11 feet, 11 feet. It's no secret that carnivals exist to make money And to do this most effectively, they do a bunch of little tricks to make you overestimate your chances of winning in some cases to such an extent that it’s basically a scam. So I spent a couple days coming down to this carnival and observing and collecting data on all the games. So I’m now I’m going to tell you exactly which games are the biggest ripoffs and the scientific reasons why. I even nancy drewed how much they actually pay for the prizes you can win. But there is hope…because I’ll also show you some legitimate tricks on how to the most popular games and along with what happens when you show up to the carnival with your professional baseball playing buddy who happens to play for the Mets. Let’s get started! Any kind of legitimate investigation needs to start with solid data as the foundation. So with the promise of unlimited churros, I had some friends secretly help me collect data on all 24 games at the Carnival for a full day.
Not only did we collect how how many times each game was played but we recorded how many times people actually won each game and what prize they won.
And so the first observation was that based on our data is tht this relatively small park this place makes $20k/day just on their carnival So to help frame the rest of the observations, let’s divide the games into 3 groups.
1st, You’ve got your Random chance games- Games like these that don’t utilize any skills and are basically rolling a dice.
2nd you’ve got your Skill based games Like basketball shot or the milk bottle throw or the basket toss game where if you bring some kind of skill or strategy to the table you can increases your chances of winning
And the final category are the games that are pretty much Impossible- These ones are borderline scams.
There are 3 games that lots of people attempted and nobody won, and if they did win once like in the case of the ladder climb it was for a very specific reason, which I’ll talk about later.
So let’s start by talking about the random chance games. Calculating your chances of winning chances here is pretty straightforward. You just divide winning outcomes by the total outcomes and you’ll get a percentage.
So in this case there are about about 1600 total cups and 160 winning cups. That’s about 10% chance or 1 in 10 throws will win.
There are a ton of games similar to this. But catch is they always use balls that are light weight and have a high coefficient of restitution meaning they bounce really well. The makes it much less likely the ball will end where you originally aim it. To illustrate this point, think how much easier this game would be with bean bags which are heavier with and don’t bounce. Any imperfection in your throw is magnified, which essentially randomizes things.
If you have no skills these are the games you want to play.
But don’t’ get too excited because even when you win you lose. I did some investigative work and uncovered the sources they order their prizes from and discovered even If you got lucky on your first throw that would cost you $1.50 for a prize that that cost them 45 cents. But you usually won’t get it on your first try and treating this as expected value problem it would take you average (7/30) 5 tries to land in a yellow cup for a small prize which means you pay $7.50 for something that costs 45 cents. In the case of the big prize by landing in the rare gold cup it’s worse and would take an average of 25 tries, which works out to $38 for a prize that costs them $6. The number of people we observed winning matched up well with these statistical predictions.Now let’s talk about the skill based games.
One of the most popular the basketball toss with 825 the day we obseved. A standard 3 pointer is about 24 feet back on a 10 foot rim. In this case however, the line is 28ft back on a rim 11 feet high. Which is subtle but if you have a deadly 3 pointer locked into your muscle memory you will tend to miss short which is exactly what happened a bunch.
The reason they always have all big sloped tarp in front is so that someone can’t stand underneath the rim where they height difference would be much more apparent. Here again though even if you go Steph Curry and sink your first $3 shot, you still lose 2.20 cents because this ball costs them 80 cents Here is another example of getting you to overestimate your chances of winning by making subtle changes by slanting the table which will reduce the horizontal velocity after the bounce so even if you played this game all through college your previous experience almost becomes a handicap. This measure your pitch speed game is borderline fraudulent as their Radar gun registers about 15mph slow.
I know this because I measured the distance and then
filmed in high speed and counted the frames and this pitch was much closer to 84 mph. For the milk bottle game the only catch here is that the bottles are metal which makes them more stable and harder to knock down than a normal bottle that size. I’ve seen some carnivals where they are bottom weighted which would make them even more stable and thus less likely to tip. You can ask to hold it use the trick of balance it on your finger to determine where the center of mass is. They key to this game is hitting them right here with a hard enough throw to introduce sufficient kinetic energy but don’t throw it too hard because we noticed those who threw their hardest usually compromised on accuracy. About 1 in 14 of people knocked them over on their first try. And then finally the basket toss game. The key here is to have your first bounce hit on the front lip to reduce the kinetic energy enough so it doesn’t rebound out.
