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How Science Can Help You Beat Carnival Game Scams

How Science Can Help You Beat Carnival Game Scams

Anybody who’s tried their hand at carnival games knows that something is always a little…off about them. It’s hard to say what exactly, but we know it shouldn’t take dozens of dollars to knock over some milk bottles. YouTuber and engineer Mark Rober has taken it upon himself to prove that feeling is not only in your head. Using data analysis and the scientific method, Rober has shown categorically that no matter how you play a carnival game, you’re going to lose. Even if you win.

Rober, who worked at NASA JPL for nine years, has made dozens of YouTube videos featuring everything from the world’s-biggest Super Soaker build to his pool full of 25 million Orbeez water balls. This time around, he set his sights — which are known to be very accurate — on figuring out which carnival games are the biggest scams. And after spending a full day analyzing the games and their probabilistic outcomes, Rober found that every game has some caveat that allows the carnival to take more money from you than you do from it.

In the video, Rober breaks the games down into random chance games, skill-based games, and “near impossible games,” which he says are “borderline scams.” He shows how each one of these types of games is rigged so that players will likely have to pony up quite a bit of dough before they have a reasonable chance of winning.

Rober demonstrating how center of mass comes into play in the ladder climb game.

Each carnival game has its own method of putting players at a disadvantage — each adjusts a few variables in its favor. Ball toss games, for example, use balls that are lightweight with a high coefficient of restitution, making it near impossible for the ball to go where you aimed it. Skill games like the basketball three-pointer involve rims that are a foot taller than standard NBA rims. An even more difficult skill-based game like the ladder climb is nearly impossible to beat because it’s so difficult to maintain your center of mass over the ladder, making it extremely easy to fall off.

For a slight taste of retribution, Rober calls in a friend who happens to play baseball for the New York Mets. And while he’s able to absolutely annihilate any game involving ball throwing with gusto, Rober notes that even winning at these games on the first try means that you lose. Why? Because the prizes handed out are always cheaper than the amount of money you paid to play.

What do you think about these carnival game scams? Are you never going to play again, or is it more about the fun than the money? Toss your thoughts into the comments cups below!

Images: YouTube / Mark Rober

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