The Fishin' Magicians

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Published on: Oct. 2, 1999

Last revision: Nov. 3, 2010

It is a warm, steamy Saturday afternoon at Bennett Spring State Park. Tents for the annual Fly Fishing Conclave are set up on a wide space of lawn. In the big one next to the casting pools, a game show of sorts is getting underway.

The audience waits as a white-haired, veteran fisherman, his hat bristling with trout flies, reaches into a clear plastic bag, pulls out a small piece of paper and hands it to the emcee. She unfolds it and reads him the question it contains.

"Gar are native only to the United States and are a primitive species whose ancestors lived millions of years ago. The world record alligator gar was caught in the Rio Grande in Texas in 1951. How much did it weigh?"

The fisherman--a sign on his podium says his name is Dave--looks thoughtful.

"Uh, 374 pounds," he guesses. A slide whistle sound from just offstage confirms what everyone already anticipates: he's wrong.

"I'm sorry, but the correct answer is 279 pounds," announces the emcee. "Give Janice one of your bobbers."

Dave hands his opponent one of the plastic fishing floats contained in a pouch he holds. The emcee allows Janice to fish out a question of her own and reads it to her.

"Imagine you are on a fishing trip in June. The temperature is 82 degrees. The sky is cloudy and the water temperature is 72 degrees. Which one of the following would be the best fish bait? A) A worm. B) Mashed potatoes. C) Peanut butter and jelly sandwich."

"Peanut butter and jelly." Janice chuckles. "No, a worm, of course." A bell rings energetically offstage signalling a correct answer, and the audience breaks into applause.

Dave gives Janice another bobber. "I don't think I'm going to do too well here... ." he says to the audience.

No, Dave is not going to do too well. Like dozens of confident contestants before him--experts playing against novices, newlywed husbands playing against their wives, fathers playing against their 8-year-old sons--he is going to lose this round of "Bobberama." He is going to lose because game designers Steve Craig and Amy D. Short--"The Fishin' Magicians"--have rigged it that way.

"Okay, Dave, let's try again," says Short. Dave pulls another question out of the bag and offers it to her. "You can read over my shoulder if you like: "Carp were introduced into the United States from Europe in 1879. These fish are members of the minnow family.

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