Classic Concentration: A Game Show Worth Remembering

classic concentration game puzzle

Adapted from Getty Images

Game shows have been a staple of broadcast television for more than half a century. Many of them have come and gone over the years, but some still deserve recognition. One of them is Classic Concentration, a game show that tested a contestant’s memory and ability to solve puzzles.

How to Play Classic Concentration 

In each episode of Classic Concentration, two contestants would face off and attempt to solve a puzzle. On the main part of the game board was a large rebus puzzle, a series of pictures that represents a phrase. The puzzle was obscured by 25 numbered squares. Players first needed to first clear the squares so they could see and attempt to solve the puzzle.

To have a clearer understanding of how the game worked, it’s best to look at each step in the process:

  • Select the First Numbered Square: A player would select one of the numbered squares. The screen would then reveal the name of a prize. These prizes would include everything from vacations to arcade machines.

  • Select Another Numbered Square: After revealing the first square, the player would choose a different number on the board. If they picked a number that hid the same prize as the first square, that prize was added to their prize list. It’s like a classic memory game. The winner of the round would win all the prizes they had accumulated.

  • Reveal the Rebus Puzzle: Things became intense once several squares had been cleared. With more of the rebus puzzle exposed, each player needed to work quickly to figure out the puzzle’s meaning. They'd have to find words that fit the images. They also needed to do so while continuing to clear the remaining squares. 

  • Solve the Rebus Puzzle to Win: Eventually, one of the players would be able to see enough of the puzzle to solve it. The show’s host, Alex Trebek, would declare them the winner and move them on to the Bonus Game.

The core mechanics of Classic Concentration were simple yet challenging. Every aspect of the game was designed to make the contestants remember well and think fast.

The Bonus Game

The winner of the first round competed in a fast-paced Bonus Game for a chance to win a brand new car. In this round, the contestant needed to complete the puzzle within a certain time limit. This was usually 35 seconds.

The player stood in the Winner’s Circle, a round platform in the middle of eight cars. These were the cars the player could win. After showing the player their potential bounty, Trebek would present them with a 15-square game board.

Unlike the main game, the Bonus Game did not feature a rebus puzzle. Instead, each number hid the name of a car. If the player could clear the entire board within the time limit, they would win whatever vehicle they matched last.

Returning Champions

After someone completed the Bonus Game, whether they won or lost, they returned for the next round of the main game. They challenged a new contestant. Alex would set up both players with a new game board and puzzle. 

An Interrupted Game

During the second round, if a player did not solve the board by a certain time, a bell would sound to interrupt the game. This signaled that the episode was going to end soon. Host Alex Trebek would shift the game into a speed round, revealing parts of the rebus puzzle. 

The players would take turns trying to solve the puzzle. The first player to figure out the puzzle won the round and would move on to the Bonus Game. This Bonus Game served as the finale of each episode.

The player who lost the second round was not eliminated. Instead, they were brought back to compete in the first round of the next episode.

The Original Concentration (1958-1973)

Classic Concentration was actually a revival of an older game show. The original was simply called Concentration and aired from 1958 to 1973. During its run, Concentration was hosted by a number of well-known TV personalities. Notable names include Jack Barry, Hugh Downs, and Ed McMahon.

The original show did well for most of its run, but it eventually saw too much competition from other game shows. The Price Is Right was one of the most notable series to cut into Concentration’s market. Rather than reworking or moving the show to a different time slot, NBC opted to cancel the original Concentration in March 1973.

Syndication and the First Revival (1973-1978)

After its original run, the station produced a new version of Concentration for syndication. This edition of the show ran from 1973 to 1978. Unfortunately, this version did not fare much better than the original did during its later years. Despite some attempts from independent stations to keep it going, the last episode of the “new” show aired in September 1978.

Classic Concentration: A Return to Glory (1987-1991)

Classic Concentration was the final attempt to resurrect the show. The first episode aired in May 1987. Alex Trebek, who was also hosting Jeopardy! at the same time, served as host. He also guest-hosted Wheel of Fortune for a week in August 1980, before Pat Sajak made his Wheel debut in December 1981.

Compared to the syndicated version, Classic Concentration was a much more robust revival attempt. They made updates to the game’s main play board. They also added new features, like the Bonus Round.

Despite Classic Concentration’s efforts to inject new excitement into the original show’s premise, it could not sustain the same audience and ratings. The show ran for five years, the same as the syndicated version of Concentration. The final episode aired on September 20, 1991.

A Competitive and Fun Classic Show

Classic Concentration may not be a household name today, but it’s worth taking the time to reminisce about. It pitted the skills and intellect of its contestants against each other in a clever way, forcing them to think quickly and keep calm. Enjoy reading about competitive word games? In the mood to learn about some other great games and their players? Check out these famous spelling bee winners. 

P.S. For those of you having trouble solving the rebus puzzle at the top, the answer is "Barking up the wrong tree."

Zac Pricener has been a content creator for the past eight years. He’s a bit of an all-around nerd, and he has a bad habit of working movie and TV show references into conversations whenever possible.