I suspect that everyone reading this blog can figure out the following riddle:
He’s been played with for centuries and lives the majority of his life one step at a time, often moving between darkness and light, and when he’s trapped, his life is over.
This came up as the million-dollar question on a new television show called (in America) Million-Dollar Mind Game. Based on a Russian show called What? Where? When?, which has existed since the 1970s, it had its American debut on ABC at the very strange hour of 4:00 PM Eastern time on Sunday. At that time it goes up against the hugely popular pro football broadcasts on the other networks.
With such a brutal time slot, I think it will be a miracle if “Million Dollar Mind Game” finds an audience. Perhaps they are hoping that football fans will find it by accident, while channel surfing during commercials. That’s roughly how I saw it for the first time. I was sitting in a casino restaurant in Reno during the Western States Open. The restaurant had ten televisions showing football games, and then one of them briefly, for a minute or so, changed channel to this game show I had never seen before.
Anyway, I really like it. The American version borrows quite a bit from the successful “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?”, but the unique thing about it is that it is played by teams of six people, who all know each other. The questions are not trivia questions, as on most game shows, but they are either logic puzzles or riddles. The players aren’t expected to know the answers to start with; the teams have to figure out the answers by using clues hidden in the puzzles. They have 60 seconds to figure it out as a group.
It’s amazing how often a group of six people can start with absolutely no clue — the question seems completely impossible — but in one minute of brainstorming somebody will stumble on the right idea. Occasionally it strikes one of the players out of the blue. Other times all six of them work gradually toward the answer.
On the first episode I watched, a team of six video game geeks did fantastically well (after all, what would you expect from gamers playing a game show?). They got all the way through the $600,000 question. At that point, five of the players wanted to call it quits, but one wanted to try for the $1,000,000 — and according to the rules, if one person votes to continue, they all have to continue.
SPOILER ALERT: Do not go any farther if you don’t want to know how it ended!
The host, Vernon Kay, read the question at the beginning of this post. I figured out the answer in about two seconds. I was sure that the team of gamers had this one in the bag. It’s a question about a GAME, for chrissake. What else could be more perfect?
But they blew it! The best answer they could come up with was, “What is the sun?” which of course they knew was wrong. You could tell it by the woebegone look on their faces. And so they went home empty-handed, after being so close to a million dollars.
After they had failed, the host walked them through the question in his best Socratic method. “Have any of you ever played a game that has been around for centuries?” One of the video gamers said, “Checkers?” That was exactly the kind of wrong answer that points the way to the right answer. Two seconds later you could see the light dawn on one of the contestants’ faces. “Chess,” he said. “The chess king.”