(Or, rather, how I leveraged the Wisdom of the Crowd)
In the late eighties, there was a great music program I loved listening to after school (in a channel called ‘Zahal 2’. Strangely, the Israeli Defense Forces had the best music station in Israel).
An hour into the show, they would have a few callers from the audience dial-in, pick a number between 1-100 and asked to answer a random music-related question. The prize? 5 cassette of the newest music in the stores. A very lucrative prize in the eighties, especially for a 12-years old kid. The problem? I had zero knowledge about bands, songs, or any type of music-related trivia (sadly, I managed to stay ignorant until today). But I really wanted to win these 5 tape-cassettes!
Luckily, I noticed a potential bug in the system – the questions may have been random, but if someone picked a number and did not know the right answer, the question was not changed. Now that’s something I was able to exploit!
I listened a few days in a row, marking down the questions and their respective numbers. Once I had three unanswered questions, I was ready to go.
I opened the phone book, under the category DJ. I randomly called five different DJs, introduced myself, and told them I was doing a survey on DJs’ knowledge of music trivia, presented them with the questions and jotted down the answers. Voilà! I had all three answers. Easier than I thought. I should have coined the crowdsourcing term back then and reach eternal fame.
Instead, I focused on step 2, which really was the most difficult part: manage to go on air. No crowd-sourcing here, but hours of endlessly dialing the show’s number, using an analog dial- phone. Busy signal for hours.
And then it happened, a week after I started my quest – a production assistant answered the phone! I was put on hold for twenty minutes, and I went live. I picked the number 87. I don’t remember the question, but I do remember the answer: The Police! The host confirmed the right answer, and was amazed that such a young kid knew it.
End of story: the cassettes never arrived. Maybe they were never sent, maybe they got lost in the mail, or even stolen by someone along on the way. I waited a week, two weeks. And then I forgot about the whole ordeal, because apparently it was not so much about the cassettes, but more about cleverly hacking the system.