Press Your Luck

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"Today, these three players are after biiiiig bucks! But they'll have to avoid the Whammyyyyyy, as they play the most exciting game of their lives! From Television City in Hollywood, it's time to Press Your Luck!"
Rod Roddy's opening spiel.

"Big Bucks! No Whammys!"

In this Bill Carruthers Game Show that featured the late, great Rod Roddy and the late, great Peter Tomarken, three contestants vied for the aforementioned Big Bucks by taking spins on the infamous Big Board, which featured plenty of cash and fabulous prizes, and perhaps the most famous game show villain ever, the Whammy. Land on a Whammy, and kiss your winnings goodbye. Land on four of them, and kiss your game goodbye. The series ran for three years on CBS' daytime schedule from 1983-86, and became even more popular in reruns on USA Network and on GSN. A fan site covers the original CBS daytime series; the GSN Revival, Whammy! The All-New Press Your Luck with Todd Newton, and the fourth episode of the 2006 Gameshow Marathon with Ricki Lake.

This game featured one of the most (in)famous game show contestants ever, Michael Larson, who had memorized the intricate but repetitive patterns of the Big Board before he came on the show, winning $110,237 in cash and prizes. His game took so long that it spanned two episodes (and still had to be chopped to fit the allotted time), his score display actually went on the fritz when he got into six-digit territory, and the board began to go out of its usual slide-change sync. Larson's game was so notorious that GSN eventually produced a two-hour documentary about the affair in 2003. Citing them as an embarrassment to the network, CBS president Harvey Shepard and his vice president of daytime programming, Michael Brockman, refused to re-air the Larson episodes following their initial broadcast; until 2003, the episodes were barred from airing elsewhere.

P.S. — Just what exactly is a Flokati Rug?


