11 Whammy-Free Facts About Press Your Luck

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The 1980s were the heyday of daytime game shows, and CBS’ Press Your Luck was a proto-game, ahead of its time—even being compared to the Titanic. From 1983 to 1986 (758 episodes), Peter Tomarken hosted the show, which featured three contestants who earned spins if they answered trivia questions correctly. If they did, they got to play the Big Board, which shuffled cash, trips, cars, jewelry, and other fine commodities. But if a contestant landed on a Whammy, the animated cartoon character appeared on screen and erased all of their money. At the time, Press Your Luck offered its contestants more cash than other game shows. In celebration of the 30th anniversary of its final original episode, here are 11 facts about one of the most exciting game shows of all time—no Whammies!

1. PRESS YOUR LUCK IS BASED ON A 1970S GAME SHOW CALLED SECOND CHANCE.

Bill Carruthers produced the show Second Chance, which ran from March to July of 1977. Hosted by Jim Peck, it aired on ABC, not CBS. The show was a precursor to Press Your Luck in that it had a board with monetary values and prizes, a devil-like mascot, and three contestants answering trivia questions. But the board wasn’t technologically advanced, and during the taping of the pilot episode, $5000 was the highest amount a contestant could win. After airing for 95 episodes, the show was canceled, but Carruthers found a way to retool the show into the more successful Press Your Luck. 

2. THE BIG BOARD WAS MADE UP OF SLIDES.

PressYourLuck.com explained that in order to get the dollar values to change, each square contained three different slides. With 18 squares total, that tallies 54 slides. “However, on the pilot episode, there were more than three slides because on some of the squares, there was more than one Whammy,” explains the article. “The reason slides were used was because when they changed, it had a morphing look.” The slides weren’t as big as they looked on TV—they were the size of a typical photo slide.

3. BETTER OFF DEAD WRITER-DIRECTOR SAVAGE STEVE HOLLAND ANIMATED THE WHAMMIES.

One of the best parts of watching Press Your Luck was seeing what kind of Whammy would appear when a contestant lost his or her loot. This website chronicles 79 different Whammies used on the show, including a Whammy on a flying carpet and a Whammy dressed as Ben Franklin. Before he became a filmmaker, Better Off Dead creator Savage Steve Holland dabbled in animation, and he’s the one who drew the aforementioned Whammies.

“I was asked by the producer Bill Carruthers to invent a bad creature that stole people’s money,” Holland told Collider. “I drew something on a napkin and the producer said, ‘That’s it!’ He did the voice, not me. I animated that little fella on the most primitive computer animation system on Earth. It was steam-powered. But I love my terribly animated Whammies!"

4. A CONTESTANT CAUSED ONE OF THE BIGGEST SCANDALS IN GAME SHOW HISTORY.

During the June 8 and June 11, 1984 episodes, a contestant named Michael Larson cheated the Press Your Luck system. He won $110,237 in cash and prizes, which remains one of the largest payouts from any game show. According to the 2003 Game Show Network (GSN) documentary Big Bucks: The Press Your Luck Scandal, the unemployed ice cream truck driver from Ohio spent months studying the light patterns of the Big Board and discovered a couple of squares always offered extra spins and no Whammies (he needed the bonus spins to continue his massive quest).

On the first spin of the first round, Larson did hit a Whammy, but he recovered. He ended up taking 46 Whammy-free spins, racking up a lot of dough and alarming producers. The documentary also revealed how Larson would celebrate victory as soon as he hit the button, before the value sign was revealed. Though the producers knew Larson had participated in foul play, they allowed him to keep his winnings. With those 47 spins, the episode became so long it had to be split into two episodes.

