Wheel of Fortune report

So after my adventures in California the day before, the morning of the actual taping, I was supposed to be there around 7:30 a.m. and when I had talked to Gary the Wheel guy, he had me all freaked out about Los Angeles traffic, so I ended up leaving the house around 5:30. Traffic was no problem, and I got there super early. So super early in fact that I was by far the first person there. I pulled into the parking garage and then… waited. It was somewhat awkward since I was not entirely sure I was in the right place. I mean I knew that I was at Sony Studios, and I could see the Wheel of Fortune mural painted on the side of one of the buildings, but I didn’t know if I needed to be in any particular place or not. I called the 2 phone numbers for the Wheel staff that I had been given, but nobody answered. There were some “regular folk” walking by, but it was one of those things where nobody wanted to make eye contact with me because they could tell I didn’t know what I was doing so everyone wanted to avoid eye contact so they wouldn’t feel obligated to help me :-) . While I was waiting, I of course checked the vending machines in the parking garage – no coins (foreboding omen?!?!? )

Eventually 2 other contestants showed up. One of them was a “local”, so he probably wasn’t getting on. The way that Wheel does it for contestants that live in Southern California is that you have to come one time as an “alternate”. That way they’re covered if an actual contestant doesn’t show up or is not able to go on. So since there were 6 shows scheduled to be taped on Friday, there were 18 contestants plus 2 alternates. Eventually the Wheel cast folks showed up and they took those of us that had arrived inside the building.

Once inside, they made sure that everyone was there and then they started with all the paperwork. We had to show ID, sign papers, review the rules of the show, get talked to about “Game Show Scandals” to make sure that nobody tried to cheat, and then they took us all out to the set. At the set they did a few things. First of all, they had us all stand back on the contestant platforms and practice spinning the wheel. It apparently weighs about 4,000 lbs (!). While I was waiting for my turn, I tried to analyze where the bankrupts and lose a turns were, and where I might want to focus. For instance, I was assuming that a “regular” spin would go around maybe a bit shorter than 1 full revolution around. So I figured out if I looked maybe a quarter-revolution to my left, then that would be close to where my spin would end up. So my thinking was that if there were “bad” things there, then I’d need to adjust (spin harder or softer than normal). While we were out there, they also adjusted the heights of the platforms, so depending on each of our height, they’d know to make it taller or shorter, as well as show as what to do with the various wedges if you landed on them.

The other thing that they did was take a picture of us on the set to send in the press releases that they send out to the local newspapers, and also film what they call the “Hometown Howdy”. This is a 10-15 second video that they send to the local affiliate to air the day before or day of the broadcast. The idea is to let the masses know that there’s a local contestant appearing, on the idea that it would make folks more likely to watch (which seems reasonable). So I got up there and read “Hi, I’m Dan from Madeira. Watch me play Wheel of Fortune right here on FOX19″. It took me two takes – guess I’m not cut out for acting…. :-) . The format is the same for everyone – but everyone has different hometown channels of course, and they each have different taglines. So it might be “Eyewitness 2 – on your side” or “Your Hometown station, ABC7″ or whatever. It was here that I first found out that Wheel was switching stations in Cincinnati. I was expecting to read a tagline for WCPO Channel 9, but the Wheel staff told me that it was switching to Fox19 in September (before my show aired).

While we were all on the set, Vanna White stopped by! She appeared to be just arriving for the day (it was maybe about 9:00 or 9:30). So if you’re wondering how Vanna looks with no makeup and not in fancy clothes…. I gotta say she still looked pretty good. Remember, she is 55(!) years old after all! She was also very nice – we didn’t get to talk to her at all individually but she did throw out some tips / suggestions to the group. After she left to get ready and we were all done, they took us back into the “holding pen”. While there it was my turn to get my “makeup” on – it wasn’t much – just some basic foundation stuff. I guess? I gotta say I’m not very used to wearing makeup :-D

It was then that they decided who was going to be on which show. Up until then, all I knew was that there were going to be 6 shows taped during the day. At this point, the staff came out and announced the 6 pairings. I’m not sure quite how they decided who was going to be grouped with who. It may have been random, or they may have specifically chosen people based on geography / gender? In any case, they didn’t say anything – just announced it. I had actually been “scoping out” the competition (of course!) and there were definitely a few people that I did not want to be up against. I was in the first grouping that they announced, with two women – Bonnie and Tala.

After they announced the groupings, then they had one person from each group come up to the front and randomly select one of six balls from a jar. This was to determine which taping of the day the group was on. For some reason, the staff was really trying to play up the suspense of this – making everyone wait to look at their ball until everyone had one, and then doing them one at a time. I’m not really sure why that was, since it wasn’t really a big deal. Bonnie was the picker for my group, and she picked the 1 ball – we were the first show! After everyone had their show order, then each show was brought up and we picked a 1-2-3 to determine which spot we’d be in on the show. I picked a 2, so I was going in the middle in the yellow spot, or “Mister Amarillo” as my kids like to call it!

I gotta say – once I knew that I was going to be on the first show, the whole thing got a LOT more real for me. Knowing that I wasn’t going to have the luxury of watching any of the other tapings meant that I was definitely going to have to do things on the fly. On the other hand, going first meant that I would be done for the day much earlier, so I wouldn’t have to be stuck in the studio all day. Once everyone was all ready, the staff again took us out to the set, where they ran us through some simulated games. Since we were the first show, they started off with Bonnie, Tala and I behind the wheel. One of the staff members, Gary, simulated the role of Pat and we started off with the first tossup question – just like on the show. Bonnie buzzed in first but got it wrong, and I was right behind her with the correct answer!

Then “Pat” went through our contact details, just like on the show, and we had a 2nd tossup. Bing! Nailed it again! Then they had a puzzle put up and we went through it. The details are a bit hazy, but I believe I also solved a regular puzzle and then at some point after we had had a chance to all get used to the wheel and the setup, they rotated us out so that all 18 of us could have a turn. As we were out there, some of the audience started filtering in. The actual studio did not have a very large spot for an audience – almost all of it was filled up with the 20 of us plus all of our guests. I’m not sure how random people get into a taping – when we asked the staff who they were, they said they were “bigwigs”.

