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Personal facts keep him guessing

For 12 years, Terry Howard has traveled from his home in Myrtle Beach, S.C., to state and county fairs all around the country.

He's a professional guesser. It's a classic carnival game -- folks spend $3, and if Howard guesses their age within two years, their birth month within two months or their weight within three pounds, he wins. If not, the lucky person gets his or her pick from an array of colorful and sundry prizes.

It seems easy enough, but just how good is he?

"The heaviest guy I ever dealt with was in Dallas, Texas, at 484 pounds," said Howard in an interview Saturday at the Erie County Fair. "A big guy, 6-foot-11 or so. I guessed right, at 482 pounds."

Howard's job isn't an exact science, but it's close. Guessing a person's birth month can be hardest, since it's based on simple odds. If the player's birthday is in April, Howard can guess any month from February to June and be right, giving him odds slightly worse than 1 in 2.

But correctly guessing someone's weight isn't easy, either. Howard said it has taken him years of experience to be able to size someone up within a few pounds, and the older or bigger they are, the harder it can be.

Age is probably the easiest thing to guess, Howard says, because most people tend to look their age. But it gets him in the most trouble.

"People are normally pretty good spirited about it," Howard said. "I've had a few women get pretty touchy when I go over on their age, so I try to watch out for that."

His humor gets him through it, though. "I think that loaded diaper there might just help her win!" he quipped Saturday at a man who was walking by with a young girl on his shoulders.

Howard often travels with Connie Matejek, originally of Olean, who fills in as guesser when Howard needs a break, and who keeps the kiosk stocked with stuffed Incredible Hulks and inflatable pink dolphins.

"He's so comical," said Matejek, who brands herself as "one of only two female guessers on the East Coast," and joked she's a bit friendlier than Howard when it comes to guessing women's ages. "We'll sometimes get a horseshoe of people, as many as 300, just watching him late at night as he gets five, six, seven, eight people's ages right in a row."

It feels like a true defeat when you lose to Matejek or Howard.

"I've been coming here to the fair for five years and that's the first time they've guessed it right," said a dejected Sharon Grandy of Buffalo, who at 144 pounds lost to Matejek's guess of 146.

Howard and Matejek are next off to the New York State Fair in Syracuse. The Erie County Fair continues until August 21. Adult tickets are $10 at the gate.


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