Hint: 21

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.)

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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.

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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).

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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.

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Author: Linda Wang

Associate Editor, Chemical & Engineering News

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6 Comments

  1. Great piece about our little adventure in Budapest :P I still feel very stupid that we couldn’t find it out… OK, if you thought that 21 would indeed mean Scandium, (of course we thought of that, we’re chemists) and you’ve found out already that it’s not the danish, nor the finnish nor the swedish team, then everyone would just forget about Scandium and knock on the door of room numer 21… wouldn’t they?

    Ah well, we know it now… except for the second mysterious letter sender, who still hasn’t made him or her known to us…

    grtz, Jasper

    (oh, btw, the letters said that it wasn’t the belgian team who sent the letters (so not the danish) which would make more sense since 2 of the belgians live in the dutch speaking part of belgium)

  2. This is great! I almost died laughing when I saw the Dutch comparing the handwriting in those letters to that on the team games name list. Good thing I’d taken precautions ;)

    I wish the second person would reveal herself/himself though. That hint about having an orange t-shirt just isn’t enough.

    Cheers, Marte

  3. Hi Jasper and Marte,

    I laught every time I think about your adventure! We had so much fun in Godollo (except for the cafeteria food), didn’t we? Thanks for letting me in on your wild goose chase and for letting me share this with our readers. I know it put a smile on a lot of people’s faces.

    Let me know if you ever figure out who the second mysterious letter sender is!

    Take care and keep in touch!
    Linda

    BTW, I corrected the part about the Belgians!

  4. That was such a lovely idea from Marte! I can only imagine the guys’ faces when they found out who the mysterious girl was. :)

  5. Honestly, you don’t want to know what our faces looked like when we found out…

  6. Shame I only saw Niels’ face – though I admit that was funny enough!

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