If you are considering participating in one of the many Dead Pool-type
contests that are found on the internet, at work or in your personal
social group, you should first evaluate the contest elements that are the
most & least appealing to you so that you may select the contest
that is a best fit for your own interests & temperament. Here are a number
of criteria and contest operating methods that you might consider before
initiating an entry. The order is personal preference; you should weigh
each one, again, based upon your own comfort level.|
- Personal Privacy — What information is collected & who may see it?
A few years ago this wouldn't have even been a consideration; now,
with the proliferation of Spam E-mail and blue-nosed internet
morality harpies, the ability to shield yourself from abusive/intrusive
E-mail queries and complaints is worth considering.
Do the contest organizers permit (encourage) you to use freemail
accounts for contact? Do they permit you to use aliases to shield
your actual identity from your spouse, relatives, boss, «whomever»
so that you don't wind up trying to explain why you are
participating in such a "sick" activity?
You don't need to travel to Afghanistan to find a rigid morality
police mentality - look no further than the U.S. Attorney General
- Contest Scope — Universal or Restricted?
A few of the contests are "By Invitation Only" while others require
that you engage in an advance application process prior to submitting
an entry. Fortunately most of the contests are true "open" events,
with entries accepted from anyone and everyone right up to the
contest's entry submission deadline.
Even the "open" contests may limit the maximum number of entries they
are willing to accept and process, usually with preference going to
returning entrants. Virtually none of the contests are staffed to a
level that would support 100 entries, much less 1,000 or 10,000.
This is something that you should check into well before you start
preparing your entry for a given contest.
- Entry Submission — How do you correspond?
If it is an internet-based contest you would assume that E-mail is
the preferred method of correspondence. A few still accept entries
via snail mail; fewer still accept entries via fax or by personal
Also, how close to the start of the contest period must your entry
be in-hand by the contest organizers? One minute, one hour, one day?
Depending upon the permitted submission methods you may need to have
your entry prepared, completed and ready for submission as much as
a week in advance.
- The Payoff — Professional or Amateur?
Contests fall into two categories: Professional (you pay an entry fee
and winners expect a payout) or Amateur (no entry fee but no financial
payout to the winners).
The Amateur contests provide strictly ego awards, like playing poker
for match sticks & cleaning all of the other players out. The
Professional contests can have small to rather large payouts, depending
upon several factors that include:
- The contest Entry fee. How much is it? Anything above $10 U.S. should
be viewed as suspicious unless the contest has a long history of
meeting its payout obligations at the end of the contest year. A
$25 entry fee should be the absolute upper limit of an entry fee for
any contest, anywhere. Beyond that amount the local authorities might
just decide that the contest is an illegal gambling operation. How
would you feel about a local newspaper running a story that identified
you by name and said that you had bet $50 on whether some people would
live or die? (in 2010 we saw one - new - contest that required this
amount as an entry fee amount)
- Magnitude of payout. Is the payout for each finishing position a
fixed percentage of the entry fees collected (parimutual) or is the
payout a fixed dollar amount? You might be wary of a contest that
has a single prize (say, $100 for first place), a $10 entry fee, and
100 entrants vying for the sole prize. Such a contest reward structure
indicates that the contest is being run for the financial benefit of the
contest organizer, not necessarily the contest entrants. A small contest
of 10 to 25 entrants should still pay out at least 75% of the entry
fees; the larger the contest, the larger the payout, preferably with
numerous consolation prizes for 2nd, 3rd, 4th, ...etc.
Our advice on the Professional contests is to treat the entry fee as
"gone", with no expectation of ever seeing a dime in the future. If you
do get some kind of payout, fine, otherwise, play the game for
the fun of it with no expectation of monetary reward, timely or otherwise
(the participants in past Stiffs.com games
found this out the hard way). A whole bunch of people just wouldn't let
it go and wound up polluting the stiffs message board and other venues
with their griping. Let it go, people — it wasn't as if your house
payment was on the line.
