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Press Your Luck was an American television daytime game show that ran weekdays on CBS from September 19, 1983 to September 26, 1986, where contestants collected "spins" by answering trivia questions and then used the spins on an 18-space game board full of cash and prizes. The person who amassed the most in cash and prizes at the end of the game won. Peter Tomarken was the show's host and Rod Roddy was the primary announcer, although John Harlan and Charlie O'Donnell filled in for Roddy on occasion.

The show was memorable for the "Whammy", a red cartoon creature wearing a cape. Landing on any of the Whammy's spaces on the game board took away the contestant's money, accompanied by an animation that would show the Whammy taking the loot—but frequently being chased away, blown up, or otherwise humiliated in the process. The animated Whammies were created and animated by Savage Steve Holland and Bill Kopp and voiced by creator/executive producer Bill Carruthers. Approximately 80 different animations were used and the Whammy became popular enough that at the end of many episodes, Tomarken would read a "Whammy poem", sent in by a home viewer. "Whammy poems" would also appear after the first round of the Big Board or after the second question round before going to commercial on occasion.

The show originated from CBS Television Citymarker in Los Angeles. During its first few months, it taped in studio 33 (also known as the Bob Barker Studio), but by 1984 it regularly shot in studio 41 although for a few weeks every so often it would again shoot in studio 33.


Jack Campion, Maggie Brown and Matt Dorf prepare for the first question round on the Press Your Luck pilot in 1983.
On Press Your Luck, three contestants competed for cash and prizes, with the objective being to accumulate the highest money total. Each episode consists of four rounds: A question round, a Big Board round, a second question round and then a second Big Board round where the stakes are higher.

Question round

In each question round, the host reads four trivia questions. At any time while reading the question, a contestant can "buzz in" and give an answer. The contestant is not told immediately if his or her answer is correct. The host finishes the question if necessary, then gives three possible answers (including the buzzed-in answer if one was given). Each contestant then picks from these choices (although if a contestant buzzed in and failed to give an answer at all, he or she would be ineligible to pick). A correct buzz-in answer earns three spins for use in the Big Board round, while a correct multiple-choice selection earns one spin.

By this formula, a single player can earn a maximum of twelve spins by buzzing in the correct answer on all four questions. A maximum total of twenty spins can be earned in a single round among all of the players. In the pilot, five questions were asked, yielding a possible total of 15 spins for one person and 25 combined. This was the only change in rules between the pilot and the actual show.

Big Board round

In the Big Board round, contestants use their spins to win cash and prizes on the "Big Board". The board consists of eighteen spaces, each of which can display three possible items.

In the first Big Board round, the contestant with the fewest spins plays first. If there is a tie for the fewest spins, the first player is the one farthest to the left. In the final round, play order is determined by who has the lowest money total in the first round, with ties again resolved by seating position.

Each player uses all of their spins in one turn. At the beginning of each spin, the player can choose to either play the board or pass all of his or her remaining "earned" spins to another player. The only exception is when the player has spins that were passed to him or her—these spins must be played against the board first. Spins are always passed to the opponent with the highest money total at that time. If both of the player's opponents have the same score, the passing player can choose which opponent to pass the spins to. Passing spins does not alter the overall play order. If the first player passes his or her spins to the last player, the second player still gets to play next.

If the contestant chooses to play, a lighted "spinner" begins moving around the board, while the individual squares on the board cycle through a series of items. Items include cash, spin bonuses, non-cash prizes, special squares and Whammies. The player must press a plunger to stop the board, awarding the item within the square. Cash and prizes are awarded immediately (with the cash value of each prize counting toward the player's total and a new prize replacing the old one in the same square). Spin bonuses are added to the contestant's earned spins (transferring over from passed spins if applicable).

Landing on a Whammy causes an animation to play, in which a Whammy steals or otherwise destroys the player's money total. The player loses all of his or her winnings up to that point and any remaining passed spins are converted into earned spins. Additionally, a "Whammy marker" pops up on the contestant's podium. If a player hits four Whammies, he or she is eliminated from the game.

In the first Big Board round, prizes are relatively small, with cash amounts ranging from $100 to $1,500 and prizes typically worth no more than $2,000. The second round features prizes of significantly higher value, with cash amounts up to $5,000 and prizes potentially worth $6,000 or more. Some of these prizes include exotic vacations and small cars.

Special squares

In addition to the cash, prizes, spin bonuses and Whammies, some special squares appear throughout the game. Landing on a special square would either move the spinner to another spot on the board, perform some other special action, or give the player a choice. Some movement squares, including the "Big Bucks" square, cause the spinner to move across the board. "Big Bucks", which always points to the space containing the 3 highest cash amounts on the board, is the origin of the famous phrase "Big Bucks, no Whammies" uttered by contestants.

