Pick from the hat

Pull names randomly from a virtual hat with this simple but useful freeware.

Like many free applications, The Hat from Harmony Hollow Software uses software to do something usually done "the hard way." In this case, it's drawing names from a hat, the time-honored method for randomly selecting individual entries from a group. The app can randomize a list of names so no one can complain about who goes first and who goes last. It can also draw individual names or pairs of names for raffles, sweepstakes, and ongoing contests. It does this all without requiring you to actually write down names, cut up the list, and throw it all into a hat.

The Hat opens with a compact interface displaying a blank field with an icon-based toolbar above and a large Shuffle button below. The icons are simple; just buttons to select, add, remove, edit, print, and save lists, as well as Help, About, and Options menus. We clicked the large green plus sign and typed some names into The Hat's list view, though of course you can enter any text, not just names. We pressed Shuffle, and the interface came alive, shaking like a go-go dancer, flashing changing colors, and playing a "shuffling" sound that was a bit too close to digital jitter for our ears as it randomly reordered the list. The next thing we did was to click Options and uncheck the box for playing sounds, though we kept the flashing colors and shaking window. We also turned the sound effects off for the individual name picker feature, which has its own interface you access from the File menu by clicking either Pick Individual Names or Pick Pairs of Names. In this feature, The Hat selected names from the main list, removing them as they were selected and displaying them in a separate list of selected names, thus ensuring that names couldn't be selected again. As with the main view, we were able to save lists and results as text files and print them out. This is handy since you can create separate lists--your 1st, 2nd, and 3rd period students, for example--and call them up or edit them at need.

The Hat is basically a simple randomizer with a straightforward interface. That's what software is all about, at its core: using code to simplify work. We can see how The Hat would appeal to teachers, parents, contest holders, coaches, gamers, and others who need to pick individual names or randomly order groups.

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