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We tried to cheat at HQ and we still lost

Armed with the new HQuack website, we wanted to see if its search algorithms would improve our chances of winning, but came up short.

hq2up

HQ Trivia, which you can play on your phone for real money, is hosted by Scott Rogowsky.

Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET

Editors' note: Though we attempted to cheat, we think everyone should win fair and square so we agreed that if we won under these questionable circumstances, we would donate the money to charity.  

Like many office workers, every day a group of us at CNET gather at noon Pacific to try our luck at getting through HQ's 12 trivia questions to win some real money. Up until now, even though we've made it as far as question 12 on TWO occasions, not a one of us has ever won the game.

The free game HQ Trivia (for both iOS and Android) has been exploding in popularity since its debut in the fall of last year. Here's why: You can win real money. 

You play the livestreaming trivia game on your phone. It kicks off every day at noon PT and again at 6 p.m. PT. and you are given 10 seconds to answer each question from the time the host starts reading it. Prize pools are split by all winners with the average prize pool at $2,500 up to the highest we've seen at $20,000 on a Sunday night. (Sundays are generally more money than the rest of the week.)

Having never won a game, we were going to cheat by using HQuack, a new website developed by software engineer Jake Mor, which -- according to the site -- supposedly predicts HQ answers with 82 percent reliability. 

Here's how it works: When a question appears on HQ, it also shows up on the HQuack page. A bot immediately does a Google search of the information as well as the three possible answers and rates the answers by probability, highlighting what it thinks is the correct answer. It even accounts for questions that begin "Which of x is NOT..." by reversing how it highlights answers, lighting up the one that gets the least hits from its searches.

What actually happened

When the game began, we were all set to try this experiment and as the first question was read on HQ, HQuack froze up and didn't show any answers. Fortunately the first question is usually easy, so we all chose the right answer and I refreshed my browser in the hope it would catch question 2. 

HQuack was not off to a great start, but then it got question 2 right. Then questions 3, 4, and 5. On question 6, one member of our group was sure HQuack was wrong so we split up the group between people who chose HQuack's answer and those who chose what we believed to be the real answer. HQuack was wrong and our co-worker was correct. On question 7, none of us knew the answer, so we hoped HQuack would get it right and thankfully, it did. But on question 8, we all put our faith in HQuack and it again got it wrong, eliminating all of us from the game.

We stuck around to see how well it would do for the remaining four questions and it got three out of four of them wrong, including the 12th and final question. 

hquacksite

The HQuack website works its magic and shows you which answers to pick.

Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET

Is it worth it?

HQuack didn't work as advertised for us, but it did get several questions right. The only problem is, if you don't get all the questions correct in HQ, you're eliminated, so anything short of perfection means it won't help you win the game. 

The good news we learned from our experiment is that the first available public cheat site for HQ probably won't ruin the game for everyone and knowledge still trumps the answers the HQuack site gives you. The bad news is, this probably won't be the last cheat site and there may come a time when someone creates a way that works 100 percent of the time. At that point, HQ will inevitably become a wasteland of cheaters, ruining what became a fun way to take a break with your co-workers. 

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