Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Insanity times 5

I regret that I haven’t chronicled more of the stories from my life. They’re probably not that great, but I’ve forgotten too many of the details.

I’d like to think I’m a good storyteller because I try to paint a vivid picture with lots of details and context. I imagine many people would tell you I’m too good with the details and context and not nearly as good of a storyteller as I think I am. I do hate to leave anything out, and I do have a habit of making a long story longer, but I can often weave a fascinating tale.

I have told tales about my buddy Roast Beef many times, to many people, and those are stories most people don’t complain about after the fact. That’s because Roast Beef’s life is far more entertaining than mine. Usually I’m thankful for that.

With all that in mind, I’m sorry to say I don’t remember all the details of my 100-mile bicycling days. For most of them, the story isn’t that interesting anyway, but I do wish I remembered more of the details from my first 100-mile ride. I have told the story more than once, but after all these years the details are a bit sketchy. It's a great story, and I’ll do my best to recreate it here.

So here, finally, is a recount of my five 100-mile bike rides. They’re not ranked in any order, they’re presented in reverse chronology simply because the first is still the best tale of perseverance.

5. In July 2006 I spent a weekend in northern Minnesota, staying with friends at their lake place. There’s a nice bike trail that starts near their lake, a trail that runs 56 miles. It’s paved the entire way and is one of those old railroad bed trails, so it’s very flat. I had biked part of it during previous trips and longed to bike the entire distance.

The drawback to the quest is that it’s often windier in the plains of northern Minnesota, so it’s hard to find a day where wind isn’t a factor. And in July chances are it’s going to be hot, too hot to be bicycling all day, unless you get started at 6 a.m.

But last summer I picked a magical weekend. I went on a weekend that was average, not above average like most weekends last July. And the wind was minimal that day. So at 10 a.m. that Saturday I set out to cover the entire trail. Fortunately it passes through enough small towns from start to finish that I can stop every couple of hours at a convenience store for a snack and cold water to refill my water bottles.

I had a cell phone with me to call my friends in case my bike didn’t hold up. (I assumed I’d get a signal wherever I was.) I paused at the northwest end of the trail to call my friends and let them know I made it that far. Then I headed back.

With minimal wind to compete with all day I managed an impressive 17.1 mph for the entire 113.5-mile trip. I was back at the lake by 6 p.m.

That was my longest single day of biking. I remember watching my mileage as I approached 100 miles, knowing that nifty round number is magical to distance bicyclists. (We like to call it a "century.") My celebration was tempered a bit by the fact I had 13 miles left to get back to the lake.

That weekend I also biked 50 miles on Friday evening and Sunday morning, putting my three-day total at 213 miles. Not too shabby, and not too difficult, either.

4. It was Father’s Day in June 2005 when I decided to push myself a weekend after the MS150. On the second day of the MS150 we use most of a 24-mile bike trail to travel south. I got up earlier than I could possibly care to that Sunday in order to drive 30 miles to an access point near the middle of the trail and start of a series of two round trips.

I was on the trail around 7 a.m. and it was already a bit windy. The wind was coming out of the south. I started by biking north 16 miles. Wow, that was fun. Turning around and traveling south was far more challenging. I took my first break back at my car, with 32 miles down. I rested, refilled the water bottles and headed south for the remaining eight miles. Again, it was tough, but then I had 24 miles of wind-assisted riding to look forward to, with another rest stop at my car thrown in.

As I headed north the second time I didn’t worry about traveling south a second time. I turned around at the north point of the trail and started to regret my quest. I had biked 64 miles and now I had to go 16 miles just to get back to my car.

I stopped at a small park about eight miles down the trail. I was rather fatigued. Even after resting I didn’t have it in me to go another eight miles. I stopped at a convenience story about four miles from my car. When I finally made it back to the car I was really tired, and 20 miles from my goal.

I rested and refilled, again, and decided I couldn’t give up, despite the wind. At that point I knew that if I toughed it out by traveling south to the end of the trail I’d have a great ride back to the car. So I did it.