After everyone had their turn, we all went back to the “holding pen”. They were in the process of ordering some lunch for the contestants, but I didn’t want to eat anything so soon to when I was first up for my game, so I just hung out. After a little bit, they took the 20 of us up into the audience, off to one side. There was quite a bit of separation between us and our friends and family, and they said that this was intentional. They also gave us specific instructions that we were not even supposed to really look at the audience – the reason being that some people might not have people in the audience so it wasn’t “fair” that someone with a helper in the audience might gain an advantage.

I didn’t spend much time up in the audience before Bonnie, Tala and I were called down to the main set floor. We got ourselves ready and prepared, and then as they were going through the pre-show checks, there was apparently some problem with the actual wheel. I never really got to hear what exactly was wrong – I think that someone heard the wheel making a particular sound. In any case, they took the 3 of us back away from the wheel while they worked on it. Again, the 2 staff members were specifically blocking us from looking around at what they were doing or in the audience, though later my sister told me that at one point someone had actually climbed out from INSIDE the wheel (woah!) It actually took a good 20-30 minutes before they finally had things figured out, and then we got into place and we were off!!

Music came on, Pat and Vanna came out and we were starting the first toss-up question. As the letters popped in, I was waiting for it to come to me, but Tala buzzed in when the puzzle was only

H _ _ _ – _ O O _ _ D
_ _ _ _

and correctly solved it (Home Cooked Meal). At this point I still didn’t know it. Later on after the game when we were talking, Bonnie mentioned to me that she and her family had brainstormed possible puzzles based on the “theme” of our show (Home Sweet Home). Home Cooked Meal was actually one of the ones that they had come up with, and she was bummed that she hadn’t gotten it. After the toss-up puzzle, Pat went around and “introduced” us. When he got to me, I talked a little bit about my world records (Fastest time to visit Every County in Ohio and Fastest time to Jump in All 5 Great Lakes). I also name-dropped my “wonderful” wife and “amazing” kids. I had been worried that I might stumble over the names of my kids (there’s too many of them!!) but didn’t have a problem. Then it was time for the second tossup. For this one, Bonnie and I got it right at the same time

_ NE _F
_H_ _ANG

but she was a hair faster on the buzzer (One of the Gang). I was definitely bummed that I hadn’t gotten either of the first two tossups, especially given how well I did against Tala and Bonnie when we were rehearsing. Why couldn’t we have had THOSE puzzles!!! :-)

First actual puzzle came up, and Bonnie started. She guessed a few letters, but then landed on a Bankrupt, so it was my turn. During some of my pre-show spins on the wheel, I had come up with what I felt was a pretty “average” spin that made it almost exactly a full turn around the wheel, so I used that now. My very first spins landed on the 1/2 Car wedge. I was expecting a 1/2 Kia, since that was what it was for all the episodes that I had been watching, but apparently for this season they had it changed to just 1/2 of different cars (for different shows). For my show it was 1/2 a “Smart Car”. I picked “H” correctly and picked up the 1/2 car sticker, and was on the lookout for the other half! Then I bought an O and a U, using up my money and then spun again. I got an N and then bought the last vowel, an I. I got a G and then 3 R’s. At this point the puzzle was

RO_ _ ING OUT THE RE_ _AR_ET

So I had the puzzle solved (in my head) with $1800 in the bank. I knew there were still 2 Ls left, and I was feeling good about being able to avoid Bankrupts, so I spun one more time. Success!! $500 wedge, I guessed my Ls and then solved the puzzle for $2800, putting me into the lead!!

Then we broke for “commercial”, which for us just consisted of the two staffers leading us away from the wheel while folks messed around with the wedges (changing the highest value, or putting on stickers or the “Mystery” wedge, etc.) Once they were done, we again took our spots and it was my turn to start the round. The puzzle category was “Same Name”, so my first consonant was “N” (since usually these puzzles are something like “Tom and Caribbean Cruise”.

Then I bought the A (2 of them) and my next spin landed on the “Maxwell House Coffee” wedge, which for my show was just $7500 cash, but only if you solve that puzzle. The irony of a Mormon landing on the coffee wedge was not lost on me :-) . I picked a D (2 of them too), and picked up the wedge. 2 Es and 2 Os left me with

_A_DEN AND

_ _ _ _ O _ _

_ O _ E

I had some more money so I decided to go for one more vowel. I could tell that the third word had a vowel still missing in it, and since I is much more common (4th vs. 12th – nearly 2.5 times more popular), I went with an I. Later on I actually looked it up, and there are only 195 seven letter words in the English language with an O in the 5th position and no A or E. 121 of them have I and only 89 of them have U. Unfortunately, in this case, the word was “Support”, so I lost my turn, and Tala managed to go through it and solve the puzzle. (Garden and Support Hose)

Next round was the Prize Puzzle and Tala started. She guessed a few letters but then lost her turn by guessing R, which was not in the puzzle. Over to Bonnie, who filled in a few more letters and then went Bankrupt. I made a face like I was disappointed but of course inside I was going “Cha-Ching!!” :-) . Unfortunately, on my very next spin I hit a bankrupt myself. I don’t know what happened with the wheel – whether I just wasn’t concentrating on my “average” spin, or whether they adjust the resistance on the wheel between rounds (I wouldn’t put it past them). After looking at the recording, the Bankrupt was 2 wedges past a full revolution, so I must have just spun it slightly too hard. Given new life, on Tala’s first spin, she missed the Bankrupt herself by only one tick. She got 2 Ls, an E, U and a B, and then 2 C’s With $3900 plus a trip (it turned out to be to India!), she was ahead by quite a bit at this point and I knew I was in trouble.

After another “commercial”, we went to a 3rd tossup, which was a living thing _ _ _ _ _ / _ _ _ _ _ _. Nobody was getting this puzzle – it went all the way to

_AIN_
B_R_ARD

before I buzzed in with “Saint Bernard” for a cool 3K :-D ! I still knew that I was quite a bit behind, and my only chance was for Pat pulling one of his “infamous” $5,000 final spins. I had been decrying those beforehand as unfair, but now it was my only chance! Pat disappointed though – going for only $800. The category was “Things” so I started and went with an S, of which there was one. Tala guessed T and Bonnie guessed R – neither of which were in the puzzle, so it got back around to me and I went N (2 of em). Tala got 3 Ds and at this point I knew the last word was “Diamonds”, but I was still trying to figure out the first word. But Bonnie apparently had it solved, because she went with Z (2 of them) and then she solved it – “Dazzling Diamonds”. I gotta say that even at this point I did not know what it was, so even had it come back to me, I don’t think I’d have solved it.

