The Italian Job Cliffhanger Solved

| 23 Jan 2009 19:40

How could you possibly solve the gold-or-death cliffhanger at the end of the original Italian Job? With science!

At the end of the original Italian Job, the gang's six-wheeled bus teeters halfway over an Alpine cliff, the stolen gold sliding towards the rear door and oblivion. Charlie Croker's crew must decide whether to save themselves or attempt to rescue the ill-gotten gold. The crooks have an idea for how to save the loot, but the audience never finds out what the idea is or if it worked.

The Royal Society of Chemistry, set the following poser back in October: How do you save Croker, his crew and the 3200 kilos of gold, assuming that the bus will plunge from the peaks 30 minutes after Croker says "Hang on a minute lads, I've got a great idea!". No cheating by using a helicopter, either.

The time limit was added due to the solution that Sir Michael Caine (who played Charlie Croker in the film) had created in 2003, where he just switched on the engine and burnt out all the fuel (taking about 4 hours), which would bump the bus forward, allowing the crew to jump to safety but losing the gold.

The solution had to be a 150-word minimum explanation, with calculations, and a diagram. And you couldn't just blow the bloody doors off.

The competition was in celebration of two anniversaries: 100 years of the Periodic Table (for the gold), and 40 years for the film. More than 2000 entrants vied for first place: a vacation in Turin, where the film was set.

The winner, John Godwin, devised a brilliant and workable solution, but sadly one that you can't really do in Crayon Physics.

First of all, you punch out the third window down with Charlie's shoes. The loss of window weight allows you to get to the front windows, push them out and lose 60 kilos of window glass overall (Cheers to Ralackk). That allows enough excess for one of the smaller crew to be lowered down and deflate the front tires, which makes the bus steadier.

The next step is to open the fuel access panel, just next to the gold, and drain out the gas, losing 140 kilos from the back floor. The extra weight loss allows for one crewman to escape the bus and bring back enough ballast to counteract another person crawling down to the gold and back again, grabbing one bar at a time.

Godwin admits, "It wouldn't be easy and I wouldn't like to steal the Mafia's gold, but it would be fun to see it done."

Of course, that does leave the problem of how the crew are gonna get the bullion back to Great Aunt Nellie, but that's for another time.

Meanwhile, if you have a better idea, please feel free to share.

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