The Price is Right is a daytime TV institution.
For decades, generation of viewers young and old have screamed at their television at Price is Right contestants for their smarts and stupidity. Everyone loves The Price is Right.
Plinko, the game with the cup saucer sized chips “plinking” down the board towards cash prizes, is arguably the most popular game on The Price is Right. It’s so popular, last year the show had a “Plinko only” episode where all six contestants played the game.
Everyone loves Plinko but everyone doesn’t the history of the most well known skill game in game show history. Here are some interesting nuggets of history about Plinko.
The Plinko debut & prizes
Plinko was created by Frank Wayne, an executive producer on The Price is Right. Plinko premiered on the January 3, 1983 episode and before the game’s first play, host Bob Barker explained that the game’s name came from the “plink” sound of the chips hitting the metal spikes as it traveled down the board.
On its debut, Plinko’s $25,000 top prize was the largest prize ever offered on The Price is Right. This could only happen if the contestant won all five chips and managed to get all five into the center $5,000 slot. CBS regulations at the time put a cap on prizes at $25,000. Barker made mention of the possibility of the massive prize amount during the game introduction. CBS jacked the winnings limit for game show contestants to $50,000 in 1984, $75,000 in 1986, $100,000 in 1990 and $125,000 in 1992.
The only value on the board which has changed since the game was introduced is the center slot. The center slot started at $5,000 and remained the same until October 1998. The center slot amount was increased to $10,000 for the first time during The Price is Right 25th Anniversary Special in August 1996 and became permanent on October 15, 1998. In 2002, the center slot was doubled to $20,000 for the primetime specials with a possible top prize of $100,000.
On its debut in 1983, the front of the Plinko board was open. Chips would occasionally bounce off of the board during play and out onto the stage. The contestant was allowed to replay the chip. To solve the flying chip issue, game designers installed a plexiglass cover over the board. This caused an issue when chips got stuck between pegs. The plexiglass cover now features triangular grid-shaped holes that prevent chips from flying out and still allows wedged chips to be knocked loose.
During game play, if a chip gets stuck on the board, it is knocked free and the drop does not count. The contestant gets the chip back to try again. If a chip is stuck above arm’s length, the host usually uses a long stick to knock it free. Bob Barker referred to the stick as his “Trusty Plinko Stick” while Drew Carey has referred to it as the “Plinko stick” or “Plinko wand.”
When Plinko debuted in 1983, the cue music played was the same as for the game Grand Game. The next time Plinko was played a combination of themes from the games Golden Road and Punch-A-Bunch and the prize cue titled “The Cats” were used. This music lasted until 1995. Since January 7, 2003, only the harps added between 1995 and 1998 — have been used to introduce the game.
The Plinko board is often used by other entities as a way to promote the show. For these promotions, the game is “rigged” and two fishing lines (one on each side of the board) are strung down both sides in a line down the middle towards the center slot. If a chip was dropped right down the middle, it would land in the $10,000 slot every time.
After a promotional advertisement for the video game was taped, the wires were accidentally left on the Plinko board. During a 2008 taping, a contestant playing Plinko dropped three consecutive chips into the $10,000 slot. As the fourth chip was being dropped, a producer of the show realized the wires were still in place and stopped the chip, mid-bounce. The wires were removed and the entire segment was re-shot for the show from the point where the contestant began dropping chips.
Figuring they’d have a lawsuit in their hands, CBS Standards and Practices allowed the contestant to keep the original $30,000 won prior to the wire removal on top of the amount won with the five chips she dropped. When the segment aired, no reference was made to the mistake, the wires or the additional money won.
The dreaded Plinko wipeout
In the history of Plinko, there have only been twelve Plinko wipeouts — meaning contestants walked away with no money. On two occasions, there have been complete wipeouts where contestants won all five chips during the price guess portion of the game only to win $0 in the Plinko portion. Those contestants at least walked away with the guessed prizes.
In October 2009, Plinko history was made, but not the kind any contestant would want to brag about. The contestant incorrectly guessed all the prize amounts but with her one free Plinko play, managed to get the Plinko chip into the $10,000 slot.
In terms of the most money won playing Plinko, there are different records based on the possible amounts in the center slot. These are just the daytime editions of the show. With the $5,000 center slot, the most money ever won was $21,000 — four center scores and one $1,000 score. With the $10,000 slot, the most cash won was $23,000 — the center slot being hit twice. In the Drew Carey era of The Price is Right, the record money win is $40,000 with the center $20,000 slot being hit twice.