Pat came by to shake hands and say goodbye, and Bonnie and I were ushered backstage and up to the “processing” room, where I signed my paperwork for the $5800. While Bonnie and I were up there, we could see Tala in the bonus round. It was “Thing” and the default letters came up

_ _ _ L _ _ / S _ E _ _ _ N _

She was guessing her letters, and I was urging an H, but she went with D, C, M and O. She only got one extra letter (a C at the end of the first word) and appeared to not really have any idea. I certainly had no idea so it was even more dramatic when with literally 1 second to go she pulled “PUBLIC SPEAKING” out of nowhere to collect 30 Grand!!

After my show was done, I went back into the audience to sit down with Kerry, Anne and PJ. I asked if we could stay for one more taping, just so that I could see what it was like from the other side, and they agreed. The taping wasn’t anything spectacular. One of the guys that I was trying to avoid (back when we were picking out teams) was on this episode and he did not do well. It wasn’t necessarily anything wrong with him – he had some bad wheel luck. There was one egregious misstep (IMO) – during the 2nd puzzle he had $2900 in the bank and a good chunk of the puzzle revealed. He landed on the “Mystery Wedge” (which is either a Bankrupt or $10,000). My plan was to almost never flip this over, since a 50/50 shot at $10K is not worth a ton, especially since if you’re wrong, not only do you lose all your money, but you give up (essentially) your shot at winning this puzzle AND let your opponent get the money for doing so. But when he called his letter and got 3 of them, which are worth $1,000 each, he was risking $5900 total on that flip, so to me this was the exact scenario NOT to do this. He flipped it over, and got Bankrupt :( . Later in the game, he landed on the $5,000 wedge but his letter wasn’t in the puzzle. After the taping as I was walking back to my car, I saw him consoling his girlfriend in the parking garage – she was really quite broken up about it…
After that 2nd episode was over, I decided I had had enough, so we made our way out of the studio. We met up with Tala and Bonnie and took a few pictures together.

Then it was on to the rest of the California trip

California trip, Part 2

After my earlier wanderings in California, and my adventures at Wheel of Fortune, we tried to figure out a good spot to eat lunch. We decided on the Stinking Rose, a “garlic-themed” Italian restaurant in Beverly Hills. We made our way over there (through traffic, of course!) and it took awhile to find somewhere to park, but then I realized that there was free on-site parking (score!) Lunch was good. I had the ravioli which was not overly garlic-y, though I did have a bit of PJs garlic pizza which was quite garlic-y. When lunch was over, and the waiter came back offering dessert, we asked him if there was anything with garlic. We thought we were so clever, but in the voice of someone who has probably heard that 1000 times, he did mention there was garlic ice cream (eww?).

By the time that we were done with lunch, it was around 3pm, and Anne and PJ decided to head back home. After some consultation, Kerry and I decided to head down to Santa Monica. So after we changed out of our WoF clothes and into something a bit more casual, we headed out. Traffic actually wasn’t TOO much of a pain but it took us a bit of time once we were down there to find somewhere to park. We ended up in an $8 public lot right by the Santa Monica Pier. I had brought a swimsuit to potentially go ocean diving but I had failed to get a towel. I remember intentionally not packing one figuring I could pick one up from my aunt and uncle. And while I’m sure I could have, I had forgotten to actually DO that :-D .

We walked up and down the pier for a bit, checking out the sights. Kerry rode one of the carvinal-style rides, and we checked out the markers denoting the end of the famous Route 66 highway.

We got an ice cream which was decent yet over-priced, and I found a penny (one of only 2 coins found during my whole trip!) While we were walking back on the pier we saw a crowd forming and looked over and it appeared that someone was shooting a movie there! Nobody I recognized and judging from the looks of it, probably a minor / indie project but it was still cool.

After that, I swung by the bathroom there and changed into my swimsuit and we headed off the pier down to the beach. Having had quite the experience in jumping in large bodies of water, it was fun, and I even got in a sweet wave jump. After a bit of playing around, we headed back to the car and back to Calabasas. Rather than going back via the interstates, we decided to drive back via the Pacific Coast Highway and Topanga Canyon which was nice.

We had dinner with Larry and Anne and I turned in pretty early in the evening. The time zone differential, coupled with knowing I’d have an early start the next morning made me feel awful tired. Got up about 3:45 the next morning to take Kerry back to Sacramento. Well, to take Kerry back AND FOR COUNTIES!!!! I had a route planned out which would let me pick up 25 new counties in California. When I explained to my aunt about how I was going to drive to Sacramento and back to LA in one day, she totally thought I was crazy. And frankly, who’s to say she was wrong? :-)

First problem was when we were trying to get onto I-405 north from US 101. You know how lots of times when you’re driving on Interstates, and you see electronic signs alerting you to lane or exit closures at some crazy early time and you kind of ignore them because who drives in the middle of the night? Well, alas, that happened to us. The exit ramps to NB 405 were closed until 5 a.m., and it was only about 4:25. So we had to detour around which thankfully didn’t take too much time or effort. After that, it was a pretty straight shot from I-405 to I-5 to CA-99. Thanks to the time change, even though it was awful early, I was still able to call home and talk to Carolyn for a bit. I did feel a bit sleepy while it was still dark, but once the sun came up, I didn’t have much of a problem. Kerry slept most of the early morning, until a slight detour off of CA 99 to get Kings County. While we were there, we stopped to get gas and some snacks, and I regaled the attendant with my amazing celebrityhood. We took a wrong turn to get back to the highway and drove down the main street of Kingsburg, which is apparently famous for its “Swedish Festival“.

Continuing on Route 99 through Fresno (the most populous US city without an Interstate in its borders), we got Kerry back home to Sacramento a little before noon. I spent an hour or two hanging out with her and her family, which was nice, as I hadn’t even met my youngest niece and nephew and hadn’t seen the other one in many years.

I had brought them each a little present so I could try and cement my status as “the cool uncle” :-) , and it was good to see everyone. But I couldn’t stay too long, as I still had about 10 hours before I’d be back to my bed, so after some directions to a grocery store (to pick up the obligatory “Dan travel snack” of lemon cookies), I was on my way.