5. A WHAMMY ONCE STOLE $31,408 FROM A CONTESTANT.

Press Your Luck

once had a winning cap of $25,000, but sometimes contestants—including Michael Larson—topped that. During the August 10, 1984  show, contestants Lori and Cathy spent several minutes passing each other spins—Lori passed to Cathy, she took her turns; she passed the remaining ones to Lori, Lori used them and passed them back to Cathy; and so on and so forth. At one point it got so intense that Peter Tomarken joked, “Somebody alert Cedars-Sinai [Hospital].” Both of them kept winning, almost $50,000 between them, until Cathy finally hit a Whammy and lost her entire accumulation of $31,408. The third contestant, Randy, ended up Whamming out, thus Lori became the big winner with $24,685.

6. TWICE, ALL THREE CONTESTANTS ENDED THE SHOW WITH NO MONEY.

The first time this happened was on November 26, 1984. Contestant Diane and returning champ Chris Whammied out, and Chris passed one spin to Dom, who had no choice but to take it. If he hadn’t hit a Whammy he would’ve gone home with $13,250. But since he lost, everybody returned the next day. Chris proved to be victorious and won the next three shows.  

The next time this happened wasn’t until a year and half later. The February 4, 1986 episode concluded with a three-way tie, but the contestants ended up with $0. Contestant Wayne hit a Whammy and lost $15,898. Dorothy took the lead with $10,366, and passed four spins to Joe. He lost his $6347 and passed two spins to Dorothy. If she didn’t hit a Whammy, she’d win; if she did, all three of them would get to come back the next day. As she said “No Whammies” in the split screen, Joe mouthed “Whammy,” hoping she would lose, which is exactly what happened. She was upset about her loss, but Joe and Wayne excitedly high-fived each other, as they knew they’d be back. For the first time in Press Your Luck history, all three players came back the next day (where Wayne won).

7. WINNING CONTESTANT MAGGIE SCHPAK DESIGNED JEWELRY FOR MOVIES.

YouTube

Maggie Schpak appeared on the March 9 and March 12, 1984 episodes, and an unaired pilot from 1983. In the pilot she goes by the name Maggie Brown, but on the other shows she’s Schpak. In her first aired appearance, she said she was the owner of “a metal shop in Hollywood. We make anything for space movies.” According to a DVD commentary for Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, she designed the Vulcan jewelry, and according to another article, she designed Anne Hathaway and Julie Andrews’ tiaras for The Princess Diaries. Schpak’s wild hair made her stand out to contestant Michael McSweeney, who proclaimed, “Everything about her was weird … Her hair looked like a rat’s nest.” Still, Schpak managed to beat McSweeney and become the champ with $12,932.

8. THE SHOW WAS BRIEFLY REVIVED AND REBRANDED IN 2002.

Coming back as Whammy! The All-New Press Your Luck, former E! Network correspondent Todd Newton took over hosting duties, and the graphics of the board and Whammies changed drastically from the 1980s, from drawn Whammies to 3-D generated Whammies (the former looked better than the latter). Tomarken was actually considered for host—two pilots were taped in 2002, one with Tomarken and one with Newton—but producers opted to go with a fresh face for the new series. Whammy!, which wasn’t a huge hit like its predecessor, aired on the Game Show Network from April 2002 to December 2003.

9. PETER TOMARKEN DIED IN A PLANE CRASH IN 2006.

On March 13, 2006, Tomarken was piloting his plane, a Bonanza A36, from Santa Monica to San Diego with his wife, when engine trouble caused it to crash into the Santa Monica Bay. The couple was volunteering for the charity Angel Flight West, which offered free flights for needy patients; the Tomarkens were on their way to San Diego to transport an ill patient to UCLA Medical Center.

10. FUTURE TALK SHOW HOST JENNY JONES APPEARED ON THREE EPISODES.

Before The Jenny Jones Show debuted in 1991, Jenny Jones was a game show contestant on Press Your Luck, The Price Is Right, and Match Game. On the January 28, 1985 episode of Press Your Luck, she told Tomarken she had just moved from Canada and become a U.S. citizen. (Notice her name tag is spelled “Jennie,” not “Jenny.”) She won the episode, taking home $10,622, only because the leader hit a Whammy. She won $8084 in the next episode (January 29, 1985), but lost the third time around.

