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.

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Apr 272008
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100 Years Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Z and I made our first joint trek of 2008 to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk last weekend. I’ve been unable to afford to renew our season passes yet, so it was a games only day (oh and Z finally got her first deep fried twinkie – she liked it 😯 ). Sometime over the winter semi-closure of the Boardwalk a couple of major changes occurred with their carnival games.

First the good news

The price of almost all the games has been reduced from $3 per play to $2 per play. As soon as I saw this two thoughts competed to occupy the forefront of my brain-

  1. Huzzah! We can play more games today!
  2. Wait a second. Prices never go down.

Turns out, both thoughts were accurate. We were able to (and did) play more games. Although I skipped a few regulars for reasons pointed out below, we did hit up about half the open booths on the midway, including a couple we almost never play because I’m no good at them. Of course, we also brought home several new plush critters to crowd Z’s new bed.

Second the bad news-

Without fail, every single game had (at least) one of two things happen-

  1. The games got significantly more difficult to win
  2. The prizes got smaller and/or cheaper

In several cases both of these changes occurred. For example, the classic bushel basket game which I win 90% of the time I play. Traditionally (and up until last year at the Boardwalk) you pay your money ($3 last year) and receive three balls. You win by getting a single ball to remain in the basket. Some variants have smaller prizes which can be traded up to bigger prizes, with each “made” ball earning a small prize. This year the Boardwalk has changed the game in several ways-

  • They lowered the price from $3 for 3 balls to $2 for two balls
  • They raised the height of the baskets. They’re the same baskets but they now rest higher up on the platform.
  • They got all new colored wiffle balls. I don’t think this actually effects game play, but it is a noticable change.
  • Last year they had a single prize as described above. They now have small prizes which are tradeable (2-for1) for large prizes.
  • They posted a “Game over when you win” sign. What this means is that if you make your first ball in the basket your second ball is now a waste of money. You are not allowed to win two small prizes (tradeable for one large prize) on your single $2 entry fee.

As a result of these changes (and, I must admit the lack of utter cuteness in the critters / prizes) I refused to play my all-time favorite carnival game. Similar changes can be seen at other game booths. The red star dart game used to be $3 for three darts or $5 for six darts. Every dart in a red star won a prize which could be traded up. Now it’s $2 for two darts or four darts for $3. They also increased the top level prize to a full size guitar. Sounds good, right? But in order to get a prize comparable to last year’s “small” you now have to hit with three darts. Hitting one or two darts gets you much smaller prizes then previously offered here. In order to win the full size guitar you have to hit four darts out of four! Needless to say, given my 30% (or so) win rate on this game in the past and the jacked up fees (disguised as price reductions) I didn’t throw any darts in Santa Cruz.

Here’s some proof of the smaller prizes for y’all-

(The “shelf” the first two are sitting on is a step in the ladder visible in the third picture. The steps are roughly 11″ across with the height between steps just under 9″)

That first one is the new small prize for the Chicken Catapult game. It’s now $2 for three chickens (a $1 price reduction), and it doesn’t have the “game ends with win” rule of the Bushel Baskets game (above), but what used to be the small prize is now the medium prize. As it always takes me at least one (and usually two) chickens to hone in on the pot this seriously increases my personal cost/benefit ratio.The second one (the sequiny whale) is the new 2-4 player prize for the infamous balloon race game.The larger purple snake in the last picture used to be the 2-4 player prize.The third picture is the new 2-4 player prize for the water race game. Again, the price is lower, but as can be seen clearly in the last pic the prize is much smaller as well.Finally, the exciting news-

Although Z was saddened to see that the old Skee-ball palace next to Frightwalk has been closed, the new facade on the building had me very intrigued-

Apparently this is going to be something called “Desperadoes” and is being managed by the Games Department. Other than that I have no clue. But if you do, a comment and or link would be much appreciated.

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Dec 312007
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Despite the Christmas trip being cancelled, Z and I headed up to Vallejo and Six Flags Discovery Kingdom on Saturday. The trip was canceled because I was no longer going to support her spoiled nature. The DK trip was permissible because she paid her own way. The primary motivation for the trip (other than riding Medusa) was “The Biggest Christmas Tree In The World”. And let me tell you, this tree was BIG! We’re talking over 125 feet tall (compared to Rockefeller Center’s meager 85 foot tall tree and the puny 41’9″ National Christmas Tree in Washington), a branch diameter of 55 feet, more than 9 1/2 miles of lights with 42,000 bulbs, and a weight of more than 24,000 pounds!

