Beat the Carnies: The Secrets to Winning 5 Popular State Fair Games

by Brett & Kate McKay on September 26, 2011 · 57 comments

in Gamesmanship, Manly Skills

It’s state fair time once again all over the country. And that means Ferris wheels, giant turkey legs, a visit from the world’s smallest horse, and, of course, the chance to try your hand at winning the carnival games that line the midway.

If you love playing these games at the state fair, but usually find yourself walking away from the booths empty-handed or with a dinky Chinese finger trap as a consolation prize, then this post is for you.

Step right up, gentlemen! Today you’re going to learn the secrets to beating the carnies and winning a giant stuffed animal for your gal.

General Guidelines

Assume most games are gaffed. Gaffed is carnie speak for rigged. Gaffs in midway games lie on a spectrum that ranges from “nudge, nudge, wink, wink” to downright criminal. Most gaffs don’t make the games impossible to win. They just make you work harder. For example, it’s common knowledge that the basketball rims at carnival free throw shooting games are usually smaller than regulation-size and bent into an oblong shape to appear larger in the front. Moreover, the baskets are often hung higher than regulation basketball goals. You can still make a basket, it just take a bit more skill and finesse.

Bottom line, if a game looks really easy to win, assume that something’s been gaffed to make it harder.

Watch before you put down your money. One way to guard yourself from gaffed games is to watch other suckers, I mean customers, play. Check to see if the carnie uses different balls when he’s demonstrating the game from the ones he gives the customers. Observe what works for successful players.

Ask questions. Don’t assume you understand how the game works or what the rules are. Milk Can at the Vermont State Fair might have different rules than Milk Can at the Tulsa State Fair. Before you lay your money down, ask questions so you know exactly what you have to do to win.

Use the same equipment and stand where the carnie stood while playing. Carnies often demonstrate games to customers to show them how easy it is to win. When you step up to the counter, and before you lay your money down, ask the carnie if you can use the same ball he did and stand in the same spot he was standing in when he successfully completed the game. If the carnie hems and haws, it’s probably a sign that the game is gaffed and can only be won using a certain ball or if you’re standing in a certain spot. Take your money elsewhere.

Have fun! Don’t forget to have fun. Some people take these games way too seriously and scream bloody murder if they lose. If you lose, no need to make a federal case out of it. Most of the prizes aren’t even worth the $2 you paid to play the game. When I play state fair midway games, I like to think I’m paying $2 for a chance to test my skill at a particular game and to match wits with a carnie. It’s entertainment! If I lose, at least I had some fun doing it. On to the deep fried Snickers bar!

How to Win Five Popular State Fair Games

Milk Can

Milk Can is a classic state fair game that has been part of midways for over a century. The object of the game is simple: Toss a softball into a 10-gallon metal milk can from a line about four to six feet from the can. Sounds easy, right? Well, here’s the catch: these aren’t your ordinary milk cans. For carnivals, a concave piece of steel is welded to the rim of the can, making the hole just one-sixteenth of an inch larger than the softball. That’s a tight squeeze. Despite the small margin of error, Milk Can is actually one of the easier games to win (if you use the right technique). And it also usually offers some of the largest prizes on the midway.

The secret to winning Milk Can is to give the ball a bit of backspin and hit the back of the can’s rim. The backspin will decrease the ball’s momentum, and instead of bouncing off the can, it will slide into the hole. Easier said than done, of course!

Aim for the back of the rim. Remember, we’re trying to deflect the ball in, not sink the ball straight through the hole.

Toss the ball underhanded, but grip the ball on top. This will allow you to give the ball the needed backspin.

Give the ball some backspin as you release it. As you release the ball, give a little flick of the wrist so the ball starts spinning backwards in the air.

Throw the ball softly and with little arc. This point is debatable. Some people suggest that you give the ball a high arc so that it lands directly in the hole. While you could certainly go this route, there are two reasons you shouldn’t. First, the high arc might not be possible. Some carnies take this approach out of the equation by hanging big stuffed animal prizes right over the milk can, thus blocking a lofty throw. Second, the hole is too freaking small! You’d pretty much have to hit the hole dead-on to win. Remember, the best way to win Milk Can is to bank the ball off the back rim with some backspin. A soft, low-arc toss, with plenty of backspin will ensure that the ball sinks into the hole.

Rope Ladder

Ah, the Rope Ladder. My childhood nemesis. I don’t know how much money I’ve sunk into this game trying to reach the top, only to find myself spinning upside-down and being tossed onto a mattress. Defeat never tasted so bitter. Only the taste of a corn dog could wash it out of my mouth.

Rope Ladder is an addicting carnival game because it looks so simple to win. The object is to climb up an angled rope ladder with nine rungs and ring the bell at the top. The only problem is that both ends of the ladder are suspended over pivoting pulleys. One false move by a climber, and he’ll find himself spun upside-down and thrown off the ladder.

My 10-year-old self always thought the game was rigged, but Rope Ladder is actually very winnable. The secret is maintaining perfect balance the entire way up the ladder. Here’s how:

Make your center of gravity as wide as possible. Most people try to climb the rope ladder like it was any regular ladder–with feet and hands near the center of the rungs. Taking that approach will result in a guaranteed spin to the mattress. Instead of placing your hands on the rungs, place them on the rope. Next, place your feet as wide as possible on the rung, ideally where the rung and the rope meet.

Counterbalance every movement on the right side of your body, with a movement on the left. This is the tricky part. In order to maintain balance as you scale up the ladder, you need to counterbalance your movements. For example, when you lift your right arm to the next rung, you must simultaneously lift and move your left foot the same distance. Think of the way your dog walks–when he moves his right front leg forward, he moves his left rear leg, too, and vice versa. Do the same thing.

Lean forward. Best to keep your weight forward. Any shift back and you’ll be looking up at the sky.

Watch your knees and feet. Your knees and feet are prone to getting caught in the rope or on a rung while climbing up. To avoid that, keep your knees and toes pointed to the outside of the rope.

High Striker

For over a century, men at county and state fairs across America have tested their he-man strength with High Striker. Sometimes they compete for a stuffed doll for their gal, and sometimes the prize is the manly pride of beating their buddies.

If you’ve been to a fair or carnival, you’ve seen this game. A carnie stands next to a tower, goading men to step on up and show off their manly strength. Contestants are handed a heavy mallet and instructed to hit a pad that will launch a small puck up a track (usually a metal rod) along the tower. The man who rings the bell at the top wins the prize.

Many men think the key to winning this game is strength. Big buff football dudes will take the mallet in their paws and swing it as hard as they can, only to see the puck get up to the “Puny Weakling” level on the Strength-O-Meter. Dejected, they hand the mallet to their shrimp of a friend, only to see him ring the bell with ease, as seen in this great clip from Pride of the Yankees:

The most important factor is swing accuracy. While strength is necessary, you have to hit the pad directly in the center if you want to ring that bell.

Swing the mallet just as you would when splitting wood. There are two schools of thought on proper swing technique. The first and most prevalent is to swing the mallet just like you’re splitting wood. Start with your stronger hand towards the head of the mallet and your weaker hand as close to the end of the handle as possible. Bring the mallet up and over your head, and as you swing down towards the pad, your strong hand will slide down toward the end of the handle to meet your weaker hand. This technique gives you a bit more control and balance.

