Tanana River ice breaks, ending guessing game

Posted: Friday, April 30, 2010

ANCHORAGE - The game is over in Alaska's richest guessing game.

The ice went out Thursday on the Tanana River, moving a tripod set up on the ice enough to stop a clock installed in a tower onshore at 9:06 a.m.

The clock is set to standard time - when the clock was set up - so the winning ticket, or tickets, will be those closest to the time the clock stopped, at 9:06 a.m. AST - even though the ice went out at 10:06 a.m. because of the change to daylight saving time.

The Nenana Ice Classic, which is in its 94th year, is a springtime tradition in which Alaskans try to guess the precise moment when the ice will go out on the Tanana River at Nenana.

The game was started in 1917 by Alaska Railroad workers trying to pass the time in winter while waiting for spring ice breakup.

Now thousands of Alaskans - and even some outside the state - participate in the betting game.

"After the tripod moves a certain distance, there is a mechanism in the top of the tower that cuts the rope and then the rope is hooked up to wires in the clock, and the clock stops," Cherrie Forness said.

She said the ice began moving Wednesday, but not enough to stop the clock.

"The whole ice jam moved out this morning," Forness said. "It was pretty much the whole river went out at one time."

Forness said the winner, or winners, aren't known yet because officials are still reviewing ticket information. A $279,030 jackpot is at stake.

Last year, the ice went out at 8:41 p.m. on May 1. Two winners guessed the correct time and shared a $283,723 jackpot.

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