Originally posted by StarValleyWy
One sword is "annealed", ie, dipped into cold water. It thus becomes hard and ready to take a bitter edge. The other is not. It is still hot and burns the culprit. This one is more easily subject to "polishing" and buffing and reheating for finish. Which is long winded for one was complete and the second was not? At least in real life.
The swords were identical. I thought about annealing after I posted the problem, but I couldn't think of a way of writing the problem that ruled this out without giving the game away. I probably should've chosen something other than a sword.
Here's my line of reasoning:
The thieves had got drunk and dared each other to steal a sword from the smithy while it was still hot; so they were expecting to experience some pain.
When the first thief grabbed a sword, that sword was really hot. So hot, in fact, that it quickly fried the touch sensors in the skin on the palm of his hand; so he got a short jolt of pain, but after that, nothing. He was still be able to hold the sword, however, because the relevant muscles are mostly in the wrist.
The second thief took longer to build up the (Dutch) courage. When he tried to grab a sword, it was still pretty hot (say 80C/180F), but nowhere near as hot as it had been when the first thief broke in. As a result, it would have been continuously painful for some time if the thief had tried to run away with it. So he held the sword for as long as he could bear the pain, and then dropped it.
Obviously the second thief is better off, since although he lost the dare, the burns on his hand will be far less serious than those on the first thief's hand.
I thought of this problem after remembering an anecdote told by one of my teachers at school, in which a former colleague of his picked up a block of metal so hot that he didn't realise how hot it was (for exactly the reason given above), and started chatting with someone. After a few minutes of holding the block, he realised what he'd done, and sought medical attention; but I imagine his hand would have looked pretty gruesome by then.
Similarly, one of my chemistry teachers mentioned that getting concentrated sodium hydroxide on your skin isn't particularly painful, as it kills the skin and turns the fat underneath into soap so quickly that you'd hardly notice.