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10 Fun Facts About $100,000 Pyramid

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In the early 1970s, Bob Stewart—creator of such game shows as The Price is Right and Password—approached producer Mark Goodson with yet another scathingly brilliant idea: a word-play guessing game called Cash on the Line. Goodson liked the idea, but he refused Stewart’s one demand—that “Stewart” be added to the Goodson-Todman production company name. Stewart formed his own production company instead and in 1973 launched the show that was now called The $10,000 Pyramid.

The show would go on to win nine Emmy Awards (second only to Jeopardy!) and endure several title changes (due to inflation) and many different hosts (including Donny Osmond). But for our purposes, we are looking back at the definitive Pyramids, the only ones that matter—the Dick Clark/Bill Cullen-hosted versions. Play along with us!

1. ROB REINER WAS THE FIRST CELEBRITY TO WIN $10,000 FOR HIS PARTNER.

June Lockhart and Rob Reiner were the celebrity contestants for Pyramid’s 1973 premiere week. The clip above is bad quality due to the home VCR technology of that era, but several growing pains are still visible. The judges weren’t as quick on the cuckoo and were much more lenient when it came to unacceptable clues, and hand gestures hadn’t yet been forbidden in the Winner’s Circle. And take a look at that big money board—there was originally a bottom row of categories that had been hastily covered up with a piece of plywood. The original game had 10 categories in the final round, but two days before taping Bob Stewart realized no one could go through that many in just 60 seconds, so the bottom four squares were covered up to make a total of six categories necessary for the win.

2. THE NETWORK PRESIDENT WAS CONCERNED THE SHOW WAS RIGGED.

Fred Silverman was the president of CBS at the time and watched the first few tapings of The $10,000 Pyramid in his office via closed circuit TV. When not one but two contestants won $10,000 during what would be the show’s first week, he suspected that the game was rigged and came close to canceling it on the spot. He did some checking on his own with the production staff and decided that everything was kosher. Unbeknownst to Silverman, later that week, Rob Reiner predicted to Dick Clark that the game wouldn’t last more than 13 weeks—because it was too easy.

3. A LOT OF STRUGGLING ACTORS TRIED OUT TO BECOME CONTESTANTS—EVEN THOUGH THE PRODUCERS DIDN’T WANT THEM.

The $10,000 Pyramid was filmed in New York, which made it an ideal opportunity for struggling actors to win some money to support themselves between jobs. In 1981, contestant coordinator Edythe Chan told The Washington Post  that she kept a careful watch on the applicants to make sure that there was a balance and they weren’t top-heavy with wannabe professionals, but it was apparently a poorly kept secret that there was a veritable underground of actors who gathered and practiced with one another prior to auditioning for the show. Previous contestants even conducted tutoring sessions for their fellow actors and coached them on how to give a good audition. One such actor was David Graf, who won $10,000 in 1979 (approximately $34,000 in today’s dollars). Graf eventually got his big break in the Police Academy films, among other roles. He even returned to the Pyramid in 1985, but this time as one of the celebrity contestants.

4. WILLIAM SHATNER LOST CONTROL OF HIS EMOTIONS.

In September of 1977, William Shatner hiked up his trousers and confidently strutted to the Winner’s Circle after besting his former Star Trek co-star Leonard Nimoy. All looked very promising until he reached the top box and a slip of the tongue got him buzzed, costing his partner $20,000. The category was “Things That Are Blessed” and instead of saying “The Virgin Mary” he inadvertently started his clue with “The Blessed ...” His reaction to the gaffe is a lesson in bad sportsmanship.

5. BILLY CRYSTAL HOLDS A PYRAMID RECORD.

Soap star Billy Crystal holds the record for the shortest time to get to the top of the pyramid, which he did in an amazing 26 seconds in November of 1977. Dallas actor Barry Jenner missed tying Crystal’s record by one second in 1987, when he won $100,000 for his partner in 27 seconds.

Dick Clark’s personal favorite celebrity contestants besides Crystal were Tony Randall, Soupy Sales, and Patty Duke Astin.

6. TOM POSTON’S PYRAMID RECORD WAS NOT QUITE AS STELLAR.

For every Billy Crystal there’s a Tom Poston. The Newhart actor set a less illustrious record in 1986 when he was on the receiving end in the Winner’s Circle and was unable to answer a single category, for a total of $0.

7. THEY ADDED WRIST RESTRAINTS TO MAKE SURE NO ONE BROKE THE “NO HAND GESTURES” RULE.

One of the rules for the Big Pyramid rounds was that the clue-giver was not allowed to use his or her hands or any type of body language to coach their partner. (The judges were pretty strict about this; Adrienne Barbeau was disqualified for fluttering her eyelashes while trying to get the contestant to guess “Things That Flicker.”) In 1974, wrist restraints were added to the clue-giver’s chair for added protection against gesturing.

8. DICK CLARK ONCE GOT A TASTE OF HIS OWN MEDICINE.

Dick Clark had a habit of walking over to the Winner’s Circle and somewhat smugly suggesting clues a contestant could’ve/should’ve used after they’d just lost the big money round. Easy for him to do; the clock wasn’t counting down and he wasn’t relying on that prize money to pay his mortgage. In fact, when he finally did sit in a contestant chair with $25,000 at stake for his partner, he admitted that thinking of “obvious” clues was easier from the other side of the podium.

