a drunken cowboy, gingerbread house chaos, and other office contests that went badly

Last week, I asked you to share your stories of workplace contests gone awry. Here are 10 of my favorites.

1. The chili cook-off winner

Not my story but my dad’s, and it makes me laugh every time. His workplace hosts an annual chili cookoff and everyone would bring in a crockpot of their chili, put it in the kitchen, and then judging and mass chili consumption would happen at lunch.

One year, one of his coworkers brought in an empty crockpot in the morning, took a bowl of chili from every other crockpot and dumped it in his crockpot while people were working, stirred it up and called it his own chili. He ended up WINNING that year for his “depth of flavor”, and confessed after he got asked for the recipe and had no answer. Everyone wanted to riot!

2. The run-down gingerbread house

My work did a gingerbread house contest a couple years back. All the employees could vote for their favourites. Most teams spent hours on it and made really beautiful things but mine was basic and fell apart before I was done. I put a sign on it that said “for rent: $2000 per month” since the COL in my city is super high and I figured at least people would laugh even though I obviously wouldn’t win.

I was wrong because I won in a landslide despite putting in less than 30 minutes of work. Most people were good sports but some people were definitely bitter!

3. The free day off

We did Office Olympics with events like rubber band archery and seated trashcan basketball. Beer, wine, and snacks were provided, but we got into trouble with a VP pulled out some whiskey. At the end of the event, I grabbed the mic to thank the organizers and participants, and yadda, yadda, yadda… I announced that everyone would be receiving a free PTO day, which I had absolutely zero authority to give. Thankfully management made sure we all got home safe and followed through with the PTO day like it had been planned and approved.

4. The drunken cowboy

Long ago, my company had an annual Halloween parade and contest. And then there was the year that someone came in as a drunken cowboy. Problem came when a vice president who was acting as judge grabbed the bottle of Jim Beam and took a swig and found out it was real. I’m still not sure how the cowboy kept his job…but it was 15 years before we had another costume contest.

5. The steps contest

Our work has a terrible “who can walk the most steps” contest. It’s framed as a fitness thing, but it’s pretty ableist and frankly comes off not great when all of us are working from our homes, are pressured to work more hours, and a lot of folks (particularly at more junior levels) find it hard to find the time for regular exercise.

So, sorry not sorry, I attached my activity tracker to my siberian husky’s collar and am KILLING it. I’ve made my views known and no one listened, so if the doggo wins the prize will go straight to the furloughed employees assistance fund.

6. The hot sauce contest

The full story of the hot sauce eating contest, in all its horrifying glory.

On year as part of our Oktoberfest party the party organizer (Brad) decided that we would have a hot sauce eating contest. I don’t do spice, so I sat the whole thing out. The prize (singular) was an Amazon gift card.

The contest starts with maybe 20 people, a good mix of folks from all the departments in the building, sitting panel-style at the front of the big conference room. They start with some mild hot sauce served straight on a spoon, and they’re off to the races. And people start dropping out left and right as the sauces keep getting hotter and hotter, until we comes to the last two people, and the hottest sauce. This sauce is so hot that it comes with a large warning label. Brad dons a pair of nitrile gloves before even opening the box the bottle comes in. This sauce is so hot that rather than a drop on a spoon, it is presented as a tiny drop on a toothpick. (It’s called The Source.)

Both people eat it. Neither bows out. So Brad sort of stares at them and gets two more toothpicks.

Again they eat, and again neither bows out. Neither is even sweating, unlike Brad, who is looking very concerned. See, the bottle says not to ingest more than 2 drops in a day, for the sake of your esophagus.

At this point half the audience is shouting “tie tie!” in an effort to get them to stop before someone gets hurt. But then one of the bosses (who had tapped out 5 sauces earlier) shouts that there is only one prize, and to keep going. So Brad gets out the bottle again. Now the audience is in a complete uproar, with some demanding that the contestants keep going, while others insist that they stop. While the toothpicks are prepared someone shouts “I’ve got five bucks if you stop!” which starts the passing of the hat to scrounge up enough cash to balance the Amazon card.

Eventually a tie is declared and the hot sauce eating stops. One contestant threw up in the bushes on the way to his bus, and the other missed work the next day because she was up all night with GI distress.

And that was the last eating contest.

7. The IT contest

Some people shouldn’t try to manage IT departments. Case in point:

Our boss back then had a “really fun great contest” in mind to increase team morale across the various local IT departments. There were about 6 different teams he directly managed.

His plan? “The team that identifies AND fixes the most system errors in a month gets several days paid leave! And an award of whatever food they like.”

Anyone with any experience in IT or software engineering knows what happened next: the most colossal amount of service failure calls logged EVER. Heck, wander into the LAN room, disconnect a random cable and you could get 20 calls logged before you put the cable back in. Edit permissions in Active Directory!

There was 2 days of this before the boss sent round a single line email: “This was a f**king stupid idea eh?”

8. The voting cheat

My ex company (which was pretty huge at around 500 people) regularly held inter-department competitions – charity bake sales (most popular stall), staff walking count (total number of steps collated on a fitbit). As one of the smallest and least known departments, we always ranked the lowest… until one day, a colleague of mine realised the most popular stall voting sticker looked exactly the standard yellow circle sticker you can find in any stationary store. Several votes were added to our count, and for the first time in YEARS, our department won something.

(If it’s any comfort, you don’t get a prize other than a mention in the next company news letter)

9. The unfamiliar foods

At a staff picnic, we had a contest where blindfolded contestants were given various foods to guess and finish. Unfamiliar stuff like pickled eggs, sardines, huge Castelvetrano olives, caviar (the cheap stuff, not the good stuff), pickled mushrooms, etc. The staff team responsible went out of their way to serve items that our contestants would probably be unfamiliar with — that was the point. I got a whole HEAD of garlic in oil. I did not win the contest; I did not even complete the contest. I’ve often thought later how lucky they were not to serve something that would have triggered a food allergy.

10. The gingerbread chaos

One of my lovely former colleagues always had great ideas for fun contests and she outdid herself at one holiday party. The teams in this contest had 15 minutes to assemble and decorate a gingerbread house from a kit. Not too difficult, you may think. But everyone assembling and decorating had to do it wearing a blindfold. Each team was allowed one non-blindfolded member, who was allowed only to shout out instructions.

Well, I’m glad they put down a tarp first and made the participants wear plastic aprons, because I’ve never seen so many gumdrops go flying and so much icing get squirted everywhere. It was total chaos and hilarious to watch. And if you’re wondering how difficult it was, the winning house had two walls standing, one of which fell over right after the contest ended.

{ 278 comments… read them below }

  1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

    #5: Beautiful. Another option on the activity tracker — I have to take my tracker off my wrist when I knit or crochet, because otherwise it counts steps like you wouldn’t believe.

      1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

        the other day I sat down at about 8000 steps, and three hours of crocheting later, had over 17,000 going. I was floored – I knew it was bad with knitting, but I didn’t think my left wrist (which is where my tracker is) moved that much when I crochet! (I’m right handed, so my right wrist would be all over the place, but my left one FEELS pretty stationary :P Guess not!)

