For 39 years, people have been tuning in to watch the evening showing of Wheel of Fortune. Although the popular show is facing some significant changes in the next few years, as host Pat Sajak and letter turner Vanna White consider retirement, one thing will endure — the puzzles.
The show was inspired by a kids’ game
The show’s producer Merv Griffin came up with the idea for the show from Hangman, a game he used to play with his sister on long road trips. Most people have probably tried their hand at this simple word puzzle, where the players guess letters to help them figure out a word or phrase.
To translate the game to television, the empty spaces were put up on a large, lit-up board, and the correctly guessed letters are revealed by White. To add to the excitement, the iconic wheel was added, so contestants can spin it to determine what prizes and money they would win for correct answers. Griffin added the wheel because he was fascinated by roulette wheels as a child.
This simple formula was a hit, and for 26 years it was the highest-rated show in syndicated television. Viewers love to see people win piles of cash and prizes. Another part of the enduring appeal of the game is playing along at home and judging the contestants for their answers. Sometimes those answers are unbelievably off the mark.
Guesses gone wrong
Nervousness can do strange things to how the mind works, and sometimes that makes for very bad guesses under pressure. One time a contestant was faced with the nearly completed puzzle “A Streetcar Na_ed Desire,” clearly referring to the Tennessee Williams play A Streetcar Named Desire. Somehow they decided that the answer was “A Streetcar Naked Desire.”
Viewers also groaned the time a teacher guessed that “An _ _ _ y Child” was “An Ugly Child,” instead of the correct answer “An Only Child.”
But although the answers sometimes seem glaringly obvious, at other times the contestants seem to pull the right response out of thin air, with very little to guide them.
Contestants sometimes guess very hard puzzles
The cerebral game show Jeopardy is often thought of as requiring more brainpower than Wheel of Fortune, but some of the contestants on the more simple show give correct answers that make them look like geniuses. With almost no information to help them, they come up with the answer, seemingly by magic.
Once a quick-witted player guessed “I’ve Got A Good Feeling About This” with no letters except the L in “Feeling” showing on the board.
Another time, a clever contestant had nothing to go on in a five-word puzzle except “NT” in the middle of the first word and a “T” at the beginning of the third word. With only those tiny hints, they called out the right answer, the title of a John Denver song, “Country Roads Take Me Home.”
Not many people would have gotten a two-word puzzle correct that one contestant did. The only letter that was showing on the board was a “T” in the middle of the second word, and yet somehow they figured out that the answer was “Championship Match.”
Wheel of Fortune has been a source of light-hearted fun for decades. But among the banter and entertaining gameplay, you can occasionally catch a glimpse of some serious brainpower.