What's an entertaining activity for bored relatives in town for the holidays? A fun way to bond with coworkers? Some wholesome fun for the kids?
Hit the buzzer — fast! — if you know the answer.
You're the winner if you guessed: Be on a pretend television game show.
An alternative to escape rooms, bar trivia, miniature golf and ax throwing, a handful of companies are now offering a simulated TV game show experience in the Twin Cities.
Game Show Battle Rooms in Golden Valley has a simulated television studio where you can play TV-inspired games like "Survey Battles: A friendly feud of the top 4 survey answers!" and a price-guessing game called "What's That Cost?" Game Show Connection, a Tampa, Fla.-based company, will bring the game show to your corporate headquarters. The Game Show Studio, at Rosedale Center mall, bills itself as a 60-minute immersive experience where you compete in games called "Survey Showdown," "Wheel of Wonder" and "Name That Price."
To find out if the experience is any better than sitting at home shouting the answers at the TV, a group of jaded journalists from the Variety team headed to Rosedale to test our wits and buzzer reflexes.
Here's what it was like:
When we entered the waiting area of the mall storefront, we were asked to sign a waiver (sensory warning about flashing lights), divide into teams (the Coffee Badgers vs. the N(g)o Team) and don oversized nametags (just like the ones on "The Price Is Right") with our game show monikers on them.
We also selected from a variety of gag props to carry into the studio — wacky hats, wigs, sunglasses, big foam fingers — meant to add to the levity.
Playing the role of Drew Carey or Pat Sajak were Joseph McGowan, who did improv background before he got into game show hosting, and Jake Dunham, a former stay-at-home dad with a theater degree.
They ushered us into the pretend studio, which didn't have any TV cameras, but was loaded with flashing lights, buzzer buttons, a big spinning wheel, a jumbo-sized plinko board, a giant video display and an impressive sound system.
Then it was game on.
In the "Survey Showdown," we were asked to guess what 100 people surveyed at the Minnesota State Fair said when asked to name something that kids use for fun but that adults use for exercise (Bikes? Balls? Jump ropes?) or a food that people slurp when eating (Soup? Soda? Spaghetti?).
We spun the giant prize wheel shouting "Big money!" even though there was, in fact, no money — big or small — on the line.
We puzzled out the blank letters in catchphrases like "No pain, no gain," in the "Wheel of Wonder" game and tried to outguess each other on how much it would cost to buy a jetpack or an appearance by Adam Sandler at a private event.
When McGowan asked us if we wanted to say anything to the imaginary viewers at home, naturally we said, "Hi, Mom!"
Sometimes opponents were pitted in a freestyle dance-off or, even worse, a sing-off, which is how a columnist for this paper (game name "L-Boogie") ended up belting out "Redneck Woman" into the microphone while her colleague "Pepe" (yours truly) did a soulful version of the Burt Bacharach ballad "Alfie."
I guess it was a good thing that there were no TV cameras, after all.
It wasn't exactly feature writer feud, but there was a surprisingly high-energy, competitive vibe for a late afternoon event — with no beer. And there was something about wearing a funny hat, having a microphone shoved in your face, and having bright spotlights shining on you that brought out the natural tendency for journalists to want to be smarty pants.
Part of the appeal was that we didn't have to spend a lot of time learning the rules of the game or figuring out a new skill. You've seen it on TV, so you already know how it works.
And though there's no live audience or cameras pointed at you, you know how to behave: like an over-caffeinated goofball.
Prices vary among the local game show companies. The Game Show Studio costs about $35 to $48 per person depending on the group size and when you book. McGowan said the questions can be adjusted so they're easier for younger kids or the presentation can be geared for a more adult audience.
In our battle of the Variety staffers, the Coffee Badgers were victorious. We didn't get anything for winning, except the opportunity to pose with a giant mock novelty check for $1 million. But it turned out the losers got to do that, too.
There was one booby prize, however: Somebody was given the job of writing this story.