        1. Dragon_Dreamer*

          I used to have one of those Pokewalker pedometers. I’d get steps just smacking the thing lightly against my palm, rhythmically! (Doesn’t work with the 3DS systems, tho, sadly.)

    1. Environmental Compliance*

      It also works if you leave your phone/tracker in your saddlebag and lunge your horse. Even better if said horse is a little spicy that day and decides to half pace half trot in some Frankenstein gait and shakes the heck out of the tracker. So many steps that day!

      1. OyHiOh*

        I am trying to model how a hybrid pace/trot gait would even work and utterly failing. Said horse must have been having A Day, that day!

        1. Lonely Aussie*

          One of the horses I leased while at Ag college moved like a drunken octopus on ice skates, legs everywhere.
          He was a Standardbred so paced as well as the normal gaits and sometimes it looked like every leg was doing a different gait.

          On the fitbit thing, the early fitbits apparently didn’t factor in horse riding and would freak out if you went for a canter while riding them or so several of my Fitbit owning friends at the time said.

          1. CoveredInBees*

            I have tears running down my face trying to picture the drunken octopus on ice skates at any gate. I used to ride paso finos and a TN walking horses, so I can really picture the pacing.

      1. Lizy*

        Thank god I was done eating lunch and not drinking anything when I read this comment… otherwise my computer and keyboard would have been COVERED.

    2. Richard Hershberger*

      Or attach it to a fan and let it run. Though this makes me wonder how high a frequency will still register. But that would be easy enough to test.

      1. Not playing your game anymore*

        My fitbit registered 89019 miles when I took it out of the washer… the LCD flickered off shortly thereafter.

        RIP fitbit.

    3. NerdyPrettyThings*

      Mine runs up steps when I’m on my motorcycle, which I do NOT ride slowly. It’s so weird.

      1. BubbleTea*

        My old step counter recognised certain other activities like swimming and running. It was convinced I was cycling whenever I pushed a wheelchair (not a wheelchair I was in, but behind, using the handles). I never figured out quite how it knew there were wheels.

          1. Rock Prof*

            I got 30 minutes of swimming from playing Kiss Monster with my 4 year old. (I chase him around the house making kissing noises.) I have no idea why this looked like swimming and not walking or running?!

            1. Bow Ties Are Cool*

              My FitBit once announced that it had begun to log my swimming one very humid day while I was walking.

        1. Whateves*

          For the wheelchair thing, it knows about the wheels because your hands are stationary like they would be if you were attached to a bike, but you’re expending more energy than walking. So it reads biking.

      2. LunaLena*

        A colleague of mine told me hers registered steps while driving on a freeway. She was really confused when she checked her steps for the day and it said 60+ miles!

        1. pope suburban*

          My husband’s old watch used to mistake shifting gears in his car for climbing stairs. He had that problem with some of the equipment he operates at work too. Not sure about how well his new one does, but the old one would spit out some pretty wacky data.

        2. JustaTech*

          Mine says I’ve climbed a flight of stairs if I walk between two different labs at work. Took me *weeks* to figure out why I had so many flights of stairs on Mondays, when I went back and forth between the labs a dozen times. Apparently it’s caused by a difference in air pressure.

      1. Third or Nothing!*

        Now I’m super curious how many steps my 3 1/2 year old would get. She regularly walks 5Ks with me and that’s a LOT of steps when you’re only about 2 1/2 feet tall.

    4. Cheesesteak in Paradise*

      I would try it on my cat but I think I would have even less steps that way. My cat is lazy.

      1. Works in IT*

        If cats didn’t loathe collars, I’d be curious to see how many steps playing fetch with my cat would get me. She really launches herself into the air and does somersaults.

    5. Miss Annie*

      I lost a lot of faith in my step counter the day I pushed my elderly mother’s wheelchair all over the hospital campus while she got tests, and only got a quarter of the distance. Apparently, the counter doesn’t track if your hands are not swinging.

    6. Seven If You Count Bad John*

      Hilariously, the fitbit does not track ice skating very well. I think the movement is too smooth.

      1. Nanani*

        Yeah, in my experience it counts fewer steps skating than walking, unless you are specifically doing certain exercises (like sprints for hockey practice).

        1. Elenna*

          Yeah, according to my parents it also doesn’t track many steps when cross-country skiing (makes sense, really).

    7. SparklingBlue*

      If you have gamers in the house, and a controller has a built in rumble, try attaching the tracker to that, and see if the rumble registers as steps (a Nintendo Switch Pro Controller will do very nicely)

    8. Brett*

      Most people don’t realize that you can manually enter steps in most tracker applications that sync with the contest applications.
      e.g. on FitBit, you can go into the application on your phone and manually log an 8 hour 16 mile hike. This will give you over 30k steps for the day while not raising any flags at all because you averaged only a 30 minute mile.

      Some trackers will let you just directly enter the number of steps. When we had a similar contest, I saw several people that had multiple days of exactly 100,000 steps.

      1. Third or Nothing!*

        100,000 steps?!?!? Holy crap I get 50,000 steps when I do 25Ks. I’d have to do at least a 50K to get a six digit step count. And my stride is really short, so most people would have to go even further to get those numbers. How did that not raise humongous red flags for cheating?

    9. Delta Delta*

      Horseback riding counts “steps,” too. I used to wear my Fitbit to go riding, and then I’d go for a run and it would look like I had 20,000+ steps, when most of it it was the pony.

    10. The New Normal*

      I attached mine to my son’s baby swing. Freaking brilliant. Every so often I would take it off and stop it for either 5 minutes or 20 minutes. So. Many. Steps.

    11. Sue3PO*

      My favorite moment was realizing how many steps I’d climbed attending services on Good Friday. My best guess is all the standing/kneeling?

    12. Nic*

      My mother used to go to a wood turning class – all that lathe work over an afternoon, and her Fitbit was convinced she’d climbed a ridiculous amount of flights of stairs!

    13. Anna*

      I love all of these step wrangling tactics! I laughed out loud at the idea of attaching a fitbit to my dog, though, as he spends his entire day snoring on the sofa, right next to me. Since I get up to make tea from time to time, I think I actually get more steps in myself…

    14. Freya*

      I attended a dance camp once that had one of these contests – everyone got a cheap pedometer in their welcome bag, to be attached to your waistband most of the awake time, and the idea was that the person who logged the most steps had obviously done the most dancing.

      … We discovered that slapping someone’s butt would cause the counter to go up…!

    1. The Prettiest Curse*

      That was my story. :)
      Just make sure you put down a whole lot of plastic and make everyone wear aprons. It will get incredibly messy!

      1. Lcsa99*

        I think the next time my mother-in-law gives us one of those kits (we’ve NEVER used one but keep getting them). It might be fun to try.

        Of course in the safety of our home we’ll do it drunk and blindfolded and hope we don’t traumatize the cats too badly :)

        1. Miss Annie*

          As long as the pieces and parts aren’t toxic to cats, they will be fine. In fact, the drunker you are, the more likely they can swipe parts.

