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Can you tell us what the puzzle says?


NBC's longest-running daytime Game Show was created in the late 1950s by Jack Barry, Dan Enright, Robert Noah and Buddy Piper, just before the quiz scandals broke. The Concentration format was simple: Two contestants took turns matching prizes on a board of 30 numbered panels, hoping to solve the underlying rebus puzzle. It ran almost 15 years, from August 25, 1958, to March 23, 1973.

Jack Barry was the original producer of Concentration, as well as 21 and Tic-Tac-Dough. Shortly into the run, NBC took over production of Concentration and canned Twenty-One. Hugh Downs, most notable to news fans as a Today Show anchor, hosted from 1958-69. Barry himself helmed a four-episode nighttime version, which replaced the aforementioned Twenty-One. A second nighttime edition, this time in color, aired for six months in 1961.

Concentration was the last NBC show to go from monochrome to color (November 1966). Producer Norm Blumenthal agreed to the transition only on the condition that his puzzles remain in two-tone white against a gray background, feeling that color puzzles would give away clues too readily.

By December 1968, Downs was feeling stretched due to his various NBC commitments and chose to remain on Today. Bob Clayton, then the announcer, began hosting on January 6, 1969 but was replaced by Ed McMahon from March-September. Clayton, who returned to the announcing booth during this time, became host again and remained through the end in 1973.

Five months after the show left NBC daytime, Goodson-Todman launched a five-a-week syndicated series with Jack Narz as host. Proving that Concentration still had an audience, this version ran on mostly NBC affiliates and ended in 1978. After an abysmal 1985 pilot hosted by Orson Bean, the latest version — Classic Concentration with Alex Trebek — ran on NBC from 1987-91.

The format has been exported to ITV and to Australia's Seven and Nine networks. A Spanish-language version was broadcast in Colombia.

