Kominers’s Conundrums: Take a Crypto Break With Ancient Traders

With Elon Musk tanking crypto last week, the team at Conundrums has decided it may be time to look into more tangible alternative currencies. 

Luckily, Conundrums archaeologist Paul Kominersrecently discovered an intact premodern tablet belonging to an ancient commodities trader. We passed it along to the translation team, which was able to determine that the trader was about to make a big, big move. Unfortunately, however, even our expert translators found some of the idioms — shall we say — puzzling. Now it’s up to you.  

According to the tablet, the currency of the day was gold coins, and one egg was worth one gold coin. Other market rates on the day in question were as follows:

By cross-referencing this new tablet with other materials in our archives, the translators were able to figure out how many letters were in the name of each commodity; we’ve included that information in parentheses.  Also, we’re confident that each given description matches only one commodity — for example, we’re sure that “TART YELLOW FRUIT” is the same thing everywhere, even though we’re not certain what it is. 

So can you help us figure out what the trader expected to get out of all the following items after trading them in for gold coins? That is this week’s answer.

You will have to determine what the trade goods were, of course. With all those strange idioms floating around, it’s hard to know what was available for trade, and how that relates to the market rate information. But we’re sure you can work that out with a bit of thinking — and maybe an abacus or two. 

Once you’ve figured out what our trader was going to cash out each set of items for, you might have to “cash in” somehow to find the final answer.

And after you’re done with that, there’s a bonus puzzle you can try and solve: What was our trader going to do after exchanging everything?

If you manage to master this marketplace — or if you even make partial progress — please let us know at [email protected] before midnight New York time on Thursday, May 20.

If you get stuck, there’ll be hints announced on Twitter and in Bloomberg Opinion Today. To be counted in the solver list, please include your name with your answer. And don’t forget to sign up for our Conundrums email list!

Previously in Kominers’s Conundrums…

For our Mother’s Day Conundrum, we gave clues to a series of common words — many of them “mother” or “spring” themed. To make solving a bit more fun, we made sure that each clued word could also form a well-known word or phrase with some of the words at the end of the clue text.

“Waterfowl Bostonians might have to make way for,” for example, clued “DUCKLINGS” — as in “Make Way for DUCKLINGS.”

We also indicated two letters for solvers to pull out of the answer to each clue, and explained that half of those letters (one from each answer) would spell out the answer to the full Conundrum — which was “a trait shared by our favorite mothers around the world.”

Once you had worked out the clues, you still had to figure out which letter from each pair contributed to the final answer. But solvers quickly noticed a rather straightforward pattern: It was the second letter every time.

Indeed, reading those letters from top to bottom spelled out “ALWAYS RIGHT,” which is not only a trait of our favorite mothers, but also a description of the set of letters that gave the answer — we always chose the letter on the right.

(Then of course there were 11 other letters left over; we’re not revealing what they’re for yet — but you might want to hang onto them.)

Zarin Pathan solved first, followed by Franklyn Wang & Cindy Yang, Noam D. Elkies, Zoz, Ellen Dickstein Kominers, Michael Thaler, Ruth Hofrichter & Matthew Smith, Luke Harney, Nelson Niu, Lazar Ilic, Barb & Nathaniel Ver Steeg, Carolina Brettler & Michael Perusse, Nancy & Murray Stern, and Sanandan Swaminathan. The other 16 solvers were Anika Ayyar, Dan Caprera, Nicol Crous, Filbert Cua, Elizabeth Grove, JC, Maya Kaczorowski, Chuey Ng, Fernando Raffan-Montoya, Ross Rheingans-Yoo, Nur Banu Simsek, Adam Slomoi, Spaceman Spiff, Michaela Wilson, Dylan Zabell, and Rostyslav Zatserkovnyi. And thanks especially to Iolanthe Stronger and Paul Kominers for test-solving!

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Scott Duke Kominers is the MBA Class of 1960 Associate Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, and a faculty affiliate of the Harvard Department of Economics. Previously, he was a junior fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows and the inaugural research scholar at the Becker Friedman Institute for Research in Economics at the University of Chicago.

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