    2. Aggretsuko*

      I really want Hallmark to put blindfolded gingerbread house making into a Christmas movie SO BAD now.

      And I thought blind drawing was bad….

      On the 2000 gingerbread house story, it reminds me of one I heard about a girl winning a book cover decorating contest by making a really crappy one and then arguing successfully that people whose daddies pay for them to have fancy decorating supplies shouldn’t win. She won, but the teacher hated her guts and that she won and took the prize back.

      1. Filosofickle*

        I’m pretty good at drawing blind so now I want to try the gingerbread game. One of the greatest accomplishments of my life was drawing “spur” with my eyes closed and getting my team to guess it in a game of Cranium.

      2. AnonEMoose*

        I’m thinking Netflix series, personally…bonus points if you have Gordon Ramsey shouting out the instructions for one of the teams!

        1. Aerin*

          Look up “Taskmaster” on YouTube. To give you an idea of what it’s like, they had one time where it was basically the same concept (one not-blindfolded who could only give instructions) but it was navigating an obstacle course… and they weren’t allowed to speak English. Also the competitors are all British comedians. It is pure anarchic joy and has been one of the brightest spots in my pandemic year.

        2. Edwina*

          It’s actually a LOT like the Brit series “Taskmaster,” (which is HILARIOUS, you can find it on YouTube in the U.S.), which assigns comedically difficult tasks like this to their contestants. They’ve had tasks just like this, it’s really funny.

      3. Anon and on an on*

        My nephew won a school organization “design the cover contest” because the judges thought it was nice that a special needs student participated.
        They told the teacher their decision and their reasoning. The teacher did not tell them that being an ass and drawing something with your non dominant hand while the teacher is collecting the entries is not special much less neurodiverse, particularly in a high school, so the thing was printed and distributed with as little fanfare as possible.

    3. Antilles*

      It sounds like it’d be fun. I actually made a gingerbread house from a kit last Christmas (first time ever!) and was surprised at how long it took even with open eyes and all the pieces/parts/candy/etc there. The fact that after 15 minutes, the ‘winning’ house only had two walls standing seems entirely reasonable to me.

    4. Third or Nothing!*

      It sounds like a ton of fun! I’d love to play it with my in-laws for Christmas. They’d get a huge kick out of it.

  2. Emi*

    I missed that the hot sauce contest was for Oktoberfest. WHY? I love German food but it’s not like it’s noted for being particularly spicy.

    1. Myrin*

      I don’t think one had anything to do with the other in this case. It’s just that there was a party and a contest the party organiser had thought of so he put both together.

      1. Wintermute*

        I feel like most people know that fats dissolve capsaicin, but alcohol does too! It’s a great way to kill the heat, tequilla is probably more effective than whole milk, but you obviously can’t chug the stuff the same way unless you want to get burned coming and going by the hot wings.

        1. Dawbs*

          Good to know!

          I suppose the tequila doesn’t help on the “argh, I rubbed my eye while cooking” as much as milk does, but any excuse to stock some tequila.

      2. JustaTech*

        Oh, but there was no beer!

        A few years later we did a beer *tasting* for Oktoberfest – lots of fun. The mustard tasting was not quite as fun if only because there are some things you should not mix with mustard (blue cheese, for example).

        After many years we figured out how to make a tasting a competition: figure out what the flavor is supposed to be. Like, what’s the added flavor to this mustard? What’s the weird thing added to this fancy chocolate? Those are fun, and don’t involve anyone eating themselves sick.

        1. Anon and on an on*

          I think each year they should give the mic to a random person and say “announce a prize” and see what happens.

    1. Ann O*

      I’m the OP for #3. I’m lucky I didn’t get fired. The whole thing could have resulted in an “I will confront you by Wednesday” post-party email. Instead, our management team were such good sports about it, which ultimately had a positive affect on our culture. I just love hearing people retell the story years later, especially when it’s a newer employee who doesn’t realize I was the drunk PTO giver.

  3. Portabella*

    #5 Siberian husky – LOVE IT. I would attach one to my dogs, but they are both lazy louts and the only activity they do is fighting over the dog bed.

    1. fposte*

      I totally missed this when it was posted! Now I’m thinking that everybody has secretly done this and it’s all dogs competing.

    2. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      Right? My 13yo dog, her only regular movement is from one pillow to the next, and the 6yo has two speeds: asleep, and ZOOM ZOOM ZOOM FOR THREE MINUTES and then fall back asleep. And ZOOM mode is on hold until the weather warms up, because she does not have a lot of fur. So I have to get my own steps. Enter the yarn. :P

      1. Portabella*

        Idea: put the step counter on a Roomba along with a treat, let the dogs chase the Roomba.

        Would only work if the Roomba could outpace the dogs, though. :) Also my pit mix, who has easily torn to shreds even the toughest rubber kongs, would probably eat the Roomba.

        1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

          They seem to think the Roomba is a robot cat. Elder Statesdog ignores it because she’s deaf and asleep, Junior Ambassador runs to the opposite side of the room and yells at it the same way she yells at my husband’s cat for breaking her rules :)

      2. AnonEMoose*

        I would try this…except I have cats. So I feel you on the two modes of SLEEP and ZOOM!

        Maybe if I put it on the end of a string and let them bat it?

      3. Donkey Hotey*

        I originally mis-read this and thought you were comparing your 13yo dog with a 6yo human. The zoom-sleep sounds right but then I got to the lack of fur…

    3. Cat Tree*

      My cat is old and lazy, but for a solid hour before his dinner time, he paces back and forth and protests loudly at the injustice of having to wait until the same time as every previous day. He could probably get a fair amount of steps in, but I don’t know how I could attach it to him.

      1. Quill*

        I had a labrador, he could have chopped a tree down with his wag, but I think it would have been yote into orbit.

    4. Wendy Darling*

      My dog missed his calling as a sofa cushion. I’d have to mail the step tracker to one of my friends with a working dog.

      I wonder how many steps the mail gets….

  4. The Prettiest Curse*

    Thank you for including my story (#10). Blindfolded food decorating is incredibly hilarious and messy, which makes it a really fun activity for parties. I’m just grateful there was no alcohol involved, because that would have been total carnage!

    1. The Prettiest Curse*

      So glad that people enjoyed this story. 100% of the credit goes to my former colleague!
      And I would totally vote for the gingerbread house in story #2, which sounds completely hilarious.

    2. Dark Macadamia*

      It sounds really fun! And the mental image of a house being declared the winner as it collapses is SO hilarious

    3. Lisa*

      We did the blindfold thing at a team conference a few years ago, but it was changed to be specific to one of our departments. It’s weird that I can’t remember what it was! I think it was blindfolded moulage – which is using makeup to simulate medical problems, like bruises and scrapes – so picture comically bad makeup on the volunteer.

      There was also “write a story as a team” out of like 5 keywords (I remember ours had aliens) and a time limit and then a few people acted out the story.

      1. Reality Check*

        I’m getting to where I can spot a fellow Sag anywhere, I think… Anyway thank you for the belly laugh and I hope your doggo wins!

