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Last Updated: Wednesday, 8 June, 2005, 12:12 GMT 13:12 UK
Using your skill and judgement...
By Jonathan Duffy
BBC News Magazine

Sir Bob Geldof in a boat
What's missing from this picture? a) oars b) tyres c) wings
Millions of texters who want to win tickets to the Live 8 concert have been grappling with a tricky question of which city is nearest the G8 venue. What happened to the days when competitions were truly taxing?

His name is Patrizio. He's a singer whose music embodies the world of Federico Fellini, Sophia Loren, Gina Lollabrigida, The Godfather, Goodfellas and The Sopranos.

"My music is as Italian as pasta in an Italian kitchen," he says.

This much is fact, stated on the competitions page of Channel 4's website for the Richard and Judy show.

Now here comes the brainteaser to win a pair of tickets to see Patrizio at a music festival later this month:

Where is Patrizio from?
a) India
b) Italy

Such is the level of many competitions nowadays.

Michael Owen, Clive Owen, Nicholas Owen
Which is which?
There's a GMTV competition to win a DVD player and a copy of Clive Owen's new film, I'll Sleep When I'm Dead. But first answer this question: who stars as the reclusive gangster in I'll Sleep When I'm Dead? Clive Owen, Michael Owen, Nicholas Owen.

Or how about New Woman magazine's challenge to win a 1,000 minibreak sponsored by "Zs, the fantastic new range of delicious zero added sugar soft drinks". But first one must answer this inscrutable conundrum: what does the Z in Coca Cola's new Z range stand for? Zero added sugar, Zero added fat, Zero added fruit.

Competitions used to be a challenge - taxing questions which might have warranted a trip to the local library and half-an-hour rifling through encyclopedias; or an invitation to complete a promotional slogan "in 15 words or less".

Today, it seems, competitions have more to do with staking out promotional space within the pages of newspapers, magazines and the internet. And, with premium rate phone and texting services for submitting answers, a popular competition can be a nice little revenue earner in itself.

This week's Live 8 question - which must be answered to stand a chance of winning tickets to the star-studded concerts in July - is yet another pushover. (See internet links.)

Although, given that Bob Geldof is trying to drum up as much support for his campaign as possible, it is at least forgivable that it's not only the world's poor he wants to give a helping hand to.

Dumbing down

One of the reasons these easy competitions have taken off is that organisers naturally want as many people to take part as possible (especially if they are paying premium text message rates to take part).

But the 1976 law on Lotteries and Amusements prohibits prize competitions which do not depend on a substantial degree of skill; merely sending in one's name to be drawn from a hat would be classed as an illegal lottery. There is a legal grey area over what constitutes a substantial degree of skill, however.

The abundance of easy questions is not to everyone's liking. Rosemary Holton is one of thousands of compers - people who devote huge amounts of their spare time to entering competitions. She averages 100 competitions a week and has just returned from a Mediterranean cruise, which she won.

Like other compers, she views the trend for dumbing down competitions as detrimental to her chances of winning. After all, if anyone can enter by answering a simple question the chances of Rosemary coming out on top are drastically reduced.

"Some of these competitions are an insult to the intelligence because they're silly," says Rosemary, of Northfield, Birmingham.

Equally as bad are the free-prize draws, which don't even set the hurdle of a question. Like easy questions, these too are taking over from more cerebral competitions.

Live8 texting
Millions taken part already
The internet must take a large part of the blame. Why bother setting tough questions if anyone can answer them with a few clicks of a mouse. Texting an answer also takes a lot of the leg work out of entering - which used to require a postcard, a stamp and a trip to the post box.

Rosemary is an old style comper to the core - she'll only take part in a texting competition if the price is 25p or less, roughly the equivalent of a first-class stamp. And she avoids anything with easy questions.

"The answers are so simple they're below me. I like a bit of a challenge. If you're a proper comper you want to do something interesting - use the brain."

Which is one reason why the Magazine's weekly news quiz, 7 days 7 questions, published every Friday, will retain its current level of difficulty - including its notorious "birthday question".

But for anyone who wants an easy ride, you are hereby invited to have your intelligence insulted by taking part in this stupidly easy quiz on the story you have just read. The prize (ie nothing) remains the same.

Question 1
How many texters are trying to win tickets for Live 8?
A: Millions
B: Hundreds
C: Nearly all of them
Question 2
So where is Patrizio from?
A: India
B: Italy
Question 3
Why are text entries popular with quiz organisers?
A: You have to pay 50p an entry
B: Because posting phones is impractical
Question 4
In the article, which athletics discipline is compared to free-prize draws?
A: Hurdles
B: Shot-put
C: Modern pentathlon
Question 5
The Magazine has a Daily News Question. But what day is the weekly quiz, 7 days 7 questions, published?
A: Every Friday
B: A rainy day
C: A week ago last Monday

 Press the button and see how you have done

Live 8 texts soar to 1.5m entries
06 Jun 05 |  Entertainment

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