Take Your Best $hot: 4 Average Joe Millionaires

A Slovakian fan cheers on his team at the Men's Ice Hockey World Cup.
A Slovakian fan cheers on his team at the Men's Ice Hockey World Cup.

Every night, unsuspecting basketball fans at arenas throughout the country are given a shot "“ or shots "“ at the adulation of thousands and promotional prizes ranging from gift certificates to new cars. More often than not, however, the shooting contests that have become staples of the in-game experience result in the athletically challenged contestant lobbing an air ball and being serenaded with boos by the home crowd. (This is especially true when a prize for everyone in attendance "“ say, a large, two-topping pizza "“ is on the line.) Here's a look at four fans who avoided the boos and capitalized on their 30 seconds of fame when the stakes were much, much higher.

2008: The Sawmill Worker

In February 2008, Chevrolet sponsored the Million Dollar Shootout during the first intermission of a regular season game at Vancouver's General Motors Place.

The Contestant: Darwin Head, a 35-year-old sawmill worker from Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, who was randomly chosen from 8.6 million online entries.

The Rules: Head had 24 seconds to shoot 20 pucks from the far blue line toward an empty net at the other end of the rink, a distance of 114 feet. To win the $1 million prize, he needed to put at least 15 pucks into the net.

The Result: The hours of practice Head put in on the outdoor rink near his home in the weeks leading up to the contest paid off, as the 15th puck crossed the goal line just before time expired. "I didn't think I was even close to 15," Head said afterward.

The Aftermath: Head has since left his job at Carrier Forest Products Ltd. to spend more time with his wife and three children. According to an article that appeared in December, he has managed to avoid the urge to go on a major spending spree. Some of his bigger purchases include a used truck and a few used slo-pitch bats for his softball team. Head said the best advice he received after winning the contest was, "Don't be stupid."

2005: The Mechanical Engineer

Apparently, if you want to improve your odds of winning $1 million, move to Canada. Wendy's sponsored its first Kick for a Million contest in 2005, selecting one lucky fan to attempt field goals of 20, 30, 40, and 50 yards during halftime of a regular season CFL game in Toronto.

The Contestant: Brian Diesbourg, a 25-year-old mechanical engineer and avid soccer player from Belle River, Ontario, who was randomly chosen from nearly 200,000 entries.

The Rules: Diesbourg was allowed a 30-minute practice session with the Toronto Argonauts kicker before the contest. The prize breakdown was as follows: make the 20-yard field goal, win $1,000; make the 30-yard field goal, win a digital imaging package; make the 40-yard field goal, win a home theater package; make the 50-yard field goal, win $1 million paid out in equal installments over 40 years. Diesbourg wasn't required to make the kicks from the shorter distances to be eligible for the $1 million prize.

The Result: Diesbourg provided some of the best evidence to date that icing the kicker doesn't actually work. With 600,000 television viewers tuned in, Diesbourg missed his attempts from 20, 30, and 40 yards before TSN went to a commercial break. When live coverage resumed, Diesbourg's kick from 50 yards sailed just over the crossbar and he was mobbed by Argonauts players. With the kick, Diesbourg joined an exclusive club of amateur kickers that includes Lance Alstodt and Dennis Crawford, who made $1 million field goals at consecutive Pro Bowls in 1996 and 1997.

The Aftermath: Some fans felt deceived when they learned that Wendy's wouldn't pay the winner in one lump-sum. But Diesbourg didn't particularly care. "I would rather it (be) this way because I can't spend it all already," Diesbourg said. Diesourg bought a 20-foot motor boat and paid off his 2002 Dodge Ram in the first year after the contest, but maintained his job at a firm that makes assembly-line robotics.

2004: The Used Car Lot Owner

As part of Taco Bell's Rapid Fire contest before the 2004 All-Star Game at Houston's Minute Maid Park, one lucky fan stepped to the pitcher's mound for a chance to win free Taco Bell for a year "“ and $1 million.

