Saturday, July 21, 2007

Dell Urban Challenge

Earlier this week, my sister Amy told me about a promotion Dell was putting on called the Dell Urban Challenge. It sounded like a lame attempt to do an Amazing Race-style competition in 9 cities across the country, Seattle being one of them. I was reluctant at first, but seeing as I had nothing better to do, I decided to be her teammate for the race.

The race began last night with an e-mail clue to where we needed to be by 9am this morning to officially start the race.
Find the Dell Lounge at this nightclub where the main, blue, and card rooms come
together to complete the triad.

Amy easily determined this to be the Trinity Nightclub down in Pioneer Square near 1st and Yesler. She picked me up this morning and we arrived at Trinity around 8:30am. We were the first participants to arrive. We got all registered and had our first real chance to understand the complete rules of the race.

As teams registered, they would be assigned a color group and given corresponding t-shirts. The colors, coincidentally, corresponded to the 8 colors available in Dell's new line of laptop computers, consisting of white, black, yellow, red, blue, green, brown, and pink. Each team would be competing solely against the other teams of that color group on a race around the city. At the start of the race, each team would receive a series of 8 riddles, or clues, to locations around the city. At each stop, you had to get your gamecard stamped with one of the 8 stamps (each again, a color of the new laptop line) and the first team from each color group back to the starting line with all 8 stamps would win 2 brand new Dell Inspiron 1521 laptops, in any color they choose, valued at $1,253 each. Additional rules: any mode of transportation is acceptable, only one person from the team is necessary to get each stamp, but both team members must reach the finish line together.

We were assigned the color Blue and proceeded to wait around while the other teams arrived. We had no clue how many teams would be participating, and heard anything from 100 - 300 teams had pre-registered, depending on who you talked to. We proceeded to scope out the Blue competition, determine who the real threats were, and were convinced that these two bicycle messenger guys looks like the most difficult competition. Around 10am the teams were all assembled at the starting line (a Windows Vista "Start" button, classy), and we there had to have been no more than 30 teams total. That's not much competition! But we identified 5 Blue teams, including ourself, which doesn't take a math genius to determine we had about a 20% chance of winning. Not too bad. Red group was the first to start, 4 teams assembled at the starting line, and off they ran! Next up was the Brown group, but only 3 teams this time! Amy flexed her muscle with the event organizers and the Dell reps there, pointing out that there were 5 blue teams but only 3 or 4 each of the other colors. In the interest of fairness, (or something like that ;-)) Amy and I switched colors to the Yellow group which only had 3 in it. Brown started, next up was Yellow. We threw on yellow t-shirts over our blue ones and lined up at the starting line with the other 3 teams. AND WE'RE OFF!

Having arrived so early, we had parked at a parking meter just across the street from the club. We had the plan, Amy would drive, I would jump out and get the stamps as necessary. The 8 clues were as follows:

Come find this f-oto studio in Pioneer Square, take some pictures and show
your top model flare.

You might understand why there is such a demand if you come to this "Marine
Michaelangelo's" land.

Dancing, drinks and hanging bras; bull riding and cowgirls. Yeehaw.

Its door is one less than four with jazz music that's played around great

The name is the color of some types of grapes, and grapes are the ingredients
of some of its tastes.

This famous wall of stickiness was created because of this theatre where
patrons waited.

On your Qwest to the next location: you'll find us where you can buy sports
gear of the animal that can fly.

In the midst of the busy downtown, just a step off the street; find your Zen
in this small park-retreat. Think water, trees and concrete.

A few were easy, but we wanted to hit them in the most efficient order to save time. Our modus operandi was to keep moving, figuring out the next clue while we're driving to the ones we know. Fortunately, we had both secured our "phone-a-friend" lifelines to handle any Google searching we needed. Amy's friends proved one thing, they can't Google worth a darn. Fortunately I called upon my long-distance phone-a-friend Andrew all the way in Birmingham, Alabama to save the day and do research on those clues we didn't know.

Flying down to 1st Avenue, clue #3 was obviously Cowgirls, Inc. a club Amy knows well, we pulled up to the stop light, I jumped out got the stamp and jumped back in before the light turned green. Following down to the Seahawks team store at Qwest Field, Amy pulled a questionably-legal left turn around a car waiting in the turn lane to knock off clue #7. After a quick spin around back to 1st Avenue, we headed towards the Triple Door jazz club (clue #4) on 2nd and Union, but on our way Andrew decrypted clue #6 to be a reference to the Gum Wall in Post Alley at Pike Place Market. I jumped out and ran a few blocks around to cover the length of Post Alley on foot, only to have that "duh" moment when I realized the clue was referring to the Market Theatre which is at the other end which I later tracked down. We continued up to knock off clue #4 at the Triple Door (which we were the first team overall to reach, always a good sign), and then zigzagged a couple blocks down to 4th and University where Amy knew of a wine bar named "Purple" which was the solution to clue #5. We dropped back down to 1st Avenue, and caught the Wyland Gallery (Wyland is a marine life artist known as the Marine Michaelangelo) which Andrew pointed out was about a block south of the Seattle Art Museum around 1st and Seneca as clue #2. As we were driving south on 1st Ave. we were stopped at a light and looking everywhere, until we looked right to the side of us and saw the trademark lime-green shirts of the Dell challenge workers. I jumped out and got the stamp while Amy maneuvered over to the curb. Back to the car, with only 2 clues left, which we determined were both in Pioneer Square, we high tailed it back and tracked down the Waterfall Park (clue #8) on 2nd and Main. Andrew's incredibly resourceful google searching decrypted clue #1 to be "The F-Stop" photo studio about a block from the finish line. We decided to drop back and park in the same place we started, and while Amy parked the car I ran out to track down the final stamp. After running up and down the block, Amy came back and met up with me, finish line clearly visible across the street, all the staff cheering us on, and we finally found a small non-descript sign above a door. We went down the stairs and found the final stamp there (and much to our surprise, found out that we were the very first team to find it). We got the stamp and raced back across the street in glorious Amazing Race form, to the thunderous cheers of the green-shirted staff waiting to validate our results.

