A Guide to Carnival Games

Step right up, it’s a walk down the midway …

The Water Gun Game

This is the classic. This is the one you think of when you think of carnivals. You aim your gun, and hope you’re more clever than the five year old next to you for depressing the trigger before the game starts. Yeah kid, I’ve been playing this game triple the years your age. This is how it’s done.

Another key strategy is to only focus on your target. Don’t watch your balloon expanding or the doll rising towards the bell. Just stay on the bullseye. This game is always decided by a split second of water pressure. You fuck it up and you’ve lost.

There’s the opening credit sequence of Step by Step where the kids turn the water guns on each other. It used to make me cringe. You’re playing competitively for a prize here, and these kids are dicking around. I’d throw ’em out if I was the head carnie.

Pick a Duck

At first, this game looks like it’s for babies because everyone wins a prize, and that sort of feel-good, it’s-OK-if-you-lose attitude is for moms and fat kids. But if you look closer, you’ll notice the Duck Pond is a game of chance, a chance that you might pick the duck with a number higher than 10 on the bottom, a chance to win one of the top row prizes, a chance to be Top Gun. Honestly, I don’t believe that chance exists though. I have been drawing ducks for twenty eight years and I have never, ever gotten anything more than a “small prize.” Even if there are 50 ducks in the pond, and the odds of winning a bigger prize are 1 in 50, I’ve played this shit at least 50 times, and all I ever win is pinwheels.

Last time I played, I finally got angry. I watched the ducks go around the flume three times, and I felt the chainsmoking-voiced lady grow impatient with me, but I was waiting for a duck “I felt” to come around. Finally I saw him and snatched him up. And of course, he was only worthy of a crap prize. It was a fish, but it looked like a shrimp with blue stripes. I protested, “is that really my only choice? That–that…. fish thing?” She shoved it closer to me saying “yep.” Well, no, she threatened me with a pink-striped one. I took the blue one, vowing never to return to the duck pond.

Roll-a-Ball Game

The roll a ball game is where you roll balls down a plank and pray they land in the hole worth the most points. It’s a racing game where the more points means the more distance your jockey moves. I love this game. Usually, the first skill you must have is to muscle your way to a seat, as this game can draw crowds.

As for the game itself, the trick is to roll the balls delicately, not quickly. Roll them fast and they will always bounce off the back and drop down the gutter. You can’t make mistakes with this game. You have to get the high points holes almost every roll. My proudest moment was playing this game in the kiddie rides section of Rehoboth Beach. All of my competitiors were under the age of ten. I won easily and swifty. I showed ’em how to play.

Throw a Ball at Something Games
Milk jugs, blocks, baskets. Everyone knows the target is weighted. Those aren’t glass jugs. They’re fucking LEAD. And the baskets are optical illusions designed to always bounce the ball out and fly into the other game stand across the way, causing everyone to duck and scream. I know that one from experience. Nope, I don’t waste my time with this sucker game.

The Dreaded and Evil Balloon Darts

This is a sucker game too. The balloons are under-inflated and/or the dart tips are dull as NERF darts. Remember lawn darts? Those were caveman sized spears that you hurled at targets across your lawn. And they were so sharp they impaled a few kids, and now they’re banned in the United States. We ban all the fun shit. But that’s neither here nor there.

The people who run the darts games are true hustlers. Once, I lost the game twice–so the girl offered me a third dart for a discount, and said if I lost again, she’d give me a prize. I took her up on that offer, and actually popped a balloon. I cursed loudly, and then huffed off with my fists clenched. We decided to go to the bar and have some drinks, since everyone is better at throwing shit while drunk. Three beers later, I came back to the darts game, and it appeared as if the girl’s head was closer to the balloons than before. I was afraid I might accidently hit her, and that’s the excuse I’m using–not the beer–as to why I lobbed the dart unimpressively towards the floor, missing the balloon board entirely.

Hurl A Frog

This is where you try to catapult a frog onto a moving lillypad target. Hitting the frog hard enough so that he actually flies towards the lillypads–and not just pathetically thumping towards the ground–is the real challenge here. Aim and actual skill are off the table. You just have to take the hammer and blindly whack it as hard as you can. I have never won this game, but it has always been worth the dollar play, since whacking catapults is great fun.

Whack a Mole

see this loser?
see this loser?

Screw Whack-a-Mole and goobers who are good at it. If you can whack all them little buggers with lighting reflexes, I think you just have autism.

Ring Toss

I won it on the ring toss. The biggest prize I have ever won, a mammoth-sized red T-rex with yellow spikey hair. I circled around the carnvial with it, everyone looking at me like I was a god, because only the baddest ass of the badasses ever win the big prizes. People’s jaws dropped. Little children looked up, and right then and there, wished to be as awesome as me one day. Mothers could only say “wow” and grab their children and point to the sight to be seen. People leaped outta my way to make room for me and my funky dinosaur. Dreams do come true. There is no strategy to this game. You must only throw the rings and pray to be a demi-God like me.

Guessing Booth Dude

A scary drunk guesses your weight, age, gender, or birthday month. Only kids dare do this. Only they are unashamed.

Wouldn’t it be great if average drunks like your uncle at Thanksgiving actually looked like this?

3 thoughts on “A Guide to Carnival Games

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