Wheel of Fortune (US game show)



Wheel of Fortune is an American television game show originally devised by Merv Griffin, who also created Jeopardy!. Three contestants compete against each other to solve a word puzzle similar to those seen in the game Hangman. The name of the show comes from the large wheel that determines the dollar amounts and prizes won (or lost) by the contestants.

The show debuted as a daytime program on NBC on January 6, 1975. The current version, which is syndicated by King World, began on September 19, 1983. Since 1984, Wheel of Fortune has had the highest Nielsen Rating of any syndicated program. It is the longest-running syndicated game show in American television history, and the second-longest in either network or syndication (behind the current version of The Price is Right, which began airing in 1972).

For the 24th nighttime season (2006-07), the show began broadcasting in HDTV. King World and Sony indicated that as of August 10, 2006, some 49 of the 210 stations which carry the show in syndication were prepared for the transition. Because "Wheel" is syndicated, it appears in both the 1080i and 720p formats, depending on the equipment used by each station.

Pat Sajak and Vanna White have hosted the nighttime syndicated show since its beginning. Sajak also appeared on the daytime version from 1981 to 1989, as did White from 1982 to 1991. Charlie O'Donnell was the show's announcer from 1975 to 1980. Jack Clark was announcer from 1980 until his death in 1988, although O'Donnell and Jeopardy! announcer Johnny Gilbert filled in whenever Jack was unavailable. Charlie O'Donnell returned in spring of 1989, and announces the show to this day. Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek guest-hosted the show on April Fool's Day, 1997, when he and Sajak switched jobs; Johnny Gilbert made an announcing cameo on this episode. Los Angeles radio personality M.G. Kelly was a substitute announcer between Clark's death and O'Donnell's return; when the show taped two weeks of episodes at New York City's Radio City Music Hall, NBC veteran Don Pardo of Saturday Night Live fame served as announcer.

This section outlines the basic Wheel of Fortune format, which also applied to the daytime version. The Format changes section that follows lists changes that have been introduced post-1991.

Before taping begins, the players draw numbered dice out of a container to determine their positions on the contestant rostrum. The player drawing 1 stands at the host's immediate left, behind a red arrow; number 2 to that player's left, behind a yellow arrow; and number 3 on player 2's left, behind a blue arrow. Each player stands on a platform which may be raised to adjust the height of the player. The pointer in front of each player determines the value of that player's spins of the wheel. Play proceeds from right to left from the contestants' perspective: from red to yellow to blue, then back to red. Prior to the introduction of the Toss-Up puzzles in 2000 (see below), the red player played first in Round 1, yellow in Round 2, and blue in Round 3. If time permitted, the order repeated itself beginning with the red player in Round 4.

On a turn, a player can choose to spin the 24-sector wheel, buy a vowel, or attempt to solve the puzzle. The wheel must be spun clockwise. When a normal round begins, the spaces in a puzzle are shown as blank white spaces on the board. The category for the round is given, and any punctuation marks are revealed (except commas, which are omitted from the puzzle). Apostrophes and hyphens are the most common marks; ampersands and periods (for initials) sometimes occur. In the past some categories of puzzle have used ? marks for "fill in the blank" and # (number) signs for "fill in the number".

The wheel has 24 spaces, with one peg between each space and two pegs in the middle of each space, so each space spans three "clicks" of the wheel, for a total of 72 possible positions. A player spins the wheel, and the result is determined by which space is in front of that player's pointer when the wheel stops. The wheel may stop on a cash value, a prize (including a "Free Spin" or "Wild Card" for use later in the game), or penalty spaces marked "Lose a Turn" or "Bankrupt". There are also some special spaces which only appear in one round. If the result is anything but a penalty space, the player asks for a consonant (including Y). If the requested letter is in the puzzle, all its instances light up and White touches the screens (turns the trilons until 1997) to reveal them.

Because the Wheel weighs approximately two tons, risers are placed behind the podiums for short contestants to give them enough leverage to get a decent spin of the wheel. However, only contestants with a considerable amount of upper-body strength will get more than one revolution with a single spin.

