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PYL History & Rules
$4000 and a spin!     PYL General Information Page A pool table!

Hello all, and welcome to my Press Your Luck info page! Here, you will find some general information on Press Your Luck, including the history, rules, and other interesting tidbits about the game.

Speaking of interesting...look at that!

Second Chance
It all started with a pilot in 1976 with the concept of lights flashing around a giant board with money, prizes, and "devils" that would take it all away. That idea was the basis of Second Chance, a game show from March to July, 1977 that was hosted by Jim Peck. Carruthers Company came up with the show, but there a few problems with it, especially with the pilot episode. The board did not shuffle values, the set was a very unacctractive orange color, and there was the possibility that there could be a situation where it was impossible to win. In the pilot episode, the highest amount you can get on the board was $5000 in round two. However, that space did not include an additional spin. Thus, if a player was passed a spin and was trailing by more than $5000, then it would make for an impossible comeback.

Fortunately, the folks behind Second Chance caught on to that scenario rather quickly, and decided to not only put a space on the board that would give a player an additional spin, but would also shuffle values from $1000 to $5000 by increments of $1000. In addition to that new space on the board, if a player was passed a spin and earned a "free spin," that free spin could later be passed back after getting through all other passed spins. This new rule would later make it to "PYL" seven years later. Also, this new rule would create some exciting moments like the one featured here in this rare 1977 episode.

Sadly, this show was ahead of its time and never really caught on to a huge audience, nor did it get a huge following. The show was cancelled after only 19 weeks, and Carruthers had to come up with a better idea, and they did!

Press Your Luck
Press Your Luck was introduced in 1983, and was much better than Second Chance. The board shuffled, there were whammy cartoons, there were extra spins on the board, so anything could happen! Press Your Luck was hosted by Peter Tomarken for the show's entire run. In the pilot episode, the 3 contestants were Jack Campion (he was in the Second Pilot pilot, and on both Jeopardy! pilots), Maggie Brown (she was also in the Second Pilot pilot, and on a regular ep of PYL), and Matt Dorf (who also appeared on a regular ep of PYL). There were a few differences between the pilot and the regular run (like board shuffling, the sound, the background, the whammies, etc.), but the show turned into a huge success for many years!

The first show was taped September 10, 1983, which is the day I was born!! Maybe that's why I love it so much.

The show began airing in Sept. 19, 1983 on CBS, and it continued airing on CBS until Sep. 26, 1986 when the show was cancelled. In the summer of 1986, PYL stopped showing new episodes and CBS aired reruns of previous shows until around September 1986. They showed a few more original episodes, and then the show got cancelled without anyone knowing it on the last show.

After about a year off the air, USA soon picked it up and started showing reruns of it with some skips in continuation. Reruns of PYL aired for 8+ years! That's almost 3X more than on CBS! Sadly, on Oct. 13, 1995, Press Your Luck [along with the rest of the game show lineup] was cancelled. Now, this great show can be seen on Sony's Game Show Network in the mornings. Be sure to watch it...


Now, if you have never seen an episode of PYL, (yes, there are even some people that haven't even heard of it) then here is a rundown of how the game is played:

There are 2 question rounds where the 3 contestants are asked 4 questions (5 questions in the pilot) and if a player buzzes in with an answer, the other 2 players are given 2 alternate possible answers to the question; and if a player doesn't buzz in, the 3 players are given 3 mulitple choice answers. A player with a correct "buzz-in" answer gets 3 spins while a correct mutiple choice answers gets one spin. There was a max of 20 total spins, 12 max for one player. (25 total and 15 max for one player on the pilot)

The scoreboard.
Of course, this show wasn't known for its question rounds! After the questions rounds is the part that made Press Your Luck famous, the "Big Board" round! These are some rules for the Big Board rounds in the words of Peter Tomarken:
"What you want to do is win round 1 so you could play last in the final round which is the advantagous position. Four whammies will make you history, and you could pass your remaining spins if you (so desire) have a fear of the whammy...you should have a fear. The player(s) with the fewest spins goes first in round 1 and the player with the least amount of bucks will go first in round 2; and when there is a tie, the player to my left goes first."

This is why the show so famous, THE BIG BOARD!!

Here is the big animated board!!

Loading the player...

The way the board worked was there was 18 projection screens with a band of lights around them. Each screen shuffled 3 values in slides, some of which containing a whammy. In the pilot, there where more than 3 slides which explained why there were more than 1 whammy on each screen. In the round 1 board, the money values ranged from $100-$1250 in the first month, then from $200-$1500 for the rest of the show's run. The board value was $12K-$25K for the first round. In the second round, the board value changed dramatically changed as the values went from $500-$5000!!

Stop at $5000 AND A SPIN!

There was over $100,000 on the board! [That DID happen once, of course. Peter would make reference to it every now and then.] The players stopped the board by hitting a plunger in front of them, usually with warcries of, "STOP!" A contestant would win whatever s/he landed on.

Who would ever hurt a whammy?

