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Home Editions of Some Classic Game Shows
The Golden Age of Television -- the 1950s and the 1960s -- can also be considered the heyday of the television tie-in game. Home editions of popular TV shows seemed to be everywhere. There was a Candid Camera game, a Jackie Gleason game, an I Spy game, several Man from U.N.C.L.E. games. Even if a TV show wasn't a game show -- even if it had virtually no conflict about it whatsoever -- Milton Bradley could still make a game out of it.
The classic tie-in, however, was the home version of the game show. Games like Password, Jeopardy!, Concentration, and Twenty-One all had home editions, and typially multiple home editions with different puzzle or question sets. The tie-in to the original show was so strong that often the home edition became a consolation prize on the show.
Here is a brief look at some of the classic home editions.
Just Like on TV?
One of the appeals of the home edition of a game show was the promise that one could play "just like on TV." Well, sort of. It's true that for many games the essence of the show's gameplay could be captured. But even in those pre-electronic days there were some features that couldn't quite be duplicated. The game manufacturer -- often Milton Bradley, but there were others -- had to figure out a way around that.
To emulate the buzzers on Jeopardy!, for example, the manufacturer used crickets -- little metal shells with a stiff strip of metal that would make a noise when pressed quickly and firmly. Answers came on a pad that fit into a plastic frame.
Some home versions, however, were clearly inferior to their broadcast counterparts. The makers of the I've Got a Secret Game, for example, couldn't rely on home players to have any secrets -- at least any they hadn't kept from each other. To get around this problem, the manufacturer created secrets for home panelists to guess. The secrets were concocted the way one might order dinner from a Chinese menu -- a description in Deck A, an occupation in Deck B, a secret in Deck C, and so on -- that players would have to guess.
Ask Me Another
Red Film at 11
One feature of many home versions was the ubiquitous red film. Made of either hard or soft plastic, red film was used to read answers from cards or tablets that had been printed in both red and blue ink. On regular paper, the answers were virtually unreadable, but underneath the film, the red ink became invisible, leaving only the blue, which came off as a muted but clear gray. Jeopardy! used this technique, as well as Password, Word for Word and another game called Missing Links.
Another feature of several home games was the paper scroll. The scroll sat in a cardboard box and like its ancient counterpart, the scroll was wound around an axle with a couple of knobs attached. Concentration had this arrangement. So did You Don't Say! and Seven Keys. To play the game, you rolled the scroll to puzzle #1. Then when that was over, you rolled the scroll to puzzle #2. Often there was some sort of plastic lid in place on the box that concealed the next puzzle until you were ready to play. When you had gone through all the puzzles on the scroll (which would have taken several game sessions) you took the scroll out of the box and wound it back to the beginning. Typically by then total game play had extended over several weeks, months, or years so you wouldn't remember the answers to the first puzzles.
Some home games didn't even bother with the scroll. Eye Guess, for example -- which went into four editions -- had a relatively fancy plastic board with nine openings and covers that could be removed by grabbing a peg to reveal the answer. Underneath, the answers were contained in booklets. To start a new game, all you had to do was turn the page.
Other home games were equally low tech. The Match Game, for example, used plastic sleeves over colored boards that allowed you to write your answers with a grease pencil. Rather than using spinning wheels like its TV counterpart, The Joker's Wild home game relied on card decks and a quiz book.
Window Shopping and Other Shenanigans
Not every game show involved questions and answers, and this was also reflected in their home versions. Window Shopping was a very short-lived game show that ran in the early 1960s and its home version is a rarity among collectors. The challenge here was essentially a memory test. One player, acting as host, created a sceneful of objects which he placed behind a clear plastic sheet in a cardboard frame. Contestants then had to look at the scene and, when it was removed, tell what was in it.
The Shenanigans game didn't involve much memory at all. Based on the Saturday morning kiddie action TV show hosted by former Broadway hoofer Stubby Kaye, the home version was largely a test of the skills required on TV brought down a few notches. For the Pie in the Eye challenge, for example, instead of literally throwing a pie, the home player had to get a tiddley wink through a hole.
Only for Collectors?
The home game is all but gone now. Game shows aren't nearly as popular as they once were, although they were making a bit of a comeback in the fall of 2011 with such offerings as You Deserve It and The Million-Dollar Mind Game. As a result, home editions belong more to the realm of collectors now. There are a few exceptions. Both Jeopardy! and Concentration have versions that can be played on the computer. (The perennially popular Jeopardy! has even had multiple editions of these.)
Is a revival in the works? Perhaps. Jeopardy! and Family Feud both appear on the Game Show Network's skill games site, and there's no reason some of the other classics couldn't show up there as well. As long as the concept for a game is sound, there should always be an interest -- and ergo a market. The only question is whether anyone will pick up on it.