AND IT'S OFFICIAL! If Phil Keoghan from the Amazing Race were there it would go something like this... "Joe and Amy... you're the first team to arrive!" We not only were the first yellow team to arrive, but also the first team overall, defeating both the Red and Brown teams who started before us. Right on our heels the first Red team arrived and Brown shortly thereafter. Much celebration occurred as we all would be the proud recipients of new Dell laptop computers.

The organizers severely underestimated the resourcefulness of the Seattle teams, as they had expected the challenge to take 90 minutes or so, though after our team starting at around 10:12am, we actually finished shortly after 10:45 about 35 minutes later. We have to send in notarized affidavits of eligibility this week and then sometime after will receive information about how to order our new laptops. Woohoo!

The Dell marketing reps who attended the competition were pleased with the results and the excitement of the event. They were in communication with the events going on concurrently in New York, Miami, Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Austin, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, and apparently heard similar positive reports from the other sites (and also a lot more participation than Seattle). Amy and I may have to participate at the next challenge. :)

I don't think we would have been nearly as successful without the successful team of Amy's mad driving skills and her maneuverable Dodge Neon, my crazy running all over, and Andrew's amazing puzzle solving and Googling skills. Andrew will receive an appropriate reward for his services. :)

Much video and photos were taken, and we were told to expect to see a fair bit of post-event promotion on the Dell Lounge website in the coming weeks and months. I'll be sure to post some updates if it appears.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Will It Blend?!

I was introduced to a most outstanding website today...

All I can say is... GENIUS! The site is produced by this company called BlendTec, who coincidentally enough, makes high-quality blenders. It appears that their marketing department decided to backup their claims that their products can "blend anything" by doing just that, blending everything!

They have a series of nearly 60 short episodes of a show they call "Will It Blend?" The episodes fall into two categories "Try this @ Home" and the far more entertaining "Don't Try This @ Home." It is hosted by a man who is purported to work in their labs, and I wouldn't doubt this to be true. But he is the epitome of a cheesy mad scientist. What tops it off is that the episodes are professionally produced and edited, complete with ultra cheesy (and oddly catchy) theme music.

Must see blends:

EZ Cheese
Glow Sticks
Magnets (not so much for the result, but for the comedy)
McDonalds Extra Value Meal (again, not for the result, but this time for the yuck)

Until next time folks, keep it smoothie!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Sing That Tune!

It was an inevitable combination, the beloved pastime of karaoke meets game shows. What couldn't be expected is that two networks premiered different karaoke-themed game shows the same week.

Last night, NBC premiered "The Singing Bee" hosted by former boy band member-turned-dancing star Joey Fatone. The format is much as the title implies, like the familiar spelling bee. A panel of contestants move on by correctly filling in the missing lyrics, or if they miss they're eliminated, until there is one. The winning player plays a "bonus round" of sorts where they can earn the top prize of $50,000 for correctly answering 5 out of 8 missing song lyrics.

The concept is good, and fits well within a half-hour format, and is actually surprisingly entertaining to watch. Joey Fatone is no great host by game show standards, but he is entertaining and fits well with the excitement and theme of the show.

Tonight, not to be out done, FOX premiered "Don't Forget The Lyrics!" hosted by another man known for music, Wayne Brady. While it also has its roots in karaoke, it is vastly different from "Bee". First, it uses the familiar money ladder ripped off from Millionaire, with the top prize of $1,000,000 if you answer 10 missing lyrics correctly. You also have 3 lifelines, or as they are called, "backup singers," if you need help along the way.

Wayne Brady does a decent job and is pretty funny, though you know he just wants to join in and start singing along with them. Also in a half-hour format, it would fit much better stretched into an entire hour. The premiere's contestant only made it through 5 lyrics before the episode completed, and you can't really expect to watch every episode to keep up. If you're going to have a half-hour show, at least finish a contestant in a half-hour.

Despite the differences, there are a lot of similarities between the two shows. First, both feature live bands, though the Bee's house band was far superior. The songs used were all hits that most anyone would know, and the missing lyrics weren't too obscure and usually came from the chorus. Though I don't find it particularly compelling splitting hairs about every "well", "and", or other extra syllable in the lyrics. Don't Forget did a much better job of handling this, by limiting the answers to a small set of words that usually didn't involve such minor bizarrities.

One of my biggest issues with Don't Forget is that the contestant sings the entire verses leading up to the missing line. I do NOT need to hear a bad singer trying to muddle her way through a song, if I wanted that I'd watch American Idol. Fortunately Bee resolves that by having professional singers as part of the band, who sing everything up until the missing lyrics along with the contestant, who you can barely hear. This makes it much more like listening to a great cover band than a bad karaoke night. Seriously, karaoke is all about hearing people you know sing bad, not people you don't know.

The Bee also included some gratuitous dancers, who I think were all previously laid off from Shatner's short-lived "Show Me the Money." While I didn't really understand the purpose, they certainly added to the exciting and upbeat setting of the show.

Overall, I think The Singing Bee comes far closer to the mark than Don't Forget The Lyrics! does. Neither is perfect, but I'll actually set the DVR for the former.