the hot sauce contest, soup-gate, and other work contests gone awry

“We had a hot sauce eating contest at work years ago that ended with the crowd demanding that the contestants stop before they got hurt (and passing the hat to come up with a second prize) and then one contestant threw up in the bushes on the way to his bus and the other was up all night and didn’t come in to work the next day.”
commenter JustaTech

“We have an annual soup contest that someone won a few years back with a package of ‘just add water’ mix. It’s referred to as the soup-doping scandal or soup-gate.”
commenter ExceptionToTheRule

And then there was the company that ran a contest for employees where they could win money by guessing which of their coworkers would be fired next.

Let’s talk about workplace contests gone terribly awry. Please share your own stories in the comment section.

{ 908 comments… read them below }

    1. Artemesia*

      Didn’t some mid-western chicken plant just get some awkward publicity because the execs were making bets on how many line workers would get COVID? They defended it as ‘morale boosting.’ So they didn’t protect their workers, many got COVID and some died — and the morale boost was execs betting on how many of them would sicken (don’t know if they gave extra points for death)

      1. SpicySpice*

        Yes, you’re remembering correctly. If that’s not late-stage capitalism at its finest, I don’t know what is. We really are just fodder for the money machine.

        1. Not playing your game anymore*

          No. That is not quite it “As the novel coronavirus ripped through a pork processing plant in Waterloo, Iowa, in April, Tyson Foods supervisors not only kept the facility open — they also placed bets on how many workers would catch the virus, a recent wrongful death lawsuit claims.”
          Link in comments. The Smithfield plant in SF SD is terrible, but as far as I know, has not been called out for this particular atrocious behavior.

  1. Mandi*

    Not really a contest, but at a former company, a Facilities Management employee was responsible for collecting the badges of terminated employees to turn off their access to the building. He created a Wall of Shame on the inside door of a cabinet in the maintenance shop with the badges of everyone who had been fired. He eventually got caught and reprimanded.

    1. Colleague’s Dog’s Viking Funeral*

      Like the admin who collected name plates as trophies. The writer of that story said that s/he’d taken the name plate of the last person that evil admin chased out and hid it. Evil admin went on a search for it.

      1. Shhhh*

        My dad actually had quite an impressive collection of nameplates from coworkers that had left the company at a previous job. It was more of a running joke in his case – the coworkers had all given him their nameplates upon their (sometimes voluntary, sometimes due to layoffs) exits.

        1. SomebodyElse*

          We have a basketball that everyone signs as they leave… not sure when it started, but it’s now a badge of honor to ‘sign the ball’

        2. Ali*

          We had a coworker who did the same and had them all covering the walls of his cube until HR finally made him stop. Not sure what happened to all of the name plates…

            1. Bunny*

              We do this when people we hated leave or are fired. I’m in news, and we display them in an air studio where management never goes.

              As an industry, we are a strange people.

      1. Quinalla*

        Yes, I kept ones like these as it felt weird/wrong throwing them out, so I just have a stack in my drawer to remember those that left for different things or were part of layoffs. Firings, I didn’t feel weird tossing those.

    2. Oh you know*

      My old boss did this. He had pictures from company parties and would make a big “X” on peoples faces in the photos when they left. Kinda wish I had done my own before I left just to steal the satisfaction from him. :/

      1. Amcb13*

        Not a workplace but my husband’s grandma had her HS yearbook and would cross out her classmates faces when they died. She was a delightfully kooky human and we miss her (I wonder what happened to her yearbook and if whoever inherited it crossed her face out.)

        1. Caterpie*

          There was a popular post back in the days of Tumblr about this very same thing! Kooky grandmas are the best.

        1. Lady Meyneth*

          I’ll give you a non-horrifying one to take the taste off your mouth.

          We once got an all staff framed photo in liew of a bonus (yeah, no kidding), and my boss did this with his copy. Since that little stunt was the final straw, people scattered like ants, got new jobs and left FAST, including me. Every time one of us quit, the boss scheduled a team lunch (not mandatory, just to say goodbye) and we ceremonially crossed that person off the company-from-hell payroll. The crossed out picture had pride of place on his desk for everyone to see, C-suite included, up until the day he left himself.

    3. optimist*

      Maybe having a person who’s responsible for security keeping photos and names of fired people inside a cabinet for reference is not the worst idea? in case they come back to harass, steal, or take some other form of revenge? Especially if this is *fired* rather than laid off.

      I don’t know, maybe his attitude sucked, but this is far from the worst thing I’ve heard here.

      1. Mandi*

        Optimist, I get what you’re saying, but he was definitely impish about this and very proud of his “secret” collection. There was no good intent. :)

    4. Karlee*

      I had a colleague who secretly collected nameplates of departing employees and wore them stapled to his clothes at the office Halloween party, telling everyone he was the ghost of employees past. It was…awkward.

    5. The ritual begins early.*

      In high school I worked at an amusement park in the games section. We’d draw names for which game you’d work for the day. Whenever someone was fired or left on my bad terms we’d burn their name slip during the morning meeting. It became such a thing people leaving on good terms would burn their own name slip on the last day. Other departments did not understand us…

        1. Artemesia*

          I used to make their potato leek soup all the time. We make lots of soup from scratch and I am astonished that a packaged soup won.

      1. LBugging*

        Yep, Bear Creek in insanely good. I cut up my raw chicken, pour in the water, add the mix, and boil 20 minutes or so. I used to make my own bone broth and everything from scratch and Bear Creek is 20 minutes not 2 days and as good or better

      2. Worldwalker*

        That’s what I was thinking of. Their creamy chicken soup mix is amazing. Throw in some extra chicken, more pasta, and whatever vegetables you have around, and it’s over the top.

      1. Allypopx*

        Mixes aren’t inherently low quality! They’re usually less healthy and higher in sodium and sugar but those can be tasty things.

        1. juliebulie*

          Oh, I agree, lots of them are very good. Even so, I find the powdered broth stuff less appealing than canned soup or better yet, soup base from a jar. (The gooey stuff.) In fact, I’m tempted now to get a package of soup mix (and Bear Creek is damn good), sift out the powder, and use soup base.

          Or maybe that’s more trouble than it’s worth….

      2. Rayray*

        They probably weren’t “worse”, the one made from the mix just got more votes. Maybe because it was a taste people were more accustomed to. Many soup mixes are actually really good.

        1. HBJ*

          Agreed. Mixes can taste great. And they aren’t even necessarily high in sugar or MSG or other “bad stuff.” I continue to buy high-priced McCormick taco seasoning because it tastes better than anything I’ve been able to come up with from scratch. And I specifically buy McCormick because the only ingredients in it are spices and cornstarch (which are the same things in my recipe, but they have the proportions and particular ones dialed in.)

    1. Soupforthesoul*

      I love Bear Creek, too! The minestrone is a perfect base for tossing in all the left over veggies in the fridge and freezer, just hate that the pasta gets soggy after it’s been cooking a long time (any pasta would).

    2. CmdrShepard4ever*

      Unless the contest specifically says it is a homemade soup contest with rules, I don’t think it is cheating to use a store bought base especially if you add stuff in to it. But if it is just a “best soup contest” that says nothing about it having to be homemade.

      Even if you say homemade what does that mean? Do I have to make my own chicken/vegetable stock from scratch, or can I use store bought stock. If someone buys can soup or premade store soup and adds spices, other ingredients I would consider it homemade enough.

      Even a soup mix you can still mess it up if you put in too much or too little water/milk.

      1. Allypopx*

        I think that’s a bit pedantic, though. This kind of thing is about the spirit of competition not the technicalities.

        1. CmdrShepard4ever*

          But who is deciding what the spirit of competition is? Different people might have different ideas, all I am saying is you should be clear about what you want. If you want it to be a homemade contest I just think you should say so.

          Is it to find the best tasting food item, or seeing who can spend the most time making something?

          I think part of the issue a lot of people like to think homemade is always better tasting, but based on these stories that is not always the case, especially if you put it to a blind taste test. But if I am looking for a recipe and Bobs tastes a lot better and he spent 1 hour by using store bought soup base and adding stuff in, and Mark spent 4 hours making most of it from “scratch” I will use Bobs recipe instead. Hey, even if Marks recipe IS BETTER but only marginally/slightly so I would probably still just Bobs for the time savings. People have different value judgments, some might value time more than quality or vice versa.
          (Being better for you health wise is a different story, I do agree most store bought stuff has a ton of unhealthy levels of sugar or other additives.)

          If I buy a premade pie crust, but the rest of the filing is homemade is that cheating or is it a homemade pie, or if I make a puff pastry but use store bought filo dough? I don’t think it is pedantic to be clear and say if you can or can’t use store bought crust/dough.

          1. Black Horse Dancing*

            Not to be a jerk but puff pastry and filo/phyllo dough are two separate things and usually can’t be substituted for each other.

            1. Esmeralda*

              Depends on what you’re making. I’ve made little savory napoleons for parties and usually use store bought puff pastry [I’ve made it from scratch, ridiculous amount of work and not better than store bought], but I’ve substituted phyllo dough and it is equally as delicious. Different, but works great. Same thing for sweet or savory turnovers, that kind of thing.

              I have not ever tried to ake phyllo dough, because that’s too much!

            2. CmdrShepard4ever*

              This is why I am not allowed to go grocery shopping without supervision, I am not the baker in the family.

              But my main point about using homemade version versus a store bought version in a more complex recipe still stands. I watch Nadiya Hussain cooking shows and even she talks about using store bought dough for some things.

          2. Jerry Larry Terry Garry*

            It doesn’t violate the spirit of potluck, but it does a cooking contest. It’s like entering a paint-by-numbers piece in an art show.

            1. Worldwalker*

              I don’t enter contests, and I can’t cook, so I’ve got no skin in this game, but:

              Where is the cutoff for “homemade”? Do tomatoes, for instance, have to be from your garden? Can they be from the farmer’s market? How about the grocery store? Or a can? Do you have to boil down a turkey carcass for your broth, as a long-ago roommate of mine tried to do (the results were inedible), or can you use packaged broth? What if it’s seasoned? And do you have to use seasonings out of your own herb garden, or can you at least buy pepper? What about seasoning blends? Are dried soup greens permissible? If you want to put ham in there, do you have to raise the pig yourself, or is just curing the ham in your smokehouse sufficient?

              It’s not as simple as it looks.

            2. tamarack and fireweed*

              I guess if people take a contest seriously enough to care about this sort of thing, it crosses the line for me between enjoyable workplace fun and a potential annoyance.

      2. Weekend Please*

        I agree. It is like using a cake mix in a cake contest. Some people really think that is baking a cake from scratch. People have different baselines for what is considered “homemade” and should not be penalized for not reading peoples minds.

        1. Blue Eagle*

          This comment reminds me of the time I was required to bake a cake for a co-workers birthday. I minimized my work by using a box mix and topping it with a dusting of powdered sugar. Said co-worker commented that she really liked the cake and thanked me for baking it.
          So, you never know.

            1. Lunita*

              The “doctored” boxed cake mix topic comes up once in awhile in the online cake group forums I’ve been in. Plenty of professional bakers apparently use them as a base. Google WASC (white almond sour cream) cake-it’s very popular amongst bakers.

              1. Al*

                I made the chocolate cake version of that recipe (from the Sugar Geek Show website, if anyone is interested), and it was absolutely delicious and moist and AT LEAST as much work as baking a cake from scratch.

              2. Julie in Ohio*

                Yup. Back in the Ace of Cakes days, my husband worked at the grocery store that Duff and Co. bought cake mixes by the case from. He got to know Geoff, and I was so squealy fangirl.

        2. Miss V*

          Not cake mix, but I wonder where my brownies would fall on this spectrum. I use a box mix, but I use coffee instead of water, melted butter instead of oil, throw in an egg, and usually a little vanilla.

        3. Student Affairs Sally*

          This isn’t a contest, but is related to your comment – a former boss was famous for her incredible “homemade from-scratch” brownies that she would always bring to an annual event. People would often make an appearance at this event just for “Edith’s” brownies, and rare occasions where there were leftovers, people would descend on them like vultures. People would ask her to bring the brownies to other events or at other random times, and she always claimed that it was too much work to make her HOMEMADE FROM-SCRATCH brownies and she could only do it for special occasions. The first year after she retired, she came to my office to drop off brownies so we could have them at the event; the second year, no brownies – and everyone was horribly disappointed. Imagine their surprise when I revealed her secret: the brownies were *technically* homemade but weren’t from-scratch at all, she just combined two different brownie mixes. Which is totally fine to do! It was just the fact that she always bragged about how they were from scratch and required SO much work and could only be for special occasions, when literally anyone who has made brownies from a mix could have made them. She loved being piled with praise over her brownies – which was very much in line with her approach to work (taking complete credit for the work that myself and my colleague did, throwing us under the bus in front of faculty for mistakes she made, etc). She was a terrible boss in about a million different ways, so I don’t feel guilty for revealing her secret.

          1. Wednesday*

            Sally, are you really not going to say what the two brands of mixes were? I need in on these amazing (easy) brownies!

            1. Student Affairs Sally*

              They were both Ghirardelli brand but of two different flavors, and I honestly can’t remember which two!

              1. ha ha ha yes!*

                Ghirardelli brownies are SO GOOD! I use the Costco mix exactly as written, and several groups I’m in always ask for me to bring my incredible brownies – and I’m not shy about telling them that they’re from a mix! For me the secret is to make the extra thick brownies (2 packages made in 9×13 pan), and to not overbake them. They’re delicious!

              2. PollyQ*

                Whenever I’ve made Ghirardelli brownies for a group, I’ve used the directions on the box, no alterations, and people RAVE about them. (Dark chocolate & double chocolate are my fave types — both have chocolate chips included.)

                1. Lis*

                  Yes ppl rave about my brownies but they’re just the Ghirardelli double chocolate with the chunks in them. So yummy. I’ve never pretended mine were homemade though!

                1. AC Stefano*

                  I make a brownie cheesecake (where the crust is the brownie) and Ghiradelli mixes are my go-to for that recipe. It’s amazing.

              3. DataSci*

                Ghirardelli brownie mix is so good. If you saw the horrible brownie episode of GBBO last season, I think my seven-year-old could have beaten all of them with a box of Ghirardelli mix.

                1. Nicole*

                  my favorite brownie recipe is Ghirardelli mix + hazelnuts + craisins (not everyone likes the craisins)

                2. Arvolin*

                  I actually prefer Pillsbury’s Fudge Brownie mix. Back when I was in college, I asked Mom about making a treat, and that’s what she told me. I now refer to it as the old family recipe. (It didn’t get even a mention in the company Chrismas dessert contest, nor did the cookies I entered the next year, and those were a lot of work.)

          2. DataGirl*

            This makes me think of an Etsy scandal a few years ago- I don’t remember all the details but basically there was a baker who sold homemade cookies and brownies on Etsy, she was featured in some article or something and her business blew up and she got a huge amount of attention. Then photos surfaced of her work space- not only was she using pre-made mixes for everything but she was storing the ingredients in unsanitary conditions- like there were open bags of dry goods sitting on the floor of a garage/shed with rodent droppings in the pictures. When she got caught she did not handle it well and there was a lot of drama. I’m not sure whatever happened to her or her business but I think she had to close shop.

          3. Genny*

            It sucks that she was a terrible boss, but I kind of love the “it’s too time consuming to make for every occasion” cover story to get out of becoming the office baker.

          4. Prague*

            Oh, jeez. I had a coworker whose wife had a secret “homemade” brownie recipe that she wouldn’t share. It turned out to be a box mix with chocolate chips and one other ingredient swap. Which is…fine, except her secret swap was PEANUT oil. No one knew until the coworker retired and I was chosen as the recipe inheritor. And then I retired that recipe so we didn’t inadvertently kill anyone.

      3. ThatGirl*

        I got second place in a guacamole contest by using fresh avocado and a pouch of Frontera-brand guacamole mix. I did doctor it up a little beyond that, and it was just for fun, but yeah, I don’t really see a problem – there can still be some skill in it.

        1. ARB*

          I use the same packet, and it is amaze. I leave out the tomatoes, and add red onion (only red, no other kind) and if it looks a little thick when I mix it up, I add a little green salsa. Everyone who has tried it LOVED it.

      4. Artemesia*

        reminds me of the girl scout cookbook my troop made with our favorite recipes. One girl turned in a packaged pudding mix directions because it was ‘her’ favorite. Totally missed the point. And bringing a mix to a contest totally misses the point — presumably it is a contest between soups workers MADE — otherwise it is pointless.

        1. CmdrShepard4ever*

          Unless the instructions for the book said it is a “homemade cook book” she did not miss the point. It was a book of peoples favorite recipes, she brought in her favorite recipe.

          1. UKDancer*

            Absolutely. If that’s her favourite recipe then it is. My grandfather’s favourite thing ever was vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce. If anyone asked him for a recipe that’s probably what he’d have supplied.

            1. Chocolate Teapot*

              Vanilla Ice Cream with (hot) chocolate sauce is the classic Belgian dessert “Dame Blanche”, and you will need a recipe for the sauce. It’s usually chocolate and cream melted together, but can include other things.

          2. Ginger ale for all*

            My niece’s first grade class had a fund raising cookbook made where everyone submitted a favorite family recipe. One of the most popular recipes was one for Smores made with Nutella instead of a Hershey bar. There is room in this world for simplicity in making treats.

          3. Artemesia*

            The purpose of such a cook book is for people to be able to make interesting recipes. No one really cares that YOU love commercial ice cream with chocolate sauce; if they love that, they know how to make it. The point of a recipe book is interesting recipes. So yeah turning in a recipe from the back of a pudding box does I think miss the point.

            1. MCMonkeybean*

              If this was intended to be a collection of favorite recipes from young children then I really don’t think she was the one who was missing the point…

        2. sb51*

          Eh, for a thing like a kid’s cookbook (or even one of the ones from adults but around a community, like a church club or something), I think that’s fine! My wedding shower was a “recipe shower” (bring recipes instead of gifts, my mom bound them all into a lovely little cookbook for me). One non-cook among my friends carefully hand-wrote up instructions on how to order a pizza. It’s adorable and I loved it, because it’s honest.

          1. Dasein9*

            My grandma’s church cookbook has a recipe for a cold cut sandwich.
            The sandwich contains bread, butter, and cold cuts.

            This recipe is not in the section titled “Men and Children,” which I would have expected, given the other recipes in that section of the book.

            (Yes, this was some years ago and part of the reason I keep the cookbook is the amusing gender assumptions.)

            1. Leap Year Conspiracy*

              I LOVE old church cookbooks, particularly from the Midwest. I spent an evening once perusing my stepfather’s collection from growing up and watching the women’s names change from “Mrs. Robert Clapton” to “Janey Smith-Jameson” and thoroughly enjoying the hot dish section. Would love seeing a “Men and Children” section.

          2. Amcb13*

            Same! One aunt who famously doesn’t cook brought the menu from her favorite takeout place! We loved it.

          3. InfoSec SemiPro*

            We had this as well from my husband’s family when we got married. One of the non cooks carefully wrote up “toast and coffee” and I cherish it right along with the grandmother’s sacred chocolate cake recipe that I wasn’t allowed to know until I joined the family.

            Its a family that takes cooking and entertaining seriously, and was a great welcome from everyone.

        3. Lunita*

          I don’t see it as pointless-maybe if she loved it so much, others would as well. And since it was a children’s recipe collection seems like there should be more flexibility.

      5. Seeking Second Childhood*

        I’ll give you an exception you might agree with: what if you are being required to participate in this and you’d say they don’t cook and you don’t have time and you don’t have a budget? Bring in a soup mix soup, problem solved, until you win apparently.

        1. Indigo a la mode*

          “Problem solved, until you win apparently.”

          I think that’s it exactly: It’s fine, just don’t expect to win and don’t hide it. Example: One team in my office brought in a bunch of Wendy’s chili for our annual chili cookoff. They were busy and didn’t get together a team plan but still wanted to participate (it’s optional), and they did it openly and honestly and with good humor. The served the chili right out of the Wendy’s packaging, earnestly describing its flavors with sommelier flair. They knew they weren’t eligible to win when other teams had put together a complicated theme and homemade dishes, but everyone had fun with it. If they’d argued that their entry was just as deserving of the prize, it would have rightfully soured some people who put in a lot more effort.

      6. meyer lemon*

        I don’t necessarily think it’s cheating, but I would be surprised if a soup mix was able to win, unless the rest of the entries were particularly bad. Soup mixes and canned soups are not usually very inspiring.

      7. MCMonkeybean*

        I’m also curious whether the person was even trying to win, or if they were just like “oh shoot there’s that work contest tomorrow and I should participate but ugh I don’t have time, oh well I’ll just bring in this mix and call it a day” and then were surprised to actually win? I could definitely see that happening in an environment where participating in contests is highly encouraged (which obviously we have no info on whether or not that is the case here)

    3. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      I think it’s more a reflection of how people’s taste buds have evolved to accept and then prefer industrial crap rather than an indication of how good the soup actually is.

    4. Steph*

      Many years ago I had a student job at a university and sometimes we’d bring snacks to share on Fridays. This wasn’t a contest, but one week we decided to have a Soup Friday, where anyone who wanted to could bring a soup to share. Several people brought slow cookers with soup. One supervisor who had studied abroad in Spain said she would make gazpacho. She turned up with a WARM tomato soup with small cooked pasta inside. She tried to bluff it off initially (“Oh yeah, some people like it warm. With pasta . . . “) but finally caved at our questions and said she’d run out of time to make something from scratch so had brought store-brand tomato soup with pasta! Later that year we compiled a bunch of people’s favorite Friday recipes and made sure to include the directions f0r the super authentic gazpacho recipe.

  2. yokozbornak*

    We had an ugly sweater contest which included a walk down the runway. One contestant decided to take it to the next level by twerking and making some sexually suggestive moves. Our HR Director was dying inside and that was the last year that event happened.

    1. qtippyqueen*

      There was an ugly sweater contest one time at work. I complemented someone on their ugly sweater. This person DID NOT KNOW THERE WAS A CONTEST. Woops.

      1. Phyllis*

        As I tell many people regularly, the reason why my mouth is this big is so I can get both feet in at the same time.

      2. Noncompliance Officer*

        Not a work story but a few years ago at Christmas I told my mom, “That’s the ugliest ugly Christmas sweater ever. Great job, mom.” My mom was not aware that ugly Christmas sweaters were a thing. She thought it was a pretty sweater.

      3. Wish I had a better name*

        We had an ugly sweater contest at our company Christmas party several years ago. We didn’t want someone dressing festive to unknowingly be considered for our prize, so you had to enter the contest. Employees voted for their favorite. One of our VPs won easily. His sweater was the poster child for ugly sweater contests. He graciously accepted the prize. We found out later that HE NEVER ENTERED the contest. One of his employees signed him up without anyone knowing. He loved his sweater and truly didn’t know it was ugly. We still laugh about it years later.

      4. Chilipepper*

        That exact comment/story from a couple of holidays ago is why I was able to keep my big mouth shut in Dec 2019 when we had a bad sweater day and one person wore one bc she liked it. Thanks for saving me!

      5. Miss Muffet*

        Something similar happened to my husband when he wore his beautiful Norwegian sweater to work – which, c’mon, could not have possibly been mistaken for an “ugly sweater”.

        1. Charlotte Lucas*

          I think some people think ugly=elaborate. I belong to a knitting group. We are generally not find of ugly sweater contests.

          1. Princess Trachea-Aurelia Belaroth*

            Yeah, by this point “ugly” is a type of sweater, and does not have to refer to actual aesthetic quality. It still can, but I think all elaborately patterned, knitted/Christmas sweaters fall into the category, along with actually ugly garments.

          2. JB*

            Yeah, I have to be honest, almost none of the ‘ugly’ sweaters I’ve seen at work contests etc. are actually ugly. Most of them are danged cute.

      6. Jenny Lind*

        This reminds me of a story a friend told me of her going to a park to watch an ugly dog contest. She saw a woman walking a little dog near the park and asked her if she was entering her dog in the ugly dog contest. The woman indignantly said, “NO”.

      7. NYWeasel*

        One year, my team decided to have an ugly sweater contest for Xmas, and I absolutely didn’t want to purposely buy an ugly sweater, so I went into my husbands closet and yanked out the ugliest sweater I saw in there. It was a really bland tan color with a giant trout jumping out of the water, and the reason I classified it as “ugly” was because it was so clearly for a fly fisherman which neither of us are.

        I didn’t win, lol, but when I got home, I told him what I’d done. He gave me an exasperated look and proceeded to tell me that he had the sweater because he had drawn the artwork on it.


    2. Chaordic One*

      When my workplace had an ugly sweater contest, we had several handsome young men (with bulging biceps) enter the contest and then they wore sleeveless sweaters with no shirts underneath.

  3. ghostlight*

    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!

    1. I edit everything*

      That’s hilarious, and I’m totally going to remember that for any chili cookoff I’m a part of.

      1. SunriseRuby*

        Not just depth, but COMPLEXITY! I’ll bet that co-worker had a whole bunch of other life hacks, too.

    2. Square Root of Minus One*

      This is hilarious.
      And I sorta wish they’d gathered all the other recipes then. Technically, his recipe was the sum of them in equal proportion.
      Imagine. A monument of chili cuisine might have been born that day. Like Kei Kobayashi’s veggie salad with 40 ingredients that starred on a French Top Chef episode just yesterday.

    3. Smaller potatoes*

      They could have totally spun it off as a teamwork lesson. Look how much better it is when our talents combine!

      1. Jane METZGER*

        Not actually in a work setting. My husband and I both made different pots of chili (Disclaimer: mine was Bear Creek, and his was definitely from scratch).
        We couldn’t decide which was better – so I combined them together, and it was GREAT!

    4. Bob*

      This is genius. His only mistake in this masterpiece was claiming it was his own recipe.
      If he had fessed up right away he might have been a visionary instead.

