Beat the Grifters at their own game...
December 17, 2008 8:00 AM   Subscribe

Handy Guides for how to win at rigged carnival games like the dime toss, the milk bottle toss. or even beat those claw on a crane machines. But what about matching wits with an online guess a number carny?
posted by tatnasty (35 comments total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
Very neat, thanks for posting these. The Claw Machine video was especially cool, although I wonder how long you'd have to stand there to actually see that many people have a go at it.
posted by voltairemodern at 8:08 AM on December 17, 2008

posted by jock@law at 8:12 AM on December 17, 2008

Do all crane games really have a "payout" setting? Because I can't remember the last time I played one without winning. It's pretty easy to see which, if any, of the prizes can be picked up, and if variable claw strength made it impossible to pick anything up on certain plays, that wouldn't be possible. Maybe I've just been irrationally lucky.
posted by uncleozzy at 8:15 AM on December 17, 2008

On the claw machine one, I like the apparently unironic jubilation of the guy when all his work results in him getting a small cuddly dog. 'Yes! Yes! Yesss!'
posted by RokkitNite at 8:17 AM on December 17, 2008

Joe took his blind date to the carnival. "What would you like to do first, Kim?" asked Joe. "I want to get weighed," she said. They ambled over to the weight guesser who guessed 130 pounds. She got on the scale; it read 110 and she won a prize.

Next the couple went on the ferris wheel. When the ride was over, Joe again asked Kim what she would like to do. "I want to get weighed," she said. Back to the weight guesser they went. Since they had been there before, he guessed her correct weight, and Joe lost his dollar.

The couple walked around the carnival and again he asked where to next. "I want to get weighed," she responded. By this time, Joe figured she was really weird and took her home early, dropping her off with a handshake.

Her roommate, Laura, asked her about the blind date, "How'd it go?"

Kim responded, "Oh, Wauwa, it was wousy."
posted by netbros at 8:24 AM on December 17, 2008 [58 favorites]

Beating the claw is easy... well for a small child
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 8:24 AM on December 17, 2008

Holy shit, netbros has a joke I haven't heard already.

Next I find myself on a midway I intend to try these, but you've gotta wonder if these are true hints or just a way to bring in more marks.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 9:20 AM on December 17, 2008

I was born and bred a carney, though my father was a concessionaire rather than an owner or operator of games or rides on the midway. I had a lot of time during the summers to play these kinds of games, none of which I ever found much fun or rewarding. The only games that are relatively easy and worth excelling at are those in which you shoot water at a target in a race against other competitors. There is usually nothing tricky about these games that I am aware of, you just need to have a good and steady aim (I don't know about the balloon one too much, but the racing track ones always have a winner).

The real trick it looks like carney's are pulling off here with these tips and tricks to games is to encourage not only spending to play these games but to win once, just once, because once you win just once, paying, playing, and winning again is likely to result in the ability to "trade up" your prize for a bigger and better one, and so on. You would do better to buy (or have bought) fiddlesticks, cotton candy, popcorn, or funnel cakes from my dad's stands.
posted by inconsequentialist at 9:25 AM on December 17, 2008

My brother, who would go on to become a Marine sharpshooting instructor, became obsessed with that game where you have to shoot out a red star on the paper target with a BB machine gun. There's always some little fleck of red left.

Having spent most our beach vacation at that booth, and what must have seemed like a small fortune to him, he launched his final attack. Three of us, with one on either side of him, would shoot at the same target, and not aim for the star, but for a circular area around it. The star detached and fell cleanly away.
posted by StickyCarpet at 9:27 AM on December 17, 2008 [3 favorites]

Strange games. The only way to win is not to play.
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:31 AM on December 17, 2008 [4 favorites]

Yeah I still wouldn't win. Stupid carny games.......
posted by Mastercheddaar at 9:36 AM on December 17, 2008

1934 expose from Modern Mechanics. Many of the 'games' remain unchanged since then.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 9:37 AM on December 17, 2008 [4 favorites]

Anybody know the name of the gambling game with the six metal arrows that are spun kind of like 'spin the bottle'? You place your bet in a section of the circle, and if an arrow lands on your section you get paid out. At the CNE they used to have the sections marked with famous race horses.
posted by Chuckles at 9:42 AM on December 17, 2008

I did the rope ladder before, with my feet hooked under the ladder, so that if it rotated I would hang from the bottom and continue to climb. It was really hard but it totally worked. Then the kid running the game said that it didn't count because I needed to complete the game upright. Only it didn't say that anywhere. I got so mad. I've probably never been so mad at a stranger. I was just furious. I asked to see the supervisor and another guy came out, he was such a dufus. I expected him to cave but he said that I wasn't the first person to think of it, lots of people try it, and "think that they're so clever". I really wanted to punch the guy in the face. I did one of those things where you kind of twist your shoulder back reflexively. Like I was actually going to punch the guy. I don't know if I wanted to be threatening or what, or just to psyche him out but I didn't swing and he didn't flinch. I probably could have been happy with a flinch.

