ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Patience is a virtue in playing Alaska's largest guessing game.
First, you have to wait months for the game to be over. And once that happened, this year you have wait a few more days to find out how much the jackpot is. But the hardest part of the wait, to find out if you have a winning ticket, is still a few more agonizing days away.
The premise for the Nenana Ice Classic is simple: Guess when the ice goes out each spring and tips a tripod set up on the Tanana River in this community of nearly 400, about 55 miles southwest of Fairbanks.
That happened at 7:39 p.m. Monday. But since the ice went out earlier than expected this year, entries are still being tabulated at the classic's headquarters in Nenana.
The Board of Directors is expected to set the jackpot amount Thursday evening, and Nenana Ice Classic manager Cherrie Forness said the winning ticket or tickets will be announced early next week.
The game has increased in popularity since it was founded by engineers surveying for the Alaska Railroad in 1917. They charged $1 a guess as to when the ice would go out, and the winner pocketed $800, said Forness.
Last year, 22 people guessed the correct time, and evenly split $338,062.
"It's come a long, long way," she said.
The 2011 jackpot was a record amount, but Forness said she's expects this year's payout to be even higher. They've sold more than 250,000 tickets, which now cost $2.50 apiece. Entries come from around the world, helped in part by Alaska's robust tourist season.
"Of course, a majority of our guessers are Alaskans, and Alaskans are usually the winners," she said.
There was enough warning Monday that the black and white tripod with colorful streamers might tip, and many townspeople gathered at the river's edge.
Forness said she checked the ice at lunchtime, and it was solid from bank to bank but started to break up during the day.
"It just started moving out," said Forness, who has overseen the game for 16 years. "It was pretty quick."
"Back behind the tripod, you could see big pieces of ice moving down river," Forness said. "We watched the whole channel open up behind the tripod. Then we saw some big holes in the ice in front of the tripod, and we started seeing ice move in there, as well."
And then, all of a sudden, the tripod tipped on the sheet of ice, and the ice started to move down river.