      1. Dragon_Dreamer*

        I kinda did something like that in a Science Olympiad contest at school. We had to build balsa wood towers that were judged by calculating their weight vs the amount of weight they could hold before they broke/shattered. I won. Being poor and unable to afford the raw materials, I basically built my tower with the shattered bits of everyone ELSE’s designs. (Little piece here, little piece there, laminated together with what raw materials I could afford, and held together with pegs made from bamboo skewers.)

        No one actually got mad about it, since they’d offered me the pieces, none of the chunks I received were whole sections, and I actually impressed my teacher and classmates with my ingenuity. :D I later taught them how to make proper parachutes for their bottle rockets project, and ingratiated myself further. (I flew model rockets at the time, the parachutes are always full circles of plastic dusted with talcum powder. They were using the corners of garbage bags, which didn’t tend to open properly.)

        1. dawbs*

          FWIW, its within the parameters of the rules for SO.
          As someone who dealt with arbitrations related to scoring and who managed a decades worth of regional SO tournaments and a little at states, I am, for better and for worse, intricately familiar with the rules, and when you got to competition, the final product has to have been made by members of this year’s team. That doesn’t mean it’s necessarily the kid who is pouring the sand into the bucket, it means anyone on the team.
          So combining the best parts of all of the participant’s pieces is actually in keeping with the letter of the rules–and even moreso with the spirit.

          (except in small print I’ll add that bamboo is a grass, not a wood so technically you can’t use bamboo in the construction of the towers/bridges/boomilevers. Yes, this has been arbitrated and there is now a clarification at the national level on this one. In case you feel like making balsa towers tonight)

          1. Dragon_Dreamer*

            I’d use whittled pegs, then. ;) This was back in 1998/99, so the rules were probably a bit looser then. Only my bottle rocket made it to the actual competition. Sadly, I was sick, so someone else flew it. While we didn’t win first place, mine was the ONLY parachute that day to open!

            1. Dawbs*

              I have seen some SPECTACULAR things made-and they didn’t always win, but they were so much fun! And kids owning their work was amazing.

              Yay for parachutes that work-they are hard!

              (We had to scuttle the bottle rocket launch my last year running a regional because it was a Midwestern early spring blizzard and the amazing engineers who volunteered to be the event supervisors said that it was cold enough for ice to form and to dangerous to launch.
              But they set up a “not for points, just fun” reschedule to at least get yo launch things a week later- because getting to launch is part of the point!

      2. Ana Gram*

        That’s what the kid who wanted to get hired as a visionary should’ve done! I wonder what happened to him…

    5. HoHumDrum*

      Chili seems like a very ripe recipe for contest malfeasance because of the way it’s a hodge-podge of flavors and the recipes are so varied.

      Your dad’s story reminded me of a time when I won a chili making contest at summer camp. I told my team just to dump all of the spicy ingredients we had in because I knew the three male counselors in their early 20s that were judging were the kind to make a big production out of who was the “toughest” and most comfortable with high levels of spice. We didn’t bother with any other flavors or worrying about cooking, we just loaded it up with spice. It worked, they said they loved our chili the best, they could tell it was best because it was spicy and spent a lot of time showing off their ability to eat it (cue 14 year old me in the corner looking at my teammates like “I told you”).

      Anyways, I wonder how many others have stories of chili contest fraud! Seems more common than I realized.

      1. Nobby Nobbs*

        One year, someone won the church chili cook off (decided by popular vote) with a crock pot of homemade hot chocolate labeled “dessert chili.” The next year there was a dessert category to prevent a repeat.

        1. Artemesia*

          Make it a crock of Mexican hot chocolate i.e. made with chocolate with a little chili in it and you are in the rules as far as I’m concerned

        2. DataSci*

          Since we’re branching out into non-workplace chili cookoffs, there was the time someone won third prize in the vegetarian category (which otherwise had only two entrants, and he hadn’t actually entered) with margaritas, by unanimous vote.

        3. ShanShan*

          When I was in grad school, someone turned in a cake to an art auction and got higher bids than any other item. (I think a group of people bid together and then split the cake).

          In their defense, that cake was a work of art.

    6. HBJ*

      Not work but a community group. One person won multiple prizes because they just liked to cook and made multiple kinds of chili. They were very kind, though, and declined every win after the first one. (They weren’t big prizes anyway. Coffee gift cards and such).

    7. Bearbear*

      Do your dad and my dad work at the same place?? Because that happened at my dad’s work too and I was about to post it!

      1. Bearbear*

        Oh, except the guy who did it at my dad’s work won third place and DID fess up and everyone laughed about it. The prize was also re-awarded once he confessed.

        1. PeterM*

          I hope they gathered everyone together and ceremoniously stripped him of his award in front of the crowd. Chili is serious business.

    8. Mockingjay*

      I’ve posted before about the work potluck chili contest a few years ago in which the winning entry looked, smelled, and tasted exactly like a can of Hormel.

    9. Essess*

      I would call it the “Stack Overflow” chili. Completely composed of ‘copy and paste’ of other people’s work. LOL

  4. SnapCrackleStop*

    My memory sadly isn’t that good, but this happened a quite a bit. When our company was <150 people, we used to do a lot more contests (think like T shirt designing, office Olympics, step count, cake decorating, etc.) Sometimes, the founder would decide on the spot to add cash prizes. Like $500 or more.

    The best part was keeping an eye on the faces of the people that had planned the event. They were always surprised and awkward, even though that kept happening. Once I became a manager, I found more excuses to opt out of the contests. That much money makes it weird.

    1. Julia*

      Oof. I can imagine how that would feel at a small company. Like, if you can afford to splash out hundreds of dollars for multiple silly competitions, give everyone a bonus instead.

      1. Harper the Other One*

        Or at least instead of making it a prize, order in pizza or some other meal for everyone.

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          come now, where’s your sense of competition? the all-essential component of capitalism! /s

    2. pagooey*

      We had regular cooking contests on a team I belonged to–different categories, like pie one quarter, chili the next. But the fun part was that the prize committee had gone down to a local trophy shop and just selected the absolute most random crap to put on top of the trophy, the most esoteric toppers they could find. So: One winner got a bowler; someone else got a “gold”-plated pig. I think there was even one trophy of the back half, and only the back half, of a horse. That one was hotly contested.

      1. Nerdling*

        I happen to have a trophy topped with a gold hockey player. I won it for being the worst bowler in my department back in the day during a goofy employee-driven team building activity. I still proudly display evidence that I “bowl like a hockey player.” (Yes, it was genuinely employee-driven. We were bonding over poor management with beer and bowling. Nobody knew about the “prizes” until the end of the day except the person who bought them.)

  5. Anyway I Don’t Work There Anymore*

    Similarly not quite a contest for workers, but we had a referral bonus that paid customers for referring other customers. Except the money for the customer’s bonus came out of …. staff commissions! Which staff were not quite told upfront.

    Oh, once I won a huge television for my exceptional sales and my manager took it home.

    (I did not want it or want to sell it, so they had my permission.)

      1. Anyway I Don’t Work There Anymore*

        Right? I guess because 75% of your normal commission is better than 0% on a sale that didn’t happen, but still. You gotta tell people this before you ask them to push the program.

        1. CarolU der*

          This is long– but horrible, it happened at the office where my friend worked, and her dentist-boss verified it. Seems that a clinic manager, with no medical or dental experience, decided that a good Halloween contest would be to make jewelry with OLD DENTAL APPLIANCES AND PULLED TEETH! Spray paint, wire, and glitter were allowed, but nothing else.
          The winner would get a $100 prize. Teeth are often cleaned and donated to dental schools for students to practice on, but still!?
          (My dentist also said that when his fiancee broke up with him during dental school, he took the big diamond out of the engagement ring, and replaced it with a tooth from a rescue cat who had bad teeth. Later, he had the 2-carat diamond from the ring put into a necklace for his wife- who laughed about it!)
          The manager denied anything about a contest, but had already put teeth into boxes with rules– and this and other issues got her fired.

          The next manager was normal, and my friend had no more crazy stories to tell…

  6. chili controversy*

    At my previous place of employment, they had a chili contest every year. The first year I was there, I heard the scandal about the previous year, when they had actual food-industry judges come in to pick a winner…and they picked a guy who had just warmed up canned Hormel chili. No more outside judges came in during my time there.

      1. Ana Gram*

        I brought toppings! Everyone loves toppings and I didn’t have to enter the cutthroat world of chili cookoffs!

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      How could they not tell by the texture? I’ve never had homemade chili with the same texture as canned chili.

    2. OhNo*

      Ha, something similar happened at one of my former jobs! They didn’t have fancy external judges, but they did have someone high up in the C-suite come in specially to judge the homemade chili contest.

      One of my coworkers just warmed up Hormel chili and submitted it as his entry. He won second place, and spent the rest of the week crowing about how he just warmed up Hormel chili and really “got one over” on… someone? I’m not really sure who he thought he as getting the better of, given that there were no prizes and he didn’t tell anyone outside of our department that he fooled them with canned chili.

    3. Engineer*

      Someone did that at our friend’s group cook off. Most comments on the hormel chili were ‘is this dog food? This is dog food.’

    4. Julia*

      Haha. When I hear stories about store-bought food winning homecooked contests, I always think, “well, yeah.” That food has a team of scientists working to make it taste good to the average palate. I mean, yeah, they have to contend with concerns about mass production and preservation that home cooks don’t, but they’re still bound to win at least some of the time.

        1. Lizzo*

          I never really got into that show, but have just Google it now and discovered that this was the name of the pilot episode. #TheMoreYouKnow

      1. Len F*

        It’s because they dump craptons of salt into it. Same as restaurant food. The secret ingredients are usually salt and butter.

    5. Otter Dance*

      My then-new husband raved about his mother’s spaghetti sauce after I had spent hours making mine from scratch. (No, I did not dump it on his head. I would have been the one trying to get stains out of his clothes and the table linens.)
      So, I gritted my teeth and asked her for the recipe. She gave me a brand name and warned me to bury the can deep in the garbage. We both laughed.

    6. Liane*

      This type of cook off story always reminds me of the employee Halloween costume contests when I worked for Infamous Retailer. As longtime commenters may recall, I’m an officer in one of the bigger Star Wars costuming clubs (The Rebel Legion for hero characters). This means my costumes/props are movie quality. When I worked on Halloween, I always wore my Jedi robes. I only swapped out a $20 toy lightsaber for the $100+ replica prop, for obvious reasons.
      How many times did I win? Zero! Every winner wore an off the shelf costume, usually a cheap one from our chain. Except the time the winner wore a very-iffy-for-work costume. Yes, it really upped my morale.

  7. Mbarr*

    It wasn’t a contest that went awry, but I don’t like how it was done one year…

    Every year, our multi national company’s head office holds a Christmas party. At the end of the party, there’s a raffle to win prizes. They start drawing for small prizes, then work their way up to the big prizes (grand prize is a travel voucher). It goes one draw, one prize.

    One year, the CEO happened to be attending (he’s normally in a different country). He got into the party mood and enjoyed our vibe.
    1. He decided on the value of the travel voucher at the last second (in previous years, it was already decided on the giant fake cheque). I guess he had some much fun, he upped the amount to $4000. (We literally saw him filling in the dollar amount before the draw. It felt like we had to “prove” to him that we deserved the extra $1000 for being fun.)
    2. To try to create more suspense, for the final two prizes (50 inch TV and the travel voucher) he decided to draw two names, have them come up, then he drew between the two names again to decide who got which prize.

    It just felt cruel to create the extra drama – especially cause one of the final contestants was someone I knew. (She won the TV). She had a lot of family overseas and definitely could have used the travel voucher to visit them, which she hadn’t been able to do for years. If it was me, I’d have been super disappointed to know how close I’d came to getting that cash.

    1. Thursdaysgeek*

      Perhaps if you changed the way you viewed it, it wouldn’t seem cruel. I saw it as generous: he increased the value of the grand prize, and the way he did it didn’t really change any of the odds. If your friend had won, you would remember it as him making her prize even better.

      1. CupcakeCounter*

        I think Mbarr was referring to the draw two names for the grand prize and the “loser” gets the TV, not the increase of the voucher amount.

        1. Rob aka Mediancat*

          I dunno. It’s not like first prize was a $4000 travel voucher and second prize was a dozen donuts.

          1. Rob aka Mediancat*

            A while back I was part of a group that organized a company picnic — truly optional, basically just a day of food and relaxation. There was a raffle at the end, and someone won second prize, which was a new Kindle. They were excited.

            At our next meeting, we were told that since the person who was a temp, he shouldn’t have been eligible for the Kindle and we had to get it back from him. Most of us protested, saying that that had never been mentioned ahead of time and that it was unfair to take it back from the winner now. They agreed but said the decision was out of our hands and that we had to recover it.

            We flatly refused on grounds of unfairness, so the head of the group had to do it themselves, and sure enough, the worker was upset about it, as he’d already bought some books for his new device and felt he was at least owed recompense for those. We don’t know how that played out, but in the future, while contingent workers were still invited, it was at least spelled out in advance that they were ineligible for any prizes.

            1. Zudz*

              If you had that kind of group push back, you could have just had someone else on the team get drawn, and then handed the device back to the temp.

              Or just ask HR (or whomever) to list the winner as an eligible employee in the department, and not go through the whole song and dance. (HR might like the song and dance tho’.)

              1. Rob aka Mediancat*

                We didn’t control the redrawing, we just refused to be the folks to tell the guy that he had to give back his prize. I honestly don’t know if there ever was a redrawing.

            2. Mr. Shark*

              Well that stinks. If he wasn’t eligible he shouldn’t have been in the raffle, but once he won, they shouldn’t have taken it back from him. ugh.

              1. Amethystmoon*

                This is the reason I will never go back to temping. Yeah, you had to work the hours and do the work of any regular employee, but you were treated like a second-class citizen.-

            3. SpartanFan*

              We had a little contest for Thanksgiving, guess how many beans in the jar type of game. We didn’t clarify that the 3 temps we had couldn’t compete. One of them won ($50 gift card to grocery store), and then ghosted the company the next Monday.

  8. Melody*

    A former employer liked to hold contests for all the employees to do things that should have been specific employees jobs (Create our slogan! Design our logo! Design these promotional items!) Supposedly the best idea would be chosen and the winner would receive an additional prize like a gas card or $100 or something.

    But, no winner was ever chosen.

    If you asked about it, management would either say, “Oh they were all so good so we just couldn’t choose!” or would act like there had never been a contest, even though we’d been encouraged to work on the contest entries on company time or weeks.

    1. SlightlyStressed*

      So did they just move on with business with no new logo or whatever they asked you to design? That’s so strange

      1. Melody*

        Yeah, they just decided that what they had was fine. The one exception is the promotional items, they used all of them and just didn’t award a winner.

    2. Ann O'Nemity*

      I “won” one of those for suggesting a new name for the company newsletter. “Won” is in quotations because they never announced a winner but used my suggestion.

    3. Dragon_Dreamer*

      I tended to win ANY sales contests held at my retail jobs. My secret was that I asked every customer without being pushy about it. If they said no, the answer was no. If they said yes, cool. My coworkers either didn’t care and asked no one, cared and only asked people they assumed would say yes, or got really aggressive and pushy with customers.

      Only once was I actually given the prize. Once. The rest of the time, management “forgot” or “you’re not eligible, you always win.” When I was let go from the bent fastener, I was long overdue for a $50 gift card I’d earned for sales that management “couldn’t find” for a couple weeks before I was let go.

      Makes me wonder why I bothered. Oh, right. I bothered because unlike everyone else, my results were REQUIRED SALES GOALS. >.< So good, carrying the department was part of my job description. No one else was pressured to come close. As one coworker put it, "Why should we have to do anything? You're the one they expect to do stuff." So glad to be out of retail forever.

      1. Harper the Other One*

        Ugh, that’s awful! We had similar sales incentives/charity incentives at one of the retail jobs I worked, but they always gave out the rewards as promised. Better yet, they actually factored hours scheduled into the rankings, so yes, the high schools students working one shift a week absolutely could take home the prize if they worked hard!

        1. Dragon_Dreamer*

          The contests were weighted the same way. It was a ratio of sold vs hours worked. Completely fair, but… you just can’t make some people care. And when only one person is putting in sincere effort without being off-putting… (honestly, I wasn’t even ever trying to win, I just wanted to do my job the best I could and go home.)

  9. Anonymanageress*

    My last job was an office of about 25. There were several “contests” that I recall:
    1. Field Day games. One of the ladies who was in her early 60’s broke her ankle when another lady fell on it during a game of tug of war.
    2. The “Pimiento Cheater.” My boss and a coworker had a competition to see who made the best homemade pimiento cheese. My boss made his own; the coworker brought her mother’s version. Everyone knew in advance that coworkers was made by her mother. Boss was OK with this, but then the “judges” (other employees) chose coworker’s version. Henceforth, he called her the “pimiento cheater.” It was funny and no one was really upset.
    3. The Donut Challenge. One of the guys was in great shape, and ate clean 99% of the time, but it was known that he could put away a lot of sweets on occasion. So he was challenged to eat 2 dozen Krispy Kreme Donuts in 30 minutes. But he couldn’t vomit or he would lose. It was hard to watch, honestly. I think he made it to like 21 or 22 donuts?

      1. RexJacobus*

        Back when I was a teacher I was chosen to be one of the judges (I was a legendary eater) of the cooking contest. My fellow judges were the English teacher who was lightly dieting and had skipped breakfast and the Food Tech teacher who hadn’t had any sugar for the previous six weeks (but both had agreed to judge).
        Well, the desert portion comes around and English teacher is already being a bit spacey. Then out come four INCREDIBLY sweet deserts. I was loving them. But Food Tech teacher starts getting a splitting headache about three minutes after tasting the last desert and, I kid you not, has taken off her shoes and is rubbing her feet on the floor and saying, “Have you ever realised just how good the linoleum in this room feels?”
        They managed to judge things but neither had the ability to do any maths like 7 + 8 +7 so I had to take over the totaling up part.

        1. RexJacobus*

          It was the English teacher who took off her shoes and got trippy on sugar. I was not clear at all.

    1. miss chevious*

      Yeah, at a prior job, the party committee decided they would do something called “human foosball” where people are ties to a bar (!!!) and then kick balls at each other. As their lawyer I recommended *strongly* against doing it, but they were determined to go forward, so I made them collect signed waivers for everyone who participated (participation was, at least, voluntary). Sure enough, several people got hurt, although no one seriously, thank god.

  10. Roquefort*

    Not exactly a workplace contest, but a group of us once entered a charity trivia contest that was being hosted by one of our company bigwigs. The company is a locally-known educational brand, so everyone naturally expected us to win. We ended up tying for third place with a competing company’s team, right behind the local book club and a group of competitive Scrabble players. Awkward.

    1. Charlotte Lucas*

      Honestly, I would think a (good) book club & competitive Scrabble players would make a pretty strong showing in trivia.

      1. Copycat*

        As somebody who can only spell common three letter words when faced with word games, really good scrabble players are like sorcery.

      2. Roquefort*

        I can now vouch for this. In fairness, everyone thought it was more funny than anything, and we were actually going to do the contest again last year if not for the pandemic.

    2. Quill*

      Oh, you were not shamed by this showing, I was captain of quiz bowl three different times and I’m pretty sure I’d loose to a scrabble league that included my grandparents. They were vast storehouses of ancient knowledge.

      1. CatMintCat*

        My mother and her sister were legendary in Scrabble. They played each other for years and years, honing their skills as they went (and sibling rivalry was totally a thing, into their 70s). I never beat either one of them.

        Mum was also unbeatable at Trivial Pursuit.

      1. EPLawyer*

        In college they had a trivial pursuit contest. I wandered down to see it. A friend wanted their younger brother/cousin someone to enter (it was not restricted to the college only) but they needed a partner. She asked me if I was willing, she would pay the entry fee for both of us. I said sure why not. I loved playing trivial pursuit. Scratch team, knew nothing about each other’s strengths and weaknesses. We WON the whole darn thing — against professors even.

      2. Another Librarian*

        I was on a team of nearly always winning librarians in my MLIS program! The host was a brewery so the prize was always a generous pack of beer that we’d distribute or stash, then occasionally host get-togethers with the frequent flyer teams we saw every week to stash-bust. In hindsight, what a very librarian way to handle the winnings – sharing the resources, haha

      3. Library library*

        I went out after work once with my librarian co-workers and the place was running a trivia contest. One of the questions was where the BeeGees were born. They said Australia and I protested because they were born in England and moved to Australia when they were young. They then said that either answer would be accepted! I am still salty about it. You cannot convince me that an entire set of brothers can be born on two different continents. The human body can do amazing things but no ones mom can be that . . . stretchy.

        1. Bluesboy*

          Ooh, these controversial questions…I went to a trivia contest once. They asked ‘what does pizza mean in Italian’?

          We had on our team an actual Italian, plus me, who at the time had been living in Italy for 10 years. Pizza means…pizza. It doesn’t mean anything else. Pizza is pizza. It’s like saying ‘what does hamburger mean in English?’

          We answered ‘pizza…’ and watched as numerous other teams got points for writing down ‘pie’…

    3. KateM*

      It is really all for good that a contest hosted by a company bigwig was not won by employees of that same company.

  11. MusicWithRocksIn*

    My old work did a chili cookoff. It was supposed to be totally anonymous until a winner was declared, but one year a senior VP spent the entire day in the kitchen telling everyone which one was his, suggesting they try it before it was time to eat, and really just doing crazy promotion on his chili. I don’t think he went to his office once until after lunch. Probably would have been amusing if it was a random coworker, but on someone who was a grand manager of 60% of the people there it was not so cute. He ended up winning, and I wrote the whole thing off as a power play.

    1. Wine Not Whine*

      That’s amazingly reminiscent of OldJob’s occasional chili contest, where it was pretty much understood that (a) the owner’s junior son had better place in the top 3, and (b) there was a better than even chance that the executive chef had actually made it for Junior (or at least done most of the work before letting Junior tweak it).
      I never bothered to enter.

    2. TimeTravlR*

      I will never understand how much weight people put in winning these competitions that really should be fun. They take all the fun out of it by either pushing people to choose theirs (like your story) or getting pouty and calling “cheat” when they lose.
      I just opt out of this stuff for these reasons.

    3. Library library*

      The biggest scandal in our chili cook off was the beans or no beans question. We had a number of vegan entries and people will still bring up the question of what a true chili is when we get bored. Also, something called Cincinnati chili was a bit of a mild scandal because some people thought is was too soup like.

      1. CrochetTouche*

        I’m from Cincinnati, and our chili is meant to be a topping- usually on top of spaghetti, then some people add red kidney beans, diced white onions, and anyone worth their Reds cap adds shredded mild cheddar cheese. I’m getting hungry thinking of it….

  12. Wendy*

    Betting who will be fired next? —> Bet on yourself! Then if you’re right, at least you’ll have prize money :-P

    1. Wendy*

      (Okay, now that I’ve read the linked post… $10? REALLY? I’m not gonna get myself fired for any less than $1K!)

    2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      I was thinking that in fact it was the lazy way to fire: rather than supervising your staff and seeing who gets stuff done, just ask all staff members to rat on their colleagues and fire the one cited most often as being the most likely one because of all the rules they’d broken.

      Then I thought, but no, because then they’d have to pay out $10 to more people.

      Then I realised that they could save on secret shopper fees that way.

      Then reading here I realised that they probably didn’t even bother to pay out the prize money either.

  13. Copycat*

    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)

      1. Copycat*

        The voting board was pretty out in the open, I was honestly shocked nobody noticed. I guess nobody cared enough to raise a stink LOL

    1. Karo*

      I worked at a company where my department was 5 people max, compared to 3 other departments that had 75-100 people each. Even when we combined forces with our sister department we only got up to 10 people. It always made these kinds of competitions oddly disheartening. Instead of boosting morale it reminded us that no one cared about us so we never really put in the effort.

      1. Bee*

        Yeah, I feel like when you’ve got such big discrepancies between departments you have to do it per capita!

      2. DeweyDecibal*

        One employer I worked for ended up switching to percentage of department that participated in an annual giving event instead of dollars amount or number of people. Our department of 10 was super competitive and it made it pretty easy for us to each give 5$ and get to 100% every year!

      3. Quinalla*

        Ugh, when we do competitions like that – which is not often – we always do them as an average of all participants or individual awards. We usually do a mix of competitive and participatory awards as different things motivate different people so we get better participation with a mix :)

  14. The Fun Police*

    This isn’t very scandalous. I stole this scavenger hunt idea from some other companies that were trying to do fun things for essential employees during Covid. The premise is you hide certain items for employees to find and turn in for candy. Then you rehide items throughout the week until the candy is gone. We hid 40 items throughout the building. I went overboard and bought enough candy for everyone to get at least one, with us rehiding every day.

    I arrived at work on Monday, day 1 to hear rumors that Bob came in early to find all of the items. We only had 10 items turned in on day 1 so I sent out an email that people needed to turn in their items right away so that we could rehide them. Hoarding items was not acceptable. I then sent out that message every day. I kept rehiding the 10 that were turned it but it wasn’t very fun with so few. I even went out thinking maybe I hid them too hard but could not find the missing 30. At 4:59 pm on Friday (contest ended at 5 pm) Bob comes up with the 30 items he found on Monday morning. Bob was very pleased with himself for ruining it for everyone else.

    1. Monty and Millie's Mom*

      I’d be tempted to have an actual work-related chat with Bob about his judgement and ability to work with others, to be honest! If he doesn’t want to participate, fine, but deliberately being a jerk about it is NOT fine!

    2. Bee*

      This is not only cruel, it’s also self-defeating? He could’ve gotten MORE candy by returning them to be rehidden and then finding them all the next day. The only point here was to ruin everyone else’s fun.

      1. Yessica Haircut*

        Exactly! This is so needlessly spiteful. What was even the endgame here? Does he desperately want all of his coworkers to think he’s an a-hole and avoid him?

