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How to Outwit Carnies

Tired of spending $20 at the carnival to get a teddy bear worth $2.99? Here’s how to beat the carnies at their own games.


  • Step 1: Prove your strength Win the 'test your strength' game—the one where you swing a mallet to make a weight shoot up and ring a bell—by focusing more on landing the mallet in the center of the target than on how hard you’re hitting it. But beware—some machines are rigged by the operator, who controls who wins simply by putting his foot on a cable.
  • Step 2: Sink a basket Sink a basket by aiming for the basket to the right or left of the one in front of you. Shoot in a high arc and hope for a swish. If you miss, the angle might make the ball spin around the rim, causing it to drop in. Beware—some carneys won’t let you to shoot this way.
  • TIP: Ask the carnie to sink a bucket before you waste any money. Sometimes the scam is that the basket is too small, the ball is overinflated, and/or the hoop is bent or misshaped.
  • Step 3: Pop the balloon Pop the balloon with a dart by arcing it rather than rifling it. But even this might not work, because those balloons are underinflated and the dart tips are hopelessly dull.
  • TIP: If the carnival is crowded and the carnie is distracted, heat the tip of the dart with a lighter, or quickly sharpen it with a stone.
  • Step 4: Land the coin toss Land the coin toss—where you throw a dime or other coin toward a glass plate and hope it sticks—by spitting on it (discreetly!) before you toss it in a gentle arc.
  • Step 5: Knock over the milk jugs Knock over the milk jug pyramid by aiming for the bottom of the bottom two jugs rather than the center of the stack. The bottoms of the jugs are weighted, so you’ve got to take out the pyramid at the base.
  • Step 6: Shoot out the star Shoot out the red star by completely shooting around the edges of the star—in a circle—rather than aiming for the center.
  • TIP: Watch others use the gun for a while; the sight is manipulated to be off-center, but by closely observing others you can compensate for the skew.
  • Step 7: Break the beer bottles Break the beer bottles by choosing the baseball that looks the most used; it will be a tiny bit heavier than a newer one.
  • Step 8: Blow up the balloon Blow up the balloon above the clown’s face by choosing the water pistol that won the last time. A new balloon will pop more easily than one that’s already been stretched out several times.
  • FACT: The word 'carnival' partly derives from the Italian word for 'meat,' as it originally referred to a festival that took place before Lent, a time of fasting.

You Will Need

  • Knowledge of the most common scams
  • The determination to beat them

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