We've spent the past two weeks discussing tips and tricks to be successful on America's number two game show Jeopardy!, so I think it's only fair to give their more popular and, to some people, more fun counterpart Wheel of Fortune a bit of exposure too! Though I've never been on the show, I've played along with it, boned up on my skills enough and spoken to enough people to be able to prime some good strategies to use when playing the game. These are hints you can use at any time: from playing the board game with friends, to playing the computer game, right up to playing it on national television. We'll start with the two biggies.
Always, Always, ALWAYS Buy a Vowel! Even as a youngster, this was the biggest thing I couldn't figure out about many contestants on the show. Why were they so avoidant of buying a vowel? Sure, it costs $250 but the smallest amount on the wheel is $300 - you're going to get it back! Buying a vowel as soon as you're able to can be so helpful in solving a puzzle and it's really less of a risk than picking a consonant. There are only five vowels in the alphabet, as opposed to the 21 consonants. The random chances of finding a vowel in a puzzle are much, much greater than that of a consonant. You also must figure in with those high chances that each word in the puzzle is going to contain at least one of those. If it's a four-line puzzle, it's really likely that all vowels will be present so there's not even any risk in buying. By the time you purchase all available vowels, many important parts of the puzzle are revealed and you can now start tactically picking your consonants. Hey, that sounds familiar...
Pick Consonants Strategically! Sure, it's quite alright to pick the most common consonants (L, N, R, S, and T) at the start of a blank puzzle: they're likely to be in there in fair quantity, making it easy at the beginning to know the solution. But once you do know the solution, you need to start picking your consonants advantageously to maximize your winnings. Let's say you know a solution to a puzzle, and it has 3 Ps, 2 Gs and an M. You land on $300. What should you do? If you say pick 3 Ps, you might be as foolish as some of the contestants on the show. You want to pick the M! $300 is the smallest value, and since that amount is multiplied by the quantity of the letter in the puzzle, you don't want to "waste" a 3x multiplier on the lowest amount. Save the biggies for a value over $600, or you could just call your letters in order from lowest to highest quantity.
These are some minor, but still very important tricks:
Be Aware of Your Category! Some categories have letters that will always appear in that puzzle. "What are You Doing?" almost always has an -ING to start off the puzzle. If "Title & Author" or "Song & Artist" don't have an apostrophe-S, they'll always have a BY. And if you get "Before & After", remember that the puzzle won't make sense as its own entity, since it's a combination of two things.
You Need the Most Money to Win! If you're happy with whatever you walk away with, cool... but I'm not that kind of person. I want to win as much as I can, which is why it kind of boggles me to see people solve a half-full puzzle with $300 in their bank just to get the $1,000 minimum, even though their opponent has a $12,000 lead. If you want to go to the bonus round, you need to have the most money. Sometimes that means taking a risk or two, and letting the wheel spin a few more times. The only exception to this rule is if it's a Prize Puzzle. Solve that baby as soon as you can, since the values can often near $10,000, making them a real game changer.
Use the Used-Letter Board! Some viewers aren't aware that to the left of the puzzle board, the contestants have a board that shows them what letters have been called and which ones haven't. This can be helpful in two ways: One, it can stop you from having those embarrassing "T! Ohhhh, I meant G!" moments that contestants become YouTube sensations from. Two, the letters still left are lit up. So, if you have some holes in the beginnings of words in the puzzle, use the remaining letters to see if they work. Doing this might make a light bulb go off in your head and, voila, you've just figured out the puzzle!
As always, a little bit of skill and luck is extremely helpful with this and any other show. If you have those, keeping these tips in mind will only accelerate your success and might make you a bunch of money and prizes at the same time!
Chad Mosher is a past game show contestant, and has experience in many aspects of the game show industry. He contributes a weekly column here at About.com Game Shows, answering your questions and tackling all facets of the game show genre. If you have questions for Chad, you can post them here in the comments, or contact him directly through the link in his bio.
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