But wait, I’m getting ahead of myself…

We decided on Discovery Kingdom while eating and headed on up after breakfast. Due to the lack of planning we didn’t arrive in Vallejo until shortly after 1pm, and were surprised to discover the parking lot still chained up. Turns out the park didn’t actually open until 2pm! So, we wandered around Vallejo a bit, stopping for lunch at Togo’s and returned to the park a few minutes after opening. After a quick stop in the shops (so I could buy a warmer shirt – the one I’m wearing in the pic to the right) we ogled the world’s largest Christmas tree for a bit, then headed straight to Medusa. Although I’m not sure she’s actually said it, I’m 90% sure Medusa is Z’s favorite roller coaster ‘evah’. We took walk on seats in the very last row and the ride was as smooth as ever. The back is nearly as exciting as the front, although the little “rest stop” in the middle of the ride isn’t quite as impressive from the back.

After that necessary stop we wandered the park a bit checking out the holiday theming Overall we weren’t that impressed with anything outside of the tree itself. The rest of the park seemed rather haphazardly decorated and roughly 1/2 (by my estimate) was closed including most of the animal areas and both Vertical Velocity and Roar. We did, however, find Santa’s Office. He wasn’t around, but we took the opportunity to take a picture of ourselves in his special, limited edition, Six Flags Discovery Kingdom sleigh.

And then it happened… the unthinkable… I got robbed on the Midway! Okay, it’s not as nefarious as it first sounds, but here’s my story…

While wandering we somehow found our way to the midway. Yeah, yeah, I’m an addict so this isn’t really surprising. However, what was surprising was that Discovery Kingdom had replaced all of the prize critters on the water gun racing game with holiday prizes: stuffed Rudolph, Santa & Abominable Snowman. In all my midway adventures I’ve never seen a plush Santa prize, so Z and I settled in for our latest duel. I, with years of experience, took an early lead. At least I did so according to the game op who was providing color commentary during our battle. But then, just as I was about to claim my victory he announced “Uh..oh.. looks like number one [Z] needs a little help” and then bent over and blocked my stream of water with his hand(!), announcing “look at that come behind victory! The little lady wins a prize!” It was all in good fun of course, and the guy actually reminded me a bit of myself in my early carny days – anything to keep people entertained and playing.

Next up was the Looney Tunes Seaport which we had bypassed on our first trip back in Halloween since it is the primary “kiddie area”. However, I learned after the fact that there is a roller coaster in that area so we went to ride it and further my long term goal of riding every coaster in California. As we approached we saw it running with a mostly empty car, but we got distracted by discovering all of Bugs Bunny’s furniture laying around the area. Z and her newly (and underhandedly) acquired Santa Clause plopped themselves in to two of Bugs’ easy chairs to watch a little television. I finally managed to drag them away from The Tube, but by the time we got over to the kiddie coaster the ride op informed us it was not running. She was talking to a friend as we approached, so both Z and I think she was just being lazy, but there wasn’t much we could do about it without damaging our day as well, so we chose to move on.

I’ve written before about how much Z loves Discovery Kingdom’s top spin ride: Voodoo, so I knew she’d want to ride it. In that same ride report I explained why I don’t like the ride, so I took a smoke break while she rode. I managed to discover some familiar wildlife. I watched the adventures of this squirrel trying to find his way out of one the (drained) water rides. He did manage to find a way out eventually, but not before getting soaking wet in a rather large puddle of remaining water.

It was nearing 5:00 by now and we headed back to the main courtyard for the lighting of the World’s Largest Christmas Tree. (You remember the tree, right? The post’s about the tree.) Although we managed to meet up with a lovely Gingerbread Couple along the way. We also picked up some seasonal hot apple cider to warm us while we waited for the lighting. A crowd gathered, of course, but it wasn’t nearly the size of the crowds for the Thriller zombie performances during Fright Fest. Captain Lee Munro made a few quick announcements (read: plugs), a quick countdown and voila! It truly was impressive watching 42,000 Christmas bulbs covering over 125 feet of pine tree simultaneously blink on. And that’s coming from a confirmed grinch!

I must be getting old, because at this point I was both cold and tired. Z reminded me, however, that there was a new holiday “ride” in the 4-D Iwerks theater – “Santa’s Late”. Unfortunately, something was wrong with the projector, so we had to settle for meeting a couple of Santa’s reindeer. Of course, we couldn’t head home without another ride on Medusa as well, so it was only after that thrill that we finally headed back out to the parking lot.

I’ve probably made it pretty clear throughout this post, but The Biggest Christmas Tree In The World is definitely a must-see event. This is truly a majestic bit of Holiday cheer. Six Flags Discovery Kingdom will be open daily through January 6th so if you’re in Northern California I can’t recommend a trip more highly.