      1. Grand Admiral Thrawn Will Always Be Blue*

        Alison needs to make that announcement as a special post, if he wins.

    1. Anne of Green Gables*

      See, I actually think this is a brilliant strategy, but you’d probably have to be open about it. Chili is all about a combination of flavors, so the fact that a mixture of all the pots would be awarded best is not a surprise to me.

  5. Chyll*

    I don’t have a husky, but I do have a washer/dryer. I had a Fitbit that clipped to your pants and accidentally ran it through the wash. Not only did it survive the trip through both machines (the dryer was on low heat), it gave me about 8000 steps as well.

    I wouldn’t really recommend this personally for anyone else since not all step counters may survive this. I did get a lot of compliments from coworkers on my increased activity, though.

    1. Richard Hershberger*

      Put it in the dryer on no heat, and throw in a few towels so it doesn’t bang on the side of the drum.

    2. Pennyworth*

      Fitbits seem very tough. A friend lost her on a her farm and found it two years later under some cattle manure she was collecting for her garden. It still worked.

      1. Wendy Darling*

        I was doing a project for a user research course that involved having someone use a gadget that was new to them, and lent my dad my fitbit. He IMMEDIATELY lost it while walking his dog in the woods. Like within 18 hours of me handing it to him.

        I would like to imagine someone found it under a leaf or something and is tracking their steps with it to this day.

        1. KoiFeeder*

          I feel like that made your project easier, at least? “User lost item within eighteen hours” is certainly a data point.

    3. Le Sigh*

      If the comments on this have taught me anything, it’s that there’s an entire cottage industry of lifehacks to cheat a fitbit.

      1. allathian*

        Yeah, it does. I mean, life hacking a fitness tracker is basically like cheating at solitaire, you’re basically cheating yourself. However, I utterly and completely despise employer-run fitness programs to the point that I think they should be banned and support any and all efforts to cheat at those.

      2. Quill*

        Attaching it to the dog is one of the lowest tech hacks possible.

        Heck, before pokemon go fixed their distance tracker, I attached my smartphone to the dog once. Unfortunately, since the screen had to be ON it was more trouble than it was worth, but my dog did hatch me a few pokemon.

      3. Chyll*

        Well, to be fair, I did explain to everyone what happened. It wasn’t tied to any work-sponsored competition, we were just colleagues who find it we all had Fitbit accounts and were motivating each other. They thought it was hilarious.

        The downside to explaining it was when I did get extra amounts of activity in, they’d tease, “Did the laundry again, huh?”

  6. Red Wheelbarrow*

    #5, the stepper-by-Husky-proxy: (a) Yes, this is discriminatory AF, and (b) your solution is hilarious!

  7. Myrin*

    I don’t know why but the chili story is somehow absolutely hilarious to me. This could have gone so bad and instead it went beautifully.

      1. WeatherContest*

        We had a contest to guess various metrics about hurricanes in the upcoming season (weather related company). I know nothing of the weather, so I just kept changing my answers to be the average of whatever the rest (people with actual training) had put in.
        It came out on top or maybe second and in later years there was an official “wisdom of the crowds” entry that was the average of all the entries.

        1. Wendy Darling*

          I work on crowdsourced data for a living and this is the best idea. It’s also a great way to win that guess-how-many-jellybeans game.

    1. Maggie*

      That’s the one that got me too. I laughed out loud. The idea of this dude walking into the office with an empty crockpot and no shame is too good.

    2. cabbagepants*

      Y’all know that this is how blended wines work, right? You take a bunch of mediocre wine but when you mix it together, all the constituent rough spots kind of balance each other out and you’re left with something palatable or even nice.
      Not saying that the individual chili recipes were mediocre, just, blending is a well-established thing that often gives good results!

  8. PolarVortex*

    #5 has the goodest dog getting the reward for the furloughed employees, and probably also the happiest dog for all the walks they get.

    1. Working Hypothesis*

      Such a good doggie! (But I’m not sure if he’s getting extra walks or just running around the house a lot.)

  9. serenity*

    That unfamiliar foods contest is giving me agita just thinking about it. People with allergies/special dietary needs!

    1. Not the Boss*

      As someone with food restrictions, it’s actually not a big deal.
      When the organizers ask for volunteers, I don’t put my hand up.
      If I’m asked outright, I grin and say something like, “too many allergies, and I’d hate to spoil the fun by dying.” Said the right way, it makes them never ask again, but is also gentle/funny enough that I don’t kill the mood.

    2. hey_nonny_annonnymous*

      I assume someone with allergies or special dietary needs would not sign up for it. I mean, it pretty much advertises what’s going to happen in the name.

      1. TiffIf*

        I’d be more worried about someone who didn’t know they had any food allergies volunteering and finding out they do in fact have a good allergy brought on by some obscure food.

        1. Nope.*

          That’s a risk we all take any time we eat something new. And if I’m not up for eating something new, I won’t enter a contest like this.

          1. Richard Hershberger*

            It’s a risk we take any time we something old, too. Allergies can develop. My wife ate tuna salad sandwiches her entire life until the day she ended up in the emergency room.

      2. FreakInTheExcelSheets*

        You would think but I have known someone with fairly severe tree nut allergies (not deadly, but certainly painful GI consequences) sign up for things like this or eat the badly-labeled food at potlucks then complain about getting sick. I figured after a while this was their method of getting attention/sympathy and would just mentally roll my eyes and be conveniently on a call when they wanted to complain about how sick they were.

      3. Third or Nothing!*

        I’m allergic to dairy, eggs, and sugar. Absolutely would not sign up for a food related contest but I’d be in the crowd cheering heartily for the contestants and being very glad I don’t have to eat things like pickled herring.

        1. allathian*

          I love pickled herring. You won’t get me to open a can of surströmming, though. The smell has been described like that of a rotting corpse.

    3. Mallory Janis Ian*

      My daughter won $50 in an unfamiliar-foods eating contest at a summer camp when she was in middle school. The final two contestants would not drop out, so the organizers put the remaining foods in a blender and pronounced whoever would eat it the winner. On one hand, I felt “good-for-her” that she won, but on the other hand, I was fairly irritated, after that, that she was so picky at home. She said she was competitive and wanted the money, and that she’d eat like that at home, too, if she were being paid for it.

      1. Cat Tree*

        This is where you pit siblings against each other. If she’s an only child though, probably not worth having a second for the sole purpose of getting her to eat more variety.

  10. Sabine the Very Mean*

    #7 – I can’t tell you how much bad blood would be spared if my boss ever, even just one damn time, admitted that she had “a f***ing stupid idea”.

  11. pope suburban*

    I sort of feel bad for the cowboy if they had brought a bottle as a prop, but hadn’t been drinking from it. It’s not like they could have predicted that someone would bogart their bottle and take a big swig!

    1. starsaphire*

      A friend brought in a “bottle of Jack” for a Halloween costume prop once. He took a big swig, saw the HR VP’s eyebrows shoot up, and quickly said, “It’s OK it’s iced tea here try some really it’s iced tea!”

      (It was, in fact, iced tea.)

