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We rate 900 numbers

We rate 900 numbers — ”Jeopardy,” Vanilla Ice, and others have phone lines that offer information and prizes

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This year the fledgling 900-number industry will ring up $500 million, big numbers for an enterprise that didn’t exist four years ago. Today, thanks to modern technology, you can hear true confessions or ski reports, play Let’s Make a Deal or get quizzed by Vanilla Ice. (In fact, on a new Entertainment Weekly line you can hear the music we review in each issue.) The most successful 900 numbers snare a new generation of obsessive fans — button-punchers who just can’t get enough of Alex Trebek. Which lines are riotous, which are rip-offs? We took to the phones to test some of the more prominent numbers that promise facts, fun, and games.

VANILLA ICE 1-900-737-4ICE
What It Is Trivia contest by and about the Iceman himself
The Cost $2 the first minute, $1 per minute thereafter
Sample Message What is Vanilla Ice’s sign? (Clue:It stings) Where is he from? (His suggestion is Miami)
Big Prize A weekend on the Vanilla Ice tour
Grade B

JEOPARDY! 1-900-370-0206
What It Is Alex Trebek and Johnny Gilbert pose the usual answers
The Cost $1.95 per minute
Sample Message In the TV series starring Robin Williams, Mork was an alien from this planet. (What is: Ork?)
Big Prize A daily $500 prize, a $5,000 grand prize, a plastic picture frame
Grade B

LET’S MAKE A DEAL 1-900-860-4332
What It Is A shameless Monty Hall grills you to perfection
The Cost $2 the first minute, $1 per minute thereafter
Sample Message Who is the Kennedy Space Center named after: James Monroe, John F. Kennedy, or Franklin D. Roosevelt?
Big Prize Appliances, luggage, cookware, jewelry
Grade D-

What It Is Inspirational messages from the ex-Bears running back
The Cost 99 cents per minute
Sample Message Be dedicated. …Block out things. …Education and football go hand in hand. …Commit yourself.
Big Prize By calling, you register to win a trip with Payton to an auto race
Grade C

What It Is Country quizzes on the likes of Emmylou Harris
The Cost 95 cents per minute
Sample Message Lee Greenwood wrote as well as recorded the hit ”God Bless the U.S.A.” True or false? (True)
Big Prize Nashville Network shirts and jackets, cassettes
Grade A-

What It Is The schemes Susan Lucci’s Erica and others are up to
The Cost $1.25 the first minute, 95 cents per minute thereafter
Sample Message On One Life to Live: ”Gabrielle begs Max to take her back.” On Loving: ”Tuesday’s show is preempted.”
Big Prize Knowing the dish on soaps before other potatoes
Grade B

What It Is Questions about such stars as Oprah Winfrey
The Cost 95 cents per minute
Sample Message Who directed the 1980 movie The Stuntman? (Richard Rush.)
Big Prize Get six right and win $100
Grade B-