And at the south end of the trail I stopped at another convenience store. I remember the attendant asking me how much I had bicycled. He was surprised when my response was 90 miles.

The last miles north were quick and easy, and thoroughly enjoyed. I was a couple of miles short of 100 at that point so I biked through a nearby neighborhood to reach the magic number. It was about 4 p.m. by the time I was done, but it was time well spent in retrospect.

3. In August 2004 Margaret and I spent a weekend in Northfield, which is south of the Twin Cities, ironically. Every August the Twin Cities Bicycle Club organizes a weekend of bicycle riding somewhere. It’s based in a college town so they can work out a deal with the local college to provide cheaper accommodations than the local motels.

The club maps out a few different loops of varying difficulty and length while using a town park as the base of operations. You bike a loop, come back to the park and hit the snack buffet. Then you either call it a day or head out on another loop.

On that Saturday there were three loops that totaled 100 miles or so if you did them all. Margaret and I did two of them. At that point she wanted to quit. I really wanted to do the third, even though it was mid-afternoon. She opted to wait at the park and read her book while I went out and biked another 30 miles.

The routes aren’t supported and there are less than 200 people who participate in the event, so you don't see a lot of other riders on the road during these loops.

While the base is supposed to be staffed until all riders have returned, (you sign a sheet to let them know what route you’re riding and when you’ve completed it,) when I rolled in at 5 p.m. there was nobody to be found, other than Margaret.

The area had a lot of rolling hills, so it wasn’t an easy day of riding, but in the end I tallied 102 miles or so and was glad to have pushed myself to ride a third loop on my own. Amazingly Margaret and I biked 60 miles the next day.

2. I think it was September 2002 when I completed my second century ride. (I have a shirt somewhere commemorating the year. Off the top of my head I cannot remember it definitively.)

Margaret and I were part of a group that headed up north for a weekend getaway near Park Rapids, Minn.

We picked the weekend when the Headwaters 100 was taking place. It’s a one-day bike ride that offers a few options for bicycling, with the longest being 100 miles. The routes go through Itasca State Park, famous as the headwaters of the Mississippi River.

It was around the third weekend in September and not surprisingly it was kind of cool at 8 a.m. that Saturday. I think it was about 35 degrees. I had a long-sleeve top, but I was biking in shorts. My legs can tolerate the cold, but I remember thinking I’d never survive because my fingers were quite cold, even with bicycling gloves.

Despite the early morning cold weather it warmed up enough to be tolerable. We biked many rolling hills through the day, averaging better than 15 mph and finishing our day, about 102 miles, around 4 p.m.

1. My first organized bike trip was The Ride Across Minnesota (TRAM) in 1997. It’s an MS Society of Minnesota bike trip that spans five days and 300 miles. I became rather curious about it in 1994 when I wrote a story about a father, his teenage son and his son’s friend after they completed the ride. I was working in a small town in western Wisconsin so the fact the three of them participated in the TRAM was a story in Small Town, America.

I remember being amazed that the teenagers completed the ride. I moved to Canada in December 1994 and started bicycling regularly one summer because my knee was quite sore from the pounding it was taking from daily running.

Fast forward to May 1997 and I’m moving back to the Twin Cities, without a job. It seemed like a great summer to train for a TRAM.

I enjoyed it so much I took a week of vacation from my newspaper job in July 1998 to do it again.

I remember seeing a bonus loop on a daily map in 1997, showing a route you could do to complete a 100-mile day. This was during a day we biked about 81 miles to get to our destination. Biking 100 miles had no appeal to me in 1997, but knowing it was some sort of mystical bicycling goal by the time the 1998 TRAM rolled around, I decided I wanted to give it a try.

The 1998 century was offered on a day we biked about 76 miles. There are so many people camping during these bike trips that it’s hard to sleep past 5 a.m. because some people just have to get up before the crack of dawn to pack up their tent.

That July day I was on the road by 6:30 a.m., hitting the rest stops every 12 to 15 miles. I was at 50 miles by 10 a.m. and thinking, “hey, this is going to be an easy 100-mile day.”