There was some bad construction / traffic on I-80 westbound just west of Sacramento, but it cleared up before too long. I was listening to an Orson Scott Card book called Pastwatch, which I found quite enjoyable. I had read the book a few years ago but it was definitely a good listen also. I did one out and back on my way to San Francisco (to pick up Contra Costa County) and then approached San Francisco from the north. I got off of 101 right before the Golden Gate bridge and went up into the foothills to take a few pictures.

It was hard finding somewhere to park but I managed okay. It was here that a wave of sadness hit me in that I was getting to see all these cool sights and I had to do it all alone :( . It just wouldn’t work out that Carolyn and/or the kids could come with me, and there was nothing that could be done about it, but it still made me sad.

After crossing the Golden Gate into San Francisco, I made my way over to Lombard Street, billed as the “most crooked street in the world”. Traffic was moderately heavy in-town, but it got worse as I got going up the hill to the top of Lombard. The hill was pretty steep (of course) and I had to resort to driving with two feet – left one on the brakes and right one to push the gas. There was a lot of peeling out from cars, both from myself and from other cars. As I got closer to the top of the hill, I decided to pull an audible and instead of driving down the street, I parked off to the side and just walked the block and a half to the top and then walked down the crooked part.

With not a ton of time to spare, I figured that would work. I’ll have to remember next time if I’m in the area that it’s probably best to approach Lombard from a side street near the top of the hill. At the bottom, I decided to use my iPad to record a video of me trying to set a record for the fastest time to run up the steps. I didn’t get a great time (too many people in the way!) but it was fun.

Then it was back in my car and I drove down to Fisherman’s Wharf. I had some directions printed out about where to park but while driving, I decided to pull an audible and parked underneath Ghirardelli Square. I had planned on buying some chocolate there so I thought I could get some validated parking. But first, I hoofed it over to Fisherman’s Wharf. I took in the sights and stopped by the Musee Mecanique, which was pretty cool. Then I ordered a crab sammich (seemed like the thing to do) and by then it was time for me to head back to my car. I stopped into the Ghirardelli store and bought some chocolate, but not nearly enough to get my parking validated. It worked out okay though because I had only been there a little bit so the parking charge was not egregious. There was one guy painted all silver who was “posing” as a statue

Then I drove along the bay on the Embarcadero. Passed one homeless guy begging that I thought had a funny line – he would tell passersby “I’m looking for a down payment on a hamburger”. A little bit later, I passed AT&T Park and apparently there was a Giants home game – even though it was only about 5pm local time, there were a lot of folks dressed in orange and black. I was wearing my orange Browns shirt, so at least I was fitting in color-wise :-) . A little south of that, I got back onto the highway and then it was a long drive back to Los Angeles. For the most part (350+ miles) I was on US101, with only a few detours around (for counties!) A little north of Los Angeles, my route had me cut over on CA134, which saved a few minutes versus just staying on 101. Tragically, a few miles in, I was pulled over by the cops. The officer said I didn’t have my lights on, as well as that I was “following too closely” to the car in front of me. It turned out that I just had the running lights on, even though I had had no problem seeing things. He only cited me for the following though, which turned out to be a $247 ticket (!)

I got back to my aunt and uncle’s house around 10:30 p.m. and headed off to bed. I had another early morning – had to be up on the road by 530 or 6 in order to make it to the airport for an 8:15 flight. No real problems there – I had a bit of trouble finding the Avis dropoff but no big deal. Flight was normal and got back home around 3 or 4 in the afternoon. All in all, a very fun trip!

California trip, Part 1

Ironically enough, it was while we were actually WATCHING Wheel of Fortune that I got “the call”. I almost didn’t answer it, because it was an unknown area code and usually those end up being spam or wrong numbers. But for some reason, I answered it and it was Gary from Wheel of Fortune. I had gotten my letter in the mail a few months prior, but all the letter says is that you will be a contestant some time in the next 18 months. The call came on a Wednesday night, and in a continued show of poor timing (just like when the WoF audition was scheduled on the same day we were leaving for vacation), the call came the night as I was trying to leave for my Great Lakes trip.

Since I had been planning on staying with my aunt and uncle, the only really pressing need was booking my plane tickets. I was actually pleasantly surprised given that I only had about 2 weeks notice before the tape date – I was able to get a non-stop round-trip ticket to LAX, flying out of Cincinnati for only $330. This is a really good deal as normally those tickets are over $500. I guess it must have been close enough to the actual dates of the trip that they were discounting the tickets to try and get them sold. I also had to talk it over with Carolyn and we decided that there really was no way that she or any of the family could come along. With the baby being so young, it just wouldn’t work out. Had she been a little older, or had she not been born yet, we probably would have tried to figure out a way to have somebody watch the other kids so she could have come, but alas, it was just not in the cards.

After I got back from the Great Lakes, I continued my planning. Firmed up the car rental, the lodging with my aunt and uncle, got my county route planning, as well as some touristy things to do while I was in California. In talking with my sister Kerry, who lives in Sacramento, she decided that she would be able to make it down to watch. And in addition to my aunt, my friend PJ was off work on my taping day, so I’d have 3 folks in the audience.

I flew out on Thursday August 23rd. I had arranged with a local hotel to park there and take the shuttle over to the airport. I always get nervous about how long getting through security and such at the airport might take, so I like to have buffer time. My flight left CVG at 9:24, and so I was trying to make the 7:30 hotel shuttle (they run every 30 minutes), but apparently I just missed it, so I had to wait around till 8. It ended up not being an issue at all – I got to the gate in plenty of time. I even was able to talk to the gate agent and swap my middle seat over to a window seat (bonus!).

Flight was uneventful and it always seems weird with the time difference – it was a 4 hour flight, but I left at 9:24 and arrived at 10:55. I went through the airport and got on the shuttle over to Avis. Kerry’s flight was arriving about an hour after mine, so I figured that I could have the car rental all secured, so that when she got in, that we could just leave. The shuttle had 2 stops in Avis – the first one was for “Avis Preferred” customers. I was not quite sure what that meant so I didn’t get off there and instead just went on to the “normal” counter. As it turned out, I was a “Preferred” customer, which apparently consists solely of signing up for free on their website. Then I got the standard car rental line “Oh we’re out of what you reserved so were going to ‘upgrade’ you”. I can not tell you how much this annoys me. I had reserved a compact car due to the good gas mileage, since I was going to be doing a fair amount of driving. Ooh but of course they did not have one of those so I got a “QUADRUPLE UPGRADE!” to a full-size car.