If a player lands on a dollar value and calls a consonant in the puzzle, that player receives the cash value of the space multiplied by the number of times the letter appears. The current minimum cash value on the wheel is $300 ($100 in 1983, then $150 in 1986, then $250 in 1996 and $300 as of 1999). Maximum cash values (that may be multiplied and spent) are $2500 in the first round, $3500 in the second and third rounds, and $5000 in the fourth and any subsequent rounds.

A prize on the wheel may be claimed if a player landing on it requests a consonant that is in the puzzle. That contestant must then solve the puzzle that same round, without hitting Bankrupt, to win the prize. Prior to Season 8 (1990-91), when a contestant landed on a prize, it was immediately picked up and claimed, and then the player would pick a consonant for the dollar value under it (usually $150).

Prior to Season 16 (1998-99), prizes were represented by distinctive green (later changed to gold in 1995, then valentine pink in 1996) wedges with the name of the prize in black letters. Currently, prizes may be $1000 gift tags from a sponsor, represented on the wheel by small oval-shaped tokens, or larger prizes, usually trips valued from $4000 to $10,000, which are represented by colorful descriptive wedges (Since 1998) fully covering one space on the wheel. When a prize is picked up from the wheel, it reveals the cash value of the space it was covering, and the space becomes that normal cash value for the rest of the round. When gift tags are claimed, they are placed on the railing immediately in front of the contestant; full-sized prize wedges are placed horizontally across the red, yellow or blue triangle in front of the player's podium. Prizes are not multiplied if the letter called appears more than once.

If the pointer lands on "Lose a Turn", the spinning player's turn ends. If the pointer lands on "Bankrupt", the player loses the turn and any cash and prizes, even the "Wild Card", accumulated thus far in the round. Winnings from previous rounds, as well as the "Free Spin" token, are not affected.

If the pointer lands on "Free Spin", a contestant can win a "Free Spin" token in the same manner as a prize. If that player later lands on Bankrupt or Lose a Turn, guesses an incorrect letter, or solves the puzzle incorrectly, the Free Spin can be redeemed to claim an extra turn at any point in the game until the Speed-Up Round (this does not however, recover money/prizes lost from a Bankrupt). Until 1989, the Free Spin space was a wedge, and it remained on the wheel in Round 1, and was awarded automatically every time a player landed on it, so that players could accumulate multiple Free Spins without successfully guessing letters in the puzzle. Currently, the Free Spin is a single disk placed atop one of the cash wedges. It can now only be claimed once during the game, when the player landing on it calls a consonant that appears in the puzzle and is allowed to pick it up off the wheel; it is removed from the wheel after Round 2 if no one has claimed it by then. Unlike with prizes, a contestant does not have to solve the puzzle to retain a Free Spin.

When time is running short in the game, a bell rings, signalling the start of the speed-up round. Usually, this occurs in the beginning or middle of Round 4, but faster-paced games may include five or even six rounds. Prior to the introducution of a digital electronic puzzle board in late February of 1997, the speed-up round was sometimes omitted, or sometimes Pat would announce that the speed-up round was to be played at the beginning of Round 4 by saying, "It's the fourth round, but time is running out." Sajak spins the wheel, and the red player's arrow determines the final spin value.

Since Season 17 (1999-2000), $1000 has been added to the value of the final spin. This becomes the base value of all remaining consonants in the puzzle. The extra $1000 was added to the value of the Final Spin to make it less likely that the speed-up round would be anti-climactic, as was often the case when one player had a large lead and Sajak landed on a dollar amount small enough to make it impossible for the other contestants to catch up.

Beginning with the player whose turn it was when the bell rang, each contestant calls one letter; if it is a consonant which appears in the puzzle, the player is credited with the determined amount of money as in the main portion of the game. Vowels may also be called, at no cost but also with no cash value. If the letter appears in the puzzle, the player has three seconds (five seconds until 1998) to solve the puzzle. The timer does not begin until White completely moves over to one side of the board. The player is allowed to try several solutions on the same turn. If the player does not solve, control passes to the next player.

If the final spin lands on a non-dollar space (such as Bankrupt or Lose a Turn), it does not count and Sajak spins again. Non-dollar final spins are omitted from the broadcast edit of the program, though in previous years they were shown. On one occasion when Chuck Woolery hit a Bankrupt, he shouted, "That's the pits!" At the start of round four, the wheel is intentionally pre-positioned to increase the odds of Sajak hitting the top dollar space ($5000) should the speed-up round begin before the first spin. The record for the most money won in the speed-up round is $54,000 (nine consonants at $6,000 apiece).