The following Game Show tropes appear in Concentration:
  • Bonus Round: Many.
    • In the strictest sense of the Trope, there were three — Double Play (a rebus-solving game) on the Narz version, matching prizes on the 1985 pilot, and matching cars on the Trebek version.
    • The original series occasionally used a few items:
      • The Cash Wheel had spaces containing money from $5 to $2,000. It had to be matched during normal gameplay (when it was used) and the game won by the contestant to whom it was credited.
      • The very rarely used Mink Wheel, which was exactly like the Cash Wheel except the prizes varied from a stole to a full-length coat.
      • "The Envelope and Its Unknown Contents". Whoever won this was given said envelope to read out loud, and could have prizes ranging from a couple of hundred dollars to a new car.
      • From about 1970-73, home viewers were entreated to send in postcards for prizes. The first letter of the viewer's surname would correspond to its numerical equivalent (A-1, B-2, etc.) and whatever prize was on that trilon when it spun around was what the viewer won. Gag prizes and Forfeit One Gift paid $100, Take One Gift awarded $250, and Wild Cards were worth $500.
  • Bonus Space: Several.
    • Wild Cards were the only special space to be used on every version. Matching one with a prize revealed those two spots, but left the unmatched one on the board (and could be matched again with another Wild Card). Beginning in 1985, the "natural" match was also removed.
      • Matching the Wild Cards netted a further bonus. On the original series, this was originally $500 but increased to a new car. The Narz version went back to $500, then reduced it to $250 during the 1975-76 season. On Classic, matching two credited a player $500 (matching all three, $1,000), but you had to solve the puzzle to win it.
    • Take One Gift, which remained in all versions except the 1985 pilot and the first few weeks of the Trebek era (see The Pete Best, below). Classic returned them as TAKE!, which was a pair of red cards and a pair of green cards. Once a pair was matched (and it had to be the same color), the player could take an item from his/her opponent immediately or save the Take for when the opponent had a more valuable prize.
    • Free Look, used during the Narz era, which automatically revealed that square.
    • Cashpot and Five Bonus Car Seconds, used only on Classic.
  • Game Show Winnings Cap: The original series allowed contestants to stay on for a maximum of 20 games, although only two people ever did so. The Narz era had two new contestants on each show, since it was syndicated. Classic originally let contestants stay for up to five matches, or until winning three cars in the process, but for about the last year champions were retired after winning a car.
  • Golden Snitch: You can have all the prizes on the board, but still lose. On Classic, you could have no prizes matched, solve the puzzle, and lose the car round in every game and go home with nothing but the consolation prizes they give to the loser. On the original series, winning the game with no matched prizes (apart from gag prizes) still netted the contestant $100 cash.
  • Home Game: Milton Bradley made 24 editions, numbered 1-12 and 14-25, because consumers thought Thirteen Is Unlucky. Series producer and puzzle creator Norm Blumenthal created all the puzzles for the home editions.
    • Softie and GameTek made electronic versions of Classic for MS-DOS (recycling contestant sprites from Card Sharks) and the NES.
    • Pressman and Endless Games each made a Classic home game, a decade apart, with full-color rebuses.
    • Tiger Electronics made an LCD handheld game, albeit with some misspelled rebus answers.
    • The most recent was a PC game based on Classic, which on the box is stated as having been licensed by NBC. Yes, the network will license the rights to a home game but won't actually let the show see the light of day.
    • During the plugs for the home game, Trebek would often mention that it was a good tool to use for contestants to get familiar with some of the Classic symbols used such as the awl, the aisle and the ewe/mare with the lipstick. (Awl, aisle and the omnipresent oar were all staples of puzzles on the original show.)
  • Losing Horns: One loud "groan" on trombones, similar to (but not exactly like) the end of the sound on The Price Is Right, was played after a bonus loss on the Trebek version and later on the 1989 revival of Now You See It.
  • Personnel:
    • The Announcer: Art James and Bob Clayton during Downs' tenure, Wayne Howell during Clayton's, and Clayton during McMahon's. Johnny Olson announced the Narz version, and Gene Wood announced from 1985-91. In a sort of full-circle mode, Art James filled in for Gene Wood near the end of Classic's run.
    • Game Show Host: Hugh Downs, Jack Barry, Bob Clayton, Ed McMahon, Jack Narz, Orson Bean, Alex Trebek.
    • Lovely Assistant: The original series had Paola Diva as a prize model. Classic had Diana Taylor and Marjorie Goodson-Cutt (Mark Goodson's daughter).
  • Show the Folks At Home: The Narz era did it with the Double Play rebus solutions before the actual rebus was shown.
    • On the first few episodes of Classic, the rebus solution would be revealed to the audience superimposed over the numbered squares before the game was played.
      • In addition, Trebek would often use this exact phrase at the end of a round: "Let's show the folks at home how [the winner] solved the puzzle."
  • Think Music: On Classic, a softer version of the theme played as the numbers were removed one by one during third-puzzle tie breaker rounds. Or when time is running short.
  • Whammy: Forfeit One Gift. After being chopped down from three pairs to one pair at the beginning of the Narz era, they were ousted altogether during the 1975-76 season in favor of Free Look.
  • Zonk: Three "gag gifts" in each game of the original series, which made the above Whammy useful on occasion. If a contestant won any of these "prizes", they were given $1 for each.
Tropes used in Concentration include:
  • Arc Number: Often, whenever contestants picked #22, Alex stated that it's his lucky number (his birthday is July 22).
  • Borrowed Catchphrase: Late in Classic Concentration's run, contestants would say "I'd like to solve the puzzle."
  • Catch Phrase: Several, mainly instated by Hugh Downs.
    • "Look at these two parts--what does the puzzle say?"
    • " right!!" (upon a contestant correctly solving the puzzle)
    • "Not a match. The board goes back." (now used by David Letterman in a Shout-Out, usually if a joke falls flat)
    • "Swell." (upon the matched squares showing no clues)
    • "Stay with us. We'll be back in a moment." (mid-show break)
    • "So long, and thanks for playing Concentration!" (each show's sign-off)
    • Trebek would almost always pronounce abbreviated prizes as they were written on the board (for example, "Word P'cessor" as "Word Possesser") For "Dish Washer", he would almost always joke, "His name is Carlos".
  • Catch Symbol: How many people would know what an awl is without Concentration?
  • Cats Are Mean: One common rebus symbol on Classic features the face of a very angry cat saying "Hisssssssssssss..."
  • Christmas Special: During the original series, the annual Christmas game had two celebrities dressed as Santa Claus playing for CARE, the show's designated charity (who had also sent 30 native-costumed children from the countries it serviced). The game involved matching money amounts, typically ones like $66.66 and $99.99. Among the celebs who participated were Mimi Hines, her husband, Phil Ford, Phyllis Diller, Johnny Carson, Ed McMahon, and Art Fleming. Only Hines and Ford ever brought anything for the kids, giving them candy and small gifts.
  • Color-Coded for Your Convenience: The Red and Green Takes. Yes, they both had to be the same color, or it was not a valid match.
  • Media Research Failure: Some published sources claim that in order to select the numbers on the board, contestants had to answer a question first.
  • Epic Fail: This contestant on Classic (August 25, 1987) failed to win the car despite having 70 seconds to do so. She didn't even make her first match until about 50 seconds in.