11. BILL MURRAY ALMOST PLAYED MICHAEL LARSON IN A MOVIE.

In 2000 it was reported that Bill Murray would play Michael Larson in a film based on the infamous contestant. Howard Franklin, who worked with Murray on The Man Who Knew Too Little and Quick Change, was tapped to write and direct the movie, and Nicolas Cage was going to produce. Oddly enough, Murray was a trivia question on one of Jenny Jones' episodes.

6 Protective Mask Bundles You Can Get On Sale

pinkomelet/iStock via Getty Images Plus
pinkomelet/iStock via Getty Images Plus

Daily life has changed immeasurably since the onset of COVID-19, and one of the ways people have had to adjust is by wearing protective masks out in public places, including in parks and supermarkets. These are an essential part of fighting the spread of the virus, and there are plenty of options for you depending on what you need, whether your situation calls for disposable masks to run quick errands or the more long-lasting KN95 model if you're going to work. Check out some options you can pick up on sale right now.

1. Cotton Face Masks; $20 for 4

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You’ve likely heard about the N95 face mask and its important role in keeping frontline workers safe. Now, you can get a similar model for yourself. The KN95 has a dual particle layer, which can protect you from 99 percent of particles in the air and those around you from 70 percent of the particles you exhale. Nose clips and ear straps provide security and comfort, giving you some much-needed peace of mind.

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These three-ply, non-medical, non-woven face masks provide a moisture-proof layer against your face with strong filtering to keep you and everyone around you safe. The middle layer filters non-oily particles in the air and the outer layer works to block visible objects, like droplets.

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If the thought of reusing the same mask from one outing to the next makes you feel uneasy, there’s a disposable option that doesn’t compromise quality; in fact, it uses the same three-layered and non-woven protection as other masks to keep you safe from airborne particles. Each mask in this pack of 50 can be worn safely for up to 10 hours. Once you're done, safely dispose of it and start your next outing with a new one.

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At Mental Floss, we only write about the products we love and want to share with our readers, so all products are chosen independently by our editors. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a percentage of any sale made from the links on this page. Prices and availability are accurate as of the time of publication.

29 Prescient Quotes About the Internet from 1996

Many of the predictions made about the internet in 1996 were wildly accurate—and also quite funny.
Many of the predictions made about the internet in 1996 were wildly accurate—and also quite funny.
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In 1996, the Web was young, but it was hot, and everyone was trying to figure out what it meant. While a lot has changed since then, here are 29 quotes from 1996 that were truly prescient.

1. On the future of America Online

“Ten years from now, America Online will have gone the way of the water-bed store,” Bruce R. Burningham wrote in a letter to the editor published in the January 14, 1996 issue of The New York Times.

2. On Microsoft’s Internet Explorer web browser

According to the September 16, 1996 issue of TIME, “It’s the browser your mom will use.”

3. On email

“Email is boring but good. Like pencils, it just works,” Tom Jennings told WIRED in April 1996.

4. A comparison to the past

In September 1996, Jim Barksdale, then the CEO of Netscape Communications Corporation, said that “the Internet is the printing press of the technology era.”

5. Cybersex vs. Bird-Watching

When a reader wrote to Ann Landers in June 1996 to emphasize the benefits of the internet—which the reader said they used for graduate research, as well as to attend bird-watching meetings and support groups—Landers responded, “Thanks for accentuating the positive, but I'm afraid more people are interested in cybersex than bird-watching.”

6. On dating online

In a February 1996 article in USA Today, Leslie Miller interviewed Judith A. Broadhurst, author of The Woman's Guide to Online Services. Broadhurst told Miller, “For better or worse, one of the most popular ways to look for a mate in the '90s is on-line … I heard from so many women who met their husbands on-line ... that I began to wonder if anyone meets in any other way anymore.”