    3. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Well, we all know there’s going to be one in every group – at least as a consolation all of Bob’s coworkers now know how competitive he is.

    4. Jen*

      We had something similar. One year, the HR department organized an Easter egg hunt – they came in early, hid chocolate eggs all around the office, and announced that the competition would start at 10. Around 9, a few people starting going around looking for the eggs, and by 10 there were barely any left. I didn’t bother trying to participate anymore…

      1. Wolf*

        We had an Easter egg hunt in the company’s garden once. It was for the kids of the employees to visit in the afternoon. In the morning, one guy was caught sneaking around with a large basket, taking all the candy. He was middle management, he could have afforded to buy a cubic meter of candy each day.

    5. Richard*

      Many years ago as a camp counselor, I set up a scavenger hunt for the 500+ kids to do, starting each group in a different place so that everyone would reach clues at different times but reach the ending party approximately at the same time. I got word that more and more groups were getting hung up and figured out that one counselor (named Rob, close to Bob!) was leading a group of kids to gather and hide all of the clues so they could win, despite there being no prize. There’s always one!

      1. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

        Reminds me of how in 5th grade, we didn’t have enough loaner band instruments for all interested students who wanted to join the school band. Students were told to turn in applications at a certain time, first come, first served. Mr. G. let his class out early and they got all the instruments. They ended up explaining this to all of us and running the whole thing again. (I was only paying attention a bit since I had a hand-me-down clarinet that got passed around the extended family whenever anyone wanted to try band and did not need a school instrument, so I might be getting some details wrong but I definitely remember that Mr. G. circumvented a rule to make sure that “his” kids got all the instruments and my class and the other 5th grade class did not, to the point that they had to explain the cheating to the assembled 5th grade and re-run it.)

  15. KayEss*

    We had a pumpkin decorating contest for Halloween with the theme “heroes” and I’m still mildly traumatized that the winner was a pumpkin wearing a bra for breast cancer awareness.

    1. Roquefort*

      Wait, was this a painted/carved on bra, or was it literally just the clothing item clasped around the pumpkin? Because I have several more problems with the latter.

      1. KayEss*

        It was the clothing item clasped around the pumpkin. (There was also a poster display and others elements so it wasn’t LAZY, just… in mildly poor taste IMO.) I have blocked out of my memory whether material had been added to fill out the pumpkin’s figure for the occasion.

      2. Anyway I Don't Work There Anymore*

        I am having reading comprehension issues because I imagined a PERSON wearing two carved-out half PUMPKINS AS A BRA. Like a coconut bra. This is funny/awful too and I’m glad no person was bra-costumed.

    2. Homophone Hattie*

      I’m really uncomfortable with the framing of people who survive or go through illness such as breast cancer as heroes and I’m not sure why. It just seems…idk. To jibe too closely with the idea that if you die from the disease you didn’t fight hard enough?

      1. Warm Weighty Wrists*

        Yes, hard agree! I also hate the phrasing “cancer warrior” and “soandso lost their battle with cancer”. There are a lot of complex emotions and reactions that come with a cancer diagnosis, and that framing seems to me to narrow down the correct reactions to Fight and Be Brave. If someone refers to themselves as a cancer warrior or similar, it doesn’t bother me because it’s that person describing their own experience, but I almost never see that. It’s almost always someone describing someone else’s experience.

      2. Artemesia*

        I feel the same way and had never really understood why it bugged me — but I think you identified it. The idea that people who die of cancer somehow didn’t ‘try hard enough’. I watched a spunky 5 year old bravely cope for 3 years of aggressive treatment torment only to die —

      3. writer anon*

        Many of us who have had cancer feel the same way. I do know some people who have drawn strength from seeing themselves as warriors/fighters against the disease and I would never begrudge them that, if it helps them. But I share your discomfort with the concept that people who die of cancer “lost the battle.” I’m 5 years out of treatment and I don’t see myself as having “fought” any harder than my friend who just died of a similar cancer and who was treated at the same renowned cancer center I was. I just was lucky enough to be diagnosed at an earlier stage.

        And also a bra on a pumpkin as a vote of solidarity for me does not exactly make me feel supported.

        1. Harper the Other One*

          It’s interesting hearing this perspective from someone who has survived cancer. I (as someone who’s never had cancer) always thought of the battle metaphor as being very apt because throughout history there are brilliant generals, phenomenal warriors, etc., who couldn’t overcome the circumstances of a battle. I’ve never thought of it as implying that survivors fought harder than those who succumbed, and I’ll try to keep that in mind.

          1. writer anon*

            Thanks for your kind thoughts. I think XF1013 has it right that people are trying to honor those who have gone through (or passed away from cancer). So it’s not so much that I’m offended by the sentiment because I do think it’s meant well, and many people like to think of themselves or their family members as having fought the good fight. It just makes me feel weird, because as XF1013 points out, I didn’t really have a choice about going through treatment, surgeries, etc. So I don’t feel I did anything exceptional. Also I think for many of us, the warrior thing is actually kind of a lot of pressure! I felt like either I was expected to be falling apart or “fighting hard.” I was mostly in between, raising my kids & going to work & going to treatment when I had to.

            1. Enough with the pink!*

              My MIL was dying of metastatic breast cancer when I was doing radiation for my stage 1 cancer, and I bristled at the “warrior” imagery with regard to both of us. We were both just doing what we could each day, with very different end results.

              Bra on a pumpkin as a way to show support for the cause is about seven kinds of wrong.

        2. Chas*

          I always find this kind of ‘fight against cancer’ talk annoying as well. There’s a charity in the UK called ‘Stand up to Cancer’ which I particularly dislike because it makes it sound like cancer is just some dumb playground bully we haven’t thought to do anything about yet, rather than a hugely complicated and varied disease which scientists have been working to find treatments for for decades.

          I had a thyroid cancer diagnosed and removed inbetween my second and third year at university, went to Uni for a term and then had radiation treatment for it during the next holiday. (I was lucky not to need chemo, and that my Uni had unusually short terms and were willing to shift which term I need my final year project in and let me keep my stuff in my room during the holidays, which meant I was able to fit all the treatments around my studying). But even though I went to all that effort to make sure it wouldn’t affect my degree, (even though I probably could have deferred a year instead) I wouldn’t have said I was being brave or heroic, or called it a fight. It was more like resiliently doing a lot of organisational stuff and agreeing to whatever surgeries and treatments they suggested while hoping that it would be gone once they were all finished. (Which, thankfully, it has been for the last 14 years!)

      4. XF1013*

        Yes. Also, “hero” implies some degree of choice, like a bystander choosing to run into a burning building to rescue people, or a soldier choosing to drag injured comrades to safety in a gunfight. No one chooses to get cancer. Going through treatment for it is not exactly optional. What’s heroic about an involuntary act?

        I think the problem is that we want to acknowledge the suffering of cancer sufferers and respect what they’ve gone through, but in Western culture (I’m writing this as an American) there just isn’t a ready term or phrase in our vocabulary for that. “Hero” is close enough and gets used by default.

      5. CatMintCat*

        I’ve been through breast cancer. I’m not a hero or a warrior. I did some really unpleasant, but necessary, medical shit in order to stay alive. I continue to do unpleasant shit (taking hormone blockers) to continue staying alive. Nothing heroic or warrior-like about it!

      6. nozenfordaddy*

        My mom who has breast cancer HATES when people say she’s a hero worse is calling her brave. Loathes it. She always tells me – I’m not brave, I’m just trying not to die. My options are chemo or death. How it is heroic to simply not want to die?

    3. OhNo*

      I worked at a company for a while that did a pumpkin-carving contest every year. The entries were normally just silly versions of the standard jack-o-lantern face, but I did hear a story that occurred a year or two before I started:

      One of the departments had an intern who was really into fancy pumpkin carving. You might have seen the type on social media – super detailed, complicated carving, scratching off layers of skin and flesh to get gradients of light shining through, the whole nine yards. They let the intern take the lead on carving that year, and having seen the pictures, it was honestly pretty amazing. No surprise, that department won first place.

      The crappy part is that the prize was a bonus day of PTO for everyone in the department – a prize the (unpaid) intern who actually did the work wasn’t allowed to use. They didn’t even allow her a Friday off or anything as a thanks for all her hours of hard work!

  16. Mbarr*

    This one was on me… But I also got bad advice.

    Back when I was a student, I got an 8 month co-op job working on the other side of the country. Our company had an Olympic cyclist come in and give a motivational talk. Then there was a draw for an expensive mountain bike. Lo and behold, I won it!

    Now, I’m not a cyclist. I also knew I didn’t want to pay to ship this bike back to my hometown. I talked to my young supervisor at work and he suggested I post the bike for sale… On our company’s classifieds. Needless to say, this didn’t sit well with full time employees. (I don’t blame them.) What’s worse, HR called me in and showed me an email complaint they received (including the employee’s name – so much for confidentiality) about allowing ungrateful students to participate in contests, yada yada.

    I did end up selling the bike on Craigslist. The entire ordeal was a lesson in professionalism.

    1. Homophone Hattie*

      Maybe I’m not very professional, but I’m not understanding what you did that was so wrong? You were an employee, even if just a co-op student employee, and you won something nice in a draw that you couldn’t use. Your company offered a classified ad system and you made use of it. It’s not your fault some people were irrationally jealous.

      If it wasn’t okay for you to win the bike your manager or someone should have made sure you didn’t enter (but THAT would have been pretty awful, in my opinion). And once you won it and it didn’t fit your lifestyle you were just…supposed to pretend? It wasn’t a gift, it was a prize.

      Sounds like the unprofessional people were the ones who complained. And HR for showing you that email, Jesus.

      1. Roquefort*

        I agree. The only thing I can think of that someone MIGHT object to is that she’s selling something that she got for free, but a really nice mountain bike can cost upwards of $2000, so I’d have reservations about giving it away to a stranger. I’m sure it sold for much less than the cost of a new one, anyway.

      2. SeluciaMD*

        Came here to say exactly this. SPOT ON. Mbarr, I don’t think you did anything wrong at all and Homophone Hattie perfectly articulated why. Hope you got good money for that bike!

      3. Mimi*

        I can see why people got bent out of shape about it (feeling like Mbarr didn’t “really deserve” the bike in the first place and didn’t even want it), but I have been pondering what the politic option here is.

        – Tossing it back into the raffle would be extremely gracious, but not something I would expect, particularly not for a student co-op who’s likely short on funds.
        – Normally I tend to say give away something like this (friend, family member, work buddy, whoever) if you don’t actually want it, but a bike like this can be worth a lot, and you don’t necessarily have a local friend you’d want to give a thousand-dollar-plus bike to.
        – Craigslist at least isn’t rubbing your coworkers’ noses in it, but if someone happened to find it (say, if they’d really wanted the bike and were searching for the model) might cause exactly the same sort of drama, possibly more so because people got mad that you weren’t giving coworkers the first crack at it.

        1. Mr. Shark*

          Yeah, maybe selling it on the company’s market space was a little off, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with selling it off.
          I won a tent in my company’s raffle at a picnic one summer. I’m not a camper at all. My friend offered me $30 for it, so I said sure, why not. I mean, I might have just given it to him if I had thought about it. But I won something, so in this case I won $30 and he got a great deal on a tent. It worked for both of us.

        1. Homophone Hatty*

          I just don’t see how? Nobody was ripped off or lost anything because one person won a bike in a draw and decided to sell it!

          1. Roquefort*

            I can see somebody thinking it’s a little rude to essentially say “hey, I don’t want this thing that I won for free, any of you wanna buy it from me?” However, as Mimi said above, I can also see somebody thinking it was rude if Mbarr put it up for sale somewhere else and didn’t give them the first chance at it.

      4. MCMonkeybean*

        I think this is the type of thing where it’s really not wrong–you own it you can do whatever you want with it–but it pretty much always upsets some people so it’s definitely not a good idea to do it at work. Sell it on the DL somewhere else and just don’t talk about it at work. No need to risk the drama.

    2. Deanna Troi*

      I wouldn’t say this was on you. Part of the point of these types of positions is to learn workplace norms. You acted on thr advice of your supervisor, which is exactly what I would have expected you to do. I hope your supervisor defended you and took the fall – I would have if I were your supervisor.

  17. Why is it always chili?*

    My office had a chili cookoff. It was scheduled for the week after I had left the company, but I left behind a can of Trader Joe’s chicken chili and jokingly asked someone to enter it for me. Unfortunately, they did not.

    The chili cookoff proceeded as planned on a Friday afternoon. It was discovered on Monday morning that the sink in the kitchen (on the 3rd floor) had been left on, and flooded down through the 2nd floor to the ground floor. It has never been determined for certain whether the sink was left on as a result of chili cookoff cleanup, or if the timing was just a coincidence, but it was ~5 years until another chili cookoff was allowed.

    I returned to the company a couple of years later, and that damn can of Trader Joe’s chicken chili was waiting for me in my cubicle.

    1. Copycat*

      It’s amazing what people won’t throw away in an office. When I left my previous office and was cleaning up my spaces, I realised there was a filing cabinet filled with expired coffee mixes. Nobody knew who bought it and for what event.

      1. Roquefort*

        A few years ago I discovered a random pill in the desk drawer of an empty cubicle. I checked on one of those pill identifier sites, and it was a brand of aspirin that hadn’t been manufactured since the 90’s. The cube was in an undesirable location in the middle of the floor, so I’m guessing nobody worked in it long enough to clean it out, but still… nobody EVER opened that drawer?

        1. The Prettiest Curse*

          In 2019, I volunteered to clean out the fridge in my last job. I found salad dressing in there that had expired in 2009, plus several other bottles that were nearly as old. No fridge cleaning is one of my favourite parts of working from home!

        2. Red 5*

          I also found a random pill rattling around in my desk drawer when I started my job. I did not take the time to identify it though, I was too grossed out already at that point because of the dirty silverware that was in the same drawer. There also appeared to have been a sugar spill at some point.

          It wasn’t even the top drawer.

      2. Rayray*

        I remember doing a bit of a deep clean/organize at my job at a law firm. This would have been about 2013 and I was finding documents and random things from the 90s. I think one thing I found was a how-to kind of document for mailing things out with postage costs and such from almost 20 years prior.

        1. ggg*

          I cleaned out a laboratory after 30 years of accumulation. There were some gems in there. Wood paneled amplifiers from the 60s. Crates of chart recorder paper. Ancient chemicals with typewritten paper labels. Piles of old resistors and capacitors. People were really mad when I got rid of those. I wish Hoarders had been there to document the constant whining about getting rid of every single item no matter how small.

          1. Dragon_Dreamer*

            I got an oscilloscope and some really good computer repair books for older equipment for helping one of my professors clear out his office when he retired! I gave the oscilloscope to my musician friend who was looking for one, and the books later helped me when I got into computer repair at the bent fastener!

          2. Physics Tech*

            Oh my goodness old resistors and capacitors are gold! Well not some caps because I think that some dielectrics can have self lifes (like batteries), but old resistors are often built to a much higher power rating than newer one.

            1. ggg*

              Every time someone needed a resistor, would they go to the pile of old resistors? No, they would go the stockroom and get the resistor they needed. Sometimes they would get two, just in case, and one would end up in the pile of old resistors.

              I did agree to save some enormous brick-sized capacitors that someone pleaded for. Have those ever been used? No! Though one time someone showed them to the interns as an example of the crazy capacitors people used back in the day.

              1. Wintermute*

                depends what you need.

                I agree about caps and resistors, because new ones are often just as good as the old ones, carbon is carbon and has always been. But for some discrete components it’s hard to get them these days! Either they stopped making non-surface-mount versions, or they replaced them with integrated circuits, or ESPECIALLY for old ICs, they just stopped making that type.

          3. bnbnbn*

            We’re cleaning out an office attached to one of our labs right now. I found a book of chemical properties tables from 1937, which is about 15 years older than the actual building itself!

        2. Dragon_Dreamer*

          A friend of mine was the manager of one of the first Radio Shacks, around 15-20 years ago. They decided to clear out the attic and do an inventory. He said it was like an archaeological dig. The further they went, the older the equipment got, from RC cards, to early calculators, to components, to Ham Radio test books, until they got to the very last corner. There they found a stack of about 30, pristine, new in box TRS-80s, in perfect working condition. All were long since written off, and had been sitting there for at least 10-15 years, untouched.

          Each employee got to take one home, and he kept the rest. He made sure to give me one for my collection. (I’m a classic PC games collector.) Still works beautifully to this day!

          1. Lizzo*

            That was my first computer!

            If you haven’t been there yet, the Living Computer Museum in Seattle is excellent. Highly recommend.

            1. Dragon_Dreamer*

              I donated a Bernoulli drive to them! One of the first multi-gig drives. That was another thing I inherited from my professor, one of the rare 4GB ones.

        3. Red 5*

          I was doing the same thing a few years back when I went looking for a file and couldn’t find it because you couldn’t actually move the papers in the filing cabinets, they were so stuffed. I asked about the company’s document retention policy and found out that we only had to keep things 3-5 years max.

          I was finding stuff with massive amounts of sensitive information including social security numbers and credit card numbers from the early 90’s, mostly because they were keeping faxes and the confirmation that faxes were sent. It was ridiculous, half of the paperwork was signed by people who had worked there so long ago nobody actually had met them.

          Meanwhile about 50% of the time extremely important papers that absolutely should have been kept and filed can’t be found anywhere.

          1. Dragon_Dreamer*

            The slide project I’m working on for Temple U is like that. DECADES of professors going, “I can’t find these slides, I’ll go buy more!” The oldest *dated* slides are from 1931. I’m sure some are older. 50,000 slides catalogued and counting, but when I’m done, there will be a lending library for professors to request slides so they all can actually be used!

        4. redwitsch*

          In third year in my company – year 2017, boss decided, that we need to remodel one of our offices, so I was tasked with moving all files and things in cabinets and other furniture to borrowed office next to ours, so men from warehouse can move furniture. I saw amount files and things I would need to move and decided, that I will try weed something out, so I dont have to move it all. I threw mountains of floppy disk, cartridges for printers, which I never saw, contract with companies, which does not longer exist etc. I also found, that no one archived documents since year 2009, which led to full cabinets of documents and need to buy binders every year for new documents. So archived everything except year 2016. If I just moved everything, it would take me 2 working days. This took me whole week, but results speak for themself – 5 of 10 previously fullcabinets were empty,rest of them was not overstuffed, we have maybe hundred of free binders (we did not buy new binders since then) and I moved remaining files and things back in two hours. Since last year I am working on our archive, because no one throw papers since 1995, when company was founded and when I wanted store year 2018 I saw, that we dont have space for next year. By law, we need to store wages related papers 25 years, so that stays, but for rest it is only 10 years). My progress is 5/15, I hope by end of this year I will be on 15/15, because after that I can only throw out 1 year, when I will archive new year. 8D

      3. Oh dear*

        I interned at a community bank in 2018 and got to clean out two supply closets and found boxes of files all outlining their crisis plan for Y2K….literally multiple boxes of everything printed out and anything from a computer they thought they might need ever. Then they kept it all for 18 years- just in case.

      4. pagooey*

        At my last job, we had a volunteer day at a local community center; I was on the group assigned to clean out the sports supply closet in the gymnasium. Behind all the plastic hockey sticks, jump ropes, and semi-deflated basketballs, we discovered 5, count ’em 5, institutional-size cans of nacho cheese, the kind that comes out of a pump at a snack bar. Five gallons of pump cheez, deep in the equipment closet, and no one could remember why. They were also two weeks from their expiration date.

        1. Ms. Afleet Alex*

          I’m in charge of the office food donation collection in the fall and in my cubicle ‘proudly’ sits a can of cheese soup from 1996 that someone decided to donate one year, just a couple of years ago. Obviously I did not pass this along to the food bank. It’s become a mascot for ‘check the dates when you donate!’

        2. allathian*

          Ouch! Expired stuff can’t be donated, obviously, but at least at home it doesn’t go bad the day after the expiration date. Especially fermented foods like yogurt and kefir can last a long time past the expiration date. My “record” is eating a yogurt that was more than two months past its expiration date. There was absolutely nothing wrong with the flavor or smell and I didn’t get sick. The only issue was that some liquid had separated out on top of it, but I solved that by stirring it with a spoon before eating it.

          1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

            We found several individual pots of yoghurt at the back of the company fridge, that had expired about 16 months previously. Nobody dared try them but they all looked fine. I’d have eaten one from the look of them had my colleague not looked at the date.

          2. Jen with one n*

            Echoing expired yogurt can be fine – I’ve definitely eaten it two months last the date, possibly three. Dairy smells or gets mold when it’s bad, it’s not something I stress over.

            I have a sensitive stomach and I’m a big sniff tester with my foods, and so far my nose hasn’t done me wrong yet.

      5. Gigi*

        We moved into a new Consulate from one that the USG had been in for 40 years. To encourage my team to packup, we had prizes for “oldest piece of paper,” “most bags of trash,” and “grossest item found.” A sock that I’m sad to say was found in my office was narrowly beaten out for “grossest” by a used bar of soap with hair on it.

        1. Dragon_Dreamer*

          We’re having a similar content with the slide project. (See above comment.) The winner so far are a collection of about 40-50 *homemade* microscope slides containing “Pthirus pubis – in situ.”

      6. Red 5*

        About five years ago now I lost my senses and volunteered to be in charge of our office kitchen because I just couldn’t stand the smells anymore.

        The first cleanout of the fridge, I wore a face mask and gloves, dumped everything, and then defrosted and disinfected the whole thing. I don’t even know what was growing in there because I refused to look.

        But the cabinets I took a little more care with, because I was giving away anything that was still useful (my rule was as long as it left the building and I never saw it again, I did not care who took it or why). There were rusted out cookie tins that had ancient piles of plastic utensils, several of the packets being opened so there was one utensil missing. Multiple coffee makers that were missing one or more pieces. Several pieces of plastic that clearly came from something but I couldn’t figure out what, the actual main device was long gone.

        Most of the food in the cabinets was dry goods that was just old but not that bad. So many bags of half used coffee that expired at least a year before, that kind of thing.

        Except when I finally got a ladder to get one of the errant broken coffee pots off of the top of the cabinets, not actually IN the cabinets, on top, tucked in the back corner was a can of Dinty Moore Beef Stew. This can was so old that it was actually stuck. The paper had faded in several spots, and I couldn’t actually find the expiration date because of the rust all over the can. But what I did know was that the design on the packaging was one that I hadn’t seen in YEARS.

        I actually asked around to see if anybody could remember somebody that would have put that can up there, because you couldn’t reach it from the ground, it had to be put there on purpose, but nobody confessed or had any idea. But at least one person had seen it there, knew it had been there for ages, and not said anything because they just assumed it belonged to somebody.

        1. Lizzo*

          Not in the workplace, but reminds me of my friends who could not locate the awful smell in their apartment kitchen and were starting to think something had died in the walls. Turns out a friend (with whom they had an ongoing practical joke war) had cracked an egg open and placed it inside their least used pot that sat on one of those ceiling pot racks. I think they only reason they discovered it is because the joker was visiting for dinner and the friends were commenting on the smell problem, at which point he revealed the egg. I think it sat there for a month.

          That pot was chucked into the dumpster that very night.

          1. allathian*

            Yuck, that’s so gross!

            I have very limited patience or tolerance for practical jokes at the best of times, so I would probably have thrown the friendship into the dumpster that night as well… I wonder what the friend did in revenge for this in the next bout of the practical joke “war”?

      7. Bryce*

        This hits close to home because I have some cans of soup flavors I dislike that my roommate left behind… in 2005. What if some day I’m trapped in here and starving and need 13-year-expired soup?

        1. maddierose2999*

          We went to stay in my in-laws holiday house a couple of years ago, and while I was cooking went through the spice rack. I found a jar of cinnamon that expired in 1987. The house was built in 2002. They do not like to throw away.

          1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

            There was a spice rack with spices from before they had moved in my parents’ house. Like, they were moving, and instead of deciding to get rid of the spice rack they never used, they took it down, wrapped it up and put it in a box, then unwrapped it and screwed it to the wall in the new kitchen.
            Oh and they’d moved about 20 years previously.

    2. lizw*

      I had to clean out my bosses desk after she was retired and finally figured out why her office reeked of cat-urine (am I the only one who noticed? we coworkers never discussed it): several of her “custom-made” all natural vitamins had escaped and were breaking down. Smelled exactly like a cat had peed in her desk.

      1. Chocolate Teapot*

        An employee was let go and my boss had to clear out her desk. Amongst the items which didn’t get packed up to return to her was some mouldy cheese.

  18. Tisiphone*

    Many years ago for Halloween, the workplace had a costume contest with prizes. The winner was a guy in a dress. Other people came in costumes that took a lot more effort and creativity. Notable costumes were a knight, Darth Vader, a vampire, a wizard, a mummy, a werewolf, and more to give an idea of the kind of competition there was.

    Which workplace was this? Two different workplaces. First one was in the mid 90s, the second was around 2008. Different jobs, different companies, different HR teams judging.

    1. Roy G. Biv*

      My company also used to have a pretty elaborate Halloween event, and people turned up with truly creative costumes, and the winner was usually some no-effort-required store bought costume, like a beer keg or banana. The quality and creativity of entries plummeted the following year because people figured why bother.

      1. JustaTech*

        At my site Halloween has always been a HUGE deal. Like, there was a time when the Halloween party went all day. People had super elaborate costumes, whole groups would do a group costume complete with a skit, it was nuts.
        It’s faded a lot since then, mostly because we lost a lot of people over the years, but it’s still popular among the people who like to dress up (and the people who like to look at us all dressed up).
        Over the years we’ve had group costumes of: Every material in our process (very inside joke), the bridge crew of the Starship Enterprise, a tiki band, assorted Game of Thrones characters, and (one particularly low morale year) everyone who had left the department (quit, not laid off).
        One year the individual costume came down to a gal in perfect sugar-skull makeup (she’s Latina) and a guy dressed as Jon Snow White (ie, Jon Snow from Game of Thrones crossed with Disney Snow White).

