The time I hacked my elementary school cafeteria

There's a trending question on Quora about the biggest heist someone had ever pulled. Here's how I hacked my Australian elementary school cafeteria.

The time I hacked my elementary school cafeteria

There's a really interesting question on Quora about the biggest heist someone had ever pulled off. Many of the answers were incredibly funny, including Jonas M. Luster who wrote that he "stole a hospital for six months."

I was going to answer on Quora but it's behind a walled garden ... So here's how I hacked my Australian elementary school cafeteria.

I was 8 years old. The cafeteria lunch system worked like this:

  1. An order was written on the front of a pre-printed paper bag with the student's name and class.
  2. Cash was was inserted (what could go wrong?)
  3. The bag was put in a container/basket and taken by students from the class to the cafeteria for processing.
  4. The basket would be returned to the class at lunch break with cash removed and food inserted. Easy.

Summer in Australia is very hot and the cafeteria needed a system for distributing ice creams so that they didn't melt between the freezer and the classroom. To whit they used plastic tokens that were redeemed by the student at the cafeteria itself.

Here's where it gets interesting. The plastic token used by the cafeteria was exactly the same as a large number found in a container in my classroom. I think they were used for math. Maybe I was younger, because I don't know why 8 year olds need counting objects, but that's my recollection.

It occurred to me one day that the cafeteria token and the class token, being the same object, should be interchangeable. I decided to test my theory and probe the system for truths.

Over the following week I ordered one different ice cream per day from the cafeteria to see what type of token was returned in the bag. I ordered the same ice cream on the last day as the first to confirm whether a system in place.

Not particularly scientific, nor sound for that matter, but to my 8 year old brain a pattern was established.

The day of the ice cream heist arrived.

I "borrowed" a token from my classroom, matching what my testing said would be a particular type of ice cream. A ball of nerves, I joined by fellow students collecting their treats and attempted to make the exchange.


Day 2, repeat. Day 3, repeat. Day 4, repeat. Free ice cream for life ...

Not quite.

A quirk of character at the time, I needed to tell someone else of my achievement. He told others. Soon there was a distinct shortage of plastic tokens in my classroom. Certainly there was also a major problem with the cafeteria's accounting.

I remember the day the school principal walked into my classroom, stood earnestly at the front of the class and with a thundering voice, pointed his index finger and said, "you, you, you, you, you, you and you, come with me, now!"

Um ...

By a stroke of dumb luck, or perhaps common sense, a little earlier I decided that this situation really was too good to last. And there were too many people involved. It wasn't going to end well. I was out.

So that's how I hacked my elementary school cafeteria at the age of 8, and got away with it. It was my first and last heist.