The following Game Show tropes appear in Press Your Luck:
  • Bonus Space: Many.
    • + One Spin: Awarded an extra turn. Round 2 had two spaces which always contained an extra spin — #4[1] ($3,000-$4,000-$5,000) and #8 ($500-$750-$1,000), a fact which Larson exploited.
    • Directional Squares: Several.
      • Move One Space: Used in #1 (R1 only), #9 (R2 only), and #14 (R2 only[2]). Allowed you to choose between 2/18 (#1), 8/10 (#9), and 13/15 (#14).
      • Go Back Two Spaces: Used in Square #6, took you to #4.
      • Advance Two Spaces: Used in Square #11, took you to #13.
      • Big Bucks: Used in Square #12, took you to #4.
      • Pick-A-Corner (R2 only): Debuted February 28, 1984. Allowed you to choose from 1, 10, and 15...but said choices got progressively worse during Season 3, leading to its removal on July 25, 1986.
        • Early in Pick-A-Corner's existence, there was a Whammy in #1.
      • Across The Board (R2 only): Debuted around February 24, 1986. Used in #17, took you to #8.
    • Double Your $$ (R2 only): Debuted March 8, 1984. Acted like a prize (removed once hit, replaced by another prize), and eventually left on December 05, 1985.
    • Double Your $$ + One Spin (R2 only): Same as above, but with an extra spin. Debuted April 12, 1984.
    • $2,000 Or Lose-1-Whammy (R2 only): Debuted September 17, 1984 and originally seen in #16, but moved to #15 from February 5, 1985 to June 13, 1986.
    • Add-A-One (R1 only): Debuted September 5, 1985 and acted like a prize. When hit, it placed a "1" in front of the contestant's score (and more than once happened when someone had $0).
  • Consolation Prize: In addition to the usual cache offered to losing contestants, the show had the occassional Home Viewer Sweepstakes, where, during the second round, the player in control during a pre-designated spin could win an identical prize for a home viewer. If the contestant landed on a Whammy space, the home viewer won $500 ("from the Whammy's pocket"), while the two other contestants received a "Whammy" T-shirt as a consolation gift.
  • Extra Turn: Again, the "+ One Spin" spaces. There were only a few in the beginning, but way too many by the end.
  • Game Show Winnings Cap: Five days or $25,000, whichever comes first. In Fall 1984, the cash limit was increased to $50,000.
  • Golden Snitch: In the last round of play on the German version, there was a car prize. Whoever hit that prize won the game right then and there, regardless of score or Whammys ("Sharks" in this version).
  • Home Game: Several.
    • The first video game was released for the PC by GameTek in 1988. Directional spaces only let you move in one direction, and had the unique "Lose One Turn" (removed a spin without touching your money).
    • Many "amateur" (unofficial) versions were done for PC in the 1990s and 2000s, somewhat a combination of love, boredom, and the absence of a console/PC game that didn't require DOS. One in particular stood out for containing every single prize and Big Board layout ever used, audio tracks of many Whammys and most of Peter Tomarken's calling of spaces, all three board sounds, male and female computer opponents, a program for users to create their own layouts, great renditions of the Big Board "slides" despite being made by hand, an immensely detailed customization menu, and was not only very user-friendly but easy on the PC (both in space required and CPU usage).
      • A set of "third-party" modifications to the aforementioned program made the slides even more accurate, added custom prizes of $10,000 and $25,000, allowed the board to display slide colors according to each of the show's three seasons, had a Christmas motif that added decorations to the board, and even included a special Round 1 board that gave contestants a number of chances to rack up spins for Round 2.
      • One Flash version features so many extra gimmicks players can use in plenty that results in such astronomical scores, especially when the whammy handicaps are minimal or non-existent. And they love posting their games on YouTube to the ranks of Memetic Mutation.
    • A DVD game was released in 2007 with Todd Newton as host and the 1980s set, however 1) the Big Board has several lights on it instead of a single spot, 2) there's no single-player mode, 3) the game has three rounds of questions and spinning, and 4) the Big Board layouts are very odd, partly since there's three rounds.
    • An electronic handheld version was made in 2008, and was also derided. Not only was the Big Board far too small, it was also divided with half the spaces above the screen and the other half below. And the game was housed in a TV set.
    • Versions were released for Wii and DS in 2009. Better than the DVD and handheld games, albeit not by much... and despite massive input from the fans, Ludia still managed to screw the game up; see the YMMV tab for more info.
    • A Facebook app was created for the game in 2012; unlike other officially-released home versions of recent years, this one seems to be fairly well-received (aside from its length). Here's a review.
  • Personnel:
  • Promotional Consideration
  • Prize Letdown: Most prominently the flokati rug, the former Trope Namer.
    • Basically any first round prize under $500. In round two, when given a choice, savvy contestants knew that cars were good, golf clubs were bad.
  • Whammy: Trope Namer. Dozens of animations were used (some rarely), with a few also involving a female (Tammy Whammette) and/or a dog named Fang.

