I Am A Terrorist

The webcomic that broke TV Tropes.

Not worth its weight in gold

This started as a conversation about fitting Magic: The Gathering cards in a camera box, but then the phrase “worth its weight in gold” came up and it took a different turn.

In what forms is gold itself not actually worth its own weight in gold?

On the one hand, it seems pretty straightforward to make gold worth more than its weight in gold. If you took a gold bullion bar and had someone famous etch their signature on it (without scraping away any of the gold), then you could sell it for more than just the value of the metal. In fact, in theory, anyone could sign the gold bar, or indeed make a random doodle on it, and it would (slightly) increase its value. On the other hand, we couldn’t quite agree whether that would increase its value because it’s unique, or decrease it because it looks damaged.

On the third hand, it seems unlikely that anyone who’s serious about trading gold by weight would value it less than its actual actual weight in gold, regardless of what form it’s in. Of course, the difference between “unlikely” and “impossible” is just a matter of posing the right scenario, so this led us to ask whether it’s possible to make gold into such an inconvenient form that it’s worth significantly less than the market value of the gold itself.

One obvious way to do this is to combine it into some otherwise useless alloy or mixture such that it’s expensive to refine it back into pure gold. (Come to think of it, that’s more or less what gold ore is.) Another way is to make it inaccessible, say, by launching it into orbit, or pouring it into a S-bend in a pipe running through solid concrete of an underground bunker (sharks should also be involved somehow). Come to think of it, you could give the gold negative value by making it a liability; a gold pillar that’s structurally integral to, say, an orphanage, that will give way any day now but will cost more than the value of the gold to replace, is not something of which you would want to be a proud owner.

But all these ideas somehow go against the spirit of the challenge by introducing other factors (alloys, bunkers, orphanages) as obstacles. We’re interested in making a quantity of gold, standing on its own and fully accessible, as worthless, as a proportion of the market value of an equivalent weight in bullion, as possible.

Our best idea so far is to construct some kind of solid gold death trap. The idea is to build a structure that, although made of pure gold and in principle able to be melted down and sold by weight, is so lethally hazardous to even approach that you wouldn’t be able to pay people to take it away.

So far, we have only the sketchiest ideas of how to construct such a thing. If you have any suggestions, let us know in the forums.

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