Video: If you’ve ever tried to win that super big stuffed animal for your sweetheart at the ring toss and just ended up embarrassing yourself, it’s possible that you’ve long suspected that carnival games are rigged. It won’t win you any prizes, but this video explains the mechanics of exactly how you’re taken for a ride.
Mark Rober is a YouTuber with a background in engineering who makes videos about practical design. He spent time at an amusement park collecting data to explain all the ways the games there are put together to make your chances of winning as remote as possible. According to Rober’s findings, some games are far more difficult to win than others, and he even offers some tricks to make your chances of winning slightly higher.
Rober breaks the games down into three categories: Games of chance (such as tossing a ball into one of hundreds of cups), games of skill (such as throwing three pointers at the basketball hoops), and games that are for sure total scams (such as the ladder climb). But the line between the first two categories and the third are thin; take the basketball shot for instance.
Typically, a three point shot is thrown from 7.32m away, up at a 3.05m rim. The carnival he visited had their rim set up at 3.35m, and made players stand 8.53m back. The slight adjustment makes it a little harder, sure, but what this really does is mess with your muscle memory. Even if you’re great at three point shots, your body has gotten good at them in a different arrangement, and you’re much more likely to miss while not visually understanding why.
But even games of chance can be broken down into numbers, such as the cup toss. Rober points out that there are 1600 cups, but only 160 of them are “winning” cups, which gives you a one in 10 chance of winning anything. Most of the games with percentages like this also use very lightweight balls, making them bounce and generally not end up where you aim them.
But don’t let Rober or anyone else discourage you from going to the carnival to eat fairy floss and get sunburned, because it’s for sure one of the funnest (and lowest impact) ways to get scammed. You can also always do what he does, and bring a professional baseball player to come crush the odds for you. Enjoy that stuffed animal!