Duck Race News

How the Duck Race Process Works

Recently, the social media offered a report on how the Estes Park Duck Race computer program operates. Unfortunately, the report continued a line of serious mistakes and perceptions that started several years ago and is still taken as gospel on social media. The time has come to correct this set of errors and explain exactly how the Duck Race computer operates.

Here’s the short form:

“The Estes Park Duck Race winners are determined solely and exclusively by the order of arrival of the ducks at the finish line.”

If you want to know how it all works in excruciating huge comforting detail, read on.

The Rotary Club of Estes Park assumed the administration of the Duck Race in the early 1990s. As the Race grew more and more popular, managing the operation become more and more difficult. Eventually, the increasing workload required conversion to an automated system to handle the thousands of duck Adoptions. A new computer program was written and installed in the late 1990s and was very successful in handling the workload of the growing Race.

By 2002, it was apparent that a major renovation of the computer program was required to handle new loads and opportunities in the Race. That renovation formed the architectural basis of the computer program that is used today. In 2005, another major set of features was installed to ensure financial integrity and auditing of the financials for the Race. Since 2005, the program has undergone constant revision as new features and options were developed to support the Race.

The computer program now handles the complete administration of all purchases of duck Adoptions, Merchant Prize donations, payments to the 60+ charitable Organizations participating in the Race, and determining the winners and Prizes of the Race. In all cases, extensive audit trails and financial checks and balances are an integral part of the program.

In order to eliminate various kinds of fraud during the running of the Race, the program incorporates a comprehensive system such that no one, even the Duck Race personnel, can pre-determine the winners and Prizes. In fact, the ducks determine the winners. Here’s how it works:

Initially, all Adoption Form sales are presented to the Intake staff at Duck Central. This includes purchases made in the online system as well. Documented formal intake processes are used to ensure that all Adoption Forms and monies are accounted for and audited. A full receipt for the intake batch is given to the person presenting the batch.

The batch containing the Adoption Forms and the monies is presented to the Data Input crew. Once again, the batch is carefully accounted for and compared to the original intake to ensure financial reliability. The information from the Adoption Forms is entered into the computer database and then reviewed for correctness of the input.

After the batch has been entered and verified, the computer generates a “deposit record” to record the deposits at the local bank. The bank performs yet another verification and prepares a special deposit statement for each batch’s deposit. The bank’s deposit statement is compared to the audit trail that was started with the original batch records to ensure that all Adoptions and monies are accounted for.

In the meantime, the Estes Park Merchants have been donating Prizes for the Race. The Merchant Prize Committee collects the donations from the generous Merchants and passes the information to the Prize Entry crew for entry into the computer database. Periodically, a third-party audit of the Prize data is conducted during the Race season to ensure the accuracy and completeness of the Prize donations.

A few days before the Race, the entire list of Prizes is scrambled into a random order. This scrambling deliberately breaks up “runs” of batches of Prizes and more evenly distributes the Prizes. The scrambled list of Prizes is then posted on the Prize Boards at the Wheel Bar. Thus, a Merchant who donated 10 separate Prizes will then enjoy having the Prizes spread over the entire collection of Prize Boards.

At the start of the Race, the collected list of thousands of Adoptions collected from sales during the Duck Race season is internally sorted by the computer into a random order. The sorted list is not known to anyone, including the Duck Race staff or computer personnel.

Then, as the ducks float down the river, the Finish Line crew pulls the ducks out of the water as they arrive and notes a “duck number” written on the bottom of the duck. The duck number is carefully written on log sheets by the crew in their order of arrival and the sheets are immediately passed into a secluded area where another crew enters the numbers into the computer in the order in which the ducks crossed the finish line.

Suppose the first duck to cross the finish line reveals its duck number as 3729. Upon entering that duck number into the computer, the computer looks up the 3729th entry in the randomly sorted list. That Adoption now becomes the 1st Prize winner. The Adopter’s name is quickly posted on the Prize Boards at the Wheel Bar in the slot reserved for the first Prize. At no time did anyone know who a winner would be until the duck crossed the finish line. This process repeats for all the ducks that cross the finish line until all the Prizes are awarded. That is, the second duck to cross the finish line gets the second Prize on the Prize Board, etc. In other words, the ducks themselves drive the selection of the winners and Prizes.

After the Race is over, the Duck Central volunteers spend many long hours preparing and emailing the hundreds of Prize Notifications. This process usually takes a couple days before the email Notifications are sent to the winners.

By decoupling the duck numbers from the randomly sorted list of Adoptions, we have a triple-blind selection process; one randomization is due to the random order of the ducks themselves, another randomization is provided by the randomized list of Adoptions, and a final randomization of the Prizes list itself. In other words, no one knows which duck belongs to which Adopter who purchased the duck’s Adoption. The Duck Race program has evolved over the years to be a comprehensive and reliable mechanism for handling the Race details while the visitors to the Race enjoy all the fun of Race Day. If doubts still remain about the integrity of the system, the Duck Race Committee invites volunteers to help with this wonderful community effort at the Duck Race next year.

Please don’t hesitate to drop by Duck Central if you’d like to discuss this blog.

Don Widrig
Duck Central

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