People We All Look Up To #6: The Tic-Tac-Toe Chicken

You can't beat the chicken. Ever.

You can’t beat the chicken. Ever.

I’ve worked a lot of jobs in my life, mostly because I can no longer function properly at a job that bores me. Once a job is too easy and falls to routine I need something new to challenge my poor mind. One of the jobs I used to do was managing antique shows at various venues in Southern Ontario. The most memorable show, though, was The Royal Winter Fair, which still goes on but I no longer am a part of. Doesn’t managing an antique show sound action packed? It is actually even less action packed than you’re imagining, though I know you’re doubting that to be possible. The Royal was also the longest show that we did, making it the hardest on my poor grey matter. I had a friend, John, who I would walk around the show with, and we’d tell each other amusing things to pass the time. One day everything at the Royal changed, though. It was the day we found the Tic-Tac-Toe Chicken.

I’d like to explain the image you’re seeing above. The chicken is in a box and when you put a dollar in the machine the chicken goes over to the thinking booth and picks where it will put its X. Then you get to select where your O will go and it goes back and forth until you either tie the chicken because it’s impossible for either of you to win or you lose to the chicken. How is it possible to train a chicken to play tic-tac-toe? It isn’t. The chicken only has a button in its “thinking booth” and a light bulb. When the bulb lights up the chicken is trained to know that if it pushes the button food will come out of the chute on the other side. Then a computer program picks where the X will go. Since the program, or chicken if you will, gets to go first it is literally impossible to beat it. That’s not what was fun about the chicken, though. John and I are both demented men and we hatched a plan to kill many hours of antique show drudgery. The plan was simple.

We’d sit near the booth and watch until someone walked up and started to play. The scenario also required a bunch of people standing watching with us. Once the person playing started to lose to the chicken, John or I would mention, very loud, how smart that chicken was and how it won almost all of its matches. We would go on about how no one could possibly beat the chicken. No one at all. Ever. Except the guy we saw beat it that morning. As soon as one of the people watching heard that someone beat the chicken and furthermore heard a couple of wise-asses talking about how impossible it was to beat the chicken they would start digging around in their pocket for change. It was really hard not to laugh as dollar after dollar went down the drain and, sadly, they mostly didn’t even tie the chicken. Five dollars to embarass yourself in front of a lot of people? Why not make it six?

John and I would watch and try our damnedest not to laugh but it was never easy. I will point out that a lot of the women who overheard us were not suckered into trying to beat the chicken. It was more often the men who wanted to show John and myself how to beat a chicken at a game toddlers know how to play. I think that male pride is also what made it so funny when they would lose, time and time again, to a chicken pushing a button and a hardwired computer program that likely took all of five minutes to code. I must warn you fairly that if you talk random men into playing a game of wits against a chicken and losing that they do not hold you in high regard. Some people thought we were assholes for doing it. I would content that the asshole is the person who thinks they’re going to impress strangers by beating a chicken at tic-tac-toe.

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