|NBC Daytime, July 7, 1975-January 2, 1976 and January 19, 1976-June 11, 1976|
|NBC Studio 4, Burbank, California|
The Magnificent Marble Machine was a game show.
Two contestants (one a returning champion) competed, each paired with a celebrity partner.
In the first half of the game, the teams answered general knowledge questions, frequently involving puns or other wordplay, which were displayed on a huge electronic marquee, similar to one found on a pinball's backbox display. First, the players were shown blanks on the display's bottom line, denoting the number of words and letters in the answer; then a clue would crawl across the display's upper line. If no team buzzed in once the clue was revealed, letters of the answer then filled in at random as time progressed. (e.g., "He's center and he's square/#### #####", with the answer "Paul Lynde"; or "An athlete's supporter/###", with the answer "fan"). James occasionally gave an additional clue after the initial clue scrolled across the marquee. For example, the blanked-out answer "### ### #####" would appear and James would say "What does this man pull out?" followed by "A showy organist". (The answer is "all the stops".)
For any given question, only the contestant or the celebrity was eligible to buzz-in. This alternated with each question, and was indicated by lighted panels in front of the eligible player.
Correct answers were worth one point. Five points won the game and the winning team played "The Magnificent Marble Machine" in the bonus round.
The winning team got the chance to play the show's centerpiece: a giant pinball machine — measuring 20 feet high and 12 feet long — that sat in the middle of the set.
Each team member manipulated one button, each of which controlled two flippers, and tried to keep the ball in play for as long as possible within a 60-second time limit. The team accumulated points by hitting bumpers, noisemakers, and lights, and hitting any of the seven large numbered bumpers won the contestant a prize, with 2 and 3 together worth a larger prize (such as a car or trip). Play ended if the ball fell into one of the two "out holes" (one located below the main flippers, the other in the middle of the playing field). The flippers were disabled when 60 seconds expired, with the ball (still in play) usually entering an out hole within a few seconds.
At some point during the series, a bonus prize was added for hitting all seven numbered bumpers at least once.
Originally, each bumper scored 500 points while any noisemaker scored 200 points. Producers audited the score by watching the tape to ensure that each scoring feature had registered, but as the machine aged (week by week) the scoring errors increased. The rules were eventually altered so that only the seven "thumper bumpers" added 500 points for each hit, with nothing else scoring.
If a team reached a target score after playing two balls (15,000 for each new champion, minus 1,000 for each return visit), the team played a bonus "Gold Money Ball" where the player earned $200 for each noisemaker and bumper. Later, the goal started at 13,000 points with the Money Ball netting $500 for each bumper hit.
At some point in the run, this round was redesigned to be a multi-player "Money Ball Marathon" rather than a bonus round any player might be able to achieve in any one play of the machine. The contestant achieving the top point score over a two-week period would be awarded a Money Ball round. This format lasted for five marathons (ten weeks), after which the Money Ball was dropped from the game altogether.
After the Money Ball round was removed, the electronic point counters on the pinball machine were covered over. Contestants now only played for prizes obtained by hitting the seven bumpers.
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