Tropes used in Press Your Luck include:
  • 1-Up: The $2,000 or Lose a Whammy space could play as one.
  • Arc Number: The $470 space in the first round is a pretty oddball amount compared to other cash spaces. Other than that and $525 (which was right above it), the other cash spaces all have amounts that are multiples of $50.
    • Whammy! has a Shout-Out to this, with a $740 space.
    • The $1,400 space in the second round could also count, as all the other cash spaces between $1,000 and $2,500 were multiples of $250 (Round 2 also had $500, $600, $700, $750 and $800, but except for the last one, all of those also appeared in Round 1). There's also a $1,200 space visible during the show's opening, but it's not used in the main game.
      • Yes, $1200 was an actual value in R2 in the 1983 episodes before the first series of rearrangements.
    • Fans know Michael Larson's winnings of $110,237.
  • Awesomeness By Analysis: Michael Larson's technique for breaking the board.
  • Badass: Michael Larson for beating the seemingly random Big Board, which no one else has ever done before.
    • There were other contestants waiting in the wings who also memorized the patterns, but Larson's reign resulted in the board's programming overhauled, and made future savvy players odds of winning much more challenging.
  • Big Red Button: Used both to buzz in to answer questions and to stop the board.
  • Big Word Shout: Steve Bryant's chant of "No Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaammies!"
  • Catch Phrase: "Big Bucks, no Whammys!"
  • Cliff Hanger: Larson's appearance was split into two episodes, and the end of the first episode, Tomarken made one superimposed over a still frame showing the three contestants. Even more cliffhanger-like, the first episode aired on June 8, 1984, a Friday, and the second on the following Monday.
  • Color-Coded for Your Convenience - During 2nd, 3rd, and 4th weeks of shows, the backdrops behind the audience stayed blue during round 1, but turned red during Round 2 (a la Jeopardy!).
  • Curse Cut Short: Averted with Jim Hess.
  • Early Installment Weirdness: The pilot featured slides that were only shades of blue or green; by the very next episode more colors were added including off-white, which vanished after a handful of episodes. There was also quite a different board sound early on (the second board sound which was used for most of the first season started on November 2, 1983).
    • Also in these early shows, the contestants were more sedated (they weren't yelling "Big bucks, no Whammies!" yet), and the show kept using the same limited number of Whammy animations over and over again.
    • There were also very few free spins on both board rounds. While Round 1 always had 4 (5 in the pilot), Round 2, went from having 7 (8 in the pilot), to 9, and then eventually, to anywhere between 12-14. The initial number of free spins in Round 2 resulted in episodes running way too short. The inclusion of free spins goes as far back as PYL's predecessor Second Chance, during the actual shows' 19-week run. In the three pilots, there were none of those in any of the two rounds, making the game almost impossible to win.
  • Epic Fail: Any time a contestant manages to hit four Whammies (and thus put themselves out of the game) in a row.
  • Every Episode Ending: Typically, each episode ended with Peter saying "Until next time, this is Peter Tomarken saying so long for Press Your Luck, bye-bye!", which was later changed to "Unitl next time, this is Peter Tomarken saying thanks for pressing your luck, bye-bye!". Some episodes even ended with Peter reciting a poem for the audience. Originally, he would face the camera, and recite a poem that was likely written by the writers of the show, such as "The Whammy is always a cute little guy, as long as he's only showing up when someone else is spinning." This was later changed to home viewers sending in written-poems, and Peter even acknowledged this, as a month into production of the show, at the end of a particular episode, Peter encouraged home viewers to send in poems, as he was running out of the ones the show came up with.
  • Extra Turn: Landing on "$XXXX + One Spin" space.
  • Fan Remake: Greg "Greggo" Wicker does an anime-themed version of this at anime conventions.
  • Foregone Victory: Extremely rare, but on at least a few occasions, two of the players either got four whammies or ran out of spins and had no money leftover, leaving the 3rd player with spins left free of competition so they could get as much money as possible, assuming if they don't end their final spin with a whammy.
  • Four Is Death: Four Whammies puts you out of the game.
  • Golden Snitch: Many games have been won or lost based on events that happened in the last few spins in the final round. Heck, the first round of spinning the board could be considered a time waster since the second round usually has higher prize amounts and players tend to hit a whammy at some point, making them lose everything they collected in the first round.
  • Infinite 1-Ups: The basis for Michael Larson's strategy. Back when he played, the board had two spots that were always free of Whammies and provided money and an extra spin. By always hitting the buzzer when the light was on those squares, he could lock himself in a potentially infinite loop. Granted, he couldn't do it forever because what he was doing was very complex and stressful, but he managed to do it for nearly an hour.
  • Kiss of Death: Cathy Singer in the infamous "spin battle" with her female opponent.
  • Limited Animation: The Whammy animations. The 1983 pilot used only one animation, and even the real show's animations were kind of low-budget.
  • Loophole Abuse: Michael Larson exploiting the patterns set into the board at the time. CBS admitted that he was not actually breaking any rules and therefore said they had to give it to him.
  • Luck-Based Mission: It was supposed to be one from the beginning, but Larson proved that it can be won with skill.
  • Obvious Rule Patch: The original set of light patterns were retired and replaced with new ones on June 20, 1984, shortly after Larson's appearance. As a precaution, they were changed again on July 31. On September 17, the final change was made, increasing the number of light patterns to 32, which was probably too much for anybody to memorize and exploit.
  • Opening Narration:
    • May 1983 Pilot:[3] "These three players have been especially selected today to play television's richest game. Jack Campion is a lawyer who always plays to win, Maggie Brown says she never even thinks about losing, and Matt Dorf tells us he thinks the guy who says 'Winning isn't everything' is crazy. But only one of them can play and win today, as they play television's most exciting and challenging new game — Press Your Luck! And now, here's your host, the star of Press Your Luck, Peter Tomarken!"
    • September 1983: "These three contestants are about to play the most exciting game of their lives, which only one of them can win." [each contestant is introduced one by one, with Rod making a comment about each of them] "From Television City in Hollywood, it's time to Press Your Luck! And now, here's your host, the star of Press Your Luck, Peter Tomarken!"
    • October-November 1983: "These three contestants are about to play the most exciting game of their lives. [each contestant is introduced one by one, with Rod making a comment about each of them. For the 2nd player, if player 1 was a returning champion, Rod would say that he or she hopes to better that figure today, but the 3rd player has other plans for both of them.] "From Television City in Hollywood, it's time to Press Your Luck! And now, here's your host, the star of Press Your Luck, Peter Tomarken!"
    • November 1983-September 1986 (following a montage of clips from previous episodes): "Today, these three players are after hiiiiigh stakes (later "biiiiiiiig bucks"[4]), but they'll have to avoid the Whammy as they play the most exciting game of their lives! From Television City in Hollywood, it's time to Press Your Luck! And now, here's your host, the star of Press Your Luck, Peter Tomarken!" [5]
  • Precious Puppies: The Whammy's dog, Fang. Lampshaded on one episode in which a question was asked "We all know the Whammy doesn't have many friends, but one friend he does have is his dog. What's the pooch's name?". None of the contestants rang in, so Peter provided the choices of Fido, Fang, and Spot (all three guessed Fang).

