Hacking Press Your Luck

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Otherwise known as The Michael Larson Incident.

On his next two spins, he landed on top-dollar squares for a total of $1250. In round two, he earned seven free spins. In no time at all, every single plunge was landing him on prized squares good for cash and additional free spins. Larsen increased his winnings from $2000 to $5000, then $14,000, $18,000 and $28,000. He was successfully avoiding Whammies like no other player before him. It was amazing. Each time he hit the plunger, he’d land on one of the only two squares affording both money and another chance to spin. It was like the Whammies didn’t exist.

Inside the director’s booth, a wave of fear was slowly crashing over the producers. The broadcast pace of Press Your Luck required evenly-spaced commercial breaks, timed to coincide with a player eventually hitting a Whammy. The player would go bankrupt, the action would stop, and host Peter Tomarken could take a well-needed pause for a drink of water, a squirt of hair spray, and a dabble of make-up.

But there was something Michael Larsen hadn’t told anyone.

Back in his home state of Ohio, he didn’t have just one television, he had several. Each television was hooked up to a private networking farm of VCRs in his living room. In November of 1983, he recorded every episode of Press Your Luck over the course of several weeks. He studied these videotapes, slowed them down, and froze the images to examine randomized tile sequences frame by frame. If you haven’t already guessed, Michael Larsen discovered that the Big Board on Press Your Luck was not a randomized display, but an iterative, sequential pattern which gave itself away once you knew what to look for.

(via Schneier on Security)

5 Comments

  1. Fascinating! I absolutely love the picture with his arms raised triumphantly in the air. You fraud!

    What unparalleled desperation.

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