The Contestant: Tom Gray, a 41-year-old used car lot owner from Houston, who attended the game with his family and was selected only after there was no one in the first randomly selected seat.

The Rules: Throw as many baseballs as possible from the pitcher's mound through a 24-inch-by-24-inch target at home plate. Prizes of increasing value were awarded for each successful toss. One pitch through the target would earn Gray free Taco Bell for a year; five pitches through the target would earn him $1 million.

The Result: Gray channeled Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan, who stood beside him on the mound and celebrated wildly after Gray heeded the advice of his son Matthew "“ "Point at the target" "“ and coolly tossed five baseballs through the small opening.

The Aftermath: "I have no idea how I did it," Gray said afterward. Neither did Tom Overton, the account manager for the Dallas-based promotions company that proposed the contest to Taco Bell. Overton had put the odds of a random fan winning the grand prize at greater than 100-to-1 and the insurance premium was set at $35,000. "I guess we've got a bunch of rubber-armed employees, because they couldn't do it," Overton told the San Diego Union-Tribune. "We had them try it over and over, and we thought it was worth the risk. You just go back to the office and say, "˜Well, we learned on that one. Pay the claim and move forward.' We got that one wrong, but I promise you, we won't next time."

1993: The Office Supply Salesman

During the 1993 season, Lettuce Entertain You restaurants and Coca-Cola sponsored a contest at Chicago Bulls games where a fan was selected to take a shot from the free throw line at the opposite end of the court for the chance to win $1 million.

The Contestant: Don Calhoun, a 23-year-old office supply salesman who was noticed by a team staffer because of his shoes. Calhoun was wearing gold suede hiking boots with rubber soles, which the staffer figured wouldn't scuff the court. Calhoun initially turned down the offer to participate in the contest, but reluctantly obliged after the staffer insisted.

The Rules: Make a 79-foot shot, win $1 million.

The Result: While Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen claimed to have been unable to make the shot in practice, and 17 of the 18 fans to participate in the promotion that season hadn't even managed to hit the rim, Calhoun's quarterback-style heave found the bottom of the net. The 18,000 fans in Chicago Stadium went crazy.

The Aftermath: The company that insured the promotion refused to pay the prize because Calhoun, who played 11 games at Triton Community College near Chicago, did not sign a waiver saying he had not played high school, college, or pro basketball for six years. The Bulls and the contest's sponsors agreed to pay Calhoun with or without the insurance company's support. "The fact is, he made a shot that nobody else could make, and he deserves it," Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf said. As part of his whirlwind tour after making the shot, which was dubbed the Immaculate Connection, Calhoun met President Bill Clinton and flew to New York to recreate the shot for Dateline. (It took him 54 attempts.) Calhoun eventually quit his job and signed a one-year contract with the Harlem Globetrotters. Two years later, he married his high school sweetheart and told a reporter in his hometown of Bloomington, Ind., that he dreamed of starting a production company focusing predominantly on material to motivate young people.

Which Fictional Character Are You? This Online Quiz Might Give You an Eerily Accurate Answer

Peter Dinklage's Tyrion Lannister is the unofficial king of witty side comments. Are you, too?
Peter Dinklage's Tyrion Lannister is the unofficial king of witty side comments. Are you, too?
Kevin Winter/Getty Images

While watching a TV show or movie, you might find yourself trying to draw parallels between you and a certain character you’d want to be. If you’re like many viewers, it’s probably one of the heroic ones—the handsome private investigator with a tortured past and an unerring moral compass or the fearless queen who builds her kingdom from nothing and defends it to the death, etc.

But which character would you actually be? Openpsychometrics.org, a site that develops personality tests, has a new online quiz that might give you an uncannily accurate answer. You’ll be confronted with a series of 28 questions that ask you to pinpoint where you fall between two traits on a percentage-based spectrum. For example, if you’re more playful than serious, slide the bar toward the word playful until you’ve reached your desired ratio. The ratio could be anything from 51 percent playful and 49 percent serious, to a full 100 percent playful and not a single iota of seriousness at all. Other spectrums include artistic versus scientific, dominant versus submissive, spiritual versus skeptical, and more.