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Jul 242007
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A quick recap:
old carnival

In Carnival Midway Games Revealed (Part One) I gave my credentials and revealed the “secrets” behind winning some midway classics: Ladder Climb, Machine Gun Star, Basketball, Balloon Darts, Test Of Strength, Speed Throw and the Chicken Catapult. I also addressed the reasons that very few, if any, carnival games are rigged these days, befriending carnies, and choosing where to play.

In this installment I’ll cover some more general tips as well as covering another half dozen or so games. I’ve also got a request for y’all, at the end. First some basics:

If you can flirt, you may not even need to win. True carnies spend a lot of time on the road. The majority of the men feel they’re quite good with the ladies. They also know, from experience, that a well-placed “winner” may very well get them some company for the evening. If you want that teddy bear bad enough, flirting just may work. Whether you follow through or not is, of course, up to you


Bribes work as well. Most carnies are pretty heavy drinkers and few are opposed to other mind-altering substances if the price is right (like one of their boss’ prizes, for example). Cash goes a long way as well, but is much more difficult to hide from the overseers then material bribes.

Never try to play to a carny’s sympathy. I’ve never seen it work. Regardless of the game being straight or rigged, most carnies see themselves as con men. Life on the road isn’t easy and cynicism is the order of the day.

Patience and observation are the key. The more time you spend observing other people playing (people, not carnies), the more you’ll understand the game. Watch the angle the players are at, keep an eye on the specific equipment being used, and anything else you can possibly take in. These games are set-up and taken down quite frequently, so what works today may not quite work tomorrow. Observe and learn.

Alright, on to the specifics. First up, we’ll deal with the traditional midway games, then I’ll share some tips for a couple of games found in arcades across America.
cat rack carnival game

The Cat Rack: You may not recognize the name, but you’d surely recognize the game. This is one of the deeper booths and it has several rows of very hairy carnival punks (cats, monsters, whatever) lined up that need to be knocked over with a thrown baseball, softball, or beanbag. The Cat Rack is a classic because it is deceptively difficult. The punks have all that hair for a reason. It makes it difficult to gauge which part is actually solid and leads to the assumption that they’re much closer to each other than they actually are. The most common mistake at the Cat Rack is to throw hard. These punks are not difficult to knock over, they’re difficult to hit. Don’t worry about hitting them hard, just make sure you throw accurately. When I used to work the Cat Rack I encouraged people to lean over the counter as far as possible. Why? Because this puts them off balance and makes accuracy more difficult. A common derivative of this is to have plates that need to be broken. Again, these plates are much weaker than they appear (they’re cheaper that way), so concentrate on accuracy over power.

milk bottle midway game

Milk Bottles: Again, this game’s still around because it still manages to fool most of the people, most of the time. Although it takes more power than the Cat Rack, accuracy is still far more important here. The “trick” is that most people aim for the center where the milk bottles rest upon each other. You want to be aiming for the center bottom. 80 percent of the weight of a milk bottle is in the bottom 20% of its height. This isn’t because they’re “rigged”, it’s just a result of their manufacturing process. If you knock out the bottom bottles the top one is very likely to fall off the table as well. Many people try to hit the bottles at an angle. With a stack of three this is simply wasted energy. You’ll actually have to hit the bottles harder at an angle then you would if you hit them straight on. When the game includes five bottles the angle may be worthwhile, but only if you miss completely with your first ball.

Dime/Quarter Toss: For some reason this is one of the most popular games for young children. I suppose it’s all that glittering glass. The thing to remember is that the cliche “stops on a dime” exists for a reason. Forward motion takes space to be stopped: much more then is usually available on the slick surface of these glass plates. The “straight” way to win this game is to arc the coin so that it has almost zero forward motion when it lands on the plate. Don’t toss the coins, lob them. Then it’s just a matter of accuracy and bounce. The “crooked” way to ensure you take home a prize is to ensure your coin creates more friction than metal and glass traditionally would have. The most common method for doing this is to get a little spit on the coin, though I’ve found that saving gross old coins will cause a lot fewer conflicts with the carnies. When I was on the circuit I don’t think we stopped in a single small town where some local football star didn’t get the bright idea to coat his coins in the “stickum” made famous by Fred Biletnikoff and Lester Hayes. It’ll get the job done, but we also left more than one town early as a result of conflicts with the local team. A better bet may be to let the kids eat some sticky foods (funnel cake, anyone) just before playing and then simply act innocent when they win.