I hit the rest stop at the 50-mile mark and decided my rear tire could use a little bit more air. Just a bit.

Each rest stop has a mobile bike shop set up to make on-the-road repairs. I used a pump at the rest stop to top off the air pressure in my tire and promptly blew the tube. And it was loud, like a shotgun. My ear was ringing.

So I had the bike shop replace my tube. I had to wait a bit, unfortunately, but so be it.

They replaced my tube and I was ready to roll. As I walked my bike toward the road to resume my ride my rear wheel stopped spinning. I looked at the tire and saw the tube was bulging at a spot on the rim, and had pushed the tire out of the rim. I carried the bike back to the mobile shop and stood there to have the tire fixed when the tube blew. The mechanics looked up and were surprised to see me standing there.

They replaced the tube, again, and I bought a new tire from them, since it seemed like my rear tire was a bit worn out. They set me up and I departed again. This time I made it a few miles down the road. I was biking up a long hill when my rear tire blew, again.

The best thing about the MS rides are that they have so many people participating, and so many volunteers providing support along the route that within a couple of minutes a motorcycle chaperone stopped to check on me. He radioed for a SAG wagon to come pick me up. I said I’d be willing to go back a few miles to the previous rest stop to try rather than be driven ahead to the next stop along the route.

Naturally the mechanics were surpised, and disappointed, to see me yet again. They gave me my third new tube of the day and also replaced the rubber strip around the interior of my rim, thinking perhaps the old one was worn out and causing a puncture. I told them if I blew a fourth tube I was calling it a day.

So after three flat tires I was on the road again. By now it’s noon and I had lost two hours of time. I was still 25 miles or so from the daily campsite and I still wanted to bike 100 miles.

Thankfully I didn’t blow a fourth tube. Unfortunately I blew a rear spoke somewhere along the way. While my wheel was a bit out of shape, I was able to continue riding on it, which isn’t something you can automatically do when a spoke breaks.

I made it to the finish, finally, around 2 p.m. and promptly sought out the bike shop. I left my bike there while I went to set up my tent, which needed to dry out a bit since it was wet at 6 a.m. when I packed it up.

My spoke was replaced before 3 p.m., so I decided I could still hit the 25-mile bonus loop to complete my 100-mile quest. I should have been done with 100 miles before 3 p.m. and yet I was just starting the bonus loop. A lot of people who were slower than me were doing the bonus loop, and it was supported until 5 p.m., so it’s not as if I was the last one out there.

As I departed the campsite for the bonus loop I wasn’t more than three miles into my quest when it started to pour. It didn’t rain, it poured, like salt on my open wounds. What the hell was I doing out there at that point?

But I couldn’t turn back, I determined, so I continued, hit the rest stop on the bonus loop, bought a root beer float and proceeded to finish. I was soaked and dirty when I pulled in at the end of my day. I looked like a drowned rat. I got a pin for my effort, acknowledging I biked 100 miles in the fight against MS. I earned it, and I still have it to this day.

It was sunny by 6 p.m. so my tent was able to dry out, again. I went to the beer garden at that night’s destination and sat down to rest. A guy I had met earlier that week saw me, and commented that it looked like the lights were on, but nobody was home, or something like that. He determined I needed a beer, and bought me one. I detailed my story to him, and I’m sure it was more than he bargained for.

Physically it wasn’t my toughest day of riding, but mentally it was probably the second toughest I have faced. The details are a bit fuzzy nine years after the fact, but I’m OK with that. Imagine how long this story would be if I had written it the week after my bike trip.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

One for the annals

I don’t have nearly as much to look forward to for the next four weekends, and that’s unfortunate.

This weekend will be one of those that will stick with me for a long time. Rush and Chip finally got to meet.

Chip rolled into town late Friday afternoon and met me at the office. Rush was done working for the day, but hung around to meet Chip. They briefly met, and it was unexciting.