Once you’ve completed the quiz, you’ll find out which fictional character your personality most closely matches from a database of around 500 television and film characters. To pinpoint the personalities of the characters themselves, the quiz creators asked survey participants to rate them on a series of traits, and those collective results are then compared to your own self-ratings.

If you scroll down below your top result, you’ll see an option to show your full match list, which will give you a much more comprehensive picture of what kind of character you’d be. My top two results—which, ironically, were the same as Mental Floss editor-in-chief Erin McCarthy’s—were The West Wing’s C.J. Cregg and Joey Lucas, suggesting that we both have a no-nonsense attitude, a perfectionist streak, and an apparent aptitude for national politics that (at least in our cases) will likely go unfulfilled.

The fictional twin of managing editor Jenn Wood, on the other hand, is Game of Thrones’s Tyrion Lannister, unofficial king of witty side comments and all-around fan favorite. This was not surprising. As runner-up, Jenn got her personal hero, Elizabeth Bennet, which, in her words “makes me feel better about myself.” (Jenn has Pride and Prejudice-themed “writing gloves,” which seems important to mention.)

Take the quiz here to find out just how much you have in common with your own personal (fictional) hero.

10 Citizen Science Projects That Need Your Help

A citizen scientist takes a photo of scarlet mushrooms.
A citizen scientist takes a photo of scarlet mushrooms.
lovelypeace/iStock via Getty Images

Channel your inner Nikola Tesla or Marie Curie by participating in actual scientific research, either out and about or without even leaving your couch. These projects unleash the power of the public to be places that researchers can’t be and to spread the workload when data start piling up. They really can’t do it without you.

1. Catalog photos of Earth's cities at night.

Photo from space of a city at night
Identify cities from the photos taken from the International Space Station.
Chris Hadfield, NASA // Public Domain

Cities at Night—a study by Complutense University of Madrid—asks people to catalog images of the Earth at night taken from the International Space Station, part of the millions of images in the Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth database. The current project, Lost at Night, needs people to identify cities within images of 310-mile circles on Earth. Hundreds of volunteers have classified thousands of images already, but classification by multiple individuals ensures greater accuracy. In fact, the project will determine the optimum number of people needed. The primary goal is an open atlas of publicly available nighttime images. Just log on to the image database to help.

2. Follow fish using high-tech tags.

You’ll have to go fishing—an outdoor activity you can do by yourself!—for this assignment. Volunteer to tag fish for the American Littoral Society, whose citizen scientists have tagged more than 640,000 fish since the program began in 1965. You can tag the fish you catch and release, or report tagged fish to the organization. The data is sent to the National Marine Fisheries Service Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, where it helps scientists track the populations and movements of coastal species like striped bass, flounder, and bluefish. To get started, become a member of the American Littoral Society, which comes with a packet of tagging gear and instructions.

3. Spy on penguins in Antarctica.

Penguins on an ice floe
Keeping tabs on penguins is one way a citizen scientist can lend a hand.
axily/iStock via Getty Images

Here's another project for those stuck indoors. Penguins are threatened by climate change, fisheries, and direct human disturbance, yet scientists have little data on the birds. To fill in the gaps, 50 cameras throughout the Southern Ocean and Antarctic Peninsula take images of colonies of gentoo, chinstrap, Adélie, and king penguins year-round. You can help the University of Oxford-based research team by sorting through thousands of images to identify and mark individual adult penguins, chicks, and eggs. You'll be pinpointing seasonal and geographic variations in populations that may represent changes to the Antarctic ecosystem. Marking other animals in the images helps researchers figure out which ones are hanging around penguin colonies. Discuss a specific image or the project with the science team and other volunteers in an online forum.

