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"Hey hey, reader! Welcome to the All The Tropes Ultimate Competition line! Answer the following question to win an Egregious prize: a five-week holiday on beautiful Sugar Bowl Beach!

Your question: is this article about:

  1. Competitions that consist of nothing but an insultingly easy question, often designed to loophole around lottery laws by making them nominal "tests of skill", or tempt gullible people into entering?
  2. Princesses?
  3. Custard?

Call now on our premium rate example line! Phone early, phone often! And win, win, WIN!"

The question may be in a call-in competition, which usually means the phone call is going to cost you money; require you to text-message your answer, at normal Texting rates, of course; or on a form you need to mail in -- then the question means that the contest is not a "lottery" by legal definition, and therefore not subject to the regulations concerning lotteries, and you provide your address and/or phone number which can be added to mailing lists for sale.

When used on the radio, the point of the competition is usually thinly concealed advertising for a local business rather than a true competition. In North America this kind of "competition" is usually primarily used to collect personal information which can later be sold to spammers and other advertisers at a premium.

Examples of Excuse Question include:


Advertising

  • Web banner ads do this, too.
  • A series of ads about 20 years ago promised a "beautiful gift worth $40" if you could name the tune. One was "Yankee Doodle." The next was "I Heard it Through the Grapevine," and they used the part of the chorus where Marvin Gaye sang the title lyrics. It cost $10 per minute to call.
  • The back of a Honeycomb box from a few years back has a word scramble with (eg) "YCBEMOHNO is my favorite cereal".

Film

  • In Ireland, when Toy Story was released, there was a competition where the question was "What is the name of the Cowboy?" The application form gave his name in the plot summary.

Live Action TV

  • American Idol had a text-message contest during season 7 that was similarly ridiculously easy. Of course, you had to pay to text.
  • Inverted in the UK show QI (Quite Interesting), which would frequently have questions that looked temptingly easy only to have the real answer be something weird and complex.
    • Questions like "How many moons does the Earth have?" Go, on, you know that! It's obvious! What kind of moron doesn't kno- did you say "one"? Oh dear... or not: 3753 Cruithne is a quasi-satellite (which still means "one" is the right answer).
  • In the UK it's illegal under gambling laws for broadcasters to hold a lottery (a random giveaway of cash or prizes) except for the National Lottery themselves. It is legal to hold a contest with a skill-based element, however. So for a long time laughably-easy questions were essentially used as Loophole Abuse - since you could get the question wrong, technically there was skill involved. Recently this was finally addressed, and several shows, most prominently 'Richard & Judy', were given heavy fines after it was determined that their competition questions had become so insultingly easy that it was effectively a lottery. Shows were forced to make harder questions.
    • Some UK shows also got fined for allowing viewers to call in after the lines had closed, charging them the full premium rate for their call, and not telling them that they were being charged. Now all phone-ins are accompanied with a standard boilerplate: "Calls made after lines have closed won't be counted but may still be charged."
      • One of the shows found guilty of this, Channel Five's Quiz Call, at least didn't have questions that were too easy -- it had questions which looked like they should be easy, but where the accepted answers were completely insane.
      • From the very similar ITV Play, Q "Things you might find in a woman's handbag" - A "Rawlplugs"
  • Every single episode of The Afternoon Show did this. A typical question would be something like "In which country is the Eiffel Tower? A: France. B: America. C: Ireland."
  • Parodied on A Bit of Fry and Laurie:

 Who was the first man to run the four-minute mile? Was it: A) the Battle of Crecy; B) Moonraker, or C) the athlete and fast record-breaking fast miler Sir Roger "Four-Minute" Bannister, the famous runner?

  • Paul Merton likes to recount that he was once watching one of those breakfast shows and the question was, "Which comedy double act consisted of Ronnie Corbett and Ronnie Barker? A) The Two Ronnies, B)..."
  • An number of interactive game shows on Australian TV did this, with questions such as "Who is the Prime Minister of Australia? A) Daffy Duck, B) Kermit the Frog or C) John Howard." This is parodied by The Chaser's War on Everything: when the above question is mentioned, Julian replies, "Which I guess leads to the question, 'Who are these shows aimed at? A) Bicycles, B) The Sydney Opera House, or C) Morons.'"
  • Subverted by the Japanese quiz show Time Shock, which is fond of occasionally throwing in questions like "What question number is this?" and "Including this question, how many questions are left in this round?" To the audience, these may seem like pathetically easy questions, because they can just look at the scoreboard. However, the contestants can't - the show makes a point of seating them in such a fashion that they cannot see any information on the state of the round during their turn, not even the clock or their score. (In fact, more recent revivals seat contestants inside the scoreboard facing out.) Thus the only reliable way to get these questions right is to count the questions as you answer them.

Magazines

  • The magazine Cube was a bit odd about this. On the one hand, an issue had a contest to win a Spider-Man DVD, with the question "Who plays Mary-Jane in the movie? A: Kirsten Dunst. B: Burstin For-Dump. C: Princess Peach". On the other hand, a contest to win a Game Cube, some controllers, several games, a big-screen TV, and surround-sound speakers, the question was "What does RGB-SCART stand for?" This was in the days when Wikipedia only had a couple of thousand entries and tended not to even appear on Google searches, so in order to win, you needed access to some relatively obscure documentation.
  • Two Thousand AD usually Hangs a Lampshade on this, with a line like "To be in with a chance of winning, all you have to do is answer this brain-bustingly easy question."
  • NGamer once ran a contest with the following (paraphrased) question: "Who is the the star of The Fast and the Furious? A) Vin Diesel B) Jim Petrol C) Kim Oil. Send your answers to itsvindieselyouidiots@ngamer.co.uk."

Radio

  • Often when there is a grand opening of a Wing Street (Pizza Hut) franchise, they will give away coupons for wings on the radio. Typical questions are "what vegetable is usually served with wings?" (celery) and "name one common dipping sauce for wings" (either ranch dressing or blue cheese works as an answer).
  • One episode of The News Quiz featured the following in the amusing cuttings:

 "Who starred in the film Enter the Dragon? Send your answer to: 'Bruce Lee competition'..."

Stand Up Comedy

  "Call in at £60 a minute and answer this question to win a fridge magnet! What is the capital of Britain - is it A, London, or B, 1948?" "Errrrm...I'm gonna phone in twice, make sure I get it!"

Theater

  • Fictional example: In A. A. Milne's play The Ugly Duckling, the law of the kingdom requires a suitor for the hand of the princess to answer a riddle. The current princess is very plain, and her parents, not wanting to give anyone an excuse to turn her down, use riddles like "What is it which has four legs and barks like a dog?" This is Played for Laughs in multiple ways. Early in the play, the king and queen recall one suitor who was so desperate not to marry the princess that he somehow completely failed to answer the riddle. Later, a none-too-bright prince who's an impostor anyway is given the answer in advance, but the riddle is changed at the last minute and he gets it wrong. Another character (the real prince) quickly covers for him.

Video Games

Web Comics

Western Animation

  • On South Park the townspeople did this to the unbelievably-annoying Jackovasaurs with a fake game show, hoping they would "win" a permanent trip to France. They were so stupidly unable to answer any of the questions (and Officer Barbrady, their competition, was too stupid to remember he was supposed to lose) that they eventually gave up and just declared them the winners anyway.

"Isn't it obvious? It's 'custard'."

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