Then the guy at the counter suggested that I could go back to the “preferred” section and apparently one of the features that they have is that if you don’t like the car you got, you can just pick another one from a section of cars. You can also pay a bit more per day to upgrade to a car. While I was slightly tempted by the Ford Mustang, I did not go for that :-) . I ended up with a Ford Fusion and then I just had to wait for Kerry to arrive. Apparently there were some problems with the shuttle – she was saying that she was waiting out front of the airport but no shuttles arrived. Meanwhile I was sitting in the car, just waiting and waiting…. Eventually she arrived and we were off!

The first order of business was a stop to Randy’s Donuts, an iconic LA eatery. We went to the walk-up window and each ordered 2 donuts.

Then the next stop was over to Hollywood. Traffic on the 405 was slow even though it was the middle of the day, and similarly on Santa Monica Boulevard. Welcome to LA!!! Meanwhile, I couldn’t decide if I wanted to sing Sheryl Crow or Weezer :-) . We also passed by the Los Angeles temple which I had not realized was actually on Santa Monica Blvd. We got to Hollywood and parked at the Hollywood and Highland center, because we were only going to be there a short time. First stop was to take some pictures of the Hollywood sign. I had read that the H&H center was one of the easiest places to get a picture of it. We got ourselves turned around trying to find the overlook but eventually we did. It was…. exciting (okay not really but when you’re in LA, you gotta do it, right?).

Afterwards we went out front and took some pictures of the stars on the Walk of Fame.

At this point, we realized that it would actually be cheaper to just pay for the 1 hour of parking than to buy something and get the validated parking, so we did that and headed out. It had gotten to be quite a bit later than we were hoping – the original plan was to meet up with PJ down by USC (where he works) and grab a late lunch. But it was so late that we decided that given LA traffic (a constant), it was not going to happen. So we audibled and headed up to the Griffith Observatory. That was a pretty cool place and offered some great views of the LA skyline.

After that, we got ourselves a bit lost but managed to successfully navigate traffic over to my aunt and uncle’s house, in Calabasas.

My cousin Pam and her kids came over for a bit of a family dinner, which was nice. The rest of the evening was just spent relaxing. We did watch Wheel of Fortune (of course!), and then my aunt graciously ironed my clothes for me. What happened next…. stay tuned!

Wheel of Fortune audition

So I thought I would write up something about my recent audition on Wheel of Fortune. My kids had encouraged me to try and get on the show a few weeks ago, so I went to their website and signed up. Actually the first time I tried to sign up, their website was down and I wasn’t able to sign up, so I had to try again a month or so later. The application itself didn’t really have anything more than basic contact information, and they say that over a MILLION (!) people try to get on Wheel of Fortune each year.

Time goes by and then suddenly I got an email telling me that there was a tryout in Louisville (about 1.5-2 hours away) on a particular day. As it turned out, that was the exact day that my family and I were planning on leaving for vacation. After talking about it, we decided to take the detour down to Louisville and do it.

On the appointed day, we got the van all loaded up and left about 8:30. My audition was at 11, but we wanted to get there a bit early, so we could drive around Louisville and show Carolyn where she’d be hanging out. We had marked out a library and a mall where she could spend time with all the kids while I was in the audition for 1-3 hours. It was a catch-22 – the longer I was in the audition, the longer she would have to kill time with the kids, but it also meant the better chance I had of actually making the show.

My audition was in the “Gallery Ballroom” on the 16th floor of the Brown Hotel in downtown Louisville. My email suggested I get there 15 minutes early, which I did, but I was still one of the last people there. I had NO idea what to really expect – I was guessing many hundred people there but it ended up being only about 60 people. They gave us all an application to fill out, and there were sections about what makes you unique – hobbies, interests, etc. I mentioned my 6 kids, as well as being a world record holder, and my goal to visit all 3,142 counties in the US.

Then they had some simulated games. They had 4 workers there – there were 3 that were behind a table taking notes on people and running a laptop that projected puzzles on a screen, and 1 off to the side who was “spinning” a replica Wheel. I put “spinning” in quotes, because really they were just making it be whatever they wanted. Usually they’d just be some random dollar value, but sometimes they would make it say “Free Play” or $5,000 or Lose a Turn or Bankrupt. They said for the last 2 not to worry about that but sometimes they would do that if you were “up” for awhile so that they could move through and give everyone a chance.

One lady would randomly call out contestants and then you’d have to either spin, buy a vowel or solve. They called me like 3rd or 4th so I popped up out of my seat. I ended up guessing a letter correctly, then buying a vowel and solving the puzzle (“Let’s get to the good stuff”). Then I waited while they went through all the other contestants. After they went through everyone once, they went through some folks a second time. I was picked but didn’t get to do anything before I “Lost a turn”.

After they finished doing as much of as they wanted, they passed out a “test” where they gave us 5 minutes to solve about 15 sample puzzles in different categories with some of letters filled out. I did okay on that – about 10 or 11 of them. In addition, I made up answers for a few of them that didn’t really make sense but fit the spaces (“Rocket Fancy” :-) ). One of the ones I missed was under the category of “Places” – _ _ S S / _ _ L L. Think about it and I’ll give the answer at the end.

When the 5 minutes was up, they collected everything and then gave us 20 minutes to hang out while they “graded” our tests. They called us back in and then said they were going to call out the names of people they wanted to stay and then everyone else would have to leave. They instructed that if they called your name that you should say “Woo” to let them know you heard them. It was tough because I had no idea how many names they were going to call. After awhile, some people tried to give “alternate” sounds. While I was waiting for my name, I was thinking of what I might say. Everyone calling the same thing sounds “weird”, and while they were encouraging everyone to “show enthusiasm”, sometimes forced enthusiasm just sounds awkward. They called my name about 12th or so and they ended up picking 21 people to stay.

After everyone else left, they took pictures of us who were remaining. Another thing I was trying to do was to initiate conversations with the folks next to me. This is something that has always been difficult for me but I have been trying to improve at – plus I figured if the Wheel folks saw me, they would see that as me being outgoing and the type of person they’d want as a contestant.