Squares that give the player a choice include "Pick-A-Corner", which allows the player to choose a square in any of the other three corners. On September 17, 1984 a new space debuted called "$2,000 or Lose-1-Whammy", allowing the player to either collect $2,000 or remove one Whammy marker.

"Add-A-One" premiered in September 1985 and remained until the show's cancellation a year later.
"Move One Space" allows the contestant to choose between two items (either cash-prize, cash-spin, prize-prize, or prize-spin). One is seen in Round 1 and two in Round 2 (a second "Move One Space" was also used in the pilot). "Go Back Two Spaces" and "Advance Two Spaces" typically move the spinner two spaces clockwise or counter-clockwise from the current position, awarding the item in the final spot (the former being equal to landing on "Big Bucks").

"Double Your $$", introduced on March 8, 1984, awards a cash prize equal to the player's current score, effectively doubling their money. This was changed to "Double Your Money + One Spin" on April 18. In both cases, the space can only be awarded once per game. Once collected, it is replaced by a prize.

"Add-A-One", introduced on September 5, 1985, places a "1" in front of the player's current score ($0 becomes $10, $300 becomes $1,300 and $1,800 becomes $11,800). This is also a one-time space and is only available in Round 1.

"Across The Board", introduced on February 24, 1986, always points to the other space always containing a bonus spin (plus $500, $750, or $1,000).

Elimination from the game

If a contestant hits a total of four Whammies at any point in the game, that player is immediately and permanently eliminated from the game and all of his or her remaining earned and passed spins are discarded. Contestants who "Whammy out" in this way cannot return on the next show, even if all other players end with a score of $0.

On rare occasions, two contestants were eliminated from the same game. In these cases, if the surviving contestant has any spins left, he or she could choose to play "against the house" to earn additional cash and prizes and could choose to stop spinning at any time. At this point, the game would simply end and the surviving player was declared the winner. In most of these situations, the surviving player ended the game early.

Winning the game

The winner of the game is the contestant with the highest money total after the last spin of the second Big Board round is taken. Only the winner is allowed to keep his or her earnings and return to the next show. In the event of a tie, each of the tied players gets to keep their winnings and return. Any contestant who wins five games in a row retires undefeated.

During the show's first season, any contestant who won over $25,000 would retire undefeated with the full amount won in his or her appearances, even if he or she had not won five games by that point. This was due to a CBS policy, which set a winnings limit of $25,000 for its game shows at the time. After Michael Larson's appearance, the earnings cap was officially raised to $50,000 on November 1, 1984 and any amount past $75,000 that was won could not be kept, though no player had reached past that amount since.

There have been two games where all three players won $0 and returned the next day: one in Fall 1984, the other in Spring 1986. Several other champions won their games with nothing while one or both of their opponents had Whammied out.

In the event of a production problem, if a question in the game was flawed, or if an irregularity during game play happened, a contestant would return even if eliminated from the game. On most game shows, these events would happen with little or no fanfare. However, in one such incident the players were asked a question regarding which Looney Tunes character used the phrase "Sufferin' succotash!" After the contestants all responded "Sylvester", they were ruled incorrect and told the correct response was Daffy Duck (which, in actuality, is also correct). During post-production of the episode the error was discovered and a taped segment featuring a "call" from Looney Tunes voice actor Mel Blanc (in the voice of Sylvester) explained the mistake and that all three contestants would be invited back on future episodes.

The Big Board

The board consisted of 18 squares, arranged in a rectangle surrounding the PRESS YOUR LUCK logo, upon which the contestant was superimposed during a spin. Behind each square were three slide projectors, each displaying a different slide (a monetary amount, a Whammy, a prize, etc.), one at a time. Every second or so, the first projector would turn off as the second projector illuminated, changing the display on the square. Slide projectors were used to give the effect of squares "morphing" from one item to the next. A band of lights surrounded each square, illuminated one at a time to indicate which square would be selected when the player stopped the board. This was called the "spinner" by the production staff.

As the board shuffled, the spinner would jump from tile to tile in a seemingly random pattern. In fact, the spinner followed one of only five pre-programmed spinner patterns and a Whammy only appeared in 9 of the 18 tiles on the board (8 in Round Two from December 5, 1983 to January 13, 1984).

