At the International Chemical Olympiad, there is never a dull moment.
On Sunday, Jasper Landman and Niels Kouwenhoven of the Netherlands began receiving anonymous letters taped to their dorm-room door.
By Monday night, they had received three letters that each started with the polite salutation, “Greetings cheeseheads!” (The Netherlands is known for its gouda cheese.)
The letters, written in perfect Dutch, described the sender as a Dutch-speaking chemist from another team.
Hint: It’s not the Belgians, the letter said. Another hint: 21.
Niels and Jasper scratched their heads, perplexed by the possibilities. Was it the dorm-room number of the sender? Was the answer in preparatory question 21?
They analyzed the handwriting. Looks a bit feminine, they said. They wandered the halls asking random students to submit to a handwriting test.
By Tuesday night, Niels and Jasper had received a total of six letters, each one more cryptic than the last.
They joked that perhaps a particularly competitive student was trying to keep them occupied so they couldn’t study for the exam.
They paused and looked at each other.
“Well, we wouldn’t be studying anyway!” they said in unison before doubling over with delight in their newfound challenge.
By Wednesday, the anonymous letter writer couldn’t hold her secret in any longer. Besides, she wanted to practice her Dutch with Niels and Jasper.
The mysterious person turns out to be a girl from Norway who had lived in the Netherlands for nine years. She revealed that 21 was in fact element 21, Scandium (think Scandanavia).
Niels and Jasper have since started receiving new letters, this time from an English-speaking girl who has a crush on Niels and their teammate Tim.