4. Battle an invasive marine species.

Like to dive or snorkel? Make it count by reporting lionfish sightings or captures to the Reef Environmental Education Foundation's Volunteer Reef Survey Project. Lionfish, which are native to the Indo-Pacific, were first sighted in the South Atlantic in 1985 and were likely released by private aquarium owners. Since then, they have spread throughout the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico and caused native fish populations to decline by up to 80 percent. Scientists say this invasion may be one of the century’s greatest threats to warm temperate and tropical Atlantic reefs. You can also join a lionfish derby to catch and kill some of the tasty fish so scientists can analyze their biology.

5. Count birds from your backyard.

Bluebirds at a bird feeder
Bluebirds dine on mealworms at a bird feeder.
MelodyanneM/iStock via Getty Images

North American birds are in trouble. Recent studies predict dramatic declines in the populations of migratory birds due to climate change—and much of the data that went into these studies came from citizen scientists who monitored species without leaving home. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Birds Canada launches Project FeederWatch in the winter months; you simply put out a bird feeder and report the number and species of birds that visit it. Citizen scientists can also join the Cornell Lab's NestWatch—you find a nest, monitor it every three or four days, and report your data. And every February, the Audubon Society runs the Great Backyard Bird Count, in which participants submit data to produce a real-time snapshot of bird populations across North America. Any time of the year, birdwatchers can submit lists of the birds they see on eBird, a huge database of sightings that informs public policy, conservation efforts, and other initiatives.

6. Photograph plants for climate change research.

The Appalachian Mountain Club's Mountain Watch program asks hikers to document alpine and forest plants for ecological research. By taking photos of flowers and fruiting plants along woodland trails and uploading them to the iNaturalist app, participants provide data about the times and places that plants bloom. Scientists then compile the information in an online database and analyze it for trends that could indicate changing climates.

7. Comb through ships' logbooks for weather data.

Old handwritten letters
Practice your handwriting-deciphering skills on the Old Weather project.
scisettialfio/iStock via Getty Images

Ships’ logs from mid-19th century American sailing vessels contain detailed weather observations. Citizen scientists can help transcribe observations from whaling vessels for the Old Weather project; scientists will use the information to learn more about past environmental conditions and create better climate models for future projections. Historians will also use the data to track past ship movements and tell the stories of the people on board.

8. Make American history documents and science notes accessible to more people.

The Smithsonian Libraries are stuffed with original history and science documents that have lain in drawers for decades. Help open up "America's attic" to the public by organizing and transcribing digital versions of handwritten field notebooks, diaries, logbooks, specimen labels, photo albums, and other materials. You'll join thousands of other volunteers to investigate documents like the Sally K. Ride Papers, the collection of the Freedmen's Bureau (which helped former slaves following the Civil War), and field studies of insects by the Irish naturalist Arthur Stelfox.

9. Investigate historical crimes in Australia.

Drawing of a convict ship to Australia
A drawing of a 19th-century convict ship destined for Australia.
Photos.com/iStock via Getty Images

If you're obsessed with true crime, you'll love this project. Volunteer to investigate and transcribe criminal records from 19th- and 20th-century Australia, which was founded as a British penal colony. Alana Piper, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Australian Centre for Public History at the University of Technology Sydney, will use the transcriptions to construct the "life histories and offending patterns of Australian criminals" from the 1850s to the 1940s. More than 40,000 subjects have been completed so far.

10. Map the unique features of Mars's South Pole.

Travel to Mars—without the hassle of zero gravity or space-vegetable farming—through Planet Four, a citizen science project that is currently tasked with identifying features on Mars's dynamic South Pole. Volunteers examine photos from the HiRISE camera on NASA's Mars Reconaissance Orbiter and pick out "fans" or "blotches" in the landscape of seasonal carbon dioxide ice. Scientists believe these structures indicate wind speed and direction on the Martian surface and offers clues about the evolution of the Red Planet's climate.