Dantzig's story really begins at the Sorbonne University in Paris. That's where his father, German mathematician and linguist Tobias Dantzig, fell in love with a fellow student, translator Anja Ourisson. The couple married and relocated to Portland, Oregon where Anja gave birth to George on November 8, 1914. Given his parents' smarts (Tobias Dantzig later taught at Columbia University and Johns Hopkins, among other institutions), it seems unsurprising that Dantzig would inherit his parents' passion for learning, and pursue his own career in academia. After receiving his Bachelor of Science from University of Maryland in 1936, and a master's degree in mathematics at the University of Michigan, he went on to study for his PhD at University of California, Berkeley.

At the University of California, Dantzig was enrolled in statistics class taught by the renowned Polish statistician, Jerzy Neyman. One day in 1939, while Dantzig was running late for class, Neyman began his lesson by writing out two examples of "unsolvable problems" on the classroom blackboard. When Dantzig eventually did show up, he assumed they were part of his homework, and copied them in his notes. Although he found the problems more difficult than his usual assignments, he meticulously drafted out solutions for each one. Days later he handed them in with an apology to Neymen for being late again—thinking the problems were overdue. Weeks later, Neymen excitedly told Dantzig that he had solved the unsolvable, and not only that, but Neymen had prepared one of the solutions for publication in a mathematical journal. (This part of the story would have undoubtedly gone a little differently if texting and email was available back then!).