hundreds of street shows start their migratory tour of the
"sticks," bringing with them a host of sure-thing games on which
you can try your skill. Many of them, form the
innocent-looking "Toss a Ring and Win a Cane: game, to the
intricate roulette and paddle wheels, can be "gimmicked" or
controlled by the operator.
One of the most
ingenious of these games is the "Test your strength" devices,
wherein a lever, when struck by a hammer catapults a marker up a
steel wire and registers the number of pounds of strength.
A blow of 2,000 pounds rings a bell and the strong man is
awarded a couple of cigars. The operator controls this
game in the majority of cases. At his feet is a lever
which only needs a gentle touch and - presto! - the wire is made
to hang taut or loose as he desires. And therein lies the
secret. When the wire is tight, a moderate blow will shoot
the marker skyward, lighting the colored marking bulbs all the
way to the final crash on the bell; but when the wire is
loose, the marker encounters considerable friction, and even a
Samson smash will fail to register and more than 1,700 or 1,800
Whether the Wire Is
Tant or Slightly Loose, as Determined by
Lever, Decides Winners and Losers
commonest of all the carnival games is the roulette or paddle
wheel. Most of these are run on the square, the operator
depending on getting a full board on every spin of the wheel.
Most of these are run on the square, the operator depending on
getting a full board on every spin of the wheel, and then
awarding a sixty-nine-cent prize to one of the fourteen people
who have paid a dime each for the chance of winning. But
most of the manufactured roulette and paddle wheels can be
fixed, and the percentage of winnings altered instantly by the
operator. There are many ways of controlling these wheels.
Usually a cunningly hidden nail or lever below the bettering
board has direct connection to the hub of the wheel, either by
friction or by electricity, giving the operator full control.
Friction of a Thin
Concealed Wire on the Hub of a Spinning Wheel
May Be Used to Make
innocent-looking rings which you try to toss over the head of a
cane may be fixed. This is done by weighting the ring on
one side so that it falls on an angle, thereby preventing it
from ringing any but the cheaper prizes, while the ten
gold-headed canes, with the dollar bills wrapped around their
handles, remain the property of the operator.
Another ring game
offers prizes mounted on pedestals, the object being to throw a
hoop over the pedestal in order to win the prize mounted on it.
The "shil" does it with a special set of slightly larger rings
which are kept on hand for his appearance, but the rings you
play may be a bit elliptic in shape, and since this slight
variation from a true circle makes them about one thirty-second
of an inch smaller than the pedestal, you might toss a life-time
without getting anything. If you should look askance at
the ring and then at the pedestal, the operator will take the
ring, and pressing it to a more rounded fullness, easily slip it
over the stand in question.
Another game which
looks absolutely on the square is the pin-and-ball game,
consisting of a bowling pin standing on a table, with a
suspended ball directly over it. To win in this game, all
you need do is to swing the ball forward, miss the pin going,
and knock it down coming back. An impossibility! If
the ball is suspended squarely over the pin, it is against all
laws of gravity for an object its size and weight to miss the
pin going and hit it coming back. When the operator
demonstrates, he presses a lever which sets the ball about a
quarter of an inch off to one side, and then with a practiced
hand, knocks down the pin on the rebound.
After his "See how
easy it is" demonstration the ball goes back to its former
position and your efforts only go to show the Dame Nature cannot
be trifled with - not even for a ten cent piece!
There are a few
games that are always played on the square. One of these
is the "Spot it" game. To win you you must lay down five
small red disks so that they completely cover a larger blue one.
The operator shows you how. Your trial however usually
results in a contribution to the barker's pocketbook. This
game is a real game of science - the science of geometry.
The sketch shows you the only way the small disks can be placed
to completely cover the larger one, and any deviation from this
layout, be in only a quarter of an inch, will result in failure.
It's not so honest after all! The operator has certain
landmarks on the blue disk discernible only to himself, without
which he, too would be unable to make the five red disks cover.
Method of Covering
the Entire Surface of One Large Disk with
Five Smaller Ones Is
Shown at above
The gimmicking even
extends to the guileless-appearing ball games. The
woeful-looking cats and the pretty white milk bottles that you
throw baseballs at are often loaded so that they can withstand a
most terrific impact and still remain vertical. The
grinning "Nigger babies" have been hammered so unmercifully in
previous seasons that they present a total solid area of about
three square inches, the rest consisting of gaudy edging through
which the ball whizzes without the slightest effect. You
cannot throw a ball into the mouth of a grinning face because
the operator presses a button which closes the mouth a trifle,
making it too small for the ball.
Tossing a Ball into
One of a Group of Buckets Looks Easy, but the Operator's
Foot Decides Whether
the Ball Stays In, to Win or Bounces Out.
One of the surest of
all the sure-thing games is the one with the buckets. To
win a prize at any of these bucket games, you must throw so many
balls into the buckets in so many tries. Try and do it!
The buckets are all
guaranteed by the manufacturer to reject the ball every time it
is thrown in. The only time anybody wins is when the
operator thinks that a winner would be good business; then he
presses the lever which takes the bounce out of the bottom of
the buckets and some-body gets a prize. The winner is
complimented on being a very skillful individual.
Were you ever one?
Two of the Games
That May Be Fixed; the Suspended Ball Which Must Hit the
Pin on the Return
and the Weighted Rings That Always Fall at the Wrong Angle
There are many
variations of the carnival games. The knife pitch, for
example. It is basically the same as the cane pitch, in
which the player tries to toss the ring over a cane and fails
because the ring is slightly weighted on one side, causing it to
fall at an angle that makes it practically impossible to land it
over the end of a walking stick.
The shil who runs
the knife pitch displays several hundred pocket-knives, opened
and with their blade tips stuck into his table. It looks
like an easy thing to land a ring over one, but all the more
valuable knives are so closely placed that the weighted ring is
sure to strike on one edge and fall between them, and them. and
the chance of putting a two-inch ring over the cheaper ones is
The Carnival men
talk a language of their own, partly borrowed from the older art
of stage magicians. The magician calls the secret hidden
apparatus that enables him to fool the eye a gimmick and the
shils have adopted the same term.
they do not mind particularly if the public knows the games are
fixed for the house to win. They discovered a long time
ago the older gambling games, three-card Monte and the shell
racket, which were looked on with disfavor by the law, were very
Barnum's dictum that the public likes to be fooled even when it
knows it is being misled, the modern shil plays on the carnival
spirit that makes visitors willing to spend their dimes with no
expectation of winning, and spend them on the chance of getting
something they don't want even if they are permitted to win it.
surrounding the games in any amusement park consist largely of
people who know there is a gimmick in the game but are willing
to spend the money for the amusement derived from the play.
A carnival man with a "fixed" device is selling amusement as
frankly as the operator of the figure eight, and if,
occasionally, he con descends to throw off the gimmick and let a
player win a violently painted plaster-of-Paris vase, a
crepe-paper-dressed doll or some equally eye-startling prize, it
is merely a favor bestowed, and not something legitimately won.
The fiction that the
games are ones of skill and not of chance, and therefore not
violations of the anti-gambling code, is maintained but
outwardly. The shil knows his customers come to be amused,
and that they expect to get their fun out of his conversational
sallise and their own futile attempts to beat the game.
Article by Sam Brown
Popular Mechanics March 1928 - Submitted by
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