How Carnival Games Cheat Customers

Posted by | June 15, 2017

By Sam Brown
Modern Mechanix
June 1930 issue

Did you ever wonder why you came home from the carnival empty handed? Remember how you tried to ring the bell by hammering the catapult or how you tossed ring after ring trying to win a cane? Swindled? Well, maybe! Read how the operators gimmick their games so that you can’t win. It may save you money or help you win.

CARNIVALS carry with them many devices which are absolutely guaranteed to flatten the pocketbook. There are a score of games—all fixed so that the operator has them under control at all times—all sure things, but not for the benefit of the public.

Perhaps the best known is the paddle wheel. These are often played on the square, the operator depending on getting a full play at ten cents each, and then awarding a cheap prize. All wheels, however, can be altered instantly in order to increase the percentage for the owner. This is usually done by friction. The paddle wheel is controlled by a wire rod which runs up to the hub of the wheel.

Carny barker at workBy pressing a hidden lever, the operator can cause the rod to press against the hub, and thereby stop the wheel on a non-winning number. Technically, these outfits are known as squeeze spindles; and when operated so that every other number calls for a worthless prize they are known as slum spindles. There are many variations of the game. Occasionally it is a simple cardboard table spindle so that its very crudeness seems to warrant its innocence from guile—but—in every case, you will find the hidden lever.

Ever play the bucket game? The idea is to throw balls into the bucket in so many attempts. Try and do it! Every bucket has a turn screw on the bottom, adjusted so that it will positively throw out the ball with which the game is played. Of course, the capper is allowed to win and occasionally the operator gets generous enough to allow some outside person a fair chance of “winning.

There are many varieties of this swindle. One uses but a single bucket mounted in the center of a closely-woven net. The tautness of the net makes it impossible to pocket the ball. In another type the bottoms are hinged so that they can be deflected upwards and downwards. With the bottoms flat, the player has no chance whatsoever, but by pressing a lever, the barker can deflect the bottoms slightly, causing the ball to strike the inside on the rebound and then stay put.

Another game gimmicked is the hoop toss. In this, the prizes are mounted on square pedestals. The player is furnished with wooden rings somewhat like crochet hoops, and with these he attempts to win by completely ringing the pedestal. Of course, he has no trouble in eventually winning one of the slum prizes, but it is next to impossible to ring any of the more pretentious gifts. The reason is simple. The rings are slightly elliptic in shape, so that their smaller diameter is just the least bit lacking. The operator pressing the ring to a more rounded fullness between his thumb and fingers, easily slips it over the prize in question.


carnival+games Modern+Mechanix appalachia appalachian+mountains+history appalachian+history

3 Responses

  • William says:

    I really enjoyed this…I may be broke from these games but at least I understand why! Great insight. There is one I’ve always wondered about…the knock down cat game…have any scoop on that? (Pardon pun) It’s my nemesis!

  • Marilynn Hession says:

    My sister and I won about 6 goldfish once at a carnival that was near our house! They were in those little bowls and it was 25 cents for 3 tries. We had to run back home to get more change but they’d figured out why we were doing so good: they’d moved the bowls further apart and we were no longer able to ring any bowls!

  • Robert Wayne says:

    That’s why I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t even play those carnival games. It’s just a waste of money. I told one of those barkers that the games were just a ripoff at a Matt Armstrong carnival in Louisiana and the goon told me to come in back of the tent and say that and he pulled a knife on me. I got back on the other side of the canvas and realized that not only were these creeps ripoff thieves, they have a chip on their collective shoulders too.

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