Probe had threads of Scrabble, Wheel of Fortune and the classic dangling stick-figure Hangman running through it. Each player – and there could be anywhere from two to four – came up with a secret word up to twelve letters long (but no apostrophes or hyphens, you grammatical symbol lovers, you).
Then, the assorted Probers selected the letter cards from their personal decks that were necessary to spell their word, laying the cards out in the racks that sat in front of them, Probe logo side out. If their hidden word was less than twelve letters, they could try to trick the enemy by incorporating blank cards before or after the word, or both.
Everyone took turns drawing from the Probe activity cards, which gave instructions (“take your normal turn”, “expose a blank” etc.). That ‘normal turn’ was a query to the opponent about a particular letter or the presence of a blank card.
If a player asked about a letter which was indeed a part of his enemy’s word, he was forced to flip the appropriate card and reveal it to all. Which meant his poor little (or not-so-little) word was just that much more vulnerable.
A player kept asking about letters until he finally hit upon one that was not a part of his opponent’s creation. No one was allowed to keep lists of what was asked, either – that was the job of a good Prober’s memory and attention span. Correct guesses won points, and wrong guesses meant point deductions.
Smarty-pants players could take a stab at the enemy word conjurer’s cards at any time they liked, no matter whose turn it was (it was called an “interruptive rule”) but if they guessed incorrectly, the point deductions were huge.
Of course, neither a fantastic word choice or a dim opponent would ensure absolute Probe victory – you needed a good nudge from Lady Luck too. If the cards weren’t kind to you, it didn’t matter how nice the letters were.
Parker Brothers billed Probe as the “most provocative game of words since the invention of the modern alphabet” – A tall claim indeed, but one that the card-drawing Probe wordsmiths would swear true.