Noughts And Crosses - The Gas Station Game Shrouded in Mystery!

Esso Noughts And Crosses

NOUGHTS AND CROSSES was a promotional game issued in England by Esso Petroleum in 1985. This was an instant winner scratch card game. With each visit to a participating Esso gas station in England, customers were given a game card which gave them a chance to win cash prizes from 50-pence to £100,000. The game was suddenly halted by Esso only nine days after it was launched.

Shrouded in Mystery

Why the game was suddenly cancelled is a mystery. Esso made very few official statements. There were a lot of rumours flying around but no evidence has surfaced to support any of the rumours.

The Known Facts

  • The game was launched on August 28, 1985.
  • It was scheduled to run for nine weeks.
  • Esso suddenly cancelled the game on September 6, 1985 after only nine days. Esso contacted gas station owners and instructed them to stop handing out the game cards. Esso representatives also appeared at some gas stations unannounced and physically confiscated the game cards.
  • During the nine days that the game was running, tens of thousands of game cards were handed out at over 3,000 Esso stations.
  • Esso expected that about 30,000 prizes would be awarded per day during the promotion, with a total prize pool of £1,000,000.
  • None of the top £100,000 prizes were ever awarded.

The Rumours

  • There was a printing error which caused more winning cards to be produced than was supposed to have been.
  • There was only supposed to be one £100,000 winner, but 17 winners surfaced in 24-hours with £100,000 winning cards.
  • There were 17 payouts of £100,000.
  • It was possible to see through the scratch material and see if the card was a winner without scratching it.

The Official Statements

  • Esso said the game was cancelled due to a "technical hitch."
  • Esso said "The technical problems we had threatened the game's integrity so it had to be withdrawn."
  • Esso said "It could be that some people might have won and not recognized it, or they might have thought they won and hadn't. We took the step (to cancel the game) to avoid confusion and to protect our own good name."
  • Esso said "The problems became apparent on Thursday (9/5/85) but the seriousness was not realised until yesterday (9/6/85)."
  • Esso said they refused to discuss the matter for "security and contractual" reasons.
  • Concerning the rumour that 17 winners surfaced in 24-hours with £100,000 winning cards, Esso said "That is pure supposition and we can make no comment." Esso made a further statement insisting it was quite untrue that the cards were withdrawn for that reason.
  • Asked if there had been a blunder, an Esso spokesman said "It might seem that way but we don't feel we have."
  • An Esso spokesman said "I have not heard of too many big money winners."
  • Esso said "Any winning cards already issued would be valid."

My Opinion

I think all the statements Esso made were true, and all the rumours were false. The exact reason why the game was cancelled was never made public. The statements from Esso indicate that the game cards were confusing to players, which resulted in an excessive amount of people coming forward with cards that they believed were winning cards when they were not. If the game cards were too confusing, it makes sense that Esso would cancel the game to avoid angry players and the bad publicity that would likely follow.

The game was never reissued. 'Noughts and Crosses' went down in history as the gas station game that bombed so bad it had to be cancelled after only nine days. Accordingly, game cards and game materials are scarce.

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