      Cue lots of laughter and one saved job. ;)

      1. Arachnia*

        You’ve reminded me of a stage actress I once heard tell a story. If I remember right, she and her partner were presenting a part of a play as a final exam in university. It was first thing in the morning. Her character was supposed to take a swig of whiskey, which was supposed to be iced tea. But her partner, unbeknownst to her, had brought in ACTUAL WHISKEY. And then she had to finish the exam while swiftly becoming quite drunk. It did not go well for her grade.

      2. Rob aka Mediancat*

        I did something similar in college, when I dressed as a fellow student who was known for carrying around a bottle of whiskey on the weekends. I found an empty bottle, filled it with a mix of apple juice and sprite, and had to demonstrate a couple of times that no, no, this WASN’T actual booze.

        (It was a special shock because I was one of the few known teetotalers at college.)

    2. Donkey Hotey*

      Several years ago, my team went as a fraternity (long story). Props included a six-pack of really cheap beer. We were originally going to open the cans and empty them but thankfully the boss suggested that un-opened cans can prove we weren’t drinking better than “no really, we dumped it all out” ever would.

    3. Rose*

      I can’t understand why you would ever grab a liquor bottle from someone, take a swig, and be shocked it was liquor.

      1. pope suburban*

        Right?! Like, I understand a cowboy bringing a bottle of whiskey as a prop, because that’s the drink you think of when you think of the Old West. But I can also understand that maybe they grabbed it from their home liquor cabinet, and it may well be real! So long as the employee wasn’t drinking from it (To excess, or at all, depending on the company culture), there’s really nothing wrong; adults are allowed to possess alcohol. The problem there would be someone brazen enough to nick the bottle and drink out of it.

  12. Not trying to be rude, just good at it*

    We had a Halloween door decorating contest at a high school that I had a one year assignment. I’m not thrilled to participate in these activities but the kids wanted to. It was for “home room” classes; I didn’t have a home room but I acquiesced. We brainstormed how to make a spooky door and the kids kept saying, “Corny” so we were not getting anywhere. Someone, I swear not me , suggested a blown up photo of the principal on top of a witches costume. I think we won, word on the street had it we won, but some other room got the prize.

    1. NerdyPrettyThings*

      Our counselors’ office had a similar idea. They put a blown-up photo of our principal at the ugly sweater contest on a huge Christmas ball, Miley Cyrus style, with the tag line “I came in like a Christmas ball.” They won. Our principal actually has (or pretended to have for the occasion) a sense of humor.

      1. Rose*

        This isn’t insulting though, like you’d have to be pretty thin skinned to be annoyed that someone insinuated that… you’re Miley Cyrus? The witch thing seems unkind.

        1. Ally McBeal*

          Teachers and school administrators are a different breed. When I was in elementary school our principal turned 50 on a random weekday, and the teachers all conspired with the principal’s wife to hire a hearse to drive him to and from school and filled his office with black balloons and a banner reading “over the hill” or something along those lines. A few years later at the same school, but the middle school division (so a different set of teachers/administration), our computer teacher had a milestone birthday and all the teachers pitched in for one of those canes with a rearview mirror and a horn attached to it.

          I just assume it’s all the BS they have to put up with on a regular basis – they’re all in the trenches together and collectively develop some gallows/dark humor as a result. (Halloween = witch seems very on-brand in this regard.) And of course not all teachers or administrators are kind people! But the ones at my school were, and generally seemed to all get along.

  13. Bob*

    1. If the winner had said upfront what he was doing we could have been a visionary instead of vilified.
    2. I would have given it second prize
    3. That is insanely awesome!
    4. I have no words.
    5. I am intrigued by the furloughed employees assistance fund. Can you give us details?
    6. I was not expecting the ending but it makes perfect sense :(
    7. This is called the Cobra effect. It has a Wikipedia article.
    8. No one realized there were more votes than voters?
    9. Playing with fire indeed.
    10. Chaos was inherently built into the original idea.

    1. Sleepless*

      I think I heard a podcast about the cobra effect as well. Something similar happened when they put a bounty on wild hogs’ tails in rural south Georgia.

    2. GarbageContest*

      OP #5 here: We had a number of employees in office services that were furloughed for a few months during the pandemic. Some folks at higher salaries got together and started a voluntary donation fund to help make them whole.

  14. KHB*

    #2 reminds me of something that happened to me in middle school. Right before the Christmas/holiday break, we had a dress-up contest, with various categories like “Best Holiday Spirit,” “Best Use of Red and Green,” etc. Each homeroom could nominate one boy and one girl in each category. I wore a fairly generic sweatshirt embroidered with a Christmas tree, and my homeroom teacher decided for some reason to nominate me for “Best Elf.” I was not in any way dressed as an elf.

    But the school-wide judging wasn’t until that afternoon, and I had a few hours to figure something out. So I took my red and green notebook folders, borrowed a Sharpie from the librarian, wrote “Naughty” on one and “Nice” on the other, and went around all day pretending to jot people’s names in one or the other.

    I won in a landslide, and the prize – a box of chocolates – was worth having to get new notebook folders.

    1. Working Hypothesis*

      Reminds me of my son’s Halloween costume one year. He found a cheesy novelty sweater in a secondhand store that was designed to look like a blazer with a shirt and tie. (By “look like” I wish in no way to imply that it actually bore any real resemblance to the thing, the whole image was just printed on the sweater front.) He threw the sweater on over a pair of chinos, slapped a “Jacobi for Congress” sign on his candy bucket, and went as a sleazy politician. Instead of “trick or treat,” he’d ask for campaign contributions.

      The costume wasn’t much, but the presentation was everything.

  15. raincoaster*

    I’m from Vancouver and frankly two thousand dollars for a collapsed house made of cookies and candy sounds really affordable.

    1. Gingerbread*

      That was my story and that is where I am from :~) I would definitely pay $2k a month for a house here, even if the ceilings leaked icing!

  16. Anonymous for this one*

    Going to add my story here:

    A few years ago my company decided to attempt to improve employee health by having a weight-loss contest. Yes, you read that right.

    You participated as a team (you could form your own or be randomly assigned) and the teams who lost either the most combined pounds or the largest percentage of their combined starting weights after 6 months or something won monetary prizes.

    I was so shocked by how I’ll-advised and ableist this was I almost stormed to HR and demanded they call it off. Even if it was well-intended, they should have considered the fact that some people have eating disorders, body dysmorphia, or medical conditions that make weight loss difficult.

    1. Richard Hershberger*

      The question I have is was it voluntary? Did you sign up for this? If not, then I totally would form a team of people who were going to ignore the whole thing, rather than risk being harassed by my randomly-selected teammates.

    2. destroyerofchocolate*

      Are they just assuming everyone needs to lose weight? And needs to lose a lot? The scoring system feels kind of insulting… Like this is supposedly a company wide contest, but everyone can see who they’re REALLY aiming at.