9. THE SHOW’S CREATOR WAS ALSO A PRETTY FAIR PLAYER.

One evening in 2012, composer Ben Lanzarone and his actress wife Ilene Graff had a small gathering of their show business pals at their home for an informal game night, which featured Pyramid. Bob Stewart was among the guests and, at age 91, more than held his own in the competition.

10. THAT TOP BOX CATEGORY WAS DESIGNED TO BE DIFFICULT.

The top square of the pyramid in the Winner’s Circle was referred to as “The Money-Saving Clue” by Pyramid staffers. It was intentionally more vague and esoteric than the previous clues so that the contestants had to really think for that money. On the final episode of The $20,000 Pyramid, Clark jokingly revealed a pyramid filled with “Clues That Could Have Saved Us Money”:

  • Used Car Dealers You Can Trust
  • Hit Shows on NBC-TV (NBC had long been a distant third place in ratings at that time)
  • Oil Companies in Bankruptcy
  • Famous Japanese Rabbis
  • Things Kissinger Did Not Foul Up
  • Famous Italian TV Directors (an in-joke referring to Pyramid director Mike Gargiulo).
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Cell Free Technology
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This Pixel Kit Will Let You Play Tetris With Jellyfish DNA
Cell Free Technology
Cell Free Technology

Forget playing Tetris on your phone. Now you can play it with jellyfish DNA. Bixels is a DIY game kit that lets you code your own games using synthetic biology, lighting up a digital display with the help of DNA.

Its 8-by-8 pixel grid is programmed to turn on with the help of the same protein that makes jellyfish glow, called green fluorescent protein (GFP). But you can program it to do more than just passively shine. You can use your phone and the associated app to excite Bixels' fluorescent proteins and make them glow at different frequencies, producing red, blue, and green colors. Essentially, you can program it like you would any computer, but instead of electronics powering the system, it's DNA.

Two blue boxes hold Bixel pixel grids.

Researchers use green fluorescent protein all the time in lab experiments as an imaging agent to illuminate biological processes for study. With Bixels, all you need is a little programming to turn the colorful lights (tubes filled with GFP) into custom images or interactive games like Tetris or Snake. You can also use it to develop your own scientific experiments. (For experiment ideas, Bixels' creator, the Irish company Cell-Free Technology, suggests the curricula from BioBuilder.)

A screenshot shows a user assembling a Bixel kit on video.

A pixel kit is housed in a cardboard box that looks like a Game Boy.

Bixels is designed to be used by people with all levels of scientific knowledge, helping make the world of biotechnology more accessible to the public. Eventually, Cell-Free Technology wants to create a bio-computer even more advanced than Bixels. "Our ultimate goal is to build a personal bio-computer which, unlike current wearable devices, truly interacts with our bodies," co-founder Helene Steiner said in a press release.

Bixels - Play tetris with DNA from Cell-Free Technology on Vimeo.

You can buy your own Bixel kit on Kickstarter for roughly $118. It's expected to ship in May 2018.

All images courtesy Cell-Free Technology

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Habibou Kouyate, Stringer, Getty Images
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Play a Game to Help Scientists Defeat a Cancer-Causing Toxin
Habibou Kouyate, Stringer, Getty Images
Habibou Kouyate, Stringer, Getty Images

If you're used to fighting virtual zombies or flying spaceships on your computer, a new series of games available on Foldit may sound a little unconventional. The object of the Aflatoxin Challenge is to rearrange protein structures and create new enzymes. But its impact on the real world could make it the most important game you've ever played: The scientists behind it hope it will lead to a new way to fight one of the most ruthless causes of liver cancer.

As Fast Company reports, the citizen science project is a collaboration between Mars, Inc. and U.C. Davis, the University of Washington, the Partnership for Aflatoxin Control in Africa, and Thermo Fisher Scientific. The team's online puzzles, which debuted on Foldit earlier this month, invite the public to create a new enzyme capable of finding and destroying carcinogens known as aflatoxins.

Aflatoxins form when certain fungi grow on crops like corn, nuts, and grains. Developing countries often don't have the resources to detect it in food, leaving around 4.5 billion people vulnerable to it. When people do eat food with high aflatoxin levels unknowingly, they can contract liver cancer. Roughly a quarter of all liver cancer cases around the world can be traced back to aflatoxin exposure.

The toxin's connection to agriculture is why the food giant Mars is so interested in fighting it. By working on a way to stop aflatoxins on a molecular level, the company could prevent its spread more efficiently than they would with less direct methods like planting drought-resistant crops or removing mold by hand.

The easiest way for scientists to eradicate an aflatoxin before it causes real harm is by making an enzyme that does the work for them. With the Aflatoxin Challenge, the hope is that by manipulating protein structures, online players will come up with an enzyme that attacks aflatoxins at a susceptible portion of their molecular structure called a lactone ring. Destroying the lactone ring makes aflatoxin much less toxic and essentially safe to eat.

The University of Washington launched Foldit in 2008. Since then, the online puzzle platform has been used to study a wide range of diseases including AIDS and Chikungunya. Everyone is welcome to contribute to the Foldit's new aflatoxin project for the next several weeks or so, after which scientists will synthesize genes based on the most impressive results to be used in future studies.

[h/t Fast Company]

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