A player who has at least $250 in cash can pay that amount to have all instances of a single vowel (only A, E, I, O, or U, as Y is always considered a consonant) in the puzzle revealed. If the letter is not in the puzzle, the player loses his or her turn (as well as this amount). This amount is a flat fee, which is not multiplied by the number of times the vowel appears.

Vowel buying is very common, and is encouraged by the show's contestant coordinators as a way to fill in the puzzle and gain time to think of the solution. Many puzzles (especially large ones) have large numbers of vowels; the single-puzzle record (for any letter) is 11 E's, set in March of 1996. Although the cash values on the wheel have increased over time, the cost of vowels has not. Thus, the $250 price of a vowel, once five to ten times the minimum cash value on the wheel, is now less than the minimum cash value, so any contestant who earns spendable cash with a consonant may immediately buy a vowel.

At the beginning of any turn, a player can attempt to read the solution to the incomplete puzzle. If the guess is incorrect, the player's turn ends, and the player may use a Free Spin if available. Only the player who correctly solves the puzzle keeps the earnings from the round.

The puzzle must be read exactly as it appears to be valid; not even words such as "the", "and" and "or" can be added. For example, one contestant incorrectly solved the puzzle "Holy Roman Empire" as "The Holy Roman Empire" in one late 1980s episode. While the show makes allowances for regional accents (such as "expresso" instead of "espresso"), the puzzle must be pronounced correctly as well. On at least one occasion, a contestant has mispronounced a puzzle that was filled in entirely; she was ruled incorrect.

If the player solves correctly, and his or her total is less than $1000 (combined cash and the stated cash value of prizes), a house minimum of $1000 is awarded. The "house minimum" for solving a puzzle has increased over time: from $200 (1983-1995), to $500 (1995-2005), and $1000 since 2005. During special weeks featuring two-player teams, the house minimum is awarded to each individual player. Until the scoreboard's change from eggcrates to monitors in 2002, players who did not win a round during the game were ultimately offered consolation prizes; they now receive the "house minimum" in cash, which is considered compensation for travel expenses.

If a round was interrupted by a commercial break during the early years of the series (which was the NBC daytime version until July 1989), the host instructed the contestants to face away from the board during the break; this ensured that any contestant could not study the board during the break and therefore obtain an unfair advantage. Today, contestants are still required (off-camera) to face away from the board during commercial breaks while new puzzles are set up and round-specific spaces (most importantly, the Mystery wedges) are added or removed.

Until fall 1987 (summer 1989 on the daytime version), a contestant who won a round would shop for prizes displayed in the studio, like cars, furniture, trips, furs, and jewelry. Once a contestant bought a prize, another contestant could not purchase it on the same episode.

Each round corresponded to a prize showcase with a certain theme (e.g. the "Backyard Patio"). The contestant who solved the puzzle had the opportunity to shop for prizes in that round's showcase. Each showcase was only available for shopping once, except for the third one, which could be revisited if the game had time for additional rounds. The largest prizes, such as cars, were not included in a showcase, but were available throughout the show. The prizes belonging to a particular showcase were placed on a partitioned turntable, which revolved to show only the prizes available for one particular showcase.

A player who did not have enough money left to buy the least expensive prize was offered a gift certificate in the remaining amount for merchandise from a particular retailer. Certificate providers included some of Los Angeles' finest stores (Dicker and Dicker, Tiffany's, Gucci, etc.), national chains such as Service Merchandise, and American Express. A less popular option, which was available at any time while shopping, was to place the money "On Account." With this option, the contestant risked previous winnings during subsequent rounds. The player had to avoid Bankrupt spaces and win a later round (though not necessarily the next round) in order to keep the money and use it for shopping. This option was very rarely used, except when the contestant either had very little cash left (e.g., $1) or was trying to play for a larger, more desirable prize; a player occasionally succeeded in using the On Account option to combine winnings from multiple rounds to buy a car.

