Back To School
AGS continues the “It Pays To Know” series with “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?”
By Frank Legato
It’s nice to think you’ve retained your entire education—especially stuff you learned in grade school. Realistically, it’s amazing for an adult to realize how much he hasn’t retained. That’s what makes the TV game show Are You Smarter Than A 5thGrader? so much fun. The idea of posing grade-school-level academic questions to adults and seeing what happens has led to a vastly entertaining and popular show since it was first introduced on Fox in 2007. In syndication now on cable networks, the show, hosted by Jeff Foxworthy, has been named by TV Guide as one of the 60 greatest game shows of all time.
For slot-maker American Gaming Systems, making the game into a slot machine was a natural. AGS has made a big splash with its series of games incorporating knowledge-based trivia questions in bonus rounds. Called “It Pays to Know,” the series uses general-knowledge trivia questions in multiple-choice form in bonus events that give the highest bonus for get-ting answers correctly on the first try. In this series, knowledge gives you the best shot at winning the most money.
It worked fabulously for the first game in the series, “Ripley’s Believe It Or Not!” The game—designed by Dr. Olaf Vancura, who created the knowledge-based bonus in a Ripley-themed slot for the former Mikohn Gaming—uses a general-knowledge trivia quiz themed around the oddities of Robert Ripley as logged in the famous newspaper comic feature of the same name.
Players love the Ripley’s game, but its follow-up in the It Pays to Know series could be even more popular. The license to replicate Are You Smarter Than A 5thGrader was, if you will, a no-brainer for inclusion in the series.
“It is something we thought would be perfect for the It Pays To Know series,” says Andrew Burke, vice president of product management for AGS. “We’re very excited about 5thGrader, because it’s never been done before—this will be its first time in the market. ”
Although Foxworthy didn’t participate in the recreation of the game show for casinos (at least not yet), AGS engineers went right to the source—the company of legendary producer Mark Burnett, who created the show—to develop a game that has the same appeal as the TV show. That is to say, it makes adults amazed and amused at some of the stuff they don’t know that grade school children do.
The show’s producer opened up the archives to help AGS develop the slot. “The questions in the game are actual trivia questions from the show,” says Burke. “They sent us a big data-base of all the questions from the show.” The only difference is that on the show, questions are selected at random from first-through-fifth-grade questions. The slot game has you progress through the grade levels in order.
In typical AGS fashion, this basic strong central bonus game feature is augmented by a variety of other bonus events, from mystery bonuses in the base game to free games and other additional bonus features.
That ensures players won’t get tired of this game, even if they eventually learn the answers to the questions. AGS initially announced the questions will be updated every six months to keep things fresh. However, a year after the introduction of Ripley’s, there has been no need to do that.
It’s not only the fact that there are so many other features; it’s the fact that there are so many questions in the database of each of these games. You may know the answers to some of the questions eventually, but it’s a lot of fun getting there.
That fun starts with a unique feature in the primary game that leads directly to the main bonus.
The base game is a five-reel scatter-pay video slot on a four-by-five field, yielding 1,024 possible winning combinations on every spin. During primary-game reel-spinning, players can land symbols to earn one of three “cheats” for the bonus round. The cheats, which are identical to the cheats featured on the TV show, are fall-backs on which the player can call to help answer one of the bonus trivia questions.
Just like on the TV show, the available cheats are a “peek,” a “copy” and a “save.” On the show, peek and copy draw on a data-base of answers actual appropriately aged children, called the contestant’s “classmates,” have given on a question. Most of the classmates’ answers are correct, but a few are not. If he has earned a “peek,” the player “looks” at the classmate’s answer and has the option to use it or not.
For “copy,” there is no choice—the classmate’s answer is final. A “save” gives the player a second chance to answer a question from the remaining three answers if his first answer is wrong. Players can collect all three cheats during the primary game, and use them each once in the bonus trivia quiz.
There are two other mystery events in the primary game—a mystery jackpot, and “Mega Block Spins,” which expands the reel field to 10 rows of symbols with three wild reels, for one super-spin.
This is made possible by the physical cabinet in which the 5thGrader game is housed. Called the “Sky Tower,” it is a slanted cabinet with a 42-inch vertical LCD video monitor on top. When the reels expand, they grow from the main game screen right to that tall top monitor in a really cool visual sequence.
When the main It Pays to Know trivia bonus is triggered, the player enters the trivia quiz with the cheats—also called helpers—earned during the primary game. He also is afforded the chance to pick one of the three helpers at the outset of the bonus, even if no helpers were earned in the base game.
The first question is first-grade-level knowledge. The player gets three tries to answer correctly—the earlier the correct answer is picked, the higher the award. (So, if you’ve got helpers and you don’t know the answer to a question, use one of them on the first try, or the second if you answer incorrectly.)
Answering the question correctly within three tries advances the player to second grade, and the game goes on. Completing all five grade levels earns the “Gold Star Bonus,” in which the player picks from a field of five stars to reveal an advanced award.
In addition to two primary-game features, there is the free-game “Field Trip,” in which picks are made to reveal multipliers for a free-spin round. Three or more scattered school bus symbols will initiate the Field Trip bonus. The player will be prompted to choose five from a field of 30 tickets to reveal awards consisting of multi-pliers, extra spins, extra picks and “diplomas” for grades 1 through 5. The player will then enter a free-spin round, which will start with seven, 14 or 21 spins, de-pending upon how many symbols triggered the bonus.
“The free-spin event actually has two games within a game, ”explains Burke. “When you first enter the free spin pick’em round, you are selecting items that help you in the free spins—extra spins, multipliers—then once you get into the free-spin round, you’re actually trying to collect a diploma symbol on each reel. If you collect diplomas for first grade through fifth grade, one on each of the five reels, you go into an expanded set of reels.”
This feature expands the reel set up to eight symbols high, creating, with the scatter-pay format, a total of 32,768 possible ways to win on each spin.
Burke says his customers, the casino operators, have made the 5thGrader game the latest rave. “The reaction that casino buyers have had for the brand has been pretty overwhelming,” he says. “They think it’s a cute brand, and they all love the show. We’ve seen a lot of really great reaction to it. My hope is that the players have the same reaction to the game—a cute, clever show that has translated itself into a cute and clever product.”
According to Burke, this month, players in Oklahoma and Las Vegas could see the first casino versions of 5thGrader. “Once the players see this game on the Sky Tower cabinet—it has a very, very over-the-top topper that is shaped like an apple—this product draws attention anywhere on the floor,” Burke Says.
“The curb appeal of the cabinet will bring players to it, and the game play will keep players coming back.”
By the end of the year, the Family Feud slot will be released, rounding out the public introduction of “It Pays to Know.”
“Cute and clever” it is, but most of all, it’s really fun.