My tale of woe:
It started when I saw those nice inexpensive in-ear phones -- the type of earphones I'd missed out on during the past two wootoffs. Dang, gotta remember to come back here and buy them, AFTER chasing down the end of the ol' rainbow.
Well, 40 minutes later, I finally noticed thd "jazz" link, clicked it, placed my order, and waited... for a few minutes -- and then was dropped back on the order page with a notice informing me that there was a problem with my order -- it was sold out.
Yup, it sold out WHILE my order was processing, after FORTY MINUTES of hunting for it! Argh!
But wait, the irony gets thicker. Later that night, I suddenly remembered, oh, right, the earphones!
So, I hurry back, hoping they're still in stock, place my order, it goes through, and what do I see taunting me on the order confirmation page?
Yup -- a DIRECT LINK to the pot o' gold! If I'd ordered my earphones FIRST, I'd have been spared 40 minutes of mad dash AND the surreal touch of having it NOT sell out until a few seconds after I placed my order.
Oh, well. Next time, if I do order first, the rules will probably have changed again. Story of my life.
Anyway, a modest suggestion: for normal 'offs, it may be possible to effectively stymie the gallivanting alpacas WITHOUT raising the heightbar to human eyeball level. No need for obscure riddles, no need for obnoxious captcha noise, and a truly equal chance for all comers.
What I'd do (if I were coding such a thing) would be to buffer all orders for a set period of time (or, be a bit dynamic, and keep accepting orders until the RATE of ordering tapered off).
I would then shuffle all of the orders, and finally, draw them out of the stack one at a time until the product was out of stock.
True, bot-users WOULD have a chance of winning -- but, they would NOT have a BETTER chance than a slow-poke human using a dialup modem connection.
This would also (eventually) eliminate the mad server-crush (I say eventually because it'd take a bit of time before people realized there was no benefit to mobbing the servers.)