Next they called up groups of 6 for more of the simulated games they were doing in the beginning, and you just rotated through everyone just like in the regular game, except with 6 people instead of only 3. One of the instructions they gave were that they wanted everyone to show “happy” faces and enthusiasm, and they also talked about how fast you had to call letters. No umming or hemming or hawing and they also said that when you pick a letter to just call out the letter rather than saying unnecessary things like “Umm Can I get a ‘T’”. I was in the 2nd group, and they called my name first, but I strategically put myself in the 2nd position so I didn’t have to go first :) . After the guy in front of me either missed a letter or they “Bankrupted” him, it was my turn. I spun and picked a letter and bought some vowels but when I spun again I “Lost a turn”. It made its way through all 6 of us and back to me and the guy in front of me guessed a letter that wasn’t in the puzzle and it was my turn. I already knew what the puzzle was – “Setting a world Record”, which I thought was quite apropos :-D . But when I spun, intending to select an ‘R’, she put me on “Lose a Turn” :( . I actually think (hope?) that this was a good sign – that they had already decided how awesome I was and didn’t need to see anything else from me.

After our group of 6 was done they went through and had everyone introduce themselves and tell a little bit about ourselves. I went with “I’m Dan Miller, a computer programmer from Cincinnati, Ohio. I’m a world record holder and today was actually the day my family and I were supposed to leave for a family vacation, so right now my wife and 6 kids are driving around Louisville in a packed minivan”. I thought that gave a lot of interesting tidbits about me while a) leaving them wanting more :) and b) not taking up a lot of time. I have to share one lady – she started talking about how she’s had all these near death experiences and then proceeds to list them all out – “I was hit by a car and then a few years later I was hit by a semitruck and then I got really bad heatstroke” She went on and on and then topped it off by saying that now she knows that God has a purpose for her in life. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that she was NOT selected.

One of the puzzles was “Nickels Dimes and Quarters” (another good puzzle for me) and after the lady solved it (I was not in this group), the lady next to me said something to me like “I can’t believe she didn’t go for the ‘Q’!” This was EXACTLY what I was thinking – there was an earlier puzzle that had an ‘X’ in it and I thought – “Man if I have the chance to guess Q or X on Wheel of Fortune I’m TOTALLY doing it!”

After they went through all 21 of us (6-6-5 and then 2 couples against each other), they went back in to the secret room. It’s always kind of awkward when you know people are talking about you. Then they came out and picked out 5 people (not including me) to go a 2nd time. I got the feeling that they had already decided “Yea” or “Nay” on everyone else but were “on the fence” about these people so wanted to get another look at these folks.

And…. that was it. They said that they would send a letter out in the mail within the next 2 weeks if they picked us. So if 2 weeks go by and I haven’t heard anything by then that it probably didn’t work out. I called Carolyn to come get me and then I just had to hang out for 30 minutes or so for her to come get me. I was talking in the lobby with some folks and my “Mormon radar” was going off. Young and married… with 2 young kids…. knee length shorts…. Utah was mentioned… :-) . I was not sure how to ask since it seems kind of weird to just be like “Hey are you Mormon”. I tried dropping clues like how I was married young too, and I had 6 kids, but they weren’t biting…. finally I just had to be like “Yeah I’ve never been to downtown Louisville before but my church has a temple a little north of town” and … JACKPOT! They were indeed Mormons and it turned out there was another auditioner that was also Mormon. Yeah that’s right – we’re infiltrating everywhere!!! This lady’s husband was on Jeopardy last year too.

Overall I thought that the audition went well. I don’t know if they were only looking for a specific number of contestants or not, but I think that the fact that I got “Bankrupted” a few times was a good sign (or a really BAD sign). Plus, who wouldn’t want me and my awesomeness!!!

(By the way, the “place” I missed was “Mess Hall”. One of the military guys who was sitting in front of me got it, of course!)

Skyfort Playset Installation – Day 24 (4/22)

So Thursday night I took a look at what was going on the next day and decided to take the day off of work. Building the playset was not the only reason, but it was definitely one factor. Also the kids were off school (due to Good Friday) so I thought it would be nice to spend some time with them. And the weather called for rain pretty much non-stop starting Friday afternoon and continuing for the next 4-5 days.

I went out about 9 a.m. and started on the next steps, which involved constructing the swingset portion. The kids were excited (even more so than usual!) because Step 84 got to use the coveted “A1″ piece. A1 is the swingset beam and is naturally the biggest piece, so the whole time we’ve been building this they’ve been looking forward to when we could use A1.

Here’s the A-beam part

And here’s that part attached to A1. It wasn’t that heavy but definitely useful to have 2 people carrying it.

It was tricky getting it level (same as with the monkey bars on the other side) because we had dug down a bit to place and level the clubhouse section. So we had to dig around to get it level. Our neighbors (who work at the school and were off for Good Friday) were also out trying to get some mulching in before it rained. I commented “Beautiful day for some outside work!!” :-)

Once the swingset beam was set into place, we had to construct and place the crow’s nest area, which sits on top of that big beam. And here we ran into a problem.

You can see the green “Y30-40G” metal braces, with the holes on the main clubhouse that the brace is supposed to attach to. The problem comes in that there are no holes on the board BEHIND that. I looked back on the steps where those boards were attached, and I still think that I did it correctly. You can see below the other left to right beam one of those spike T-nuts. Back in Step 52 we had to put those T-nuts in to “be used in a future step”. Originally I thought I had maybe put those nuts in the wrong place, but I don’t think so. I’m not counting that as a mistake by me. I ended up just drilling through those back boards, attaching spike nuts on the back end, and putting the bolts in.

Next step was attaching the swing hangers to the beams. The next problem is that the countersunk holes were not big (or deep) enough so the fender washers would fit in those holes. The instructions were (wait for it, wait for it) pretty confusing. The text of the instructions (Step 91) just say flat washers, lock washers and lock nuts, but the picture also shows a fender washer. The countersunk holes looked like they fit the fender washers, but it was just SLIGHTLY not big enough. Also I couldn’t get all those washers in and still have enough of the bolt to attach the nut to.

I ended up just using a drill to kind of widen the hole.

After putting in the floor boards of the crow’s nest, the next problem was that we ran out of flat washers. We had used extra flat washers earlier on because the truss bolts were not snug with only 1 washer on them. So I sent Carolyn to Lowe’s to get some more washers.

