Press Your Luck, how the producers pressed theirs

Before we begin, I’d like to draw your attention to the brilliant summary of the Michael Larson case at Priceonomics. I should add one caveat, the PC version of the game board came about with Whammy! The all new Press Your Luck, not the original, but everything else is accurate and more detailed than I could achieve.

The point stands however, how were 5 patterns ever enough to be seen as random? If we consider the issue the same way we would a cryptographic problem, we see a number of weaknesses that, if addressed would have secured the show against such an attack before it started. Given that a true random system would not have been possible at the time, all of these solutions could be achieved with the existing technology.

Firstly, if we look at the 5 patterns used, it appears they all use precisely 18 steps, for the 18 space board. Even if the patterns were not to start from the same place each time they were run, this gives the knowledgeable attacker plenty of opportunity to wait for the nominal start and identify the movement. In casino blackjack, many croupiers will mix multiple decks together, with the idea of stopping people eliminating given outcomes based on previously seen results. By arbitrarily truncating patterns and switching from one to another, tgere would be no obvious ‘tells’ for Michael to pick up on, stopping the run before it starts.

Secondly, the main reason Michael’s plan worked at all was that there were spaces on the board that did not contain a Whammy at any time. With three states for any space at one time, this feels like a massive oversight. Even with perfect pattern knowledge, by removing these permanent safe havens, the challenge now becomes even more about luck, as the window in which the memorized pattern and the safe result shrinks further.

Thirdly, arbitrarily changing the transition speed from spin to spin is another way of wrongfooting the skilled player who depends on timing. In the ,later Spanish version La Piraña, the longer the player waits before stopping the spin, the faster the transition between spaces occur until the selection is an effective blur. No waiting for a safe space there.

Michael claimed towards the end of his life that he’d worked out how to sting the later version of the show. By then, the above fixes would have been moot, but the romantic in me would have liked to see him press his luck one last time, but perhaps given his condition at the time no-one wanted to enable him. As a thought experiment though, it would be interesting to see a determined game breaker at work




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