I know this is stupid, like this is one of the worst things about me, but I really regretted not punching a kid in the face. I thought about the alternate world where I do, and I hit the kid, and I get arrested and feel incredibly stupid. In that world I regret hitting him, and recriminate myself for being incredibly childish, what did I want with a stupid stuffed animal anyways? Did it make any difference whether my victory was somehow sanctified? But I was pretty sure that that regret at being an idiot would feel less bad than the regret I felt. One time I told a girl that I was seeing this story and that she shouldn't cheat on me with anyone too big, because I would probably try and fight him. She said that was really weird and she was right. I think she probably would have broken up with me eventually anyways, but this story probably speed things up.

I didn't like carnivals or theme parks any longer. I went to one, and I saw a rope ladder. I didn't want to try again. I don't have any interest in vindicating myself. I didn't think it would help. I was waiting in line for a roller coaster for a long time. When I got to the front of the line I remembered the rope ladder and I sort of relived that moment. I was so preoccupied with it that I didn't really pay attention to the roller coaster. My mind was somewhere else, the ride didn't even register.

This girl that I was with at the time of the rope ladder incident was talking to me a couple years ago. She brought up the rope ladder incident and how mad I had gotten like it was a comic incident, which realistically it should have been. But I told her about my bizarre preoccupation with the event. I don't know why. I try and keep shit under wraps. I think I used the phrase "cuckolded by the universe" and she didn't sound particularly sympathetic. I felt stupid for having mentioned it.

A week later A package arrived it was a trophy, it was of a guy climbing a mountain. The inscription had my name and it said "Carnival Rope Ladder Thing Champion". It totally made me feel better. Better and silly all at once. Since I didn't think about it all that often I didn't even really realize the number it did on me. But the trophy fixed it. Whatever it was.
posted by I Foody at 10:03 AM on December 17, 2008 [65 favorites]

Aw, get on the trolly
posted by The Whelk at 10:10 AM on December 17, 2008

My dad was a games operator for a while in the '70s for a respected Texas-based traveling carnival. His stories of how they work gave me a permanent distrust of the games and I've rarely played them. Weirdly, though, roughly 80% of the times I've caved to a friend begging to waste money on them, I've somehow won a prize. I'm clumsy and not particularly coordinated, but that's even worked in my favour. I always give the prize away, though, since the friend usually doesn't win. I wish I knew why this happens, because I rarely ever win anything I want & intend to win.

And I used to really rock those claw games. I had a pile of the toys (although rarely the one I'd started the game up for) and would give them to my nieces and nephews. But now? I haven't won in years. I'll try once a year, now, but it never works out. Oh, claw luck, why have you abandoned me?
posted by batmonkey at 10:49 AM on December 17, 2008

Barkers are aggressive for a reason: They work on commission, usually 20% of what customers spend during their shift.

Not always the case anymore, sadly. This year at the fair some of the games had a looped recording of a barker. A very maternal sounding one, actually, advertising a "special" for "the next ten minutes." Maybe this is what the soccer mom demographic wants: 50% nothing. Of course the "special" was "for the next the minutes" all night. I wonder if they even honored the special, 6 throws for a dollar, or the posted signs saying 3. The talent portion of carneydom: outsourced, while a mallet jockey just stands there, bored, selling nothing for half the price.

God Bless America.

But damned if I didn't want a giant banana so bad I almost tried it.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 11:00 AM on December 17, 2008

There is a trick to the squirt the clown in the face and blow up the balloon group game.

Think about balloons - when you blow them up and deflate them, what happens? They become stretchier. If you go on a clown that has lost a bunch of times, you actually have to blow the balloon up MORE to make it pop.

Go on the clown that gets the new balloon - whoever won last time. If you're a good aim, it's an edge that will give you a better chance of winning.
posted by MythMaker at 11:20 AM on December 17, 2008

My mom worked for years in the office of regional trucking company. Like clockwork, every year, they'd do a big shipment of stuffed prizes delivered to the local carnival operator, and like clockwork every year he would pay the transportation fees in coins and small bills. (Several hundred dollars worth.)

