Olaf Olafson may not be well known to most gamblers, but he is practically a demi-god to the world's intellectuals: He owns Egghead Wagers, the only bookie establishment to accept bets on the Nobel Prizes.
I recently visited his offices in Stockholm, in the hope of getting some good tips about the awards which will be announced next year.
"Your best bet is for Dr. Franz Schwarzenegger of Vienna to walk away with the prize for Physics," Olaf told me. "He is almost a sure thing. Did you know that he very closely resembles his cousin, Arnold?"
"No," I said, "but how does that help him win the Nobel?"
"Who on the committee is going to dare vote against him?" Olaf asked. "Most of those professors can split atoms apart, but Schwarzenegger can atomize THEM. Besides, he deserves it. His discovery of the nanominiquark is of crucial importance."
"What is a nanominiquark?" I asked.
"It is a theoretical particle which has positive and negative electrical charges as well as male and female sexual organs," Olaf explained.
"And Schwarzenegger actually saw one of these?" I asked in surprise. "I mean, when he was sober?"
"Of course not," Olaf laughed. "The nanominiquark is so tiny that 100 billion of them can fit in an atom. It is impossible to actually see one. But Schwarzenneger proved their existence mathematically. It was deceptively simple. He just took a neutron's subatomic weight when at absolute zero and divided it by the square root of the speed of light."
"Do you really understand what you just said?" I asked Olaf.
"Not at all," he admitted. "But neither does anybody else. That's what makes Schwarzenegger's theory so brilliant. It is completely impossible for anyone to disprove it."
"How about the prize for Chemistry?" I inquired. "Who looks good there?"
"Surprisingly, the odds on favorite is a mere freshman at Uppsala University here in Sweden, Karin Lindberg. She mixed two parts hydrogen and one part of oxygen and produced water."
"She's getting the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for that?" I asked, stunned. "But everybody knows that the formula for water is H2O."
"Perhaps I should have mentioned Miss Lindberg's other qualifications," said Olaf. She was this year's runner up in the Miss Sweden contest and she has been personally lobbying all of the committee members -- one night at a time."
"Now it makes sense," I agreed. "What about the prize for Medicine?"
"That's a tough one to call," said Olaf, "but the prize will probably be shared between an American, Dr. Franklin Blackstone of Harvard and an Iraqi, Dr. Ali Abu Jihad of the University of Baghdad for the Bubonic Plague Variety 17 vaccine."
"That's an unusual combination -- a Harvard and a Baghdad professor. How did they come to work together?"
"Actually, they didn't," Olaf told me. "Blackstone invented the vaccine in February, but it didn't prevent any diseases because there was no such thing as Bubonic Plague Variety 17. Fortunately for him, a few years ago June Abu Jihad invented the disease as part of Saddam Hussein's "Biological Warfare for Peace" program. It really is fair for them to share the prize, however, as without Abu Jihad's work the vaccine would just be sitting on Blackstone's shelf, along with the 274 other vaccines he created for which there are no diseases."
"Let's move on to Literature," I said. "I would like to put about $1000 down on J. K. Rowling for her Harry Potter series."
"You have to be joking," said Olaf. "There is no possible way that she is going to win. People actually read her books!"
"That's bad?" I asked.
"Of course it is," Olaf said. "The Nobel Literature prizes are awarded by intellectuals. If you start giving them to people who write books that everybody can understand, what would the point of being an intellectual? No, I think a good bet there would be Viangchang Thammavong of Laos for his novel, 'Thongsouk.'"
"What's it about?" I asked.
"I have no idea," Olaf admitted. Thammavong wrote it in an obscure Laotian dialect. Of course, none of the committee members can read it, but they are certainly not going to admit it, so it has a very good chance of winning."
"Do intellectuals award all the prizes?" I asked him.
"No," said Olaf. "The Peace Prizes are awarded in Norway, and if you look at the winners, you can be certain that nobody with an intellect was involved in their selection.
"For example, in 1973 the Peace Prize was awarded jointly to Henry Kissinger and Le Duc Tho of Vietnam. They got it for a peace treaty which guaranteed that North Vietnam would respect the South's independence in a return for an American withdrawal. The Americans left and the North invaded -- just like anybody with half a brain knew would happen."
"If it was that obvious, why did they give Le Duc Tho the prize?" I asked.
"I told you," said Olaf. "It was only obvious to people with half a brain. None of those are on the Peace Prize Committee. If there were, do you really think they would have given Yasser Arafat the award in 1994 -- the same year that almost 200 Israelis were killed or wounded in terrorist attacks by their Palestinian Peace Partners?"
"So who do you expect to get the award this year?" I asked.
"A lot of money is being bet on Nasrallah, the Hezbollah chief," said Olaf.
"That's ridiculous!" I objected. "This man started a war which destroyed much of Lebanon and caused heavy damage to Israel. The only way the Peace Prize Committee would give him the award was if they are all morons."
"Exactly," said Olaf. "And now you know why the smart money is on him."