However, there were several whammies popping up all over the board that could cause someone to lose all their money [and possibly their shirt]. Over the years, there have been many whammy animations that could taunt a contestant. Two of the most famous whammies are the Boy George one which you see in the middle of the page, and then there's the dynamite whammy. This is probably one of the most famous whammies of ALL time; when Michael Larson passes his spins, and Ed hits a whammy!! Look......
Hehehe, this outta do it......WAM! Oh noooo.....oh......

The player(s) with the most money at the end of the game is the champion and keeps all of his/her winnings. The other contestants go home with some "lovely parting gifts" and a huge thanks for playing the game. Also, the winning player would come back on the next show to try and defend their championship. The only exception to that rule was if two or more players were tied at the end of the game. In that case, all the players that were tied would return. Also, if one or more players ended the game tied for first-place with $0 (in other words, if each player hit a whammy on their final spin), then those players would simply come back the following show. This has happened a handful of times.

Playing against the house:
This only occurred a handful of times. In round two, if the first two players to take their spins whammy out, and the final player still has spins to take, then that is called playing "against the house." That means the final player could keep spinning until they either want to stop, or they also whammy out resulting in no returning champion and everybody finishing with four whammies.
For example, player #1 won round one with $2900 and would, therefore, play last in the final round with five spins. That means s/he would spin third. Player #2 whammies out quickly leaving only player #3 and player #1 to take their spins. However, player #3 also whammies out before finishing his/her spins, and that only leaves player #1 with five earned spins. Since that last player still has spins to play, s/he could elect to stop the game immediately or continue to play until their spins are used. A player could stop at any time after each spin.

Seeing the Scores:
When we watch the show on TV, the player's scores are displayed in front of them for the home audience to see. While the players can clearly see how many whammies they've hit with the whammy markers next to their buzzer, how can they tell what the scores are or how many spins they have left? If you look very closely during some intros and outros to each round of play, you might be able to spot exactly how the contestants can see their score. If the contestants look below them in the crevice where the lower set of lights are in the contestant podium, that actually serves as the scoreboard for the players!

Unique view of the player's

Each player's score is displayed using a vane-type readout that has 7-segments with light bulbs. While some people may have caught a glimpse of this between rounds, there were a couple episodes where the cameras were placed behind the contestants during their spins, and we could clearly see the score readout. However, thanks to this incredible photo I obtained some time ago, you can clearly see that not only was the score readout a vane-type display, but above each column shows which spins are earned, which spins are passed, and how much money a contestant has accumulated up to that point. Furthermore, in later PYL episodes, each player had their name taped under their score so they won't get confused. Of course, we don't know whether this photo is from an actual episode, or if it's a press photo during a rehearsal game. Either way, this is a great glimpse into something not often seen on camera.

Press photo from 1986    Close-up of the scoreboard

Home Player Sweepstakes:
During three different points in the show's history, a "Home Player Sweepstakes" was played with loyal fans at home along with the in-studio contestants. About two months before each sweepstakes period begins, host Peter Tomarken would tell viewers about a way to "win Big Bucks at home" and to "take down an address later in the show." Later, he would explain how the home player spin worked and would give the address. Viewers would send in their name, complete home address, and telephone number on "one or more regular sized post cards, comme ša" to the address shown on the screen. Then, after the deadline to send in postcards has passed, dozens of postcards would be drawn at random shortly before the sweepstakes run begins. When the actual HPS took place, each of the three studio contestants would have one of the postcards in front of them. Then, during the second spin round, Peter Tomarken would announce what spin number was the "Home Player Spin" to the home audience. Typically, the "Home Player Spin" was spin #4 to spin #11, depending on how many spins were earned during the second question round (and how many whammies were hit during the first spin round). When that spin finally came up, a loud fanfare of clangs (or horns) would sound alerting the studio audience, the players, and Peter that the player currently spinning would be playing for the person on the postcard in front of them. The rules were that "whatever the contestant wins, you'll win. If the contestant hits a whammy, s/he'll lose all their money, but you're going to receive $500 because the whammy is a nice person. If s/he hits money plus a spin, you'll receive the money, and the contestant will get the money plus a spin."

Peter's fishbowl  The final
            all-cash board  Jon playing the
            final board

The first of these sweepstakes lasted 20 episodes and took place between May and June, 1984. What made this first set of sweepstakes spins particularly special were the episodes that occurred during that time. During an episode where several Big Bucks hits took place, a home player won $4,000. Also, on the 20th and final day of the first home player sweepstakes, a man named Michael Larson (who is pictured at the top of this page) took the show for over $100,000 between two aired episodes. The second set of sweepstakes also lasted 20 episodes and took place between January and February, 1985. The third sweepstakes period lasted 25 episodes and took place between October and November, 1985. However, on that last sweepstakes period, all 75 postcards drawn across the period were entered into a giant fishbowl for a huge cash prize. On the 25th and final episode of the last home player sweepstakes, that day's winner would play an all-cash board for one of the players of that entire sweepstakes period.

This address was used for the
            early 1985 HPS
This is the address slide for the 2nd Home Player Sweepstakes

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All of the pictures you see here are from various "PYL" episodes. 

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