A Wheel Watcher's
Recently, I got an e-mail from a regular reader
wondering how it took so long for a contestant on Wheel
of Fortune to finally, after eight tries this season,
get a Bonus Round puzzle right. I e-mailed him back,
saying that it probably had to do with the luck of the
draw more than anything else, but after mulling this
over and talking with a few of the guys at the site
about it, there's probably more to it than that.
Take the puzzle itself, first off. A short
phrase/thing/title/etc. The shorter, the better.
Preferably one with not as many repeating letters. "The
Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy by Douglas Adams" would
not make a good Bonus Round puzzle. "TV Guide" would
make a perfect puzzle if we were to apply this idea.
Then throw in the letters. Ever since 1988, you have
been given R, S, T, L, N, and E - both the six most
common letters in the English alphabet and the six most
common letters asked for by contestants up until that
point - for free. If we apply our previous example, that
would mean that you are now given this: T_ ____E. Unless
you call the right letters, you're pretty much screwed
out of 100 large or that Benz you had your eyes on. More
on that later, though.
Now take into account that there are three different
Bonus Round layouts. Any one, or a combination thereof,
can show up to trip you, so keep these in mind.
1) The single word with not too many letters. This is
the hardest of the three, because with fewer letters,
you have a decreased chance that there are repeating or
2) The multiple words with one stand-out letter. Either
the letter stands out because it repeats itself so much
that if you choose it, you've pretty much sewn up the
puzzle, or it stands out because you know what it is,
then you can eliminate it from the rotation (i.e. the H
in T _ E).
3) The puzzle with only so many unique letters.
"Survivor" has six alone. Of those, two are given. That
leaves four to choose from. Of those, three are vowels.
Choose the right consonant and vowel combo... Boom.
You're in like sin.
Those are the things that the writers in all their
brilliance can control, manipulate, and basically play
with you with. They're sneakier than a great majority of
reality show contestants, truth be told.
The rest is on the player to recognize these patterns,
and, if they can't, then basically spout letters and
hope for the best. Just don't hold out for hope with C,
D, M, or A either. The writers are hip to that game,
too. So it goes back to that old game show standby
dilemma: "Either you know it or you don't." If you know
it, then you know how to work the puzzle to your favor,
as one person proved by launching a WEB BROWSER earlier
last week. If you don't... at least take some time to
think about it before you start calling out letters that
Let's take the last week's worth of puzzles for example.
Monday: H_L_-___E_. This
was after a contestant called CHP and O. She knew that
the writers shunned CDM and A, but other than that, she
didn't know much. If she did, though, she would probably
get _AL_-_A_ED. More help, but not much. Seems like the
writers pulled an end-run here.
Tuesday: __OR_ SO__.
Same case with Monday, but with KMW and O, you could
tell that she was pretty much paddling without a boat.
But still, it beats ___R_ S_A_. Almost no further help.
Wednesday: the big sigh
of relief. With _EB BRO_SER, she could've gotten it if
she replaced C with W, but still, more than enough to
secure a win. A sign of good things to come?
Thursday: you tell me.
_ALE __ HA_. Another winner. Seemed like the champ was
able to discern "OF" and go from there. Way to play with
Friday: M____ _EAT_ER.
She said "Moist feather". First of all, the S isn't even
in there. With CDMA... Nothing more aside from an M and
Which goes back to the original question of why people
aren't getting the bonus right. Simple answer: they just
don't know the puzzle, AND they don't know how to play
around with it to get to a solution, which is a real
crying shame, because after 30 years (of which Sony will
only readily take credit for 23 for some reason), you
think that everyone and their mother would get it. It's
why night after night, millions are shouting at their
screen... and spouting expletives after the buzzer goes
Why aren't these "long time friends of the Wheel"
getting the patterns? That's another question
altogether, but basically, for the half of the players
who don't get it, it comes down to this, first said by
someone who thought he was Kurt Vonnegut: "Your choices
are only half chance. So are everyone else's."
Famous last words, until Pat opens up an envelope and I
get another e-mail from a disgruntled Wheel Watchers
Chico Alexander's a Wheel Watcher from back before
every season brought a new gimmick. You can reach him at