Our tickets on Friday were courtesy of my brother, who used his company’s mighty connections to provide us with both a pre-game spread and seats inside the company suite. The Fonz drank one too many beers during the evening, but it’s hard not to when they’re gratis. Note, I drank one too many, not a few too many. After spending time drinking post-game diet soda I was fine to drive. I know I drank one too many because I felt it on Saturday morning when I woke up.

The Brewers crushed the Twins on Friday night, so it was a lot of fun for Chip and me. (Any Twins defeat typically benefits my lackluster White Sox so I usually root for the visitors.) We had to call Rush from the suite and pour salt on his wounds when the Brewers tallied 8 runs. He said any team that couldn’t score 10 runs off the combination of Twins starting pitcher Scott Baker and Twins disgraced starter-turned-reliever “Razor” Ramon Ortiz should be embarrassed. I noted it was only the 8th inning, and to be careful what you wish for. Final score: Brewers 11, Minnesota 3.

Chip ran around with me on Saturday. We had hoped to tour a brewery, but that fell through. I had a few things to do, however, so we killed much of the day rather easily. We wanted to get downtown before traffic got heavy around the big inflatable toilet, so we were there by 5 p.m.

Rush took Minnesota’s lackluster version of rail transit to the game since he lives a few blocks from the end of the line at the Mall of America. He joined, Chip, German Bear and me at the game. The three of us went to college together and while I see and talk to both Chip and the Bear regularly, they don’t otherwise keep in touch, so I’m often a conduit between them. German Bear also lives north of the Twin Cities, making it more challenging for the two of them to get together when Chip does make it to God’s Country. It has been four or five years since the two of them saw each other. Not surprising as it had been three years since Chip has made it to Minnesota.

Saturday’s tickets were courtesy of my crappy newspaper conglomerate, although the honchos don’t know they provided them. I pulled strings with one of my friends who has access to the tickets. These seats were far enough down the third base line that I wouldn’t pay $20 for them, let alone the $42 they allegedly were worth on Saturday, but they were better than having to pay for seats, and I know Chip appreciated saving a few bucks on his expenses this weekend.

There were plenty of Brewers fans at the toilet for the series, and it was fun to cheer for them. It was a low scoring game for most of Saturday night, with Chip, Rush and I trading barbs. The Brewers scratched out a few runs in the late innings and won 5-2. Rush predicted a 5-3 Twins victory. I kept asking him during the late innings if he needed Pepto, suggesting I had some in my car. I know he was dying to pile it on Chip during this game, so he wasn’t a happy camper. The fact the Twins couldn’t beat Dave “Burning” Bush made it all the more painful for Rush. Poor bastard.

Chip took off by mid-morning Sunday because he had to head to La Crosse for Father’s Day before returning to Stinktown.

So what did I do after Chip left? I biked 33.5 miles. I had taken two days off and I couldn’t let a dry, albeit hot, weekend go by the wayside without one ride. The forecast called for stinkin’ hot and windy conditions today and that was the case by 11 a.m.

The wind was blowing against me on the westbound return to my apartment. Those were 9 slow miles, but in the end I averaged 15.4 mph, so I was rather pleased. Then I spent a couple of hours cooling off and watching the Twins crush Stinktown.

Yet somehow the Brew Crew overcame a 9-2 deficit, thanks in part to a Prince Fielder inside-the-park home run. Rush likes to rip on Fielder because of his size, so after the Brewers tied the game I had to call him and mock his squad. It was bad enough his team gave up what is sure to be the only inside-the-park home run in his career, but it came thanks to light hitting Lew Ford, who has no business being on a Major League roster. That only infuriated Rush more. I told him that even if the Twins win the game, he should be embarrassed by his squad.

We hadn’t even stopped talking when the Twins’ Justin Morneau hit a solo home run in the bottom of the 9th. I mocked Rush’s squad for their excessive celebration at home plate. A win is a win, but it’s hard to celebrate when you blow a 7-run lead, at least in my world. But I guess I’m a pessimist who looks at the big picture not an optimist who lives in the moment.

