Big bucks. No whammies.

An astonishing slice of quiz show history…

…there was something Michael Larsen hadn’t told anyone.

Back in his home state of Ohio, he didn’t have just one television, he had several. Each television was hooked up to a private networking farm of VCRs in his living room. In November of 1983, he recorded every episode of Press Your Luck over the course of several weeks. He studied these videotapes, slowed them down, and froze the images to examine randomized tile sequences frame by frame. If you haven’t already guessed, Michael Larsen discovered that the Big Board on Press Your Luck was not a randomized display, but an iterative, sequential pattern which gave itself away once you knew what to look for.

Actually there were six patterns, each of which consisted of eighteen elements apiece — and Michael Larsen had memorized them all. As long as his concentration and hand-eye coordination held out, Larsen would enjoy full control of the Big Board, and nothing would be left to chance.

When Larsen’s total reached $80,000, already a show record, the studio grew silent.

Keep in mind: everyone in the audience believed Larsen was simply experiencing a bubble of good fortune destined to pop at any moment. Host Peter Tomarken remained incredulous throughout each of Larsen’s forty-five consecutive and financially successful spins. Who in their right mind would risk so much money so fucking often? In the history of game shows to this point, there had never been anyone this lucky. The more money he accumulated and risked against Whammies, the more he looked like an insane gambling addict totally out of control. The host was freaked, the audience was freaked. There were difficult, heart-wrenching moments when even Larsen’s opponents had concerned looks on their faces. One reached out and touched his elbow. Are you sure you want to keep doing this?

Larsen was winning so much money that the running total on his digital contestant podium no longer had sufficient enough real estate to display the dollar sign character. Perspiration dripped from his face. Under the hot lights, surrounded by a bloodthirsty arena of screaming audience members, bracketed by two pissed-off players who hadn’t won a goddamn thing, staring straight into the Guy Smiley face of an agitated, loudmouth host who’d long since run out of different ways to proclaim Michael’s performance “incredible” — Mr. Larsen was experiencing a horrible secret side-effect of his plan which he could share with no one: he had failed to locate an exit strategy.

In order for Michael to keep his winnings, he’d have to remain trapped on the stage of Press Your Luck forever. His situation was an infinite loop from which there was no escape: he’d learned how to trigger only plunger-hitting patterns nailing a cash prize and a free spin. According to the game’s rules, this “free” spin would eventually have to be spun. In other words, each plunger push would lead to another. Nobody else could play, and Larsen himself could never stop playing.

And the coda to this story only gets weirder.

:: See the video of Michael Larsen’s reign of terror at Game Show Central.

:: Via thought peach.

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