So that meant we had to skip Step 95 and 96, and move on to Step 97 – putting in the balusters for the crow’s nest. After that was done, we started putting the swings on (Step 102), because all the steps in between also needed those washers. We couldn’t put the glider on because we were missing some fender washers, but we did get the other 2 swings on.

Before too long Carolyn came back with the flat washers and we were able to get those other steps done. We finished the crow’s nest balusters and put in the telescope

Going back to the earlier paragraph about the spike T-nuts that were put in “for a future step”, we found out what that was for on Step 99 – putting in the metal ladder rails to go up to the Crow’s Nest. That was very tricky to do as the holes did not really match up. I ended up having to really wiggle them in to get them to “catch” on the nuts but eventually I was able to get it in.

Last few steps were attaching the metal grips on various places. Here I am putting the grips on one end of the monkey bars – they went in on both ends of the monkey bars, the top of the rock wall, and the top of the ladder.

I was able to put all of them in except the right side of the ladder, since that one required a truss bolt, and I didn’t have any of those left. By now it was about 5 pm and Carolyn said something like “You know, even though it’s been raining most of the day, at least it hasn’t been raining very hard!”

Cue massive thunderstorms and heavy rain! :-) I REALLY wanted to finish things up and get the slide on, but alas it was not meant to be. I worked on it some but just didn’t want to mess things up, so I decided to save it for another day. Plus, using my power drill (with the cord running through pools of standing water) in a thunderstorm didn’t seem like QUITE the best idea….

Nice picture of me taken from the dryness of inside. Getting close!!

Day 24 time: 8.5 hours
Total time: 48.5 hours
Mistakes made: 0 today (17 total)
Steps completed: 83-102 (out of 103)

Skyfort Playset Installation – Day 23 (4/21)

No work on Wednesday due to other activities, and Thursday was packed too – but after I got home and put the kids to bed, I wanted to at least get in a little bit of work, even though it was almost dark.

I had the monkey bars assembled, so I went ahead and attached them to the playset.

This picture was taken the next day but shows the monkey bars. They just drill in to the playset and then there are stakes that have to be rotated and put in the ground (and then bolted to the base of the A-beam.

The only tricky part was trying to get them level. Since we did not level out the ground before we started (though our ground is what someone from The Princess Bride might call “mostly” level), it’s always an adventure. Especially since we had dug and lowered the ground somewhat to get the main clubhouse set and level.

Day 23 time: 1.0 hours
Total time: 40.0 hours
Mistakes made: 0 today (17 total)
Steps completed: 81-82 (out of 103)

Skyfort Playset Installation – Day 21 (4/19)

It rained like crazy all day Monday, but luckily it tapered off by the evening so I was able to get another evening’s work in. It was VERY muddy though, and I don’t know why, but the mud was particularly smelly. So everyone enjoyed me I’m sure!

First order of business was securing the ladder to the playset.

Number of times I was asked if the ladder was ready, while I was trying to line it up right? Eleventy.

A little bit tricky because the ground wasn’t exactly level, but I got it working, and we set out for some “inaugural” ladder climbs.

After the ladder comes the rock wall. Naturally you have to put in all the rocks to the boards, because shipping the rocks already on there would be way too convenient.

Not really a problem, except that the rocks attach with the barrel nuts, and I don’t know if it’s something about barrel nuts in general, these particular barrel nuts that they use in this playset, or just me not knowing what I’m doing, but I’ve found that it’s really tough to get them to be secure with just the one flat washer they recommend – most of the ones I put in needed to have 2 washers.

Plus you have to secure the other side with a screwdriver while you’re using the drill to tighten the phillips bolt on the other side, and it’s obviously very tricky to hold a screwdriver on one side while getting enough torque to tighten something else. Carolyn came out to help me though and we were able to get all of them secured.

Number of times a kid asked Carolyn to make a bologna and cheese sandwich while we were doing this? Eleventy more!

Attaching the rock wall was tricky because it’s kind of cramped underneath the playset, especially in the corner, so it took 3 holes drilled to get it to line up right (mistake!) but eventually the rock wall was attached and ready for some inaugural climbs!

Next was the monkey bars (assembled back on the driveway) – I did take some pictures of that but it was dark and something must have gone wrong with the flash as the pictures were big black blobs. I did make another mistake on Step 77 – it requires 1 1/2″ lag screws and 2″ lag screws on the “H2 Monkey Bar Ground Board” in different places, and I put the 2″ screws where the 1 1/2″ screws were supposed to go (and thus they poked out the other side). I also had a minor mistake on Step 80 – attaching the wrong size hex bolts to the triangle brace of the monkey bars. I secured the brace to the monkey bar support structure before I realized that I also had to secure it to the monkey bars themselves. Nothing big, but it did take me a few minutes to undo that, so I’ll count it.

Day 21 time: 3.0 hours
Total time: 39.0 hours
Mistakes made: 3 today (17 total)
Steps completed: 74-80 (out of 103)

Skyfort Playset Installation – Day 20 (4/18)

Sunday again was a (beautiful) day of rest, so I was back on the playset work come Monday evening. Hard to believe I’ve been at this for nearly 3 weeks now! I’m of two minds as to the length of time. On the one hand, I could have had this playset up a lot sooner had I taken some full days off of work (or of course paid someone else to install it). On the other hand, I’ve still been having a lot of fun, and while spending nearly all of my evening and weekend free time on this project HAS prevented me from doing some other things, I’ve had fun working with my kids (who are almost every morning asking if we’re going to be able to work on the playset today!)

I thought that I had finished step 67 on Saturday, but it turned out there was still one part of it left undone, so I quickly finished that off. I also realized that I had made a mistake putting the metal gable parts (big green triangle on the picture below) on the insides instead of the outsides (mistake!)

The tasks for today were installing the porch area in front of the clubhouse. But before we got to that, Step 69 involved walling off one of the sides of the 2nd story. The problem with that is that particular area was the easiest way to actually get UP TO the 2nd story (since of course we don’t actually get a ladder till Step 74). So I got those boards and hoisted myself up for hopefully the LAST time.

Steps 70 and 71 involved creating the porch rafters and roof, and that step was done down on the ground. Since previous steps have let me know what direction the rafters are supposed to go, this didn’t take too long. One problem with Step 70 is that it claims you are supposed to put the 2 “V-shaped” rafter pieces together and then it gives vague instructions of how you’re supposed to run 2″ wood screws through them to connect them. It is not really clear how or where that’s supposed to happen but after staring at it for awhile, I did what I thought was best. It worked out okay but it was a bit tricky when I was trying to put the metal triangular support on the rafters, since one of the screws for the metal base hit this other wood screw that I had put in previously. But it all worked out.

