The Lottery Hackers — The Huffington Post — Highline

Gerald Selbee broke American breakfast cereal industry’s code one day because he was bored at the office, because it was an intellectual challenge and because it was fun.

This was back when Jerry, as we know him, worked in Battle Creek (Michigan) for Kellogg’s. He was a materials engineer who designed boxes to prolong the shelf lives of freeze-dried food and cereals. Jerry asked Jerry a few years ago: “Have I ever purchased a cereal with foil lines on the inside?” “That was one the projects of my.”

He was in the same factory where the cereals had been cooked. The smells wafting into the office were similar to animal feed. Later, as the grains were rolled and flaked and dried like oatmeal, the aroma became more like animal food. On his desk was a collection of cereal boxes made in Kellogg’s competitors. These included Honeycomb and Cheerios, both from General Mills. These were brought by sales reps from all across the country. Jerry would dry them, heat them, and weigh them in his factory’s laboratory. He would compare their moisture levels to Froot Loops, which Kelloggs cereal. It wasn’t the most enjoyable job but Jerry’s parents worked in factories, his father at a fitting plant, and his mother at the Kellogg’s factory. This was not something he would complain about.

Jerry was one day examining a string of numbers and letters at the bottom of a General Mills package. Post and Kellogg’s were also able to stamp their boxes, often with the time and place of cereal’s production. This allows them to track the cereal’s shelf-life. General Mills’ figures, however, were incomprehensible as if written in secret code. Jerry was curious to see if he could decipher them. He found several boxes of Kellogg’s and General Mills cereals that were sitting in the same places on the shelves. He decided it was worth testing their contents. He set up some ratios by tracing on a piece de scratch paper.

He experienced the puzzle-solver’s dopamine high of seeing a solution through the fog. He had found a way to trace any General Mills cereal bar back to the exact plant, shift and date of its creation. Jerry would laugh about the experience decades later, recalling that it was “pretty easy”. In a more brutal industry, cracking trade secrets could have led to millions in profits. This was not the case with cereal. Jerry’s discovery of the enemy’s production schedule did not make anyone wealthy. His findings were shared with his managers who accepted them without fuss.

He didn’t mind. To him, the joy was in understanding how this tiny piece of the universe worked. He’d always seen patterns in things that were confusing to others as noise. Jerry was dyslexic growing up. He struggled to complete his reading assignments. An eighth grade standardized exam revealed that Jerry could solve math problems at the same level as college juniors. His senior year in high school was the time he married Marjorie his bright, green-eyed classmates. He went on to work as a Kellogg factory worker after graduation. Over the next ten-years, their family grew with six children. Jerry worked in a number of factory and corporate jobs.

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