Contestants kept any prizes purchased during the shopping portion of the show, regardless of the game's outcome or if they landed on Bankrupt spaces in future rounds. Sajak always reminded contestants (and viewers at home): "Try not to hit BANKRUPT, because if you do, you lose your cash, but not your merchandise, because once you buy a prize, it's yours to keep." That saying became one of the most famous lines in game show history.

In September 1987, the producers of "Wheel" experimented with an all-cash format for the syndicated version, and quickly decided to make it permanent. Removing the shopping segments after each round sped up gameplay considerably, making it common to see four and possible to see up to seven puzzles on a given night instead of the three seen during the shopping format. From Season 5 (1987-88) until Season 17 (1999-2000), to generate building interest as the game continued, the maximum dollar amount for each round increased significantly. It began with the $1000 space as top dollar value for round 1, $2500 for round 2, $3500 for round 3, and $5000 for all subsequent rounds. In 2000, to adjust for inflation, the top dollar values became $2500 in round 1, $3500 in rounds 2 and 3, and $5000 in round 4 and all subsequent rounds. (In one episode sometime after 2001, the producers made the reversed $10,000 wedge the top dollar value for round 4, introducing the $5000 wedge in round 3 instead, but that idea was quickly scrapped). During the cash format, the person who solves the puzzle wins whatever amount he or she has in cash, in addition to prizes earned during a round. The total value of prizes won is added to the contestant's cash score to determine a daily winner. Beginning with the first episode of Season 24, the players' totals from previous rounds are frequently displayed above the puzzleboard to the home audience.

As with the Shopping era, once a player wins a given round of play or toss-up, any cash or prizes won in those rounds are theirs to keep, regardless of whether they get a Bankrupt wedge in a subsequent round, or whether or not they win the game and advance to the bonus round. If a player does not win any round or toss-up puzzle, they receive $1000 (parting gifts until 2002, $500 from 2002-2005) at the end of the game as a "house minimum" consolation prize.

The game currently begins with a Toss-Up puzzle worth $1000. Players are given the category of the puzzle and blank spaces representing its letters. White activates the board and letters are randomly revealed until a player buzzes in and solves the puzzle. An incorrect guess in a Toss-Up disqualifies that player for the rest of the puzzle.

The first Toss-Up determines who Sajak introduces first, then a second (worth $2000) is played after all three players have been introduced. The player who correctly solves this Toss-Up begins the first round. The right to start the second and third rounds proceeds in the same order as gameplay. Another Toss-Up, worth $3000, is held for the right to start the fourth round, and the process repeats itself in additional rounds as time permits. When these puzzles were introduced for Season 18 (2000-01), there were only two (before Rounds 1 and 4) each worth $1000; the current format was adopted for Season 19 (2001-02).

In any Toss-Up, if all of the spaces are filled in or all of the players are incorrect, no cash is won. If one of the first two Toss-Ups is not won, the red player is introduced first or begins the first round. If the third Toss-Up is not won, the person who started the first round starts Round 4.

Sajak explained during one episode that these puzzles are intended to make the game more fair; previously, in a typical four-round game, the red player was the only one to start two rounds. Now, the third toss-up allows a new competition (after each player has already begun a round) to determine who will start round 4, eliminating that advantage. The added time for the Toss-Ups made Round 4 more frequently a complete speed-up round. The show's pacing has since changed to allow for more main-game play.

* Bankrupt/$10,000/Bankrupt Space: Round 1 features a wedge with $10,000 in the middle peg gap and Bankrupt spaces in the other two. Landing on either of the two Bankrupts acts like a normal Bankrupt, but landing on the $10,000 allows the player to guess a letter. If the letter is in the puzzle, the player picks up the wedge, turns it over and reveals a full-size "$10,000" on the reverse. It is treated as a prize, not as "spendable cash" with which vowels can be bought, and is not multiplied by the number of occurrences of the consonant. If the player solves the puzzle without hitting Bankrupt, the $10,000 is added to the player's score at the end of the round. This space was introduced for Round 3 in Season 12 (1994-95), then moved to Round 2 starting in Season 14 (1996-97), and moved to Round 1 in Season 20 (2002-03).

