Do you ever take a chance on those carnival games found at fairs and some amusement parks? What the heck, right, it’s just a dollar or two at most and winning a prize seems so easy. And yet, how many times do you find yourself walking away from those booths and tables lighter in the wallet and with no prize to show for your effort? Lots, I’ll wager. If I were a betting man, that is. But I’m not big on betting, especially when I know the game is rigged. Dealing with carny game operators is a lot like dealing with bankers, car salesmen and cops: you are going to get screwed. This is a fact I always knew deep down inside somewhere, but after a recent conversation with an old carny while waiting in the emergency room, I am now educated in the mysterious ways of how carny games screw you.
Lots of hoop toss carny games out there and one of the oldest and easiest for the operators are those in which you are trying to throw the ring so that it falls around a stacked set of blocks. You have to get the hoop completely encircle the set of blocks and fall to the surface. The diameter of the hoop is big enough to encircle the stack of blocks, so the game seems easy. My carny friend at the ER explained that the stacks are quite easy to manipulate so that they are actually unevenly stacked but in a way that is undetectable by the player.
How many times have you seen it? All that is required is to shoot a hoop. What could be a more natural way to win a prize for the American male? He grew up with balls in his hand…and now it’s time to show that talent off. Of course, most of us didn’t grow up shooting basketballs into a hoop that is pitched at such a strange angle. Why exactly are basketball hoops tipped at downward angle, anyway? Well, according to the carny guy at the hospital–who first started doing carnival work back in the 1940s, I should add–the explanation is so simple that you should already have figured it out before wasting your money. I’m no math genius by any stretch of the imagination, but even I can figure out that when a hoop is pitched at angle, the odds of the ball bouncing off the rim is increased. Keep in mind that the greater the angle, the fewer the swishes.
If you are not into basketball, but are instead a genuine American who grew up playing baseball, then you may prefer to toss a baseball into a bucket or basket rather than shoot basketballs through the kind of hoop almost never seen at NBA events. The same deal applies, however. You will notice that the bucket or baskets at carnivals and fairs are never flat, but always situated at a disconcertingly unnatural angle. That’s to increase the odds of the ball bouncing right out.
I’ll be honest, I had never heard of this carny game until my friend at the E.R. told me about it. I mean, I was familiar with the concept and had even tried my hand at it when I was younger, but no cats were involved. What he described as a cat rack carny game involves knocking objects off a rack with balls. As a true American, I grew up playing baseball and so I know a few things about hitting an object with a ball. The simplest way for a carny to cheat at the Cat Rack game is to weigh down some of the c ats (or whatever object is on the rack) so that not all of them can be knocked over. That’s the easy way and my carny partner-in-waiting dismissed it as the resort of the unimaginative and too easy for the cheat to be spotted. Better are the more sophisticated and less obvious ways to run the Cat Rack cheat involves the rack itself. One way of pulling off this cheat is the bevel the crack to increase friction so that the cat doesn’t fall completely off. A much more imaginative means of fixing this type of carny game is to use magnet. Still another makes use of a foot pedal to control a board placed at the back of rack, thus making it scientifically impossible for anything to fall off no matter how hard you throw.
Milk Bottle Toss
You want to impress your girlfriend by winning her a huge stuffed animal so you pick up a ball and throw it as hard as you can at a stack of metallic milk bottles. The fact is that I already knew how this carny game was rigged and wrote an article on the subject. You can read it here if you want to find out how you will loss the milk bottle toss game if the carny really wants you to. It was this article that got the whole conversation of learning about carny game rigging started.