balloon race game

Water Guns / Balloon Races: These are the games where observation is very much king. As pointed out in the first installment, carnivals aren’t known for maintaining their gmae equipment. There can be a dramatic difference between one station and another in these games. Some guns have better water flow then others, some targets are more sensitive then others, and some compressors have better airflow then others. The only way to know for sure is to observe a lot of games and see which ones win more often. Many people suggest looking for old or new balloons on the balloon pop version of this game, but having personally run a few thousand balloon races, I haven’t seen a notable pattern of new vs. old. However, if you were to come by more than a couple of hours into my shift and befriend me I could almost assuredly tell you which stations were most likely to take home the prize.

bushel baskets

Bushel Baskets: I can’t count the number of different methods I’ve heard for winning the bushel basket game. The thing is, it really is one of the easiest games on the midway, so many of them work often enough to convince their supporters. Having both worked this booth and won 95% of the times I’ve played it, I can assure you that my system is as close to a guarantee as you can get when it comes to the midway. The trick is to palm the ball and lob it lightly so that it catches the outer edge of the lower rim. As you toss it your hand should be above the ball, raising your arm in a smooth motion and tossing with your wrist. No need to put a “spin” on the ball. The very nature of tossing it this way will put a very slight one on it. This force will be reversed when its the basket, causing the ball to stop nearly dead as it comes into contact with the back of the basket.


SkeeBall: SkeeBall was invented in Philadelphia almost 100 years ago (it will be celebrating it’s centennial in 2009), found its way to midways everywhere in the roaring 20s and today is a staple both at carnivals and arcades. When I was but a wee lad I made my first solo trek to a carnival midway, pocket brimming with quarters, and met a man that appeared to be 100 years old himself. He’d be running the SkeeBall concession on that particular circuit since World War II and could literally score a 40 or 50 every roll even with his eyes closed, blindfolded or backwards. He taught me his tricks and they’ve never failed me. He taught me to position myself in front of alley A while playing on alley B, which would be the alley to the immediate right. This allows me to roll the ball at an angle so that it impacts with the side rail approximately 3/4 of the way up. Once you’ve found the magic spot for the particular SkeeBall variation you’re playing it’s just a matter of zoning in on the speed necessary to hit 40s and 50s on a regular basis.

claw game

The Claw: Modern claw games are the exception that proves the rule when it comes to rigged games. Modern games are programmed in the same way slot machines are to only “pay out” after a certain number of plays. This setting is adjustable, so observation is key once again. Simply wait for a winner, then count the number of players before the next winner. Lather, rinse, repeat, and the pattern should become clear. This will tell you when you have a chance of winning. Getting the claw positioned over the prize you seek is entirely up to you. Note that I said “modern” claw games. The older versions have no such “timing” device and count on the challenge of the game and the low cost of the prizes to ensure their profit margins. It’s also possible to turn off these regulators altogether meaning it’s possible to win 9 times out of 10 on a particular machine in the morning, only to not have a chance for 20 plays in the afternoon.

I hope these tips will lead you to success on your next visit to the midway, whether that means winning the girl, or being your child’s hero once again. The most important thing to remember, is that midways are there to be fun and exciting. The prizes are great, but it’s the joy in playing that should be the real draw.

Oh, I almost forgot! If anyone knows any tips or tricks for the “jumping metal fish” game that’s recently arrived on numerous midways I’d love to hear them! They’ve got one at my local amusement park and it’s driving me absolutely insane!

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Jul 212007
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Men spend countless dollars every summer in (usually) vain attempts to prove their manhood by winning a prize for their girlfriend, wife or child(ren) at the local amusement park, county fair or traveling carnival. classic carnival midway Balls are thrown, guns are shot, and rings are tossed all in an attempt to be ‘the hero’. Well, as a former carny who spent years on the road with the Butler Brothers, I’m here to give you a few tips, save you a little cash, and maybe even help you look like the ‘man’ you want your loved ones to believe you are.

First, the basics:

Few, if any, carnivals still “rig” their games. There simply is no need. The odds are already stacked in the operator’s favor, just as they are in the casinos. The prizes are so cheap when purchased wholesale and the games so challenging, that cheating simply isn’t necessary.

The ‘smaller’ the business behind the carnival the more difficult the games will be to win. In other words, amusement parks (backed by multi-billion dollar conglomerates) have no need to ‘con’ you out of a few more bucks, the games on the midway at your county or state fair are run by legitimate businesses as the fair is a repeat booking with nearly guaranteed attendance, and the mini-carnivals that spring up in abandoned parking lots are the most likely to be focused exclusively on your wallet.