The other school of thought is to hold the handle as near to the end as possible with both hands and just bring the mallet head directly over your head and swing down. Sort of like Mario in Donkey Kong. Give a slight flick of the wrists–like Lou Gehrig does in the clip–right before you hit the pad. This technique gives you more power, but you lose some control and, consequently, accuracy.

Use whichever of the two techniques works for you.

Aim for the center of the pad. Remember, the center of the pad is the sweet spot.

Make sure the face of the mallet hits the pad squarely. If the mallet’s face is tilted when you hit the pad, you lose some of the oomph in your swing. You want the mallet face to hit the pad flatly and squarely.

Shoot the Star

What man can pass up a chance to show off his marksmanship skills with Shoot the Star? You’re given a BB gun and 100 BBs. The object of the game is to shoot out every bit of the red star off the target with just 100 BBs. It’s a difficult task, but doable with the right know-how.

Check the size of the star. Back in the 1980s, the FBI actually ran a study on the chances a player has of winning Shoot the Star. They determined that the game can be won if the diameter of the star is less than 1 and 1/2 inches. Your chances increase as the star gets smaller. Your best odds are when the star is an inch wide or smaller in diameter.

Check the type of paper. The type of paper the target is printed on is another factor in shooting out the star. If the target is printed on high fiber paper or linen, shooting out the star will be more difficult.

Self-zero the gun. The BB guns you’ll be using have probably seen years of wear and use, so they likely have flaws and don’t shoot straight. Some people think that carnies purposely bend the rifle barrels a bit so they don’t shoot true and straight. Either way, you’ll likely need to make adjustments in how you aim, so you can hit your intended target. You can do this quickly through self-zeroing.

Aim right above the top point of the star and quickly fire 3-4 BBs. Check where the BBs actually hit. They probably didn’t hit where you aimed. To make up for that, you’ll need to adjust where you aim the gun so the BBs hit where you want them to hit.

If the BBs hit a bit high and right of where you aimed, you’ll know you’ll need to aim down and to the left to hit your intended target. It might take a few shots to get used to this.

Shoot a circle around the star. This is the big secret to winning this game. When most people read the instructions–”All Red Star Must Be Shot from Card to Win a Prize”–the first thing they do is take aim at the center of the star and try to obliterate all the red, piece by piece, with their 100 BBs. This strategy is almost guaranteed to fail. There will almost always be just a wee bit of red left–one hanging red “chad” and you’re sunk.

Instead of shooting out the red piece by piece, shoot a circle pattern around the star. You’re basically cutting the red star out in a circle with your pellets. Difficult? Definitely. You’ll need around a 90% accuracy rate to accomplish the task. But it’s not impossible. Just take it slow and use the tips above.

Flukey Ball

In Flukey Ball, contestants must bank a wiffle ball off a slanted board and into the basket below. Sounds easy enough, but don’t be deceived. This game is tricky. But with the right technique, you can dominate it and win oversized combs by the fistful.

First, understand that the size of the board, the board’s angle, the size of the basket, the weight of the ball, and your distance from the target will vary from fair to fair. You’ll need to adapt these tips to your game’s unique set-up and rules.

Ask if you can lean. The closer you can get to the board, the easier it is to get the ball into the basket. If you can lean over the railing, lean over as far as possible to increase your chances of sinking the shot.

Make sure you use the same ball as the carnie. Some unscrupulous carnies will demonstrate how easy it is to win by using a heavier wiffle ball. Heavier balls are more likely to land in the basket after banking off the board. Watch to see which ball the carnie uses. If you notice that he gives you something different than what he used, he probably gave you the lighter, regulation-weight wiffle ball. Ask if you can use his.

Just graze the board. There are two different techniques to win Flukey Ball. What they both have in common is the need to toss the ball as lightly as possible and to just graze the board with it.

The first technique is called the High Toss method. Toss the ball as high as you can, but aim it so that on the downward arc it just grazes the middle of the board.

The second technique is the High Bank method. Instead of hitting the board on the way down, you graze the top of the board as the ball is going up so that it arcs back down into the basket.

Which method you use is a matter of preference.

Give it some front spin. Whether you use the High Toss or High Bank methods, to ensure your ball goes in, add a bit of frontspin as you release it.

Games to Avoid

While most of the complete scam games at carnivals and state fairs have been outlawed in many states, there are a few games still around that you should avoid, as they are often gaffed in a way that makes it impossible to win.

One Ball

One Ball is a popular state fair game that has bilked customers for decades.

Three old-fashioned looking milk bottles are stacked in a pyramid on top of a box. You’re given one throw with a softball to knock all three milk bottles off the box. It looks like if you hit the ball right in the middle of the triangular zone where the three bottles meet, the stack will come tumbling down. You give your hardest throw and make a direct hit, only to find a single bottle remaining on the box. Gaaaaa!!!! You club yourself over the head with a giant turkey leg in frustration.

Here’s how One Ball can be subtly gaffed so that it’s impossible for you to win.

The carnie will make one of the bottles heavier than the other two, but still light enough that it can be knocked off the table with a direct hit. When the carnie sets up the bottles, he’ll put the heavy bottle on the bottom row and slightly to the rear. When you throw your ball, it will hit the lighter bottles first, but won’t have enough energy to knock the heavy bottle off.

If people get suspicious, the carnie will show that it’s indeed possible to win with a quick demonstration. However, when he sets up the pyramid for himself, he’ll put the heavy bottle on top of the pyramid which makes it easy to knock all three bottles off if you hit the ball right in the middle of the pyramid.

The gaff is so hard to detect that it’s just not worth paying money to play this game.

Swinger

Here’s the typical setup for Swinger: A wooden pin sits on a table. Above it hangs a ball suspended from a rope. The object of the game is to swing the ball past the pin and knock it over as it returns towards you. Easy, right?

Nope.

If the pin is sitting directly under the hanging ball, it’s impossible to win. Here’s why.

In order to swing the ball past the pin first, you’ll have to swing the ball to the side of the pin in an arc. Basic physics says your ball will return in an arc the same distance from the pin on the return swing, meaning the ball will miss the pin completely on its way back.

If the pin is placed one inch to the right or left of the point where the ball hangs, then you have a chance to knock it over on the return swing. Carnies will often let you practice with this set-up so you’re fooled into thinking you can win. But when the throw actually counts, they’ll shift the pin directly underneath the point where the ball hangs. The shift is so small that it can be hard to detect.

Just avoid this game.

_______________________

What are your tips for becoming King of the Midway? Share them with us in the comments!

Illustrations by Ted Slampyak. Copyright Slampyak and McKay.

{ 57 comments… read them below or add one }

1 James September 26, 2011 at 3:25 pm

What a fun article!

2 Daren Redekopp September 26, 2011 at 3:29 pm

Awesome. Now if you could just tell me how to stay happy at the fair while trying to resist the sweet allure of those dainty little mini-donuts, I’d be set.

3 TJ September 26, 2011 at 3:39 pm

This post makes me want to go challenge the carnies, but with no practice I doubt it will end well for me!

4 Matt McCraw September 26, 2011 at 3:49 pm

I wish that I would have read this in high school. I lost so much of my hard earned busboy money to those carnies. Curse them!

5 Tim September 26, 2011 at 3:58 pm

I usually don’t play these games because as you pointed out, the prize you end up winning is not worth the money you pay to play. However I played one game at the fair a few years back that ended up a big win for me.

