"Come on down, you're the next contestant on The Price is Right!"

“Here it comes... television’s most exciting hour of fantastic prizes. The fabulous 60-minute Price is Right!”

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.

Battlestar Galactica “Home Part 2”

Cool: Starbuck, Adama, and Roslin use the Arrow of Apollo in the Tomb of Athena (I know, it’s hard to keep a straight face with all of that) to seemingly teleport themselves to the surface of Earth, which allows them to see constellations of the 12 colonies (Aquarius, Aries, Cancer, Capricorn, Gemini, Leo, Libra, Pisces, Sagittarius, Scorpio, Taurus and Virgo). Using those stars as guides gives them an idea of which direction to head for Earth. Things are really getting interesting now. They recognize those constellations from the designs on the 12 colony flags. But how is this possible? Did the 12 colonies originate on Earth? Perhaps the kind of questions only a nerd cares about answering.
Cooler: When some of the Galactica crew refuses to clap for Roslin, Adama forces them to do so by initiating a “slow clap” that everyone joins and then pushing that to turn into applause. A nice moment conveying through action (rather than a long-winded speech) that Adama is determined to heal the wounds caused by Tigh’s martial law declaration.
Huh? In this episode Six for a moment drops her Cylon persona and appears to Baltar as a neutral character of sorts (she's even got her hair up in a stereotypical "I'm demure" ponytail), suggesting this has all been a hallucination for Baltar. An intriguing suggestion that could change everything about Baltar and his situation. But then the show drops that idea and soon Six is again appearing to Baltar as a Cylon. Why bring up that hallucination possibility if it's not even going to pan out? It just seems sloppy. The point seems to be that Six's ploy was to persuade Baltar to do a brain scan and learn that he really doesn't have a Cylon chip in his head and that Six's connection to him is much more complex. Or something. Whatever. As with everything involving these two, it seems needlessly confusing. Then again, The Cheese Fry would never claim to fully understand all the Baltar-Six mumbo-jumbo doubletalk.

Best Line: “We’ve never met, but I remember you.” – Caprica-Boomer to Chief Tyrol, suggesting she has memories of his girlfriend Galactica-Boomer even though it wasn’t her he had the relationship with. Are you with me? Best of all, this sets up the possibility of one weirdo love triangle between Cylon Boomer and Boomer-smitten humans Helo and Tyrol. Note the look on Helo’s face when Tyrol walks up in this scene.
Falling: The show’s casting director. Come on, you have a treacherous henchman character named Meier and so you cast... James Remar, who’s made a career out of playing treacherous. It just seems so unimaginative.
Rising: Caprica-Boomer continues her ascension with the thrilling moment in which she betrays Zarek’s henchman Meier and thwarts the attemped assassination on Kobol of Adama and Apollo. It’s her attempt to persuade Adama that she makes her own choices. And to show the audience what an amazing marksman she is: two shots, two kills. How trustworthy is she really, though? Caprica-Boomer's quickly becoming one of the more fascinating characters on the show.

The Two-Pop: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Island, November, and The 40 Year-Old Virgin

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is undeniably a triumph of production design. The sets are truly amazing and splendiferous. But this is a movie without heart. Part of the trouble is that the story is so familiar. There’s a tedious quality to the action as the story hits all the expected beats with doomed brats Augustus Gloop, Violet Bureaugarde, Veruca Salt, and Mike Teevee. Much was made of the fact that the filmmakers were going back to Roald Dahl’s original story and avoiding some of the embellishments of the 1971 Mel Stuart film, but some embellishments might have been a good idea to provide audiences with a bit of unpredictability. Director Tim Burton, who can be a genius in the right circumstances, has stayed true to Dahl’s plot but has inadvertently crafted a story without a human center. Charlie Bucket, as played by bright eyed Freddie Highmore, is too good to be true in a blandly annoying sort of way. This is the kind of kid who’d probably react to a kick in the groin with a toothy smile. And that means that the story must hinge on the humanization of Johnny Depp’s Willy Wonka. Depp, as always, delivers a tour de force performance of weirdo affectation (no one does that better) but when the film clumsily tries to explain why Willy’s weird by unveiling a labored backstory involving a cruel dentist father, you just have to laugh. Explaining Willy’s weirdness isn’t key to the story. Some people are just weird. The key should lie in the present and in the way Willy connects with Charlie, but that’s a relationship the film seems unsure about. To extend the candy metaphor, this is a melted blob of a movie wrapped in a sleek and shiny wrapper: it looks like it'll be delicious, but more than likely you'll get a bit of a stomach ache.