The flaw of the spinner patterns was exploited to great effect by contestant Michael Larson. Larson had the chance to find the timing of pressing action during the first Big Board Round and adjusted the timing to land on two specific squares at the second Big Board Round, both of which not only never contained a Whammy but always carried money with an extra spin regardless of the tile shuffling during spinning. Shortly after his appearance, the patterns were changed twice, to throw off people who might attempt to memorize them; soon after that, the number of possible patterns was increased to 32.

When the board made the switch from multi-colored blank slides to game slides, it would use a sort of "domino effect" or "cascade" effect, in which the game slides would appear, one by one, beginning in the upper left-hand corner square and going around the board in rapid sequence, until all squares had loaded. This would be seen during the show's opening, as well as during the commercial intro at the end of each question round.

On the pilot episode, the cash slides appeared in shades of blue and green, with coins in the background. When the show went on the air, new colors were added: pale blue, red, chartreuse yellow, off-white (used only for the first seven episodes and only on $300 and $2,000 spaces) and hot pink (used only on $1,500 + ONE SPIN in Round 2, the only space not to feature coins in the background). The show's third and final season used "neon" colors: navy blue, aqua blue, blue-purple, red-orange and lime green.


Occasional malfunctions of the big board were seen in various episodes. Issues included slides shuffling out of sync or not appearing at all. On the August 23, 1985 episode, just before the last spin of the game, a power surge shut down the Big Board and damaged some of the slides in the process. Taping was postponed until a later date, when the projectors and affected slides were repaired or replaced.

Computerized boards

Both the 2002 revival Whammy! and the 2006 Gameshow Marathon episode featured a computerized version of the classic Big Board. Whammy!, however, featured an almost completely different game board than that of Press Your Luck—an irregular scattered board in the shape of an oval. The same number of squares (18) and their overall pattern were intact, and the highest dollar value was still seen at the top of the board. A computer controlling the board generated random prizes, whammies and light patterns.

Home Player Spin

During Press Your Luck's three-year run, the show had "Home Player Spins" for 3 sweeps months, in May-June 1984, January-February 1985 and October-November 1985. The spin number of the Home Player Spin was revealed before the final money round began (i.e., if the number was "5", then the fifth spin into the round would be the Home Player Spin). The Home Player Spin always sounded with an assortment of unusual sound effects (similar to the double showcase win effects on The Price Is Right). The contestant who was about to spin the board played the Home Player Spin and read the name of the home player who would play along; names and addresses were on postcards situated in front of the contestants. In the Home Player Spin, the contestant at home won whatever their in-studio counterpart landed on.
  • If the contestant hit a money or prize space, the home player would get the money or the prize.
  • If the contestant hit a Whammy, the home player received $500, "courtesy of the Whammy."
  • If the contestant hit a money-and-a-spin space, the home player received the money and the contestant received the money and the spin.

NOTE: The last Home Player Spin of January-February 1985 landed on "$2,000 or Lose 1 Whammy". The contestant took the $2,000 and the money was also given to the home player. Since it was uncertain as to what the home player were to receive in the event the contestant elected to lose a Whammy, the "$2,000 or Lose 1 Whammy" space was removed from the board for the October-November 1985 Home Player Spins.

As stated at the end of each Home Player episode, runners-up were named by the two contestants who didn't participate during the Home Player Spin and received a Whammy t-shirt. The May-June 1984 and January-February 1985 Home Player Contest took place over 20 days each (the final Home Player Spin of May-June 1984 was part of the infamous Michael Larson episode) and in late 1985 it lasted for 25 days.

At the close of the October-November 1985 contest, that episode's in-studio winner drew a card from a bowl containing the names of each of the at-home participants featured over the five-week period. After drawing the name, the contestant took one spin on a modified board that showed only cash values and directional squares (no whammies, prizes, or squares that offered additional spins), with the value landed on multiplied by the total number of spins earned by the three contestants in the second question round. The player whose name was drawn received this bonus cash amount.

Broadcast history

Press Your Luck's history dates back to the 1977 ABC game show Second Chance, a similar game produced by the Carruthers Company. The show premiered on September 19, 1983 on CBS at 10:30 AM (9:30 Central), replacing the Bill Cullen-hosted Child's Play.

Press Your Luck usually edged its NBC time slot competitor Sale of the Century in the Nielsens from its premiere until January 3, 1986. The show's ratings reached its peak in mid-1984, unsurprisingly after Michael Larson's amazing run against the Big Board. However, with daytime viewers declining in general, Press Your Luck's numbers began to slip in Summer 1985, when Sale of the Century gained the upper hand in the Nielsen Ratings.