The game involved tossing balls onto a table of glasses. Get a ball into a glass and you win a prize. The balls were just a bit smaller than the glasses.

People were tossing balls and they would bounce all over and eventually off the table. Then it hit me.

I verified the rules with the carnie – just toss the balls onto the table. Get one in a glass and you win.

So I paid my money and got my handful of balls and then I threw all of them at once.

I figured with so many balls bouncing around the ones toward the center of the pack would remain there by bouncing into the other balls around them. Surely one of them would end up in a glass.

Two did.

The WTF look on the carnie’s face was great. The moment was glorious and I won two prizes.

He asked me not to play anymore. Imagine that.

6 Ted Slampyak September 26, 2011 at 4:02 pm

Tim, that’s hilarious! I love it! Wish I’d thought of that!

7 Pat September 26, 2011 at 4:44 pm

Or you could man up with some bouldering skills and climb the rope backwards?

8 CB September 26, 2011 at 5:23 pm

Pat,
I’ve thought of that too. While it’s certainly easier said than done, it would seem to be much easier than trying to balance on top of the ladder. However, many places won’t let you stay on if you flip. They stipulate that you must make it to the top on top of the ladder. Good idea at the right carnival, though!

Tim, that’s a great idea!

9 danny September 26, 2011 at 6:55 pm

This is great! I hate those carnival games so much, for this very reason! I always lose. Not sure I’ll become a carnival regular but I definitely want to try a few games now.

10 John September 27, 2011 at 12:21 am

Another note about High Striker – in many versions of this game, the secret is that the target that you hit with the mallet can be moved up an inch or two before you hit it, so before you strike it you need to prime it by moving it UP. Watch the carny demonstrate it: if he takes the mallet and subtly pulls the target up before he swings (so that it moves farther when he hits it with the mallet), you know that you need to do the same.

11 Andrew September 27, 2011 at 3:00 am

I always stick to plate breaking with baseballs, less room for cheats

12 Lee Howard September 27, 2011 at 3:10 am

Having been a Carnival Fraud Investigator since the 1980′s, I wrote the language for Oklahoma’s Amusement and Carnival Games Act, and provide training for law enforcement it the detection of fraudulent games, as well as the correct methods of developing prosecutable cases against crooked game agents. As I profiled on two ABC 20/20 programs, one in 1980, and another in 1995, the programs provided the public with some basic knowledge of how to avoid becoming the victim of carnival fraud. It always does my heart good to see articles such as this, knowing the public in general has little or no knowledge about what they are up against, when trying to beat a carny at their own game. You’ve enlightened some folks, and hopefully to the extent they will be better equipped to protect themselves, and not waste the rent money trying to win the impossible, or often a prize they could purchase at a local retailer for a great deal less. If I could, I’d like to add a couple of tips for potential game players: 1) If the only prizes displayed are very large plush toys, expensive electronic gadgets, etc., you can rest assured they don’t give many away, so use caution. 2) Before hitting the midway, establish an amount you can afford to lose without spending the weekly food money. If you have not achieved a win or the prize you had your heart set on, stop playing the games, go ride a ride, or get a corn dog. In other words, follow your gut feeling and use some common sense, knowing the odds are greatly stacked against you when playing games on the carnival midway. Don’t do as many others will, leaving the fair disappointed, angry with themselves, and wishing they had the money they wasted still safely in their pockets. Avoid being a victim, but have some fun, and be careful out there!

13 Robyn September 27, 2011 at 9:00 am

When I was a very young teenage girl at the local fair I walked by a carnie game which consisted of rolling balls down an inclined board and trying to get them into the receiving hole to win. I usually avoided wasting my money on such things, believing they were rigged somehow, and on an impulse I slyly reached forth and sent one of those balls down the incline without paying any money. The carnie was of course angry and told me if I sent another one sailing, I owed him money. He meant the words to be a fierce warning and scolding, but I think he was more upset by what I discovered without paying money. When the ball went down that board it did not take a direct course as it should have into the hole. I could see that somehow the board had bumps and trails that guided the ball elsewhere or perhaps it worked on magnetics or the ball was loaded. Whatever it was, was not visible just by looking at the board, but were obvious once I sent the ball into motion. I never forgot that lesson.

I know that some people, in order to make a living, soothe their conscience by stretching their ethics, but rationalizing devious ways of making a living is dishonest.

14 CJ September 27, 2011 at 9:30 am

In regard to High Striker: I’ve always found that the key to swinging a sledge hammer, is to imagine that the handle is made from rope. If you had to drive a stake with just a rope and hammer head, you would learn pretty quickly to get the best swing from it.

I’ve tried this approach in golf as well with less than stellar results.

15 Frank September 27, 2011 at 9:48 am

As an avid dart thrower, I walked up to a game and asked my (then) four year old son which balloons I should hit. After hitting those very balloons, I was told not to come back. I should have kept my mouth shut…

16 Adam September 27, 2011 at 10:10 am

I loved the article and think the illustrations add even more. Ted, wonderful drawing and keep up the good work.

17 Brett September 27, 2011 at 10:15 am

I’ll never forget my only time playing One Ball as a kid: I threw what looked like a direct hit, sending the bottom two bottles flying to the back of the booth. Of course, unbeknownst to me, the top bottle of the pyramid was so weighted that it went up in the air before coming down THUD! right on the box. Though I was young, I quickly understood that “fair games” aren’t always so.

18 J September 27, 2011 at 11:15 am

For the High Striker, I always heard that you want to hit towards the edge of platform towards you, not the middle. The edge is usually harder, the padding won’t absorb as much the energy of the swing. The farther away the mallet is from the fulcrum, the more force is transmitted to the ringer.

19 Alex September 27, 2011 at 12:57 pm

Honest to heavens, I once played the ‘throw the basketball into the hoop to win an oversized cuddly toy’. Four balls and I kept missing. I was about to cry foul but then two toddlers came along with their Dad and despite being abysmal at throwing the balls, BOTH got one of their two balls each into the hoop by utter fluke. There was no way it could’ve been a setup. The father was mortified as the attendant handed over two 1.5m cuddly dogs to the tiny children, as he’d have to carry them round for the rest of the day and try to fit them in the car.

I had been truly shamed – by toddlers! I learned my lesson…

20 Desarrollo Personal September 27, 2011 at 1:08 pm

Hi! Im not a MAN but I´ve really enjoyed your articles! Specially The master mind article! Love the pictures too!! I will happily come back !
Now I can get some prizes !! Finally!!

Thanks for sharing.

PD. I´ll send a link to my DH !! He´s gonna love this site!!!

21 Rick September 27, 2011 at 1:26 pm

Want to always win at the carnival? I used to work part-time as a teenager running games. There are the hustlers that are making money by getting guys to “double down” and try again and again – that is where many lose their shirts. Don’t spend a bunch of money on cheap prizes.

I have always amazed my kids (when they were a little younger and more gullible) in taking home prizes at almost every game we tried. Just ask the carnie beforehand and hopefully out of earshot “How much to guarantee we win that prize right there?”. They will generally just quote you a price that equates to 5-10 times whatever the game cost is. Pay the man and watch your kid take home the prize.

The cost on those giant stuffed animals is very low. I’ve taken them home for as little as $20. Most of the medium prizes can be had for $10-15. As a parent, it is money well spent and cheaper than dropping money for try after try.