There was much fun to be had this summer watching the U.S. implosion of the clone thriller The Island. What was more entertaining, seeing the film bomb with audiences just days after director Michael Bay was quoted bragging about his unblemished record at the box office; watching the finger pointing by producer Walter Parkes who blamed the cast, the marketing campaign, and even the film’s title as if he – one of Hollywood’s most powerful producers – had zero influence over any of those elements; or learning about a copyright infringement lawsuit from the makers of a 1979 film called The Clonus Horror? It’d be fun to report that the movie itself is as bad as these disastrous rats-fleeing-the-sinking-ship indicators might suggest. But it’s really not. If you look at The Island with the right perspective, it’s actually pretty entertaining in an empty-headed popcorn-movie sort of way. You just have to go with it and let the many preposterous and illogical moments (and they are legion) wash over you, then pick it all apart on your ride home from the theater. There’s also a fairly frustrating schism in the film as it divides itself between a rather thoughtful conspiracy thriller in the first half and an unending chase movie in the second. And as with any Bay movie, this one has its share of loud, noisy sequences full of rapid-fire cuts and visual confusion, but he seems somewhat tamer this time around when compared to his truly awful films like Armageddon. As a postnote: if any of you hoped that The Island’s failure with American audiences might send a message to Hollywood, rest assured that message was probably not received. The film is a blockbuster hit overseas.

November is one of those brooding little indie films that plays for a week and your local theater and then disappears forever, until the one day you spy the DVD box at your neighborhood Blockbuster store and have a vague memory of having heard of it somewhere before. November is also one of those mindbend Mobius-strip movies that folds in on itself and plays with the audience’s (and the main character’s, for that matter) perception of reality, replaying a number of scenes with distinctly different outcomes to suggest that some of what you’ve seen didn’t happen at all. Is it a dream? Are the characters crazy? Or is it something else? Astute viewers will realize the truth fairly easily. But this film seems to exist more for the ride than for the destination. And with the running time well under 90 minutes, it’s an engaging ride that benefits from giving Courtney Cox the chance to give a completely convincing dramatic performance. But in the end, one wishes there were a little something... more to it all.

The 40 Year-Old Virgin delivers about what you’d expect from a movie with that kind of title. It’s an unending riff of sex and virgin jokes that put hapless hero Andy (Steve Carrell, in a surprisingly subdued performance) in a number of amusing sexual and romantic situations that climaxes, as it were, with a relationship with a single mother (the always sterling Catherine Keener). And that’s sort of the problem with the movie. Unlike, say, Wedding Crashers, this film doesn’t really hang together in a cohesive narrative way. It feels more like a collection of gags and sketches. It can be very funny, yes, such as Andy’s encounter with a drunk girl and his efforts to channel “David Caruso in Jade” in order to be an aloof jerk to women. But it leaves an aftertaste of disappointment. There’s a nagging sense that this could have been so much better. This is particularly true of the strong supporting cast whose characters doesn’t seem as well defined as they probably would be in a truly brilliant comedy. That said, the film ends with a showstopper musical number (yes, you read that right) that may be the most inspired and hilarious thing you’ve seen on screen in years. For that ending alone the film deserves your $8 ticket price.

Battlestar Galactica “Home Part 1”

Cool: It’s a lot of fun to watch the hapless new CAG Birch (replacing Apollo) fail at managing the most seemingly menial of Galactican tasks, whether it’s an asteroid Viper exercise or a simple refueling mission.

Cooler: When Caprica-Boomer leads the charge on Kobol in taking out the Cylon Centurion ambush, it’s clear she’s nothing at all like the wishy-washy pushover that was Galactica-Boomer. This version is a real bad-ass, suggesting perhaps that not all Cylon copies are made alike. Unless, of course, this is all Part of the Plan.

Huh? Yeah, I know, it's a nice scene between Adama and Dee in which she pleads for him to put his differences with Roslin aside for the good of the fleet. But it’s hard to believe that this one exchange of dialogue can so completely change Adama’s mind. He just seems to stubbord and proud to admit a mistake without a little something more dramatic or irrefutable. But this scene does gives us...

