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1980s / Michael Larson Beats Press Your Luck
Press Your Luck was a CBS daytime game show that ran from 1983 to 1986. It was one of the first game shows to use computer technology. The heart of the game revolved around a large computer-generated prize board. There were 18 'randomly arranged' panels. On average, 15 of the 18 panels contained cash or merchandise prizes. The other three were 'whammies.' If a player stopped the rotating board on a whammy, he lost everything. If a player kept accruing spins, he could keep pressing his luck and accumulate as much money and prizes as he dared. Enter Michael Larson, an out-of-work ice cream vendor from Ohio. Using his VCRs, Larson taped numerous episodes of Press Your Luck and screened them in slow motion. Larson's study habits paid huge dividends: He recognized that the board only generated five patterns. If a player was smart enough to recognize the patterns and time his presses accordingly, a small fortune could be amassed. In a May 1984 taping, Larson did just that. To the amazement of host Peter Tomarken, a studio audience, his two opponents, and CBS brass, Larson made 46 consecutive spins without hitting a whammy. (The odds of such a feat, if it were pure luck, are about 5000 to one.) At a time when most game show winners took home less than $10,000, Larson won $104,950 in cash, a sailboat, and trips to Kauai and the Bahamas-- for a total haul valued at $110,237. Larson's run of whammy-free presses took so long that CBS had to air the show over two episodes (on June 8 and 11). At first CBS was reluctant to award Larson his winnings, but they had no legal grounds to withhold Larson's loot. He had beaten the system fairly. Immediately afterward, the Press Your Luck board patterns were increased to 32 making it much less likely that anyone could memorize them. To see a condensed version of Larson in action, check out another post on this website: http://www.yourememberthat.com/media/14367/Michael_Larson_on_Press_Your_Luck/