Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology won a social-networking scavenger hunt over the weekend, locating 10 red weather balloons tethered across the country in less than nine hours, The New York Times reports. And all it took was a sort of pyramid scheme.
The contest was organized by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the research arm of the military, and awarded MIT with a $40,000 prize. The purpose of the competition—which took place on the 40th anniversary of the first message sent on Arpanet, the precursor of the Internet—was to explore the ways information circulates on social networks.
To win, the MIT researchers enlisted the help of 4,665 people. The group set up a Web site offering to share the prize money with anyone who helped locate the balloons. To entice a large group of participants, MIT announced they would award $2,000 to whoever located a balloon. But that’s not all — they also promised money to whoever invited that person to the Web site, the inviter of the inviter, and so on. In the explanation of the payment system, the researchers also say that any leftover money would go to charity.
It took just eight hours and 56 minutes for the group to locate all 10 balloons, which were featured both in urban centers like Union Square in San Francisco and also in less public places like above a baseball field in the Houston suburbs. MIT beat out about 4,300 other teams.