- Pool Size — How large is the pool that you may score from?
All contests limit the number of individuals that you may place on
your list of potential "hits" (or "kills" or whatever the term is in
your contest). Small pools don't give you much room for error; large
pools are a pain for the organizers to administer, plus our experience is
that the larger the pool gets, the lower the success percentage gets for
the list. A short, quality list should perform
better than a large, carelessly selected list.
On the low end, a few contests limit an entrant's pool to a single
name; at the other end as many as 100 names might be listed on a few
contest entries. For
Caskets on Parade
the pool size is 75. Over the years the general pool size for most
contests has been in the 10 to 25 range, with 20 being a very popular
pool size limit.
- Filling Your Pool — How is your Scoring Pool selected?
If you are familiar with
rotisserie baseball leagues
you understand the concept of a
"draft" — a
potential "hit" can only be selected by a single entrant. Contests that
employ this list selection procedure tend to be very cumbersome to enter ...
just think of how long the NBA or
NFL draft runs on
ESPN. For a small (limited) number
of entrants that all live in geographic proximity, this kind of selection
procedure can work — they all get together at a bar and hash out their
lists. Try the same thing for, say, 50 entrants in a chat room with a list
than can be upwards of 20 names long; it might take 24 hours or more to
complete the "draft."
Most of the pools on the net are non-exclusive pools; that is, all
entrants may select Usamah bin Laden
and score on him when he is finally taken out.
- Re-Filling Your Pool — If someone dies does your list automatically "refill"?
A number of the contests that have smaller pool sizes permit a kind
of "taxi squad", a secondary list of potential
Victims that can
replace someone on your list that has died. These lists of subsititue
names can range in size from one to ten names.
- Scoreability Criterion — If someone on your list dies, will they "Count"?
If each and every human on planet Earth were a legitimate
prediction most contests would fold from boredom. All of the existing
contests specify some form of "notability"
consideration before awarding points for a death.
The most frequently used criterion is publication by "the media" of the
death. If the Associated Press moves the obit, it counts. Other contests
may require two or more publications to be a valid "kill". In the case
of Caskets on Parade
we require publication of three obits, one each in three different media
categories. from a pool of six potential categories.
The validating authorities are often geographical in scope - media in
North America may not publish many of the modestly obscure obits that are
big news in Europe or Asia. If the contest URL or Scoring Criteria FAQ
doesn't give you a clue about the geographical base of the contest be
sure to contact the contest administrator well before the
entry submission deadline.
- Scoreability Exclusions — Whom can't you score on?
Many contests have exclusions from scoring for one or more categories
of Grim Reaper
death row inmates, terminal cancer
patients, spouses of famous people, etc. Be sure you have determined the
exclusion categories before creating your list.
- Scoring Categories — Single or Multiple?
Most of the contests that are run score & reward a single standard
of achievement - a points system based upon age at death of
Caskets on Parade
Contest has four scoring categories (Total Points,
Number of Kills,
Solo Kills &
Quality of Kills).
Many contests also have special achievement awards that are based upon
"special" or whimsical considerations. If you are considering an entry
into a professional contest you need to determine how much of a financial
reward will be directed to the Special Category winners - there may be
an inducement to skew your entry list to win that award at the expense
of possibly winning in the main scoring category.
- Valuation of "Hits" — What are they worth?
Virtually all of the contests employ an inverse value point scoring
system — the older the Grim Reaper
Victim was at their
time of death, the lower their point value in the contest.
