Carnival season is just around the corner, bringing with it fried treats, sketchy rides, and all sorts of giant stuffed animals begging to be freed from their midway bonds.
But if you're anything like us, the thought of playing those rigged carnival games only brings back memories of frustration, lost money, and the angry injustice that accompanies any experience where you feel like you've been cheated but can't quite put your finger on how.
However, if you know which games to play -- and a few how-to tricks -- you can up your odds significantly. This year, strike back against crooked carnies and fill your car to the very brim with plush prizes by beating them at their own game.
BEST BET -- The Milk Can Toss
A softball. A milk can. Throw the former into the latter. A simple game, right? Except this ain't exactly your ordinary milk can.
As you suspected, the can's opening is a good deal smaller than it looks. Chances are, if you go for a straight lob, your ball will bounce off the rim and out. Instead, channel your inner NBA star and try aiming for the back of the hole while applying plenty of backspin. Don't shoot it like a basketball, though: grip it like you would a baseball, but release it underhand with the back of your hand facing the bottle. That will help give it both backspin and arc, and with any luck, it'll roll right in. Once you get the knack, this is considered one of the most consistently winnable carnival games.
The Ring Toss
Tempting prizes mean long odds. That's often the way with the ring toss game, where the game runners will rely on the simple nature of the game -- combined with a slew of high-dollar prizes -- to draw in the chumps.
So what's the secret? It's far harder than it looks: you usually need the ring to fly and land completely flat in order for it to snag just one bottle. Much like tossing a perfect Frisbee, getting this right is a matter of piling as much spin onto the ring as you can, and that's mostly down to the wrist action. Get a good snap and a good flat delivery, and you'll maximize your chances of taking home the big prize.
The Coin Toss
Only slightly less irritating than The Ring Toss, this coin variant has would-be winners fruitlessly trying to land coins on plates. Suffice to say, that rarely happens. A couple tips can change your fortune, however.
For starters, aim high — that loft will give the coin a fighting chance to not just slide right off the plate. And unlike those rings, excessive spin isn't a great idea. A wobbly coin is a bouncy coin, and we don't want bouncy.
Which brings us to the best plan of all: spit. Applying a smidgen of saliva to the coin will help it stick better, though try to be discreet about it. Cheaters don't like getting cheated, you know.
The Rope Ladder
Any fool can climb a ladder, but it takes a special kind of fool to climb one of these precarious, pivoting contraptions. Indeed, there are only really a couple of things you need to know to actually make it to the top with your dignity intact.
First up, ignore those seemingly helpful rungs. Seriously, they'll just throw you off-balance by centering your weight and making it easy for you to flip upside-down. Instead, climb with your hands always on the rope itself, and keep your feet wedged as far to the outside as you possibly can. Next, concentrate on staying even: make each move you make with your left side of your body balanced with a similar one on your right.
The real secret to saving face on the rope ladder? Try to distract your friends moments before you inevitably fall off.
The Basketball Toss
No matter how good you are at shooting hoops, the basketball toss game is still bewilderingly difficult. Why? Shenanigans, of course. For one thing, the ring is somewhat smaller than the foot-and-a-half diameter of a regulation NBA hoop. How much smaller depends on the particular game, but you can rest assured you're going to have a harder time rimming it in. Secondly, the backboard is stiffer, and that means the ball will rebound more than normal, so bank shots are out.
That pretty much leaves one option: swish it. Think high arc and nothing but net, because if you hit anything else, you'll be riding the bench.
Shoot out the Star
You might fancy yourself a crack shot, but the shoot-out-the-star carnival game is difficult enough to humiliate even Annie Oakley.
A few factors combine to make it a tough nut to crack. For one thing, the sights on that airgun aren't zeroed in. Either ignore them altogether, or take a few practice shots to get an idea of how far off-center you need to aim. For another, the guns inevitably fire off half your ammo at the merest brush of the trigger. Try for the lightest touch you possibly can, and get them down to two- or three-shot bursts.
Strategy helps here, too. Work around the edge of the star in a circular pattern rather than starting in the middle, as any shots that hit the interior of the star are pretty much wasted. And try to resist the urge to switch guns: you'll get the feel for a particular shooter after a few goes.