Apr 282008
Part of the Carnival Midway Games Series - Previous in series         

Carnival season is upon us once again. Z and I visited our first carnival of the year a few weeks back and will be visiting our second this coming weekend. Thus, it seems time to refresh the memories of all those ‘big strapping’ men out there looking to win the affection of their lady love via giant teddy bears and other plush critters.

This is actually the third installment in a series of midway game secrets. The first two entries on how to win carnival games were written last July and have received consistent traffic ever since (even over the winter months), so there’s clearly interest in these tips. Already covered in those other entries were the following games-

Carnival Midway Games Revealed (Part One)
carnival midway games

  • General carnival midway tips
  • Basketball Toss
  • Jacob’s Ladder
  • Machine Gun Star
  • Dart Balloons
  • Test Of Strength / High Striker
  • Speed Throw
  • Chicken Catapult (or frog or witch or ???)

Carnival Midway Games Revealed (Part Two)
carnival midway games

  • Winning Without Playing
  • Patience and Observation
  • The Cat Rack / Clown Toss
  • Milk Bottle Pyramid
  • Dime Toss / Quarter Toss
  • Water Race / Balloon Pop
  • Bushel Baskets
  • Skee-Ball
  • The Claw

If you’re looking for general strategies I highly recommend you read the previous two articles in the series as there’s not really space to recap them here. Instead I’m going to focus on winning secrets for the following midway games: Stand A Bottle, Bank-A-Ball / Stop Signs, Whack-A-Mole, and The Stacker.

Stand A Bottle – This carnival classic dates back to the earliest of traveling circuses and sideshows, but seems to be making a comeback in recent years due to its simplicity and low overhead. The game looks simple enough – a milk bottle, soda bottle, etc lays on a small platform. You are given a simple fishing rod with a ring where the bait should go. All you have to do is use the ring to hook the bottle and stand it upright without knocking it off the platform in the process.

The reason this game keeps making a comeback is because each generation (wrongly) thinks they understand the science involved better than the previous one. This task is far more difficult then it seems. Nevertheless, I’ve actually seen two different strategies work consistently.

Strategy Tip One

Your instincts (and quite possibly the carny’s demonstration) will tell you to use the rod to lift the bottle by ‘pulling’ the bottle towards you. That is, start with the neck of the bottle pointing directly away from you and then pull it back into an upright position. Inevitably, though the bottle will rotate on its base, escape the ring, and fall from the platform.

Thus, the trick here is to ‘push’ the bottle instead of ‘pull it’. Start with the neck of the bottle pointing towards you and the rod, hook the ring and lift it away from you. Honestly, I don’t understand why this works, but can attest to the fact that it frequently does.

Strategy Tip Two –

For this one you do want the neck of the bottle facing away from you. However, instead of holding the rod at a 90 degree angle hold it at about a 5 degree angle – nearly upright. This will probably take long arms or a carny who doesn’t mind a bit of a lean, but if you have neither return to the first strategy above. Loop the ring over the neck of the bottle than slowly raise the rod (not the string – the entire rod) until the string is taut. This next step is where the steady hands are needed. Ignore the string, stay 100% focused on the rod itself and pull up and towards you slowly and steadily. The bottle needs to remain directly beneath the rod at all times. If it starts to waver, lower it to gently to the platform and start again. Remember to be the tortoise, not the hare and you’ll be walking away with the giant bear 😀

Bank A Ball / Stop Signs / Flukey Ball – In this game the player needs to bounce a ball (softball, baseball, wiffle ball, whatever) off of an angled sign (typically a stop sign or backboard with that summer’s hottest character on it) and drop it into a basket placed flat on the ground. The problem is that the angle of the backboard is so steep that it’s darn near impossible to both hit the board and land in the basket. Yet the booth operator seems to do it every time. That’ s because he is a) closer so doesn’t have to throw as hard and, b) can throw under hand so that the ball hits the sign while moving in an upward direction instead of falling down. It’s the latter advantage that is the most key.

Most players don’t even try to throw underhand, instead hoping to use some sort of spin to deaden the drop. But that won’t help you here. Nor will hitting the edges or rolling down the backboard as neither is permitted. The physics demand that the ball be moving in an upward direction when it comes into contact with the backboard. So why, you may ask, doesn’t the player simply lob it underhand just like the carny? Because the edge of the booth gets in the way! In order to hit the backboard with the ball gaining altitude it must be released fairly low and the booth construction generally prevents this.

If you really want to win this game, then keep the physics in mind and prepare to practice, practice, practice.

