The Power of Two: A Game Show for PBS or NPR
August 05, 2008, 12:41 PM
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Here's a website called FreeRice.com, where they ask you vocabulary questions and the sponsors (e.g., UniLever) donate 20 grains of rice to hungry people somewhere or other for each word you get right. Many of the words are highly obscure, but if you know your Greek and Latin prefixes and suffixes, you'll do okay.

I got the first 31 in a row right for 620 grains of rice, so, morally speaking, I now get to go kick a cat or something.

Here's how to make it better so that it would be a hit gameshow on NPR or PBS.

You win one grain of rice to donate to the global poor for getting the first, very easy question right. You win two for the second, four for the third, eight for the fourth.

Get it? It's exponential. White People love the Power of Two. (In fact, "The Power of Two" would be a good name for the show.) By getting 31 in a row right, I would have had donated 1,073,741,824 grains of rice.

Which comes out to about 37,000 pounds, or about $25,000 bucks at today's high prices — i.e., that's about the right amount for a guest with a good vocabulary who lucks into a hot streak like I did. In contrast, on the commercial TV "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire," the prizes for a right answer rise in 15 steps from $100 to $1,000,000.

Second, vocabulary questions are good, but if you really want to drive the NPR/PBS audience wild, also include grammar questions! Nothing raise the passions of the SWPL crowd higher than disputes over grammar.