Magic History 101: Carnival Games

Posted by Peter Monticup on 5/3/2020 to Magic History 101

Especially years ago, carnival games could be the biggest cons that the average person would experience.
Generally, the games were cleverly fixed in such a way that it would be impossible to win- unless the operator wanted you to win.
Those big stuffed animals cost a pretty penny, and the operator wanted to get the most out of his investment!

We all know the routine: as the crowds of potential customers passed his booth, the operator would call out and challenge carnival goers to "beat the game" and win a big prize.
Many times, the booth operator would even demonstrate the game, beating it to "prove" that it could be done, and "easily" too.
Of course, when the player put his money down and tried for himself, he usually came "oh so close!" but failed to win.
"Make another try! You were so close- you'll probably win this time", the operator would say.
And most of us would try, try again, only to "just miss".

Did anyone ever win?
The answer is "yes"- when the operator would get something out of it.
Sometimes he would let a lady win, so that 1) she would draw attention to herself and her big stuffed animal as she walked through the crowd for the rest of the day, thus advertising that operator's game as a "winnable" one, or 2) if a child won, it would humiliate the men into trying again until they also won a prize or 3) to get the "heat" off their game.
If too many people complained to the police that they felt cheated, the operator would have some explaining to do.

So how were some of these games rigged?
Here are two examples of vintage carnival games from my collection.
STEP RIGHT UP and let me show you how they worked...


Date 5/3/2020
William Norton
I enjoy this type of informational material very much. I enjoy the carnival novelty games and learning about them. Thank you..
Date 5/4/2020
David Hall
When I was younger I did this at a Carnival. I knew how it was done, as you just described,. I wanted to win a stuff animal for my date, so I whispered to the Carnie that I knew what he was doing and he gave me the animal so I would not say anything. What a time!
Date 5/4/2020
Mr. G.
Great story and the way it is told. I remember playing the bottles at a fair when a youngster, and guess what.... I didn't win, but when my girlfriend tried she won! I think the barker was just having some fun too! Didn't know about the rods, but now it makes sense. Don't know how you find this trivia out, but you do a great job! Thanks for the memories...!

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