When I was about four, he saw my picture on her desk, and told her to come out to the truck and have her pick of any of the giant toys for me "to make up for the inconvenience" that he caused her by paying in pocket change. For the next decade, every year I knew the fair season was starting because my mother would come home from work with some gigantic stuffed toy for me. I think I must have had ten or eleven of them.
posted by anastasiav at 11:29 AM on December 17, 2008

When I was a kid, suppose I was about eight or something, I remember going to a village fete. They had the usual games like coconut shies and the like. There was one game called 'Rat In A Trap' where you have a length of plastic drainpipe with a hole cut in it. A block of wood, the 'rat', is dropped down the pipe and you have to 'trap' it by shoving a wooden rod through a hole in the side of the pipe at exactly the right time. I was the first person during the whole afternoon who managed to do it. More by luck than anything but it made a little boy feel very special. Well for a couple of minutes until I found out I had won... a free go on the tombola. From which I won nothing. That taught me a valuable lesson about life.

Years later when I saw a glimpse of the 'Rat' again during the 'Fete Worse Than Death' scene in Hot Fuzz my eye started twitching.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 11:51 AM on December 17, 2008

Strange games. The only way to win is not to play.

Everyone should play them once or twice. Theres something about giving up five bucks to chuck a dirty old softball at glued-down milk bottles, knowing the game is rigged against me with the greasy, tattooed carny falsely cheering me on and oggling my girlfriend makes me feel more like I won something than an hour playing video games.
posted by ElmerFishpaw at 11:54 AM on December 17, 2008 [2 favorites]

Everyone should play them once or twice.

That's what they told me about Global Thermonuclear Warfare.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:03 PM on December 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

The only carnival game I was ever any good at was the one where you pay a buck to toss a pingpong ball into a bowl and win a diseased feeder fish that costs twenty cents at the local pet store.
posted by lysistrata at 12:12 PM on December 17, 2008

Now that these pages are on social media, the carnie hackers are going to destroy this site.
posted by rageagainsttherobots at 12:21 PM on December 17, 2008

I've been lucky on others, but my thing is the claw machine. The claw strength is most definitely variable between machines -- never between plays as far as I can tell. You do best identifying a good machine (tight claw -- the triple-claw is best) with good prizes. Though North American claw machine prizes are crap. Actually, Korean claw machines, too. Some beautiful stuff in some Japanese claw machines. Though the craziest I've seen is cigarette package stuffed claw machines, in Medan, Indonesia.

The "new" carnie game (this is ten years ago or more, now) that seemed to mesmerize everybody because it seemed all-skill and no deception, was dropping circular discs onto a (larger) painted circle -- even from a few inches height -- in order to try to cover every bit of the larger circle. One of those things the carnies practiced to be able to consistently do while few others seemingly could.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 12:23 PM on December 17, 2008

Do all crane games really have a "payout" setting? Because I can't remember the last time I played one without winning. It's pretty easy to see which, if any, of the prizes can be picked up, and if variable claw strength made it impossible to pick anything up on certain plays, that wouldn't be possible. Maybe I've just been irrationally lucky.

No, when I was in high school there were crane-machines at the arcade at the mall that did not have a payout setting. All you had to do was look for the one item that had absolutely nothing holding it down or squeezing it in. After getting the hang of making the claw hit it straight on, you could just keep pulling toys out one after the other.
posted by K.P. at 12:39 PM on December 17, 2008

Well some claw machines are built to fail (or rather, the tension is adjusted to fail) in that the claw doesn't have the strength to lift the prizes it is stocked with. Giant plush toys, clocks, RC cars, etc. All of that is do-able with the right machine and impossible with the wrong. However, it's easy to see if that's the problem with a single attempt, watching the claw not only fail to lift its target but its talons slide past without any grip at all (even to the extent of swinging freely, if it's really bad).
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 12:51 PM on December 17, 2008

I like that the Wall Street Journal, a prestigious newspaper devoted to and named after the financial epicenter of the modern world, where gambling is the order of the day, is including handy tips on how to win shitty prizes at dodgy carnivals. That speaks to me on so many levels. I mean, what's the real essential difference between a $300 Kiton wool tie and a 2 cent dancing rubber finger puppet when you are fucking somebody to get it?

Next week: How to use a Bulgari money clip to scrape horse manure from the bottom of your Gucci loafers, followed by an in-depth look at removing corn dog grease from Armani lapels (charcoal through navy), and using Marvis toothpaste to get fluorescent popcorn colouring off your Maserati's upholstery.

