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All That Skitters Is Gold

Who wants to be a bug-eyed millionaire? Forget about Regis. Find a cockroach with the bar code and wing your way to fortune.

May 01, 2000|ROY RIVENBURG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Pest exterminator Bruce Tennenbaum is the Regis Philbin of the insect world.

This morning he launched Milliondollarroach.com, a bizarre nationwide contest in which hundreds of specially marked cockroaches worth up to $1 million have been turned loose in various U.S. cities.

Capture the grand-prize bug--dead or alive--and you win $25,000 a year for the next 40 years. Haul in one of the other cucarachas and the rewards range from $100 cash to a brand-new Volkswagen bug.

Prizes are determined by a tiny bar code that has been glued to each insect's back and is visible only under ultraviolet light.

To enter, simply catch a cockroach (one entry per household) and deliver it to one of 14 participating exterminators by June 30. According to the rules, insects "must not be altered in any way [and] must not be squished."

If the bug has a bar code on its back, it's automatically worth $100--or more if the code corresponds to one of the bigger prizes.

"Just don't run them through the scanner at the grocery store to see what they're worth," Tennenbaum advises. Apparently, people tried that in his previous contest in Tucson, where he operates an exterminator company called Arizona Pest Control.

(An indemnity company will randomly select the codes for the Volkswagens and the $1 million.)

In addition, the longest roach submitted in each participating city--with or without a bar code--will win $1,000. And the longest roach found nationwide will collect $5,000.

This is the fourth insect contest sponsored by Tennenbaum. In previous outings, he awarded prizes for Tucson's biggest cockroach, nicknamed Arnold Roachenegger, and its fastest, which was clocked at 2.1 mph. Then, in 1998, he debuted a local version of this year's roach hunt.

After experimenting with ways to glue tiny bar codes onto the insects (Super Glue killed them, so he resorted to surgical glue), Tennenbaum hired a University of Arizona entomologist to release the roaches at secret locales around the city. The entomologist even took a lie detector test to prove he freed all the bugs.

The grand-prize roach had a $50,000 bounty on its head but was never found.

Now, the contest has gone national, with exterminator companies in more than a dozen cities taking part. But the chances of finding the million-dollar roach seem slim. In Tucson alone, there are tens of millions of impostor cucarachas crawling around, Tennenbaum says, "so your chances [of finding the grand-prize roach] are probably as good as winning the lottery."

Still, he predicts a few $100 or VW Beetle winners will turn up: "I think people will find some this year. They're in easier locations."

The cities in the contest are Petaluma, Calif.; St. Louis; Dallas-Ft. Worth; Tampa Bay and Coral Springs, Fla.; Baton Rouge, La.; Chattanooga, Tenn.; Charles Town, W.Va.; Buffalo, N.Y.; Midland Park and Northern, N.J.; Beaverton, Ore.; Acworth, Ga.; Framington, Mass; and Tucson.

Professional exterminators are not eligible.

More information on the contest can be found at http://www.milliondollarroach.com.

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