Alex: Next time out, seventy-five seconds. That's longer than my first marriage lasted.

  • Excited Prize Cards: The TAKE! and WILD CARD! for Classic; The Free Look! for the Narz version.
  • Expy: At least three.
    • The Rebus Game (ABC, 1965) had contestants drawing out clues to a phrase or person's name.
    • Fractured Phrases (NBC, 1965) had phrases and names broken down phonetically into separate words much like Mad Gab; for example, "Eat Spinner Lotto Phone" would translate into "It's Been a Lot of Fun").
    • Catchphrase (syndicated in the United States, 1985; many years in the United Kingdom) revealed a short phrase in the form of a two- or three-clue rebus, similar to the recurring Wacky Wordies in Games magazine.
  • Girls with Moustaches: Marjorie Goodson-Cutt once wore a fake mustache.
  • Grand Finale: The original series ended, after 3,770 episodes, with a puzzle reading "YUV; {Bowling Pin}; M + {Oar}; TH + {Hen}; K + {Eye} + ND" (the solution being "You've Been More Than Kind"). Clayton thanked the viewers for their loyalty, after which the credits rolled over a rendition of "Auld Lang Syne".
    • The telecast itself is up for viewing. Here's part one (the resolution to the puzzle is missing) and here's part two.
  • Halloween Special: The original series had an annual Halloween episode, where Downs (later Clayton) and the contestants played in costume. This tradition continued on the Trebek version, but only for the contestants.
  • Jerkass/Jerk with a Heart of Jerk: Ben; see below.
  • Leitmotif: On the original show, a quick 5-second ditty is played as the prize slide doors (opened to introduce a new player) close.
  • Long Runner: The original version ran for 14 years and 7 months.
  • Loophole Abuse: Classic's fifth-to-last original episode (August 26, 1991). Ben, the current challenger, acted like a colossal jerk during this show, but managed to get to the Bonus Round. This would not normally make him stand out, had he not decided, with one match left to be made and ample time (about 7 seconds) to do so, that he wanted to win more prizes. He then lost the next match, in a brilliant example of Laser-Guided Karma.
  • Lottery Ticket: One of the semi-regular Classic prizes was "200 California Lottery Tickets".
  • Milestone Celebration: The original series did at least five anniversary shows.
    • 1963 (5th): A match between Mitch Miller and Merv Griffin, with five 5-year-old children present.
    • 1968 (10th): A match between Downs and Clayton, with series producer/puzzle creator Norm Blumenthal taking the reins.
    • 1969 (11th): During Ed McMahon's brief tenure as host, he played the game against Johnny Carson while Clayton hosted.
    • 1971 (13th): A "behind-the-scenes" look at the show where, once Clayton got behind the board, he was greeted by Downs.
    • 1972 (14th): For that day (August 25) and the ensuing week, 14-year-olds played the game.
  • Missing Episode: According to producer Norm Blumenthal, most of the original series was wiped. The Narz era onward is intact.
  • Obvious Rule Patch: On the original show, if a board was cleared (apart from the two remaining unmatched squares) and neither contestant solved the puzzle, the game ended in a draw. A new game was started and each contestant retained up to three prizes from the draw game. Similarly, if a game is interrupted because the show is about to end and the puzzle is 3/4th exposed, the puzzle is shown in its entirety, the answer disclosed and a default draw is ruled. A new game is started in the next show with the contestants retaining three prizes from that draw game.
    • Blumenthal said that early shows went through some three games because the puzzles were too easy. He started making the puzzles more challenging to make the show hold better interest.
  • One-Book Author: Paola Diva had no film or TV credits other than Concentration.
  • Opening Narration:

