The Category is Thing

by Ryan

When you’re a recovering insomniac like me, you end up watching a lot of television late at night. One of the things I’ve taken to watching is game shows, which are easy to tape and you can blow through pretty quickly if you watch it with good company. Now that game shows have their own network there are a ton of them out there, but everyone knows you stick to the major ones.

Deal or No Deal isn’t fun because they intentionally pick overly-emotional archetypes as contestants so they make irrational decisions. Millionaire sucks because Meredith Vieira is a dumb strumpet and has the personality of drying cotton. Jeopardy is the best and Alex Trebek is awesome, and the Saturday Night Live parodies make it even better.

Now I’ve gotten pretty good at Jeopardy and I clearly hate Deal or No Deal, but I have a serious theory about Wheel of Fortune. I’m not the biggest Fortune fan in the world; it’s basically fancy Hangman, but when it’s grouped with Jeopardy like it is you end up watching it. Now I’m no good at the game but I’ve seen enough of it to see some patterns developing.

The main thing, I think, is winning the Prize Puzzle. That’s the puzzle that gives the winner a trip of some sort on top of the money they win from the wheel itself. The value of that prize puzzle is added to their “total,” which determines which contestant moves on to the bonus round.

If you think about it, that’s a pretty huge boost in cash without doing very much. The prize is usually worth $5-7000 or so, and in low-cash games with a lot of bankruptcies that may be the difference between winning it all and finishing in second or third.

Now there are plenty of other ways to rack up a lot of money and win the game, but the Prize Puzzle is the one big-money event that happens every single game. The odds of landing on a big-money space or prize spaces are lower, and the “Toss Up” puzzles are worth much less. The other big-money spots like the $10,000/Bankrupt space is rare and also a gamble, and the Million Dollar space doesn’t help you actually win the game at all.

In fact, if someone lucks out and builds a good lead and gets the prize puzzle, there’s really no way to catch them. A player can win a Toss Up and the Prize Puzzle and coast as long as they made some coin on the Prize Puzzle. As long as the Final Spin doesn’t hit $5,000 and make the last puzzle interesting, they will be picking three consonants and a vowel after the next commercial break.

I’ve done zero research into this theory, but I’d guess that if you win the Prize Puzzle you have about a 60% chance of winning the entire show, maybe even higher. The more I think about, I have a hard time finding a single element of a game show that swings the odds for a contestant more. I’ve given this a lot of thought and no real research, and I couldn’t find anything online to corroborate with. Still, I’d love to see someone take even a single season in depth and see how often the Prize Puzzle winner takes the whole half hour.

Yes, I have thought of this entirely too much. This is what happens when there’s no hockey, I guess. Anyone know anything about this?


  1. Mike

    Here I thought you were going for some profound metaphor – like getting Kovalchuk = getting the prize puzzle.

  2. Well hitting on the 5000, and having 4 or 5 letters pop up. Really helps you.

  3. Hey!

    What’s up with these quiet rumors about Nik Zherdev in negotiations with Buffalo?

    I know this comment if off topic, but it’s very interesting. Would the fan base get excited, or vomit in their mouth a little bit if the Sabres Brass signed another “enigmatic winger?”

    Still, he would fill that RW void…

  4. Andy Boron

    I used to watch Family Feud every day on my lunch break – in the final round they triple all the points making all the previous rounds irrelevant. Yet everyone still jumps up and down when they win Round 1.