July 16, 2024
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July 16, 2024
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Ever since I started writing about the Ig Nobel Prizes (about six weeks into my first year, just as I ran out of topics), people have been wondering if these studies were useful in any way.

I don’t blame them. The Ig Nobel prizes, after all, are an American spoof of the Nobel Prizes, and are given to people whose work “first makes you laugh, then makes you think.” But it’s all real work.

But they never have these questions about the Nobel Prize, because with the Nobel Prize, you can tell on your own how the research is useful. For example, a couple of years ago, the Chemistry prize went to Robert Lefkowitz and Brian Kobilka for studies of G-protein-coupled receptors. So in that case, we can easily say, “Yeah, that research would be useful. You know, because who else is going to study G-protein-coupled receptors? Better them than us.”

But it turns out the Ig Nobel Prize research has practical applications too. You just have to think about it for a second.


For example, this year, the prize for Safety Engineering went to the late Gustano Pizzo for inventing an electro-mechanical system to trap airplane hijackers.

The system, which I am totally not making up, has multiple steps:

STEP 1: The hijacker is dropped through a trap door in the floor behind the cockpit.

STEP 2: He lands in a net.

STEP 3: Once he’s trapped, a bomb bay door opens under him.

STEP 4: He then screams all the way to the ground, with the aid of a parachute attached to the net, where,

STEP 5: The cops, having been alerted by radio, quote, “await his arrival.”

It definitely sounds a lot better than whatever TSA is doing right now.

APPLICATION: The device was actually patented in 1972, and I’m sure you’re wondering why on earth is not every plane equipped with this hilarious anti-hijacking device.

My guess is there were a few hiccups:

First, I can’t see the police getting there in time. They’re definitely not “awaiting his arrival.” And what if he drops down over the ocean? And is the parachute necessary? Or is it just in case someone else accidentally falls through the trap door by mistake? (“Ladies and gentleman, this is your flight attendant speaking. We’re just experiencing a little light turbulence because our pilot has fallen out of the plane.”) Also, how do they get the hijacker to stand right over the trap door? Do they try to lure him there?

“Sir, please stand on the X.”

“I have a gun. You stand on the X.”

Sadly, Mr. Pizzo isn’t around to ask any of these questions to, because he’s dead. Perhaps this is how.


The Ig Nobel Prize for Peace this year went to the president! No, not our president, obviously. It went to the president of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, for making it illegal to clap in public.

Lukashenko is the dictator of Belarus, and he’s not very popular, despite that he’s been happily oppressing people since 1994 and wins every election with a 90 percent majority, which is strange, because we have freedom here, and you can’t get 90 percent of people to agree on anything.

So the Belarusians (Belarooskies?) want to protest this dictator, but unfortunately, it’s illegal to stage a protest without a permit, and good luck getting one of those. But they have to do something, because all signs suggest things are going to get worse.

Well, not literally all signs. They’re not allowed to use signs.

So they started finding loopholes. For example, there was a law against protesting, but there was no law that they couldn’t just stand still and not protest. So that became the protest.

But the most popular form of protest—the one which got the largest amount of applause—was clapping.

At first, Lukashenko didn’t get it. He’d finish a speech, and everyone would clap, and he’d think, “Hey, I’m doing pretty well here!” Then he found out what it meant.

So he made clapping illegal. And now, when they announce his name before a speech, you can’t clap either. What do you do? Just stand there in awkward silence and let the crickets do all the work?

Maybe people can stand up for him, like we do when they announce rabbonim, right? Wrong. Because standing still as a crowd and not doing anything is illegal too.

That’s pretty scary. If you can arrest people for just standing around, most of us would be arrested, especially at weddings.

APPLICATION: This is really a good thing to know if you ever find yourself in Belarus for whatever reason, such as that you’ve been dropped out of a plane.


The prize for physics went to five researchers in Italy “for discovering that some people would be physically capable of running across the surface of a pond—if those people and that pond were on the moon.”

Because going to the moon isn’t thrilling enough. Once you’re there, you want to run on water.

APPLICATION: Maybe what happened was that scientists were wondering—can people run across the Atlantic?

Probably not. I think if the Mitzriyim in the Yam Suf showed us anything, it’s that people cannot run across the surface of the water. There’s no way on earth.

But that’s just Earth.

Mordechai Schmutter is a freelance writer and a humor columnist for Hamodia, The Jewish Press, and Aish.com, among others. He also has four books out and does stand-up comedy. You can contact him at [email protected]

By Mordechai Schmutter

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