Monday, June 14, 2010

Q: What Do These Five Commodities Have in Common?

1. Gold (the ancient metal?)
2. Silver (imaging?)
3. Copper (wiring?)
4. Lead (bullets?)
5. Iron (swords?)

There are many valid correct answers, but I have one particular answer in mind.

Update:

Here's the answer!



For at least 1,250 years, those wishing to hoard elements from the periodic table had only five choices.

There are now many additional options open to us.

1. Titanium (the space age metal?)
2. Plutonium (nuclear weapon?)
3. Uranium (power plant?)
4. Aluminum (airplane?)
5. Platinum (automobile catalyst?)

And many more!

I would argue that world wars will no longer be fought over gold, but they may very well be fought with plutonium. In a way, plutonium has been the world's ultimate safe store of value for the last 60+ years. It's been very difficult to have a world war with it in existence. Let's hope it stays that way. Otherwise, plutonium will become a very unsafe store of value.

I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones. - Albert Einstein

I think you all did great in the comments by the way. As you can see, my hints were not all that helpful. The description I offered for gold was the key, but you will notice that I suggested it was "the ancient metal", not one of five. I'm pretty sure you all would have solved it had I said that!

For what it is worth, I would not have solved this puzzle. The red herrings would have definitely worked their magic on me.

Source Data:
Timeline of chemical elements discoveries

38 comments:

Stagflationary Mark said...

I'll be updating this post tomorrow with my answer, unless someone comes up with the answer first. The answer is rather objective, but I do not think it is a trivial one. I would be impressed if someone figures it out. I may offer a hint later this evening.

No new posts until then.

Meanwhile, I should point out that The Crow has officially won the poll. Congratulations to all of our black feathered friends... from crows to black swans to canaries too deep in the coal mines!

getyourselfconnected said...

I guess I can leave out the obvious elemental simularities, too easy.

I am thinking whats in paranthesis is the key.

I am at a loss. Best two guesses:
-all served as "stores of value" in some capacity at some time?
-Only 4 have real uses; "one of these things is not like the other" or so the song goes?

getyourselfconnected said...

I would say from experience iron swords suck by the way! Now Damascus Steel or folded Japanese Steel is the way to go.

mab said...

They're all suitable for making pots! No, wait, they all float. Oh, forget it, I give up.

Oh my goodness, what luck! My word verification IS the answer - catspear! They can all be used to make catspears!

Stagflationary Mark said...

GYSC,

Since you have offered your line of reasoning, I shall reward you with some hints.

I guess I can leave out the obvious elemental simularities, too easy.

You are correct to think this way.

I am thinking whats in paranthesis is the key.

Once again, you are correct. Unfortunately, I am evil. There are both key(s) and lock(s).

I would say from experience iron swords suck by the way!

In a way, the "iron sword" was both a key and a lock.

You are doing very well though. :)

Stagflationary Mark said...

mab,

No, wait, they all float.

Very small rocks!

Sorry, that's not it. Hahaha! :)

Stagflationary Mark said...

GYSC,

I will also add that you almost had the answer I was looking for with something you said. You just weren't specific enough.

getyourselfconnected said...

Pennywise the clown from S. Kings "IT":
"They all float down here....."
Creepy!

Ok, I gotta think about it some, back in a bit.

My word verification is "Phanta"; why not like the soda FANTA???

getyourselfconnected said...

Geez, what a tease!

Stagflationary Mark said...

GYSC,

I guess I can leave out the obvious elemental simularities, too easy.

I said...

You are correct to think this way.

Actually, I might want to clarify that a bit. It might depend on how you look at it.

They are all elements and that is important in figuring out the answer to the question. The fact that they are thought of as shiny and metallic is mostly just a side topic though, or I would have made the list longer than just the five.

getyourselfconnected said...

Mark,
too cryptic! I give up. I had another answer but I forgot, looking forward to tomorrow!

getyourselfconnected said...

How about this for a total sidetrack:
1. Gold (electron microscopy)
2. Silver (antibacterial coatings)
3. Copper (ship hull protection from barnacles)
4. Lead (China #1 consumer edibles export)
5. Iron (Who made the iron pillar of Delhi??)

Stagflationary Mark said...

GYSC,

4. Lead (China #1 consumer edibles export)

Well, we are told that China exports lead the world.

China exports lead...

That's history though. This is 2010.

BP's exports fuel... the gulf! D'oh!

Anonymous said...

Alloying changes their usefulness, but that's true of most metals.
- jus me

Anonymous said...

They all were made obsolete as "vital" materials in the parenthetical area:

1. Gold (the ancient metal?) - no longer money as we have paper money.
2. Silver (imaging?) - no longer needed for photography so much due to digital photogrpahy
3. Copper (wiring?) - not needed as much due to fiber optics...still need it for power though.
4. Lead (bullets?) - not needed with tasers? or depleted uranium?
5. Iron (swords?) - not needed due to bullets (and tasers?)

Damn - I think it worked until Lead.

cobacoba98

Stagflationary Mark said...

jus me,

Yes, often in very unexpected and interesting ways.

Not the answer I was looking for though.

Here's another hint.

I thought this would be difficult and I purposely added red herrings to reinforce that difficulty. Some of my descriptions of the elements do help but some also greatly hinder. I've made an effort in my original question to purposely guide you all down the wrong path. Sorry about that!

For what it is worth, I doubt very much I would have figured it out. I think the red herrings would have done enough damage by the time I was told of their existence.

And on that note...

A police car waits outside a bar. A large group of people exit simultaneously and disperse to their individual cars. All but one drives away. He can't seem to get his key into the door's lock. The police swoop in.

