On Plinko, Cliff Hangers, and Childhood Trauma

A week or two back, NPR blogger and podcast host Linda Holmes wrote a post on Monkey See (NPR's pop culture blog) about why she thinks The Price is Right's pricing game Plinko is both flawed and boring, despite the fact that it is the show's most popular game - so much so that they recently taped an all-Plinko episode to be aired this fall (it was this news that inspired the post, 'natch).  Her anti-Plinko argument (which spilled over into an interesting discussion on her podcast, Pop Culture Happy Hour) was based on the idea that the game's success is based almost entirely on random chance and requires very little of the sort of home economics skill that would help you win most of the show's other pricing games.  Podcast co-host and NPR music writer/editor Stephen Thompson added that the game itself has a tendency to not work properly, as the chips frequently get stuck on the Plinko board's pegs, requiring the host (be it Bob Barker, Drew Carey, Tom Kennedy, or whomever) to knock them free with the... wait for it... trusty Plinko stick.

Now it's probably pretty obvious unless you missed the masthead up above, but I'm decidedly a Plinko fan.  And while a lot of the game does come down to dumb luck in dropping the chips, that's hardly any different than, say, Secret X, Punch-A-Bunch, or Shell Game.  I don't know that an entire show's worth of Plinko is anything I want to see (though a show devoid of those quickie "Which one of these three things is the most/least expensive" games would be welcome), but as a recurring feature, I'm all for it.  I'm pro-Plinko and I vote.  Holmes is a good and frequently funny writer, though, and a charming podcast host besides, so I'm willing to overlook the difference in opinion even if she is Ms. Wrongette Wrongerson from Wrongsburgh, Wrongsylvania.  I can even overlook the fact that she thinks The Golden Road is a better pricing game, despite the fact it goes on way too long and I don't think I've ever seen anyone win.  No, my problem is the fact that she champions Cliff Hangers!

Even if you don't know the name, you know the game.  The contestant guesses the price of an item, and a little dude in lederhosen climbs a step up a mountain for every dollar that they're off, all while yodeling music plays.  Like this:

Yes, I understand that this is a popular game, unarguably one of the all-time greats where this show is concerned.  But it scared the hell out of me when I was a little kid!  I couldn't even be in the same room when it came on.  Even though I knew it was just a little plastic guy who was in no real danger except for maybe chipping when it hit the floor.  And if I'm being honest, it still makes me a little uncomfortable to this day.  So does yodeling (Nordic or cowboy), for that matter, but I admit that might just be a taste thing.

We're not talking deep-seeded, lifelong trauma here (and certainly nothing approaching the real-life trauma it allegedly caused former Barker's Beauty Janice Pennington, whose husband perished in a presumed mountain climbing accident), but it always struck me as surprisingly grim for such an otherwise upbeat, gaudy bright show.  I'm also no fan of heights, nor of plummeting from them.

I can understand if Plinko isn't your bag, but if you're looking for a pricing game that offers big prizes and a certain amount of drama, pick 3 Strikes, Race Game, Clock Game, or jeez, even Ten Chances (in which the drama stems from wondering when the contestant will realize that zero is always the last number, dammit!).  Let the poor Yodelly Guy hang up his hosen and take a well-deserved rest.  It will be so much easier on the part of my soul that is, was, and always will still be 4 years old, please and thank you.

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