I guess when you haven’t had reason to celebrate all weekend and you nearly have the bread taken out of your mouth on Sunday you’ll celebrate a win any way you can get it, embarrassing or otherwise.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Joker, joker, and a triple

1. So last night the Brewers were no-hit by Detroit. I was at a minor league baseball game in St. Paul.

I had three or four messages from Chip when I was driving home. Each one more bizarre and perplexing than the last.

The best one was where he thanked me, repeatedly, for the fact the White Sox couldn’t beat the Phillies, which would have helped his Brewers, evidently. The only conclusion I can draw is that he has already given up on the Brewers winning the NL Central and is now concerned about the wild card berth in the NL playoffs. Philadelphia, after all, is in the NL East.

Tonight he tried to argue he doesn’t rule anything out, and roots against every NL team in interleauge play. Funny, a while ago he was so high on the Brewers he was ready to crown their asses (copyright Denny Green) as NL Central champions.

He has lost his mind. He’s a sick man. And he’s coming to Minnesota on Friday.

2. It’s amazing how quick and easy 20 miles of relatively flat bicycling is a few days after a 147-mile weekend.

3. I have been trying to work at home each morning this week so I can keep an eye on the final episodes of The Price is Right. Bob’s final show airs Friday. Today Bob lost track of how many games they had played. I’m very glad he’s retiring. He has missed a step far too many times in recent years.

Sunday, June 10, 2007


Overall it was a good ride this weekend.

This is the fourth consecutive year I’ve biked the MS150. There’s no such thing as a perfect weekend when it comes to biking from Duluth, Minn., to the Twin Cities. This year proved to be no exception, but I’m not complaining.

It seems like every year we get rained on during our Friday afternoon trip from the cities to the Duluth area. One year it rained about five minutes after leaving the parking area. One year it didn’t rain until we got halfway up the freeway. Another year it was raining when we arrived in Duluth. This year it was sunny and mild, but rather windy upon arrival. That made setting the tent up a bit of a challenge, but at least it was dry.

Each year I ride with Margaret, a friend I met several years ago on a different bike trip, a trip that was discontinued after 2001. Since 2004 we’ve made the MS150 an annual biking weekend. We normally set up our own tents, but thanks to the wind we helped each other out.

There had been a wind advisory for the Duluth area through Friday evening, and by 10 p.m. it had died down. It wasn’t very windy at 5:30 a.m. Saturday, either. But there was enough wind coming out of the south through the morning that it proved to be a challenge for most of our ride that day. The route is essentially north to south both days.

Last year we didn’t get rained on much over the weekend, but it was about 35 degrees when we woke up Saturday morning, and it was so cool I wore my windbreaker for the entire ride, both days. That’s highly unusual since I’m a veritable furnace. Last year the wind was out of the north on Saturday, however, so it pushed us all the way down the bike trail we use for most of Saturday’s ride. We averaged better than 17 mph for our 70+ miles that day.

This year it was warm enough in the morning that I could ride with only a short-sleeve shirt, which was a good thing because I didn’t even bring my windbreaker. But the wind cut into us enough during the day that I finished 73 miles with a 14.9-mph average. I don’t like biking bright and early when its 40 degrees, but last year was a much more enjoyable Saturday ride because it was so quick and easy.

This year Sunday’s ride was better than our Saturday ride. (Sunday always feels like more of a chore for various reasons.) On Saturday evening the forecast called for wind out of the south at 10 to 20 mph, but at 6:50 a.m. Sunday there was no sign of wind. At the halfway point the current conditions in the Twin Cities had the wind at 6 mph. Not too bad. It picked up toward the end of the ride, and it got hot after noon on Sunday, but we did rather well, averaging better than 16 mph for the day. I’m glad we were done by 1 p.m., it was a scorcher this afternoon.

Sunday’s route ended at 74 miles, meaning the total for the weekend was 147. I was fine with that. I obsess slightly about numbers, but I was tired enough not to care that we came up three miles short this year. Most years we end up a little over 150.

