The Daily Dump

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Wednesday, March 22

Top Five Game Shows From My Youth: #2 “Press Your Luck”

Dedicated to Peter Tomarken, the man who started it all – all being “20 hours of trolling the internet for pictures from 1980’s game shows.”

The Premise

Big money, no Whammies. That about says it all. Honestly, I had to read the Wikipedia entry for “Press Your Luck” to even remember how the game was played besides pressing a red button and trying not to get a Whammy. Apparently, in the beginning of the show they asked trivia questions and for every correct answer a player was awarded a spin on the Big Board. I have absolutely no recollection of this happening. I can only presume that I watched my “Thundercats” video for the first ten minutes of the show and only tuned in when it was time for the Whammies.

The Big Board portion of the game was rather straightforward: you had a certain number of spins and as long as you landed on a prize or a money amount, and not a Whammy, you kept on going until you used up all your spins or decided to pass your spins on to someone else in hopes they land on a Whammy. The player who ended the game with the most money won. It was a game made for ADD before ADD even existed – something was constantly flashing and beeping and actual thinking was kept to a bare minimum.

The Host

Peter Tomarken . . . what can I say about him except that I had no memory of him whatsoever until he died and I decided to blog about him (I wonder if they’ve engraved his tombstone yet . . .). But in the world of competitive game shows (trust me I know) the mark of a great host is his ability to make a show about the contestants and about the intrinsic value of the game. Tomarken never tried to upstage the Whammy – he knew that the Whammy was his meal ticket and that it didn’t matter if three-quarters of the audience couldn’t pronounce his name. Because when he died in a valiant plane crash many years later, he would get buried at this very fancy cemetery despite the fact that Alex Trebek once said of him, “Who? Doesn’t ring a bell, you must be making him up.”

Also deceased, Rod Roddy was the announcer on “Press Your Luck” for its entire run. While I could only find a picture of the cemetery that Peter Tomarken is buried at, I found the GPS coordinates of Rod Roddy’s grave. That, my friends, is celebrity. Or stalking. Either celebrity or stalking. But I don’t know if you can technically stalk a dead person. It’s certainly a lot easier, but I think stalking takes effort. You know, you really have to go out of your way to stalk someone. In fact, when they’re dead really it’s just visiting. So we’ll say it’s celebrity.

The Highlights

While there are certainly many things to celebrate about “Press Your Luck,” there is no more impressive highlight than what Michael Larson pulled off on May 19, 1984. An ice cream truck driver by trade, Larson watched “Press Your Luck” religiously and discovered that while the pattern of flashing lights on the Big Board seemed to be random, in fact there were only six different sequences, and by memorizing those six sequences he could, with a bit of good timing, assure himself of never landing on a Whammy.

And that’s exactly what he did. It took two episodes, just about one hour, to tape Larson’s string of winning rounds. Starting with seven spins he won in the trivia round, he parlayed those seven spins into 35 Whammy-less spins and won $110,237.

You have to watch the video clip of this. The crowd is going absolutely nuts, and Tomarken’s reactions are priceless. A game show host doing a complete 360 degree “I can’t believe this is happening” spin? How often do you see that, once every twenty years? Maybe?

Why I Liked It

To a seven year old kid, Whammies were like cartoon crack. I mean, what better way is there to lose in a game show? And the real genius behind the Whammy was that, while the Whammy would take away all your money and do it in a showboating, boastful manner, the Whammy would then incur some sort of karmic retribution where they would invariably end up pounded, splashed, wiped out or blown up. So the Whammy got you, then karma got the Whammy and, in turn, you felt good about yourself again. Plus all the while you’re enjoying a cute little cartoon right in front of you.

(Note: I often wondered what the contestant actually saw, part of me believing that they literally witnessed these scenes take place in front of them in 3D. Not that the Whammies were alive or anything, that would be crazy. But maybe at least they were two dimensional creations that materialized in a 3D format on cue with a person losing all their money. At my age, that was an absolute possibility. Then again, so was Big.)

Looking back, the Whammies were more than just delightful cartoons though. They were symbols for what stood as the driving force of “Press Your Luck” – Greed. Winning wasn’t based on knowledge or merit – but a desire to get more and more based solely on chance with as little work as possible, just like all my real like interactions. In fact, the Buddhists should buy the copyright to Whammies and use them as a visual representation of the pitfalls of greed. Besides, I think Eastern religions could really benefit from some Western influence.

Also, no game show had better reactions from contestants when they lost. It was like all their hopes and dreams were wrapped up in that press of the red button, and landing on a Whammy was like being hit by a truck, hence creating the infamous “constipated grimace of defeat.”

What Was Wrong With It

There was really no climax to the show – no lighting round or ultimate prize. The contestants just played until the spins ran out and whoever had the most money won. On two occasions, the game actually ended in a three-way tie with each contestant finishing at $0. Sure purists and some soccer fans might say that it was just a strong defensive battle, but we all know that the only place you cheer a 0-0 tie is at the Special Olympics. I have no idea where that came from.

And as crazy as the people on “Family Feud” may have been, “Press Your Luck” attracted some of the most insane people I remember from my youth. I mean, one time an older cousin of mine tried to give me a weird back massage, and that was STILL less traumatic than this watching the episode with this woman:

The poor guy on the right looks like he’s ready to draw his sidearm and defend himself.