    3. Screw the Scale*

      I worked for one of those companies too. The “biggest loser” contest they had was voluntary, but one person in my department had “won” a couple of years back (although she gained the weight back – not blaming her, just the uselessness of the contest). It came up a couple of times, the worst being when grandboss came by to thank us for keeping up with busy holiday volumes with a big box of chocolates, and then proceeding to go on about how he joined the contest and was trying to eat better. My boss then started talking about how the person who won last year was already thin and didn’t need to lose weight (maybe it was a percentage lost and not just pounds?).

      I got in trouble for saying that the conversation made me uncomfortable and going back to work (I’m female with mental illness-related weight struggles and I find that anxiety contagious). I was also told that it was okay to gossip about last year’s winner because she signed up for the contest. I didn’t stick around long enough to find out what happened with the feedback the company received against the contest, but it was just one of several red flags there.

    4. Sharrbe*

      I had a coworker who lost a lot of weight and she’d get compliment after compliment. Turned out she was being emotionally abused and was self-medicating with alcohol so she often missed meals.

      1. Wendy Darling*

        I’ve told this story before and I’ll keep telling it forever until it stops being relevant: I had a colleague who vanished for a while (this was grad school so it wasn’t that unusual, people went away for research or took time off or whatever) and came back having lost a significant weight. Another colleague was gushing at him about how great he looked (he did not look great, he looked exhausted and like he felt awful) until he told her he’d been away because he had cancer.

        My takeaway was maybe just don’t talk about other people’s bodies *literally ever* even if you think you’re saying something nice unless you’re talking about something under their direct control, like their new haircut or tattoo.

        1. allathian*

          Yeah, I’ll keep repeating this until it’s no longer relevant as well. A few years ago one of my coworkers was out for three months. She was a private person and it was none of my business so I naturally didn’t ask about her long absence before she left, because her absence was planned. She was at most slightly plump, nowhere near obese, but when she came back she had lost a lot of weight. Some people told her she looked great, a few even congratulated her on her weight loss in my hearing. Until one day when she finally had enough and took her wig off. That’s when we learned her weight loss was due to chemotherapy. I’m just sad that a very private person who would otherwise never have mentioned her medical issues at work at all had to out herself so people would stop talking about her weight loss. When she recovered, she decided to switch careers completely. I don’t think that the weight loss comments by themselves made her want to leave, because she’d mentioned a few times that there were parts of her job that she wanted to move away from, but they certainly didn’t convince her to stay when she was already considering it.

          I’m just glad I had the sense to tell her how happy I was to see her back at work again and never mentioned her weight loss.

    5. meyer lemon*

      Even if you ignore eating disorders, promoting this kind of rapid weight loss is really unhealthy. It just encourages people to go to drastic levels to lose weight in the short term, which is not healthy or sustainable. I don’t know why anyone would think this is a good idea, except that we are used to thinking about weight in such a messed up way. (Leaving aside how problematic it is to promote weight loss instead of providing benefits that prioritize employees’ health.)

      1. allathian*

        Yeah. I never watch shows like The Biggest Loser because the vast majority of contestants, even the contest winners, don’t manage to keep the weight off for very long. If anything, many of them are probably fatter than ever a few years afterwards.

    6. Cat Tree*

      I’m pregnant now and I would looove to join a contest like that in my eighth month, with the final weigh in a few months after the birth. That would be such an easy win.

    7. Emily*

      Yikes. Not that it’s okay even as an optional contest, for lots of reasons, but I really hope that they didn’t require everyone to participate.

    8. Sorabain*

      >they should have considered the fact that some people have eating disorders, body dysmorphia, or medical conditions that make weight loss difficult.

      Or medical conditions that make losing weight dangerous, or doctors orders to GAIN weight, or fraught history with food, or limitations on what they can eat (medical or otherwise), or muscle-building goals, or difficulty getting ENOUGH food for whatever reason, or hanger issues (aka “you wouldn’t like me when I’m hungry”) they don’t want to inflict on others, or multiple of the above, or something else entirely.

      Basically it’s incredibly tone-deaf and assumes a one-size-fits-all approach to “health”, without considering the very many circumstances in which it’s not appropriate, or detrimental to people and/or those around them, even before diet culture’s psychological unhealthiness kicks in.

    9. Ray Gillette*

      If someone quit before the contest ended, did their team get to deduct their full weight from the total?

  17. SunriseRuby*

    The chili chef in letter # 1 and the gingerbread house builder in letter # 2 must be related – or they could be the same resourceful, thinking-on-my-feet person. LW # 5 is my hero, both for her cunning and generosity!

  18. NotAnotherManager!*

    Oh, my gosh, I love these! ESPECIALLY #2 – also in a HCOL area, and that commentary would have won it for you here as well. (Reminds me a little of the WashPo Peeps Diorama contest where cheeky idea matters almost as much as execution.)

        1. UKDancer*

          Oh yes we need a husky picture. They are my favourite dogs. One of my best holiday memories ever was going to the arctic circle in Norway and spending time with amazing huskies.

  19. Texas*

    I love #2 because the person gave it a shot, ran into an issue, and came up with a creative and funny solution! It’s also a good example of differing mindsets when it comes to low-stakes competition. To me, if it’s being judged by relevant professionals, technical skill and being technically best is what should win. If it’s a popular vote, it’s based on what the most people found enjoyable for any number of reasons, and focusing on “deserving” to win based on time invested isn’t fun or helpful for anyone.

    1. JessicaTate*

      Me too! There was another story in the original post from someone who worked at an art museum/gallery that did a similar contest. All the artsy people were going over-the-top with creativity in design and construction… but the Commenter used her conceptual creativity reinterpreting an artwork from their collection in a humorous way — that didn’t require the technical skills, but was just as creative (possibly more). She one and the others were ticked off.

      I’d vote for someone with creativity of concept over technical design every day of the week and twice on Tuesday – for this kind of competition, anyway.

      1. KoiFeeder*

        Oh, the pumpkin one! I think that person worked at a modern art museum, so it’s even more appropriate- a lot of modern art is asking the question “is this art?”

  20. periwinkle*

    Was anyone else reminded by #2 of the Great British Bake-Off, medical student James, and his gingerbread barn? (season 3 in the real world, “The Great British Baking Show: The Beginning” on Netflix)

    It also reminded me of a Halloween costume contest at a former employer, a Silicon Valley peripheral hardware maker. One of my teammates decided to enter at the last minute by taping a hard drive power supply to his head and some cables to his shirt. He won.

    1. Black Horse*

      Oh my gosh, yes! We just watched that episode. I have to say, I was a bit outraged at the results (no spoilers). But the “dealing with a catastrophe in a quick-thinking way” vibe is very much there.

      1. Loosey Goosey*

        So funny, we just watched that episode last night. And same! I admire his moxie but would have been annoyed if I were a contestant.

  21. TimeTravlR*

    We did #10 but with snowmen (not real snow!) so much less messy to have googly eyes and pom pom balls flying around. So much fun!

  22. Phony Genius*

    #5 is the first time I can remember a list of collected stories here that included one that was still in progress. We’ll need an update on the results.

  23. Nope.*

    Regarding #9 – no one I know with a food allergy would ever enter a contest where the entire basis is that the food is unknown. That kind of seems like a given.

