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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Not your typical taxi. Take a ride with "Cash Cab"

In the Hans Christian Andersen story, what tiny item did the Princess feel through a stack of mattresses?

From 1990 until they went to the Euro, the Deutsche Mark was the official currency of what country?

Reportedly, Bill Clinton used what poet's "Leaves of Grass" to woo both Hillary and Monica?

Easy questions, right? Well, try your hand at answering them in a stuffy cab with your stomach growling because dinner awaits at a New York City steakhouse.

It's the basic premise of Discovery Channel's highly-enjoyable "Cash Cab" -- my new favorite game show ever since Time Warner and LIN TV felt it necessary to strip "Jeopardy!" from local TV sets due to their well-worn Fox 11 stalemate.

Based on a British show, "Cash Cab" takes unsuspecting passengers on a joy ride (you know, one that ends with money going TO the passengers and not the grumpy big city cabbie) through New York's central business/tourist district while affable host Ben Bailey asks them general knowledge questions -- each getting harder and more profitable as the ride progresses.

Three strikes and passengers get kicked out of the cab. If they make it to their destination -- an average of 35-55 blocks, usually -- they get to keep the cash they've earned or double-down on a video-based brainteaser. Win and you're a "Cash Cab" legend. Lose and you leave with the same amount you entered. Nada.

Wrinkles include a mobile shout-out (where passengers use a cell phone to call for help) and a street shout-out (which usually results in passengers seeking a guy in a suit because they think he'll be Ivy League educated). It all whips by in a jam-packed half hour -- as both "Cash Cab" and "Cash Cab: After Dark" -- with questions moving all over the map, the majority of them at "Jeopardy"-like levels of brain strain, making for a challenging and fun viewing proposition.

It's as simple as that, though the real excitement comes from the contestants. The passengers are carefully chosen and possibly vetted beforehand, because so far, they've all been of medium or above-average intelligence. Or put it this way, no one has been bounced on three straight questions or tried to pull a gun on Bailey because they know he has cash in the front seat.

Then again, maybe the area of NYC they're pulling from means the passengers are relatively informed. Basically, it seems like anyone who bothers to crack open a book or turn on "The Daily Show" could thrive for at least a couple blocks. Average take home pay is $900 to $2,000.

Either way, some passengers show genuine surprise when the cab ceiling lights up game-show style; most are thrilled to be on their favorite game show. All get into it as the questions keep coming.

"Some people are suspicious," Bailey told MSNBC. "Some people just don’t believe me. And then other people think that it’s something I just set up myself as a joke, even after they see all the lights and everything. They look at me like, 'This guy is nuts.'"

Word must be getting around because "Cash Cab" won a Daytime Emmy for Best Game Show this year. A lot of that has to do with the simple, straightforward format, and also because Bailey is full of personality -- his Travis Bickle impersonation is hilarious every time.

There isn't much more to it than that. Get in. Close the door. Answer some questions for cash.

And the best part? The "Cash Cab" is actually a licensed taxi, which means even if you come away with nothing in the end, at least you won't have to pay the fare.

"Cash Cab" is on Discovery Channel at various times, mainly at 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. each weeknight. Check out the show's Web site here.

-- Thomas Rozwadowski,

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Murphy Brown,
Homer Simpson

By Anonymous Anonymous, At October 29, 2008 at 8:05 PM  

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