to prevent the Nazis from stealing them. He placed the resulting solution on a shelf in his laboratory at the Niels Bohr Institute. It was subsequently ignored by the Nazis who thought the jar—one of perhaps hundreds on the shelving—contained common chemicals. After the war, de Hevesy returned to find the solution undisturbed and precipitated the gold out of the acid. The gold was returned to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences and the Nobel Foundation who recast and presented the medals to Laue and Franck.

(from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aqua_regia)

I'll bet that would qualify for the "Name a time when you successfully hacked some non-computer system to your advantage" YC application question.

...much, much easier than digging a hole and putting the medals in the hole.

Turing did that, also in WW2, with some silver bars.

He never managed to find the exact spot where he had buried them.

If only there was some way of representing locations on paper in miniature by using proportionate distances...

You're NOT talking about a map.

That presupposes our knowledge of the course of World War II. It's entirely possible that Arab residents of Palestine buried treasure that their great-grandchildren still cannot dig up. If he had to flee, he presumably could have taken the solution with him without difficulty.

If he did that we wouldn't be talking about it saying it's cool.

A lot of people hid money in WWII and never found it again. It seems simple, but think about it. If you bury it outside, people can see you do it or (since war changes things) it can be hard to find again, even with a map that the average person might have back then. Hiding it in you house was even more dangerous. It seems like a simple problem now, but really, it wasn't.

>(since war changes things) it can be hard to find again

Fair point, but not really applicable in Denmark. The Nazi's occupied Denmark more or less without resistance, so they were more subject to ideological hardship than the usual horrors of war.

Actually, there was an active Danish resistance to the German occupation, particularly toward the end of the war.

Denmark was the only occupied place where Jews didn't wear the Star of David and almost none was sent to concentration camps. They have a lot to be proud of.

That is an awesome, if random, piece of trivia.

Why the overuse of the word hacking? I find it everywhere in situations where it just isn't appropriate. This particular example is an incredibly clever use of chemistry, not hacking. Imagine some chem oriented news site saying that programmers "synthesized" code.

I hadn't realized that the word had suddenly gotten narrowed down!

I spent then 90's at MIT and was indoctrinated with the term there. It was used referred to any clever solution (no pun intended) or trick, and most especially one that thumbed its nose at authority:


I'll stand by my usage: this qualifies admirably on both counts.

I wonder if Sanj stubled across that by reading http://ask.slashdot.org/askslashdot/08/08/30/022237.shtml, like I did. Sanj?

indeed I did!

Apparently, a similar scheme is used to smuggle cocaine:



These days the best way to get a Nobel is to devote yourself to liberal politics.

Writing this I actually had the Nobel prize for Literature in mind, which I feel, along with the Pulitzer, has been largely coopted for political reasons. Were I to suggest to a person of average talent the surest way to a Nobel prize (in other words, how to hack it) I would recommend they take up writing, and especially that sort of writing which is unabashedly anti-establishment.

If you were to read through the works of the recipients in the last ten years, you would find the following trend: low quality, combined with the sort of multicultural leanings popular in US academics. This is to simply point out that the prize is no longer rewarding quality work and is instead promoting a political agenda, something that devalues the prize and tarnishes the legacy of past deserving winners. People like Kenzaburo Oe, Dario Fo, and Imre Kertész, while they are respectable writers, fall far short of what I would consider "outstanding work." The only conclusion you can draw then is that their awards were based on their political ideology, or the ideology they represent. Kertész's award, for instance, caused a stir, and rightfully so, since his body of work is small and not particularly good, even in the better translations. It is not even particularly notable among its genre, other than for the fact that it has now received a Nobel prize.

I was one of the early comments in the thread, and thought the thread might evolve into a discussion on ways to Hack the Nobel, a topic I thought of more lasting interest than a clever way of concealing gold. In terms of work done for effect achieved, it seems much easier to take up writing, or to become a politician and branch over into some tumultuous area, than to devote your life to the quiet pursuit of science, which I feel is much more difficult, less rewarding, and largely responsible for the reputation the lesser Nobels feed off of.

I never spent much time thinking about Al Gore's award since to me it indicated an open-and-shut case of bias, typical of the Nobel committee these days, and unworthy of further reflection. I didn't intend to refer to it specifically when I made my initial comment (provoking a reaction from supporters of his ideology), since I could think of many instances to which the comment applied, the recent Peace Prize being just one instance among many.

Perhaps it's the reverse, and liberals base their positions around promising science.

If you're referring to Al Gore, you mean climate change, not "liberal politics."

Lets not turn this site into a political arena. We have enough angry mob sites on teh interwebz as it is.

Al Gore is a politician. Not a scientist. What he does is politics. Global warming is used by politicians to tax and regulate.

Check out this video by an actual professor: http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=FOLkze-9GcI

Don't feed the trolls.

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