June 17, 1974
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The game begins with four shells on a table, one of which conceals a ball. Played like the carnival game of the same name, the host mixes up the shells so that no one knows where the ball is. The contestant is then shown four small prizes, one at a time, each with an incorrect price. The contestant guesses whether the actual price is higher or lower than the displayed price. A correct answer wins the prize and a chip, which the contestant uses to mark a shell which they think conceals the ball. Once all four prizes are played, the shells are removed one-by-one to reveal the ball. If the shell concealing the ball is marked with a chip, the contestant wins a large prize.
If the contestant guesses the wrong price for all of the small prizes, the game automatically ends in a loss. Conversely, should the player win all four chips, they automatically win the large prize and can earn a cash bonus equivalent to the prize value by guessing which shell conceals the ball.
Shell Game was designed to replace Bonus Game, which was not played on the daytime show for over a year following Shell Game's debut. Bonus Game was later brought back into rotation.
Shell Game's current set debuted on March 6, 2001.
From the game's debut until 2010, the cash bonus for finding the shell concealing the ball during a perfect game was $500. On October 26, 2010, the $500 cash bonus for winning all four of the small prizes is now changed to the cash equivalent of the prize. The cash equivalent for the prize was first won on January 10, 2014.
The first ball used resembled a regular tennis ball before switching to a yellow rubber ball sometime in the 1980s. On February 24, 2014, the yellow rubber ball was replaced with a new white rubber ball with The Price is Right logo on it.
Only once has the game been played on primetime TV. Sadly, that playing was lost.
Shell Game was one of two pricing games added during the third nighttime season hosted by Dennis James – the other was Money Game. Additionally, this version offered a $1,000 bonus if a contestant who played the game perfectly could pick the shell with the ball.
On the Tom Kennedy-hosted syndicated version, the bonus amount was originally $500, then increased to $1,000. On at least one playing in the second half of the run the contestant received the bonus automatically without having to find the ball.
On the Doug Davidson version, Shell Game (like most of the other games traditionally played on the Turntable) was played onstage while the prize remained visible behind the table. The production of this version used a jib camera which took overhead shots of the game's prop as Davidson mixed the shells. This camera angle had the unfortunate effect of making the black countertop blend into the black floor.
Additionally, the small prize platform was placed to the left of the game board. It is unknown if the bonus was in effect on this version.
On an episode from October 6, 1986, when she guessed the second small prize correctly after making a mistake on the first small prize, a contestant did not understand how to play, looking under the first shell to find out whether or not there was a ball before putting the first chip next to it, only to give away too much of a hint, having Bob say, "That's the dirtiest trick anyone ever pulled on me!" as everyone saw that no ball was there. Bob then pointed out to the contestant not to put the chip by the first shell after realizing what had happened, and placed it by the third shell. After getting two more chips afterward, she placed them on the second and fourth shells. Notifying this result, Bob points to the obvious fact that "I'm pretty sure she's won this!" Bob then went looking from right to left but there was still no ball. He then says, "You've ruined my show! You've ruined my game!" and then points to an obvious win, saying, "This would be exciting, but everybody knows the damn thing's not there!" The video link (seen below) is available if you want full proof.
On another episode, from April 5, 1991, Grocery Game mistakenly used the Shell Game sign.
Shell Game was also the name of a short-lived crime fighting show which also aired on CBS, starring Superman movie alumni Margot Kidder & James Read and a young Marg Helgenberger of CSI fame.
On the Mexican version, called "¿Dónde Está la Bolita?" ("Where's the Ball?"), the rules were the same as the American version, using shells and one hiding a ball, though it is unknown if a cash bonus exists for a perfect playing. Also, the contestant got to keep the ball win or lose.
On the short-lived French-Canadian version, the game was called "La Perle Rare" ("The Rare Pearl"), and clamshells were used, one of which hid a "pearl".
On the Vietnamese version, called "So Bien", oyster shells were used, and the ball was shaped more like an egg.