* Jackpot Round: The Jackpot is a silver space featured in round 2, marked by the word "Jackpot". The round features a progressive Jackpot which begins at $5000 and increases by the value of each cash space hit during the round. If a player lands on the Jackpot space and calls a consonant which appears in the puzzle, he/she has the opportunity to win the Jackpot from the round's sponsor for the night by solving the puzzle immediately (without buying a vowel or spinning again). As usual, if the player tries to solve and is wrong, his/her turn ends. The Jackpot Round debuted in Season 14 (1996-97) as Round 3; in 2000, it was moved to Round 2. Originally, a consonant called when this space was hit had no cash value; since Season 24 (2006-07), a player who lands on the Jackpot wedge and calls a valid consonant is credited with $500 (the space concealed by the Jackpot) for each time the letter appears, and $500 is added to the amount of the Jackpot. At that point, the contestant may decide whether to solve for the Jackpot or take another turn.

* Mystery Round: The Mystery Round debuted with Season 20 (2002-03). Round 3 features two $1000 ($500 until 2004) wheel spaces with a question mark on each. A player who lands on one of these "mystery wedges" and guesses a letter in the puzzle may either take the per-letter cash, or turn over the mystery wedge. One wedge is backed with a "Bankrupt", and the other features a prize. Originally, the Mystery Wedge prize was always a car worth $10,000 to $15,000, although most often the prize is now a $10,000 cash prize. If the prize is revealed, it is treated the same as other prizes, and the player must solve the puzzle without hitting Bankrupt to claim it. After one mystery wedge is revealed, the other mystery wedge acts as a regular $1000 ($500 until 2004) space for the remainder of the round. Beginning in Season 23 (2005-06), the producers show the home audience what's behind the mystery wedge before a decision is made by the contestant.

Since Season 8 (1990-91), some puzzle categories occasionally allow the solving player to answer a question for additional money (originally $500 in 1990, then $2000 in 1995, now $3000 since early 2000). Sometimes, the puzzle was the first part of a phrase or quotation, and the player was asked to give the next line, Other times, a title or slogan was revealed and the player had to identify the author or product. Players were also asked to fill in a blank or identify a number associated with the puzzle. Until 1995, if the solving player did not win the bonus money, the other players in turn were given a chance. Since 1995, only the player who solves the puzzle is eligible for the bonus. More recently, these puzzles consist of a series of clues about a person, place, thing, or event, which the player who solves the puzzle may identify for an additional bonus money.

Between 1992 and 1994, some puzzles would contain a set of specially designated ("red") letters which could be unscrambled to form another word or phrase. This was introduced during the 10th Anniversary season (1992-93) as a basis for home viewers to win cash or prizes by guessing the word and submitting a contest entry, and kept through Season 11 (1993-94) to provide studio players with additional winnings.

For the first six seasons in syndication, players were eligible to make only one appearance. From Season 7 (1989-90) through Season 13 (1995-96), winning contestants could appear on up to three episodes. In Season 14 (1996-97), a "Friday Finals" format was adopted. The top three winners from the week's first four shows would return to play on Friday, with a Jackpot beginning at $10,000 instead of $5000. The single-appearance rule returned in 1998.

From 1992 to 1998, there was a pink space marked "Surprise" on the wheel in Round 1 (Similar to the prize wedge style used from 1983 to 1998). The Surprise was earned just like a normal prize, but its identity was not revealed unless it was won. Like other prize spaces, it carried over to later rounds if no one claimed it. Introduced for the 10th anniversary of "Wheel" (1992-93), it was scrapped by the end of Season 15 (1997-98).

Throughout Season 13 (1995-96), a special token called the "Double Play" was placed on the wheel. A player won possession of the token if he/she landed on the space with the token and called a consonant in the puzzle. The player earning the Double Play could redeem it before any spin. If the wheel landed on a dollar amount, that amount was doubled for that turn (e.g. if $550 was spun, each correct consonant was worth $1100). If the wheel landed on a penalty space, the player forfeited the Double Play token but only endured the penalty once. If the wheel landed on a prize, the Double Play was returned for later use (although it is believed that no contestant had ever opted to use a Double Play right before hitting a prize).

