Columnist

A walk-off home run. A buzzer-beating jump shot. A Hail Mary pass. When you're on the winning side, each of these is an exciting experience.

Well, I'm delighted to announce that we've had a similarly exhilarating finish for The Washington Post Helping Hand.

At the end of our eight-week fundraising drive for three local charities, Post readers had donated a whopping $267,200. We blew past our goal of $200,000 by nearly $70,000.

It is the most we have raised in the four years of Helping Hand. Almost half of our total came in the last two weeks of the campaign.

The Rev. John Adams, president of So Others Might Eat, emailed me about our achievement: "All of us at SOME are moved by the tremendous kindness of your readers who are helping us in our daily work to provide comfort, relief and hope to the hungry and homeless men, women and children of our community. Because of their generosity they have made it possible for us to provide hot meals, warm coats, job training that leads to a family-sustaining career, freedom from addiction and a safe place to call home to so many. Your readers are truly making a profound difference in Washington."

N Street Village was another one of our charity partners. Its chief executive, Schroeder Stribling, emailed: "On behalf of the 2,000 women for whom N Street Village provides housing and services each year, I want to express our gratitude to The Post and its readership for responding enthusiastically to the Helping Hand campaign. We know that it does indeed take a Village. . . . Our community-based model encompasses everything from meals, clothing, health care and therapy to emergency shelter and permanent housing. You are making this possible — you are making our hometown stronger and more just every day. But of course, the ultimate credit belongs to each resident and participant who emerges victorious from a crisis and inspires us all with her courage and determination."


A man looks out over a frozen Potomac River during a storm the Washington area in early January. Anyone fancy betting on when the river will thaw? (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

Marla Dean, the executive director of Bright Beginnings, wrote, "We see hard-working parents drop their children off at Bright Beginnings every day and we are grateful to The Post for the opportunity to share our story with the world."

The money that Post readers donated, Dean wrote, "will aid in our mission to end the cycle of generational poverty and chronic homelessness."

I'd like to offer my thanks, too: to the many Post readers who contributed in this record-setting year; to the people who work at SOME, N Street Village and Bright Beginnings; and to all the clients who allowed me to share their very personal — and very inspiring — stories.

Ice, ice baby?

What a winter we're having. It has been so cold that the Potomac River resembles the ice-choked Volga: frozen over.

This has given George Ripley an idea. He says Washingtonians should wager on when the thaw will start.

George, who lives in the District, is inspired by something called the Nenana Ice Classic, held on the Tanana River in Alaska. It's a pool — not the kind you swim in — in which participants bet on when winter will turn to spring, at least as indicated by when the frozen river surface starts to crack and move.

In early winter, a large wooden tripod is erected in the middle of the frozen Tanana. The tripod is attached to a clock on shore. People place their bets as to precisely when the river has thawed enough for the tripod to topple, stopping the clock.

A guess costs $2.50. Last year's jackpot was $267,444. The proceeds are split among the winners and charities.

George says we should have our own version here. Stick a tripod on the ice somewhere between Georgetown and the Memorial Bridge and let people wager.

"Given the rare opportunity for such a contest in this generally warm latitude, an 'ice breakup' lottery would have to be organized very quickly once the forecast indicated a deep freeze and publicized equally quickly," George wrote.

He suggests involving the MGM National Harbor, since presumably people at the casino there would know how to run a game of chance.

"Maybe we should place bets on if it will ever happen again," George wrote of the Potomac being frozen over.

Tale of the tape

Angel Schmitz of Laurel, Md., had one more story to add to my tales of retail subterfuge. In the 1980s, she worked in customer service at Best Buy. "One couple brought in a high-end VCR, all taped up and pretty, and said it didn't work," Angel wrote.

When a Best Buy technician started to open the box to take a look, the husband said: "Oh, don't worry. I checked, and it's damaged."

Then the wife said, "Well, maybe they can fix it."

Wrote Angel: "As our tech pushed the eject button, out came a crusty, half-eaten PBJ sandwich!"

Twitter: @johnkelly

For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.