7. On catfishing before catfishing was a thing

When one reader asked Dear Abby if he should pay for his (married!) online paramour from Australia to visit him in Michigan, she responded in a July 1996 column that, “It sounds like asking for trouble to me. Aside from the fact that you are carrying on with a married woman, Kate may not be what you expect. I recently heard about a teen who was communicating online with a female he thought was about his age; when they met, he found out she was a 76-year-old granny!”

8. On being addicted to the internet (a.k.a. “Netaholism”)

“Dr. [Kimberly S.] Young said that if alcoholism is any guide to Netaholism, between 2 percent and 5 percent of the estimated 20 million Americans who go on line might be addicted,” Pam Belluck wrote in the December 1, 1996 issue of The New York Times.

9. College and internet addiction

According to a piece in the June 26, 1996 issue of the Chicago Tribune, “Universities are considered hot zones for potential Internet junkies because they often give students free and unlimited Net access.”

10. On losing access to your email

“Letting your e-mail address fall into the wrong hands isn’t exactly like having a maniacal stalker parked outside your front door,” the March 1996 issue of Spin noted. “But it’s close.”

11. On the potential of the internet

“These technologies are going to profoundly affect the way we perceive our humanity,” Anthony Rutkowski, “a de facto global spokesman for all things cyberspace,” told the Washington Post in February 1996. “We all have ideas to share and stories to tell and now we really can.”

12. On the ugliness of online behavior and content

“The people decrying the Net are using technology as a scapegoat for the fact that we haven’t, as a society, addressed these problems,” John Schwartz said in a November 1996 Washington Post article. “Yes, it’s a shame that there are pedophiles on the Internet. But the real horror is there are pedophiles in the real world and that pedophilia exists at all. ... Let’s face facts. To the extent that there’s a problem out there, it’s our society that’s sick—or at least, it has spawned a number of sick and broken people. The Internet, as the most personal medium ever developed, reflects that. I guess cartoonist Walt Kelly said it best: ‘We have met the enemy, and he is us.’”

13. On the internet’s “insidious seduction”

In the May/June 1996 issue of The American Prospect, Sidney Perkowitz wrote that “Aimless chat is the insidious seduction of the Internet; it can replace inward contemplation and real experience.”

14. On the internet in education

“The Internet has the potential to raise students’ sensitivity,” Diane Romm, one of the first librarians to use the internet, told The New York Times in June 1996. “Because it is international in its communication, people have to become more sensitive to the way what they say may be interpreted by people who come from different cultural backgrounds.”

15. On the virtual experience

“People can get lost in virtual worlds. Some are tempted to think of life in cyberspace as insignificant, as escape or meaningless diversion. It is not,” Sherry Turkle wrote in WIRED’s January 1996 issue. “Our experiences there are serious play. We belittle them at our risk. We must understand the dynamics of virtual experience both to foresee who might be in danger and to put these experiences to best use. Without a deep understanding of the many selves that we express in the virtual, we cannot use our experiences there to enrich the real. If we cultivate our awareness of what stands behind our screen personae, we are more likely to succeed in using virtual experience for personal transformation.”

16. On trying to get people to pay for content online

“There's so much free content [online], it's going to be extremely hard to get people to pay,” Marc Andreessen told USA Today in February 1996.

17. On the decline of print

“I can imagine a not-so distant future when a sizable fraction of professional writers won't ever enter the world of print but will go directly from school to digital publishing,” Paul Roberts said in the July 1996 issue of Harper’s. “Maybe they'll be constrained at first by the needs of older readers who were raised on print and who have only recently and partially and timidly converted to the nonlinear faith. But in time, this will change, as printing comes to be seen as too expensive and cumbersome, as computers become more powerful and more interlinked, and as they show up in every classroom and office, in every living room and den.”

18. On distinguishing between content and ads on the internet

“Sometimes, surfing along on the World Wide Web, you can cross the line from content to advertisement without even knowing it,” Sally Chew wrote in New York Magazine in May 1996.

19. On the internet amplifying individual voices

“The Internet has become the ultimate narrowcasting vehicle: everyone from UFO buffs to New York Yankee fans has a Website (or dozen) to call his own—a dot-com in every pot. Technology will only quicken the pace at which news is moving away from the universal and toward the individualized,” Richard Zoglin said in the October 21, 1996 issue of TIME.

