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Wednesday, April 22, 2009
Life of Reilly

By Rick Reilly
ESPN The Magazine

I believe I have discovered the world's hardest way to make 10 cents—aside from sewing baseballs in Haiti.

Answering questions for ChaCha.

ChaCha, as most people under 103 know, is the highly addictive mobile answer service that responds to any query you send (text "ChaCha" or "242242") with a real answer from a real person, usually within three minutes, for free. Is this a great world or what?

ChaCha gets about 600,000 questions daily, mostly from me. See, I like bars. And I like bar arguments. And I like ChaCha to settle them. I've asked ChaCha everything from how many golfers with a "z" in their name have won majors (nine) to which president had the most kids (John Tyler, 15).

One day my son, Jake, started answering questions for ChaCha to earn a little extra cash while in college. He said all you needed was a laptop and an IQ higher than a mealworm's. It pays only a dime an answer, but he could knock out a bunch in a hurry, and besides, it's fun. He said the most hilarious question he'd gotten so far was: Would it be possible to borrow your portable defibrillator? It's really quite urgent.

My first proud, parental thought was, This sounds like a very easy column! I decided to try it myself. I started by going to chacha.com, where thousands of Q's and A's are logged. A few favorites:

Q: What was the fake name Plaxico Burress checked into the hospital [under] after he shot himself? A: Harris Smith.

Q: Can fat people skydive? A: If you're asking [about] tandem skydiving, yes, the limit is [usually] 225-235 pounds.

Q: How many ShamWows would it take to absorb an Olympic-size pool? A: The ShamWow absorbs about three cups of water. An Olympic pool holds 2.5M liters. It would take 1,466,813 ShamWows.

Q: How do I pick my nose? A: You can't pick it. You have to live with the one you have. But there were some clangers, too:

Q: Is John Daly in the Masters this year? A: John Daly, along with actor Samuel L. Jackson, is in the Masters. (Uh, no to both.)

Q: Who is the smallest MLB player to win a home run title? A: Eddie Gaedel. (Wrong. Gaedel, a dwarf, walked in his only at-bat.)

Ah, well. When you have more than 50,000 "guides" answering questions, you're going to get some mealworms. Why were they called the Expos? I know.

After half a day of watching online training videos, I was ready. I logged in and clicked "available" on my guide home page and waited. Nothing. More nothing. Finally: What time do the Sox play tonight? The questioner was from Batavia, Ill. I figured he meant the White Sox. I sent back: "7:11 p.m."

Ten cents. A minute and a half. That's $4/hour.

How's Tiger doing? A snap, as I was watching the Masters. (Four under, seven behind.) One minute 15 seconds. That's $4.80/hour!

Then, as if someone had turned on a hose, the questions came flooding across my laptop, soaking my shoes. Where does Emmitt Smith live? (Dallas.) Why were the Montreal Expos called that? (Montreal hosted the '67 World's Fair, called Expo 67.) They came as fast as I could answer. I began to sweat. I was Lucy working the chocolate-factory conveyor belt. Questions fell to the floor as my mouth filled with unchewed answers. In a three-fingered bowling ball, which fingers go in the holes? (Jeez, people!) What's the longest cricket game ever? (Couldn't find it.) More sweat. Anyone got a ShamWow? I hit "abort." Bad idea; black mark on my record. Five minutes, no dimes. $0/hour.

I hit "away" under the status bar so I could rest. Next to being Terrell Owens' publicist, there can be no more stressful way to earn a living.

I wasn't a very enthusiastic guide after that. I made $3.80 total and received a quality control rating of 70%. That's a C-minus. They said I didn't include time zones with games and gave the year the Bears won the Super Bowl but not whom they beat. They really didn't like my sign-off: "Chatta go!" Mark Malseed, dean of ChaCha's Search University, told me it didn't sit well with the Quality Team. "It prefers no variants on the 'ChaCha' name," he said.

So I'm the Eddie Gaedel of guides. At least I now know this: In 1939, South Africa and England played the longest cricket match ever, from March 3 until March 14.

That will be 10 cents.

Love the column, hate the column, got a better idea? Go here. Want more Life of Reilly? Then check out the archive. Be sure to check out Rick's latest project "Go Fish."