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Carnival games: How to win at the fair in Indio, or how not to lose

Published On: Feb 22 2013 10:20:17 AM CST
Updated On: Feb 22 2013 11:01:00 AM CST

Do you feel you get cheated out your money when you go to the Date Festival? Jeff Stahl goes and spends some money to try to figure out if its all fun or just a scam.

INDIO, Calif. -

Can you actually win at any of those long rows of carnival games at the Riverside County Fair and National Date Festival in Indio?

There are some ways to improve your odds while having fun.

It's important to remember, if a game looks really easy assume something has been "gaffed" to make it harder to win.  "Gaffed" is Carni-talk to mean rigged, not necessarily illegal.  Just not as easy as it looks.

If you want to win, watch a game before you put your money down to play.  Also ask questions and don't assume you know the rules or how a game works.  You need to look for any advantage you can.

For example, a worker at a basketball toss game claimed, "it's just basketball."  But a look from the side at the rims suggests otherwise.  It's more like "oval ball."  The rims were bent.  The balls were also over-inflated and super bouncy.  Your only chance at winning would be to shoot a high arch swoosh.

A fair goer who played the game without winning said, "the secret to winning? Money.  A lot of money!"

The balloon pop game was easy to win.   We popped them easy, but at $5 a dart for a stuffed crayon you're going to pay at least $25 for a top shelf prize, way more than it's worth.

You can win Honey barrel by simply getting the ball to stay in the barrels.  There's no easy strategy to win, but the way they were offering free throws to get me to "pay to play" more, they clearly knew my odds of winning were low.  So are yours, but it is possible to win with a high arch side spin on the ball.

You can also win at High Striker with some strength and an accurate swing. "It's easy huh," I said.  A carnival worker said, "Yeah if you know how to do it.  You've got to hit it just square.  Hit it a little off on each side and it don't work very far."  He was telling the truth.  Swing the hammer like you're splitting wood.  My effort was good enough for a stuffed penguin.

The Shooting Star's odds aren't great, but you can win if you shoot out the entire star.  Invariably there will be a shredded star tip remaining once you've unloaded your recycled BB's which seem to shoot randomly.  I tried it repeatedly with no luck.
     
Avoid One Ball because often one or more of the three bottles on the bottom is much heavier than it looks and nearly impossible to knock down.  Or the ball simply isn't heavy enough to knock them down.

Success at the Rope Ladder requires you to keep your center of gravity wide.   Grab the rope sides instead of the inner rungs, and for every hand grab movement kick your opposite foot out.  Also watch for carnies who hold the ladder stable until the very end then let you fall giving you the impression you're doing better than you thought.

The Ring Toss is another game clearly of chance.  The only way to win is to get lucky.  The hard plastic rings bounce, bounce and bounce somemore on the glass bottles.  You can get lucky, but the odds are against you.

The Duck Pond makes money by keeping you playing supposedly for a better prize.  The vast majority of the duck bottoms are marked with slum prizes.  

Bank a Ball" also known as Flukey Ball requires technique.   The secret is to ask if you can lean in and graze the top of the board as the ball is going up-- or down-- so that arcs back down into the basket.   It's not easy, but nothing worth having is.
    
Whenever possible, play in the same spot where the carnie stands when demonstrating the game.  Most important to winning is to have fun and not take these games too seriously.  Play if you want, then go get a date shake or a maple bacon donut.   Mmm fair food!