Every year I wonder why I keep pushing myself to do it. Why do I insist on putting myself through the early mornings, waiting in line for the mass feedings and the unpredictable weather that we have to bike in? Part of me says I have to know I can still do it, but sometimes I wonder if I can keep it up for another 10 or 20 years.

Yet each year I see numerous people who work a lot harder than I do, and I feel like a moron for wanting to throw in the towel. I don’t have the fanciest, most expensive road bike, but I ride a pretty decent clip most of the day. On Saturday I estimated we beat 85 percent of the riders to the finish line, and there were about 3,300 riders this year, I heard.

The problem is that I can’t take it slow and easy, I have to be working as much as possible. Some years I’ve penalized myself by working too hard in the first 25 miles. I end up paying for it in the last 25 miles. That’s when I question why I do it.

Then I see the people who are 75 or 100 pounds overweight, the guys (although not many) who are twice my age and the riders who are on bikes that aren’t designed for 75 miles of riding. This year I saw a guy riding a three-wheel bike, a guy riding a hand-crank bike and a guy pulling a Burley the entire way, to name a few. These people are working harder than me, for one reason or another, and yet I doubt my own ability and want to retire from the event. That makes me ill.

Then there are the young children riding behind a parent’s bike. When I was a child you could have never convinced me to bike 75 miles, even on one of those detachable tandem bikes. Yet these kids are out there for hours. It’s amazing.

And most of the people I see riding under such circumstances know they’ll be out there for eight hours or more, automatically. I was on the road for about six hours each day, including rest stops. Some of these folks I see skip breakfast and start before I do because they may be on the road until 4 or 5 p.m.

When I see a rider who is 75 pounds overweight and riding a slow bike I am stunned because they have to know they’re going to be out there all day . And on Sunday that meant enduring heat in the upper 80s, assuming they didn’t take the SAG wagon to the finish.

Those to me are the real champions in the fight against multiple sclerosis, not a candy ass like me.

Monday, June 4, 2007

The beginning is near

This weekend, rain or shine, I will be biking 150 miles.

I enjoy the challenge, especially early in the summer, as it gives me incentive to bicycle early and often when it gets warm. I haven’t been out as often as I should have been this spring, so my bicycling won’t be as strong as it should be this weekend, but I’ll finish, that shouldn’t be a problem.

The weekend before the MS150 is typically a final tune up. It falls between my camping weekend and the MS150, and I rarely seem to have plans that weekend, so it’s a good weekend for bicycling. Despite occasional showers and regular threats of rain I biked 51 miles on Saturday and 50 miles on Sunday. I ran into mild sprinkles at the end of Sunday’s ride, but otherwise I was very fortunate in my travels.

I am tentatively heading to Stinktown the weekend of Friday, Aug. 3. The Phillies will be in town, so I’ll be able to catch National League baseball during my trip.

I don’t have a lot planned in July, but three weekends in August are tentatively booked. The only thing I have planned for July is a long weekend up north, and plenty of bicycling while I’m there. If everything goes according to plan in July I hope to bike 1,000 miles that month. Last July I biked 670 miles, so obviously I’m raising the bar quite a bit, but I hope to take more time off this July than I did last July.

I don’t typically take a lot of time off in the summer, and it’s stupid not to, since I have to burn off my vacation days by the end of the year. That’s typically what I do, but I hope not to be working for the company by the end of the year, so I’d better enjoy the summer as much as possible.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

The Password is: boring

I’m near the end of my 10-tape collection of old game shows. Some of the tapes have been highly entertaining, some have been mediocre, but at $1.50 per tape, delivered, it has been well worth the investment. I’ll probably watch most, if not all, of them again because I tend to watch them while doing something else, only stopping occasionally to fixate on the action.

