Every year, people in Alaska and beyond try to guess the exact date and time of the breakup of the Tanana River. One ticket/guess costs $2.50 and the pot is in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. The tiny village of Nenana places a tripod on the river which is connected electrically to a digital clock. When the ice breaks up, the tripod tips over, moves downstream, and yanks the cord thereby determining the official date and time.
Admittedly, this is one example of how Alaskans' creative minds survive the cold, dark winter months: inventing stuff like this! But there are two important things to note:
1) There was originally a practical reason to know when breakup would occur. Before the bridge was built over the raging Tanana, the railroad laid tracks over the ice during winter months. It became prudent to know just when they needed to stop driving trains over the ice.
2) Half the jackpot goes to local charity, the other gets split amongst the winning ticket holders.
Since Cat Herder made everyone get out snowshoeing on the Tanana River, she felt it was only fair to let them all participate in the opportunity to win big. We made a pact to pool our tickets, and the winnings, should any of us guess correctly. You can watch the status of the tripod by clicking on this link. Scroll down to see the webcam, updated every 30 seconds.