Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Violence pays

Today, a vending machine paid me 50 cents to take a cherry flavoured vitamin water, but first I had to pay an assassin to fight it with a knife. 

This wasn't how I had planned to get a drink. Despite the many criticisms about salaries in academia, I had intended to take the conventional route of actually paying for my beverage. In this story, the part of the drink will be played by a bottle of flavoured water, which cost $2. 

Fun fact #1: $2 coins in Canada are called 'toonies'. $1 coins are 'loonies' which leads to some mildly offensive conversations. 

I took a toonie from my wallet and attempted to insert it into the machine's coin slot. I failed. Since this isn't usually the type of task that tests a person's skill level, I bent my knees and tried to look through the slot to see what was happening. Wedged in the narrow gap, I could just make out the metal edges of a quarter and a loonie. 

Fun fact #2: A 25 cent coin is called a 'quarter' in both the USA and Canada. In the USA, the reverse side of certain quarters depicts the US state in which it was made. According to wikipedia, the number of people attempting to collect a quarter from each of the 50 states is so high that it is the most successful numismatic program in history, giving the US government an extra $3 billion from people taking the coins out of circulation. 

Returning to the topic of our trapped currency, I gave an inward cry of exasperation. What kind of stupid person tries to shove two coins into the machine at once, causing it to jam? CLEARLY an undergraduate. Bet they were from biology. 

My first attempt to remedy this problem was just to force my own toonie into the machine, thereby dislodging the other coins. This proved fruitless since nothing moved.

Attempt #2 was to use my room keys to try and wiggle the coins free. This was slightly more productive and --after a few moments jiggling-- there was a clunk and the machine registered that I'd paid it 25 cents. What was odd, however, was that the 25 cent piece I could see wedged against the loonie had not moved. 

Exactly how much money was there trapped in this tiny gap?!

What sort of person keeps feeding a machine money without reporting a fault like this?!

At that moment a graduate student from my department appeared, saw my dilemma and announced the solution was paper. Apparently, this was not a new issue. He disappeared to return holding up a folded sheet with which he attempted the same trick I had with my keys. 

Nothing happened. Today's problem was serious. 

Fortunately, it transpired any good theoretical astrophysics student would come armed to his office with an all-in-one knife tool kit. Feeling that group meetings had changed since my day, I watched in amazement as steadily larger knifes were used in ways that would censor this post if described. Finally the machine capitulated (though you'll prove nothing in court because torture makes an unreliable witness). With a second series of clunks, two quarters, a toonie and a loonie fell into the machine's change dispenser. I paid my knife assassin off with a loonie (grad students come cheap) and inserted the toonie back into the cleared coin slot. 

 Where it gets stuck.

A quick stabbing later and I had my beverage plus 50 cents profit. As I walked away down the corridor, I thought about calling the machine maintenance number and reporting the problem.

Still thinking. 


  1. I started laughing when I read "bet they were from biology". I continued laughing when I imagined the reaction in Japan if a vending machine were attacked with "steadily larger knives". Then again, I've yet to encounter a Japanese vending machine that's not in perfect working order ...

    1. ... quite possibly because they are not frequently attacked with knives!

  2. Reminds me vaguely of the time in 9th grade in NYC when my watch popped off my watchband. Fiddling the pin back on required a knife, which a classmate helpfully pulled out of his pocket -- a 5" lockblade. With one knife on display, all the other boys standing around then had to pull theirs out and play with them, just because. It seemed I was the only one not carrying something sharp...

    1. I suppose nowadays it's just a relief they weren't all carrying guns!

  3. I always used to carry a small pocket knife on my keyring until one day it came off before a visit to the airport and I forgot where I put it. It is amazing what a small blade can come in handy for although I have never had to stab a vending machine

    1. And to be fair to my friend, this tool was obviously designed for more than violence against innocent machines!

      But it was pretty useful for that too.