EVERY spring 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 pounds.


Whether the Wire Is Tant or Slightly Loose, as Determined by

 the Foot Lever, Decides Winners and Losers


Perhaps the 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 Blanks Win


Even the 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 slight.


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.


Strangely enough 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 crude. 


Profiting by 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.


The crowds 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 Jerry Willman


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