About 1 in 10 people win this game according to our observations. And now this brings us to our final category of the near impossible games and there are three of them. On this first one, the goal is to shoot out the red star with this automatic bb gun. So the best strategy is to basically shoot a circle around the start to cut it out.
Not only are the guns not accurate or precise but the bigger issue is that you start out doing really well because there is enough surrounding paper so the bb will rip through the paper.
But Newton’s 3rd law tells us you can only push on something as hard as it can resist your push and so at the end there will be barely supported pieces of the star that just move out of the way off the bb without building up enough stress to rip the paper. Out of 120 plays we saw no one win this one all day
This ring bottle game is also impossibly difficult.
Again, it’s a lightweight object that is really bouncy to encourage randomness but the actual inner diameter of the ring is really close to the outer diameter of the bottle. This means any throw besides this perfect one, will send it bouncing away instead of settling in on the bottle. If you really want this bear I suggest going to Amazon and getting it for $47. I literally can’t even tell you how much money that wills save you because of the 840 rings we saw thrown, none stayed on.
Which brings up a obvious rule of thumb, if you want to have the feeling of winning a game, don’t play any game that offers really big prizes. And for the final near impossible game let me reiterate that for a carnival owner the most lucrative games are those which the customer over estimates their chances of success. No game is a better example of this than the ladder climb.
There is a subtle issue with this game that I think people realize, but don’t internalize the significance.
The ladder converges to be supported on the wall by one point instead of two. If it was attached in two points it’s like crawling across a bridge which is really easy. Let’s pretend this is you and If you shrunk all the weight of your body down to the average location which we call the center of mass, which we’ll mark with this dot. Again, you know this is the spot because it balances perfectly. If you draw two imaginary lines connecting the diffrent support points and as long as your center of mass dot is it is impossible to fall off. But As soon as you center of mass is even a little bit out of the area of supports you start to rotate and fall off. If you’ve ever bent over to pick something up you actually know this fact whether you realize it or not. In this case the region of support is between the heel and the toes of your foot.
When you reach over you will naturally move your butt back to keep your center of mass in between your support points.
If you don’t believe me try picking something up standing against a wall so you can move your butt back, at the very moment your center of mass moves beyond your toes, you tip over.
In the case of the ladder game even though it looks wide because of the ladder rungs, it’s only attached at one point but even though it looks wide because of the ladder rungs that area of support reduces down to a line.
So So if you don’t keep your center of mass directly above that line you will start to rotate and fall
off. In other words, to win this game you basically need to crawl across a tightrope. And you might think we’ll I can do a slack line so I can do this but a slack line is actually much easier for 2 reasons You can flail your arms and legs out to adjust your center of mass to keep it above the line of support and your center of mass is higher up which makes you more stable In the same way it’s easier to balance this umbrella when it’s extended vs.
When collapsed. So while there are a few videos that say tricks like maintain three points of contact at all times, they’re basically useless because keeping your center of mass directly above a line is just something you need get a feel for that takes a lot of practice. But once you’ve had enough practice you this is the one game at the carnival that is all skill. So you can win everytime and clean them out. Unfortunately, the carnival owner knows this which is why it’s the only game with this super lame caveat. So now that we were carnival experts, I called up my buddy Matt Winaker who played baseball for Stanford and was just recently drafted to play for the New York Mets So we could maximize the chance of winning any game relating to throwing So clearly Matt had deadly lock on any throwing game But basketball is more my game so to finish off the day I decided to bring his ego back into check As it turns out, if you are a world
class athlete in one sport you are a really, really good athlete in all sports.
So in conclusion, you should play the games if you think they’re fun just know that the odds are heavily stacked against so if you don’t win it’s nbd unlike this dude who lost his life savings playing carnival games. And if your motivation is to gain the love and admiration of someone special by means of a stuffed animal you don’t need a carnival to do that. Amazon works just as well. “A little purchse for you ma lady” Why?.