They make him take the breathalyser test and it shows 0.00 much to their surprise.

"You were the designated driver?"

"No sir. I was the designated decoy!"

Shame on me!!!

Stagflationary Mark said...

cobacoba98,

You very nearly found a reasonable solution that uses all the red herrings. Very nice try!

AllanF said...

My first (and so far only even after reading Mark's "hints") thought is that every one was a form of currency for at least some culture at some point in history.

Actually this would be supported by his "hints" that being elemental is important and being stores of value is somewhat close. As for the "hints" in parenthesis, they are examples of the industrial uses of the metals which counter-intuitively subverted their use as currency. Gold is the one not like the others. It has no industrial use, yet has still been subverted as currency by govt fiat.

watchtower said...

They were all used as coined currency in China?

(which they were, but that may not be what you are looking for)

AllanF said...

Ops: "industrial uses... counter-intuitively subverted their use as currency" That wouldn't be counter-intuitive at all. Instead of currency, I meant store of value. I think that would be counter-intuitive to a lot of people.

Yet, it makes sense, once a metal has an industrial use, there is huge effort made to extract and refine it. When the metal is mere currency, there is little value in applying the full force of a society's industrial might to extract it. Increasing currency is a zero sum game. Increasing industrial capacity and production is baking a bigger pie.

Lastly, making that clarification now requires another. Concerning my two last sentences of the original post, they should be another paragraph since I set out talking about store of value. Gold has been subverted as currency. Whether it has been subverted as a store of value is still open to debate, but govt fiat obviously isn't going support that argument.

PS. This always happens when I type before 9:00AM.

Stagflationary Mark said...

AllanF & watchtower,

Good answers. Not the answers I'm looking for though.

Final hints!

* The "hints" in parentheses were intended to deceive. A partial answer is hidden in plain sight though. It's just surrounded by distractions.

* The order of the list was also intended to deceive.

AllanF said...

ETFs

Stagflationary Mark said...

AllanF,

Yet another good answer!

I'll be posting the answer I was looking for moments from now.

getyourselfconnected said...

What a let down!

Stagflationary Mark said...

Sorry.

getyourselfconnected said...

Just kidding!

I puzzled over this all day and it was a fun thought experiment. Maybe a weekly question would be cool?

Stagflationary Mark said...

GYSC,

I don't think I have more than one a year in me!

It was inspired by seeing this not long ago.

New Element Discovered! But Don’t Ask About Its Name

I thought it would be interesting to see a chart of discoveries over time.

Here's another chart filled with discoveries.

Board of Governors Total Reserves, Adjusted for Changes in Reserve Requirements

I don't think parabolic is the word to use when describing either of them. They seem more diabolic, lol.

Stagflationary Mark said...

GYSC,

I also want to add how close you were.

all served as "stores of value" in some capacity at some time?

I think replacing "some" with "same" might have unlocked the puzzle for you. You did mention "time" specifically.

getyourselfconnected said...

Story of my life, a day late and a dollar short.

AllanF said...

ETFs was prompted by you saying the answer was in plain sight, but surrounded by distraction. So I seized on the "Common" in the question and guessed ETF. I don't think it's true though. While gold has a few ETF's and silver and copper each have a dedicated one, lead and iron are left out. At least based on my cursory search.

In the end, I'm kind of with GYSC, "What a let down!"

Maybe next week I can be in charge of the riddle game...
Me: Guess what is in my pocket?
GYSC: $5
Me: Good guess. I do have $5, but that's not what I meant. Guess again.
Watchtower: Car keys
Me: Another good guess, but 1/2 wrong. I'm not telling which half.
Me: OK, ok. the answer is house keys. I don't drive much so the car keys are on their own ring hanging on the wall.
;-)

I don't know why so many people leave after only commenting on one or two threads.

Stagflationary Mark said...

AllanF,

Sorry it was a let down. At the rate I'm crank these out, you should have about 3 years before I try again. ;)

Stagflationary Mark said...

Good grief.

"At the rate I crank these out..."
"At the rate I'm cranking these out..."

I opted for the poor choice in between. Sigh.

Anonymous said...

"those wishing to hoard elements from the periodic table had only five choices"
Huh? They didn't have a periodic table, so our notion of "pure element" would have meant nothing.

At the time, hoarding water or salt or ceramic or cloth or anything else would have been just as "elemental."

Well, it certainly was an interesting puzzle. Thanks for the puzzle and the education.


- jus me

Anonymous said...

On the timeline link, there's an interesting comment for the year 1789.

- jus me

Stagflationary Mark said...

jus me,

"Huh? They didn't have a periodic table, so our notion of "pure element" would have meant nothing."

Good point of course.

"Give you this shiny thing for that one!"

"Throw in some salt and we'got a deal!"

"Sucker! I'll be wiring my home with that in 10,000 years!" :)

Stagflationary Mark said...

Sulfur gives an idea just how ballpark some of the estimates must be.

Is it before 2000 bc or is it 4000 bc? At least they are consistent!

Remy said...

Mark, I enjoyed this too, but my thoughts were not even close, I did learn that china used several metals for coins... thanks for the educational opportunity!

AllanF, regarding one-time posters, I'm sure there are more readers than posters... you know the saying: "better let people think your a fool than to speak and remove all doubt". I enjoy this blog daily but I tend to have little to add at times.

cheers, Remy

Stagflationary Mark said...

Remy,

For someone who values safety, I certainly take plenty of risks sharing my thoughts in public!

There's an old saying in Tennessee — I know it's in Texas, probably in Tennessee — that says, fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can't get fooled again. - George Bush, 9/17/2002