Best Line: “It’s time to put the fleet back together.” – Adama, grimly proclaiming his intention of returning to Kobol to bring back Roslin and the 24 ships that followed her.

Falling: Baltar and Six – As always, they're continuing their boring little dance of obtuse dialogue (accompanied by that plinking piano) that makes it seem like their subplot is advancing without ever really revealing anything new. The less of them, the better.

Battlestar Galactica “The Farm”

Cool: A gratuitous, but much appreciated, shot of Starbuck walking around in her underwear to start the episode.

Cooler: Caprica-Boomer’s apparent switching of sides to align herself with humans, presumably because of her love for Helo. First she helps rescue Starbuck by leading the Caprica resistance to the farm, then by piloting the Heavy Raider to strafe her fellow Cylons to help Starbuck escape. But one can’t help but wonder if her “rejection” of the Cylons is all Part of the Plan.

Coolest: Starbuck kills the Cylon doctor Simon with a mirror shard to the neck, proving her ferocious ruthlessness and giving us the pleasure of watching a Cylon wheeze in wide-eyed shock “You... killed me.” Yeah, that's what us humans do sometimes when a robot species tries to wipe us out.

Huh? Adama sobs over Galactica-Boomer’s corpse in the ship morgue, crying “Why?” What is going on here exactly? At first you figure it’s just Adama raging at the horror of the situation in which a trusted crew member like Galactica-Boomer has betrayed him, especially with all the little suggestions of how he sees his crew as family. But the scene goes on for so long that it begins to get a little creepy what with middle-aged Edward James Olmos crying over a much younger (and very dead-looking) Grace Park. Did these two have a relationship? If so, is there anyone Boomer didn’t sleep with?

Best Line: “That’s almost a third of the fleet.” – Tigh, letting us know how significant it is that 24 ships joined Roslin in abandoning Galactica and jumping back to Kobol. So much for Adama’s prediction that no one would follow Roslin’s religious quest.

Rising: Starbuck – She’s already a great character, equal parts bad-ass warrior and vulnerable loner. She gets bonus points here, though, not only for the mirror shard to the neck (see above), but also for the crafty way she unplugs her IV drip to regain her senses and get to the bottom of everything, which she does here with a classic Patient Breaks the Rules and Creeps Around the Hospital scene.


"Rock Star INXS" Haikus

Marty (odds to replace Michael Hutchence - 2:1)
Evil looking guy
Played the acoustic card: smart
Weird arm waving thing

Jordis (3:1)
INXS loves her
Angel’s voice, big long dreadlocks
But pick a girl? Nope.

Mig (3:1)
Married, weird jawline
Comes from the land down under
Too nice for this biz

J.D. (4:1)
Once a front runner
Good but so frickin’ cocky
Now with a shaved head

Ty (6:1)
One in the Mohawk
Cries about racial pressure
He’s kinda scary

Suzie (10:1)
Hot girl on the show
Does she have tattoos or not?
Better than you’d think

Deanna (12:1)
Classic whiskey voice
She's good at what she does but...
Can’t last much longer

Jessica (25:1)
Bottom Three her home
Better off on the Idol
A nice belly though


Battlestar Galactica “Resistance”

Cool: Boomer’s public assassination by Cally as she’s being led in handcuffs by authorities through a crowd of people. Any similarity to the assassination of Lee Harvey Oswald is strictly intentional. Bonus points for the stricken look on Chief Tyrol’s face as Boomer dies in his arms, making it clear he really did love Boomer, Cylon circuitry and all.

Cooler: Baltar’s shockingly ruthless decision to fatally poison Chief Tyrol as a way to extort from Boomer’s Cylon subconscious the number of Cylon agents on Galactica – i.e. if she didn’t tell Baltar the truth, he’d let Tyrol die. A truly sweaty, powerhouse moment, the kind of thing one expects on 24 not the Sci-Fi Channel. Whether or not Boomer was telling the truth – she said there are eight Cylons on board – remains to be seen.

