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Crazy Canadian Contests

Crazy Canadian Contests

July 13th, 2009  · stk

Rachel recently won $5 in a Subway Scrabble promotional contest. Like all Canadians, she had to correctly answer a mathematical skill question in order to receive her prize. Find out why a "skill test" is a uniquely Canadian thing.

Returning from the floating cabin last month, we stopped at a Subway sandwich shop in Port Alberni for lunch. (Alex cried, because she wanted a McDonald's "Happy Meal" - it's all about the toy). Parental units decided fresh ingredients were more important than supporting China's export trade. As a result, we all had a healthier lunch.

Rachel also won a "$5-off Subway Card", after tearing off a "Subway scrabble" game-piece from her drink cup. Yesterday I redeemed the instant prize online (contest ends today, July 13th). I entered the alpha-numeric code printed on the game piece. On the next screen, I was required to pass the uniquely-Canadian ritual of answering a "skill test" question, in order to claim the $5 Subway Card prize. As per usual, it was a math question: What is 6 x 14 ÷ 6 + 48 - 14?

I've lived in a lot of places, but only Canada has a "math test", when you win a prize! When I first arrived, I thought, "Wow, Canada really places an emphasis on basic math skills!" It wasn't till later that I realized that the purpose of the "skill test" is to circumvent Canadian anti-gambling laws.

To learn more about the odd Canadian contest "skill test" requirement, you must first derive the Wave Equation, from Snell's Law of Refraction ... (ack ... I mean, click the following link) ...


With the summer season in full swing, various Canadian businesses run promotional contests as an incentive to attract more patrons. The same thing happens in the United States and other countries. In addition to the Subway Scrabble contest, Tim Hortons (originally a Canadian coffee and donut shop now owned by a U.S. corporation) has a "Roll up the Rim to Win" promotion. The only difference between contests in Canada versus the rest of the world? Canadians must answer a "skill test" question.

Part VII of the Canadian Criminal Code deals with the "Disorderly Houses, Gaming & Betting" (Sections 197 through 213). The law makes it illegal to profit from gaming or betting, with notable exceptions - Provincial lotteries, licensed casinos and charity events.

This law prevents corporations from profiting from games of chance, like Subway's Scrabble and Tim Hortons' Roll up the Rim to Win contests. The only way companies can carry out these promotions and avoid breaking the law, is to exploit the fact that it is legal to allow prizes for games of skill (or mixed games of skill and chance). Thus, in order to hold a contest where one wins by chance, the game must include skill-testing questions.

Sneaky, eh?

Of course, most of the questions are math-based and involve simple arithmetic. (By court decision, the question must include three numbers to qualify as a "skill test". I guess there's no skill involved in adding 2 + 2!).

As one might expect, the enforcement of the skill test isn't very rigorous and arriving at a wrong answer may not eliminate the winner from obtaining their prize.

As a side note, the same anti-gambling laws make it illegal to make money in exchange for playing the game, which results in "no purchase necessary" fine print one can see on the official rules and regulations for all such Canadian promotions. Canadians can, if they so choose, enter a contest by writing a letter and requesting a game piece or entry form.

Anyone traveling to Canada is forewarned ... if you want to win free stuff, you better bone up on your grade-school math!

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Updated: 13-Jul-2009
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1.flag John Comment
Does Canada still have "unique" alcohol laws as well.
I remember wanting to have a BBQ in the back yard and some beers.
The BBQ was cool but for some odd reason we had to drink the beer in an "enclosed" structure.
Maybe I'm not recalling it too well but I do remember being very surprised at the time.
Everyone drank a lot but they all did it indoors.
2.flag stk Comment
Dunno about "still", but I've never heard/seen such oddities.

I know in the States, certain municipalities frown on "public drinking" (often asking people in a City Park with an open can of beer to pour it into a Styrofoam cup or some other non-marked container ... or ... ask them to dump out the contents ... or ... give them a ticket). It's up to the mood/whim of the officer and the language of the particular municipal ordinance.

"Everyone drank a lot, but they all did it indoors" ... LOL ... my experience too! But it has more to do with the weather than any laws!! :p
3.flag John Comment
Maybe it was unique to Ontario.!
4.flag Rachel Comment
No, it's not an Ontario law. I lived there for 14 years between 1988 and 2002. There's a law against drinking in public spaces in Ontario, but not in a back yard - as long as there's a fence around the property or, if not, that it doesn't back out onto public property.
5.flag Anonym Comment
Couldn't have said it better than you! Thanks for the article.
6.flag Stephan Comment
I just read your comment re the Skill Testing Questions in Canada Contests. I happened upon it as I did a web search on the topic after recently being confronted with same thing in a contest: a "4 step" math problem.

However, my question was not WHY do this but HOW to answer it. The reason being is that if you actually paid attention in Grade 4 math the answer to say, 4+6÷2x3 would be 5 (math rule is that multiplication and division are done before addition and subtraction) but if you answer it by doing it in sequence (left to right - the way I think they want you to answer it!) you get an answer of 15.

So now tell me, what is the correct answer now?! ...and who as to go back and review their Grade 4 math textbook?!!
7.flag Nicole Comment
I think they make the math question in an order so that the math "order of operations" rule doesn't change the answer. Notice the question in the article the division and multiplication are first and then addition and subtraction.
8.flag Eric Comment
Actually the answer is 5. The order of operations is PEMDAS. parentheses, exponents, multiplication, division, addition, subtraction. You need to multiply before you divide.
9.flag Tk Comment
Actually, the answer is 13. Division and multiplication happen at the same time, left to right, so the real order is 4 + ((6 / 2) * 3).