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A NASA Engineer Reveals Which Carnival Games Are Rigged — And How To Beat Them

Spoiler alert: Carnival games are a rotten investment, so just enjoy the experience.

Most people realize that carnival games don’t exactly give the contestant a fair shake; nonetheless, millions turn out every year to try their hand at the midway attractions because, well, they’re fun. The siren call of a large plush animal is often enough to give logic and reason a respite and try your luck at the various games.

But as this video from former NASA engineer Mark Rober reveals, luck has very little to do with beating many staple carnival games. Rober, using data and info drawn from the carnies’ side of things, shows the many steps taken to ensure that the customer is lured into thinking victory is attainable, only to come up short in the end.


For instance, the basketball hoops he encountered at a carnival stood 11-feet tall, a full 12 inches higher than regulation. It’s a discrepancy that’s slight enough to convince the shooter they needn’t adapt their technique, resulting in an awkward assessment that rarely bears fruit for those attempting the shot.

As many veteran carnival-goers can attest, the biggest scam of them all might just be shooting the paper target with the airgun. When broken down scientifically, you’ll see that your efforts will always appear to come close, but unless you’re harboring laser precision in your shooting, you’ll never shoot out that star in its entirety. If you do happen to win a prize, Rober is only too happy to inform you of how little the carnies pay for the plush prizes awarded to “lucky” players.

Simply put, don’t go investing your retirement funds in carnival tickets. You’ll find yourself in dire financial straits in a hurry.

The findings here quantifiably support what many of us already presume, which is that carnival games provide a value only in the experience, rather than the proposition of winning. While such a dissection could be branded as cynical, it also serves as concrete documentation that the pressure’s off: Buy those tickets, throw that ball, and do so knowing the odds aren’t in your favor, so just have some fun.

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