The name comes from the fact that one key in a set of five is the "Master Key" which will unlock a set of locks to three prizes.
- The contestant is shown two small prizes, one at a time, each with a three-digit number displayed. The contestant must decide whether the first two digits or the last two digits (eg: $46 or $68 if 468 was displayed) are the correct prices. A correct choice wins the prize and a choice of one of five keys. If the contestant fails to win any keys, which is getting neither of the two correct, the game immediately ends. The first time this happened was on June 9, 1992 (#8472D). Most recently, it happened on May 17, 2022. Each of the five keys has a different effect on three locks which represent a car and two other prizes in the game. There is one key for each of the three locks, one "dud" or "blank" key that opens nothing and one "master key" that opens all three locks.
- The contestant inserts their chosen key into each of the locks, one at a time, to see which lock it opens, if any. The contestant wins the prizes represented by any locks that are opened.
- The only way to win all three prizes in Master Key is to choose the master key. If a contestant has the master key, it will be obvious after it opens more than one lock. If a key opens the first lock, the contestant will usually be told to skip right to the third lock for the car to add to the excitement if the lock opens. The game can end on a somewhat anti-climatic note if the first key opens only the car; if this happens, the host finishes the game by checking to see what the second key might open, but this usually happens in the background as the contestant celebrates.
- The game debuted on March 25, 1983 (#4855D), and got its first win with only one key, the master key.
- The red backing behind the Master Key sign, with the top resembling a city skyline, was removed on September 29, 2009 (#4842K) to keep it from running into the new Door #5 structure. The Master Key sign was also absent on December 21, 1984 (#5535D) due to an abundance of Christmas decorations on the turntable.
- On June 8, 1984 (#5365D), a key got stuck in the lock. Bob Barker attempted to resolve this with a karate kick, but he wound up breaking the key in half.
- The lock mechanism for one prize malfunctioned on February 15, 2002 (#2075K). This time, Bob slammed the key against the lock, causing its "P" emblem to fall off.
- The presentation of the prizes was also changed. Prior to May 7, 2013 (#6342K), all three prizes were revealed behind Door #2, with the two smaller prizes on each side of the car. A platform was later added for the car. On October 15, 2013 (#6452K, aired out of order on October 22), the current prize reveal debuted, with the first two prizes in front of Door #2 and the car revealed behind Door #2 afterward, to bring more excitement.
- For a brief period in Drew's era, Drew would ask the contestant to choose a key by number. Later, he went back to the old way by letting the contestant take a key. Due to COVID protocols, Drew appears to have gone back to asking the contestant for a key by number.
- On November 9, 2015 (#7281K), in a rare move, Master Key was played for a cash prize of $2,500 as the second prize.
- On May 12, 2016, Master Key was featured on Let's Make a Deal as part of a mash-up between both shows (The May 12, 2016, #7534K, episode of Price featured Accelerator from LMAD.).
- On February 19, 2018 (#8221K, aired out of order on February 22), during Big Money Week, Master Key was played for $50,000, with the first lock for $5,000, the second lock for $15,000 and the third lock for $30,000. Only the $5,000 was won.
- On May 27, 2020 (#9163K), a brand new look for Master Key was introduced. The game has a more "golden" look, with the ”P”s on the keys have been replaced with Price down dollar signs, and the logo is in the shape of a key, with the remaining letters in each word in small caps.
Behind the scenes/Trivia
- The "unlocking" mechanism for the prizes is controlled by the position of magnets in the keys. The three single-prize keys have one magnet each, all in different spots; the master key has magnets in all three spots, and the "dud" key has no magnets.
- As in Rat Race, Any Number, and Switcheroo, the contestant only needs to win the car (not necessarily all three prizes) for the game to be officially counted as won. A win of either one or two of the smaller prizes is considered a "partial win" as far as affecting perfect or winless shows.
- If the contestant has won two keys, the process is repeated with the second key, unless the first was the master key and all three locks are already open. Of course, winning two keys guarantees winning at least one prize.
- The most number of times this game was played in any season was 17.
- Among all the games where it is not necessary to know the price of any of the main prizes, Master Key and Rat Race are the only two games that do not reveal the ARP of the prize package. In Clock Game, the bonus prize’s ARP is not revealed.
- Then executive producer Frank Wayne created Master Key.
- In the Barker era, when Master Key is the first pricing game of the day, the keys were set up during the pricing portion of the show. This does not require an audience entrance as Bob still used his regular entrance.
- In The Price is Right 2008 & 2010 edition, the first and second lock are offered for prizes, but the third lock offers cash.
- On the UK Leslie Crowther version, Master Key was played basically the same but used a smaller setup and true keys and locks. Initially, two sets of five hooks were used, with the one on the left carrying the keys; later on, it only used the set of hooks carrying the keys. On the Bruce Forsyth version, a free key was offered.
- On the Vietnamese version, the game was titled "Chìa Khóa Vàng" (The Golden Key). The game was similar to the US version, except that grocery items were used.
To view the gallery, click here.
Premiere Playing (March 25, 1983, #4855D)
A Playing from 1987
A Wipeout from 1992 (June 9, 1992, #8472D)
A Playing from 2001
A Funny Playing from 2002 (February 15, 2002, #2065K)
A Win from 2005 (October 31, 2005, #3391K)
A Playing from 2009
A Playing from 2010
Only Win from 2013 (May 7, 2013, #6342K)
A Car Win from 2014 (January 2, 2014, #6554K, aired out of order on July 2, originally rescheduled to air on June 26, then to June 30)
A Wipeout from Season 42 (March 5, 2014, #6643K)
A Win from 2014 (June 5, 2014, #6774K, aired out of order on June 12)
Another Win from 2014 (#6875K, November 7, 2014)
A Wipeout from 2015 (January 8, 2015, #6954K)
A Win from 2015 (November 9, 2015, #7281K)
A Dismissal Playing from 2019 (April 4, 2019, #8694K, aired out of order on March 28)
An Early Exit from 2020 (January 14, 2020, #8982K)
Master Key's New Look! (May 27, 2020, #9163K)
First win for a new Master Key (Jan 27, 2021, #9283K)
|1980s Pricing Games|
|Bargain Game | Trader Bob | Grand Game | Now....or Then | Hit Me | Super Ball!! | Check Game | Check-Out | Pick-A-Pair | Plinko | Master Key | Phone Home Game | Walk of Fame | Balance Game (1) | On the Nose | One Away | Bump | Add 'Em Up | Pathfinder | Credit Card | Spelling Bee | $uper $aver | Make Your Move | 2 for the Price of 1|