22 Tom September 27, 2011 at 1:42 pm

If you have good hand-eye coordination and a relatively steady hand, you can gain a lot of success in shooting the star by following this simple technique. It is actually a technique that was instilled in me during my years in the Army.
Try to shoot no more than 4 or 5 BB’s at a time in a burst. The hesitation between bursts gives you the time to make micro adjustments to your aim point.

23 Jonathan September 27, 2011 at 2:30 pm

There are two games I’ve won at, and one was repeatable, the other nigh-impossible.

The first is a bowling ball game where you have to roll the ball on a track over a rise. There’s a valley past that, and the ball has to stay in the valley. Too hard, and the ball will easily come back down, as the track is also tilted up as it moves away from the player. Not enough energy and it never makes it past the first hump. This is one of the easier games I’ve played in that almost anyone can do it. The key is just to get the right amount of force, and it’s not too hard so long as the game is (relatively) honest.

I would love advice on the game I thought I was good at after nailing it on the first try. Since then, I’m zero over six following tosses. It’s a game where you toss a softball into an open basket. The basket isn’t very deep, and it’s angled towards the palyer, so it’s hard to get the ball to stay inside. The first time I did it, the ball hit the corner of the side and bottom of the basket and just stopped. I have been unable to replicate this success, but I saw someone pull it off recently by using a high arc on the side of the basket, allowing the ball to spend most of its energy rolling around the rim. I think spin is involved to keep the energy moving around the bottom of the rim and not bouncing in and out, but I am tto sure if that was just a fluke.

Also, I play my games at a local theme park, which means that crooked games would never last. People wouldn’t come back if it was impossible to win, even though I blew $5 in five seconds on that stupid milk can game.

24 Dalton September 27, 2011 at 10:33 pm

Just went to the fair today and tried shoot out the red star for the first time, I came awfully close with this technique, if I had gone again I’m sure I could have got it.

25 ShellyMcC September 28, 2011 at 10:25 am

I love the squirt gun game. (You know, point your attached gun toward the center of the demented clowns mouth to be the first to pop the balloon on it’s head with a wicked stream of water). Instead of aiming at the target, go for the carnie & run like hell. Works everytime :)

26 Dan September 28, 2011 at 12:58 pm

A few years back my wife and I stopped at a small roadside carnival in Oklahoma and I played the shooting star game. I used the method you suggest and shot out the star. The carnie stood there looking back and forth at me and the missing star with a dumb look on his face. Finally, I asked him what I had won, and he said “I don’t know.. nobody has ever done it before.” He let me choose anything I wanted from the booth. My wife was impressed with her giant stuffed Coke polar bear. haha

27 JPR September 28, 2011 at 3:33 pm

I love the reoccurring usage of the word ‘carnie’ in this article. I always assumed that was a sort of slur and would never say it in front of them. Is it considered the correct term to use in reference to carnival employees?

I also found it enlightening that our government expends resources policing up carnival games. With the statements about “outlawed games” and FBI studies, along with the comments from Lee Howard, I find it amazing that we would take the organizational time/effort to check on these things. Either blissfully ignorant or a real sucker, I never have been too concerned with losing a few hard earned dollars in the name of entertainment at the boardwalk. Definitely feeds into the whole nanny-state argument…if you are stupid enough to spend your grocery money on trying to win stuffed bears maybe you didn’t deserve to eat.

(PS this is my first post on AoM, so sorry if I too harsh…)

28 TCS September 28, 2011 at 11:51 pm

Wow JPR, that was a little harsh. You could call this a Nanny-state article. Sorry for getting political, but JPR people (corporations) complaining about Nanny states, sound like drug pushers complaining about the police. I am for one glad that someone looked into the games, and that this article gave me strategies to beat games and to stay away from others.
Anyway, great article. My kids have been questioning my manhood because I would not try the rope climbing game. After reading this, I am now determined to defeat it and shut those little twerps up.

29 critter September 28, 2011 at 11:57 pm

The best way to beat a carnie is to just walk right on past them.

30 Scott September 29, 2011 at 9:02 am

@johnathan

The “peach basket” game is one of my favorites. It is won by using the same technique as the Milk Can. I have gone to my local theme park and won on a consistent basis tossing the ball with backspin and just grazing the top of the basket so the ball then drops straight down to settle in the bottom.

Good Luck!

31 david K September 30, 2011 at 7:46 pm

Ive beaten one ball almost every time I played it, I used to be a pitcher in highschool so that might help but still it is beatable

32 Lee Howard October 1, 2011 at 2:14 am

This is indeed an interesting article and one with a public service theme as well. Based on some comments after my original post, I felt the need to expand on a few points. That said, I was going to try and keep it short, but it’s difficult on this subject.

There exist two classifications of fraudulent games common to some carnival midways. The first are known as “Flat Stores,” in which the game agents – their preferred titles – totally control the outcome of the player’s game, winner or loser. These are the elite, grand-daddy’s of the business, and named Flat Stores, in that the agent uses them to Flat Out Rob the players. On these the agent must cheat for the player to keep them in the game, since the winning combination or total numbers needed to win do not exist, or have odds so astronomically high, at $1 per play, per the FBI lab, the probable cost of winning is 1- Septillion Dollars. With Flat Stores there is some gambling involved, so to speak, with a promise the payer can get all their money back, plus bonus cash and choice of any major prize displayed in the game joint. Although they are becoming less common due to educated cops and media attention over the years, there are still some professional agents willing to bring them out and take a shot.

Secondly, the most common of crooked midway games are classification as “Alibi” games. Basically, any seemly legit game can be operated honestly, or with some typical carny ingenuity, become an Alibi joint by the addition of made-up rules, which may or may not be posted.

In the earlier post by Scott, he mentioned winning on a Peach Basket game. In the carny world, they are called Bushel Basket joints. Due to the media attention given this game on the 20/20 pieces mentioned in my earlier post, the game agents are now using plastic tubs, calling them “Tubs of Fun.” The scam is the same on either, with the object being to toss two balls into the tubs or bushel baskets, with both balls staying in to win.

The first thing is drawing in players by displaying large plush toys or other eye catching prizes. The next lure is the free play. By leaving one or more balls in the basket during demonstration or free play, the player’s free ball will always stay in the basket and not bounce out. This makes winning appear so easy. But when the player’s money comes out, the fun starts, at least for the Alibi Agents.

The agent now removes those helpful balls left in during free play, and the player’s first ball bounces out, coming back at the player like a shot. The player’s second ball will do the same, so the only winner will be the carny. A good agent can work a player over and over, ball in, ball out, and players stand no chance of winning. Some agents will let a player win after a good amount of money, say $50-60 bucks, but rarely the big prizes. It’s called “throwing stock to a mark.”

Additionally, Scott mentioned his ball “just grazing the top of the basket.” Alibi agents always have a ready answer, the Alibi, as a way to cheat the player of a win. Pointing to the posted rules, or just vocalized, the agent, says’ “sorry dude, or Mark, rim shots don’t count. Agents call basically as many rules as they please, it their game, such as “No Leaning.” Sorry, you crossed the Foul Line leaning, or the rule “Only One Ball in the Basket at a time. Simply put, these will be all the “rules,” posted or not, that the agent allowed the players to ignore and violate during demonstration and free play. I’ve arrested many fraud game agents since the 1980’s and one in particular on “bushels” in McAlester, Oklahoma during the pre-20/20 investigation.