Whac A Mole – I’ve never personally worked this game and haven’t played it much either, but am constantly inundated with tips on how to gain the edge over the other players. Here are the tips that seem to be the most effective-

  1. Kneel in front of the game – this should put the mole holes at eye level allowing you to identify their locations more rapidly.
  2. Stare directly down into the center hole and don’t move your focus spot until the game is over. Essentially you’re allowing your peripheral vision and instinctive motion sense to rapidly identify where there are moving moles waiting to to be whacked.

The Stacker – Just like the claw games (discussed in part two), The Stacker isn’t really a ‘skill’ game at all. In fact, it is impossible to win until it has received enough money to make the game profitable for the arcade. You’re seeing those big ticket prizes (iPods, PS3, X-Box, etc) in the stacker for this very reason. The odds of winning are set internally somewhere between 1 in 200 plays and 1 in 800 plays depending on the value of the prize and the deisred profit margin.

In other words, as long as you think of it more as a raffle then anything that involves skill, you should do just fine 😉

That’s all I’ve got time for today. However, coming up in Part Four will be some tips, tricks and secrets for Wacky Wire, Cover The Spot / Spot The Spot, Milk can softball, and anything else I encounter at the carnival this weekend.

Until then, remember that the carnival is supposed to be about fun in the sun, not the size of the prize.

More from Carnival midway game items-

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Part of the Carnival Midway Games Series - Previous in series        

  12 Responses to “Carnival Midway Games Revealed (Part Three)”

  1. Nicely written descriptions of common carnival games. If you’re interested in learning about sophisticated old school crooked carnival games, you might want to look up my memoir EYEING THE FLASH: THE MAKING OF A CARNIVAL CON ARTIST, published by Simon & Schuster. The NY Times called the book “A cross between Ferris Bueller and William S. Burroughs…(A) hilarious, twsited coming-of-age story.” It’s available on amazon for 10-11 bucks.

  2. LOL!

    I actually just ordered your books yesterday! I swear!

    I came across a reference to it while looking up some info for this series and knew I had to have it 🙂 I’ll surely post a review here once I’ve received and devoured it.

    And thanx for the kind words, Peter.

  3. the reason that pushing the milk bottle works is because when you push away you also lift, try unfolding your elbow and wattch how your hand rises. oddly enough when i read about this game pushing the milk bottle seemed like my first instinct

  4. That makes perfect sense, Ben! Thanks for cluing me in 🙂

  5. this is a great list, but do you know how to beat the uhh… bank-a-shot (i think it’s called) game… a picture of it is linked below
    The object of the game is to bounce a whiffle ball off a slanted backboard and land it in the basket below it, the operators seem to do it no problem….. however I and many other people find it impossible, what’s the trick?!


  6. 😡 I won a sony wii at bank a ball at the alameda county fair today and the carny said i didn’t win because i hit the edge. then proceeds to explain that the edge continues onto the face of the board the width of the ball!
    before playing it was explained clearly the edge was the corner of the board where the face stops. i complained and the carny hands me my money back and says pick a different prize. come to find out, if you take your money back it voids your ability to complain to a higher ranking employee. the more grand prizes won the less the carnies make per shift. so they are encouraged to cheat winning players as it increases the size of their payout! the games
    are already difficult enough without them cheating you too! so dont take your money back if you have a complaint and make them explain every detail of the game first if there is a big prize on the line. a video camera would be a great way to prevent this!

  7. The deal with a bank a ball is funny actually. My girlfriend was a carnie and she can make that shot from the side where the players stand damn near everytime thats because she knows how she is suppose to toss it and where to hit the board to make the ball just drop in. But she will not play carnival games but she shows me that she can do them

  8. Thanks for the tips! You’ve covered a really good number of these games and I can’t wait to try some of these when my local theme park opens in a month or so. Unfortunately, first part of this series isn’t loading, though. I would really like to know how to beat those games, particularly speed throw and chicken catapult. If you could repost those for fix the page or just let me know how by replying in the comments, it would be really appreciated. Thanks!

  9. DNM,

    Thanks for the praise and the heads up. Part one is back online. Enjoy and good luck!


  10. Any reason the line stopped with no more posts???

  11. After losing the first three times at Whac A Mole at Six Flags Great Adventure, I tried both tips and I won! I did have a beer before I played, so that could have done it too. Next time I’ll have to try it sober.

  12. Ive been a carnie for over 10 years and most of your “tricks” are quite accurate. ive personally wored 98% of the games you see on midways now and even acouple that arnt allowed anymore no matter what state your in. I dont know if you know about it but in the 80’s and early 2000 cnn had a serirs on carnival games. Send me any questions you have and ill be happy to inform you on why it didnt work or what you did wrong. n btw the guy that said while you pushing the bottle you also lifting it for the bottle up is 100% correct. Just watch the stick n youll learn the trick 😉

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