        The creative costumes almost always win, mostly because people who don’t want to put in the effort just don’t wear a costume.

        1. beltacular*

          We also had a halloween costume contest that people REALLY got into. One year a friend/coworker dressed up as Donkey Kong from Mario Kart and RODE A GOCART WITH THREE BALLOONS to the office, into the elevator, and to our floor. He had lost one of the balloons by then. Then later a friend of mine sent me a video and was like “hey, I saw this guy on my way to work” and it was my coworker in his gokart. He won the costume contest that year.

        2. Slipping The Leash*

          Many years ago I worked at a used bookstore. Those of us working the registers on Halloween went as Flo, Vera, Alice and Mel. We killed that year.

    2. Roquefort*

      That’s… genuinely kind of mean, both to the other entrants and in general. In addition to a man in a dress not actually being costumed as anything other than what he is, the “joke” only works if you think that a masculine-looking person wearing a dress is inherently an object of ridicule.

      1. JustaTech*

        Agreed. One year a coworker (very tall man) and his boss (a very short woman) went dressed as each other, which was fun because although they didn’t look anything alike they managed to capture each other’s style well enough that it was obvious who they were dressed as.

        But just “wearing a dress”? Nope.

      2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        Yeah. I love Iggy Pop: he was asked whether it didn’t feel demeaning to wear a woman’s dress and he said it’s only demeaning if you have no respect for women and besides, he was wearing a man’s dress (no darts to accommodate breasts).

    3. HRBee*

      At an old company, Halloween costumes were a department wide thing. Each department came up with a theme each year, etc… My first year, the team that won dressed up as Goldilocks and the 3 Bears. A man was Goldilocks and his 3 Bears were all women. He actually went super all out on it, but the voting wasn’t even close. That team won like 150-3.

    4. TTT*

      We always have a Halloween costume contest, and about half the office dresses up to some degree. One of my coworkers decided to spend the day dressed up as Adolf Hitler, and I seemed to be the only one who had a problem with it. He actually won the costume contest! Well, technically he tied with a Rosie the Riveter, but I still don’t know what they were thinking.

      1. Hamish*

        I’m flummoxed by the existence of an office where Adolf Hitler and Rosie the Riveter TIED FOR FIRST. Whaaaaat?!

    5. Mrs. Weaver*

      At one of my previous jobs, the office was all in for Halloween. Decorating, candy, tons of food, people bringing their kids. It was awesome. My first Halloween there, I decorated the room I shared with a few coworkers. It had a big window into the hallway, so people could always see in as they walked by. We always joked about being goldfish in a bowl. So I made the office look underwater. I covered one of the fluorescent lights with blue tissue paper, and shut off the others, so the whole room had a blue cast to it. I hung “seaweed” from the ceiling all over the place. I covered desks to look like rocks on the bottom. I even found one of those paper things that open up into a half circle, and put it on the ceiling, with a “hook and worm” hanging from it. It totally looked like the bottom of a bobber. I put fake fish up all over. Then for myself, I took a green sweatshirt and added a bunch of green tentacles, sprayed my hair green and covered my face with green make-up to be a sea monster.

      I lost the contest to a woman who came in wearing pajamas and a robe, with her hair in curlers. She had green makeup on to look like she was doing a facial mask. The VP at the top of her food chain had been heard to say that someone in his group had better win a prize. I’m not sure if that actually had an effect on the judging or not. I had a ton of people tell me I was robbed, including the VP at the top of my food chain. I was okay with it. Even the woman who “won” knew the truth and said she was surprised she won. The prize was nominal, like a Starbucks gift card or something.

    1. WellRed*

      I have no idea. I think they are gross and symbolize so much of what is wrong in the world (or at least America. I’m American, btw).

      1. Autumnheart*

        Thirded. It’s like the party in the Hunger Games where where there’s an incredibly elaborate buffet, and one of the guests is like, “Drink this, so you can throw up and keep eating!” Meanwhile people in their hometown are starving.

    2. OhNo*

      If anyone ever figures out the appeal, I hope they share the secret. I just don’t get why anyone would want to put one on, or participate in one. Maybe I’m just the weird one there, though!

    3. Roquefort*

      Wait, do people have actual eating contests (as in “whoever eats the most of this food item wins”) at work? Gross.

    4. Rayray*

      I agree. I don’t get it. So what if someone eats a dozen hot dogs or box of donuts or spicy food. All I can think of, especially with the contests of quantity of food consumed is how sick I’d be.

    5. TimeTravlR*

      Totally agree. I don’t like to watch people eat anyway and watching them shove hot dogs into their face like that just disgusts me. Plus it’s a colossal waste of food, IMO.

      1. Artemesia*

        And at least once a year you read about some young person choking to death in such a contest — particular ones with dense foods like hot dogs or pizza

    6. Jennifer Thneed*

      When I was a kid, my (very small) school served hot dogs on fridays, and we kids had informal eating contests. Fourth graders don’t actually eat very many hot dogs, as it happens. I think the most anyone ate was to the point of “I’m very very full”. And I think the largest contests were, like, all the kids at a given picnic table.

    7. Lizzo*

      Same, with the exception of the Chubby Bunny game, which involves stuffing jumbo marshmallows into your cheeks one at a time, and clearly articulating “chubby bunny” after each addition. (Note: not recommended as a work game, but perfect for band camp.)

  19. Mimi Me*

    One year the call center I worked in had a gingerbread house decorating contest. Myself and coworker did it together. We made a Gingerbread Circus complete with fruit roll up big top. It was huge, took us hours, and I destroyed a table cloth and several tchotchke with the royal icing that exploded out of the pastry bag and all over my dining area. It took days to properly clean. We didn’t finish until 1AM. the good news is we won. The bad news is we were the only entry. And what is worse – we had to split 1st place prize (two tickets to the movies – one for each of us) rather than one of us taking the first prize and the other getting second prize (a gift card to McDonalds). They gave second prize to someone in a frickin’ sweater that had a picture of a gingerbread house on it. Because, yeah, same thing. Wow…I’m still a bit bitter. LOL!

    1. SlightlyStressed*

      I would love to see a photo of your gingerbread circus! And it sounds like it was fun to make. But really – if they wanted more people to participate, they probably should have had better prizes!

      1. Mimi Me*

        I wish I still had the picture. I lost it during one of my many moves. I still remember laughing so hard as we tried to get the icing to stick to anything except us and the damn tablecloth. LOL!!!

    2. WellRed*

      Did you know that was the prize? Two measly movie tx? At any rate you’d think they could have popped for another pair.

        1. AntsOnTheTable*

          Wow. When you have only one team participate it seems only fair that they get all the prizes.

    3. GammaGirl1908*

      Thank you. I’m known as a bit of a grump because I say that I don’t do “forced office merriment.” THIS reminds me of why. If you’re invested in it, it ends up being too much and you end up bitter that you put in that kind of effort — on your own dime! — for a movie ticket. I would have been so annoyed.

      If you’re not that invested but participate at the bare minimum, you somehow get too much credit, like the sweater person (which, what were the organizers thinking?). Then when participation plummets in the future, the minimum-effort person gets blamed.

      You just can’t calibrate it. Being invested is too much, being a good sport is impossible, doing a little makes people mad, and not participating makes you a grump. There’s just no winning. Just degrees of losing.

      1. allathian*

        Yeah, I’ve never quite seen the point myself. I’m just glad that my employer is staid enough that we never have any contests like these.

    4. I could never get the hang of Thursdays*

      We had a gingerbread house competition. The winner several years in a row was a manager with a side business making wedding cakes. We started the first year with a few really creative entries but no one could compete with a two-story church building covered in fondant (complete with a separate creche. -insert eye roll here for the religious themes at a secular work event). But each year we have fewer and fewer contestants. It’s just not fun if you have no chance of winning.

      1. Mimi Me*

        Oh…at a different company I worked with a woman who was known for her cakes – she brought one in for all birthdays, had a side business, etc. Our department never did cake contests because she always did big and elaborate. One year the company did a big contest for the United way fundraiser. All departments and all employees were invited to particiapte. It was around Halloween and she did this very realistic mummy hand coming up out of the cake thing. She figured she was a shoo-in because cake was her thing. She lost. To a woman who had only started baking when her children were born (like 5 years prior) and had entered the contest because her oldest child heard her talking about it and said that her cakes were the best. She made this really adorable Disney themed one that was sweet and very professional and 100% blew my coworkers cake out of the water! My coworker was PISSED. The prize for the contest? The company made a donation to the United Way in your name. Either way the money was going to the UW, but coworker was livid. She tried telling people that it was rigged, that the other woman was a secret pro, etc. Our department was kind of happy she lost because she was one of those home bakers who crapped on anything the rest of us brought in to share.

  20. Chili*

    At an old job, we had a chili contest, and the guy who won — it was his last day, hahaha. The prize was a primo parking spot for a month. One of the women who lost was pissed.

    1. YouwantmetodoWHAT?! *

      He shouldn’t have been considered. Why didn’t they give the spot to the 2nd place winner?

  21. Roy G. Biv*

    My former company had a cookie contest, where the winning entry was based on refrigerated cookie dough. To be fair, the entrant used it to make cookies that had been the “use this brand of dough to create a recipe” contest-winning recipe, but all the other entries were made from scratch. One contestant took their cookies in a weird direction, using spinach in the cookies, in the effort to create a unique recipe. It was unique all right. The closest trash can was full of those particular cookies, minus one bite.

  22. Quill*

    Back when my mom worked in a public elementary school, Holiday Spirit was mandatory, and so was the ugly sweater contest. The principal was not above publicly awarding herself the prize and making staff and faculty clap for her. (Yes, before anyone asks, this is the same lady who kidnapped the janitor to go to a fish fry. Yes, I will link below.)

    A few years in my mom decided she’d had enough of Mandatory School Spirit Pep rallies, three hour all staff meetings, and holiday sweaters and spent most of the day going around town to thrift stores in… july. Over the next few months she enacted her plan, which included:

    – One horrible faded couch-shawl-thing made of (allegedly) red and (arguably) green granny squares, produced circa 1970 by someone who clearly didn’t understand that the colors would fade.
    – plastic lattice weave candy canes, a craft that I assumed died out at the same time as the USSR.
    – A strand of mismatched jingle bells
    – Rudolph’s disembodied plush head, complete with real, working red lightbulb nose, which I can only assume was supposed to be a macabre christmas decoration. One that hung from a doorknob, maybe?

    She marched down the stairs over breakfast on the day of the pep rally, the staff’s pre-christmas meeting, and ugly sweater day.

    “Dear god,” said my dad, and got up to pour some coffee.
    “Please tell me she’s not dropping me at school in THAT” said my younger brother.
    “You didn’t have to deal with the crayfish outfit, suffer a little,” I said, home from college for winter break and devoid of any sympathy whatsoever.

    Readers, she had stitched the candy canes to the shawl as pockets, trimmed and tied it with the jingle bells, and was proudly wearing a necklace made of jingle bells and rudolph’s glowing, CHRISTMAS CAROL PLAYING, severed plush head, which was the size of a softball.

    There was no ugly sweater competition the next year.

      1. Quill*

        My mom was a sub before she was a teacher, and the first year of that she did a long term for a science teacher who was having surgery or something during our unit on invertebrates, which included caring for a live crayfish.

        She turned up to teach it wearing the following thematic items:

        -A hawaiian shirt in a lobster print
        -Crayfish earrings
        – A barrette which had a plastic lobster glued to it.

        My brother, who was in kindergarten at the time, never had to deal with the entire rest of his grade going “wait, your mom is the CRAYFISH LADY?”

      1. Quill*

        Based on teacher votes? Yes. They unanimously decided that going up against her was mutually assured destruction.

        1. Boring username*

          At a friend’s company they had a hot chilli eating competition after work in a local restaurant. A colleague ‘Bobbert’ won and then completely vanished from the restaurant. After a few hours ‘Edmund’ asked where Bobbert was and hearing he had suddenly rushed back to the office in a panic, Edmund popped into the office on his way home to check on him. He found Bobbert sitting in the office at his desk in the dark weeping with his penis in cup of cold milk. He had accidentally rubbed chilli somewhere very sensitive on a trip to the gents immediately after the contest. I asked my friend if it was one of their office’s communal kitchen mugs and her face fell.

          1. Lizzo*

            I won’t name any names in order to protect the guilty, but I can confirm that Bobbert is not the only person to have this experience.

            1. 'Tis Me*

              In the office, with a communal kitchen work mug, though? Cause themselves excessive pain transferring trace amounts of chilli oil from tougher hand skin to more sensitive regions, I can see… Whipping it out and sticking it into a mug at a desk, not so much.

    1. Allypopx*

      “Holiday Spirit was mandatory” is one of those sentences that makes my whole body cringe and this is the kind of malicious compliance I’m here for.

    2. SeluciaMD*

      Your mom is a BOSS. That is a masterclass in being passive-aggressive and sticking it to the (wo)man. I sincerely hope she won ALL THE THINGS.

    3. Lisanthus*

      I wasn’t having a great day for Reasons. This helped SO much. Thank you and thank you to your mother.

      Of course, I now have to clean my keyboard, lol.

    4. Something Blue*

      Are there pictures of the Crayfish Lady? Or the Ugly Sweater outfit? And would you share?

  23. littlebumbletea*

    We have an annual “spooky treats” contest at my company. The contest itself is rather innocuous, but the HR Manager who previously ran it used to enter every year and then follow the judges (almost all of whom were in her department) around as they tested each dish and filled out their ballots. She kept winning with varied versions of the same pudding dish (think “litterbox” pudding) and beating out other entries like glass shard cupcakes, royal icing horror villain cookies, pizza skulls, and other dishes that tasted way better, looked incredible, and clearly took a lot of work.

    The last year she was there, I ran it as part of our social committee, and no one wanted to enter because of previous years.

    1. Weekend Please*

      And this is why managers just shouldn’t enter these types of contests. Especially if they are the ones running it.

  24. Rigged*

    We have a big Christmas lunch every year, with an ugly sweater contest, t-shirt contest, and some end of the year recognition stuff.

    One year upper management also decided to add a raffle where everyone in the company got a certain number of tickets and could enter for anything they wanted. There were like 20 prizes ranging from gift cards to gaming consoles and TVs.

    Almost all of them were won by people in the same department, some of whom won multiple prizes, all of whom were “white collar workers” only 2 prizes were won by hourly “blue collar” employees, even though the ratio of blue collar to white collar employees was like 5:1. It got to the point that people were chanting “rigged” anytime someone won. I was talking with one of the organizers afterwards and she said she was sweating and cringing the whole time because she never expected it to go that way.

      1. Rigged*

        Yeah, the odds however changed when you consider that you could get extra tickets by participating in some of the holiday festivities. Everyone was welcome to participate, but there are things about the blue collar employees jobs that would have made it more difficult to join in. Also notices were posted, but office employees all got an email with the info so we all saw it for sure.

    1. Elenna*

      I mean… I obviously don’t know what actually happened, but if you assume a 1/6 chance of getting a white collar employee, the chance of 2 or less blue collar employees getting a prize is 0.000000000132653%. So unless there’s something wrong with my math, I think we can safely conclude that something went wrong, yes…

        1. Rigged*

          Lol yeah. It was still crazy, and I think the organizers genuinely thought there would be more participation from the floor, but the next year when they did it we didn’t get bonus tickets for participating lol

  25. MegS.*

    I don’t know if this counts as a contest, exactly, but there was money involved so it’s probably close enough. My old office had a mandatory office cleaning day once a year and while cleaning out his desk, one of the guys turned over his keyboard and dumped out a year’s worth of crumbs, dust, fingernails(!), etc. Another guy challenged him for $20 to snort or eat the debris, some of the other dudes egged him on and threw more money in the pot, until finally the first guy pulled a crisp $100 and a credit card out of his wallet, cut the keyboard crud into a line, rolled up the money, and snorted the whole lot. It was…horrifying.

    1. Roquefort*

      I once worked with an organization promoting harm reduction for drug users–basically teaching them how to use more safely if they’re not ready to quit, while still emphasizing that the only 100% safe choice is not to use illegal drugs. One of their suggestions was not to use rolled-up money to snort drugs, because it’s covered in germs from being handled by so many people. I can only imagine how they would have reacted to the idea of using paper money to snort other people’s organic matter (fun fact: a lot of dust is actually shed skin cells!) and discarded food crumbs from years ago.

    2. Invisible Fish*

      While this is a good anecdote, I cannot forgive you for bringing this imagery into my brain. It hurts ….

  26. Threeve*

    An old job involved almost everyone on staff working at conferences a few times a year. The biggest ones required literally walking miles every day back and forth on concrete conference-center floors. Business formal dress code, and women were generally expected to wear heels.

    And that meant: blister measuring contest. Hold up a quarter for scale, take a picture, add it anonymously to a shared folder. There was an online vote. Winner got bragging rights, first pick of the free swag vendors left behind, and an unofficial pass to wear comfortable shoes at the next conference.

    1. WellRed*

      Were men allowed to participate or did they have no shot (heels expectations, also gross). Also, gross! and whoop de do. More free swag to clutter your life until you leave the job?

      1. Threeve*

        Men were not allowed to participate or vote. I don’t think most of them knew about it. It was very, very gross, both literally and in terms of how toxic the place was.

        1. Quill*

          Hey quick question how much junk do you think the 104 degree fever I get from my tendonitis would win me?

          A exception from ever having to go to the conference, perhaps?

    2. The Prettiest Curse*

      Wow, as someone who used to coordinate a major conference for a previous employer, I can safely say that whoever came up with that dress code was evil. No way would I ever work a 12-14 hour conference day in heels.

  27. Former call centre worker*

    This one didn’t go wrong but I was pretty uncomfortable with it.

    We did an optional department quiz as a social event. One round was a competition to see how many marshmallows one member of each quiz team could fit in their mouth while still being able to say a phrase recognisably. I declined to watch as I thought it was gross but everyone else loved it. The winner managed an impressive 15 marshmallows.

    It seemed like a choking hazard to me (even apart from being gross) and I expressed my concerns, but it went without incident thankfully.

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      It *is* a choking hazard. I remember when it became popular recently, and there were all sorts of warnings about it. I’m fairly sure at least one child died when it was done in a school.

      1. Elaine*

        I don’t remember where it happened, but yes, one girl did die and adults were supposedly supervising. Doing stupid and risky things is by no means something new.

    2. Ophelia*

      I came in second in a chubby bunny contest in college! I lost to a guy with a really big face, and I’m still bitter, LOL

  28. turquoisecow*

    Didn’t really go awry, but my company did some grand reorganization and completely changed a group of people’s jobs. We all used to be part of four or five different departments doing different activities and then we were each expected to do all four or five of those things. It went as horribly as you’d expect and we got no training so in response management set up staff meetings that were intended to be training sessions – but by the time we had the training sessions, most of us had already been doing the jobs, having learned from each other.

    So each week we’d have these pointless meetings where one particular director (brought in from outside to shake things up and attempt to save the company) would “train” us. She had a quirk where she often inserted the word “right,” sometimes multiple times in the same sentence, like: “ok, so to paint the teapot, right, you first have to find the right paints, right, and then you find the right brushes, right.”

    It was supremely annoying so one week, for a joke, I started counting how many times in the meeting she said “right,” and then asked people to guess how many times she said it. The following week, it expanded, and after awhile, people would email me their guesses in advance and we’d start to almost look forward to what were otherwise pretty boring meetings. Coworkers would giggle to one another whenever she said “right” and noticed me making a mark to count the word. It helped to brighten up an otherwise bleak time.

    Then she left and the company declared bankruptcy.

    1. Wine Not Whine*

      My department at OldJob had folks with some of the longest tenures in the company (at 18 years when I left, I was at the midpoint). We had Been There and Seen That and were just Done With It All.
      Which meant that any all-hands meeting (like national sales meetings) at which we could reasonably carry notepads, included a department round of Buzzword Bingo!
      Yes, we printed out bingo cards and diligently “took notes” to compare later on our breaks…
      I miss those folks.

      1. Anne Kaffeekanne*

        At my last job, one of the consulting lawyers liked to go off on long tangents only slightly related to the actual topic, often explaining concepts which were, actually, known to everyone else – again and again and again. Yes, we did have a bingo for him, and one of us was tasked with reshuffling it before every meeting.

        1. Birdie*

          My friends and I used to do this at talks and such in graduate school. We didn’t have an official bingo card but every time Professor A would ask a speaker how their work was relevant to his completely unrelated subfield, or married Professors B and C would back up each other’s bad takes, we would all glance at each other and try not to laugh. Made their obnoxious behavior way more palatable! And fortunately, graduate students were relegated to the back of the room so the faculty didn’t see our reactions, ha.

    2. Thursdaysgeek*

      Which reminds me of a professor I had in college, who, instead of instructing us, read the textbook to us. Slowly. Very slowly. One day, as an attempt to stay awake, I started counting and figuring out his average words per minute. If I recall correctly, it was well under 50 wpm.

      1. turquoisecow*

        Oh I would probably have fallen asleep. I hate listening to people reading because I usually read faster than they do and my mind wanders during audiobooks and podcasts.

        1. Autumnheart*

          At least on an audiobook, you can speed up the reading speed. Some narrators who sound like Ferris Bueller’s economics teacher sound really lively at 1.25x.

          1. allathian*

            I’m not sure. I haven’t tried that because my mind wanders, but I’m just afraid it’ll sound like the Smurfs or Daffy Duck.

      2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        We used a stopwatch to time our professor’s silent time during lectures (pauses long enough to be worth getting the stopwatch out, not just punctuation pauses). Out of a fifty-minute lecture, he was silent for twenty-six minutes.

        We learned later that he hated the subject matter but was obliged to teach it.

      3. Butterfly Counter*

        I had a professor in college do this too! This professor was a woman, though. And the galling thing was that I had already read the book for another class.

        1. Jim Bob*

          Ugh. I had a similar one who was only interested in her research and clearly resented teaching undergraduates.

          Her entire grasp of pedagogy was limited to copying out the proofs in the textbook onto transparencies (this dates me a bit) without ever looking up or deviating from a consistent monotone.

          1. allathian*

            Yikes, I had lecturers like this too at college and I resented them. For me as a fast reader lectures were mostly a waste of time. I mainly went to them for the Q&A sessions. But yeah, there were definitely some who only wanted to do research and resented teaching anyone, not just undergraduates.

    3. Llellayena*

      Not work, but my church once had a priest for whom the only way you could stay awake during his (extra long, slow delivery) sermons was to count how many times he used the phrase “and so!”

      1. Agnostic Heathen*

        I hated.Hated.HATED going to church as a child. In high school I would count/time everything I could think of to entertain myself. How long was the Lord’s Prayer? How many people wearing blue? How long is the sermon? Ugh, even thinking about it now is getting me worked up.

      2. Bluesboy*

        When I was a kid we had someone who would preach roughly once a month and was at least twice as long as the regular guy. One week he delivered a 90 minute sermon. Consider that normally, the whole service was 90 minutes, including singing, bible readings, etc.

        All the kids were kind of in the front row (so we could go up to the front easily to sing in the choir). The next time he got up to preach, we all took stopwatches out, turned them on, and sat for the whole sermon holding them.

        His next sermon was under 30 minutes and he never went above 45 minutes again in the following ten years (when I moved away).

      3. Jaid*

        Oh, my Saturday mornings at the synagogue were eased a little by reading the Torah during the sermon. The one book we used had commentary, which was pretty cool.

    4. Not Australian*

      When I was a Red Cross volunteer we used to have lectures from an extremely elderly retired doctor, who imparted information we already knew very, vvvvveeeeerrrrryyyyy slooooooooooooooooooooooowly … You get my drift. The only way to stay sane was to count the umms and errs. Looking back on it, the poor man must have been struggling at the limits of his memory, but everyone was just thrilled to have captured A Real Doctor and persuaded him to come to our unheated church hall in the middle of winter.

      Well, everyone but me, apparently.

  29. Not So Super-visor*

    We used to have a dunk tank event every summer where the executives were forced to sign up for it. You had to pay for a chance to throw the balls (money for charity), and one of the VPs in particular always drew a large number of participants. Unfortunately, there was some sort of sharp metal piece on the side of the tank, and on one dunk, the VP managed to cut his foot very badly on it as he’d decided to go sans shoes. He then had to be taken to the med center for stitches and the rest of the event was cancelled. He got a really bad infection from the cut, and it took a while for it to heal. We never had a dunk tank again.

    1. Quill*


      I dunked a CEO at my previous job but like… he was fine, and everyone was surprised that the tiny little lab tech bullseyed the target. (I used to play softball, didn’t know I still had it in me.)

    2. HBJ*

      Those dunk tanks must be extremely unsanitary. A former coworker of mine said her husband got a staph infection from doing a dunk tank.

    3. Might Be Spam*

      At a family day for my husband’s reserve unit, they had a dunk tank and sold the tickets for a charity. We bought my eight year old son a couple of tickets. Then other people bought tickets and gave them to him. They ended up shutting down the tank for a while. He was small for his age and easy to underestimate.

      1. Liz*

        Haha. This reminds me of the episode of Young Sheldon where at the church fair, Pastor Jeff is in the dunk tank, and Missy asks if she can try, and proceeds to hit the bullseye over and over!

    4. No Dunking*

      Sometimes when I tell people that I really hate dunk tanks and don’t think they’re very funny, they push back.

      And then I tell them about how my brother lost part of a finger in one and they back off.

      (It’s a fairly similar story, only the broken part was in the mechanism of the seat. I’ll spare you guys the gross details, but it ended up being more of a funny family story than a traumatic event, but I do still hate dunk tanks).

  30. DEJ*

    I once decided to do an experiment where I made several different kinds of chocolate chip cookies and made people rank their favorites. The two that tied for first were my tried-and-true homemade from scratch recipe, and a batch made from a mix.