Keep in mind here, not all carnivals are crooked or allow fraud games on their midways, but on those which do, the owners and agents make lots of money. A good day for a seasoned Alibi agent is $1200-1500.

Most folks have no idea the amounts of money, cash money, large carnivals take in. Let’s do some math. Using Tulsa as an example, which Murphy plays for the 11-day run, over a million people will normally attend. Let’s say of that number only 300,000 visits the midway and spend a conservative amount of $5 playing games; 300,000 x 5 = $1.5 million cash. This represent just games, so add to this ride and food revenue, and we’re talking some serious cash money.

I always enjoy seeing the looks on the faces of the cops I’ve provide training, especially those who have themselves been victims of fraud games as kids, or those who once considered carnivals as nickel and dime businesses. Not hardly!

For those interested, I will try to post the You Tube links for the two-part ABC 20/20 program mentioned earlier. If it doesn’t post, search You Tube for ABC News 20-20 carnival games.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PMSSYipFfg4 Part 1

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mJqCz2ql9OE&feature=related Part 2

Should you have any additional questions regarding other games, clicking on Lee Howard links to me.

If you would like to read Oklahoma’s Laws regarding Carnival Games:

http://www.oscn.net/applications/oscn/DeliverDocument.asp?CiteID=73294

You can also Google Oklahoma Amusement and Carnival Games Act

Needless to say, I never get free fair tickets, but y’all have fun, and be careful out there!

Lee Howard

33 Matt October 3, 2011 at 8:57 pm

“Alibi Agents”, huh? So that’s what they’re called…

It’s nice to know what my younger brother got fleeced by last year.

I took my brother to our State Fair last year and we decided to enjoy the Carnival. We had had fun with most of the games listed above: High Striker, Shoot the Star. etc. Unfortunately he got lured over to a dart booth by a carny. You know the, “3 darts for $2, 5 for $3. Hit 3 out of 5 balloons for a prize.” kind. I was wary of what schemes to expect before coming so I checked the darts before hand to see if they had been dulled, and the balloons all looked properly filled. So I let him play. First round he got the 3/5 and we were informed that he had won a cheap dime store trinket that had been hidden under the booth front, not one of the larger prizes that were out on display. But that was okay, because for another $3 he could get 5 more darts and move on up to a “bigger” prize for just hitting another 3/5 balloons. He decided to go on and got 2/5. But that was okay as well! The carny liked us and for just another $3 he’d just let him try again for a “bigger” prize. My younger brother managed a 4/5 and “voila” he had a “bigger” prize! A medium stuffed animal. If he wanted one of the huge prizes, he needed to pay for another round and get 5/5. All this had happened in the span of about 3 minutes. By the time I realized his wallet was getting sucked dry, he was $27 in the hole. I stepped in with a stern “That’s enough.” to the carny. I recieved a condescending “Ookaay, big brother.” and we walked off with our $30 small stuffed animal prize. There had been no signs stating a tiered prize system, just “Hit 3/5 to win a prize!”

Lesson learned.

34 Lee Howard October 4, 2011 at 1:05 am

Matt – the game operator your brother fell victim to, was running a category of games referred to as a “trade-up” or “build-up” joints. The reference is to the scheme of these games, due to the manner in which the game is operated, in that to win one of the large prizes being displayed as an enticement, players must “build-up” to these, by more and more play, meaning more and more money too.

The prize you referred to as, “a cheap dime store trinket,” is known in the carnival games business as a “slum prize.” Under Oklahoma’s Amusement and Carnival Games Act, each prizes displayed must be marked regarding how many wins, balloons busted or whatever, must be achieved to win the largest prize, right on down to the slum. This is one of the reasons many game operators pass on playing dates in Oklahoma, since they can use NO deception in the operation of games, or the awarding of prizes.

The Tulsa State Fair is currently in full-swing, for the 11-day run, and some games in this category are operating, but you can bet they will have all prizes displayed, the number of wins required to win each prize, all the rules posted, the game joints numbered for easy identification by players, and the game operators will be following the law to avoid the potential of being arrested for such violations.

I noticed the hyperlink listed in my previous post for the Oklahoma Amusement and Carnival Games Law, did not return the complete statute, so I’m posting the complete language of the law below.

Notice Section 504 – D, requires Oklahoma law enforcement do their jobs in enforcing these game laws.

I added this language when I wrote the law, due the fact that as a member of the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Carnival Games Task Force, it was discovered some very cozy relationships between some carnival show owners and the cops, especially those needing campaign donations for elections.

Oklahoma’s Carnival Games Law

Title 3A – Chapter 5 – Amusement and Carnival Games Act

Section 501 – Short Title
This act shall be known and may be cited as the “Amusement and Carnival Games Act”.

Section 502 – Prohibition of Deceptive Games-Definitions
A. Any person who owns or operates any amusement game or carnival game, whether skill or chance, coin, token or direct pay-to-play, and who knowingly and intentionally fraudulently obtains money or other items of value from another by means of any hidden mechanical device, deception or deceptive objects, manipulation, sleight-of-hand, trickery, obstruction, randomly selected or enforced rules, whether posted or verbalized, or by any other fraudulent means with intent to diminish or defeat the opportunity of any patron or player to win a prize or accomplish the intended object of the game, upon conviction, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor punishable pursuant to Section 5 of this act.

B. Any person who knowingly and intentionally owns, operates, or as a carnival owner or employee, knowingly and intentionally books-in, contracts, or provides space for, any game at a fair or carnival of a type known as razzle, flat store, or alibi game, or games operated in a manner violating the Amusement and Carnival Games Act, upon conviction, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor punishable pursuant to Section 5 of this act, with said game to be confiscated as contraband.

C. As used in the Amusement and Carnival Games Act:

1. “Razzle” or “flat store” means any game, whether skill or chance, in which the player pays money or other valuable consideration in return for the opportunity to make successive attempts to obtain points by use of dice, darts, marbles, numbered ping-pong balls, pins, blocks, conversion charts or other implements, and where such points are accumulated in successive games by the player toward a total number of points, miles or yards, or other increments, determined by the game operator, which is required for the player to win a prize or other valuable consideration; and

2. “Alibi game” means any game, whether skill or chance, in which the game operator controls or affects the outcome of the game, winners or losers, by enforcing foul lines, release lines, and rules selected and enforced randomly, and at will, whether posted or verbalized, during actual pay-to-play by the player, while not enforcing these same foul lines, release lines and rules during the player’s free shots or free plays allowed during demonstration of how the game is played, as an enticement to the player. Further, “alibi game” means any game, whether skill or chance, in which the operator controls or affects the outcome of the game, winners or losers, by off-setting or manipulating balls, pins, bottles or other implements, or any other means of trickery or deception to cheat or defeat the player, or void the player’s win.

Section 503 – Displaying Prizes-Rules of Game
A. No operator of amusement or carnival games shall display prizes as an enticement to players, unless the displayed prizes can be won by players of the game. Prizes displayed shall not be displayed in any manner which would serve to block or interfere with the players of the game, or in a manner which could possibly diminish the player’s chance of winning. Operators of games allowing Trade-Ups to achieve a larger or more valuable prize shall post signs and verbally explain to the player the achievement required for such Trade-Up, the cost of each additional Trade-Up play and the prize to be awarded for each Trade-Up play.

