Monday, January 31, 2011

How Good is YOUR Memory?

by Amy K. Bredemeyer

When I was in elementary school, and even before, (short-term) memory games were the hip thing. Everyone had a card set where you flipped them and matched them. Go Fish was partly based on memory (which I didn't get when I first learned to play... thanks, Nana, for pointing that one out to me!). More than one birthday party pulled that 20-items-on-a-tray, a-minute-later-take-it-away, name-the-items-on-the-tray game. And there were certainly others we well. Nowadays this is probably not as cool, since kids have video games coming out the wazoo, but twenty years ago this is what we did for fun.

Coincidentally, (Classic) Concentration stopped making new episodes nearly twenty years ago. Let's take a look at this almost-forgotten gem. (That apparently not everyone liked. I found it as the #25 worst game show here.)

Brief history: Concentration has had three basic incarnations, the first began in 1958, running for 14 years on NBC daytime television (filmed almost entirely at Rockefeller Center). This resulted in 3,770 telecasts! During those years, a primetime version was attempted twice - first in 1958, then in 1961. Neither really worked... the first lasted a month, the second five months. The show eventually faced cancellation because it began losing its audience... to The Price is Right. The first rebus was "It Happened One Night," and the last was "You've Been More than Kind." Less than six months after the first series ended, the show was re-created in California, going another five years (1973-1978). In 1985, the game was completely changed to try and get a primetime slot, but the pilot was not picked up. It was later re-vamped as Classic Concentration, and Alex Trebek hosted it from 1987-1991, with reruns going through the end of 1993. Allegedly, other re-vamps have tried to develop around this concept, but NBC (owner of the copyright) just hasn't green-lit anything. The show began in black-and-white, but eventually became colorized. Notably, the producer, Norm Blumenthal, created every single one of the rebus puzzles (7,300 of them!) for the game AND all 24 editions of the board game!

The game: It was a 30-minute format with two contestants (one came from winning the day before), and a 30-square board. Each of the squares had 3 sides, and all began with the numbered side showing. A player called out a number, it flipped to the second side, the prize. The player called out another number, it also flipped to the second side. If the pair matched, the player "won" that prize for now, and the third side of each was revealed - pieces of the rebus puzzle. If you got the pair, you played again (or tried to solve the puzzle, then played again). If you missed, it was the other player's turn. If there were only two numbers left and the prizes didn't match (because of wild cards, mentioned in a second), they got turned over so everyone could see the full puzzle. Whoever solved the rebus won all of his/her prizes - the other player went home with the board game for Concentration. If you had no non-gag prizes, you won $100. Of the 30 squares, only 20 were prizes, meaning there were 10 possible prizes (nothing major. One prize might be worth $1,000, a couple around $500, but most were valued under $100). The remaining 10 squares contained: two "wild" cards that matched with anything (if you picked two wilds, you got extra prizes, like cars), two "take a gift" cards that allowed you to pick a prize from the other player if you got both, and six "give a gift" cards that forced you to give up a prize to the other player if you got both. Also, of the 10 prizes, 2 or 3 would be gag gifts, both for fun and because it helped you out if you had to "give a gift," haha. Oh, and you could "pass" if you uncovered one card and didn't want to uncover another. If neither person could get the rebus after one guess each, they got a new board, could carry over up to 3 prizes each, and played again. This sometimes forced the game to go into another episode. You could win up to 20 games in a row before you couldn't be on it anymore.

