Wheel of Fortune: How to Win!

Summary: Here's everything you need to know to win at Wheel of Fortune. I pity the contestant who doesn't learn these tips.

(Since you've suffered through two weeks of articles about how to be more productive, healthy, and wealthy, why not go into the weekend with a little fun? Chances are you'll never get the opportunity to apply the information here to make your life better. And as Bill Cosby said in the Fat Albert theme song, "This is Bill Cosby coming out with music and fun... If you're not careful, you may learn something before it's done!" I'll leave the music out, though... trust me, you don't want me to get musical.)

I probably shouldn't announce this too loud, but I'm a big fan of Wheel of Fortune. I think it's because I can earn back a little self-respect after my wife kicks my behind in Jeopardy. I know it's not up to the level of difficulty that Jeopardy is, but sometimes it is the small wins, you know? ;-)

Win the Physical Game

Wheel of Fortune

The wheel isn't necessarily uniform in risk/reward.

There's really only one trick here, know the wheel. It is hard to figure out at home the distribution of money and negative play spaces (Bankrupt, Lose a Turn, etc.), but the wheel on the right is a depiction of one of the typical rounds from 2008-2009 according to Wikipedia. As you can see, the negative play spaces aren't distributed uniformly. I don't know if contestants get a few practice spins. If they do that would help one get a feel for the wheel, which would allow them to avoid these trouble spaces most of the time.

Avoid Careless Mistakes

I know it's easier said than done, right? We all get nervous. There's good reason to be nervous since there's significant money at stake and it's all going to be on television. The men have an extra distraction with Vanna out there.

I don't have a cure for nerves, but I suggest you take your time. Also realize where the careless mistakes are made. In an episode earlier this week, the same contestant asked for the same letter twice in a row. Keeping track of the letters called (especially the ones you call) is a mistake that pops up from time to time. Another careless mistake is solving the puzzle wrong by adding or omitting an "s" on one of the words. They know the answer, but there's a disconnect between their brain and their mouth.

I've seen a more common mistake time and time again. A contestant with no money will know the solution to the puzzle and spin the wheel once anyway. Almost every time, the person lands on $400, guesses a letter that appears once in the puzzle and then solve it. This is an unnecessary risk. Contestants get a $1000 minimum for solving the puzzle, so if you don't plan on spinning the wheel a few times or choosing a letter that shows up 3 times or more, you are better off solving it before you spin and hit a negative space.

Know Your Letter Frequencies

The most obvious thing you need to know with Wheel of Fortune is the letter odds. Everyone knows to guess the popular letters like T and S. However, after the most obvious letters are picked, most people struggle to know whether they should pick an M or an F. This table below gives you letter frequency according to the data Samuel Morse (yes that Morse) and the Oxford Dictionary.

LetterMorseOxford Concise DictionaryAverage
E6056.8858.44
A4043.3141.66
T4535.4340.22
I4038.4539.23
O4036.5138.26
N4033.9236.96
R3138.6434.82
S4029.2334.62
L2027.9823.99
H3215.3123.66
D2217.2519.63
C1523.1319.07
U1718.5117.76
M1515.3615.18
P916.1412.32
F139.2410.87
G912.5910.55
Y109.069.53
B810.569.28
W106.578.29
V65.135.57
K45.614.81
Q2.511.75
X21.481.74
J211.50
Z11.391.20

[Data courtesy of Oxford University Press/]

The Oxford Dictionary took issue with Samuel Morse using English text as a sample source rather than the whole of the English vocabulary. For the purposes of Wheel of Fortune, I think Morse's method is the best. The puzzles don't use the rare words in the dictionary. However, I thought it was best to normalize and average the data together to give you a guide. I don't know about you, but I was surprised to find J so far at the bottom with the Qs, Xs, and Zs.

You can also see that most of the vowels are at the top. Every word has to have them so that is no surprise. It is usually a good gamble to buy vowels to give you hints of what consonants to call on your next spin.

