How to Win the State Fair

By: Elizabeth Klein

It’s simple, you think, considering the milk bottle pyramid on the booth before you.  You clutch the baseball in your hand.  All I have to do is throw it in the middle, and all the bottles fall down.  You throw the baseball as hard as you can at the middle of the bottle pyramid.  Yet, to your dismay, the bottles remain steady at their place.  The carnie behind the booth grins.

“Too bad,” he responds.  “Care to try again?”

It’s okay.  This has happened to everybody who decides to test their skills on the games at the State Fair.  They’re designed to look easy, but most are rigged so that its players don’t win and continuously dump money into the carnies’ pockets attempting to win cheap prizes.  This year, don’t be a fool.  Here are some simple tips and tricks that anyone can use to increase their chances of winning that 25¢stuffed unicorn.

The Rope Ladder

The object of this game is to climb the rope ladder all the way to the top to win a prize.  The flimsy excuse for a climbing mechanism is incredibly unsteady, and many find their ascent cut short by being thrown off onto the inflatable cushion below.  The trick to this game is to stay balanced.  One way to maintain balance is to avoid holding onto the rungs and grab the rope sides instead.  Another way is to remember that each movement requires one to counter it.  This means that if you move your left arm, you should move your right leg.  These tips will help you steady yourself on the unstable ladder.

The Ring Toss

The chances of you winning this game are slim.  The rings are made small so that they are less likely to fit over the bottles.  But if you’re still set on playing, then try to put as much spin on the ring as possible.  This will slow down the movement and keep it steady, increasing your chances of getting the ring over the neck of the bottle.

The Balloon Dart Toss

The objective of this game is to use a set of darts to pop balloons on a wall.  The problem is that the balloons are under-inflated and the tips of the darts are dull, so it’s gonna take more than just good aim to win.  Your best bet is to throw the dart as hard as you can without worrying about aim because, no matter how precise your throw is, a dull dart is probably not going to pop an under-inflated balloon.

Squirt Gun Race

In this game, players compete against each other to spray water at the center of a target to fill their “bars” all the way up.  At least with this game, someone always wins.  For a better chance of beating this game, sit out for a few rounds.  See if one gun, in particular, has a winning streak.  Then when it’s your turn, aim the gun and pull the trigger before the water starts to spray.  This will give you a head start against your competition.

The Basketball Shoot

The basketball shoot is a popular game because its users believe that it is a game of skill.  It looks like a normal ball game, so it convinces players that the “catch” is that those without basketball skills would find it difficult.  However, athletic players may be shocked to find themselves losing at this game, too.  The real “catch” is that the ball is over-inflated, the hoop is shaped like an oval rather than a circle, and the backboard is made out of plywood–a very bouncy material.  So even if you’re a great basketball player or have impressive athletic abilities, this game–like most at the fair–is designed for you to lose.  It’s hard to beat, because there’s no trick to make the backboard less bouncy and the hoop more circular.  To really win this, you’d have to make the perfect shot.  Either avoid this game altogether, or try your hardest and keep from making shots that bounce off the backboard.  

The High Striker

This test is another popular attraction due to the fact that it markets to those who want to prove themselves.  It seems like the ultimate test of strength.  The harder you hit the target, the higher the puck goes up the track.  If you’re truly strong, then you’ll hit the puck all the way up to the top of the track and win a prize.  Yet even the strongest of people can come up short in this game.  That’s because it’s not a game of strength or skill: it’s a game of accuracy.  To win, strike the mallet at the exact center of the target pad.  Raise your arms directly above your head, and try to keep the mallet as flat as possible as you swing down.


This game is a machine, so it’s not run by carnies; however, the game is still rather deceptive in that it seems easier than it is.  One way to win is to simply have lightning-fast reflexes.  Since that is not a quality that everyone has, instead, try to keep your arms as low down to the surface of the game as possible.  This reduces the time between your swing and your hit, which increases your chances of whacking the mole.

The Milk Bottle Pyramid

This last game is rigged in a pretty illusory way.  While the target seems like a normal stack of milk bottles, it is not.  One out of the three milk bottles is usually weighted, and the carnie will put this heavy bottle at the bottom.  They will also probably angle the pyramid so that the heavy bottle is close to the back; so even if you hit at the dead center of the pyramid, you’re not likely to knock it over.  Instead, aim for a low space between the bottom two bottles, then throw as hard as you can.

Despite all the rigs in these games, play them to have fun, not to win.  Don’t get angry at the carnies for doing their jobs well.  Don’t spend money on games that you have no chance of winning.  Keep in mind that winning an inflatable Spongebob doesn’t have to be the highlight of your day.  Be cautious and keep your wits about you.  Use these tricks to help you win, but consider the possibility that you may lose anyway.  And above all, remember to have a good time at the State Fair this year!