The tricky part was actually ATTACHING the porch roof to the main clubhouse area. And by tricky part, I mean tricky part attaching it by MYSELF. Carolyn had come home while I was putting this on (snapping this nice picture)

She was able to help me get the bolts lined up into the right bolt holes, but it was a bit tricky getting the bolts to catch into the nuts. These “Spike T-nuts” that they give you are nice, but they are sometimes tricky to line up with the bolts. If you don’t have the bolt lined up EXACTLY right, your bolt spins but doesn’t catch. And with all the weight of the porch roof, the bolt was sagging some and not really lining up. It took about 15-20 minutes of me trying to simultaneously support the roof, push it up so the bolt was going in straight, make sure the nut stayed in place, as well as actually ratchet in the bolt with the socket wrench. Good times!

Then I put the gable on the porch roof (correctly on the outside this time!), and started on the ladder. I really wanted to get the ladder up and secured before I quit for the day, but alas, darkness foiled me.

As you can see, I got the ladder built, but it was pitch black by now (after 9 pm) and I didn’t want to risk screwing up the attachment since I couldn’t see in the dark.

Day 20 time: 3.0 hours
Total time: 36.0 hours
Mistakes made: 1 today (14 total)
Steps completed: 67-73 (out of 103)

Skyfort Playset Installation – Day 18 (4/16)

Friday was a day of no playset building due to other evening activities, and things were not looking good for Saturday either. It’s been pretty frustrating the past few weeks how each week it’s been beautiful on Sunday (a day of rest when I don’t work on this) but rainy and cold each Saturday.

And it was definitely rainy and cold this Saturday but at least in the afternoon, the rain kept itself contained to a mild drizzle and while it certainly wasn’t PLEASANT out, it was at least tolerable. Scott and I ended up going out there at about 2pm and we worked until dinner time. In retrospect, that may have been too much time working in one sitting as I was plenty sore in the evening and had to lie down for the evening as my back was not enjoying life.

I had put the rafters on the roof back on Thursday, and so the first task for today was putting on the end boards (that cover the “triangle” part of the roof). The instructions specifically state (and I read them like five times) that there is an opening for a window on the back, and no opening on the front. Which is all fine and good, but the pictures also specifically show a window on the front (the back is tragically absent from any pictures). I didn’t want to mess with the instructions, so I put the window on the back.

As I was boarding up the front part of the roof, I realized that I had put the back boards on the outside (at a very high degree of difficulty since it required me being 10′ off the ground on a ladder) rather than on the inside (which would have been much easier as I could have just used the stepladder on the 2nd story floor boards). So chalk that up for a mistake. Luckily it wasn’t too bad to unscrew them from the outside and put them on the inside.

Steps 62 and 63 were putting some Soffit Caps on the sides, and it was then that I realized (after way too much wrangling of the instructions and such) that back when I was putting the bay windows in the back that I also needed to put a set of windows on the left side (Step 55 in its entirety: “Repeat procedure on left side Bay Window per diagram”). Of course, the boards did not fit right on this side either – only 2 of them fit. Then while trying to rubber mallet one of the Q12s into place, I snapped it (will have to order another one – Mistake #2 on the day).

As I’ve mentioned before, Geoff and I are trading playset labor – he’ll be building a playset later this spring and so when he does, I’ll come over to help him. Last time he was here, he joked of another reason why he’s helping me first – that way he can look at our playset and then just one-up whatever we do. So when we were putting in the first bay windows he said that now he knew that his playset was going to have 2! :) I guess now he needs to have 3!!

After the soffits went in – it was time to put on the rest of the roof rafters. I had put in the top one on each side in a previous step as part of securing the rafters, but now it was time to put the rest of them on (except for 3 rafters on the right side that are intentionally left off until a future step – I believe in conjunction with creating the crow’s nest area).

I put the first (new) one on, and then realized that the rafters were on wrong (Mistake #3 on the day!). I’m no roof expert, but even I can tell when the rafters are set up in such a way to have the rain fall INSIDE versus just rolling down the roof. So I had to unscrew those and turn them around. It was a bit tricky to get all the rafters on. The first few on top went okay because I could just put the ladder underneath the empty part, but as I got lower and lower, my opening gradually disappeared. Eventually though I got them all in. My assistant Scott was very helpful in helping pass me boards.

Last step for the day was working on setting up the clubhouse porch support boards, and then it was time for dinner.

Here’s a shot from the next day – starting to look like an actual clubhouse!!

Day 18 time: 4.0 hours
Total time: 33.0 hours
Mistakes made: 3 today (13 total)
Steps completed: 59-66 (out of 103)

Skyfort Playset Installation – Day 16 (4/14)

Thursday is our crazy day with 2-3 kid activities which requires a lot of running around. I was supposed to drop off my 6 year old son at soccer and then come back to work on the playset, but I just didn’t feel comfortable leaving him there so I decided to wait for awhile till Carolyn could come stay with him, so it ended up being close to 7pm before I got to work.

First order of business was trying to find the 1″ wood screws – no luck. I ended up having to call customer service and they claim that they’re being shipped.

The previous day Geoff and I had put the window boards on so today I was “framing” the bay windows. That quickly turned out to be a problem as the Q12 boards were too big to fit in their space. The Q12 boards were 11″ long and the Q8 boards were each 2 3/8″ wide. So that’s a total of 15 3/4″ required, but the 3 sides of the H9 windows boards were 15 1/4″, 15″ and 16″, so only one of the three windows “fit”. So I decided that I’ll need to cut those Q12 boards to size, but I decided not to bother with that at this time. Again, I’m not counting that as a mistake for me because I don’t think there’s anything I could have done.

Final step for the day was putting on the rafters on the roof of the clubhouse. This was kind of tricky to do and required me to get an external ladder on the side in order to be able to access the bolts on the outside of the rafters.

Here’s a picture of that as well as you can see in the background the bay windows I was talking about earlier

Day 16 time: 1.5 hours
Total time: 29.0 hours
Mistakes made: 0 today (10 total)
Steps completed: 54-58 (out of 103)