Watching episodes of The Price is Right from the 1970s and ‘80s is quite entertaining. It is interesting to see new cars that are priced less than $10,000. During the earliest episodes of the show a car was valued at less than $3,000. Periodically I’d see foreign cars offered on old shows. I’m not sure when that ended, but if you watch an episode of today’s TPIR you will only see cars from American manufacturers. I’m not sure when I realized this, but I noticed it several years ago. The show has given away numerous Chrysler PT Cruisers in recent years, but never a Volkswagen Beetle. (I thought I heard VW stopped making the Beetles, again. And I haven’t seen as may PT Cruisers on the road lately, or heard much about them. Did Chrysler stop making those?)

Although I can’t remember the price of grocery items or furniture from years past, I can still try to play along with pricing games. That lack of knowledge just makes the games that much more challenging.

The bottom line is that I can still play along with the show, whether I’m watching a 2007 episode or a 1977 episode. And to me that’s a key element to a good game show.

Games where you can’t or don’t play along are typically less entertaining to me. I enjoyed watching contestants and celebrities attempting to reach the top of the bonus round pyramid in 60 seconds during the various incarnations of Pyramid, but the main game isn’t that fascinating. You can imagine how you would describe a word to your partner, but that’s not the same as trying to answer questions as they appear on the big board during a game of Jeopardy! or trying to solve the puzzle ahead of the contestants on Wheel of Fortune.

Games where the home audience knows the word or phrase a player is attempting to describe or draw minimizes the entertainment value of the show. Despite that, some shows, such as Password and Pyramid, have been highly successful in multiple incarnations. But I’d rather play along with contestants on classic shows such as Hollywood Squares or Sale of the Century rather than watch shows such as Win, Lose or Draw or Body Language.

Win, Lose or Draw had some success, and was somewhat entertaining to watch simply because people sometimes struggled to convey a word or phrase through their drawings. Body Language, a show that aired for 18 months on CBS in the ‘80s, paired celebrities and contestants in a game of charades. It was rather lame.

Not every quiz show or play-along game is a winner. During the 1990-91 season there was a show called Trump Card, filmed at Trump Castle in Atlantic City, that was basically just a quiz show. It wasn’t horrible, but it wasn’t particularly entertaining or exciting. The bonus game wasn’t spectacular, either, so it doesn’t surprise me it lasted only a season.

Sale of the Century and High Rollers were a lot more fun to watch because they combined elements of luck and spectacle with the traditional quiz format.

In the 1980s incarnation of Sale of the Century the initial bonus round was a bit dull, but through the years the bonus round changed, initially to a game of luck, which provided some excitement, and ultimately to a fast-paced quiz that offered a play-along element. I am not sure why the show hasn’t been broadcast on the Game Show Network, but it should be. The good news is that an updated version of the show, called Temptation, will air this fall.

My favorite game, ironically, is mostly spectacle — the play-along factor is minimal. For my money, Press Your Luck is the best game show of all time.

If I was to produce an update of the show today I’d tweak the format slightly, but for the most part the game, as presented for three years on CBS in the ‘80s, was nearly perfect.

PYL relied minimally upon general knowledge, and even during the general knowledge quizzes a couple of the four questions were relatively easy. That was to ensure each player earned at least one spin of the prize board during both rounds of the game. It wouldn’t be much of a game if the contestants struggled to earn spins.

That flaw aside, the game was quite entertaining, particularly during the second round, as big dollar amounts and numerous bonus spins available on the prize board meant the outcome of the game could swing radically in a short period of time. The play-along factor was limited to asking “what would I do” during spins of the prize board, but damn, that show could be highly entertaining. Not every game was a great one, but many of them were quite exciting through the final spins.

For whatever reason the show failed in its inaugural form on ABC in 1977, when it was called Second Chance. And a short-lived revival as a Game Show Network original game in 2002 didn’t do so well, either. I’ve never seen the original version of the game, but the Game Show Network version had several flaws that made it less entertaining than the CBS version from the ‘80s.

Game shows appeal to people for different reasons. What disappoints me is that viewers today have less choices for game show entertainment on a daily basis than I did in the ‘80s. But thank God Judge Judy (and other judges of her ilk) continues to clog the airwaves. We can learn so much more from her insults than we can from an episode of Tic Tac Dough.