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How to Beat Popular Carnival Games

Posted By Jim On 03/26/2009 @ 12:15 pm In Personal Finance | 28 Comments

Spring is almost upon us and you know what that means, carnivals! In the spirit of this morning’s post, which was about long cons, let’s talk about some short cons… carnival games. That’s right, most, if not all, carnival games are diversions designed to separate a fool from their money… one dollar at a time.

For this article, I have to give a shout-out to one of my friends, John, who used to work the carnival that come into town (for anyone from the Stony Brook area of Long Island, it was the carnival that used to come into town and set up shop near SUNY Stony Brook). Back then, we used to visit him all the time as he ran all the stupid games and he told us the inside scoop on a bunch of the games. If it weren’t for John, I’d probably still think those carnival games were fair and that I really did have a chance to win that five foot tall bear.

In this article, I’ll point out some carnivals games, what the con is, and how you might be able to beat it. But remember, just like the lottery, the only way to win is if you have fun while you do it because chances are you won’t win much.

How To Win Carnival Prizes

I was wrong about not being able to win. You can but you have to approach a carnival like a casino. The only place you can win at a casino is in games where you play against other people, like the poker room. You won’t win playing blackjack or pai gow or roulette, you can only win consistently if you take it from other people. You can’t beat the house, no matter how incredible your system.

How does this translate in the carnival? Play games where you’re competing against other players. Common ones include using a water gun to inflate a balloon and rolling balls or bags into holes to get your horse across the racetrack. In those games, there is always a winner and the prize is based on the number of contestants. The carnival operator wins because the cost of the prize is less than the entry fees for the players, so take advantage of that.

Skill Games

Shoot A Basketball

On a regulation basketball hoop, the rim is twice as wide as the basketball. The game is hard because the hoop is ten feet in the air. In the carnival version, the con is that the rim isn’t going to be twice as wide as the basketball, so it’s much harder; and the hoop might be higher than ten feet! (oh, the hoop might be an oval too) The first thing you need to do is determine if it’s even physically possible. A common con is to have the rim be too skinny for the ball, so the ball can never go through. Another common con is for the ball to be overinflated, so it’ll clang off the rim more easily.

Darts & Balloons

Another common carnival game, the game requires you to pop a certain number of balloons to get a prize. The con here is that the darts are dull, the balloons are under-inflated, and the skin of the balloon may even be slightly thicker. The trick here is to give the dart more arc, rather than a direct shot, because the arc will help the tip catch the balloon. If you can, try to heat up the tip of the balloon and give yourself an edge (or don’t play!).

Guess Your Weight or Age or Birth Month

The funny thing about this game is that it’s really not even a game, it’s just a matter of math. Most of the time, the prizes are not even worth the entry fee. If they were wrong every single time, the operator still comes out ahead. To help give them an edge, the hope is that you pick weight or age because they have some information to work with. If you want to lower that information, go with birth month and always have the operator say the month (they try to play games with mis-writing and getting you to say your month) before you agree or disagree.

Bottle Throw

In this game, there are three or five bottles stacked in a pyramid and you have to knock them over with one throw. The key is to aim at the base of the lowest level because the bottles are heavy and not equally weighted. The ones at the base are usually heavier and their weight is distributed to be heavier at the base, so they are harder to knock down. Don’t aim at the middle, aim at the base.

Shoot Out The Star

No scam, this is just really really hard (OK, the barrels might be bent from age, thus messing up your first few shots, but otherwise it’s legit). Many places recommend that you try to shoot around the star to knock it out, rather than hit the star and punch it out. The consensus is that it’s really difficult and you should skip it.

There are plenty of other carnival games out there (throwing hoops, banking balls into baskets, etc.) but we never messed with this at the Fair so I didn’t really spend much time with those. If you’ve learned nothing from this article, learn this – all carnival games are all cons, so if you’re going to play, at least have a great time doing it!

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