Mental Floss

4 Challenges Worth at least $1 Million

David K. Israel

In 1919, the $25,000 Orteig Prize got Charles Lindbergh juiced enough to fly non-stop from New York to Paris. In 2000, the Ansari X PRIZE motivated Burt Rutan and his Mojave Aerospace team to create a reusable spacecraft to fly into space twice within a two-week period.

Today, X-type prizes are popping up faster than you can say $1 million (said with a hint of evil and a pinky raised toward the mouth). Here are 4 we think you need to know about:

1. The Netflix Prize The idea: Come up with a smarter version of Cinematch, the present system/algorithm that helps customers find movies based on their preferences and movie-renting habits. The take: $1 million The deadline: 10/2/2011 Our advice: stop adding movies to your queue and get cracking already. Oh, and if you reside in the province of Quebec in Canada, Cuba, Iran, Syria, North Korea, Myanmar or Sudan, better change your address before submitting your brilliant algorithm because Netflix says you're ineligible to enter.

2. The Archon X Prize The idea: It's so lofty, the best I can do is quote from their Web site: The Archon "X PRIZE for Genomics"¦ will be awarded to the first Team that can build a device and use it to sequence 100 human genomes within 10 days or less, with an accuracy of no more than one error in every 100,000 bases sequenced, with sequences accurately covering at least 98% of the genome, and at a recurring cost of no more than $10,000 per genome." The take: $10 million The deadline: 10/2013 Our advice: The basic idea of this prize is to accelerate the development of predictive medicine by sequencing genomes more accurately. So brush up on your Watson and Crick do some reading on their double helix discovery here.

3. The Millennium Grand Challenge in Mathematics The idea: The Clay Mathematics Institute of Cambridge, MA dares anyone to come up with a complete mathematical solution to one of their monster-math problems. The take: Forget the Fields Medal, this baby cha-chings to the tune of $1 million per question The deadline: Open-ended Our advice: Click here for a detailed description of each problem (apparently one has already been cracked). If you have questions, you can always drop CMI an email here:

4. The Virgin Earth Challenge The idea: Come up with a commercially viable design that results in the removal of greenhouse gases. In other words, "SAVE OUR PLANET!" The take: What would you say to $25 million? The deadline: 2/2010 Our advice:. You can make history by preserving history, but only if you read some our previous posts on the sponsors and judges, like Al Gore and Sir Richard Branson.