Unlike most TV game shows, the classic version of Password was never really geared to the home player. In its original form—and in most of its later variations—Password had a famous person trying to get a commoner to guess a word by giving a series of one-word clues. Every time the team failed, their potential points dropped. Throughout the round, the answer hung on the bottom of the TV screen, and a deep-voiced announcer whispered it before each round began. So in order to play along, devoted Password-watchers would've had to close their ears at the start of each round, and then their eyes throughout.

But doing that would've cost them the chance to see celebrities sweat, which is a major part of the show's pleasure. On the Best Of Password: The CBS Years (1962-1967) DVD set, Password fans can rate the clue-giving skills of a young Woody Allen or Nancy Sinatra, or marvel at the aplomb of Betty White as she tries to get a hulking football player to say "chest" from the clue "bosom," then gently lowers his hands when he idly raises them. The stakes were low on Password—the most a winning contestant stood to take home was a couple hundred dollars—but all concerned took the game seriously, and tried to come up with the perfect clue for the impossible answer.


Presiding over it all was Allen Ludden, with his thick glasses, buzz-cut, and affable demeanor, like everyone's favorite 10th-grade trigonometry teacher. Ludden took great interest in whatever regional-theater engagement his guest stars were about to commence, yet while he gave them the room to be a little silly, he always made sure they played fairly, threatening them with the approbation of Dr. Reason A. Goodwin, editor of The World Book Encyclopedia Dictionary. Ludden, like the viewers at home, appreciated a good clue-giving gimmick, like using a rising tone to indicate an antonym. ("Blaaaaack…" "White!") He understood the rarely tapped entertainment value in watching people think.

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