Know Your Letter Combinations

There are common letter combinations in the English language. These can sway the odds of the letters showing up. For example, if you see a four letter word with "M" as the third letter, you can guess that the next letter is either a vowel (such as "lime") or a "B" or "P" as in "bump" or "dumb." It isn't going to be a "D" or an "L." Here are some of the common letter combinations:

LetterCommon Combinations
AAE, AI, AL, AN, ANT, AR, ART, AST, AT, AU, AW, AE, AI, AL, AN, ANT, AR, ART, AST, AT, AU, AW
BBB, BL, BR, BY
CCC, CH, CK, CL, CR, NC, SC
DDD, DL, DR, LD, RD
EEE, EL, EN, ENT, ER, ERS, EU, EW
FFF, FL, FR, FT, RF
GGG, GH, GL, GN, GR, NG, NGL
HCH, GH, PH, SH, SHR, TH, WH
IAI, EI, IC, IE, IM, IN, IO, IS, IT, LI, OI, TI, UI
KKN, LK, RK, SK
LBL, CL, FL, GL, LD, LF, LG, LK, LL, LM, LP, LS, LT, LV, OL, PL, RL, SL
MLM, MM, MP, SM
NEN, IN, KN, NC, ND, NG, NGL, NN, NO, NS, NT, NZ, ON, PN, SN, UN
OIO, OA, OE, OI, LO, OL, ON, NO, OO, OR, OS, OU, OW
PPH, PL, PN, PP, PR, SP
QQU, SQU
RBR, CR, DR, FR, GR, PR, RD, RG, RK, RL, RM, RN, RP, RR, RS, RT, RV, RY, SPR, STR, TR, TRY, VR, WR
SSC, SCH, SCR, SH, SHR, SK, SL, SM, SN, SP, SPR, SQU, SS, ST, STR, SW, US
TLT, NT, RT, ST, STR, TH, THR, TRY, TT, TW, TY, TZ, UT
UQU, OU, UI, UN, UR, US, UT
VLV, RV, VR, VV
WSW, TW, WH, WL, WN, WR
XAX, EX, OX
YBY, LY, NCY, RY, TRY, TY, ZY
ZNZ, TZ, ZZ, ZY

[Data courtesy of Scrabble Australia.]

Use the Puzzle Clues

If there's an apostrophe in the puzzle, the chances of a "T" are pretty good. If you see _'_ it's probably to be "I'm" or "I'd" so you can safely buy an I and have a very good chance at picking up another letter. Similarly you know that all one letter words are either "a" or "I". These clues can help you even when you don't have a single letter in the puzzle.

Use the Category of the Puzzle

This is common sense, right? It isn't always. There is often a category of "What are You Doing?" People seem to miss that the answer is always something like, "climbing a mountain", "jumping into a pool", "listening to my favorite music", etc. Did you notice that every puzzle has a first word ending in "-ing"? If you get first crack at this category, you should start with the "N" and "G" then buy the "I". Once you've called those, you may have unlocked other letter combinations.

Solving the Final Puzzle

You managed to beat the rest of the contestants and found yourself looking at the final puzzle. Wheel of Fortune automatically gives you the letters of S, L, T, N, R, and the vowel E. The final puzzle is always going to have a few of the unusual letters in it. They aren't going to give you a good chance with the automatic letters.

After the automatic letters you get three choices of letters. I think, using the letter frequencies, you could make a strong case for any of the following letters - "H", "D", "C", "M", "P". If I didn't see any context from the puzzle, I'd almost always go with the letters of "D", "C", and "M". My reasoning is that "H" can almost be assumed to be near a "T" or an "S" or not at all. You can mentally fill in where it might be with the five letters that were given to you. As for the vowel, I like "O". The letter "A" is too common and I think they expected you guess that. I would go with "O" because it combines well with "I" as in the suffix "-tion" or "U" as in "found."

When the three letters are revealed, you should focus your efforts on the other letters that didn't come up. You've eliminate the top 8 consonants, so it's time to mentally try to fill in the "H", "P", "G", "F", "B", etc. One time I saw a contestant get no letters at all with their final three and vowel. I was able to guess "Dune Buggy" based on just the "N" and the "E" and the realization that it didn't have a C, M, or H in it. I have to admit that I got pretty lucky, but there was a thought process behind it.

With these tips, a little practice, and some luck, you should be able to increase your chances of winning over your opponents dramatically.

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