Marvis toothpaste is pretty good, though.
posted by turgid dahlia at 3:53 PM on December 17, 2008 [2 favorites]

The only carnival game I was ever any good at was the one where you pay a buck to toss a pingpong ball into a bowl and win a diseased feeder fish that costs twenty cents at the local pet store.

My High school owned a large amount of land around it. Some of it was woods, some commercial, some just big fields for random gym and activities. Every year they leased the big-but-kinda separate field to a local Carnival called "Heritage Day". I'm not sure what Heritage they where going for, but it mostly meant polish dances, suspicious rides, sad groups of students holding their Heritage flags, and the fried foods of Many Lands (I had my first Pakora there). It also meant midway games. I never went to the actual fair*, but I'd always go after the fair was packing up. You could make a killing in prizes from people who just didn't want to lug the excess cargo to the NEXT bullshit small town fair. Once. I got 20 bags of goldfish. They started my huge-ass aquarium. Like...17 died, but I kept up the rest for a few years, adding more flora and fauna. I was, then, wanting to be a biologist, and the Huge-ass aquarium gave me a nice education in things like oxygen cycles and waste management and PH, and ect

* I didn't go regular cause one time, a few years ago, I ended up in the path of the World's Drunkest Man who kept insisting I go on rides with him. I said my name was Julio and managed to escape after the Ferris Wheel. Creep-y.
posted by The Whelk at 5:34 PM on December 17, 2008

1934 expose from Modern Mechanics.

1924 expose from Popular Science. Some games are different.
posted by twoleftfeet at 7:39 PM on December 17, 2008

I agree on the Claw game - I've played lots of them, won many times, and I don't think there's a "win every x times" setting. Maybe on the specific units they were talking about, but not one I've run into. I win about a third to a half of the times I play, but that's because I don't play unless it looks like there's a good chance of winning.

I would just walk around and see what kind of toys people are carrying - to find out which machine has a strong enough claw to actually grab things. If nobody is around, I'll play a few different ones to try them. Then I pick a lightweight item with a good head size for gripping that isn't attached to anything.

According to Wikipedia:

Payout percentage: Cranes equipped with this setting have onboard programming which cause the claw's grip parameters to be continually adjusted to achieve a pre-set payout percentage, usually specified with respect to the value of the prizes inside

So it sounds like the setting (on machines that have it) is more of a "probability of strong grip" than a "number of tries before win" setting, possibly involving random numbers, and I seriously doubt you could win by counting people playing the machine.
posted by mmoncur at 11:36 PM on December 17, 2008

The only carnival game I was ever any good at was the one where you pay a buck to toss a pingpong ball into a bowl and win a diseased feeder fish that costs twenty cents at the local pet store.

I won one of these creatures when I was ten. The excitement of winning a carny game was somewhat dampened by the realization that I had to carry around a bag full of scummy water and a fish that probably wouldn't live to see the next sunrise. No one wanted to hold the bag for me so I spent the remainder of the afternoon watching other people ride the zipper and wondering if anyone would notice if I just threw the bag away. When we got home I didn't bother to give it a name. When it was still swimming at breakfast, I decided to call him Demetrius. Later that week, I bugged my parents to get me a fishbowl, and they obliged (probably just to get the fish out of the best pitcher we had). Two months later, tired of cleaning the bowl every few days I got a small aquarium with a filter and some other niceties. After that, Demetrius was a fixture on my dresser for eight years. Just before I graduated high school, he went belly-up. We went through a lot together, that fish and me: Long division to calculus, webelo to eagle scout, MC Hammer to Belle and Sebastian. He outlived two cats, a turtle, a brood of hamsters and a neighbor's dog. I should really get another fish.
posted by the christopher hundreds at 12:04 AM on December 18, 2008 [2 favorites]

I find it funny that both of those expose articles mention games like the wheel of fortune and the "G Wheel" (which is similar to what I was asking about, except mine had six arrows). Thing is, they are pretty much completely wrong. A skilled operator of a wheel of fortune style spinner can aim the wheel to stop near particular squares, and a skilled player can learn to read the operator. There just isn't any need for a cheat device, so I kind of suspect that cheat devices are almost never used.
posted by Chuckles at 12:17 AM on December 18, 2008

The girl climbing into the vending machine is the best. Priceless. Thanks for that fearfulsymmetry.

'Where did you say your sister has gotten to?' LOL.

The carny dictionary is a riot too [from a previous link]. Next time I write to my member of Parliament and I'm chuffed about something, I'll drop a few of those terms in there. Circus headache, cherry pie, heat merchant come to mind... it's all a dog and pony show, indeed.
posted by alicesshoe at 5:38 AM on December 18, 2008

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