Press Your Luck
Press Your Luck was an American gameshow which ran during the 80s. It has become infamous for an incident with a contestant essentially breaking the bank in 1984 in one glorious winning streak.
Shortly after the pilot, Michael Larson started recording and studying episodes. The basic format of the show was that there would be three rounds of questions where you could earn “spins”. Between each round the contestants used their spins to earn turns on the big board which was a collection of monitors with a light moving from one to another until the contestant pressed a stop button at which point it would slow down to a stop. If the monitor revealed a prize they could add it to their pile and keep going using their other spins, or they could claim all of their winnings so far and hand over to the next contestant. However, if they hit a “Whammy” then they had to give up everything that they had won so far. Occasionally they would win extra spins.
Larson realised that the order in which the monitors flashed was in one of five predetermined patterns and that round N in each gameshow always had the same prizes behind the monitor. Here’s the order of lights and the distribution of prizes for round 2 (each square was one of the three prizes listed):
Notice that monitors 4 and 8 have no Whammies and they always give you an extra spin.
Larson was one of three contestants on the show. He had put his life savings into the plane ticket to California which apparently put the shows producer on edge because it was a strange thing to do, but they let him play. The first round had a different layout for the board, which Larson couldn't abuse and so coming out of it he was in last place.
However in the second round Larson had 7 spins and was going first. He was attempting to time his presses on the button to chain together hit after hit on 4 and 8 spaces, but it took a few false starts. There were four spaces that Larson hit that were prizes other than the 4 and 8 spaces that would give him extra spaces. The producers could see his annoyance at hitting the prize of the holiday to Kauai, despite that usually being a good thing. However he hit his stride and started hitting his targets time after time. The presenter begged him to stop in case he hit a Whammy as if it was a run of luck, but as he pushed above $30,000 the producers of the show got worried and we're searching in vain for a way to stop him.
When he had surpassed $100,000 he decided to stop and he passed his remaining spins to the other contestants. Asked about this later he said he had done this for two reasons: “one, it felt right, and second, I still had seven spins and if I passed them, somebody could've done what I did.”
His final winnings were worth over $110,000 and although the network tried to withhold the payout, they couldn't find any legal reason to; it was their fault. All they could do was change up the patterns for future episodes.
Larson was very into money making schemes and they eventually led to his downfall. Later in the same very there was a competition by his local radio station that there was a prize of $30,000 for anyone that had the matching serial number on a dollar bill that they read out on air. Larson withdrew $100,000 in $1 bills and checked them all (none of them were valid). He then redeposited about half of them in the bank, leaving about $50,000 in his house. The subsequent burglary of this money remains unsolved and halved his net worth. Later he would lose the rest to various schemes of various legality. This man was obsessed with cracking the system and although he actually managed it once, he didn't stop when he was ahead.