Notable changes to the way the game is played: When the game moved to California in 1973, there were a lot of changes - no more carry-overs to the next episode, and no more "returning champions." Plus, rather than have three pairs of "give a gift" and one pair of "take a gift," it was now the other way around. There were also no more gag prizes. Plus, if you had no prizes when you solved the puzzle, you got $250 instead of $100. Matching the two "wild" cards netted you $500 instead of a car (and this went down to just $250 after 1975 added two more "wild" spaces). And, at the start of the first two rounds, four prizes were quickly shown, to give you a "head start" on knowing where some of the matches would be. If there was time for a third round, contestants played for money rather than prizes, so if there wasn't enough time to finish the game, whoever had matched the most money (which was listed in foreign currency but awarded in American dollars) would just win that. The winning contestant from all previous rounds went on to Double Play, and had 10 seconds to solve another rebus. If you solved it, you got $100, and the chance to win a new car by solving ANOTHER rebus within the remaining time (so if the first rebus took you 7 seconds, you had 3 seconds to go for the car). In 1975, only 9 prizes were on the board, and they went down to two pairs of "take a gift" matches to make room for 4 "bonus number" cards - if you got a pair of those you could call out a third number if your NEXT two picks didn't match. And, "forfeit a gift" was removed, using those two squares as "free look" spaces, which disappeared when selected to reveal more of the rebus.
Starting in fall 1977, players "chose" what they'd play for by matching prizes in a 9-square board, which had one "wild." The first "match" was what they'd play for. If a "wild" was revealed, they'd play for everything seen up to that point.

I'm going to skip what was done for the 1985 pilot that never got picked up and jump right into the changes that were made for Classic Concentration. The show was now done through CGI, so no more panels that rotated. There were now 25 squares instead of 30, and boards had 2-3 wild cards (getting two in one turn gave you $500... getting three in one turn gave you $1,000. similarly, all of the prizes were now worth more... instead of accumulating $2,000-3,000 per round, it could be $15,000 or more per round). And, when you used a wild card, the "natural match" card also disappeared to reveal more of the puzzle. There were originally no "forfeit" or "take" squares, but a few months into the run, "take" was put back in - just two squares. Three months after that, two more "take" squares were added - but two were green and two were red, and you had to match the color to "win" them. AND, you didn't have to use it right away - you could use it at any point in the round before the puzzle was solved... AND you could use it to "protect" one of your own prizes rather than take one of the other person's if you wanted. Starting in 1989, there was also a jackpot that accumulated (starting with $500). If the player who found the prize was not the one to solve the puzzle, the jackpot went back into the next game, and added on another $100 each time it went un-won. Oh, and the winning contestant (or Alex Trebek) got up and explained the rebus to the audience, LoL. The winner of the regular round went on the bonus round, which consisted of 15 squares, which had the names of 8 cars (7 matches and a matchless decoy). If you matched all 7 pairs within 35 seconds, you got to keep the last car matched. If you didn't win, the next person to try got 5 extra seconds, which kept accumulating. In the first year or two, it was one-puzzle-then-bonus-round repeated (and you had to lose the puzzle twice to be eliminated), but after that it was switched up to multiple puzzles before the bonus round.

Special contestants: The had a Boy Scout Week and a Girl Scout Week. There were charity games played by celebrities. They also had a Tournament of Champions for the top 4 players of the year to win a trip around the world.

Favorite Rounds: I honestly can't say that I was particularly partial to any of the rounds, but man do I wish I could have won a fur coat on this show! It's such a rare prize nowadays (remember when you could win it on Wheel of Fortune, too?), but they gave them away all the time (from what I remember, LoL)! I guess I actually liked watching the players compete in the final round more than I liked the first couple rounds (even though there was no rebus in the final - well, in the version I'm old enough to have seen!), because I liked to watch the people win the cars, LoL.

My take: I'd compete if given the opportunity, and while my family and friends might think I'd excel, I'm really kinda torn if I'd do all that great. I have a very visual memory, and I used to be really good at a match-game that PackRat used to have. But, really, I think my skills would better be used at the rebus puzzles. My brother and I only saw a handful of episodes on television, but we did have the NES game, and we played that rather often for a while.

Did you ever watch Concentration or Classic Concentration? Are you better at matching or solving rebus puzzles?

Oh, and if you've never watched the show, take a look... this is a game from the early part of the run, since it goes puzzle-bonus-puzzle-bonus, complete with old-school commercials, LoL!
Share to Facebook Share to Twitter Email This Pin This


James Vipond said...

I found your blog through a now-deleted link on Wikipedia, regarding the latest changes to the article "Concentration (game show)". I was the first to set up a fan site for Concentration:

Amy K. Bredemeyer said...

wow, neat! didn't realize we were referenced in that article previously! thanks for stopping by - I just checked out your site as well - great old images!