Starting with Season 21 (2003-04), Prize Puzzles are special puzzles that award the winner with a prize, almost always a trip, which is somehow related to the solution (e.g. if the solution is "Fun in the Sun", the prize might be a vacation to a tropical island.) At first, these puzzles did not appear every episode, but since Season 23 (2005-06), they have become an everyday fixture, appearing randomly in any one of the first three rounds. When a contestant solves the puzzle, the host casually encourages the player to guess his or her travel destination. This feature, which guarantees a substantial addition to the score of whoever solves the puzzle without incurring the risk of spinning the wheel, speeds up gameplay by making it advantageous for players to solve as soon as possible instead of taking time trying to rack up additional cash by calling extra consonants after they know the solution.

Since early 2004, home viewers in the U.S. are given a chance to win the same prize as the contestants. Viewers who sign up on the show's website are given a "Special Prize Identification Number" (S.P.I.N.), which consists of two letters and five (occasionally seven or nine) numbers (example: AB1234567). Upon seeing the number, the winning home viewer has 24 hours to log on to the show's website and claim his or her prize. Beginning with Season 23 (2005-06), if a contestant wins a car in the Bonus Round, the home viewer with a matching S.P.I.N wins the same type of car. The rules for claiming the car are the same as those for a Prize Puzzle. If the winning home viewer is a SonyCard holder, he or she wins an additional $50,000.

The two letters are the winning home viewer's first and last initials. It is not known how the digits are computed; they may be designated at random or by a secret method. The S.P.I.N is not announced during the taping of the show, but is inserted in post-production. Reruns during summer hiatus, and even weekend reruns of episodes from previous seasons, are given a new and unique S.P.I.N for each Prize Puzzle appearance.

Introduced in the seventh week of Season 24 (2006-07), a rectangular card that says "Wild" may be picked up in the manner of a prize after a contestant lands on it and calls a consonant in the puzzle. Afterwards, if that player lands on a cash value and successfully calls another consonant, the Wild Card may be redeemed (like a Free Spin) and the player may call a second consonant for the same amount of money as the previous one. This is especially advantageous when a player spins a high dollar amount. The Wild Card may not be turned in after landing on a prize, but may be used when hitting a Jackpot space ($500 per letter) or an unturned Mystery wedge ($1000 per letter). However, the Wild Card does not allow a second chance to solve for the Jackpot, nor a second chance to flip the Mystery wedge, after calling another consonant. As with Free Spins, a contestant does not have to solve the puzzle to retain the Wild Card.

The Wild Card is lost if a player hits Bankrupt. It disappears from the wheel if no one has claimed it before a full speed-up round, and cannot be used in any speed-up round. A contestant who reaches the Bonus Round and still has the Wild Card may use it to select an extra consonant, in addition to the standard three (plus one vowel).

During shows on which contestants are partnered with celebrities (athletes, soap stars, etc.), the celebrity's favorite charity receives either a minimum of $10,000 or the same amount won by the regular contestant, whichever is higher. In the past, the celebrities played alone (for charity) (some celebrity episodes have 2 individual players and one team of 2). Each celebrity would receive a guaranteed $5,000 with the celebrity advancing to the bonus round playing for a flat $25,000 prize. Celebrity weeks were rarer during the shopping era.

Rarely, two or more players finish the game with the same score. Since the introduction of the electronic puzzle board (in early 1997) and Toss-Up puzzles (in 2000), ties are broken by a Toss-Up with no cash value, played exclusively among the tied contestants. Until 2000, in syndication, the tied players played an extra Speed-Up puzzle for the right to advance to the Bonus Round.

The contestant selected a prize — he/she could choose any prize that had a large, gold star attached — and then faced the puzzle board to solve one final puzzle. He/she is told the category and then asked to select five consonants and one vowel. Occurrences of these letters were revealed and the contestant was given 15 seconds to provide as many guesses as necessary to solve the puzzle.

* September 1987 (Special Prizes) – When "Wheel" began its all-cash format in Season 5, much larger bonus prizes were offered. These included a Ferrari; a vacation for six on a private island in Jamaica; a 5-acre plot in Maine; a motor home plus an invitation to tour Alaska with an RV club; a cabin cruiser; tickets to every major local sporting event for the next year; a time-share vacation home at Lake Tahoe; various shopping sprees; and valuable annuities. One of the prizes was always $25,000 in cash. Nearly all the contestants chose to play for the cash (or occasionally a car), even though the other prizes were often worth over $35,000; the other prizes were usually shunned because of the tax burden they represented.