20. World peace versus loss of privacy

“The Web is a crazy quilt of both utopian and Orwellian possibilities,” Elizabeth Corcoran wrote in the Washington Post in June 1996. “Its fans make wide-eyed predictions of world peace and democracy even as privacy advocates say that it will destroy the notion of confidentiality in our home lives.”

21. On internet decryption

“As for encryption, the Government keeps trying to do what governments naturally do: control people. They would like to ban encryption [which scrambles and unscrambles information on computers] to make it easier for law enforcement to listen in on people,” Esther Dyson told The New York Times on July 7, 1996. “In principle, all they want to do is stop crime. But the fact is that encryption is defensive technology against big government, big business, big crime. I’d rather have defensive technology than leave the power to snoop in the hands of people I might not trust.”

22. On Corporate America exploiting the internet

“Technolibertarians rightfully worry about Big Bad Government, yet think commerce unfettered can create all things bright and beautiful—and so they disregard the real invader of privacy: Corporate America seeking ever-better ways to exploit the Net, to sell databases of consumer purchases and preferences, to track potential customers however it can,” Paulina Borsook said in the July/August 1996 issue of Mother Jones.

23. On interacting on the internet

“I think the importance of interactivity in online media can’t be overstated,” Carl Steadman, co-founder of early web magazine Suck—“an irreverent online daily”—told TIME in October 1996. “When I can cheerfully scroll past the cyberpundit of the moment’s latest exposé to the discussion area that features the opinions of true experts like myself and my hometown’s own Joe Bob, I’ll feel I’ve finally broken free.”

24. On using the internet for piracy

“As the Internet’s capacity for data transmission increases and multimedia technology improves, it will become as easy to copy music, photos and movies as it is to copy text now,” Steven D. Lavine wrote to The New York Times in March 1996. “How can government hope to prevent copyright infringement without encroaching upon individual privacy rights? It cannot. Content providers must accept the loss of those customers willing to pirate content and concentrate on packaging their products with enough value added so that wealthier customers remain willing to pay.”

25. On CD-ROMs

“CD-ROMs have become so popular that virtually all new desktop computers are shipped with the ability to use them. But by the turn of the century, CD-ROMs could themselves become unused relics, just like those old 5¼-inch floppies,” William Casey wrote in the July 22, 1996 issue of the Washington Post. “And why? The big ol’ Internet, as you might expect.”

26. On an extremely connected world

“Just wait, says Microsoft chief technologist Nathan Myhrvold. Even your hot-water heater will become computerized and hooked to the Net,” Kevin Maney wrote in USA Today in November 1996. Myhrvold told Maney, “Anything that can be networked will be networked.”

27. On communicating on the internet

“How many times have you received a message on paper and wished you could send quick reply back to the sender?” Frank Vizard wrote in Popular Science’s December 1996 issue. “Motorola’s new PageWriter two-way pager lets you do exactly that—no need to connect to a telephone or computer as previous two-way pagers have required. To send a message, all you do is unfold a miniature keyboard and type in your text. [...] Just how big demand for the device will be remains to be seen.”

28. On the growth of the internet

“The Internet as we know it now will be quaint,” Timothy Logue, “a space and telecommunications analyst with Coudert Brothers in Washington,” told Satellite Communications in September 1996. “The Citizen’s Band radio phase died out, and the Internet is kind of in that CB radio state. It will evolve and mature in a couple of ways. It’ll be a global electronic city, with slum areas and red light districts, but it’ll also have a central business district.”

29. On the internet changing the world

We’ll leave you with a quote from Bill Gates, made in the September 16, 1996 issue of TIME: “The Internet is a revolution in communications that will change the world significantly. The Internet opens a whole new way to communicate with your friends and find and share information of all types. Microsoft is betting that the Internet will continue to grow in popularity until it is as mainstream as the telephone is today.”