Some contests employ an award table, listing age ranges and the
whole number of points that may be scored in that range; others
(like Caskets on
Parade) employ a scoring formula: plug in an age
and it cranks out a number - the value of the
In addition to points being awarded based upon the age of the
Victim points may
also be awarded for the uniqueness of selection of a
obviously-sick geezers are going to be predicted by most entrants
while younger, more healthy individuals (albeit in hazardous
occupations) will be predicted by fewer entrants. Many of the
contests will reward a solo pick; the Caskets
on Parade scoring formula accounts for the number of selectors
(another plug-in value) to produce a point value for the uniqueness of
And, various contests will add additional points for hits being the
first or last of the year; as well as happening on the decedent's
birthday; for being the oldest, or youngest, hit of the year; for
being the second, or third, our fourth hit by a player on a given day, ...
all manner of secondary and tertiary point-generating possibilities
- Contest Duration — How long is the Scoring Window?
The bulk of the contests that are out there run for the standard
year. A few have shorter terms ranging from
a month to six months duration. The longer the contest duration
the more competative the contest tends to be. Over the last 30+ years
our experience has been that deaths tend to cluster around
certain times of the year — running a contest for a brief period
of time results in feast or famine scoring for the entrants, with
the "best" entry lists not necessarily winning out over otherwise
mediocre (but fortuitously-timed) lists.
- Contest Feedback — How may you find out how you are doing?
At an absolute minimum the contest organizers should post an
Update of Contest Standings on a
quarterly basis (25% of the contest duration). For a year-long contest
monthly updates would be appropriate.
For internet-based contests a "Current
Standings" page should be adequate — with the explosion of spam
it might be preferrable to not send out regular E-mails, instead
relying on the contestants to check in on their own at their convinience.
Another useful feature that a contest can provide is a
database of past deaths that contestants
may use as a research tool in the preparation of upcoming entry lists.
The more online documentation that is available the easier it is to
evaluate the progress of the contest.
- The Rules — Stable, accessible, understandable?
Any contest worth entering should have a comprehensive set of rules.
The rules should be available at least one month prior to the
start of the contest list submission period. Once people start
submitting entries for the contest there should be no changes to
the rules; mid-contest rule changes make amateur contests look bad;
mid-contest rule changes make professional contests stink. As an
entrant you are expected to plan ahead (sweat the details) for your
submission list; you should expect no less
from the contest organizers.
It should not be necessary to submit the contest rules to your
attorney so that they can interpret & explain them. Unfamiliar
terms should be defined, either as part of the rules or through a
reference to a page of definitions.
- Rulemaking / Arbitration Procedures - Where do you lodge a complaint?
How much "wiggle room" exists in the existing rule
set — are there obvious flaws in the rules that some entrants are
exploiting to "game the system" and pull far ahead of the rest of the pack?
In a contest where rule interpretation is dubious or bizarre the contest is
doomed to end in bickering and rancor.
Check to see if multiple years worth of contest rules are available
for inspection - if available, read them over and see how much change
occurs from year to year. A well thought out contest tends to have
more detailed rules, and the changes that do occur from year to year
tend to be minor, or are made to address flaws that were discovered
during the administration of the previous year's contest.
Also — who (or whom) is the arbitrating
body — one person, two people, a whole raft of them ... again,
long term stability of the contest's judicial body should be a gauge
of the desireability of entering the contest.
- Contest History — Will "they" be around at the end of the contest?
Obviously a first-year contest is at a strong disadvantage if it
starts out on the internet; the existing contests that have been around
on the internet since the mid-1990s had already been around in offices
and through the mails for a number of years (a small group have been around
for 20 years or more).
Entrants into non-commercial contests only have their time to lose if the
contest folds in mid-duration; Professional contest entrants, on the other
hand, stand to lose their entry fee if the contest folds. Professional
contests should be avoided in their early years unless the entry fee
is truly modest ($5 or less). As the contest organizers establish a track
record of making their payoff commitments you may feel more confident
that a larger fee would be warranted.
Lastly, remember that most of the contests that you will run across are
being run as much for the "fun of it" as anything else — even in the
most egregious circumstances you should not get out of control with
the contest, contest operators, contest participants or governmental agencies.
Chill out, get a grip, and walk away if necessary. Act like a mature adult,
not a petulant teenager.
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