    1. Cat Tree*

      In middle school home ec, we had a blind taste test to learn how those work. We could bring in any kind of chocolate chip cookies, homemade, from a mix, or store bought. I wanted to make sure I didn’t bring the same kind of cookies as someone else, so I got the generic store brand kind. Those cheap generic cookies ended up winning the whole thing, and I learned a couple of lessons that day.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        My husband read a study that in a blind taste test cookies made with margarine will be preferred by people who grew up eating margarine, and cookies made with butter will be preferred by people who grew up eating butter. Now I want to see the study redone with palm oil or whatever it is they put into those box mixes!

  31. Keymaster of Gozer*

    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?”

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        It’s really rather scary how much work resembles the Discworld at times. Although no luggage on legs as of yet…

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Dude came from a background in customer relations and had no training in IT at all. He actually turned out to be a pretty decent manager once he learnt that managing in IT is like herding cats.

        1. Bryce*

          There’s a particular mindset common in engineers (but not exclusive) that encourages sticking a lever into any metaphorical crack and pushing to see what happens. My dad would tell stories of the things they did to test his lab’s security systems. Checking tolerances of hand scanners with similar-sized coworkers, finding blind spots, stuff like that. According to him the security guards liked the chance to test things with just three rules:
          –Don’t do it when it’s busy.
          –Nothing destructive.
          –Nothing that would get you shot, at least not without clearing it.

    1. GoryDetails*

      I give the boss props for that response; many of the AAM bosses would not have faced up to the situation that well!

  32. Mags*

    My friend, “Cosmo” was getting married at the end of the year and he wanted to lose some weight for the wedding. So a bunch his coworkers decided to do a weight-loss competition for 3 months and everyone would throw in like $10-20. Not a ton per person, but it ended up being several hundred dollars for the winner. At the end though, the team revealed that they were giving Cosmo the pot of money as a wedding present, so it was a win-win for everyone.
    My favorite part though is that because they were all a bunch of engineers, they came up with a complicated system of points based on starting weight, goal weight, amount of pounds lost, percent of weight lost, etc. For an office competition. Where the points didn’t actually matter. I laugh to think about how much time was wasted on a fake competition…

    1. Louise*

      My boss kept suggesting an office wide weight loss contest. Thankfully I was able to shut it down from happening company wide but it took way to many discussions to explain why that was a really really bad idea. He did end up have a competition with one other employee; I never asked how it went.

      1. NotQuiteAnonForThis*

        Oye. A large enough company to know better, that’s my former employer. And every single January, they did this, individual branch offices and company-wide. I’m not sure they ever figured out why most of the female population opted out. It.was.gross.

    2. Sciencer*

      I find this really sweet! And if coming up with all the complicated rules helped motivate them to participate (presuming they knew from the start that Cosmo would be the “winner”), all the better.

    3. Hamish*

      This reminds me of the scene in Cryptonomicon where the family of engineers decides who gets to inherit which heirlooms via a complicated system, the data input for which is each family member placing each heirloom in a parking lot mapped as x/y axes: x being perceived emotional value and y being perceived financial value. (But then one aunt realizes that the main character REALLY WANTS that trunk of old punch cards, and places it and one other item all the way to the max x,y and everything else at 0,0 so that he’s forced to rig the system to get her the heirloom she’s worried about if het wants those cards.)

      I miss hanging out with engineers.

  33. Lolly*

    I trained in a martial arts class at one company I worked at. It was taught by a manager of one of the departments. One day we had a contest in the martial arts class. I don’t even recall what it was now but I won. I even beat the instructor. The instructor started carrying around one of those extendable batons. For literally 6 months every time he saw me, passed me in the hall or whatever, he would extend this baton, start following me, poking me with it and chanting “cheater, cheater, cheater” over and over. He did it during meetings, in the cafeteria when I was trying to eat lunch, everywhere. He would sometimes pull up a chair next to my desk and do it while I was working. The more I protested and the more annoyed I got the funnier he thought it was. He was also my van pool driver and he would drive all the way to and from work chanting “cheater, cheater, cheater” at me. It was beyond weird. My boss did nothing until I threatened to quit. Finally it stopped and I refused to participate in any contests with this guy ever again.

        1. Anon for this*

          Easiest lawsuit ever? “My coworker keeps following me around, poking me with a martial arts weapon.”

  34. JxB1000*

    My company ran a nation-wide sales contest with its store without fully thinking through the rules, which were based soley on % increase. The prizes were big, like Hawaiian vacation trips and cruises. But the math was wrong. A store that sold $100 last year and $500 this time had a 400% increase. Yet a store with $1 million that increased to $1.1M only had a 10% increase. Serious problems, court cases. Many, many lawyers involved.

    I joined the company a year or two after this debacle and worked in the (new) department that ran such promotions. As you’d expect, the scrutiny as a new program was being defined was INSANE – but understandably so.

    1. Laufey*

      And of course, the issue is that if it’s just based on numerical increase, the small stores may as well not compete because they’ll never be able to turn $100 into $100,100. It’s hard to figure out how to make these things fair.

    2. CmdrShepard4ever*

      I can understand why employees at the bigger store would be frustrated, but I don’t know how else you would do it, maybe some kind of formula based on weighted scores of % increase and total sales increase.

      But if a store is only selling $100 it will likely be be significantly harder to have a 400% increase to $500 than a store that is selling $1 million to increase. \
      If a small store only sees 10 customers total but manages to make 5 sales, versus a store who sees 100 customers but makes 10 sales, I would say the small store probably did work harder.

      1. Patty Mayonnaise*

        Yeah they probably need to base it on some kind of customer conversation rate ratio, like number of sales per people who enter the store or something.

      2. Louise*

        This is where divisions can be helpful, but at some point it is setting up metrics that matter for the company in creating the contest.

        1. JxB1000*

          We later had contests that divided the stores into categories so small mom and pops were not competing against the giants. Plus regional divisions and minimum $$ thresholds. So, honestly, you aren’t going to give away a cruise to someone who sells 3 radios instead of 1, no matter the fact that’s a huge increase percentage-wise.

          At the time these were franchises, most of which the entire store was devoted to the product, but some where it was just one line they carried. (Visited one of the small Caribbean stores while on vacation. They sold appliances, our electronics, and chickens!)

  35. Long Time Lurker*

    My office went through a phase of trying “employee engagement” events and came up with a baking contest idea, which they held at the end of the week. A bunch of folks brought it desserts and the winner was a guy you would not expect. After he won folks commented on how they had no idea he was such a great baker- “oh, I’m not. My stay-at-home wife made the cake.”

    1. Anon for This*

      I was that guy in a similar contest. I’m neurodivergent and honestly did not realize that bringing in your spouse’s home-made dish was not ok, since that was not explicitly said in the contest rules. I finally understood it when I saw the disappointment and frustration wash over the face of the second-place finalist when I told her that my wife had made the winning dish. I won’t ever make that mistake again.

  36. Thursdaysgeek*

    This was rather minor but amusing. We were having a work hanger party to celebrate the owner’s new airplane, with free food and a bit of time for fun. It included a paper airplane contest. We were each given one 8×11 piece of paper and the goal was to build an airplane that went the furthest when thrown. The rules were not well defined: 1 piece of paper, make it go the furthest from this point towards that point.

    The winner was the one who crumpled up the paper into a tight ball and threw it like a baseball.

    1. Sprocket the Rocket*

      My husband is a retired engineer, and I knew he’d say this solution partway into reading him this. I was *almost* right. He said he’d crumple the paper into a tight ball and chew on it so it’d go further. OMG

      1. Thursdaysgeek*

        No, but he travelled a lot and our building was right next to a small airport, and he was a pilot, so…

        It was a kit plane, I think 4 person, and I got to help put on a wing (hold it up while screws were put in, or something). Another part of the hanger party was getting to go up for a short ride.

        That was an interesting company. At one point, I think about 10% of the employees, perhaps 8 or so people, were pilots or former pilots, both owners flew, and one co-worker occasionally commuted to work via airplane.

    2. nonegiven*

      We had one of those in high school trig class. The teacher made a one foot square target on the floor and we had to hit it.

  37. Cat Tree*

    This isn’t the most scandalous, just mildly amusing. In my department, work typically slows down during one month of the year and we get a chance to chip away at the backlog. So we do a friendly contest to guess how low we’ll get at the end and the winner gets a small prize. The manager has small children and one year he brought in a prize of some obnoxious sound-making toy that I’m assuming someone gave to him as a gift but he (understandably) didn’t want his kids to have it. It backfired because the winner put it on his desk in our open office and people set it off all the time, both intentionally and accidentally. I found it so annoying but I guess everyone else was amused by it.

    1. Jennifer Thneed*

      One office I worked in, our manager got a clock that played a different bird song on each hour. She hung it in a nice central spot that happened to not actually be near her cube. Different… tinny recorded… bird song… every hour… around the clock.

      I could hear it from where I sat, and it was nice enough…. but the sound stopped working one day. Somehow! And the clock kept time fine but somehow the sound part just didn’t work!

      1. Wintermute*

        I can just imagine someone walking very nonchalantly away from his cubicle, whistling a bird song, with a smoking soldering iron held behind their back

      2. Envy*

        My parents were given one when I was younger. It wasn’t so bad during the day but it would still go off all night. We discovered that it took three batteries two and the top and one at the bottom. Take out the battery at the bottom and clock worked fine with no hourly chirping.

        1. Dove*

          My aunt gave my parents that same clock for the holidays, this year! There was a learning curve where the clock would go off all night. Then they discovered the mode to make it only go off during daylight hours. Then there was a learning curve where it still went off all night, but only during part of the day!

          It now stops making noise at 2 AM.

      3. Sharpie*

        My grandma has one of those. It requires two batteries, one for the timekeeping function, one for the bird sounds.

    2. not my real name*

      Not really awry but kind of fun. My former employer had a pumpkin carving contest at Halloween. I have zero talent in that area, but I do make miniature items from polymer clay. How it worked was you would place your entry on a table in the common area. On the table were sticky notes. You would write down the next number, and that was your entry number. i.e. the first one on the table was 1, the second 2 and so on. The first year, I had made a hollow pumpkin from polymer clay. It was my first attempt at it, and although it looked decent, I didn’t really like how it turned out. As a joke, I added it to the table, but on the sticky note I wrote something like “Not an entry, just on table for fun” I don’t remember the exact words. The following year, the person in charge asked me to make another pumpkin and actually enter it. (At this point, I had for sure improved my pumpkin technique) I told her that the pumpkin was actually a sculpture and not a carved pumpkin. She told me to enter anyway. Now the carved entries were very elaborate and very well done and were made from real pumpkins. Much to my delight and surprise, I came in 3rd place. I know that there was some type of prize for first place, probably a gift card? I don’t remember, but photos of the winners were posted on our inter company website, so I got bragging rights which was fine by me. I got lots of congratulatory G Chats, so apparently, there were no hard feelings.

  38. Gingerbread*

    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!

  39. JustaTech*

    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.

      1. JustaTech*


        I think there was some kind of national pride on the line, both of the contestants were from a culture with a lot of really spicy food. It wasn’t like two young dudes being macho, these were mid-level scientists with kids. Generally very quiet people, so just really unexpected all around.

        I thought Brad got rid of the evil hot sauce, but when we cleaned out the kitchenette in the conference room area it was still there. I think someone took it home. *I* would have thrown it in the biohazard.

    1. yup yup*

      I learned that people will go to extreme measures to show off how hot they can take hot sauce. We had a “suicide wings” eating contest in our office once, I literally had one tiny bite and my mouth burned for over an hour. The goal was to eat a dozen. We had yogurt and bread for people to use as chasers… a couple of people made heroic efforts but nobody got further than half a dozen. Everyone that had more than one wing suffered terribly afterward… especially the next day, if you know what I mean…

      1. fposte*

        The YouTube show Hot Ones is amazing—it’s a celebrity interview show where guests eat progressively hotter sauces on wings, and the interviewer is amazingly thorough so you hear some great stuff when people are mostly focusing on how their mouth’s on fire and can’t remember any canned answers.

        1. Jayne*

          Have you watched the Gordon Ramsey one? It was the best, especially the contrast of Gordon swearing but also being terribly polite with offering spice cutting things to the host first before trying it himself.

      2. Thursdaysgeek*

        I make hot pepper jam, and the last batch was made using ghost and scorpion peppers*. The sugar cuts the heat, makes it a bit sneakier: it tastes good then slaps you hard in the mouth. I can only eat about a quarter teaspoon of the jelly part of it, and I can handle decently hot food. A friend will eat it by the spoonful, and a big jar will last him only a few days. It’s not because he’s showing off – he likes it.

        *I need good ventilation when making it, wear a mask and gloves, have the doors and windows open, and spend a lot of time coughing and sneezing. It hurts to make, but it is oh, so good.

    2. CmdrShepard4ever*

      Not as bad as that. I don’t even know if you can consider it a contest more of a wager.

      I used to caddy when I was younger. One weekday it had rained and was really slow, everyone around the caddy shack was bored, it was lunch time.

      I had a reputation for being able to eat a decent amount of food. I had a teenage metabolism at the time and walked a good 8 to 10 miles a day. We were talking about McDonald’s coming out with a new 50 count chicken nugget bucket, and someone dared/bet me I could not finish it.

      It was slow, I was hungry and I took them on. We worked out a time limit 7/10 minutes.

      I bought the nuggets and everyone crowded around me as I started eating. I had people helping me open the nuggets (this particular Mcdonalds did not have the 50 pc bucket, had to order multiple smaller portions) and sauces for me. Halfway through I had to stop and take a break to massage my jaw because the chewing was tiring me out. I eventually finished all of them with time to spare.

      Other people around were making bets with each other.

      I won, but looking back I consider it a loss, I only bet enough money to pay for the food, so I didn’t even really make any money.

      I did not get sick, and did end up caddying once that day. I was a little sluggish at first but it helped digest the food.

      1. Serious Bookworm*

        They definitely underestimated a teenagers metabolism. My kid lifted weights and ran cross country. I took him to a buffet once where he cleared NINE plates of food. And went back for dessert. And was hungry later that night.

        1. Elenna*

          Maybe I’m underestimating the size of chicken nuggets, but I feel like my teenage self could definitely have eaten 50 of them, and I’m a 5’2″ girl. :D
          Probably couldn’t have eaten them that fast, I’m a slow eater, but definitely within one reasonable-length meal.

          1. CmdrShepard4ever*

            Yes the nuggets were not that big, it was not necessarily the amount that was hard it was the time limit. I don’t remember the exact time I had, it was about 15 years ago, I think I finished with about 45 seconds left. About halfway is when my jaw was sore from the quick and repetitive chewing motion.

    3. Sarra N. Dipity*

      There’s a mini series on Netflix called “We are the Champions” about off-the-wall contests – one of them was an international hot sauce eating competition. It was amazing and something I can’t really believe people do “for fun”.

      (highly recommend the series, though!!)

      1. JustaTech*

        That series was excellent, and a great showcase of the weird and wonderful things that people do (chase cheese, eat crazy hot peppers, grow crazy hot pepper, dance with dogs). Very interesting and wholesome watching.

      2. AnonNY*

        As a parent of 8 & 12 year old highly competitive boys, I thank you for the tip about this show! It’s always hard to find something they both like & this sounds like it would fit the bill.

  40. IWorkWithWeirdPeople*

    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.

    1. Ace in the Hole*

      To be fair, I would expect people with food allergies would probably to opt out of a blindfolded taste-testing contest. If it was mandatory, that’s a different issue….

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        Yeah, I’d definitely opt out. Like I’d opt out of actually eating anyone else’s food at a potluck.

      2. NotQuiteAnonForThis*

        I loathe contests like this, simply because its for my safety that I opt out, and there’s always that ONE jack@$$ who tries to publicly goad me into participating.

        Bonus if you guessed it was the “Corporate Safety Manager” who was the jack@$$.

      3. The Prettiest Curse*

        As a person with food allergies, I’d never participate in one of these contests. But some people with food allergies don’t know they have them until they encounter that specific allergen. This happened to me – I ate something at work (not in a contest, ha!) which happened to contain my specific allergen and nearly wound up in the ER. I had no idea I was allergic to it till then, as I’d somehow made it to my 40s without ever encountering it in a big enough quantity to cause a reaction.
        So these contests are an all-around dangerous and terrible idea, especially if they’re mandatory.

        1. InsufficientlySubordinate*

          At one job, one of my cube mates was in a meeting and their lower lip swelled up and they weren’t really aware until the rest of the people in the room started freaking out. They took a Benadryl after one of our other cube mates (there were eight of us) called her sister in a different city who is a doctor for advice. Took a solid year to figure out it was pickled jalapenos (not raw, just pickled) that were the problem.

      4. Red 5*

        I don’t even have allergies, just certain foods trigger GERD and I’m not entirely sure which ones because with a contest like this it’s likely to be things I’ve never eaten so I wouldn’t even KNOW they were a trigger. So there’s a host of people who just wouldn’t be able to do it.

        Including people who kind of just don’t get it, which is also me.

    2. 'Tis Me*

      We did this at Brownies. I had a crazily overactive gag reflex as a kiddy and only ate foods I knew I like… But blindfolded me obligingly opened my mouth and closed it on what I think was cold baked beans and sausage… And promptly shot off for the nearest loo, heaving and tugging at the blindfold as I went. I didn’t do sauces (not even ketchup), I therefore didn’t eat baked beans. I definitely didn’t do them cold, and if you’ve never had cold, tinned sausage and aren’t aware you’re about to, the texture is best described as unexpected.

      I really alarmed the poor girls who were running the event…

  41. Ann O*

    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.

  42. AndersonDarling*

    I don’t even remember if it was an ugly sweater contest or part of another game at the holiday party, but someone won a big TV. Now, this was a crappy company that showered us with expensive gifts at the holiday party and it was the only reason everyone stayed with the crappy company, because everyone left with gobs of awesome presents.
    But once the TV was awarded, another employee started to cry. Like big all out sobbing because she wanted the TV. Mind you, she had already been gifted a designer handbag, tablet, and an Alexa. We all watched horrified as an adult broke down like a toddler having a tantrum on the floor. In the end, the winner was guilted into giving the crybaby the TV.

  43. PolarVortex*

    Since so many are offering up cheating in cooking competition stories, here’s my own:

    When I was younger, my Dad’s workplace did an Iron Chef style competition. Everyone competing had to bring in 3 dishes with the chosen ingredient. Now, my dad and I really love watching cooking shows together – still do – and he’s a fantastic cook and thankfully I not only got that from him but my grandmothers’ baking skills. So when the secret ingredient comes up as Chicken, I immediately offer to make him a dessert. With chicken. Made Chicken in a Biscuit Chocolate Chip cookies (Chicken in a Biscuit has dehydrated chicken in it). Sure I’m a ringer for my dad but we couldn’t turn down the chance. Plus made some homemade naan for one of his mains.

    Dad lost, because people just don’t appreciate the absolute effort it takes to make a chicken dessert because really objectively, they were darn good cookies. But got a killer Chicken Satay recipe from his coworker out of it. He won the Chili cookoff later anyhow. (I made him cornbread for that one…)

        1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          To quote Ian Malcolm, “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

          1. Derjungerludendorff*

            Why would you not make chicken desert cookies? The confused looks alone when you bring it up afterwards are worth the effort!

  44. many bells down*

    I worked as a PA for a high-end real estate agent and one year the company held a contest where agents got “bux” for closing escrow on properties. More expensive home=more bux, and then at the end of the contest there was an auction for a bunch of items.

    My boss wasn’t interested in anything at the auction so he gave me all his bux and told me to get that nice item I liked. I ended up bidding against another agent for it and… a lot of people didn’t like the guy. I had other agents slipping me more bux to outbid him. It turned into a giant bidding war which I eventually won.

    The guy didn’t take well to being outbid by a “lowly admin” and I guess it caused a lot of drama among the agents in his branch office.

  45. gbca*

    Maybe not quite a contest, but my husband’s company did a virtual scavenger hunt for their holiday party which included combing social media profiles of employees. They found one guy posting a bunch of homophobic stuff. Luckily he was about to be fired anyway. I don’t know who thought that was a good idea!

    1. Alanna*

      Oh no! I briefly worked for a company that dude a cute scavenger hunt, because we were all remote – it was all taking pictures of things, especially with company swag in the photos. One i remember was taking a picture of your whole family, and i managed to get my cats, dog, guinea pigs, and rats all on my sofa for a photo and i was very pleased with it. It also wasn’t a competition, just a cute activity.

      1. NonMandatoryFunOnly*

        And honestly these can be the best social activities to do online as long as you stay away from social media crawling. We did an A-Z hunt within our houses with points awarded for most creative/unusual item!

    1. froodle*

      Are we judging how cheap they are and how ass they are as separate entities or just the combined balance of cheapassedness?

    2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      So long as I can do the deliberate XKCD hyphen shove and make some nice soft bum-shaped rolls on a budget.

  46. WellRed*

    Not awry, but ever year our small company would host a raffle for various prizes (lots of $25 gift cards and the like) on the day of office xmas party. One year, the newest staffer (really nice guy) must have put it in a ton of $ to load up on raffle tix cause he won pretty much everything. I mean, the $ was for charity so it was all good, but it got kind of boring to hear “and the winner is Javier” every time.

  47. TootsNYC*

    not an official contest, but it’s one of my favorite stories.
    this reminded me:

    “We have an annual soup contest that someone won a few years back with a package of ‘just add water’ mix. It’s referred to as the soup-doping scandal or soup-gate.”

    Sitting in my office w/ my deputy, and the Big Cheese comes by to drop something off, then says she’s going to the farmer’s market in Union Square, did we want anything? Some apples?
    I say, “Ooh, if you see any Northern Spy apples, bring me six?”
    My deputy remarks that I’m highly specific, and I say, “yes, they make great pies. I make the BEST pies.” then I teasingly say something like, “better than yours.”
    He says, “what do you mean–just because I’m a guy, you think I don’t make pies?”
    No, I say–I was just joshing him, but he goes on that he makes a good pie too, maybe better than mine.

    OK, I say, we’ll have a contest. He enthusiastically agrees. We pick a day a couple of weeks out, when there won’t be deadlines. And the whole time between, he’s making jokes like, “When I buy my pie–er, I mean the ingredients–I’m going to beat you.” ha ha, he’s still razzing me about the assumption that he can’t bake a pie (which I didn’t actually assume, you note–my joke actually assumes that he DOES make pies, just not as good as mine).

    This goes on. I mention the contest to my roommate, who hears of his jokes and says, “Toots, he doesn’t bake pies, he’s going to buy it.” I defend him, no, he’s just a funny guy (which he is), and he’s got this joke going, so he’s milking it.

    I bake two pies the night before (because I always do–it’s not that much more time, and if I’m going to make a mess, well, I’ll get two pies out of it…). I get a late start, and it’s involved, so I’m up late.

    We bring the pies in that morning, and he says something about the yummy smell from his oven that morning. I say, “Oh, did you bake it early this morning? I thought about that, but I didn’t want to carry it hot.” He and the other staff look at me a little funny. I go to my office.

    He comes in and says, “Everybody thinks that I should tell you–I thought you got the jokes, but it’s kind of clear you didn’t understand. I bought my pie from the Little Pie Company of the Big Apple.”

    I looked at him. My brain froze. I’d spent ALL THIS TIME defending him to my friends and roommate, taking every joke as confirmation that he was actually going to bake his own pie. I couldn’t think.

    I said, “You’re fired.” It just came out.

    Thank GOD he didn’t believe me.
    He was one of the best hires I’ve ever made, I really loved working with him, and we are friends today, decades and decades later. But I just…said it.

    So we had the contest anyway, this time on honest terms. Someone came to my office and said, “I really hate to say it, but I did like his pie better. The one in the glass pie plate.”
    I’m like, “The two in the glass pie plates are mine.”

    I beat the Little Pie Company of the Big Apple.
    I attribute it all to the choice of the Northern Spy apple.

    (which, btw, is now hard to find; a blight hit those trees, I was told at a farmer’s market in the Berkshires several years later)

    1. Moi*

      OH MAN. We’re got a local orchard that has Northern Spy apples! We managed to get a few last fall, and they were delicious! They crispy and crunchy like a Fuji apple, but no where near as sweet.

      Are you willing to share your apple pie recipe? No pressure! I figured I’d ask since I can get those apples.

      1. TootsNYC*

        where do you live?!?

        My recipe is really simple; the filling is just chunks of Northern Spy tossed with a little less sugar than usual, cinnamon and nutmeg. The crust is half butter and half Crisco, which is part of why it works so well–enough butter to keep it firm, and enough vegetable shortening for it to be a little more workable than all-butter.

        Seriously, the Northern Spy apples were the reason it was as good as it is. They have a great sweet-to-tart ratio, and they retain texture and even a little noise even when fully cooked.

        1. Moi*

          Maine! We got them from a place called Willow Pond Farm, they’re right off 95 on the way to Augusta.

          That’s fantastically simple! I’ll have it give it a shot next fall, hopefully they have them again.

        2. kib*

          Giving a +1 to the half-butter/half-shortening pie crust recipe. I did this for a chocolate meringue pie I made for the holidays and it turns out *lovely*

      2. Jennifer Thneed*

        Ooh, my wife wants to know about these apples. I’ve got a real sweet tooth (and I love Fuji’s) and she really does NOT.

    2. fposte*

      I love Northern Spies. There was a hobby orchard near me that grew some (the couple have sold, I think) and other less common varieties, and fall was a wonderful apple cornucopia.

      1. Filosofickle*

        My dad loves winesaps! There is an orchard a couple hours away that has them briefly each fall and my parents drive out to get a box :)

    3. Harper the Other One*

      I tried my first Northern Spy apple pie recently and OH WOW I don’t think I can go back.

  48. kib*

    My first job, a retail store, had a contest where doing certain actions (upselling services, signing customers up for the store credit card, etc.) got you raffle tickets, at the end of the week they’d do a drawing for prizes, and then at the end of the quarter they did one more with ALL the tickets for a grand prize.

