I’ve had cable for a couple months now (only because it is included in my new monthly rent) and I’m discovering all sorts of weird things that you don’t come across when only watching on demand over the internet.

One in particular has caught my attention a couple times now. It features rather simple looking puzzles on the screen and large cash prizes of several hundred dollars. It is hosted by a blond British woman (or at least someone with a non-North American English accent) encouraging viewers to call in and try solving the puzzle of the moment. It is rather amusing watching her trying to come up with new things to say after 20 solid minutes without a single caller. How many new ways can she describe the puzzle? How many new ways can she ask me to call in? How many times can she say that time is running out?

The absolutely maddening thing is that these puzzles are always so easy. At least, they seem easy enough that it is absolutely mind bogglging that someone hasn’t called in yet. Last night’s game: name a car brand with 5 letters starting with M-A-Z and win $2500. And nobody is calling in to answer! All the while the background music gets more and more pressing, alarms start going off, and countdowns start appearing on screen, all designed to make me think that I only have a few seconds to call in and be handed this bounty just for not being a complete idiot.

But last night I finally found the complete rules online and found out how this ruse works. Though they work hard to give the impression that nobody is calling, that the puzzle really is that easy, and that there really are no tricks associated with the cash prize, it’s all BS. When you enter by calling in (all calls cost $2) or sending in a text message (again, at the cost of $2) you’re only registering your name as a contestant. It is then at the producer’s discretion when to actually call people, how many people to call, and how long to run the game. So they could run the entire thing with people furiously texting and calling thinking that it is a sure thing and why the hell aren’t I getting through because nobody else is calling and it’s almost over so I have to try again and again and again and….. and then only at the end let someone on the air with a guess they know is wrong and not have anybody win the prize. The rules basically say that they can put up this ruse of easy money as much as they want, collecting their $2 fees with each registration sent in, while having no obligation to actually let anybody even try to win.

In any case, the answer to last night’s puzzle was MAZEL, the Spanish concept car design studio. I doubt anybody would have won even if they had given them a chance.

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