Carnival games exposed!


Joey Skerbeck

The allure of carnival games

Joey Skerbeck

Everyone knows the games are rigged, but no one knows their intricacies quite like me. After years of scrutinizing every carnival game known to man, I am prepared to expose their secrets. Without a doubt, I am taking a tremendous risk. Being a carnival insider isn’t for the faint of heart. After all, “loose lips sink ships” is especially true in this line of work. But the world deserves the truth. So be forewarned, what you are about to consume is legitimate, revolutionary, and most certainly dangerous.

   Buckle up. Grab your popcorn. Here we go.

      Let’s outline our targets.

   There are three types of carnival games: games of skill, games of chance, and prize every time. Obviously, the last one has no interest for the risk-taking reader, so we’ll set it aside for now. For the enticed reader, games of skill will be the immediate draw. With flashy jumbo prizes, lofted between dashing incandescent lights, it’s easy to be hooked. Don’t be. Let’s assess our options in this category.

   Games of skill:

  • The basketball game

   It’s no secret this game is gaffed. The rims are oval, 12 feet high, and further back than a free throw. If you thought that’s where the disadvantages end, you’d be sorely mistaken. Along with being a tough shot, the balls are overinflated. The basketball game attracts a large crowd. Who doesn’t want to make the county fair buzzer beater? Nevertheless, if you are not one for the spotlight or the best shot, let’s continue.

  • The block buster

   A game with three blocks stacked in a linewhat could be difficult? Let me tell you. Physics. The top block is set farther forward than the bottom two. Almost always, the top block will drop forward and land on the table. Which means you’re out of ten bucks. If you have a big arm, or a hair of technique you can fare well here.

  • The frog bog

     Who doesn’t love froggin’ in the rain? With 12 rubber frogs, the world is your oyster. Defined by a flimsy wooden catapult, the frog bog encapsulates the silliness and strategy of carnival games. If you are looking to showcase your precision or want to have fun, this game is for you.

How to win.

  Beginning with the basketball game, the best shot is one with a high arc. When shooting at ovals, the margin for error is slim. You need to slow the ball to beat the odds. Aiming for the back of the iron or the front of the rim is a foolproof technique for rolling in the rock. If you brought your own ball, it doesn’t hurt to see if you can use it. Reducing the bounce is the key to an easy make.

Technique demonstration for slowing the ball down (Joey Skerbeck)

  You’ll be told to throw the ball softly, but don’t be deceived. Throwing the ball with a tight downward motion is critical to beating the block buster. Aiming for the crease between the top and second block is the optimal strategy for pushing off the blocks. Be careful not to cross the line, or the carnival worker will give you an earful.

Demonstration of tight downward motion (Joey Skerbeck)

  I am not an advocate for cheating, but at the frog bog it’s easy. It’s much easier to throw the frog if the worker turns their back. On the other hand, if you don’t have the heart for dishonesty, load the frogs with their legs tucked underneath their backs. Launching them in this fashion will create a ‘spring’ that gives the frog both direction and magnitude. Aiming for the middle crown is the easiest target. Unlike the other crowns, this one stays still, increasing your consistency. 

Spotlight of a lined up catapult (Joey Skerbeck)

  The benefit of skill-based games is the ability to boost your odds of winning. Fear not if talent is not your forte. Games of chance offer a whole new set of choices.

Games of chance:

  • The ring-a-bottle

   The classic ring-a-bottle game has been a showpiece across midways for decades. Taunted by life-sized plushies, consumers aimlessly throw plastic circles for hours. Carnival connoisseurs point to the impractical nature of winning. But with a little finesse, this is not a bad choice.

  • The water race

   Water racin’ and water chasin’ is the name of the game. While one could argue that this is a game of skill (which it is to some extent), competition adds a layer of uncertainty. If you can eye down the competition and keep an eye on the target, this is a surefire choice.

How to win.

   Against common belief, throwing the whole bucket of rings does not improve your chance. Instead, when playing the ring-a-bottle, focus your attention on the rings. Sticky and cracked rings will be your friends. These features reduce the bounce. For the same reason, it’s wise to play when it’s busy. Rings colliding in the air have a deadening effect, causing more winners. Carnival workers can maneuver the bottles to create more reverberation and fewer winners. Pay attention to the vibrations of the bottles before you cough up ten dollars.

Checking rings for cracks (Joey Skerbeck)

   Just like real estate, the water race is all about location. Keep proximity in mind before picking a squirt gun. Due to the water pressure, being closer to the pump puts you in a better spot to win. In addition to picking a good seat, focus on your competition. Playing when there’s a big crowd means you win a bigger prize, but consequently it makes the game more difficult. Use good judgment to determine not only the best lane but also the best time to play.

Observation of targets (Joey Skerbeck)

Final takeaway.

   Carnival games are supposed to be fun. While impressing your friends with your newfound knowledge will be rewarding, enjoying the games for the sake of amusement is the true pleasure. No matter the game you choose, whether it be a prize every time or a game of skill, there is a value in each experience. I can’t promise I’ll be safe from the carnival mafia, but I can promise I’ll always be an advocate for entertainment.