Did you ever wonder why the questions asked in competitions on Irish radio and television are so stupid?
Last Friday, the Late Late Show gave away €10,000 and a holiday. And this was the question viewers had to answer: Which Johnson is the Prime Minister of Great Britain?
Dwayne “The Rock”, Ulrika, Lyndon B or Boris?
Is it possible that ANYBODY got it wrong?
There have been worse, even more stupid questions. And it’s my fault.
Let me explain.
Back in the mid 80s the Independent Newspaper Group, where I worked, launched a scratch card game called Fortuna.
The plan was simple. Deliver scratch cards to as many homes in the country as possible, and then print numbers every day in the paper. Scratch them off – and if your numbers come up, you win.
Obviously the idea was, that when people got the cards, they’d feel obliged to buy the paper to get the numbers.
Only it wasn’t that simple.
Some of the other newspapers objected on the basis that, because there was no skill involved, it was a lottery and if it was a lottery, it was illegal.
The judge more or less agreed. And he gave the Indo a day to come up with a solution.
Now, I had nothing to do with all of this. I wasn’t involved in the competition or its promotion or anything.
Others were looking after the project, Indeed, they had lawyers and PR people and advertising people all over the place, working on it. It was costing, I was told, a quarter of a million of whatever the currency then was!
None of those involved had a solution.
So my boss, Michael Brophy, called me. I reckon it was in desperation.
He explained the problem and then asked me if I had any ideas?
I thought about it for a few seconds and then I said: “Well, actually I do.” Because one came into my mind instantly.
I don’t think he was hopeful.
What was my idea, he asked.
Well, I said, instead of publishing numbers, publish clues to numbers.
For example, I said, instead of putting in “11” put – “The number of players on a soccer team.” Instead of “4” – “The number of sides on a square.” Instead of “50” – “Half a century.” And so on.
He thanked me. I think there was a glimmer of hope in his voice.
On the basis of that glimmer, he asked if I’d help come up with clues for numbers 1-99.
I said I’d try. And the Herald’s Deputy Editor, my good friend James Morrissey, was sent to my home so the two of us could come up with the 99 clues required.
They took my idea to court the next day with ideas for clues from 1-99.
The judge looked at them.
“Brilliant,” he said or words to that effect. “That’s fine, that requires skill – only don’t make the questions too hard.”
“Don’t make the questions too hard,” he said. And that’s why they’re plain stupid.
The project was back on track. And the day was saved. And in Indo MD the late Joe Hayes rewarded me with a small bonus. And I mean small.
Oh. I forgot to mention.
When James arrived at my then home, he rang the front doorbell.
And the first thing he said was: “I don’t believe it,” he said.
I had no idea to what he was referring.
“Your house,” he said. “The name on the gate.”
I had forgotten.
The house was called “Fortuna.”