On January 6, 1986, CBS relocated Press Your Luck to 12:00 noon or 4:00 PM Eastern (depending on the local market) to make room for the Bob Eubanks-hosted revival of Card Sharks at 10:30 AM, replacing the Tom Kennedy-hosted Body Language. This move caused the ratings to slip further and the series ended on July 25 with four weeks of shows left unaired. Some affiliates aired Press Your Luck at 9:30 AM Eastern in order to precede The $25,000 Pyramid, which it had previously followed.

From July 28 to August 29, CBS aired the 1985 College Week shows followed by episodes from Summer 1984. On September 1, the series returned in first-run to air its last four weeks. The final episode, aired September 26, was not announced as such.

Press Your Luck became the last major network daytime show to air in the 4:00 PM (3:00 Central) slot, two years after ABC ended its last program (The Edge of Night) and seven years after NBC aired its last show (The Hollywood Squares). The number of affiliates clearing Press Your Luck likely amounted to less than half of the network by that point, as syndicated programming became lucrative for many station managers.

Reruns of Press Your Luck aired on the USA Network from September 14, 1987 to October 13, 1995 (with the exception of a brief period from February 6 to April 14, 1995). GSN aired the show from September 1, 2001 to March 29, 2009.

On June 8, 2006, Press Your Luck was featured as the fourth round of Gameshow Marathon on CBS.

The theme used in the show's pilot and console game is titled "Flash", composed by Keith Mansfield, and the series theme is a loosely-based remix, credited to Score Productions.

Notable contestants

Michael Larson

On an episode aired June 8 and 11, 1984, a self-described unemployed ice cream truck driver named Michael Larson made it onto the show. Watching the show at home and with the use of stop-motion on a VCR, Larson discovered that the presumed random patterns of the game board were not random and was able to memorize the sequences to help him stop the board where and when he wanted. On the single game in which he appeared, an initially tentative Larson spun a Whammy on his very first turn, but then played 45 consecutive spins without hitting a second one. He earned a total of $110,237 in cash and prizes, a record for the most money in cash and prizes won by a contestant in a single appearance on a daytime network game show. Although this record lasted until 2006 when Vickyann Chrobak-Sadowski won $147,517 in cash and prizes on the Season 35 premiere of The Price is Right, it still remains the record for highest single-day winnings on a series with returning champions.

Although CBS investigated Larson, they determined that figuring out the patterns was not cheating and let him keep his winnings. The board was reprogrammed for more (and more complicated) patterns to prevent another player from being able to memorize the board like Larson had.

Later, in 1994, TV Guide magazine interviewed Larson and revealed the background of this episode including his decision to pass his remaining spins after he lost concentration and missed his target squares.

The entire story was told in a two-hour documentary on GSN entitled Big Bucks: The Press Your Luck Scandal. GSN also aired a special rematch edition of Whammy! The All-New Press Your Luck, featuring the two runners-up from the show, host Tomarken and Michael Larson's brother James (Michael had died of throat cancer in 1999).


Aside from Michael Larson, the show had other notable contestants. Among them were:
  • Jack Campion: Lawyer who appeared on pilot plus Second Chance's third pilot; Notable for being on many game show pilots, but never the shows themselves.
  • Maggie Brown: Appeared on both pilot and regular series (March 9 and 12, 1984) plus Pilot #3 of Second Chance and on the Tomarken-hosted Wipeout (two years after Press Your Luck ended).
  • Randy West: The last champion on Tomarken's earlier series Hit Man, he appeared on the ninth through eleventh episodes and was the first person to ever win a car. After his stint, West appeared on several other games and later became a game show announcer.
  • Michael Haynes: Won $10,635 on December 9, 1983 with clips from his game later used in the show's intro. On March 7, 2008 he became the second millionaire on The Price Is Right $1,000,000 Spectacular.
  • Karen Martin: Former Family Feud contestant who won $14,405 on Press Your Luck on April 2 and 3, 1984. She was always screaming to "get rich" and telling the Whammies to "drop dead". On one spin during her second day, after hollering that she needed "a pool table for (her husband) Dan" she landed on the prize, the first time anyone called out a particular prize and landed on it immediately (according to Tomarken). Tomarken said Martin was one of the most fun contestants in the show's history.
  • Jenny Jones: Talk show hostess who won $18,706 over the course of three episodes from January 28 to 30, 1985.
  • Michael "Myke" Horton: Appeared on the February 6, 1985 episode and lost the game; later became well-known as "Gemini" on the original American Gladiators.
  • Steve Bryant: Member of the Houston Oilers football team when he won $16,655 on July 12, 15 and 16, 1985. During the big board rounds, on his turn, he would call for "Big Bucks and no Whammies" (with "Whammies" being yelled for a long period of time); on his second day, Bryant became one of the few contestants to play "against the house".
  • Ralph Strangis: Later became play-by-play announcer for the NHL's Dallas Stars.