Befriending a carny can increase your odds of walking away with a prize, but not at the amusement parks or ‘corporate’ carnivals. Almost all carnies (those who travel from town to town) work on a commission basis. Winners bring players, so fill their needs and they may well fill yours. 😉 This doesn’t work on the high school kids working at the local theme park, as the eyes of their corporate bosses are usually keeping careful watch through nearby surveillance cameras.

Jay White, of DumbLittleMan.com recently shared his tips on How To Beat [4] Popular Carnival Games. He covered The Ladder, Machine Gun Star, Basketball, and Dart games, with fine advice for all, but I’ve got a few more tips for each of them as well:

The Ladder: Definitely the most entertaining carnival game for the spectators. These ladders are connected at only a single point on either end. But it’s unlike any ladder you’ve ever climbed. First off, never grab the rungs of the ladder. Your hands should remain on the outer ropes while your feet either sit above the rungs on the ropes themselves or are tucked into the corner of the rung and rope. Move like an animal – a slow, steady animal. When you remove your right foot from the ladder, your left hand should be moving and vice versa. This allows you to keep your weight more evenly distributed.

Machine Gun Star / Target: You get 100 rounds to shoot out that little star? No problem! Or so you think. This is the most difficult game on the midway, so take any edge you can get! Forget about trying to use the sites to aim, these guns receive zero maintenance. However, keep an eye on the people playing before you. Don’t worry about the ‘accuracy’ of the weapon. Instead, choose the one with the tightest shot grouping. You’ll be tempted to work your way out from the center of the target, but this is a waste of your ammunition. Instead work your way around the outside edge of the colored area. A lot of carnies will leave loading tubes sitting on the counter. These are also poorly maintained and many have their ends crimped higher up than others. Look for the tubes with the shortest amount of space below the crimp as they’ll hold more pellets. Remember that tip about befriending the game operator? They have almost total discretion to determine winners at this game, so bring ’em a beer if you really want to win.

Basketball: Yes, the balls are overinflated, neither the ball nor the hoop is regulation size, and the backboard has more action than a Ft. Lauderdale bar during Spring Break. The key here, as in most ‘ball through hoop/opening’ games is to drop straight down. Forget the backboard and avoid the rim at all costs. In fact, remember when you used to shoot hoops by swinging the ball between your legs and ‘alley-ooping’ it up at the basket? That’s probably your best bet here as well.

Dart Balloons: How hard could it be to pop a balloon with a dart? Well, it gets more difficult when the darts are duller than the corn dog you just ate and the balloons are so limp they’re barely holding their shape. Dumb Little Man suggests bringing your own darts, but are you really interested in carrying darts around all day just for a trinket? Go ahead and use their dull darts. But don’t worry about using the ‘sharp’ point to try to pop the woefully under inflated balloon. Instead, arc the dart so that it hits the board on a steep downward trajectory, thus using the weight of the dart to do the damage.

Test Of Strength: Probably the definitive midway challenge is the ‘test of strength’. Unfortunately it’s not seen much anymore. As mentioned above, even here, it’s not as much about brawn as you might think. Accuracy is the true key to taking hope the Kewpie doll. You need to land the mallet perfectly flat in the dead center of the target. Anything else just wastes energy. Grip the very end of the hammer with both hands so as to get the most centrifugal force and swing it completely over your head, using your arcing back to add power.

Speed Throw: A modern version of the Test of Strength, which measures the speed or power in a thrown baseball or football. Much like its predecessor, accuracy is far more important here than strength. Watch a few players before stepping up yourself in order to judge where the ‘sweet spot’ is on the target. Hint: if you’re looking at an over sized picture of a catcher, it’s most likely not in the dead center of his glove. 😉

Chicken/Frog/Witch Catapult: These were first introduced in the late ’80s and consist of a small catapult with a mallet attatched; a rotating table with 4 to 6 cooking pots, lily pads or cauldrons; and a stuffed or rubber critter. You place the critter on one end of the catapult, whack the other end with the mallet, and try to make the critter land in the pot. The good news is you usually get three critters and only need to get one ‘in’ to be a winner. Make sure to tuck all of the extremities (arms, legs, wings, etc.) under the body of the critter, leaving yourself with a tight little projectile. On your first shot, aim for the cauldron farthest from you and hit the catapult as hard as you can. This will give you an idea of how much force is necessary and how much is too much. Landing a prize shouldn’t be too difficult at that point.

There are many more games out there that I’ve worked over the years. In part two I share the insider secrets to another 7 midway games: Cat Rack, Water Gun / Balloon Races, Dime/Quarter Toss, Bushel Baskets, Skee Ball, Crane Games, and the infamous Milk Bottles.

Hopefully these tips will come in handy the next time the carnival rolls through your town.

Part of the Carnival Midway Games Series -        Next in series