Oh, and apparently there is a new version of “Press Your Luck” called “Whammy! The All New Press Your Luck.” Here’s a picture of what a new Whammy looks like:

I don’t know who makes the creative decisions for this show, but I’m fairly certain he was molested as a child and has some real issues with anger and some real hate against cash.


I had forgotten all about the Man Who Beat "Press Your Luck"! If only I were more patient at game show watching, perhaps I would be rich right now.

And the new Whammy looks like the love child of Gizmo and one of the California Raisins.

By Blogger mysterygirl!, at 11:52 AM  

Side note to this story as Michael Larsen is now pretty much completely insane. I saw some sort of documentry on him a few years back and he apparently never deposited any of the money he won but kept it in a bags under his bed. They did an interview with him where he claimed to be close to completion of working out a system to beat Jeapordy. I mean, how do you beat a quiz/trivia show without having prior knowledge of the questions? I guess you have to have some degree of craziness in you to memorize a series of patterns on a game show board.

By Anonymous Johnson, at 12:12 PM  

Whoever created the new Whammy is probably also responsible for those gross snot people in the decongestant commercials.

By Blogger Analyst Catalyst, at 1:05 PM  

Thank you Dan, for once again doing more than justice to a childhood staple. Even though I actually didn't start watching "Press Your Luck" until I got addicted to the Game Show Network in college, but I'm sure had I known about it as a lad I would've loved it then as well.

However, the new version (if it's even still around - can you even get GSN in Manhattan? RCN sure as shit doesn't carry it) was one of the most disgraceful things I've ever seen.

By Anonymous Larry, at 1:39 PM  

Thunder thunder thunder thunder CATSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS!

Seriously, I loved "Press Your Luck" and had a major pre-pubescent crush on Peter Tomarken. I was really sad to hear he'd died. Your loving tribute to him is appreciated.

By Blogger Tits McGee, at 1:44 PM  

This countdown is depressing me as all my parents really let me watch when I was a kid was PBS and we didn't have cable. Apparently I missed out on some good stuff while I learning to read and using my imagination and stuff.

By Blogger Hope, at 3:06 PM  

Are you sure "Whammy! The All New Press Your Luck" and "My Name is Earl" is not the same show?

By Blogger Cupcake, at 3:06 PM  

Am I crazy, or does the woman in the 2nd picture of this post look like Sun from Lost?

And thanks, now I'll have nightmares about cross-eyed screaming lady. Eek!

By Blogger shirley, at 3:17 PM  

Whwn I was in 6th grade if I wore a pony tail the boys would yell "no whammy, stop" and slap my pony tail.

It is not a fond memory but press your luck is.

By Blogger Tuesday Girl, at 3:54 PM  

The new whammy reminds me of the chess pieces that the wooki and han solo play with. I'm not quite sure which of the Star Wars movies that match is in, but the chess pieces move rather creepily, are shaped like monsters and they not only "take" their opponents, but twirl them around their heads and WHAMMY them until limp.

Good times.

By Blogger Janet, at 4:08 PM  

on the game show network they show old press your luck shows, i enjoying seeing the "big" prizes that everyone ooh's and aah's over...a new gas grill...a trip to sanfrancisco valued at $425.00, must have been by greyhound. by the way the massage by the older cousin bit was hilarious, made me laugh outloud, everyone pretty much knows i am not working now.

By Blogger d., at 4:27 PM  

Rod Roddy is a legend. I wish you had posted some pictures of the glittery suits he wore on Price Is Right.

Those new Whammies suck balls. They look evil and demented.

That guy mastering the game is hilarious. I always thought it was a rumor. Was he autistic? I am for sure going to watch the clip of him dominating.

Remember how easy the questions were? I wish we had some sample ones, but I assure you, they were too flipping easy.

Thanks for the memories and all the hard work, belligerent!

By Blogger Dr. Kenneth Noisewater, at 8:26 PM  

I can't wait for #1....well I can definitely wait but it's a lot better than saying that I really look forward to the next post...I can't wait!

By Blogger [Disgrundled], at 8:30 PM  

I remember loving the show as a kid. Now when I watch the re-runs, I find that I have a hard time not being a little creeped out by the ecstatic outpourings of the contestants winning a couple of grand...and I dig being creeped out.

By Blogger JP, at 10:48 AM  

You know Pete was only about 5'3"? I tinhk The Whammy could have probably kicked his ass. And I must say I am disappointed oyu never mentioned Gene "$80,000" Snyder, perhaps the most intense and obviously on-drugs contestant the show ever saw. His epic comeback in his second show is the only time I jumped off my couch and ran around the house during a game show. His greatest moment was probably when he wiped his nose after a Whammy and told Pete "I forgot to take my Vitamins."

By Blogger White Dade, at 10:50 AM  

no effing way. this totally deserved to be NUMBER ONE!

By Blogger kristine, at 1:10 PM  

So, the guy who created the Whammies is none other than "Savage" Steve Holland, genius creator of Better off Dead and One Crazy Summer. (The animations John Cusak's characters in those movies made were his, and you can see similarity in the style.)
Not sure about the new ones.

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