  24. Liz*

    I love #2. That’s absolutely the sort of thing I would have done. Incidentally, I’m not sure if it’s a regional thing or a cultural thing, but I can’t imagine anybody in any place I’ve worked, myself included, taking something like that seriously, putting much effort in, or indeed having the skill to do so.

    We had a gingerbread house contest in my work a couple of years ago, and we were all given the pieces pre-baked and tubes of icing glue, and we were all an absolute shambles! The winner was the one whose house mostly stuck together in a vague house shape! I’m not sure where these offices are that all have master bakers waiting in the wings, but I’m highly impressed!

    1. acmx*

      Probably company cultural. My section of the company had a contest and the “houses ” were rather amazing. House with a yard, camper and chairs; equipment and facilities pertaining to us; 2 stories. A few were table sized.
      We also have a chili contest and Halloween costumes, etc.

  25. ArtK*

    #7 sounds very much like something a former employer did. Now I’m sorry I didn’t think of this earlier. Two things to know before we get to the meat: 1) We were a software house with a huge backlog of bugs that had to be resolved for business reasons; 2) They had recently installed doors where you had to badge-in-badge-out — they promised that they wouldn’t use that info to track time.

    So, they set up a contest. Each team would have a certain number of bugs to fix each week. Whenever a team exceeded their goal, they would be rewarded with time off. If one team failed to reach their goal, then *every* team would be required to work OT. So that’s management fail #1. Everybody knew who the weak teams were and we all were watching them closely; not a good way to improve morale.

    So, after the contest was over, we had a big meeting to announce the results. Guess what? Every team had exceeded their goals!! Woo hoo!!! But, management decided that they couldn’t afford to give that much time off, so nobody got any time off. Fail #2.

    While making the announcement they also said that they had been following the badge-in-badge-out records and were very disappointed that people were still coming in late, taking long lunches and leaving early. Fail #3. Morale was in the tank after this.

    It was interesting, though, that we blew through all of those bugs without working more hours. That says a lot about how (little) motivated we were for the normal stuff.

    1. ArtK*

      Note: the “business reasons” we had to work off that backlog of bugs were caused by yet another management failure. I learned a lot about how *not* to run a business from those people.

    2. Jackalope*

      That sounds a lot like a rigged contest. If even one team lost then you all had to work OT, but if all of the teams won they couldn’t pay you the reward? What exactly was the path to getting a reward then?

      1. Working Hypothesis*

        Who says they actually intended there to be a path to a reward? So long as the worker bees *thought* there was a path for long enough to get them to plow through the bugs, the boss doesn’t sound like he had any real interest in there being one in fact.

        1. o_gal*

          Very similar to the contest at Hooter’s, where the staff were competing to win a “free Toyota”. Which turned out to be a free toy Yoda doll.

  26. Oxford Comma*

    We do a steps contest here. I hadn’t thought about ableism. Suggestions on how to make this more respectful?

    1. Guacamole Bob*

      We have a series of “Wellness challenges” that you can opt into – I think they buy/subscribe to a third party provider. But you get points for logging activity, food things like eating breakfast and eating servings of fruits and veggies, etc. The items on the list are very low key and pretty widely accessible. You don’t get more points for a marathon than you do for a leisurely stroll – you just check off that you hit 20 minutes of activity that day. You can also get points for whatever the suggested activity for the day is – checking in with a friend or writing in a journal or practicing mindfulness or what have you.

      The results are kind of random, the wellness impacts aren’t that meaningful, and it’d be easy enough to lie/cheat. But some people do seem to have a bit of low-key fun with it and find it a bit motivating. I find it a little silly, but basically harmless. It’s certainly a more inclusive approach than a straight-up step contest.

      1. Oxford Comma*

        It’s never ever been required. There’s like an initial announcement and if you don’t opt in you never hear about it again, but I like the idea of incorporating other kinds of wellness activities into it. I’ll pass that on.

    2. Brett*

      Just do minutes of activity. If possible, have a generic goal for everyone to hit rather than a competitive contest. If you want a contest, set a certain level of activity per day and the winner is whoever has the longest streak of activity (you will have ties). Set the level at something like 20 or 30 minutes, definitely no more than 60 minutes and no requirements about the intensity of the activity.

      On an interesting opposite end of this, we had a contest that used mileage instead of steps. The wheelchair racers demolished everyone.

    3. Third or Nothing!*

      My company did a contest a few months ago where we were given a checklist of healthy activities to do and earned points for every activity we completed. The activities were: drink 8 oz of water, eat 1 serving of veggies, eat 1 serving of fruit, eat all meals for the day, walk 10 minutes, stretch, and a couple more but I forget what they were. You got one checkbox per activity per day, so no one could stack points by heading out for a 5 hour walk or whatever.

  27. Anon Lawyer*

    #4 seems like the mistake was on the executive. Of course someone is just going to bring their real Jim Beam bottle for that – who wants to empty it out or whatever?

    1. Elenna*

      I think the important question was whether or not the “cowboy” was actually drinking from it during work hours. If it was just hanging on his belt or whatever, then I agree, no big deal.

  28. princessbuttercup*

    I used to work for a non profit that had an annual raffle for an expensive diamond ring (I want to say roughly $2-4K in value). I think one of the fundraisers had a long standing relationship with a jewelry store and an agreement for this annual gift in kind/donation.

    There was nothing WRONG with this per se, but it was just …. odd. Most other fundraisers were community events, local corporate partnerships etc. (they never even had an annual silent auction or fancy per-plate donation dinner the few years I was there). It always seemed random and out of character that once a year, they would heavily promote this raffle for a “gorgeous diamond ring”. I honestly don’t remember if it was even an external fundraising event or just internal staff participation. But A LOT of emails with gushy, gendered stuff about “diamonds are a girls best friend” and lavish ring photos. For a couple weeks a year, the fundraising staff would suddenly become jewelry store employees, encouraging the female staff to “treat themselves” and pestering the male staff to buy tickets so they could “surprise a special lady in their life”. It was so bizarre.

  29. Autistic AF*

    Years ago I was at a different company office for a week. They had “minute to win it” contests on Friday, and this week it was putting an Oreo on one’s forehead and then eating it without hands. I let said Oreo fall to the (clean) floor and then easily grabbed it with my mouth. They weren’t as enthusiastic that I’d won as I was, but they made the rules!

  30. Jackalope*

    My outstanding takeaway from this conversation has been “never have a chili cookoff; there are more ways for it to go wrong than you can POSSIBLY imagine.”

  31. Text*

    My work has something similar to 5. It’s to track any activity and there is a friendly competition between the different offices. My office won a few times, including 2019. This year was framed as getting the award back.

    Normally I am fine with the emails from the coordinator counting any time to help our numbers. It’s set up as you have to get at least 150 minutes of activity for six of the nine weeks of the contest. You. Can. Skip. A. Week. Or three and still be counted as a completion. And the percentage of employees who completed the challenge is who is determined to be the winner. In other words, as this is important, someone who did 150 minutes for six weeks is counted the same as someone who did 150 minutes for all nine weeks.