The show enjoyed a revival on the Game Show Network in 2002 and was renamed Whammy! The All-New Press Your Luck (shortened to Whammy! in 2003). The show was hosted by Todd Newton and initially aired until 2003; reruns continue to air on GSN.

There were several differences: The board was entirely computerized (as well as redesigned), the first question round was eliminated and (in Season Two) "Big Bank" spaces were added to the board. If a player hit the "Big Bank" space and answered a trivia question correctly, they won everything taken away by the Whammy.

Foreign versions


The series was presented by Ian Turpie with John Deeks as announcer on Seven from 1987-1988. Grundy Worldwide packaged this version, with Bill Mason as executive producer.

This version used the same Whammy animations as the original, as well as a similar set (a Grundy tradition); however, the Big Board used considerably lower dollar values.


A version entitled Glück Am Drücker ("Luck at the Push-button") aired on RTLplus in 1992 with Al Munteano was the host. It had vultures instead of Whammies.

A revival, Drück Dein Glück ("Press Your Luck"), aired daily from 1999-2000 on RTL II with Guido Kellerman hosting. Instead of Whammies, a shark called Hainz "ate" the contestant's money.

The Philippinesmarker

GMA Network aired a version entitled Whammy! Push Your Luck, using the same (redubbed) Whammy animations as Whammy!


A version aired on Taiwan Television in 1988 without animated whammies. See also 強棒出擊.


A version called Şansını Dene airs on Kanal D.

United Kingdommarker

Sky1 aired the United States version in the mid-1990s.

A version ran for two series from 6 June 1991 to 20 September 1992 with Paul Coia as host, but only aired in the HTV West ITV region. The series was made on a small budget, using a point-based system with the day's winner receiving £200. This eliminated much of the excitement present in other versions, and declining ratings led to a switch from prime time to Saturday afternoons. When the show returned for a second series in 1992, it was moved to Sunday afternoons.

Episode status

All 758 episodes exist and were purchased by FremantleMedia, who also owns the Goodson-Todman and Reg Grundy libraries. The company will also handle any future revivals (as they did with Whammy!).

Nearly the entire series was reran by the USA Network; the exceptions were September 1983, April 17-June 15, 1984 (as promotion began of the first home player game, and the home player game included Larson's run), November 18-December 21, 1984 (promoted the 2nd home player game), October 16-November 21, 1985 (promoted the 3rd HPS), December 16, 1985-January 3, 1986 (promoted its time slot change), and various episodes from 1986. CBS and Carruthers banned the Michael Larson episodes from being reran, however USA took this a step further and blocked the entire Home Player Sweepstakes from that period.

Over its eight years of repeats on GSN, the network only aired episodes from February 21, 1984 to November 15, 1985. From 2001 to 2003, the Larson episodes were banned from airing on GSN until clips were incorporated into the made-for-TV documentary by Lions Gate Films, Big Bucks: The Press Your Luck Scandal – including footage not aired during the original CBS broadcast. Later, the episodes themselves aired on GSN.

Home versions

Video game

In 1988, GameTek released a home computer game of Press Your Luck for IBM PC compatibles and the Commodore 64. Ludia Games and Ubisoft released an adaptation (called Press Your Luck - 2010 Edition) on October 27, 2009 for PC, Nintendo DS and Wii.

DVD game

In 2006, Imagination Entertainment released a DVD TV game with Todd Newton hosting and Peter Kent announcing. The DVD game included three Question Rounds and three Big Board Rounds.

Handheld game

An electronic handheld game was released in 2008.


  1. "Beat Takeshi presents; Kiseki-Taiken Unbelievable", August 7, 2008 by Fuji Television(JOCX-TV), JAPAN
  2. The Intelligencer - September 14, 1987
  3. The Intelligencer - October 13, 1995
  4. The Intelligencer - February 6, 1995
  5. The Intelligencer - April 14, 1995
  6. The Intelligencer's TV Time - August 26-September 1, 2001
  7. The Intelligencer's TV Time - March 29-April 4, 2009
  9. Steve Bryant Statistics -
  10. Ralph Strangis' website
  11. Press Your Luck: UK Version
  12. "Press Your Luck" for DOS
  13. "Press Your Luck 2010"
  14. [1] iToys Inc "Press Your Luck" Handheld Game

External links

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