Reinventing the Wheel – for Entertainment


The humble wheel has done a lot for humans. Invented in Mesopotamia (now Iraq) around 5,000 years ago, this once-groundbreaking creation currently serves as the basis for all sorts of things, from cars and Ferris wheels to record players. However, some of the more exciting applications of the wheel have been in games and game shows, a trend that, once again, began long before the present day.

Wheel of Fortune

Just recently, British casino company Paddy Power introduced fans of the wheel to Paddy’s Wonder Wheel, a free-to-play game that rewards players with scratchcards, bonuses, and free bets, among other things. Paddy’s Wonder Wheel offers daily free spins, in addition to 50 free turns for new players. The game joins Dreamcatcher as one of several wheel-based experiences on the website.

While unique, these modern innovations belie just how special the wheel is. The shape simply doesn’t exist in nature – it’s an entirely human creation. So, when “America’s Game”, the beloved Wheel of Fortune TV show, debuted in 1975, it was as good as a boast to any aliens who might be watching as any physics textbook. Of course, Wheel of Fortune and lots of other wheel-based games have a history, too.

Believe it or not, the entire concept of a wheel as entertainment has its roots in 17th century France, in the pursuit of an idea that still crops up on crowdfunding sites today – a perpetual motion machine, something that could potentially be used to create limitless power. While ultimately an impossibility, as they violate two laws of thermodynamics, many examples of perpetual motion machines incorporate wheels into their design.

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Why does that matter? Mathematician Blaise Pascal ended up creating a prototype of the roulette wheel from a failed perpetual motion machine in 1655. It lacked some of the features that are now common to roulette, such as the zero pocket, but it would pave the way for the construction of the first casino in Monaco, at the behest of King Charles III and his increasingly impoverished kingdom. Monaco remains a gambling haven to this day.

The wonder of wheels is that they can be divided up into segments, which means that they can serve a similar purpose to a set of dice. This is exactly the format that Wheel of Fortune is based around, its 24 segments bearing either prize sums, the opportunity for another spin, or three negative outcomes, namely “Bankrupt” (twice) or “Lose a Turn”. The wheel itself reportedly weighs 2,400lbs.

The question that remains to be asked is just how do game-makers continue to innovate around a simple wheel? The presentation of games continues to improve, with the Dreamcatcher casino game mentioned earlier appearing in first-person view on both modern smartphones and desktop/laptop computers. Improving feelings of immersion is also a major objective for all internet-based casino experiences.

Overall, wheel-based games are in the unusual position of being borne from the earliest and most recent innovations in humanity’s brief existence.

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