    But then the last two weeks happened. My office is in a large Texas city. Employees live across the city, so we had a mix of people who lost power, lost water, and/or both. We were told to keep working, even though the city was begging residents who had power to reduce and conserve. Technically, some employees are still without both because of how their apartment is setup.

    I normally workout on the weekends, but skipped it because the water utility shut it in my half of the city. We didn’t know when it would be back on, so it was best to not get sweaty when I don’t know when my next shower will be. Also, I didn’t have energy as I was eating canned soups to minimize dishes. We got some water in pots before the water shut off, but it was running low by day four. The office had their water shut off and had to stay closed on Monday because the toilets wouldn’t flush and the sinks had almost no pressure. Not good in any circumstance, but worse with a pandemic.

    The reasonable thing would be for our coordinator to not send an email about logging activities. Or make suggestions about activities to do in the upcoming week. Nope. The coordinator spent this week’s email encouraging us to log the time spent shoveling snow into buckets to have water to flush toilets counted as time. And someone else commented that shelving snow was an activity in the drop down menu.

    And the coordinator is in HR and on boards employees. The other employee is the executive assistant to our sitedirector. They live in my city!

  32. North Wind*

    Oh gang – not exactly a contest but sort of…

    Years ago I was working in a small department in a big corporate environment. Occasionally we’d book a conference room during lunch and play the game Taboo (very, very laid back – not organized by a manager, everyone welcome, no one made to feel weird if they didn’t attend, we also did other things like going out to lunch together or most days we’d all do our own thing). Anyway.

    Taboo is the game where you get a card with a word on it that you have to get the others to say, but there are 5 common words listed that you’re NOT allowed to say in trying to get folks to guess your word.

    Well. Our department had a new director (highest level management on our team), and most folks were not fans. He wasn’t particularly experienced in the subject matter of our department and some knew him from past positions in the company, but I was advocating to give him a chance. I was extremely surprised and happy when he expressed interest in participating in one of the lunchtime Taboo games.

    So he comes to lunch, gets his first word, and the only clue he gives us is “Me”. We’re guessing Director, Manager, Boss; he just shakes his head no and keep repeating “Me, ME!”. So we’re struggling to remember facts about his personal life and are saying things like hockey player, dad, man, etc. Still no joy, and he still won’t give any other clue besides pointing to himself and saying “ME”.

    Well, the time runs out without us guessing, and he tells us what the word is: “Hunk”. He said it completely unironically, no laugh to signify he was joking or anything. Aaaaand that’s pretty much all you need to know about how well his reign in our department went.

      1. North Wind*

        Yes :), I was blinking pretty furiously and trying to pick my jaw up off the floor. Everything moved on quickly but really, his opinion of himself was high enough that if he had been aware of an awkward atmosphere he would have somehow interpreted it as a compliment to himself, lol.

  33. Des*

    [Anyone with any experience in IT or software engineering knows what happened next…
    There was 2 days of this before the boss sent round a single line email: “This was a f**king stupid idea eh?”]


    1. AnonEMoose*

      Right? I mean, anyone who realizes that an awful lot of IT people are also gamers of one or more types should realize that this would end…badly. Hilariously for those watching, but badly.

      Says the person who once asked the GM in a pencil, paper, and dice roleplaying game “What’s my damage with a cathedral ceiling?”

      1. Quill*

        Ooooh I want you in a game but I NEVER want to DM you.

        (I was a chemistry major who made a DM change a pit of acid trap into an “INSTANT DEATH POTION” because I asked the exact pH and molarity. Also I once rolled a 20 and made activated charcoal to rescue poison victims, successfully arguing that my status as a poisonous creature meant I would have been trained in it in case I accidentally bit someone. DM’s either love me or don’t.)

  34. OxfordCommander*

    #10 is the best idea ever and I want to remember it for a party someday when we can all gather together again. It sounds like a hoot!

  35. Elizabeth West*

    #2 absolutely deserved that prize, and I really really hope #5 gets it too. :’D
    I loved the idea of #10, but you’d have to have the right coworkers for that to work.
    The chili guy–ugh!

  36. Susana*

    Oh, this is excellent! And the chili thief -pretty impressive display, actually, of the value of team effort and diversity!

  37. Jennifer*

    I thought the hot sauce might have been switched with a milder sauce and neither contestant wanted to say anything. I can’t believe they risked their health like that! For a lousy gift card.

  38. Anonamouse*

    The one with a free PTO day sounds like an episode of the office. I’m also amazed that a chili competition was even a good idea from the start. Out of all the foods that I would like to be eating and shoved into a room with all my coworkers in ……

  39. Please let me go back to sleep*

    Just wanted to say I really liked reading these stories today and they made me laugh! Been having a tough few weeks (well, actually tough few years) and AAM has been so helpful.

  40. PJH*

    …for the sake of your esophagus.

    Your what, now? :D

    (I had to go check that meant the same thing as oesophagus – after too many years on the internet, that’s actually the first time I’d seen the American spelling in print!)

    1. Quill*

      I can understand all the extra british U’s, but the extraneous O’s are always what gets me. How do you even pronounce that? (It’s eeee- soff- uh- guss here.)

  41. The Equalizator*

    These stories make me hope that we beat the virus in the next coupla years and get to make work more fun again. I do miss the before times and promise to appreciate morale-building exercises more than I used to if we ever get to do those again

  42. Jen Barber, IT*

    Am I the only one who thinks number 5 is kind of mean spirited? Just don’t participate if you don’t agree with the contest, that’s fine, but you don’t have to sabotage it.

    (Full disclosure: I did a steps challenge last month and thoroughly enjoyed it, and no, I did not even come close to winning)

  43. What were they thinking*

    Back in 2015 I was starting my first “real job” in HR. When I started with the company there had recently been an incident at the gingerbread house contest. One of our employees decided to make two houses. One house was a white house, white picket fence, clean yard, white family etc. Yeah….. you can see where this is going. The other house was run down, alcohol bottles everywhere, and had a black family with big afros and messy clothes. To top it all off there was a sign that said “well, there goes the neighbourhood”.

      1. What were they thinking*

        Yes, they were disciplined. But now that I’m older and more experienced I definitely think it wasn’t enough haha.

  44. Jen MaHRtini*

    Ex-company decided to hold a contest to rename conference rooms. Since there were 7, there were of course the expected silly suggestions – 7 Dwarves, 7 Deadly Sins, etc. Some decent themes were submitted eventually like area rivers and local landmarks. No one on the selection committee wanted to actually pick a winner for fear of angering anyone who wasn’t picked, so one name was chosen from each of the top seven lists, resulting in a completely mismatched set of names.

  45. Quill*

    “So, sorry not sorry, I attached my activity tracker to my siberian husky’s collar and am KILLING it. I’ve made my views known and no one listened, so if the doggo wins the prize will go straight to the furloughed employees assistance fund.”

    Please photograph the proud winner.

  46. EmmaPoet*


    Also, this demands the doggo tax of at least one picture of the adorable one jogging in their tracker.

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