B. Operators shall post complete, easy to understand, consistently enforced rules, stating the cost of each play, what task the player must achieve to win, and the prize to be awarded winners. All rules will be verbally explained and consistently enforced. Signs will also be posted stating the name of the game, and all games shall be individually numbered for easy identification. All signs relating to game operations and identification shall be capable of being easily read at normal eye level and shall be permanently affixed at normal eye level or in such a manner as to afford the potential player easy viewing.

Section 504 – Felony and Misdemeanor Violations of the Act
A. Multiple count violations of subsection A or B of Section 502 of this title, or violations resulting in a loss of money or other valuable consideration, in which said loss exceeds Five Hundred Dollars ($500.00), shall constitute a felony, and shall be punishable pursuant to subsection B of Section 505 of this title.

B. Any person serving in a managerial or supervisory capacity for any fair, exposition, or any other event open to the public, paid admission or free, who knowingly or intentionally promotes or allows the operation of any amusement or carnival game in violation of this act, upon conviction, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.

C. Any person who manufactures or distributes amusement or carnival games of the type described in Section 502 of this title, upon conviction, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor punishable pursuant to subsection A of Section 505 of this title, with said games to be confiscated as contraband.

D. Any person charged with law enforcement responsibilities or legal compliance inspections of amusement or carnival games, and who knowingly and intentionally allows or who knowingly and intentionally fails to prevent the operation of any amusement or carnival game violating the Amusement and Carnival Games Act, upon conviction, shall be guilty of omission of duty and/or guilty of a misdemeanor punishable pursuant to subsection A of Section 505 of this title.

Section 505 – Penalties
A. Any person convicted of violating any provision of the Amusement and Carnival Games Act, with the exception of subsection A of Section 504 of this title, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by not more than two hundred twenty (220) days of community service, or by the imposition of a fine of not more than Two Thousand Dollars ($2,000.00), or by both such fine and community service.

B. Any person convicted of violating subsection A of Section 504 of this title shall be guilty of a felony punishable by imprisonment in the State Penitentiary for not less than two (2) years, or more than five (5) years, or by the imposition of a fine of not more than Five Thousand Dollars ($5,000.00), or by both such imprisonment and fine.

Enjoy the read, go to the Tulsa State Fair, have some fun, but be careful out there.

Howard

35 William Price October 4, 2011 at 2:37 pm

Rock On, I am a Marine and currently the Operations Manager for a Fair, which hosts an annual carnival, and all of these tips are right on the Money, nice work!

36 r j October 7, 2011 at 6:42 pm

CHEATED!!!!! I just went to the LA County Fair the other day and played the RED star shooting Game. The game cost $3.50 for a stuffed animal prize of $6.00 to choose from a android tablet, a ipod touch type gizmo, a bicycle or a electric guitar. I knew this method to shooot out the star around it. it took me two times but i finally knocked out the entire star… i have pics to prove it. So i tell the Carny i won and two of them huddle together. They start analyzing and comparing the hole with another star to see if it was a win. Then the lady in charge takes out a pair of glasses and kept lining up a template to my target. After literally 7 minutes of analzying the star she says “We all see that there is a piece of red at the nine oclock position. Sorry you have to shoot out the entire star.” i was dumbfounded. One carny walked away and was quiet ( you could tell he was overuled from saying anything) and the other carny didn’t even look at the star. i even showed other people in line crowded around to show that i had won… they all agreed. But the carny said with an attitude!!!-” it doesnt matter what they think.. we say if you win or not” Wow i didn’t know how to react and she offered me a free game and that’s it. I had a hangover headache and just didn’t feel like arguing. i know that i won..won and have the actual target and pictures to prove it. i could send it to anyone if they want to see it. So i got ripped off at the LA county fair. Very Sad… and if i had opted for the 6 dollar game i woulda been all over that Carny… Hope no one has to go through that..

37 Lee Howard October 8, 2011 at 9:22 pm

rj – should this happen in the future, don’t leave the joint, and call for a Cop. If the officers are working an off-duty detail, being paid by the carnival owner, some will unfortunately side with the carny, however, if they have one shared of integrity, they will often tell the game agent to follow the rules and award the prize you legitimately won. Similar to Oklahoma, California has strict laws relating to carnival games; however, based on your related experience, you were cheated out of your win.

It is not unusual for Star joint agents to have a magnifying glass at the ready, to check for the smallest speck of red left to void the player’s win. That said, most honest operators do not want game complaints, and especially those involving law enforcement. It’s not only bad PR for the fair, but for the carnival operator as well. Generally speaking, numerous complaints on an agent or a particular game will be viewed as a problem akin to the adage, “where there’s smoke, there’s likely fire.”

The game operators can control the number of wins by the size of the star printed on the targets – the larger the star, equals less winners.

The targets are sequentially numbered to help the game owner keep track of the number of games played, and the amount of money the game agents owe the owner at day’s end.

At the end of these numbers, a dash appears, followed by a single digit number, i.e. 015287 – 2. The number 2 indicates the star is 1¼ inch in size. It is obviously easier to cut-out a number 2-star, than a number 3-star, being 1 3/8 inch in size. Although only a slight size difference, the difference will increase the likelihood some red will remain after the shot tube is empty.

Keep in mind, there are other ways for the Shoot Out The Star operators to decrease the player’s chance of winning, but in this instance, they cheated you by using “our game, our rules, and we be the judge,” which really sucks!

38 rj October 11, 2011 at 11:31 am

HI Lee thanks for your response. Yes i was definitely cheated that day and should have stayed and complained. Wish you were there when i needed you. hahha! i am looking at the star and it shows the numbers TB0XP-1SK. I’m not sure what that means but probably somewhere along the lines of “you will lose either way” in number code! LOL. Well i no more carny games coming through so i guess i have to head to Circus Circus Las Vegas where the operators don’t care if you win and will award you the prize in a heartbeat ;)

I also had a question about the claw game.. is it true that some of these game are rigged by owners to pay out every so often just as the stacker game (lining up digital blocks in until the top is reached) is? If so i don’t think I’ll ever play that again..

39 John B October 11, 2011 at 9:57 pm

Want to win, step back and let your girlfriend play. The stuffed animals only last a few weeks in the sun and there for must be given away before they look ratty. Best way for the booth to get cash out of a guys pocket is to give them to the girl who played before them. Smaller the girl, the bigger the prize they will allow her to win.

40 Rand October 14, 2011 at 9:27 am

The “Dime Toss”!
I am the supreme master of this old carnival game. As a teenager I saved dimes all year waiting for the County Fair in the winter. (I live in Florida so our fairs are in the winter).
The object of the game is to cover the circle on the board with a dime so that it is completely covered. Not as easy as it sounds. There are hundreds of these circles on the large slippery board so you can toss from all sides.
The key to beating this one is to wait until there are a large amount of dimes laying on the board that the other suckers have already tossed…then you make your move and start aiming your dime at one that is already close to covering already. Just keep inching it along until you cover!
But you have to be quick. The carnies know a master when they see one and they will quickly sweep the board clean when they see what you’re up to. LOL
That’s when I walk away and get an elephant ear and come back later!
Good luck!