* September 1988 (More Letters, Less Time) – Since contestants almost always selected R, S, T, L, N, and E for the bonus round, the rules were changed. Early in Season 6, the contestant was automatically given those letters and was then asked for three additional consonants and one additional vowel; the time to solve was reduced to 10 seconds. These rules remain to this day.

Since 1988, the difficulty of the bonus puzzles has increased. Sometimes only one or two instances of the automatic letters have appeared in the puzzle; sometimes, none of the automatic letters have appeared at all. Bonus puzzles are commonly one or two words. Sometimes, the contestant's additional letters will not appear in the puzzle, making solving more difficult, although in some instances, contestants have solved without their extra letters appearing. In fact, one puzzle, "Baby", was actually solved with no letters showing at all. In some rare instances, the contestant's extra letters fill in the puzzle entirely.

There have been at least 6 instances of bonus puzzles only three letters in length: "Dog", "Bug", "Owl", "Jam", "Zoo", and "Fan". "In One Ear And Out The Other", a bonus puzzle in the 1980s (under the bonus round's original rules), is thought to be the longest bonus puzzle ever used.

* September 1989 (Blind Draw) – In Season 7, each of the week's five prizes went into a blind draw, hidden in an envelope and placed behind a letter in the word "WHEEL". Each prize could be won only once per week. By September 1998, with contestants still preferring $25,000 (or at least one of the available cars), the cash was once again made available every day for Season 16; the other prizes could still only be won once per week. For the last two months of this format (from September 3 to October 22, 2001), the large prize packages were scrapped; three envelopes contained cars, while the other two had the $25,000 cash prize.

* October 2001 (Bonus Wheel) – The Bonus Round was revamped during Season 19 and now allows the contestant a chance to play for up to $100,000. Before the puzzle is displayed, the contestant spins a small 24-section wheel to determine which prize he/she will play for, though the prize is not revealed until after the player attempts to solve the puzzle. Each section of the wheel holds an envelope representing either a cash prize or a car. The distribution of cash amounts and cars on the wheel has varied, but the minimum cash prize has always been $25,000 and one envelope always holds $100,000. Currently, in Season 24, five envelopes have one car, five have another car, six have $25,000, three have $30,000, and one each have $35,000, $40,000, $45,000, $50,000 and $100,000. For season 22, the Bonus Round Wheel was changed from a glitter gold color to a neon coloured wheel that changed color as it spun.

* October 2006 (Wild Card) - One minor change to the Bonus Round was that if a player went to the Bonus Round with the Wild Card (see above), they were allowed to pick one extra consonant after the usual routine of three consonants and one vowel.

The puzzle board which was used from December 1981 (on the daytime version) until 1997 had four rows, with 11 trilons each on the top and bottom rows and 13 trilons each in the two middle rows. The board was surrounded by an eyeglass-shaped light border, which underwent a number of style changes over the years. The board now contains 52 spaces, with 12 each on the top and bottom rows and 14 in the two middle rows. That board is now at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. Actor Bill Thompson owns two puzzle boards, one with funky spiky boarder & one with the plain boarder. Game show host Mike Burger owns the 1989 puzzle board. There's one at a gallery in Cleveland,Ohio.

In February 1997, the original manually-controlled puzzle board, on which letters were revealed by turning trilons, was replaced with a digital electronic board. Letters are revealed automatically during Toss-Up puzzles and when a solution is revealed; during puzzle rounds, White touches the right side of a border around the letter in order to reveal it.

The tote boards that showed the totals for each player were originally eggcrate light displays, with room for six digits and a "$" sign. In 2002, these were changed to video monitors, which display scores as well as "Lose a Turn" and "Bankrupt."

* 1983-1987: At the center of the show's set was a giant three section turntable, which would revolve after each round to expose a new prize showcase. Each prize section was themed and had one or two trips displayed along with the appropriate prizes. This became the first display for the series.