    I think I got picked in the first week, winning a google nexus tablet. The manager planned to write off one of the older models to give, but put it off for so long that we ran out of that model and only had the newer version. After a couple months, and at near end of my two week notice, he ended up slipping one of those newer models into my bag and said not to tell anyone! Was a nice tablet at the time, though very outdated now and it just sits in my drawer as a memory.

  49. MrsPeaches*

    I worked for a marketing agency that serves nonprofit clients. For Halloween 2014 we had a cubicle decorating contest. Most of it was cute – the IT team decorated their area with robots, the animal welfare team decorated theirs with monsters. The healthcare team decorated their area as an Ebola hospital (mind you, this was at the peak of the outbreak) complete with a dummy patient dead on a gurney. Despite being in extremely poor taste, that was declared the winner and posted all over social media – for all of our healthcare clients to see.

      1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

        I have a stuffed MRSA that has been sitting on my desk at work for the entire now going on seventeen years I’ve been working for hospitals. And he has a cape, because MRSA is a superbug.

        1. Artemesia*

          We have a surgical instrument museum down the block from us and in their gift shop you can buy stuffed germs — small enough to hang on Christmas trees. — Maybe 4 to 8 inches across. My daughter got me a bone cell one year when I had broken an elbow slipping on stairs of a castle ruin in the south of France. Don’t know if they have CORONA viruses yet.

          1. Humble Schoolmarm*

            They do! I bought one to show my students, but then realized by taking it to school I might
            a) get covid on my covid and
            b) therefore catch covid from my covid

            So cov-y hangs out on my coach all cuddled up to a giant antibody in case it gets any ideas.

  50. Betsy Bobbins*

    I worked for an apparel design company many years ago that was celebrating its 25th anniversary and had a party at the end of the work day, but during office hours, to thank employees. It was…depressing: If you were hourly you were not paid for the time which was demoralizing. The location the party was held was really small and they had filled it with mannequins to showcase the clothing they had made over the years, but it took up so much space that there was little room left for the attendees. We were all crammed together jostling for any space to eat or drink, most people just didn’t. But the best part was the trivia contest that had been advertised as having prizes for those who could correctly answer questions about the companies history. Those ‘prizes’ included such exciting items as a pair of shoes that had been left in a vacant office, a broken clock from the lunch room wall, an old calendar a former employee had left behind and more of what amounted to be garbage. Yea…good times.

    1. Liz*

      This reminds me of MY company’s 25th anniversary. At the time, our president loved to gather everyone in the buildings lobby, and pontificate. He was on the short side, so there was a platform for him to stand on so he could be seen by all!
      My company is an oddity, formed out of something that happened in our industry, and many early employees were “on loan” from companies in the industry, when we were formed, initially, then hired on permanently.

      We also have a BOD who is wined and dined and endlessly sucked up to in the form of meetings throughout the year, expensive holiday gifts, etc. And this year was no different; they flew ALL former BOD members in for a current meeting, held at a 5 star resort.
      But for the employees, we got shorty president in the lobby, doing his thing. Yes, he did call up and acknowledge the small group of employees who had been there from the start, but that was it. and then we got cookies and brownies in our VERY small cafeteria. that was it. I mean, they could have gotten a few sheet cakes at Costco for under $100 and would have been enough for everyone. It really was quite a slap in the face, esp. in light of what the BOD got.

      At our 30th, shorty was gone, and they actually had a few nice celebrations throughout the year for the employees.

  51. Casey*

    At my last internship the state office sent out a word search for “Harassment Awareness”. It was just a list of words with no context like “jokes” and “age” and “eeoc” which told me absolutely nothing about harassment in the workplace. But they said there was a prize for the first person to finish, and I wasn’t doing anything, so I finished in about 20 minutes and emailed it off. I didn’t win!!!! Someone was somehow less busy than I was!!!

  52. Popcorn Burner*

    We once had a “Build-Your-Own Stick Horse” contest for a Texas Independence Day-themed all staff meeting. (Yes, this is a real holiday in Texas.) Contestants had to “giddyup” around the conference space when it was their turn to present their stick horse.

      1. Popcorn Burner*

        It felt so surreal. It’s the only place I’ve ever worked that had a secret “All Staff Bingo”.

  53. Antilles*

    At my last company’s holiday party, they would have a door raffle. When you walk in, you put your name in the jar. Then prior to dinner, they pull names out of the jar, you walk up to the stage for a quick photo, then over to the prize table and pick whatever you want. Very straightforward. Around 200 people in attendance and about 15 or so prizes, so it wasn’t fantastic odds.
    My girlfriend and I were the last people to arrive because we had a prior commitment earlier in the day. Tables were seated on a first-come, first-sat basis, so basically all the late-comers end up at the same table, including us. They start the raffle and I get called. I go up to pick my prize and then come back and my girlfriend is gone. Other people at the table point to the stage, since she had got her name picked immediately after me. As the raffle continues, we then watch as one-by-one, every single person at our table of late-comers wins a prize.
    The ‘raffle’ person forgot to shuffle the jar and just took the names that were on top, so everybody who came late ended up winning. Nobody said anything at the time, but I heard through the grapevine that over the next couple weeks, a LOT of people complained to the HR manager about the raffle being rigged.

  54. ursula*

    I had repressed this memory but the Halloween anecdotes upthread brought it back.
    When I was articling (like an apprenticeship for being a lawyer, after law school), my firm said they have an annual costume contest on Halloween. Me and the other 3 articling students put together a group costume based on Monty Python’s Holy Grail (a dragon, the French taunter, King Arthur and the guy with coconuts). When we arrived on the day, literally no one else in the entire firm was observing Halloween in any way whatsoever. They paraded us into the lunch room in front of the senior partners and pretended to judge us against a single legal assistant wearing a witch’s hat but otherwise in regular clothes. It went on for about 20 minutes. My principal and mentor were both there.
    Bonus: none of us were hired back.

    1. ursula*

      Oh god I forgot one more detail: we were told there was a cool prize. We “won” for our group costume. The prize: a single, cheap plastic pumpkin decoration that lights up. They told us to “share it.”
      Anyway don’t go into law

  55. Blinded By the Gaslight*

    I worked at a community college where we held various staff events throughout the year, one of which was a “soup fest” when everyone would bring in crockpots of homemade soup, have lunch together, and vote on 1st, 2nd, and 3rd prizes (modest prizes: coffee gift cards, bragging rights). It was generally a good time.

    One man, a sort of grizzled campus elder, “Elrond,” was famous for his tomato basil soup, which was genuinely fantastic. His soup was so good, women would be like, “ELROND made this soup??? Is he single . . . ?” The year that I organized the soup fest, people were like, “You have to ask Elrond if he’s going to bring his soup! Is Elrond going to bring his soup? Ask Elrond if he’d be willing to share his secret soup recipe . . . !”

    So I asked Elrond. He was definitely bringing his soup. That he got from the deli section at Vons. I delighted in telling people this news (he said I could share – he literally did not care, and was surprised/amused people thought he made it himself). You could literally watch their fantasies, built up over however many years, of Elrond the Secret Gourmet fall away to Elrond the Guy Who Stopped at Vons On the Way to Work This Morning. It was hysterical. And the soup was still fantastic.

  56. HR Exec Popping In*

    Shortly after joining a new company they had their annual summer picnic. During which, they would sell raffle tickets with proceeds going to a local charity. The company provided the very nice and expensive prizes. So because the raffle was raising money for charity the CEO bought a lot of tickets… And you know where this is going. He won the big prize. Fortunately he bowed out and they drew again. But here is the thing, there were several prizes and he bought a lot of tickets. His name was eventually pulled again for something else. So I had to have a conversation with my new boss – I think it was my second week on the job – about how he should not put his name on the raffle tickets he buys. Just donate the money for goodness sake.

    1. Jules the 3rd*

      Or – find out the names of the lowest paid people in the company and put *their* names on the tickets. Nice bonus for them if they win, and maybe the CEO learns something about his company.

      1. Qwerty*

        This is what some of the executives used to do when I was in finance! They’d buy some tickets and distribute them to junior employees and people in lower paid roles so that everyone got to participate and have fun.

      2. Karo*

        This is a good thought but only do it if these individuals have already put their name in the raffle. Otherwise they’ll want to figure out how their name got in the raffle and if it ever comes out that it’s because they’re among the lowest paid, it’s going to be a huge blow for their morale. (I once received a small bonus and was told not to tell anyone else in my department because no one else was getting a bonus…I thought I had done really well that year and that they appreciated me. Turns out they were only giving bonuses to the 30 lowest paid employees out of 500, and that hurt, rightly or wrongly.)

  57. JustaTech*

    The time I was the “letter of the law, not spirit of the law” person in a contest:

    For several years we’ve had a chili cookoff to raise money for a specific cancer charity (we also do a bake sale and auction). I don’t like/can’t eat spicy food, so this isn’t my favorite thing, but I’m happy to help set up or donate some money. Then I was told that, as a member of the social committee (which I was voluntold to join), I *had* to bring a chili. That year we also tried a new voting system, where it would be very obvious who came in last. And that person was me. I knew I wouldn’t do well, because my chili was mild, but it still hurt, mostly because I hadn’t wanted to do it anyway.

    So the next year rolls around and again, I’m told I have to bring a chili. I’m seriously considering just bringing a can of Hormel’s or something when a friend says “well, what’s a chili? Some kind of bean stew in a spiced sauce, right? Why not a curry?”

    Lightbulb moment.

    So I dig around on the internet for a nice, mild, vegan curry (might as well go whole all the way). And it was super popular! It didn’t win, not by a long shot, but at the end of the event it was gone. The site head of HR gave me some serious side eye, but when several other people said they wanted to bring something chili-adjacent as well (like borsch) the committee decided that next year we would to a chili and soup cookoff. (Sadly that would have been 2020, so maybe next year.)

    1. 'Tis Me*

      I sometimes feel a bit silly making chilli without adding *any* chilli, and still serving it with yoghurt (coz Greek yoghurt is a fridge staple and sour cream is something we buy specially if we’ve actually planned ahead) knowing that it would typically be there to cut the heat – but I’m not a fan of food that hurts, my eldest kidlet is 6 and shares this general attitude, and the youngest is 11 months so burning food would be mean (the middle one wasn’t much older when the husband made what he genuinely thought was a mild Thai green curry soup, which she was eating whilst sobbing… The eldest was complaining it was hot, husband was arguing, then I tried it… Extra yoghurt made it edible! I think my middle one has grown out of eating food she doesn’t like now she can use words to state this).

      So “chilli” flavoured with cumin, mixed spice, black pepper, possibly paprika/smoked paprika, and maybe tumeric it is! Oh, and it’s non carne because I’m a veggie ;-)

      It may be very unlikely to win a cook-off, but if we all find it tasty (and the husband enjoys it with the addition of copious amounts of hot sauce) then why not?

  58. Calrayo*

    A coworker approached me about hosting a banana bread contest for our team, since I do a lot of baking and brought things in to share from time to time. I suggested it not be a contest, but just be a potluck (which is how my previous office had handled things); she insisted that voting would be fun. I bought a bunch of little fun prizes (think cute erasers, novelty pens, etc) for the event. On the day of the event, my coworker tallied the votes and gave me an envelope with the winner inside to announce. I hammed it up, going on about the winner’s bragging rights and their excellent banana bread. I opened the envelope with a flourish…and I had won. I was too embarrassed to say much and sort of slunk off. I heard later that other entrants were annoyed. I wish I had just disqualified myself but I was too mortified at the time to think of it.

  59. Firecat*

    My spouse’s school hosted a chilli contest and student thought it would be funny to dump an entire bottle of Carolina reaper hot sauce into his “as a joke”. My spouse was the unfortunate first person to try it. He was also the only person since he instantly had trouble breathing and then had esophogial bleeding. That was the last chilli contest.

    1. JustaTech*

      Oh my goodness! That’s horrible!
      At least the people in my hot sauce contest knew what they were in for.

      Chili burns aren’t funny any more than tricking someone into drinking boiling water is funny.

    2. 'Tis Me*

      Yikes!! Even regular hot chillis (not even the birds eye ones – the ones that are a step or so milder than that) make my throat and lips burn and start to swell up; I buy the husband the painful stuff because he likes it (retains abilities to talk, breathe, etc, and apparently gets endorphins) but the stuff does get treated with respect. After the time I ended up crying in the shower after we snuggled a few hours after he’d had something medium-hot by his standards, followed by a beer, and thought he’d completely ridded himself of all traces of capsaicin, we are *very* careful!

  60. Noncompliance Officer*

    Back when I worked retail the store had a contest to see who could get the most customer compliments called in to corporate. The prize was a $20 Starbucks giftcard. Usually salespeople won these, but some part-time cashier in the garden center won. He got like 20 compliments in a week.

    Well, loss prevention started looking back at the camera footage for the week. He had manually keying in a 9% discount for customers all week (this was the lowest amount that didn’t require a manager’s override). Oh, he had also been running $0.00 transactions, which would open the cash drawer, and taking $4.99 every day (anything under $5.00 missing didn’t have to be explained).

    So in all he had made $24.95 plus a $20 giftcard. On his next shift, when he showed up, the police arrested him.

  61. Reluctant Manager*

    Can we talk about how problematic it is to have mustache-growing contests for Movember? I always crafted one and participated as a protest. (I am a woman, BTW.) There were cash prizes for having your mustache voted best. I’m all for cancer awareness, but even HR didn’t seem to care that it was essentially a $100 prize available only to men.

    1. TechWriter*

      My outdoors club in undergrad opened the contest to women in the form of a leg hair growing contest (which is probably more fine in a social club for camping than in an office environment). It was popular!

      1. Dragon_Dreamer*

        Wouldn’t have worked for me, thanks to my hEDS, my leg hair is pretty much non-existent. I haven’t had to shave my legs in over 2 decades!

    2. JustaTech*

      We used to do that at my work (we work on prostate cancer), but it was just a fund raiser and not an actual contest. It fizzled out after a few years because most of my mustache-growing coworkers didn’t like how they looked with a mustache.

      One year my husband’s company did the mustache growing contest (tech startup, almost all guys). Usually my husband doesn’t do facial hair, but he decided that he would see how much of a mustache he could grow between Thanksgiving and the end of November. He had a better mustache in a week than several of his coworkers who had been working on it for the whole month.
      They didn’t do the contest the next year.

    3. Napolitana*

      I am half Italian and I can assure you that not only men grow mustaches in our extended family. (Thank goodness for wax strips!)

      1. Reluctant Manager*

        And that was the joke from HR–but just our response proves how inappropriate! “Only a man can win–or a woman, ha ha, if she dares to be embarrassed!”

    4. Quinalla*

      Yeah, we do one as a fundraiser – you put $$ in a jar to vote for your fav mustache and proceeds go to fund cancer research. The couple women at the firm took a picture with all of us wearing fake mustaches and put a jar out. It is all for fundraiser and only bragging rights for the “winner” so I was ok with that. Making it a true contest is icky…

  62. Heffalump*

    I’ve never had any desire to take part in an eating contest, but I’ve read a bit about the competitive eating subculture, which confirmed my lack of desire. Some years ago my local paper profiled a guy who was a competitive eater. His training regimen included, among other things, drinking large amounts of water to stretch his stomach. He made no bones about the fact that it hurt.

    Apparently two expressions for vomiting among competitive eaters are “actions contrary to swallowing” and “reversal of fortune.”

    Better them than me.

  63. (Averted) Bay Beauty Contest*

    Back in the fifties, my Grandpa was mayor of a rural small town. Some of the women in the town decided it would be a great idea to have a baby beauty contest — and have my Grandma, as wife of the mayor, be the judge of who’s baby was the cutest.

    Fortunately, Grandma was wise enough that she wanted NO PART of it (since she knew it would end with the parents of every baby but one thinking she was horrible)

    1. Not as Progressive as We Sound*

      This isn’t work, but this reminds me that my small rural town used to have a “Men’s Most Beautiful Legs” contest during the summer town fair – our Stars Hollow-esque town square. There were never any scandals, as I recall. But participation did decrease over time… I guess guys didn’t like being objectified in the town center gazebo on a Tuesday Night.

  64. TurkeyLurkey*

    We had a raffle to win a trip (nice.) HR was running the contest (fine.) The announcement: a note left on the winner’s desk that opened with “Pack your bags!” and signed “HR” (stress inducing)

    There was more to the note, but I still laugh about this regularly.

  65. The Dude Abides*

    At a legal-adjacent non-profit that often hosted events attended by lawyers, the employees took office contests seriously.

    For the office decorating one year, the group that was assigned the front desk area put out a number of offensive scenes, including

    – a single elf- mom with multiple young children
    – an elf passed out drunk (ft tiny bottles of alcohol)
    – an elf doing heroin (ft mock heroin on a spoon with a disposable lighter)
    – an elf leaning down to snort cocaine (ft powdered sugar in “lines”)

      1. The Dude Abides*

        Oh it stayed up. Within the office, it drew a lot of laughs, but I think that pictures of it did *not* make it onto the org’s Facebook.

        There are a ton of other juicy details that make this cringe-worthy, but would make it easy to ID the organization/me.

        1. PolarVortex*

          Quite honestly reminds me a bit of some elf tchotchkes my grandma had. My mom and aunt would put them into very NSFW positions despite all us grandkids running about and it always leaving my Grandma rather irritated to correct over and over again. Still makes me laugh thinking about it.

    1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      Usually when I’ve seen the elf on a shelf snorting things, it’s been lines of powdered cocoa :P

  66. Emu*

    We had a quiz where we submitted our favourite songs, and you had to match the song to the person. Colleague who was particularly friendly with our department came for coffee one day, and while chatting told us her song, so of course we reciprocated, not knowing she’d done the same with the other 30 or so people who’d submitted their favourite songs, so she of course won the quiz!

  67. LegendaryBobcatTaxidermy**

    My company hosted a casino night event after we hit some sales goals. They paid some casino staff to come in and set up real poker tables, craps, etc. for us and we all dressed up fancy. There was a grand prize of extra PTO days for the top winner, so it got a bit…competitive. There were two C-Suite execs who ended up cheating in order to win, and they tied for first place. There was an entry level employee who won a certain number of chips without cheating, so they ended up awarding it to him, and giving the execs a slap on the wrist.

  68. The Other Evil HR Chica*

    I used to work for a company that had a huge annual meeting/dinner with the whole company right before Thanksgiving. They gave out a ton of door prizes and there was always, always a giant TV as the last and biggest prize of the evening. It was a running gag that whoever won the TV would be fired within the year. It never failed – and it wasn’t rigged! Maybe it was cosmos, who knows?

  69. pretzelgirl*

    I worked at a company that require monthly activities to keep everyone happy and the insanely low pay the offered. They were mostly ok, but started to get annoying after a while. There was one contest where they were some sort of office olympics. The activity was a three legged race. I ended up falling and bruising my knee really badly and the entire crowd of all my co-workers went “ooooooo” and grimaced. Also it was summer and I was wearing those capris with basically an elastic band. I am pretty sure some of my co-workers got a view of my bum. I threw away the pants because of that and the fact I tore a hole in them

    Another one.. we had a soup contest one year. It was the Friday before the super bowl. No one thought to name it the Souper Bowl and I am still salty it was not named that years and years later.

    1. JustaTech*

      The company across the street from mine (everyone’s got big windows and there’s been a lot of people who’ve worked for both companies) used to have a big party for the big football game between the two state colleges.
      The party involved the usual stuff, and alcohol, and often ended with a mock football game in the lunchroom.

      Until the year someone blew out their knee playing and was out for weeks for surgery. And that was the end of football at work for them. As the saying goes, it’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt, then it’s paperwork and worker’s comp.

  70. Anti anti-tattoo Carol*

    Not awry, but still earned a side eye from me-

    During our annual holiday party, one of the games was some good-natured trivia. The staff divided up into several teams, one of which was comprised of only execs. That team got very competitive, huddling to the side of the room so they wouldn’t be overheard, glaring at everyone else periodically, overreacting when they got an incorrect (and correct, tbh) answers. They ended up tying with one of the other teams after a triple overtime in which the quizmasters had to start googling additional trivia on their phones. Execs were Not Happy.

    If the prize had been something truly amazing or couldn’t be divided among more than X people, I would have almost understand why they were frustrated. But no. Nothing so incredible that sharing would’ve been burdensome. The prize for winning was a gift certificate for a free ice cream cone. Which they knew going in, since they approved the funds for the party.

  71. Rainy*

    The shenanigans around the office yearly white elephant gift exchange can get a little intense, including people frankly lying about how many times something has already been stolen (so that it will be “dead” and they can keep it), other people challenging them because “rules are rules”…sigh.

  72. MMMMmmmmmmmMMM*

    My favorite is a story from the Podcast My Brother My Brother and Me.

    This girl entered into the salsa contest to work, only forgets to make some. So, she stops off at a local chain restaurant (I believe it was a chili’s) and just purchases the salsa. Puts it in her own jar and everything. Thinks that she’s not going to win, its from Chili’s! Lo and behold, she does win. Too embarrassed to say that its from a restaurant, she claims its a “secret family recipe” and will not give out the details of it. Years later, people are STILL asking about the salsa, and she can’t deal with the guilt, and so she wrote into MBMBAM to ask them how to deal with it.

    1. Artemesia*

      The first time I bought something for the potluck at a research institute I worked in this sort of happened to me. I was whining about having to make something and my husband says ‘just go buy something at the deli’ — I came from a background where that would have been unheard of — it did not occur to me. So I took my bowl to the deli, had them fill it with German potato salad and then at work heated it a bit in the microwave as it is a salad served warm. The director raved about it — went back for thirds, insisted I give his wife the recipe. Should have brought cheap ass rolls and been done with it.

  73. 30 Years in the Biz*

    Christmas party with talent contest at a private medical-related company of approx. 90 people, about 10 years ago. Most departments sang riffs on holiday songs with company references in the lyrics. The maintenance team of 4 -5 (all men) chose another form. They all dressed up in women’s lingerie. They wore lacy and brightly colored bras and panties over their street clothes – sales tags still hanging off (I think they were going to return them). They swayed and swung their hips wildly. The manager of the team capped off the performance by doing a spirited pole dance in the center of the room in a hot pink bra/panty set. Don’t remember the song being played during this extravaganza.

    1. wendelenn*

      Maybe “Walkin’ ‘Round in Women’s Underwear” by Bob Rivers? (to the tune of Walking in a Winter Wonderland)

  74. Lujessmin*

    I won a chili contest at work made with Williams chili seasoning mix. Everyone else made all sorts of fancy chili and I won with good ol’ chili.

  75. Staying anonymous this time*

    Some years ago, one floor of my company decide to have a holiday decorating contest. Each group of cubes drew a theme and decorated accordingly. We were judged on theme, execution and overall holiday spirit. The prize was a pizza party. My group’s décor was objectively the best – we had hundreds of hand cut paper snowflakes hanging from the ceiling and a beautiful snow scene with a model train. We lost to a group who stacked up a bunch of papers and called them letters to Santa. Apparently, the judging got quite contentious and one of the judges came to me almost in tears afterwards, swearing she would never judge one of these things again. She said that the other judges wanted the other group to win because they had 10 people vs our three and would get better value out of a pizza party! If you haven’t noticed, I am still bitter.

    Despite the judging controversies, the contest was really popular. The following year, it was decided that it would be held again but with each floor of the building competing against one another. (my group unobtrusively boycotted but our floor participated.) Collectively, the whole company lost their minds. Some of the senior executives had some side bets going on and were bankrolling the décor of their floor to the tune of several hundred dollars. One floor was completely done up as Whoville and everyone dressed as Whos. Another floor was Santa’s Workshop complete with Santa, Mrs. Claus and elves. Yes, a significant portion of my company spent a day dressed as Whos and elves. The Polar Express floor was quite good as well – they built an elaborate train with tracks that ran around the who floor. That year, there were no judging controversies and the winners enjoyed their pizza party with the winning executives getting bragging rights. However, at some point, they figured out that no one did any actual work for about three days and, despite popular demand, the contest was never held again.

    1. JustaTech*

      One year my office did a cube decorating contest for Christmas. The prize was a pair of tickets to the local (and very popular) NFL team. And that was the only prize, because they were expensive, no second place, no “thanks for participating” candy canes, nothing. I argued against this in the social committee meeting, but was completely overruled.
      I don’t particularly like football, and I suck at decorating, so I wasn’t going to participate. But then, as usual, all members of the social committee were expected to participate. So I asked around for something cheap that would look like I tried but wouldn’t win and came up with chains of origami cranes (which I’m very fast at folding).
      So on voting day I had dangling chains of paper cranes, my Princess Leia tree topper, and a note saying “please don’t vote for me, I don’t want the football tickets”.
      Thankfully I did not win, and those cranes stayed up for months.

    2. Just Another Manic Millie*

      Given how unfair your company was, I’m surprised that your group didn’t win the pizza party, because it’s cheaper to have a pizza party for three people than for ten people.

  76. Scrooge McDunk*

    Not a contest per se, but it did involve a prize. I worked for the customer service department of our local newspaper, and we knew our phones would be ringing off the hook all day if there was: a) a controversial front-page story, or b) a special insert inside the paper. The days we inserted commemorative pictures of Pope John Paul II and the Queen Mother were memorably insane, but nothing could beat the day same-sex marriage was legalized in Canada and our front page story included a photo of two men kissing the groom. Hoo boy, the bigots came out of the woodwork. It was AWFUL. To meet staffing demand, our boss promised free lunch to anyone who would come in on their day off or extend their scheduled shift. So the next day, we all gathered around in the conference room for our free lunch: buckets and buckets of KFC, with all the sides you could possibly eat. Pretty good deal, right? It was…. until 21 of 25 of us came down with violent food poisoning and the whole office had to be shut down and disinfected. After that, we stuck with pizza for staff lunces.