41 Tycho October 14, 2011 at 6:55 pm

My uncle is a farmer and build his own fences for his farm. My aunt told how he impressed everyone at the fair with hitting the bell with every swing at high strike.

42 JDH October 14, 2011 at 11:51 pm

When told that if you bust 3 balloons with 3 darts you WIN! It is frowned upon to throw ONE dart into the box of balloons that the carnie has set aside to replace the busted balloons. It IS funny as hell, but frowned upon.

43 will October 22, 2011 at 7:45 pm

Just an anecdote;

I have heard that pistol pete maravich, in order to out psych the basketball carnies used to fire away, making all the shots, then walking across the road in front of the stand and bet the carnie on the shot, then making the shot and just walk away smiling with a cart of prizes.

I would love to do that just once.

44 Bjarke Reimann March 24, 2013 at 9:48 pm

Last time I played a game, it was a very simple one, where you had to throw six balls consecutively into a hole a bit larger than the balls, over a distance of around 3m. As a juggler this was really easy for me, but when I had won, I realized none of the prizes were actually worth having. I ended up walking away with a card game.

Great article though. And thans to Lee Howard for his insightful and extensive comments – they were just as informative as the article itself.

45 Tom Barrister April 30, 2013 at 11:38 pm

I worked in a carnival in the early 1970s. The man I worked for ran the horse racing game. The game was honest, with everything spelled out in the rules. The operator made his profit on the simple fact that what he gave out in prizes cost him less than what he was taking in.

The “flat store” referred to got its name from the fact that the game was usually carried around in a smal suitcase-type box. The box unfolded and laid flat on a table or stand, thus the name “flat store”. The man operating it was a “flattie.” The idea was that if a lookout spotted the law heading their way,, the flattie could fold up the box and take off.

Popular flat stores were the “count-up” games in which the player rolled balls into holes (or often dice). The odds of winning the grand prize were about one in 1.7 million (6 to the 8th power), and any prize about one in 4,000. The flattie would miscount the game for a win when the game was played for slum (cheap prizes), and wouldn’t need to do anything thereafter, since the game was nearly impossible to win.

Another flat store was the “Red and Black,” played on a “creeper” wheel, a flat wheel, in which the spinner would creep along slowly for a long time before finally stopping. There were 36 spaces: 18 black, which won, and 18 red, which lost. The flattie would play the mark for money, gradually adding black pieces of cardboard to the red slots so that the mark would eventually have as many as 32 slots to the flattie’s 4. Of course the wheel was gaffed to stop when the flattie wanted it to.

A popular gaffe game was the “five in a row,” in which the numbers 1 through 15 were placed on the store layout (some versions also has the letters A through E). The player had to get 5 numbers (or three letters) in a row to win. Ducks were propelled around in a large tub with a metal piece in the middle, making it look a bit like a race track. A fourth of the tub was covered by a roof and shaft. sort of tunnel that extended down to about six inches above the water. The player would pay his dollar and fish a duck out of the pond, then turn it over to reveal a number (or letter). If uncovered, a marker would be placed over the number or letter under the duck. The problem with the game was that there were no 5′s or 10”s (or C’s if letters were used), making the game impossible to win. If an unhappy player brought the law back, the carnie would demonstrate the the game was honest. All of the ducks would be fished out of the pond, and there would be a few with 5′s, 10′, (and C’s). There wouldn’t be as many as the other games; after all, the carnie had to make a living, but they were there. The law would tell the mark that nothing could be done and go. What the law and mark didn’t know was that the carnie pulled a hidden switch that released the ducks with the rare numbers (letter) from their hiding place inside the shaft/tunnel into the water. When the law was out of sight, those ducks (which had marks that the carnie could spot) went back into the shaft.

TIP: If you go to a carnival on the last day of its run, don’t play the games. They’re much more likely to be gaffed, since the carnies won’t be around the next day to listen to complaints. If any carnie EVER offers to play you for money, don’t do it. You have no win.

The late major league pitcher Robin Roberts once beat the carnie at his own game. The store (booth) was the cats game. The object was to knock down three cats with three balls. This was harder than it looked, because the actual hittable area was small–the rest was fluff that the balls passed through. A player who won usually got slum (a cheap trinket). To win a bigger prize, the player had to “work through the slums,”, which was also called the “buildup.” By the time the player made it through a dozen tradeups to the big prize, he would generally have spent $40-50 on a prize that cost the carnie perhaps $10-12—that’s if he was good.

Roberts offered the carnie this proposition: He’d pay a dollar and throw one ball. If he could knock down three cats with one ball, he’d win the plush (the big prize: a stuffed animal). The carnie asked if he was going to throw it from an angle. Roberts said no, he would throw it straight/perpendicular from where he was standing, in the middle of the player’s side of the booth. The carnie finally agreed. Roberts, who was well-known in the majors to be a hard thrower with excellent control, went into a windup, then threw a perfect strike—-right into the baseboard holding the second row of cats. Ball hitting wood made a sound that could be heard 200 feet away. About 8 cats went scattering into the cloth catcher below.

As the carnie began to object, two of the men with Roberts introduced him to the carnie. The carnie laughed and gave Roberts his prize, saying “I’m just glad you didn’t break the board.”

After Roberts and his friends were out of earshot, he remarked: “That’s what I was hoping to do.”

46 Trung May 1, 2013 at 4:00 pm

I love the basketball game. I know it’s a smaller hoop, higher, and a tad further than the free throw line. I always aim for the backboard for a solid bank shot. That’s the only way to get it to go in. I always ask for a practice shot first to gauge the distance since it’s never at free throw distance. The carnies usually agree to a practice shot or an extra ball. After I win, they tell all the people around me that I just won and anyone can do it. The wife got tired of having giagantic stuffed animals so we give them away to the closest kid around.

47 Rob May 1, 2013 at 6:13 pm

I once played a game at a carnival with three pool balls and a golf tee, placed upside-down in the middle of the three balls. Carny gave me a free shot and the tee flew off the table. “That’s all there is too it” he said. I put my hard earned cash down and tried several times but the tee sat there like it was glued down.

It wasn’t. I figured out in my head later that on the free shot, the tee was in contact with the front ball in the triad. In this configuration, the tee took the full momentum of the front ball and flew off. Then, when I paid, he must have moved the tee back between the rear two balls. The front ball then transfers its momentum to the rear balls, and bounces towards the cue ball, not ever touching the golf Tee. Of course I figured that out AFTER I dropped like $20 and had left…never seen that game before or since.

48 John June 6, 2013 at 4:50 am

I have worked for a carnival games business for a few years now and I assure everyone reading this that there are several inaccuracies in this article. I will only speak on the ones my company uses and I am familiar with…

The High Striker- DO NOT hit in the middle. Hit the pad flat with the mallet on the 1/3 portion closest to you. Hitting in the middle and upper half will ensure you will lose which is what most people think is the right way. The mechanism acts as a see saw. If you hit in the middle imagine hitting a see saw in the middle, you wont generate much power.

