Each year millions of people cut out coupons and fill in the blanks to enter a sweepstakes or send in their recipes to enter a competition. Then they sit back and wait for their names to be listed among the winners.
To make it easier for the contest buffs, Carolyn and Roger Tyndall of Fernandina, Fla., publish a 12-page monthly newsletter listing the companies giving away money or things, and tips on how to enter their contests.
Roger Tyndall says the companies are switching from competitions to sweepstakes. "They are cheaper to handle and faster."
There are only about two dozen National contests still running based on skill, he says. "Pillsbury is still one of the oldest along with the chicken cooking contest."
The Tyndalls have been entering contests and sweepstakes since they were children, and between them they have won over 100 prizes. The big win was an eight-day all-expense-paid trip to Tahiti.
Tyndall is 42 and works at Air Traffic Control. He won sixth prize in a contest sponsored by a cosmetic company, writing in 25 words or less, "Why I am a good little girl."
The couple has also won two TV sets, three bicycles, $100 worth of beef. And Carolyn Tyndall won a set of gourmet cookbooks by placing in the top 25 in a Seagrams contest for the best hors d'oeuvre recipe.
Describing her creation, she says. "It was the time that Nixon was going to China. So I called it 'China Boat' because when I finished it looked like one.
"I sliced a bell pepper to look like a boat, filled it with ham roll, cream cheese and peanuts, stuck a toothpick in the top and sliced a carrot zig-zag for the sail."
They enter 300 or 400 contests or sweepstakes a year.
One of their subscribers won the Johnny Walker Black Label sweepstakes. The prize was a choice of $40,000 or a Rolls Royce. She took the money.
Another subscriber in Jacksonville has won over 200 prizes, but the topper is an 80-year-old woman who, in her lifetime, has won $125,000 in prizes.
Then there is the lady in Oregon who over the years has won 12 cars. "She has won three since subscribing to our newsletter," says Carolyn Tyndall.
The prizes are treated as ordinary income for tax purposes -- for a mobile home you've won estimated at $20,000 and sold for $18,000, you pay on the $18,000.
There is one deduction, although not much, the winner can take -- postage and the cost of subscribing to the newsletter.
I didn't have to go any further than the incoming mail slot to find a few competitions for gag writers, satirists and one for handwriting.
George Q. Lewis, "Dean of the College of Comedy," began comedy writing when he wrote jokes for Olsen and Johnson and supplied them to Broadway columnists. He is still trying to keep America laughing.
Lewis, who is also billed as "Executive Director of the Humor Societies of America," sends his challenge out to smiling minds with a newsletter offering a contest titled, "What this country needs."
Lewis says: "We are looking for the amateur joke teller, one who doesn't make a living telling jokes. We have mostly adult people, schoolteachers, a doctor, one Seventh Ave. N.Y.C. clothing manufacturer." The prize will be the privilege to serve on the All-American Comedy Writing Team of the year.
Lewis has been trying to stimulate an internal city joke-telling competition, with each city picking six of its best comedians to face the six from the other city.
"I would like to have a joke-telling team in every city," Lewis said. "Only amateurs. We can have the Super Bowl of humor.
"It could become an Olympic event with teams from Russia and China competing."
His idea brought to mind a classroom full of Chinese putting aside "Chairman Mao's Little Red Book" to read "A Thousand Jokes That Will Knock Them in the Aisles."
An article with a dateline from Los Angeles tells readers that "Hemingway fever" is spreading throughout the country, as "earnest" entries arrive daily for the "Second International Imitation Hemingway Competition" sponsored by Harry's Bar and American Grill.
The object of the competition is to write one really good page of bad Hemingway. The winner of this contest gets a trip for two for dinner at Harry's in Florence, Italy.
Last year's winner, Patricia Traxler of San Diego, won the prize with an opening that read, "'Elena, come here, my little Gerbil,' Max Winchester said."
The rest of her story was funny enough to attract Norman Lear's office which offered to fly her up for a possible writing job for "All in the Family."
"We have several hundred entries from about 30 states," a spokesman for the contest says, with "titles like 'Across the Canal and into the Nitty Gritty' and 'The New Kind of Sunrise.'
"Hemingway spent a lot of time in Harry's Bar in Florence, so one of the rules is to mention the name of the bar."
One of the judges in the finals is George Plimpton, who flies in from New York for the event. "My god these people are serious," Plimpton has remarked.
A problem that haunts the people running the contest is what happens if a convict serving a life sentence for murder wins and insists on a trip to Florence.
A spokesman says: "If this happens we will try to handle it with a catered dinner."
The "Writing Instrument Manufacturers Association" is running a contest in handwriting with awards for "most legible, most impressive and most distinctive."
Not to leave anyone out they will also award prizes for "most illegible, most bland and most depressing."
The closing date just happened to be National Handwriting Day, Jan. 23, which just happens to be John Hancock's birthday.