Word Games by
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(7 Stories)

Prompted By Games People Play

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Some people are foodies. I’m a wordy. Scrabble, crossword puzzles, word jumble—you get the picture.

This time I was prepared. I knew what they wanted: not only smarts, but big energy, personality plus.

When it first went on the air in the early 70s, I religiously tuned in to the $10,000 Pyramid hosted by Dick Clark, a word association game show in which, essentially, two contestants were each teamed with a celebrity, and one teammate tried to get their fellow teammate to guess a word or phrase by providing clues. In the 80s it became the $25,000 Pyramid. By then I was single mom barely making ends meet, so when my own mom called to tell me they were holding auditions in an office right down the hall from where she worked, I rushed right over.

My memory is a little fuzzy because, well, I’m a baby boomer, but I do remember sitting in a waiting room with other hopefuls and filling out a questionnaire. There was a culling process, and I made the first cut. Then came what I later realized was the personality portion of the process. Alas, I didn’t make the cut this time but was told I could try again in a year, and try again I would.

But, I’d caught the bug and decided to try out for another game show in the meantime. The only one holding auditions in the L.A. area right then was called Match Game Hollywood Squares and it was just plain stupid, but I thought what the hell and of course, wouldn’t you know, I was chosen to be a contestant.

In case you never watched it—and cheers to you if that’s the case!—the premise was that the host would posit an inane phrase leaving off the last word, then each member of the bank of nine celebrities was to fill in the blank by writing their answer on a hidden card. Then the contestant—in this case, me—gave her answer out loud and got points for each match…hence, “match game.” Well, I didn’t get very far. In fact, I didn’t get one match. Because the celebrities were more interested in being funny than in answering logically. Which, for the sake of the audience, was really the point of the show. And which I had somehow failed to grok. The phrase that got me knocked me off was something like “Silly Tilly was so paranoid about getting robbed (at which point the studio audience parrots in unison, ‘How paranoid was she?’) she hid her money in the…” . Well, I chose “freezer” to fill in the blank, which made sense, right, and pretty much every celebrity chose “toilet” which was just oh so funny. BUZZZ, and off I went.

Not long after that I tried out for Password Plus, a more dignified game show. I was paired with the adorable comedienne Vicki Laurence who, although she had a twinkle in her eye, took this seriously and we did really well together. I actually amazed myself when I came up with an answer I didn’t know I knew: Caspian Sea. To this day I can’t remember the question, but I know NOTHING about the Caspian Sea. In any event, I won $6,000 and went on to play another round.

This time I was paired with Bert Convy (before he became the host of Super Password, and a real doll, RIP). He was supposed to get me to say “Charmin,” as in the toilet paper brand. (What is it about toilets and game shows anyway?) Well, ol’ Bert didn’t know what Charmin was. As he very charmingly admitted later, he thought they had mistakenly left off the ‘g’ at the end and so the only clue he could think of was “Prince.” Get it? But that was it, BUZZZ, and off I went, although not before I could gush almost tearfully (and in retrospect, embarrassingly) about what a wonderful experience it had been, the most fun I’d ever had, the highlight of my life.

I’m not sure if this is still the case, but back then you were only permitted three game show appearances in your lifetime. Now I was only eligible for one more. Over a year had gone by and I was ready to audition for The Pyramid again.

This time I was prepared. I knew what they wanted: not only smarts, but big energy, personality plus. After acing the questionnaire portion again, in the second round I was probably a lot like Horschack on Welcome Back Kotter: “Ooh, ooh!” I beamed so brightly the glare must have been blinding. But, I made it to the next round.

This time it was just me and the interviewer. Her job was to feed me a word, and my job as “clue giver” was to provide a stream of one-word clues to get a potential “clue receiver” to guess that word. Things went well for the first few words. Then came “PROWL.” Uh-oh. I couldn’t think of a single clue. Silence. The kiss of death! Nothing, NOTHING, is worse than dead air, not even bad clues. So BUZZZ, and off I went.

Okay, your turn, and no cheating! PROWL. Oops, BUZZZ, time’s up.

Profile photo of Barbara Buckles Barbara Buckles
Artist, writer, storyteller, spy. Okay, not a spy…I was just going for the rhythm.

I call myself “an inveterate dabbler.” (And my husband calls me “an invertebrate babbler.”) I just love to create one way or another. My latest passion is telling true stories live, on stage. Because it scares the hell out of me.

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Tags: word games, crossword puzzles, Scrabble
Characterizations: funny, right on!, well written

Comments

  1. Suzy says:

    Barbara, this is such a fun story! I used to watch lots of those game shows, and I could always answer the questions easily at home (much harder in the studio, I”m sure). Well, except for Hollywood Squares, because you’re right, the celebrities are just going for laughs, so they are not going to give the answer that makes sense. The one I really wanted to be on was Name That Tune, I thought I could have done great Thanks so much for sharing your game show experiences with us!