Whammy (while pulled across the score display by his dog) Hold it, Fang, hold it!!! Don't forget the moneyyyyyyyyyy!

  • Rearrange the Song: The Facebook app based on this game uses a new recording of the theme song in certain parts.
  • Shout-Out: The "Big Tongue Whammy" slide may be a Call Back to Sammy the Whammy, mascot of 1960s game Beat the Odds, who had a very similar expression; making this more likely is the fact that Carruthers tried to revive Odds in 1975 for ABC, albeit with Sammy replaced by a lightning bolt.
  • Title Drop: Peter would sometimes ask contestants, "Are you ready to press your luck?"
  • Trans-Atlantic Equivalent: At least three, none of which was really that successful.
    • An Australian version hosted by Ian Turpie aired from 1987 to 1988. As was Reg Grundy's tradition, the set and format were very faithful to the original; further, it used the same Whammy animations as America. The Big Board was scaled down ("Stop at $30!") and had some rather unusual Bonus Spaces (Lose-1-Whammy or $200 + One Spin?!).
    • A British version helmed by Paul Coia ran on HTV West from 1991 to 1992. While the format was faithful, the budget was minimal — the Big Board used points, and the big winner received £200. The show was quickly kicked from prime-time to Saturday afternoons, then Sunday afternoons.
    • A German version, Glück am Drücker, aired for a time in 1992. This iteration used a kinda-similar set (the Big Board used a five-by-five layout instead of six-by-five), Vultures instead of Whammies (complete with unique animations), and a "light box" which moved at a speed more like that on Second Chance.
  1. square numbers start at #1 for the top-left corner and go clockwise
  2. In the May 1983 pilot, it was also in #14 in R1.
  3. Or pilots, assuming there was more than one
  4. Rod said "Big Bucks" at first, but then changed it to "High Stakes". Also, originally, there was no music during the flashbacks.
  5. Beginning in February 1985, "hiiiiigh stakes" was changed to "biiiiig bucks". A few months later, a Whammy animation was added to the open and the spiel was slightly altered to extend "Whaaammyyyyy".