The Price is Right is an American game show which has been part of the CBS television lineup since 1972. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s a game show where contestants are drawn from the studio audience. A panel of four such lucky souls are asked to estimate how much an item retails for; the person who guesses the closest, without going over the actual retail price, is invited on stage to play for larger prizes — furniture, a vacation, perhaps a new car. And if you’re truly lucky, maybe you’ll get to play for a large cash prize. Maybe you’ll get to play Plinko.
Plinko, which debuted on the show in 1983, is a very simple game. The contestant is given a single Plinko chip, which is basically a flat disc no larger in diameter than a dinner plate. You, the contestant, have an opportunity to win up to four more chips by correctly pricing four small prizes. (This game-within-a-game-within-a-game is designed in a way to be a 50/50 chance if you have to guess, so most contestants end up with multiple Plinko chips.) Then, you take the chips you’ve earned and walk up to the top of the Plinko board, as seen below.
Once there, you place the chips, one by one, flat against the word “Plinko” at the top of the board, and then, you let go. The chip bounces off prongs as it makes its way downward, shifting left and right along the way. Ultimately, the chip comes to rest in one of the columns at the bottom. The number listed is the amount you win: if your chip lands in the $0 slot, you get nothing; if you land on the $10,000, you’re in the money. If you hit the jackpot with all five chips, you’re at that magical $50,000 spot. (That’s never happened, for what it’s worth; the highest prize earned in the game — assuming standard prize slots — is $31,500 as of this writing.)
But no matter where your chips land, one thing is certain: the show’s crew is going to take the chip back. They have to — because The Price is Right really doesn’t want to make any more Plinko chips.
As CBS’s website notes, “there are only 10 official Plinko chips.” The reason: consistency. While dropping a small disc down a big pegboard seems like a pretty simple design, the Price staff needs to make sure that the game is an honest one. To make sure that every chip — and every player — has the same chance at success, the chips need to be as close to identical as possible. So, as executive producer Mike Richards told Buzzfeed, the ten Plinko chips “are weighted exactly the same and made exactly the same.”
But, as Richards notes, that comes with a downside: you don’t want to make new chips, because doing so would render the old ones useless, and per Richards, the chips are “enormously expensive to make.” The solution is to keep them protected, avoiding wear-and-tear and of course, a contestant taking one as a souvenir. According to CBS’s website, the chips are “locked away in a special box after each use.”
So ultimately, while a Plinko chip would be a pretty cool keepsake to display on your mantle, the show won’t let you take one home. Contestants will have to settle for taking home (hopefully!) a lot of cash instead.
From the Archives: The Price is Fixed: The time Plinko was accidentally a very easy game to win.