* 1987-1996: After the demise of the shopping era, the bonus prizes were displayed in a section behind the host's podium. One - perhaps two - of the featured prizes would be on a turntable-like display (smaller than the three-section turntable), while cars and boats flanked the end of the display. A giant neon (later grid-like) sign displaying the $25,000 prize, would be lowered from the rafters during both the prize descriptions and when the prize was chosen for the bonus round. This sign was removed in 1996. The set was given a shiny black floor in 1990.
* 1996-2003: The $25,000 neon sign was gone in 1996. In February of 1997, the old puzzleboard was replaced by a digital computer-style electronic puzzleboard. In 2001, the bonus round prizes became exclusively cars and cash. In October of that year, the $100,000 bonus round wheel and grand prize debuted.
* 2003-2007: The gold lighting decoration that surrounded the wheel was changed to a neon blue decoration. The puzzleboard's border was changed to match that of the wheel, as was the video wall border. On September 11, 2006, both Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy! became the first two syndicated game shows to be broadcast in HDTV, and further revamped their sets to accommodate the new format. The space labels on the wheel now have a glitter effect. In early 2007, pink lighting was added on top of the blue lighting.

The Wheel weighs about two tons with lights on the bottom. A single wheel template is currently used; however, earlier in the history of the show, different templates were used for each of the three segments of the main game. Until the show moved to Sony Pictures Studios in 1995, the Wheel would spin by itself during the opening and ending credits.

Notable changes over the years include:

* 1983: Dollar amounts are simplified. The top dollar value for the show is simply $5000.
* 1984: A new "Wheel click" tone is introduced for the second season in syndication, when the show expands into many additional markets.
* 1986: Some wedges are moved around on each of the three wheel templates, which also receive a brighter color scheme. $150 becomes the lowest value ($200 in Round 4). These wheel configurations last approximately ten seasons.
* 1989: The permanent "Free Spin" wedge is replaced with a token concealing a dollar amount.
* 1992: The "Surprise" wedge is introduced.
* 1995: The automatic wheel spinning used at the beginning and end of every show is scrapped. The prize spaces become gold ones.
* 1996: A single wheel template is used for the whole show, with a space designated for the top dollar value in every round. $250 becomes the lowest value on the wheel. The Lose-A-Turn space, formerly yellow, becomes white (for enhanced contrast with BANKRUPT). The prize spaces become valentine pink ones.
* 1997: For the debut of the touch-screen puzzle board, updated lighting is added to the wheel. That fall, arrow shaped spires were added to the wheel.
* 1998: The Surprise wedge is scrapped. The prize spaces become colorful and art-like spaces replacing the old neon green ones.
* 1999: Three-digit dollar values, and the Lose-A-Turn space, have a white shaded outline. $300 becomes the lowest value on the wheel. The "Wheel click" tone is louder.
* 2000: The $1000 space is scrapped, and the top dollar value in Round 1 becomes $2500 (previously the top Round 2 value). $3500 becomes the top value for both Rounds 2 and 3, while Round 4 and all subsequent rounds retain the $5000 top value.
* 2003: LED lights are added to the bottom of the wheel and around the puzzle board. A new "Wheel click" tone is introduced, but it is sounded a little more softly.
* 2006: Additional wheel colors are added, sequins the same color as each space are used for shading dollar values and fonts, and top dollar values have shading. The other wedges now have a glitter effect. This was done at the same time the series started airing high defintion broadcasts.

Production facilities

* 1983-1989 - NBC Studios in Burbank, California
* 1989-1995 - CBS Television City in Hollywood
* 1995-present - Sony Pictures Studios in Culver City, California

Each season (since November 1988), "Wheel" also tapes several weeks of episodes from other locations around the country, primarily featuring contestants from that area. These episodes contain some puzzles that relate to the taping location. Destinations for Season 24 (2006-07) include Dallas, Charleston, S.C., and San Diego.

In 2005, InfoSpace Games teamed up with Sony Pictures Mobile to create the mobile game Wheel of Fortune For Prizes. Players compete against others across the U.S. in multiplayer tournaments for a chance to win daily and weekly prizes. A review: IGN Wireless Review of Wheel of Fortune for Prizes.Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, with no Front-Cover Texts, and with no Back-Cover Texts.
Virtual Magic is a human knowledge database blog. Text Based On Information From Wikipedia, Under The GNU Free Documentation License. Copyright (c) 2007 Virtual Magic. Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.1 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts and no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is included in the section entitled "GNU Free Documentation License".

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