One of the Cheese Fry’s old college professor’s once remarked that The Price is Right is a corrosive influence on society because the only way to win the game is to prove that you’re a skilled and experienced consumer. If looked at in a certain Marxist light, it’s indeed a show that rewards materialism over intellect. He’s got a point.
But one cannot deny the addictive nature of this show or the sly way its perennial broadcast (it’s been running CBS weekday mornings with Bob Barker as host since 1972) has seeped into our collective pop culture consciousness. Just about every Generation Xer has a fond childhood memory of this show, whether it’s the Big Wheel or Bob’s relic of a microphone or that cheesy theme song.
For a young Cheese Fry sitting Indian-style on green and orange pile carpeting just two feet from the TV screen, it seemed like the coolest job in the world would be design and build the game sets used on The Price is Right. Of particular interest were any games with A) a moving part (e.g. the big dials on Safe Crackers), B) an oversized prop (the slot machine-looking thing with the handle on the Race Game), C) some kind of unusual interactivity element (filling out the giant check in the Check Game), D) a weird sound effect (the trill of Penny Ante), or E) all of the above.
Top Ten Classic “Price is Right” Games
10 (tie) Ten Chances, Three Strikes, and Secret X – We’ll begin with three games from the TPIR canon that always seemed a little unfair.
With Ten Chances, you have ten chances at unscrambling some numbers to correctly name the price of three prizes. Coming up with prices like this out of thin air is just about impossible. Here we get the Moving Part (the blue Ten Chances pad slides down the chances) and the Interactivity Element (using a fat marker to write on the pad). How about that groovy white lattice?
Three Strikes is even more unfair. With Ten Chances if you know what you’re doing, you can maybe win. With Three Strikes, you’re totally at the mercy of fate. If you draw three strikes out of the bag, you’re done, whether you know the price of the car or not. But you have to love that omnipresent curly-cue "$" logo.
Secret X is the same deal: you could play it perfectly and still lose. You have to match up the Xs like tic-tac-toe. But because there’s no way to win three Xs it’s impossible to guarantee a victory. This one provides nerd youngsters with the Moving Part (that big middle section of the board flips over to reveal the eponymous Secret X) and the Oversized Prop (those big cardboard Xs).
7 Hole in One – As always, below you can see that Barker’s got the contestant holding his ridiculous microphone for him as he takes his traditional “inspiration putt.” Points will have to be deducted, however, for the game’s recent incarnation as “Hole in One... or Two” which gives the contestant a second chance to sink the putt.
6 Dice Game – The giant red foam dice used in this game are perhaps the king of Oversized Props. Not only did the contestant roll the dice, but then they became part of the game board to help figure out the price of the car. (The runner-up in the Oversized Prop division would probably have to be the Shell Game, with its big fake shiny walnut shells.
5 Range Game – Here again we have a Moving Part (that range finder slides up the scale with its cool little red plastic range window) and Interactivity Element (choose carefully when to slam the red button and stop the range finger). For a first grader in 1978, this game was incredibly bad ass.
4 (tie) Pathfinder and Plinko – Two newer games don’t go back as far as others on this list, but they certainly deserve mention. With Pathfinder you get that WEE-AWW Weird Sound Effect if you step on the wrong number.
And Plinko, supposedly the show’s most popular game, is the show’s best example of an Interactivity Element. It’s all luck, but the contestant’s prize money is left solely in their hands. Bonus points for the way that Plinko used to be introduced: the camera would cut to one of those horrid rotating carpeted studio walls that would flip to reveal not an actual game, but simply the Plinko logo.
2 Clock Game – Perhaps the most classic of all the games and probably the oldest one on this list. Simple it its design but difficult to master. At some point, Barker gives up with this “higher” or “lower” clue and just lets the contestant speed talk (“445, 46, 47, 48, 49...”).
1 Cliffhangers – The obvious choice for obvious reasons. Everyone loves the little yodeler.
The screen captures below and additional useless TPIR trivia (i.e. the origin of the Cliffhangers yodel) can be found at Game Show Central.