Gene Wood: Behind these numbers is a puzzle! Can you solve it? (Gives out clues of the rebus puzzle and then answers the whole thing) If you can do that, you can win a brand new car! As we play Classic Concentration! And here's the host of Classic Concentration, Alex Trebek!

  • Our Puzzles Are Different: Traditional rebus puzzles use both plus and minus linking symbols. All versions of Concentration use plus only.
    • Oddly, the puzzles in the second edition of the home game had no plus signs at all.
  • Precious Puppies: Marjorie's chihuahua Pokey would often show up on display with her owner during prize descriptions, much to the amusement/annoyance of Trebek.
  • Pretty in Mink: A 1960s episode offered a chinchilla coat as a prize.
    • Some rebuses on Classic included a woman in a fur coat to represent the syllable "fur". In at least one rebus, Steve Ryan attached a "fake" tag to the coat.
  • Prop Recycling: Classics signature car holding staircase was redressed for a set in a special prime time episode/TV movie of the NBC Soap Opera Days of Our Lives while Classic was still in production, but on hiatis.
  • Rearrange the Song: The 1985-91 theme tune was a rearrangement of the ticket-plug cue used on Body Language.
    • From 1969-73, the mid-show camera pan of the audience had Milton Kaye playing the standard "Puppet on a String". When Bob Clayton described the Chevrolet Nova awarded to the player calling two Wild Cards on the same turn, "See The U.S.A. In Your Chevrolet" was played.
  • She's Got Legs: Daytime prize model Paola Diva, as seen here.
  • Shout-Out: One Classic puzzle. First line: an awl + a dozen eggs; second line: a tree + a caricature of Gregory Peck.
  • Took a Level in Jerkass: A number of Classic contestants, after having had taken a prize using the "Take!" matches or had a prize taken, would snipe at each other. What hath Jerry Springer wrought?
  • Trans-Atlantic Equivalent: Several.
    • The original Australian version helmed by Philip Brady ran from 1959-67 on the Nine Network, with a concurrent primetime run airing until 1961. Lionel Williams helmed a version in the 1970s on the Seven Network, followed by a brief 1997 run with Mike Hammond.
    • A UK version produced by Granada aired on ITV from 16 June 1959 to 7 June 1960. Originally hosted by Barry McQueen, he was replaced by Chris Howland in 1960 and David Gell toward the end of the run. Blumenthal saw it [dead link], along with his staff:

Blumenthal: My entire staff watched together and agreed it was extremely slow moving and sort of boring. Aside from the fact that the puzzle solutions were expressions and names of bands or singers and expressions unheard of to all of us, it didn't work for us. After a while, we figured out why. There were no commercial breaks!

    • A revival using Classic's graphics package aired from 4 September 1988 to 1990, with hosts Nick Jackson (1988) and Bob Carolgees (1989-90). The bonus round was the same, but used eight trips instead of cars and a win awarded the non-matching trip.
    • Concéntrese aired in Colombia during the 1970s and 1980s.