Shoot Out the Star- This game has a patent on it and can only be bought/manufactured by a certain company. With that said, this company also supplies the guns, lead, and paper. Legally speaking you are not allowed much if any variety on that game. The size of the star is the nearly the same everywhere (because it is from the same producer). Also, those lead BBs cannot be re-used so they certainly have not seen “years of wear and use.” The reason they cannot be reused is because once they hit against the metal backboard, they tend to get dented. Trying to use dented BBs will result in constant gun jams. The BBs are collected and melted down to create new, fresh BBs or they’re simply thrown out. The guns do not have any bent barrels BUT keep in mind, they are low end (roughly $1.8k-$2k), usually old, and are fired tens of thousands of times a season before you get your hands on them so they are definitely worn down…nothing any carnival worker can do about it. Oh and as for the paper… if you use flimsy paper, it will cause it to bend backwards (sometimes the thicker paper can do it too) when hit and actually cause the game to have 0% winning chance, so you better hope they are using a little tougher paper.

One Ball- The company I work for does not own one of these games but generally speaking any game where you must throw an object to known down a stack translates to throwing the ball/sack at a diagonal angle. Throwing head on makes the stacked targets (bottles in this case) spin. It is more important with these games to see how close/far the bottom pyramid objects are. The closer to each other, the easier.

I will leave you with this… If you want to win things at carnivals here’s the secret. If you see a game with ONLY one level of prizes, it means it is a tough game. The bigger the prizes, the HARDER the game. If you see a game that has multiple level prizes (like small, med, large) then although it may be hard to win a large prize, it is probably doable to win a smaller level. If you see “winner every time” games that have big and small prizes, it is a rip off and stay away. The big prizes draw people in, but you will pay MORE money than you would on a regular game and take home some crappy little cheap toy. Also, it is important to note that in many states it is ILLEGAL for a gaming company to run its own games. In these states, the volunteers of whatever organization is sponsoring the carnival, must run the games and are not actually carnies…giving a better chance to win things because they are not as strict. Last but not least… 99% of all the games you play will be completely fine and are legally regulated by the state. In some cases the organizations that regulate the casinos in a state are the same that regulate these games to ensure quality and fairness to customers. In the end though, it is still a business of playing chance. You wouldn’t go to the casino and expect to win big would you? With that said, the chances of winning most carnival games is still MUCH higher than winning many casino games.

49 that girl June 6, 2013 at 5:47 pm

wow this is a really great site!! me and my boyfriend are going to the carnival tonight and iv been researching how to win the “bank a ball” game…its probably nearly imossible for him to win it for me but with this info i feel a bit better :) a girl can dream right? :D

50 dwindle July 23, 2013 at 10:14 pm

It is important to remember when carnies are bored, they play their games hundreds of times a day. I knew a girl at the basketball shoot who could make an infinite number of baskets from any part of the playing square, even in pouring rain.

51 justaguy September 6, 2013 at 6:49 pm

About those “winner every time” games, some of those are truly legit. I was in Tennessee at a carnival and the guy was yelling that everyone was a winner. So I thought, why not? its only 3 dollars and the prizes were pretty good (medium size plush toys). So I walked up to the stand, and the guy explained that all I had to do was toss a ball into one of the holes in the table. So I tossed the ball, and it went in! So he gave me a plush that was a pretty good size. I asked the guy how he was able to afford all this, and he said that he bought the toys in bulk from a company, and that he only paid about 2 bucks for it, but i thought it was a good deal, so not all everyone wins carnival games are illegitimate…

52 Jeremiah September 9, 2013 at 3:50 pm

I played a game today where I had to throw a softball at three lead bottles, toppling them. I remembered playing at Cedar Point once, and winning a big prize. The trick is in the angle. If they allow you to scoot over a bit, take it. Also, if you can’t, throw wide. Long arms especially. It took three tries to win a MASSIVE polar bear. (4ft tall. Like, 50lbs.+)

53 Matt September 26, 2013 at 10:16 am

Having worked games at a theme park with a lot of these same games, I can definitely confirm these to be true. They’re all possible, you just need to have to know how to beat it. Having an inside source tell you what to do helps, but in the end it’s up to you in order to win.

54 graf September 26, 2013 at 11:08 am

Cool article.
I always considered those games so rigged that they are never worth trying.

But we don’t have many fairs in here. And I would never thought that there could be a special law for them.
I always thought – they are unfair and that is all…

55 Melri September 28, 2013 at 9:15 pm

A friend of mine got fleeced by the Ball in the Basket game just as described here.

The rules were you had to get 3 balls into the basket to win. He would even demo it to show that it was easy. When my friend payed for 3 balls, he got 2 balls in but couldn’t get the last one. Next time he paid for 5 balls but couldn’t get 3. One more time with 5, no good. Oh well, he was ready to walk. But wait, the operator said he would give him a free try. Again, he got close.

Now the pitch, he says if he wins, he’ll give all the money back and a prize. My friend plops down more money, eager to make back the 20$ he spent. Next time the operator reduces the number needed to 2 balls. More money comes out. Operator now offers double or nothing. But the whiffle balls keep shooting out of the basket. At this point we are asking our friend to walk away because he is 60$ in the hole and getting frustrated.

I learned later that this type of game is easily rigged with heavier or bouncy whiffle balls. The operator probably switched the balls when giving them to players. At least we stopped him from spending the rest of his wallet on this game. He was ready to keep going til he won.

56 Carnie Mike October 24, 2013 at 3:19 pm

In alot of States the games are regulated by the Gaming commission to see that shows have games of skill rather than games of chance, and that tokens for prizes are used rather than cash, (Bulldozers for example) and that games are actually able to be won, among other things..

I am sure there are a few places where the old school games are allowed to exist, but in the age of video, it really wouldnt be worth the heat to run a show with a bunch of games like that when ya have an almost 100% chance somebody somewhere has, is, or will catch ya on video running a scam when there is plenty of money running strait joints,
I wonder what state/show that Ball in the Basket story is from, in Washington State (for one) you would be raked over the coals if you were caught offering cash back or double or nothing prizes, although I have no doubt (at all) it happens on a rainy day at a dead spot in a parking lot somewhere when the jointy is hustling ya to get his 20 cents on the dollar to eat next week…

I liked the story about the Prize Every Time joint in Tennessee, makes me wonder if it was a booth raising money for the local church maybe because usually prize every time means you beat the game you win a small if ya dont ya win “loser beads” and you play again and again (or collect loser beads that shake off rides) to trade up to the next prize.. I knew a high striker guy who offered prize every time blow ups for women and kids, but men had to hit 100 to win, if they didnt ring the bell he tossed them a baby pacifier.for a prize..

But all in all, you go to a carnival to entertain yourselves, you go expecting to spend money, If ya give the kids a wristband and a twenty dollar bill each, and take plenty of pix and vids, ya have a good time and some future memories for around a hundred bux, ya drop nearly that to take the kids to a movie with popcorn candy and drinks, with no cute videos on YouTube at the end of the nite…

57 Jeff Bowman Ohio January 11, 2014 at 12:39 pm

I have learned that putting a forward spin on the ball for the basket toss game seems to be the key for me, I played it a few times and notice the ball had an awful lot of bounce to it when hitting the back board,so while tossing the ball I put a slight Ford stand on it thinking that it would not bounce as hard when touching the board and it worked I won a large Prize for just three dollars, shortly after winning the game I Over heard the owner ripping into carnival worker for letting me to win…. A friend of ours rus the goldfish game it is not rigged in anyway it’s simply a cost over the product, everybody can win,goldfish bought in bulk only cost like 5 cents a piece and you pay a dollar or 2 for 10 balls almost a guaranteed win.

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