I watched a cable-tv movie this evening called The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio. I was struck how we don't have contests anymore that actually use skill. I remember being a horse-mad 9 year old, back home in England, and entering the WH Smith "Win a Pony" contest (numerous times). For one whole summer my spare time was filled with schoolgirl dreams of my very own pony...and trying to find the words to complete a catchy phrase "in twenty-five words or less". Something to attract the attention of the judges, something that would say "This little girl deserves to win the pony, with a year's supply of feed..."
I remind myself of Ralphie and his desire for a Red Ryder BB Gun (the one with the real sights and a compass in the stock).
Needless to say I didn't win - my hat is off to my mother who was suitably disappointed to my face, although no doubt privately rejoicing. Well, c'mon - I was 9 years old, she knew who would have been the one "mucking out" but didn't stand in the way of my daydreams.
I entered again the following year, and this time my entry won one of the runner-up prizes. It was a one of first ever television game consoles that played such classics as "Pong" and a half dozen other games. I was thrilled! I never did learn which of my entries was the actual winning slogan - but it was a prize I had actually worked for...and earned at least. By comparison today's contests seem to be merely ballots filled in with name, address and telephone number (oh how the telemarketing companies love them!) - occasionally there is a "skill testing" mathematical question - but other than that, the only skill needed is knowing which side of the stamp to lick...and even those are self-adhesive these days.