Post #3 of the deception theme week. Today’s con comes from the family-fun-filled carnival you’d find in Anytown, USA. A perfect place to deceive the people!
So the story goes, on the last day of the fair, a huge tornado rips through the field. There is cotton candy and corn dogs all over the place. Tents ripped to shreds, animals running loose, the whole Ferris wheel has fallen into a tangled mess. But right in the middle of the carnival, there’s one thing still standing… a stool… with three little milk bottles balanced in a pyramid.
The famous game seems simple. Throw a ball, and knock over all the milk bottles. They seem so precarious, any hit will do it. Fifteen attempts, and fifteen dollars later, they are still precariously balanced. Your girlfriend looks unimpressed. Especially when the stall operator can demonstrate how easy it is with a casual toss.
It’s a question of hidden physics. The ball you get is rather light, but one of the bottles will be shockingly heavy. If the heavy bottle is on top of the pyramid, even the slightest brush will knock everything down, but with the heavy bottle at the bottom, the lower center of gravity becomes very hard to topple. (some of these mild-mannered milk bottles have weighed in at over ten pounds!)
Not only that, if the bottles are stacked so that one is sitting more forward, it will absorb and deflect the force of the ball away from the one beside it. Of course, you must knock down all three bottles to win. Tricky, tricky.
Even the “every one is a winner” games can be rigged. In one classic, the string pull, an operator stands holding a bunch of long strings that are connected to prizes around the booth. He can show you a string running from a gold Rolex watch right into his hand. If you pull that string, you win whatever is on the other end. Somehow, you always end up with the stuffed panda… and not even the big stuffed panda… the little pink one.
The deception is simple. The rolex string may run into his hand, but it doesn’t come out the bottom side. There’s no way to grab it! It’s nothing but pandas and elephants down there, buddy. Maybe, if you’re lucky, an inflatable hammer.
Sadly, the shady side of carnivals is giving way to the much less interesting straight-up-profit-margin. In many games you can win multiple times in order to “trade up” for bigger stuffed animals. So it costs a dollar to play. You win a mini panda that costs 20 cents. If you trade in three mini pandas (cost 60 cents total) you get a big panda that costs 40 cents. You get a bigger prize, they get a bigger profit. Everybody is happy… until your girlfriend brings up that whole milk bottle thing again.
- Source: a really good book called “How To Cheat At Everything” that covers cons of all sorts.