  77. Quickbeam*

    At a former work place, they had contests to see whose pot luck dish came from meat in the oldest freezer burned package in their chest freezer. The person who used the oldest meat got the prize. Yeah I never ate there.

      1. HBJ*

        Why? Meat that’s been in the freezer a long time may not taste great, but it’s not dangerous. The only reason it would be dangerous is if it got contaminated prior to freezing.

        1. The Prettiest Curse*

          Yeah, but you don’t know if it’s been in the freezer through multiple power cuts. If so, yikes.

          1. HBJ*

            Well, yea, but by that logic, everything and anything is dangerous. For all you know, the meat they bought yesterday was forgotten in the back of their car overnight.

            1. 'Tis Me*

              But they would probably remember that. The mystery meat from bygone years that might have belonged to a previous housemate who moved out a while ago, not so much.

  78. Going Anonymous*

    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.

    1. Luke G*

      That’s an absolute power move. Not professional in the slightest, but I’ve got to admire the boldness.

  79. KaciHall*

    I worked in the collections department for a big car rental company. For Halloween they decided to have a pumpkin carving contest. I have absolutely no creative artistic ability, but a lot of experience with Corel Draw and vector files, so I created a simple file for us to use the day of (we aren’t allowed to use purchased patterns, but ones we made ourselves were fair game. ) We beat out Pumpkin Spice (I have never seen a pumpkin dressed as a Spice Girl and honestly they should’ve won) and a few other awesome designs, along withseveral terrible ones. So far, so good.

    They displayed them in an empty cubicle. Then everyone forgot about them. Getting closer to Thanksgiving, someone went to decorate for the Thanksgiving potluck we were having the week before, and had to throw away 10 nasty, rotting, moldy pumpkins. We had the potluck in a different cubicle that year.

  80. Anonymous Commenter*

    During a winter appreciation event that read like a Christmas party, there was an ‘ugly sweater contest.’ Not wanting to be exclusive, the party organizers did emphasis it was just any ugly sweater, not holiday themed. I wore a midi length Barney purple sweater dress that had cats pouncing all over it. I wore it to enter in the contest only. But because the party ready like a Christmas party, people didn’t know I was in the running and thought I had just made an odd fashion choice.

    1. Ashley*

      My partner’s office this year on the zoom party asked people to state if they were participating so as not to offend someone accidentally.

  81. Andrea*

    Not really a contest (it was a fundraiser for charity), but terribly awry: we did a “throw a pie in the face of a VP” contest a few years ago. The VPs sat in chairs in a row outside, blindfolded, and people waited in a line to smash pies in their face. Some of them changed into raincoats, some of them wore ponchos, etc. After awhile, the CEO decided that his admin should get a turn. So suddenly, instead of employees raising money for charity to throw pies at men in power who had agreed to it ahead of time, VPs who make six figures are blindfolding a woman who wasn’t in a position to refuse and throwing pies at her (without making donations, BTW). It was the grossest, most messed-up power dynamic I’ve ever seen.

    She ended up quitting, and that CEO was forced to resign later that year; there were rumors that he was embezzling money.

      1. Andrea*

        He was a super slimy guy. His interim, and then later his permanent, replacement had their s*** together; it was such a refreshing change.

    1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      Of all the stories, this is the one that’s made me furious. I’m very glad you included the second paragraph.

    2. 'Tis Me*

      And if it was an “on the spot” thing presumably she wasn’t covered up to protect her clothing? And may have then ended up having to wear pie-dusted clothes for the rest of the day? Adding the humiliation of the whole horrible ordeal…

  82. Spicy Tuna*

    Not a contest but a white elephant gift exchange weirdness.

    We had a gift exchange with a limit of $25. Everyone drew a number and the later people to pick gifts could “steal” an earlier person’s gift. One of my co-workers picked a bottle of Mama Juana – a Dominican libation (later determined to be the gift she bought for the exchange). I stole it when it was my turn. After the gift exchange, she came up to me and said very seriously “I was going to give that to my dad for Christmas”. I replied, “Well, just buy another bottle for him”. She stood there staring at me for a while and then said again, “That was my dad’s Christmas gift”. I mean, really!

    A couple of things to note… some brands of Mama Juana can retail for $30+. This was not one of them. It retails for about $15. Also, we were all VERY highly compensated, so without running the risk of “counting other people’s money”, I am confident that having to pay another $15 for an off brand of liquor was not going to break her bank. The gift exchange was totally optional; many folks in our large office opted not to participate and there was no negativity or blow back for not participating. Finally – she knew the rules and that her gift could be stolen. If she wanted to keep the bottle, she should have contributed something else to the exchange!

    1. HotSauce*

      Why would you bring a gift meant for someone else? I’ve forgotten to get gifts for these types of things & just ran next door to the gas station & bought a bunch of scratch offs or a gift card. Once I bought one of those 5# Snickers bars & it was a total hit.

    2. More anon than usual*

      Bringing a gift you would like to have yourself can be a good strategy for these things. My family does one – half the stuff is aimed at the outdoorsy part of the family, which doesn’t include me. A lot of the rest is stuff that doesn’t suit my tastes AT ALL. So bringing something I could use myself at least guarantees there’s one good choice for me. And I could even imagine choosing something I planned to give to someone else if I ended up with it. But you still have to go in knowing you might not leave with what you brought!

      1. More anon than usual*

        Oh, and I should say that I try to bring something other people might want too – it’s not like there’s zero overlap. I’m not bringing, for example, something pertaining to a hobby that only I am into.

  83. Lynnerd*

    The associate director at my previous non-profit job put on a tagline contest. The grand prize: a paid day off (the staff had no benefits). Winner: me, after an hour of brainstorming! Except he’d never gotten approval from the executive director for that deeply generous award so I ended up winning absolutely nothing except the reminder of my disappointment every time I saw that tagline under our logo, which was frequent since I was the marketing coordinator.

      1. Luke G*

        If Lynnerd works in marketing, I’m sure the company could just tell them to work on tag lines as part of their job without any extra compensation. But even if it’s not legally theft, it’s pretty scummy- if the AD had half a conscience he’d have come up with SOME kind of replacement prize along with his apology.

  84. I Herd the Cats*

    Our office building ran a (pre-pandemic) holiday contest for ginger-bread house decorating; they provided the basic kit and you built off of that using candy and cookies and whatnot. Most of the entries ranged from “just fine” to “very nicely done” in terms of traditional layout, surrounding festive scenery etc. We’re climate-related and we did a Climate Change Disaster at the North Pole theme, with shark-infested waters (made from an enormous vat of blue Jello in a large, clear catering tray plus gummi sharks and octopi), screaming Sour Patch kids trying to escape the deluge, a life raft made of pretzels, etc. You could smell the blue raspberry jello from across the room; it was almost headache-inducing. We won “most creative.” Then they left the houses on display for a week and I kept thinking about how many cockroaches and mice and other office fauna crawled over them, feasting.

    1. Drago Cucina*

      I love this idea. Years ago at old library there I donated a village winter scene display with ice pond, inn, etc. It goes up right after Thanksgiving and stays through January. One of the staff added a mini T-Rex. Sometimes it’s at the candy story, other times it’s riding the train that goes around the village. You can always tell when someone finds it. The laughter is great.

      1. New Job So Much Better*

        I added a white dinosaur to my Santa’s Castle display I use at work , it is a perfect accessory to the hole in the side of the castle wall.

        1. Tessie Mae*

          Not work-related, but family-related. My sister usually hosts the family for Christmas Day. She has a fairly elaborate Christmas Village display–she adds something new every year so it is ever-growing. One year, we added little green army men throughout the village when no one was looking. It took a couple of days before she posted on social media asking who the culprit was. Yes, she got a big kick out of it. :D

  85. Drago Cucina*

    Not my work place. Our parish had a cookie baking contest a few years ago. There were age categories. I whipped up a batch of pistachio-date cookies and a batch of chili-lime cookies (oft requested for any gathering of friends). The winner of the adult group was the person who put a chocolate kiss on a mini pretzel with a dollop of frosting. There was talk that future contests would have a semi-home made category and fully homemade.

      1. Lyudie*

        Seconding this. I am intrigued by the chili-lime cookies especially. Maybe you can share at the open thread this weekend?

        1. Dragon_Dreamer*

          Ooh, a cookie recipe thread! I have a recipe of 10 chocolate cookies that resulted from someone challenging me to see just how many chips a cookie could hold. The answer is 8 cups per double back of dough. They are literally more chip than cookie! ;)

    1. Sleepless*

      My experience with baking contests is that the winners are usually flashy lowest-common-denominator stuff like this.

    2. Gumby*

      Pfft. Amateur. The better version would be to put an unwrapped rolo on a square pretzel, pop into a warm oven for no more than a minute, and then use an m&m to gently press the slightly melty rolo into the pretzel so it sticks (no frosting necessary). Obviously these do not compare to actual homemade cookies, but that are quite tasty. And addictive.

  86. HeyPony*

    My department had an annual curling competition for several years, and teams came in costumes that were judged by the staff of the curling club. One year we had a bunch of fun and interesting costumes (not my team, alas) like pirates and first responders. The winner chosen? The team who came in football jerseys for our local NFL team.

  87. Farrah Sahara*

    The year was 1995. My office of approx. 300 people decided to hold a weight-loss competition to “increase team bonding and morale”. The winner was to get a $500 cash prize, which came from each contestant submitting a $10 entry fee and if there weren’t enough entrants, HR would pay the balance.

    Each week, contestants were asked to weigh in with a self-reported weight or if they were feeling brave, using the weight scale in our executive lounge, where one of the contest organizers would record the number on a spreadsheet. (The CEO was extremely weight conscious and kept a mechanical scale in there to check his weight throughout the week).

    People became very competitive and started trying to sabotage one another – deliberately leaving out someone’s favorite candy or pizza, switching out the non-fat milk to 2% in the communal kitchen, and fiddling with the scale to have incorrect numbers.

    Two contestants ended up being hospitalized. First was a woman who became very triggered and her long dormant eating disorder returned. Second, was a guy who lost 75 pounds too quickly and developed gallstones, which needed to be removed with surgery.

    This entire contest was such a bad idea and left people feeling irritable, hungry and horrible to be around. It was only after the two people were put in hospital that the HR Director said the contest was cancelled and everyone would get a refund. No prize money, a lot of suffering and a big hit to morale.

    1. Spicy Tuna*

      I once had a boss who was desperate to lose weight. He only drank black coffee and for “lunch” would eat two specially formulated nutritional “cookies”. He would regularly schedule meetings between 12-2PM so he wouldn’t be “tempted” to eat. He was always in a ragingly bad mood. The first week I was there, I got reamed out in a group meeting for a mistake my predecessor made. I mean, at that point, I didn’t even have access to the ERP system where the mistake was made. He was awful. No one that works around other people should be allowed to diet like that!

      1. Farrah Sahara*

        Ugh, what a jerk. Being on a diet can make someone very crabby, because they’re not eating enough! And it’s the unfortunate staff who end up getting the brunt of it. Hopefully you didn’t have to work with him for too long or that he abandoned the “cookie diet” soon after.

      2. pretzelgirl*

        Did we have the same boss? My former boss drank liters (yes liters) of Diet Coke every day and rarely had lunch. If he did it was a granola bar. He was interesting person. It may explain some of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde behaviors.

      3. Spicy Tuna*

        Gosh, I’m sorry to hear other people had this experience as well. I only worked there for a year – there were a lot of issues at that company!

        Boss ended up avoiding me like the plague for a good part of my tenure there. We had gone on a business trip to the Dominican Republic together, and the airport staff searched my bag in the check-in line. They pulled out a box of super tampons, examined several tampons, removed my A-cup bra and stretched it out while holding it up to the light – all out in the open in front of my boss. My boss was a fairly awkward guy and this sent him over the edge. He would not look at me for several months afterwards. If I was in the kitchen getting coffee or water, he would turn right around and leave! TOO FUNNY!

        1. Dragon_Dreamer*

          I hate TSA agents like that. They knew perfectly well what feminine hygiene products and undergarments are, they just wanted to have a misogynistic laugh at your expense. Reminds me of the stories I’ve heard about folks having their “toys” in their suitcases tampered with, especially gay couples. When the bags arrived, the toys were on full display either maybe still in the bag (but obviously tampered with) or in one case, taped to the outside!

  88. HBJ*

    This is pretty basic. A number of the people at my very small company were looking to lose weight for the new year, so the company decided to hold a weight-loss competition. You didn’t have to join, and it was extremely low key. As in, weigh-in at the start, weigh-in at the end and the winner gets $50 or something like that.

    Months and months go by, and I finally asked “oh, when are we supposed to be doing final weigh-ins?” And they said there wasn’t really a contest anymore. It had just kind of petered out. I wasn’t mad, tbh, I hadn’t lost any. No one else had either.

    1. Sparkles McFadden*

      Our company had a weight loss competition with a buy in. Each entrant had to put in $20, and the top three “losers” would get a portion of the overall pot (50%, 30%, 20%). To make it fair, weight loss was determined by percentage of body weigh loss, and there was an official weekly weigh in done by an impartial person. The announcement was made a one quarterly meeting and the prized were to be awarded at the next quarterly meeting.

      Fast-forward three months: The person who lost the most weight was announced, and the amount of the prize won (I don’t remember the exact amount but it was more than $200). The winner was thrilled…and then the C-Suite person awarding the prize said “…and I am sure our winner is thrilled enough with the weight loss to donate this prize to my favorite charity devoted to feeding starving children…” The poor winner, put on the spot, stammered “Uh, what? Wait, what? Are you kidding me?” finally settling on “Uh, yeah, sure, of course.”

      The second and third place people got the same treatment, though the third place winner asked “What happens if I say no?” followed quickly by “I was just kidding, I swear!”

      For the rest of the day, we got to hear “Hey, congratulations on your win!” followed by “Yeah, shut up.” I really was surprised none of them saw that coming.

  89. Invisible Fish*

    Like a lot of folks, I worked at a school with mandatory spirit activities. I didn’t like any of them, because why would you try to make busy people do more stuff in order to …. have fun? Celebrate a holiday?

    Well, I move up a bit, am in charge of two departments, etc. I participate in a cook off because folks higher on the food chain *have* to, in order to ensure there are enough entries and therefore enough spirit (or whatever).

    It’s time for ballots to be counted. I’m there when the principal and counselors do the counting. I watch as ballots that voted for my entry are LITERALLY IGNORED – actually pushed to the side without being counted.

    The “winner” was determined by the principal doing the “counting” in favor of a dessert she thought looked the best.

    And I’m out. Never participated in anything ever again, despite my “rank”
    in the organization. Will never participate again in any organization.

    Mandatory fun. Ugh.

  90. I'm new in town*

    A few years ago my department had a picnic and one of the activities was a cookie competition. I signed up for it because I love baking. The woman who was in charge of organizing the cookie competition (“Jane”) also entered the competition. The way the voting worked is they had ballots in which you would mark off which cookie you liked best and drop it in a box. Towards the end of the picnic Jane gathered the ballots to count them and then, after counting, encouraged more people to vote. Jane never announced who the winner was so I asked her later on who had won. She won.

    To recap – Jane organized the competition, counted the votes, made more people “vote”, and then won (there was a monetary prize). I am still bitter about this.

  91. Orange You Glad*

    We have a lot of minor contests in the office – stuff like hit 90% of our new business target by Friday and we’ll close early before the next holiday. Those are fine and I like how the goal is something everyone in the company can work together on and all benefit from the “prize”.

    A couple that have irked me over the year though are our annual halloween costume contest and sales retreat contest. For the halloween costumes, there is one VP-level person who gets really into it. He goes all out with really detailed costumes and props. That’s great and our company encourages management to get into the spirit of any events we have in the office in order to encourage the employees below us to participate. The problem is this VP wins the contest almost every year (like 8/10 years the contest has been around). The judges are always the same 2 C-level officers so it’s not like they don’t know he always wins. The event is intented to boost morale among all employees (I’d argue more so for lower level contributors) so it feels wrong to me to always award a person at the top with the prize (which is only a $50 gift card).

    Our company also holds a contest for who attends the annual sales retreat. They normally (not in 2020-21) pay to send some employees (~50) to a resort in a far-away location for a 4 day event. They bill it as an all-expenses paid vacation – it isn’t, it’s just 4 days of formal business meetings and presentations. There is a contest among the salespeople with the highest earners selected to attend. If this is all this contest was I’d be fine with it. The problem I have is they claim any employee, not just sales, can win a spot to go. Every year they make up criteria that someone would need to meet to attend but then never follow through with it. The same group of people from non-sales departments are chosen to go every year. Upper management makes a big deal about this “contest” and “prize” – multiple emails reminding us of the contest and posters around the office of the location chosen. I feel like they go out of their way to make it sound like someone anyone can win, but it’s not true. Our former CFO told me that they just pick the director/VP from each department. Agian, it’s just a meeting/retreat, so it’s not something I’d want to attend. I’m just bothered by the way they make it seem like it’s something everyone is eligible for when it’s not. Many new and lower-level employees bend over backwards to try to meet the “eligibility requirement” which makes me sad since there’s nothing they can to do meet those requirements without being promoted to the top. I think the company needs to stop calling it a trip or a prize and just call it a sales retreat that top salespeople and management attend each year. No need to make a big deal about it to the rest of us.

    1. Luke G*

      Oof. That sounds like somebody at the top feels a little guilty about having an even that’s only for certain people and thinks it’s somehow easier for the non-invitees to stomach if they think they had a chance and got unlucky, rather than just not being eligible. I’d feel the same as you, just tell me who gets to go and I’ll be fine with it.

  92. Luke G*

    My current job used to have a raffle at the annual holiday party, and every year one of the prizes was an autographed headshot of the CEO (a deliberate gag gift). One poor guy won it two years in a row, and hung one on each side of his bed at home “so he could be inspired each and every day.” Yes, he brought in photos to prove it. No, we aren’t sure if his wife was equally inspired.

    I worked at a summer camp for years, where the primary employee pool was teenage boys- well known for their decision making skills. There were official contests for the staff that were well-run, and UN-official contests that would make any sane adult cringe. “How many days in a row can you wear the same pair of underwear” and “lets take turns throwing a knife at each other’s feet and see who flinches first” come to mind.

    1. HeyPony*

      I once brought a framed picture of Mikhail Barishnikov as my white elephant gift, and the guy who won it hung it up in his cubicle.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        At first I read that is Mikhail Gorbachev and that would have been really funny. Baryshnikov is a joy in motion. I would have hung the picture up too!

    2. turquoisecow*

      My department did an annual gift exchange with each person being randomly assigned another person to buy for, anonymously. We had a staff meeting where the boss explained the rules and confirmed that everyone wanted to join. A coworker who was also new asked if the gifts were supposed to be serious or gag gifts. A number of people started laughing.

      It turns out that the previous year someone had given the boss a gag gift of a framed photograph of her boss. Everyone found it hilarious and she kept it in her office. The giver confessed and gave her a serious gift as well.

      She’s since gotten reassigned under a new boss and her old boss left the company. I wonder if she still has the framed photo.

      1. Luke G*

        For the vast majority of people I’d agree. This guy has a weird sense of humor, I call it a coin toss whether he just did it for the photo or whether he thought it was funny enough to make them permanent decor.

  93. WeAreTheJunimos*

    This past Christmas, our management decided they’d like to do an Elf on the Shelf (we’re essential so we are in person). The manager would hide it in the department in the morning and then whoever found it would turn it back in for a prize. It went really well for 3 weeks and then the prizes started getting better as the hiding places got tougher. One of our managers is pretty tall and hid the elf on top of a tall cabinet. It was hidden in a way that it was visible to anyone who looked up at the cabinet from a specific angle. So one of my coworkers, who is very short, finds the elf. But she doesn’t want to ask anyone for help getting it down for fear they’ll steal her prize. So she climbs the cabinet, grabs the elf, and then proceeds to find out the hard way that the cabinet was not bolted to the wall. She and the cabinet both come crashing down and she breaks her wrist in the process. Needless to say, we’re not doing that again next year.

  94. Farrah Sahara*

    Ugh, what a jerk. Being on a diet can make someone very crabby, because they’re not eating enough! And it’s the unfortunate staff who end up getting the brunt of it. Hopefully you didn’t have to work with him for too long or that he abandoned the “cookie diet” soon after.

  95. HotSauce*

    Halloween cube decoration contest. Most of us stuck to skeletons & cobwebs from the dollar store. One coworker decided to make his cube into a graveyard complete with headstones with epitaphs about each employee. They were all extremely mean (Here lies Sarah, she never met a donut she didn’t like, or eat!, RIP Dave, suffocated by his own nose hair). The following party was unusually quiet until the yelling started. We’re not allowed to decorate our cubes anymore.

    1. SeluciaMD*

      Wow that took a turn. The graveyard idea was great but the epitaphs were AWFUL. How did he think that was going to play out? Did he think that was funny? I am cringing and also want to punch him.

    2. JustaTech*

      We had “headstones” of past senior leadership folks as a decoration at a Halloween party one very bad year, but they were all people who had 1) left the company voluntarily and 2) were still alive.

      And no epitaphs!

      Even that was in questionable taste.

    3. ElBreado*

      I worked somewhere that had a lot of decorating competitions. Open plan and teams would decorate the team area.

      I joined in over Christmas one year shortly after joining a new team – and printed pictures of all the team members (including our manager) onto acetate, drew on santa hats etc. with stars in the background and cut them out to make little baubles of the team. And these were put up with loads of other decorations.

      When Halloween came round I had some of the photos on acetate left over and tried to draw skulls over them. I tried my own picture, then a couple of other people from the team. It didn’t really work and I just helped out with the fake cobwebs and put up a decorative skeleton I’d brought in from home.

      At some point after this I was not getting on so well with the company. Particularly while having needed to take some time off for mental health treatment. Things got tense. I got to not work there anymore. And we all got to argue about who was at fault and severance pay. As I hadn’t been well enough to pack up my stuff when I left they put all my stuff in a box for me.

      And then wrote me a letter saying that they were scared of me because they had found a picture of my manager with the eyes scratched out in my stuff.

      It’s a failed halloween decoration. Which I sat at my desk in front of the whole team making. And I have photos of what the manager made that day to add to a halloween cake decorating scene the team had to make – which included a cookie tombstone on which she wrote RIP then the initials of the only team member who wasn’t there.

      (No idea what they were trying to do anyway. Countering “I’ve had mental health problems” with “you’re crazy and probably dangerous” is an odd move).

      It is so nice to no longer be doing competitions like that every couple of months. Though in my time there I won two easter eggs (puzzle and treasure hunt), some stationary (photo competition) and a big box of Lush stuff for my team (decorating a cardboard christmas tree with recycled stuff).

  96. Not telling you my name for this*

    Not the worst thing in the world but when my company hosts contests, the executive team will often enter. And many times they win! The latest contest had 4 random employees as judges. There were 6 entries and 3 categories. Out of those 6 entries, the 3 winners were a Director of Something, a C-suite exec, and one worker bee. And it wasn’t just for bragging rights-each winner will be mailed an actual prize (we don’t know what.) No one will ever know if those 4 judges felt like they had to choose the Exec team members or if they genuinely thought they were the best. Its not awful but it doesn’t look great…

  97. Kiwi*

    We had an ugly sweater contest last year and I was bored so i painted a pumpkin with a santa hat on an old hoodie.

    I won, and one of the other guys in my office was SO SALTY about it cyz it wasnt store bought or a “real” holiday sweater (???)

    This is also the dude who takes all of the leftovers home from office lunches and talks about how it’s enough for a few days and he’s getting one over on the conpany, so obviously he’s a bit… boorish… but damn. The reward was just a little ornament with “best holiday sweater 2019” on it!

    1. TurkeyLurkey*

      I get why thrifting for an outdated/outlandishly not your style “ugly” sweater became a thing. I will never understand why buying a brand new, intentionally-styled-to-be-ugly sweater has become a thing.

  98. Information Goddess*

    My larger organization used to hold a weight loss contest every January. People divided into teams and apparently one department won every year several years running. Several of my coworkers formed a team and one of them took it to the next level and started sending baked goods (cupcakes, cookies) to the champion department. I’m not sure what happened but the final one I heard about was muffins made from a muffin in a jar another coworker had gifted everyone for Christmas. Honestly, I was just trying to stay out of this craziness.

    1. llamalemon*

      I’ve been in offices that do this as well. One contest that went really sideways, ironically, was a challenge to eat as many fruits and vegetables as possible–literally, the person who ate the most individual fruits and veggies over the course of the competition won. People went nuts, shoving carrots and celery and apples in their mouths all day, eating at their desks, walking to the printer or the bathroom, in meetings. I brought up that I was uncomfortable with the binge eating to a senior member of the office (who also happened to be a nutritionist), and was told I was being a buzzkill.

  99. marymoocow*

    At one job (at a university), we had a field day every May to celebrate the end of the academic year. Faculty, staff, and administration were all invited and it was always a ton of fun.

    We randomly drew names to assign people to teams and made a schedule of events for everyone based on the events they wanted to join. That way nobody was forced to join an athletic event if they didn’t want to, nobody was forced to play trivia if they preferred active games, etc. But giving everyone only the events they wanted meant that some teams had more events and therefore were eligible for more points.

    The winning team just got a small token, either purchased from the party store or made from scrap material laying around, and got a team picture taken. But for one of my coworkers, the fact that teams weren’t exactly equal was unallowable. He refused to participate because his team had the lowest chance of winning and made a big show of boycotting the event for the next few years. It was out of synch with the low-key mood of the event and most people were just happy to be out of the building. We implemented a multiplier the next year so that smaller teams with fewer events would still be as competitive, but he still refused to come. I guess it was important enough to him that he would choose to spend a day alone in the building while the rest of us were outside in the sunshine, eating free food and blowing off steam.