Coolest: The series’ growing web of political intrigue involving double agents and witch hunts and splintering governments and resistance fighters and declarations of martial law is nothing short of captivating. This is what science fiction (think Star Trek) excels at: using a future setting to comment on our own present. The show seems to really be hitting its stride now.

Best Line: “So. What’s happening on my ship?” – Adama, after shuffling from the infirmary to make a surprise appearance in Tigh’s quarters just moments after Tigh let prisoners Roslin and Apollo successfully escape Galactica to re-establish the colonial government in exile.

Falling: Billy – Roslin and Dee sure are into this guy, but what does he bring to the table besides puppy-dog loyalty? He always looks so bewildered. Here he decides to stay on Galactica and not follow Roslin into the breach of wrongdoing. Whatever. Who cares?

Rising: Baltar – Even though his unconventional “interrogation” of Boomer was done mostly to save himself (e.g. he exonerated the Chief in order to appease Cally, who demanded his help in return for her continued silence regarding the Crashdown incident on Kobol), the fact that he can be so resourceful and cold-blooded suggests an interesting future for this character regardless of which side he ultimately aligns himself with. One wonders, though, how much longer he can straddle the line between humanity and Cylons.

"This is Ceti Alpha Five!"

Top Ten Lines from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

10 “Jim Kirk was many things, kiddo, but he was never a Boy Scout.” – Dr. Carol Marcus to her son David, who’s days away from finding out the loathsome non-Boy Scout in question is in fact his father. They’ll meet for the first time (in a particularly heartwarming moment) when David attacks Kirk with a knife on Regula I.

9 “Galloping around the cosmos is a game for the young, doctor.” – Admiral Kirk to Dr. McCoy in the film’s opening scene, nicely foreshadowing the film’s Big Theme #1: How does a brash hero like Kirk deal with growing old? Uhura doesn’t see many movies, apparently, because she replies with “Now what was that supposed to mean?”
8 “Ship... out of danger?” – A gravel-voiced Captain Spock to Kirk moments after Spock saved the Enterprise by uncapping a big steel cylinder, revealing a very bright light inside (read: futuristic deadly radiation), and adjusting something inside with his hands. What exactly did he do, plug the warp drive back in?

7 “Get back your command. Get it back before you turn into part of this collection. Before you really do grow old.” – McCoy to Kirk in Kirk’s San Francisco swinging bachelor pad, hitting harder Big Theme #1. (Also fun in this scene is learning that Kirk is allergic to Retinax Five.)

6 “One thing is certain – we cannot escape on auxiliary power.” – Spock’s tidy assessment of the battle damage inflicted on the Enterprise by Khan’s hijacked Reliant, pointing at one of those neato computer graphic bridge displays that looked so cool in 1982.

5 “I like to think there are always... possibilities.” – Kirk to Lieutenant Saavik, justifying his decision to cheat on the Kobayashi Maru test and touching on the film’s Big Theme #2: How does a brash hero like Kirk – who always manages to find a way out – deal with death?

4 “We’re not going to make it, are we?” – Sulu’s question in the film’s sweaty climax, answered for Kirk by David’s grim shake of the head. Perhaps the movie’s most chilling moment.

3 “A no-win situation is a possibility every commander may face.” – Kirk to Saavik in the film’s opening scene, explaining to her the value of the Kobayashi Maru simulation and foreshadowing Spock’s sacrifice when he faces such a choice at the end of the film. Kirk also invokes in this exchange Big Theme #2 with his line to Saavik “How we deal with death is at least as important as how deal with life.” It’s all theoretical preaching for him at this point, of course, because he hasn’t yet faced death.

2 “So much for a little training cruise.” – Sulu, muttering to no one in particular, right after Kirk takes over the Enterprise (“Stop energizers”) to investigate the possibility that Dr. Marcus’ Regula I space station and the Genesis device may be in danger.

1 (tie) “I shall leave you as you left me, as you left her. Marooned for all eternity in the center of a dead planet. Buried alive... Buried alive... Buried alive...” – Khan’s hateful taunt to Kirk after he steals the Genesis device and presumably leaves Kirk for dead. Kirk responds to this with one of the Star Trek franchise’s most famous lines:

1 “Khan!” – Kirk, accompanied by a dramatic timpani roll. William Shatner really puts his heart into this one, teeth bared, lips curled, veins bulging. How did he not get an Oscar nomination for this?!