Wednesday, March 5, 2014

How To Survive A Tricky Tray

You may win a prize at a tricky tray, but bring LOTS of cash!

Of all the school fundraisers I've encountered over the years, my favorite is (or was, until they got prohibitively expensive), by far, the tricky tray. When my son when to elementary school, they were adults-only affairs which included a nice, high-end dinner, entertainment and the actual tricky tray. They are, in theory, win-wins with the PTA making money and mothers getting out with friends for some well-needed “girl time” and, if you're lucky, you'll go home with prizes worth more than the cost of attending the event.

For those who don't know, tricky trays (also called penny auctions, Chinese auctions, silent auctions, basket socials, etc.) involve guests buying tickets which are then placed in a container next to an item you would like to win. These items can be a single “thing” or service or a group of items based on a theme. At our school, individual classes solicit merchandise for the baskets presented at the tricky tray. Once the attendees have the opportunity to place their tickets in the containers, the drawing for the prizes begins. If your number matches the winning number drawn, you win that prize.

Or rather, you might win that prize because, of course, lots of people want to win it, too. And many people who go are “professionals” who make the tricky tray circuit, either in your town or around the area. You'll know these people because they are obnoxious winners with swirly hats and noise makers they wave around as they gloat about winning. I hate those people!

But I did pick up some tips from them and from going to so many. So before you go, bring:

  • Cash. These things are not cheap and because it's “for a good cause” you'll get oodles of pressure to buy many sheets of tickets. The more tickets you have, the greater your chances of winning. Also, the more cash you'll tinkle away if you don't win.

  • Ziploc bags. The ticket sheets get broken apart and you'll want to keep the “master” ticket to prove you've won. Bags help you keep track of those master tickets.

  • A sheet of cardboard and tape or a stapler. It's easier to check your tickets if they're right in front of you. I've never done this, but I saw some of the pros lay their tickets out.

  • A highlighter. This is my favorite tool because you can highlight where in the program the caller is (i.e. which basket they're on) and which baskets you're betting on. Oh, and betting it is! This is legalized gambling, folks! I'd highlight which baskets I'd put tickets in because after a while, your mind goes numb with numbers.

  • An “I don't care if I win” attitude. Those obnoxious winners will rub their victories in your face. If you go with the mindset that you're getting a night out and donating to a great cause, you'll have a better time. 
Don't kid yourself. You're going to be disappointed if you don't win at a tricky tray. 

Over the years, I did win big at several tricky trays and, no, I was not one of those obnoxious winners. Really, I was embarrassed by everyone looking at me, so I kind of slunk down and only waved my hand when I one. Here's how I won, although the last two tricky trays I attended yielded no prizes, so take that into account when you read these strategies.

  1. Get there early and scope out what you really, truly want. One year I put a ticket in for a diaper bag. That bag is still sitting in my closet now that the “baby” is 8.
  2. Layer your tickets. Put a few in now, then go back in a bit and add more, etc. Those who pick the tickets will, hopefully, swirl them around first and the more coverage you have, the greater your odds of winning.
  3. I've seen some people bend or crumple their tickets so that they'll stick out when they're picked. I did this at the last tricky tray I went to – it didn't work.

Again, let me emphasize that this is gambling, which probably explains why some people seem to be addicted to tricky trays. It also makes me wonder why some schools actually let kids attend these functions. In any case, be prepared to lose because there's a good chance you will.

What my purse looks like after a tricky tray...(deep sigh)

For more information on tricky trays, visit: – This is a nice article on Chinese auction etiquette, which lots of people forget at these things, especially if alcohol is being served. – A nice piece from the New York Times, read it for a sense of the carnival these affairs really are.

That's it for now. I recently borrowed my son's iPad so I could learn a bit about it. Check back in with me when I'll review some of my favorite iPad apps. Ta-ta!

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