by Jim Rose







The contents of this section are dangerous. Misuse of the material can cheapen an art form or at the very least make you look stupid. More importantly, misuse of this information may result in jail time or death. Do not attempt any of these tricks without the direct supervision of a responsible professional.



This is a carnival game where customers have a chance to win great prizes. The operator holds a collar with strings coming from it and attached to prizes. The other side of the collar has the strings attached to tabs. When the customer pulls a tab, the appropriate string draws the prize connected to it.


The prizes are the usual junk, like balls, mirrors, cheap plush toys, along with some higher quality ones like TV’s, walkmen, radios, etc. To show you can win any of these, the vendor pulls all the strings at the same time, so all the prizes move. But every time a customer pulls a tab, he only gets a cheap prize.


Secret: What happens is the strings are tricked.


They are all attached to the collar, but only the ones attached to cheap prizes have tabs. Therefore nobody can win the expensive items.


Getting Nailed

Here is another carnival game that seems totally honest.


The object of this nail-hammering game is to hammer a nail into a piece of wood with just one blow.


The operator takes a nail from his carpenter’s apron and does the feat easily. He repeats the process a few times. He then lures victims to do the same. For some reason, they can never do it as successfully.


Secret: The secret lies in the type of nails used.


The operator uses a hard nail which he takes from his apron. As for the victims, he gives them soft ones that are taken from a secret pocket in his apron.


Basket Case

The vendor lures people up with a carny pitch.


For just one dollar, they can toss 3 balls into a basket.


If the three stay inside the basket, they can win a portable TV; with two inside, lesser quality prizes; with one or none they lose. To show how easy it is, the vendor tosses 3 balls that stay inside the basket.


But once the customer tries, the balls don’t seem to stay inside.


Secret: The baskets have reinforced wood bottoms that make the balls bounce out. Also, the baskets are tilted at an angle that disadvantage the thrower.


Ninety percent of the time the balls will hit the upper-half of the basket bottom and bounce out.


Finally, the vendor is at a better advantage since he’s behind the counter where the angle is different.


The balls will bounce from side to side and settle to the bottom.


The Bottle Toss

This game can also be seen at carnivals and state fairs. The object is not only to knock the wooden bottles down, but to throw them off their pedestals

with one hit.


They are positioned in a form of a pyramid: 3 at the bottom, 2 above, and one at the very top.


A lead-weighted bottle can be easily knocked over, but rarely off the pedestal. So why can the operator always demonstrate it as though it were easy?


Secret: When the victim does it, the lead-weighted bottles are positioned on the bottom row, which takes more hits to throw them off. But when the operator demonstrates it the three lead-weighted bottles are positioned on the two top rows of the pyramid, making it easy to knock them off with one hit.


Age Guessing

This is a game that’s still seen at carnivals or fairgrounds where people pay two dollars to have their age guessed. If the guesser is wrong, the customer

gets a prize.


The performer tells the audience that he can guess someone’s age within two years. This range gives him the advantage. Let’s say the performer guesses the customer to be 29 years old, he wins if that person is between 27 and 31.


Here are clues he looks for:

Friends: Knowing the type of people the customer came with could indicate the age range. For example, a group of teenage girls could give up the age of their friend who’s trying to look older.


Hair Color: Some people’s hair becomes gray prematurely but if gray appears on the mustache or beard, the person is older.


Face: The guesser brings the customer in the light, so he can look at the face better. He tries to make the person smile to see if age wrinkles show.


Hands: The performer looks for age spots, especially in the case of an older woman who has had cosmetic surgery and looks younger than her hands.


The Cheater:

Sometimes the performer will cheat. He writes two numbers on a pad and asks the person their age. He then shows him the right number (or the closest to the truth) while hiding the other one with his thumb. With the two year range allowed, he has a huge advantage.


Let’s say he writes 26 and 31. It allows him to win every time if the customer is between the age of 24 and 33.


Another Way to Guess the Age:

The guesser asks a volunteer to write his age on a piece of paper without showing it. He tells him to add 752 to his age, since there are 7 days in a week and 52 weeks in a year. Then he tells him to add 12 to the result since there are twelve months in a year.


He finishes by asking the volunteer the last digit of the final total. The guesser immediately tells the exact age.


Secret: This method works with a mix of simple calculation and observation.


The guesser subtracts 4 from the digit given by the volunteer (if the digit is smaller than 4, he adds 10 to it before subtracting 4). Whatever the final number the guesser gets, it will be the last digit of the volunteer’s age.


For example: If the last digit given is 6; subtract 4 from it which gives 2. If the volunteer looks like he’s in his twenties, his age is 22.


The Weight Guess

Once again the advantage goes to the performer who tells the audience that he can guess their weight within three pounds. The key is a one week concentrated effort to learn how your friends weights correspond to their frames.


He first compares the customer’s frame with someone he knows. He looks at the wrists and arms to see if the person has small or big bones. He checks if the customer is wearing baggy or tight fitting clothes; he looks for bulges and big muscles.


And last he knows that women who don’t mind having their weight guessed in public are usually thin.


Baby Show

Here is another attraction on the midway.


To get people in, the “Baby Show” has several banners and a tape loop. “See the world’s most bizarre babies,” “The children of forgotten fathers,” “See the two-headed baby, the frog baby, and Cyclops,” “Come see why they did not ask to be born.”


As a psychological touch, a baby stroller is parked in front of the tent implying the children were alive.


These deformed babies are actually made out of rubber and called “pickled punks” or “bouncers.” They are immersed in a blue liquid inside medical jars. 


Hoop and Block Game

Seen at carnival and state fairs.


The object is to throw a hoop around a metal stick. This game is almost impossible to win because the hoop is tossed by the customers from the wrong angle.


The operator always wins because he’s inside the counter and much closer to the stick enabling him to practically drop the hoop during his demonstration.


The rest is just toss acting.


Go Fishing

This is a typical fishpond game found at carnivals, state fairs, and amusement parks where about 100 wooden fish float down a small stream past the counter. The customer pays for a fish that has a hidden number on its underbelly. Each number corresponds to a winning prize; some of them higher quality than others. As usual, everyone’s a winner.


But in this classic example, what looks right to you is really upside down.


Let’s say your winning number is 66 and it corresponds to a radio, the vendor will hold the fish the other way and call it 99 for an ashtray. The other

upside numbers used are: 9 for 6; 16 for 91; 18 for 81;89 for 68; 98 for 86.


The Mark

It was while working at the fairground as a kid that I learned the origin of the term “easy mark.” There would always be some drunks tossing outwads of money hoping to win at the games, but they’d always lose. The operator would pat the guy on his shoulder and wish him better luck next time around. Unbeknownst to him, the comforting hand had chalk on it, clearly marking him as a sucker to the other vendors.


The Geek Act

The geek act can at times become a rowdy affair due to disappointed customers. The presentation makes them feel like they are going to see a wild man from Borneo eating live chickens. Instead there is a guy, a chicken, and a dirty half-full porta- potty in a cage. The cage is there to protect the performer from the audience, instead of the other way around.

As soon as everyone is in the tent, he grabs the chicken, bites its neck lightly, to reopen a small cut, and smears blood and feathers on his face.


But before the customers can lynch him for letting them down, he grabs the porta-potty and splashes it on everyone until they exit the tent in a mad rush. The liquid was only dirty colored water, but it works.



The contents of this section are dangerous. Misuse of the material can cheapen an art form or at the very least make you look stupid. More importantly, misuse of this information may result in jail time or death. Do not attempt any of these tricks without the direct supervision of a responsible professional.

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