    • Thanks, Suzy! (And thanks for the photo editing tips!) It is amazing how much harder it is in the studio! Often the answers seem so obvious to the viewer, but on camera it’s like being a deer caught in headlights. I’m impressed that you’re that familiar with songs that you could have done well on Name That Tune…that’s another one I would have failed miserably on.

  2. Marian says:

    Wonderful, Barbara, I applaud your guts for trying out and getting as far as you did. A close high-school friend of my was on Jeopardy in the 1990s and won a lot of money. She had the advantage of doing a lot of acting, which must have helped with the deer in the headlights jitters.

    • Thanks, Marian! I think being a performer of any type would definitely help with the jitters. I’m NOT a performer and actually kind of shy…I get tongue-tied speaking to more than three people at a time unless they’re family or close friends. But there’s another part of me (um, the masochist part?) that insists on pushing the envelope, and that’s making me go onstage on October 5th to tell a personal story to about 100 strangers. Wish me luck!

  3. Laurie Levy says:

    I love this, Barbara. I do remember those shows and am so impressed you were a contestant twice. There were so many of those shows back in the day. I love the picture of Dick Clark. One thing I hate about being a woman of a certain age is that I actually like Jeopardy (I used to laugh at my father, who never missed a show). Unfortunately, I am too old to remember the answers I know — I just can’t access those answers quickly enough. I find myself agreeing with the much younger contestants, “yes, that’s it.” Also, I’m sure my reflexes are too slow to ever push the button in time.

    • Thanks, Laurie! I no longer watch network TV but when my mother-in-law was still with us, I really enjoyed sitting with her and watching Jeopardy and The Wheel of Fortune. Between the two of us we had all the answers…together, we coulda been a contender.

  4. Marian says:

    Best of luck on your personal story appearance, Barbara. You are inspirational!

  5. Betsy Pfau says:

    This is a marvelous story, Barbara! Thanks for all the inside info. Getting those words right on the spur of the moment is insanely difficult (Match Game stupidity aside). I auditioned locally for Jeopardy once, about 15 years ago. I got enough of the written questions correct to make it into the pool of potential candidates and we were called up for simulated games, but I was too slow on the buzzer for the producers to ever consider me for the live shows. I am always impressed with those people. I used to love watching that show…even back to the Art Fleming days, before Alex Trebeck. I’ll watch now when I can, but my husband usually controls the remote.

    You have such fun stories!

    • I’m pleased you like my stories, Betsy. I spent about a year trying to corral the chaos of my life into a memoir, even went to an intensive week-long workshop in Maine a couple years ago which really turned out to be one of the best experiences of my life. Hung out with some wonderful authors and we even had a lobster boil, a first for me. (Just thinking about it makes me realize I need to write a story about it!) Anyway, someone said I was like a female Forest Gump…not the slow-witted part (hopefully!) but about seeming to have been in so many unlikely places in one lifetime. I got a big laugh out of that, just love it! Made me feel I could transform my tumultuous life into something positive and even entertaining. So thanks again for the kind words!

  6. Loved the story, Barbara. I, too, am a wordy but limited to crosswords and associated puzzles. During my time in private practice in CT in the 80’s I represented The Crossword Club and they were kind enough to give me complementary copies of their monthly puzzles, which were challenging.

    Re Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune: my dad and stepmom were big fans; when I visited that was a staple of each weekday evening. My stepmom had been a cryptographer in WWII and the Wheel puzzles were no match for her.

    • Thanks, Tom! The idea of being a cryptographer is intriguing…bet your stepmom had some great stories (if she was allowed to tell them).

      For most of my adult life I only did the L.A. Times Crossword Puzzle and then, just a few years ago, “graduated” to the N.Y. Times. For some reason I’d always assumed it would be too hard for me. I’m not able to solve every single one without help, but I think I hold my own. In fact I’m about to start today’s right now.

  7. John Shutkin says:

    Fantastic story, Barbara; I really loved reading your serial adventures with the game shows. I have had enough friends who have tried out for them — including one pal who, after many tries, finally landed on “Jeopardy” and was a pretty big winner — so knew enough about them to know what a Byzantine effort it is to get chosen for them, but never knew the details. So thanks so much for the “inside baseball” on them.

    And I am in awe of your determination in getting chosen. I, too, am a “wordie,” but never sufficiently motivated — or too afraid of failure — to give it a shot. Incidentally, I have just started reading “The Grammarians,” a new novel about identical twins who are as the title suggests. I think you will also lap it up.

    • Anyway who even tries out for Jeopardy let alone wins any money is a hero in my book!

      Just downloaded The Grammarians…looks great. I have brothers who are identical twins so that might even add another layer of interest. Thanks for the tip!

  8. Brava Barbara! What a fun story!
    I’m a wordy-not-a-foodie too!
    But Monday’s or maybe Tuesday’s NYTimes puzzle is about as far I get.
    And a Scrabble game with another wordy is my idea of Paradise.

    But game-shows – wow! I’m impressed! And I can’t think of a clue for PROWL either!

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