Rise of the machines: The NTN prank

24Jan07

It just isn’t right. I’m not supposed to be the one who gets tricked.

And that’s just why my friend Scott “Stocc” Feenstra will go to great lengths to deceive me. It’s what makes me such a good target, he says. It’s got to be a good trick if it’s going to get by me. And he’s slipped some good ones by me over the years. For instance, there was the time when I got off the school bus and he slipped off behind me and sprinted the couple of blocks to my house by an alternative route, just so he could see my dumbfounded expression when I came strolling up and saw him somehow casually sitting there on my porch when he ought to have been miles away.

And, of course, his crowning achievement is the whole Ruddy Ruddy thing. But you can see the post “The Death of Ruddy Ruddy” at my other blog to read about that. And you should. It’s a doozy I haven’t been able to bring myself to discuss publicly until now.

But there’s this other one that he mentioned earlier tonight that I ought to write about here on MunnyVoose, which is Stoccish for Man vs. Clown. “You need to blog about the time I pulled the NTN prank on you,” he said. And as a matter of fact, I’ve coincidentally told this story to a couple of people recently. So, he’s right: I do need to blog about it. So, drawing on both our memories, here’s the story.

Back in university, a bunch of us used to frequent a pool hall in Kingston called Raxx. It didn’t hurt that the management had the waitresses dress really slutty, but even beyond that, Raxx was a great place. It was a converted industrial space, which meant there was room for dozens and dozens of tables, and they were high-quality ones too. I took my dad — a seasoned billiard veteran — there once, and he couldn’t get over the frictionless quality of the tables. It was like playing pool on the moon, he said. Plus, Raxx was a great place to watch wrestling pay-per-views during the height of the Monday Night Wars. That’s where I saw Diamond Dallas Page and Jay Leno defeat Hulk Hogan and Eric Bischoff at Road Wild ’98, thanks to timely interference from Tonight Show bandleader Kevin Eubanks. No way should it have been a positive experience to see Jay Leno in a wrestling match, but Raxx was a great place to watch it.

Our other favorite thing to do at Raxx was to eat hot wings and play NTN trivia. The usual gang included the other members of Beta Flight, Scott and Mike “The Math Librarian” Martelle, as well as the other Lip Joes—Jon, Blake, and Mark, my housemates at my then-residence on Colborne St. (The telephone number there was 547-5637, which spells out LIP-JOES.*) My former housemate Jason, recently mentioned in the Big Turk anecdote in this post, was a regular too.

Some of us, like Mike, were there more for the hot wings. He’d bring in hot sauce from home just to make them even hotter. Once he brought in a bottle of a sauce called Ass in Antarctica. The manager stopped by the table just to make sure Mike wasn’t smuggling in any contraband before okaying the bottle. He dumped that sauce all over his wings, and before long, a red-faced Mike was beckoning the waitress to bring him glass after glass of milk to put out the fire in his mouth and throat.

Me, I was definitely there for the trivia. In case you’re not familiar with NTN trivia, questions are broadcast on a television screen, and each player uses his or her own remote terminal to enter the answers. I’ve mentioned that I’ve been a trivia nut from way back. All the guys were pretty sharp, with Jon and Jason being particularly strong challengers, but I was the trivia king, and I took the competition pretty seriously.

But on this one occasion, everything started going wrong for me. I’d enter the answer to what I’d thought was a pretty easy question, only to find out I’d gotten it wrong. At first, I thought I was simply fat-fingering the buttons and miskeying the answers. I wiped off my fingers and started paying closer attention to my answers. But it soon became clear that there was simply wrong with my terminal. I’d punch in option 1, but option 2 would register.

What I didn’t realize was that Scott had found a way to hack into my terminal. On a previous occasion, he’d had a terminal that was messed up and watched someone try to fix it. He noticed a little key combination that that person had used to get into a menu. Scott just experimented with that and figured out that he could change his terminal number. So, he just found out my terminal number and changed his to match it. He could then use his terminal to give my answers. Essentially, we were both playing as me.

I might have caught on to this if I’d noticed that he could no longer play as himself, since he was logged in as me. I might have noticed his smirking too. Scott’s a good poker player, but his poker face was completely failing him this time. But I was far too wrapped up in my situation to notice. At first, he just changed my answers. I’d just object a little at first and say things like “Hey, I didn’t answer that!” Once I figured out that the terminal was changing the answers on me, I’d watch closely and then get furious when it would change to a wrong answer at the last possible second. As it got worse, I got madder, and I kept trying to prove to everyone else that it was changing the answers on me.

Scott gradually clued in the others at the table as to what was going on. Eventually I was the only one who didn’t know it was him who was screwing with me. The other guys were all laughing uncontrollably by that point. I just thought they were laughing at the situation, not that they were actually causing the situation. At one point, I was fighting with the terminal back and forth. I’d answer 1, Scott would put in 2, I’d go back to 1, and so on.

“Part of what made it so great was the slow build,” Scott says. “It started innocently enough. Those NTN things were occasionally unreliable on their own and would just not accept an answer. But by the end, you were basically a lunatic.”

It’s true. I was going insane. Although, to be fair, it’s hard not to get freaked out when the machines are taking over. It was like I was in the movie Maximum Overdrive. Soon I’d have lawnmowers chasing me down the street.

Eventually, Scott—or, from my perspective, the terminal—took things to a new level by changing my username. I sat there, mouth agape, watching the letters of my usual handle, PETROL, disappear from the TV screen, one by one. Letter by letter, a new username slowly typed itself onto the screen for all to see:

I … A … M … G … A … Y

I exploded as it reached the last letter. The terminal was not only disobedient, but actively taunting me. The table roared with laughter. Scott says he probably had one of the best laughs of his life on that night. Once I calmed down a little, so did I. You can’t get mad at a practical joke like that. Not when the devious bastard pulls it off so well.

*I can currently be reached at INK-HALO if you really need to get hold of me.



5 Responses to “Rise of the machines: The NTN prank”

  1. 1 the other Peter

    Did you just post your phone number on the web? Are you that lonely a shut-in?

  2. Aside from the fact that I’ve spent the majority of my child-bearing years reading this post and catching up on the Ruddy Ruddy story, I definitely enjoyed it. It made me laugh. Who needs offspring and a legacy when you’ve got good blogs?

  3. Other Peter: Yes, but it was in very small letters.

    No-longer-Popo: I certainly hope I haven’t wasted the last of your fertility. But on the other hand, if there’s no chance of you getting pregnant anymore, you’ve got my number. Your husband doesn’t need to know.

  4. 4 Bruce

    So, how did he pull the prank? What buttons did he have to press in order to do it… I think it would be a ton of fun to pull on my buddy when he plays the football game on sundays.

  5. 5 Peter Lynn

    You’d have to ask Scott, but I imagine it would be a different login code depending what location you were at. You’d just have to do what Scott did and watch an employee closely while he fixed a malfunctioning unit.


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