  100. AlexandrinaVictoria*

    A long time ago, I worked at a modern art museum. A lot of the people who worked there were visual artists themselves. I was not. There was a pumpkin carving contest. Most of the pumpkins were real works of art, complex, beautiful. But I based mine on a piece of art called something like “Line of Rocks.” There was a rectangle traced on the floor, and a certain number of stones were arranged in it. I hacked my pumpkin into roughly rectangular pieces and named it “Line of Pumpkin.” I won. People were PISSED!

    1. Artemesia*

      That is fabulous. After all the museum probably has exhibits like this — well you described one — I remember something at the Art Institute that was ugly wall paper on the walls and bags of cat litter set here and there against the wall. How could people who work in a museum not see the humor in a deconstructed pumpkin carving like yours. Genius.

  101. The Prettiest Curse*

    This is a contest gone right story. ;)
    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 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.

    1. The Prettiest Curse*

      Just to clarify, all the assembling and decorating folks has to wear blindfolds. Somehow that point got garbled in my original post, sorry!

      1. The Prettiest Curse*

        Ha, just make sure you put down a LOT of plastic wherever you do it. You’d be surprised at how far icing can go!

  102. beltacular*

    My former office was really into eating contests. We had a leftover halloween candy contest (winner was the person to first finish a pound of candy), a butter eating contest (the first to eat a pound of butter, the winner melted it and chugged a pound of liquid butter), a bacon eating contest, and a shredded lettuce contest where you could not use your hands to eat the lettuce. That one was pretty epic to watch.

  103. cedarthea*

    At my office we had a competition to name our new Roomba.

    We all got to contribute names, then we had a vote, and the winner got a Tim Hortons Gift Card.

    My colleague came up with the name “Dustin Bieber” and it won, but I consider us all winners because we now have an office roomba named “Dustin Bieber”

  104. Crisy*

    We used to have each team do a centerpiece for a contest for our department’s summer picnic. Unfortunately, at some point people realized if you added jello shots or something to bribe the judges, you were more likely to win. And that’s how my department picnic started looking more like a frat party for a couple years before someone put a stop to it….

  105. FakePrize*

    I love to bake, and had missed the first couple of baking contests at work. Then they announced a baking contest as part of our upcoming holiday party, when I was finally going to be in town. And I decided ahead of time I was going to win it. I decided on the most impressive project I could think of, and ended up making a yule log cake: chocolate cake, two types of frosting/filling, meringue mushrooms, white chocolate snow — the whole nine yards, all from scratch. I also made a bunch of cupcakes topped with meringue mushrooms so everyone could have some. Everything came together perfectly, and it was all enthusiastically devoured by my coworkers.

    They usually had elaborate voting methods for contests, but I heard nothing about how to vote during the party. Finally, I asked the head of HR about it. It was clear she had completely forgotten there was supposed to be a contest! I swear I took it well, just teasing her a little. But she obviously felt bad and later sent an email just to me saying that I had won and should stop by to pick up my gift card prize. (Usually they did big announcements in person or over all-company email.)

    When I went to her office, I told her (jokingly) I was there to pick up my “fake prize” and she still claimed she’d taken a poll and I had really won. To this day I don’t know why she didn’t just ‘fess up. But I did take the gift card.

  106. Not my real name*

    Not a company contest but my own personal contest. The contest was “does anyone ever get fired from this company?”

    The company policy was that you had to rack up 10 points to get fired. There were warnings along the way as you accumulated points. Infractions were like leaving through the front door instead of the employee entrance, clocking in more than 10 minutes late, going to the restroom on a floor that you didn’t work on, etc.

    I earnestly worked hard at obtaining these demerit points but every time I would get anywhere close to 7 or 8, the GM would announce a points buy back day where 5 points would automatically be taken away from your total or points amnesty day where all points would be wiped out.

    After months of trying, I just quit. I sucked at my own personal contest.

  107. Kimster Possible*

    At one of my old workplaces, they had a constant stream of prizes and cash contests (probably to make up for the low wages). But these were typically run by a very petty HR manager who ensured that the only winners were those who were in good standing in the company.
    One year, they decided to buy a bunch of Football-themed prizes in anticipation of the superbowl ranging from tickets to an upcoming concert, gift cards, and other memorabilia. Everyone in the company was invited to write their name on a piece of paper and put it in this fancy brass raffle drum bought for the occasion.
    Of course, our HR manager was in charge of picking the winner from the raffle drum and despite the fact that there were four other employees present, she would grab a piece of paper, read the winner and tossed it aside. When we asked her about it, she said that the person was on PIP and therefore didn’t deserve a prize. She also did the same with a couple of other pieces of paper because some of them were not as ‘social’ or didn’t fit in the company’s culture.

  108. Meow For This*

    My old company sponsored a soup/chili contest where employees could make their own special recipe soup/chili, bring it to work in a crockpot (to keep it hot), and then other employees could take a small sample cup of each, then vote on a winner. There were quite a few entries and so quite a few electrical strips with crockpots plugged in all around the conference room. Honestly, all the different soups/chili I sampled were delicious (and I sampled quite a few) but one of them gave at least a dozen people (including me) food poisoning. It was a miserable night. Not sure if there was an electric outage due to the number of crockpots and so one of them became contaminated or what. Also never figured out which one was the culprit but, alas, that was the end of the contest.

  109. InsufficientlySubordinate*

    Company wanted to build team morale so we ended up with 5 or 6 teams from different departments. There were contests every week and you had to have your team flashlight and bandana with you at all times or your team would lose points. Anyway, things….escalated. Resulting in our team getting one member to create a fake meeting for the rest of the department and one member going to conduct the meeting. While they were gone, we hung parts of dismembered Barbies with red nail polish on the ends from the ceiling and scraps of bandanas from the other teams pasted to them. There may have been humorously threatening notes. Didn’t get in trouble. Pretty sure they ended the contests after that though. Please note: I would NEVER do this now, but it was 20 years ago and I understand things better now.

  110. llamalemon*

    When I was an entry-level worker in an INCREDIBLY toxic environment, the leadership team pitched a pie contest as a fun bonding activity and handed it off to me and one of my entry level coworkers to organize. We came up with a lot of kitchy things to promote the event around the office–we even gave it this adorable little pie mascot. The office was chatting it up and swapping recipes for weeks. Day of, the whole office shuffles off into the conference room and lo and behold, no one brought pie. No one. But the head of marketing did bring a cookie for herself.

    1. Chas*

      I often organise cake sales to raise money for charity at work, where I make something homemade and ask others to pitch in (and tell me if they’re planning to bring something) and I find there’s only 2 ways it can go: Either we get twice as much cake as we could possibly sell, or I’m the only person who cooks anything at all.

  111. Sammi*

    Okay, my turn. This was a while back, but I will never forget it.

    We had a charity donation thing, and when you donated, you picked one of the junior managers – the one with the most votes had to dress up like a woman.

    Well the guy that won came in on Monday in a beautiful red dress (his wife’s dress I believe). He looked fantastic, and for months afterwards, he gave makeup lessons to those who asked.

    For some reason, the contest was never repeated.

    1. YouwantmetodoWHAT?! *

      “Had to dress up like a woman”.
      That’s just awful. But I am glad that the guy that won rocked it, and didn’t make a joke of it.

  112. GarbageContest*

    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.

    1. MsMaryMary*

      I work in employee benefits, and there are lots of stories of people gaming a steps challenge by attaching their tracker to a dog or toddler. My favorite story is that once when my mom made meatballs, her tracker credited her with 22,000 steps. Apparently that hand/wrist motion really confused the tracker. So give meatball making a try!

      1. Chocolate Teapot*

        As an anniversary thing, a previous company gave everyone a fitbit tracker and there was a competition for the most steps. The star prize was an IPad for the first person to reach a million steps.

        The fitbits were handed out on a Friday and by Monday, somebody had already hit the target, so the company had to rethink prizes.

        1. Jen with one n*

          Knitting or especially hand-winding skeins into balls of yarn is another great way to get your count up!

      2. HBJ*

        Lol, my mom let my baby play with hers. My baby who didn’t walk or crawl at the time. She gave my mom a couple thousand steps just by shaking it around and chewing on it.

    2. JustaTech*

      I discovered that I can clip my fitbit to my pants cuff and use my cheap under-desk cycle to really rack up the steps while I’m reading some tedious document. The problem is that I can’t use my rolling desk chair or it scoots out from under me and I fall on the floor.

      (I do this to track my cycling because the meter on the cycle broke years ago, not because we’ve had a contest at work.)

    3. Otter Dance*

      It wasn’t a contest, but a mutual encouragement thread. I was so encouraged to find I had logged almost two miles running errands one morning. (I’m waiting for knee surgery, so h.u.g.e. deal for me.) Then I noticed it recording hundreds of steps while I sat still, knitting.

      Apparently, my wrist was much better traveled than the rest of me.

  113. Esmeralda*

    Some years ago we would do a superlatives type activity, where everyone would anonymously fill in a form saying what each person was most likely to. Everyone would get a very fancy awards certificate, which had a list of all the entries for you. Most of the time, I work with very nice people and it was a lot of fun and quite affirming.

    Until the Year of the Snake. Who took a person’s weakness and turned it into a “funny” superlative. A number of us were crushed by the meanness of the “joke.” (Not everyone got a mean joke, either — just the people The Snake didn’t like)

    And that was the last year for superlatives.

  114. Sciencer*

    This was in grad school but each year our chili-cook-off included an entry of squirrel chili made with locally-caught squirrel meat. This was in the San Francisco Bay Area where the squirrels are… not healthy looking. It always got eaten though!

    1. MsMaryMary*

      I mentioned this story in a thread about bringing game meat to work, but one of my coworkers is forever banned from the Thanksgiving potluck because he brought in squirrel casserole and didn’t tell anyone it’s origins until after lunch. The office president was the most distressed.

    2. MMMMmmmmmmmMMM*

      I work in a very remote area where a lot of my coworkers are game hunters. We have had at potlucks:
      -smoked swan
      – beef heart and tongue (pickled, of course)
      -lots of venison
      -beaver stew

      1. Mental Lentil*

        I grew up eating beef tongue. It’s delicious.

        It’s also full of cholesterol, so it’s off the menu now, alas.

      2. nonegiven*

        DH has cooked crane, armadillo, elk, peacock, and rabbit well as lots of venison, fish, and frogs legs.

  115. MsMaryMary*

    I once managed a team of 20-something dudes. It wasn’t a contest, but one day at lunch three of them dared the fourth to drink a bottle of hot sauce. He did, but did not feel too well afterwards. I found out when I passed their set of cubes and found one guy softly moaning and the other three stifling their laughter. I gave Hot Sauce Guy some tums and let him leave a little early. Everyone got a lecture about How College and Work Are Different.

  116. Tech and Roses*

    This is my mother’s story.

    A few years ago, she was in charge of running a month-long staff walking contest. The staff were on teams and their steps were tallied daily, in a spreadsheet that everyone could see. For the first week, one staff member consistently got more than double the amount of steps than everyone else, including some long-distance runners, but she was notorious for trying to get out of tasks that required her to get up from her desk. Some people got REALLY invested in this (I think the prize was like $300) and demanded that the woman exchange her pedometer for a new one. My mom handled it as politely as she could, being careful not to accuse her of anything, and the woman obliged. Afterwards, the woman went around telling everyone that she did indeed walk A LOT, and that someone must be threatened by how much walking she did, because she would NEVER rig a pedometer.

    With the new pedometer, the woman barely got 1/4 of the steps she was getting before, and less than almost everyone else. I don’t know how she rigged her first pedometer. But it’s kind of hilarious.

    1. MMMMmmmmmmmMMM*

      I found that when I knit, my apple watch logs the motion as walking so some days I can double my “step count” by knitting for a few hours!

      1. The Dude Abides*

        I found that my FitBit counts my Kibler shuffling as extra steps while I’m sitting down and spellslinging, which is…weird.

    2. The Dude Abides*

      Does she have pets? I’m reminded of a commercial where someone put the watch on a dog’s tail, and played fetch in the park.

  117. Former call centre worker*

    We had a Christmas jumper competition and shortly before judging was about to take place, one guy adjusted his monitor and accidentally kncoked over the colleague opposite’s desktop computer, which in turn knocked over 2 full cups of coffee that were on his desk, drenching him and his Christmas jumper. I was sat facing the other direction so didn’t witness it myself, but it was described as a “tidal wave” by those who did.

  118. MMMMmmmmmmmMMM*

    An earlier pie throwing comment made me remember my own!

    I worked at a local big-box store that rhymes with farget. There was a competition for who could get the most credit card sign ups, and the one who won could pie the HR manager in the face.

    The way they did the “pie throwing” was basically a smush in the face deal. Except that the guy that won did it a bit too forcefully and broke the HR managers nose! I’m 99% sure that this was completely accidental, and not malicious, but needless to say, they never did have a pie in the face again.

  119. I always wanted puffers*

    So I had recently joined a new company where everyone else was super-athletic. I am NOT. There was a team-building event where participation was expected and it was supposed to be low-key. It was NOT. Outcome of event: we discover I have adult-onset exertional asthma.

    1. YouwantmetodoWHAT?! *

      Yikes! Expected (actually mandatory) physical events should be outlawed.
      I hope that you are ok!

      1. I always wanted puffers*

        Oh yes, completely okay, and I learned to say no to anything athletic at that job (the puffers helped with that). Later traps included: “Meditative nature walk” which from the stories (I didn’t go) equaled “who can run the insane backwoods route in the fastest time”

  120. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    Adding onto food contests gone awry, this is in the same vein as Soupgate. When I was an intern, the intern coordinator decided that we needed more community-building. At her prior office, they’d had a cookie-making contest. So the interns and attorneys made cookies.

    One attorney served raw, store bought cookie dough and came in second. The winner (the development director) used a store bought dough, also. The folks who came in third through fifth place had objectively better cookies (both by taste and presentation). Third Place was so angry that the next day she bought a roll of Pillsbury dough and duct-taped it to the office door of the winner. Fifth Place put some of Second Place’s raw cookie dough in a bowl, put the bowl over the heating vent in Second Place’s office, and let it cook overnight. They canceled the contest after that attempt and never brought it back.

  121. Director Sticky Fingers*

    The contest that ended the director’s career!

    It’s contest-adjacent. My agency hosts a big charity golf tournament every year and would solicit hole sponsorships, table sponsorships, raffle prizes, etc. Everyone liked it – a large number of employees played, a lot of us volunteered to work it (it was a fun day outdoors in usually great weather), it was good networking, etc. Prior to the tournament we stored the raffle prizes and other supplies in one of our conference rooms. About a week before the event one year, an employee noticed a flat-screen television that had been donated as a raffle prize was missing. CCTV footage showed the director loading it into his son’s car after hours the day prior. It wasn’t even particularly large or valuable – I think it was around 30 inches? Anyway, security and one of our assistant directors had to call him in, question him (he denied it), show him the footage, and escort him off the property. It really put a damper on the tournament that year.

  122. Malarkey01*

    Ohhhh this one is so embarrassing for me. We had a fundraising competition and I was somehow put in charge of the raffle. I should add I was fresh out of college. There were cocktails at the event and raffle prizes were given out every 10 minutes or so. As the event went on people were having a lot of fun and buying more and more tickets, we thought we need more things to give away… so I (standing on a chair with a microphone in hand) started raffling out hugs (oh my god!). Hugs from myself and from the person helping me to the lucky winner. This went on for 3 rounds of the raffle pull until the director came over and took the microphone away from me. I am crawling under my chair just remembering it.. we did win for most funds raised.

  123. CJM*

    A decade or so ago, the director of our department of 60 or so held quarterly staff meetings. Sometimes she’d start a meeting with a contest to get everyone engaged.

    For one contest, we were asked to guess something like the total years of employment of the 25 people in the department with the most seniority. I was one of those senior people and knew roughly how long everyone had been there. I quickly scanned all the faces, worked up a total in my head, added a bit extra, wrote it down, and turned in my answer.

    When the director announced the winner and called my name, I was delighted! It felt like all my years of working and playing with numbers had paid off.

    The director walked over to hand me the gift card I’d won. She was not pleased. My answer was very close to the actual total (if I recall correctly, my guess was 410, and the correct answer was 412). She seemed sure that I’d cheated. She was a negative, suspicious person in general, and it was written all over her face.

    There were no more contests held to kick off quarterly meetings. But darn it, I won that fair and square!

  124. wine dude*

    At our winery we sometimes challenge staff to go buy a wine of a type or theme to taste as a group educational experience (always reimbursed of course). One time we decided “go find the worst wine, and whoever brings the worst wins” – the idea being by tasting the worst you understand more about what’s good. Or we might even find something actually good.
    Anyway one guy goes to a gas station and buys a Lancer’s Rose (the stuff in the opaque ceramic bottle, you can’t see what is in there). The cork was stuck and crumbled but we finally got out most of the chunks. And then the smell – oh the horrible smell of rot. And the color was the most disgusting brown. All agreed without tasting we had our winner.

    1. Artemesia*

      My mother would buy things with enthusiasm and then never use them — when she died there was all sorts of weird alcohol bought at various times of her life e.g. Hawaiian pineapple wine she and my Dad had bought decades earlier sitting in the back of a closet. Well one of the things was a case of lancers which had been sitting in the garage — through summer and winter for at least 20 years. My son opened one and it was about 75% empty and the liquid left was like a very sweet sherry — ”Lancers’ and ‘Mateuse’ the fancy date night drinks of my youth.

      1. wine dude*

        That’s cool, I bet being in the basement helped. I suspect our bottle had seen a lot of sun before we got it!

  125. Carol the happy elf*

    This is long– but has a Military bureaucracy factor. My friend’s husband was in the military. One year, her husband’s commander, “the Brass”, decided that Christmas time-off would be severely curtailed- in a foreign country that was already hard on the families. But he decided that there would be a door-decorating contest, MANDATORY, to BOOST MORALE. (Seriously, this is a thing.) But nothing electric, battery-operated, sharp, edible, (the building had mice) and nothing religious or political.
    So our friend’s husband had her help to make a 3-D Rudolph with a tiny red pompom nose. Brown construction paper.
    Then the next edict came down. Nothing with a possible copyright on it, and the Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer Song was on the long list.
    So he made a poster with Santa sitting by a roaring fire, milk and a plate of cookies, with a red-nosed deer head trophy (3-D) mounted over the fireplace.
    The caption on the poster said, “The “lead reindeer” reached his High Year of Tenure, and was….”Retired”….
    Against the wishes of the Brass, he won a 3-day pass. And was made to regret it for the next month.

  126. Happy It Isn't Monday*

    At my small (~40 people) company, we had a cookie baking contest to raise morale & have some fun. We did it every year.

    That year, we had a new HR person who decided to appoint herself as the contest enforcer. Did I mention there weren’t any rules?

    Within the first 15 minutes, she had
    (1) driven one of the techs almost to tears by berating the tech for bringing in lemon bars (homemade with her own homegrown lemons!) because “those are not cookies”.
    (2) declared that the gluten-free cookies would not be considered because “those are not real cookies”. There were a couple employees with gluten allergy.
    (3) I brought in pumpkin bread (lacking time to do cookies). I think you can see where this is going. She took my sliced up bread and dumped it in the trash when I wasn’t looking.

    Only about 15 people brought in entries, but everyone could eat & vote. This put a damper on the whole event. Who won? The company owner whose entry was not even vaguely cookie-like.

    That was the last cookie contest for the company. The HR person did not last long in the job either.

      1. JustaTech*

        One year when we did a chili contest for charity, TPTB (from another site) decided that our usual method of “donate $5 if you want to vote, chili for all!” wasn’t right and people were “cheating” by not paying to eat little samples of chili.
        So they wanted our HR person to stand at the door and turn away anyone who didn’t remember to bring their $5. Even if they brought a chili. She was going to have to be the “Contest Enforcer”.

        This time the social committee veto’d that whole idea and we stuck with “$5 for two voting tickets, then $1 for every ticket after that” and said nothing about eating if you didn’t pay. It was a potluck and there was always a ton of leftover chili anyway!

        I do not understand some people’s need to enforce rules that don’t need to be there in the first place.

  127. Chas*

    Not one that really went awry, but I organised a cake baking competition + sale to raise money for charity at work, which the head of our department was judging, and also made a big pile of toffee-mallow rice krispie bars for it, which other people have been complementing me on for years.

    But since I’d made more than everyone else, it lead to there being a large amount of them left while everyone else’s were beginning to run out, and the HoD made a comment like ‘this must be the worst one because no one’s touched it!’ while he was doing the judging.

    I know it’s petty, but I’ve never really forgiven him for it.

    1. Jessica*

      The way I was raised, if there isn’t extra to send home there wasn’t enough to begin with, and you have brought shame on your household.

      I would quietly never forgive this man as well.

  128. Chas*

    I did an industrial placement in a bioscience company for a few weeks during my PhD. One day we noticed that one of the GCSE work experience students (around 15 years old) suddenly developed an odd mark in the palm of his hand, but when we asked him about it he just said he didn’t know how it had got there but it felt fine, so it was a mystery to us all… until later that evening when someone noticed that the owner’s son (who’d been visiting for the day) had the same kind of mark on his hand…

    It turned out they’d decided to have a ‘who can hold a piece of dry ice in their hand the longest’ competition! (Luckily neither of them did any long-term damage to their hands!)

  129. Mary Richards*

    My brother-in-law’s company was one of seven nominees for a professional award given by an industry organization. People could vote online, and the winners got a trip to Vegas (these are all very small companies). He sent us the link, we voted, and were informed that we could only vote once (and it was being tracked by device, not email or something). Fine.

    A few days later, BIL’s company and five of the others have, like, 15-20 votes each, and the other company has nearly 1,000. Then another one surged. What? BIL posed the question to his employees and they all realized that these companies were having people clear their cookies and vote repeatedly. When BIL’s company fell to 6th place, his employees teamed up and jumped into the fray.

    For about five days, the employees were using every single hour to vote, over and over and over again. Someone figured out a script or code or something to allow the computers to automatically clear their cookies, vote, and repeat. This spread like wildfire to their friends and family and to ours—we had a cousin voting with half a dozen devices.

    But it wasn’t just them! Suddenly, all the companies were trending massively upward. 20,000 votes? 40,000? Where were these numbers coming from? Everyone was driving up the numbers artificially. The industry organization couldn’t believe that, by the end of voting, nearly a million ballots had been cast. And yes, BIL and his team got to go to Vegas.

    The funny part of this story is that the organization tried to give the award again the next year, nobody caught on, and the winner had, at best, about 50 votes.

  130. Just @ me next time*

    We had an optional cookie baking contest a few years ago around the holidays. The premise was that participants would bring in two dozen cookies and stand around with them in a board room for an hour. Then audience members would wander around buying the cookies and whoever sold out fastest was the winner. What ended up happening was the admin assistant for one of our branches agreed ahead of time to buy all two dozen cookies off one of her teammates, so the contest was over before it even started, and the rest of us had to waste work time standing around supervising our wares. (Yes, as a person who cares too much about other people loving their baking, I am still bitter about it).

    Fast forward to this year. Our internal communications department tried to throw a Valentines Day baking Instagram contest (bake something and share a photo on Instagram, tagging the corporate account). There are over 500 employees at my organization and only three of us entered.

  131. comityoferrors*

    I haven’t had any work-related contests (thank god) so I’m going to share one from college.

    Our dorm did a dorm-wide Assassin game – we were each secretly assigned another person, given a plastic spoon to “stab” that person, and sent on our merry ways. When you “killed” someone, you found out who their intended target was and that was your new target. I think our RAs expected the game to be good-natured and last maybe 2 weeks. Instead, it turned vicious and lasted for 2.5 months.

    There was a rule about killing people in the bathrooms, but not going to or from the bathrooms, so a lot of people were knocked out in early rounds because they had to pee at 2am and their killer was across the hall, waiting. Then we got creepy; we learned each other’s class schedules and snuck into unrelated classes for the chance to stab someone with a plastic spoon at the end of the lecture. I killed a few people, and then found that a friend I’d killed was targeting my crush. So I blabbed to my crush and let him kill me. I don’t know, it made sense at the time.

    My best friend was one of the last standing and she had an escort every time she went to the bathroom, went to the dining hall, went to class, etc. The person targeting her was our worst enemy (unrelated to this game – that dude sucked), so it got more and more cutthroat. Our campus was heavily wooded and had lots of lovely, but remote, trails, and I remember several times walking through the woods and realizing that a group of guys was following me on isolated trails solely to find my best friend through my movements. They eventually recruited my crush and I had a painful moment telling him he couldn’t come in the dorm room where we were partying, because I knew he was just trying to stab my friend. Brutal for an 18-year-old.

    We all became obsessed with this game; even people who had been killed acted as operatives for those still alive, rules be damned. For context, we were one of 10 dorms in our college, which was one of 10 colleges on our campus. So as we traipsed around the campus with plastic spoons passionately stalking and stabbing each other, no one else had ANY idea wtf we were doing.

      1. KaciHall*

        We had a MASSIVE game of zombie vs human my freshman year of college. I did not take part intentionally. Apparently the scarf i wore around my hair one day when I overslept was the same color as the zombies bandana and I got hit with a couple nerf darts that day. I learned my lesson and stick with a baseball cap that semester. It lasted months.

    1. Fushi*

      My college had an assassin tradition, except with water guns and the whole class (of…Juniors I think? I don’t quite remember) participating every year. It was notorious for being exactly as intense as you describe every single time! Lots of fun though.

  132. CSR no more*

    Years ago I was a call center rep, and we took inbound calls from our clients. We also answered emails with standardized messages which we were supposed to tailor to the clients’ actual questions. For whatever reason, we got really behind in emails and management thought it would be a great morale boost to offer a contest that gave you a raffle ticket for every 10 emails you answered above your daily quota of 60. The prizes were quite high value (all around the $200 range). All good, right?

    So one of our newer hires starts asking for an extra 10, then another 10, then another 10. He’s blazing through these inquiries, and manage