Carnival Game Scams



Did you know that you may have once been "marked" by a carny and have fallen victim to carnival game scams. Its true. One of the oldest carnival game tricks in the book to the carnival game operators used to tell their other carny friends that you were a "sucker" was to mark you. They would do this by placing chalk on their hand and patting your back while telling you that you will do better next time. If the next game host sees the chalk, he knows that you are a "sucker" [meaning you are an easy target to rip off and that you have money to spend].

In order to avoid being marked as a sucker and losing your money to carnival game scams. All you need to do is review the below list of carny scams and learn the tricks. You will never look at the carnival the same way again.



The Hoop Toss Game

The player (standing behind a railing) must toss a wooden hoop so that it lands completely around a prize and the velvet covered wooden block that it sits on.

As the spectator watches, the operator brings the game pieces to the front showing that the hoop does fit around the velvet covered base and prize with ease, convincing them they are sure to win. After he collects the game money from the players and provides them with their hoops, he places the block back onto the game area setting the stage for the player to try his luck.

It is during this moment that the operator pushes a layer of the velvet covered block making it too large for the hoop to fit around (all other prize blocks are already in their "special setting"). The game piece is "rigged" into its "special setting" while the operator's body is covering the move so, the player is unable to see any foul play and will never suspect there is a scam going on. If the player requests to see the velvet block again, the operator can easily move the "special piece" back to its original position so that the hoop once again fits around it.


The Clothes Line Game

Before you hangs a series of clothes lines with clothes pegs attached. On the back of the clothes pegs there are numbers written. At the top there is a sign showing a series of wining numbers. For a few dollars you can get 3 chances to select a wining clothes pin.

Easy right? Well its not so simple. You see, the numbers used as the winning numbers are all "reversible numbers" when held upside down. (ex; a 6 held upside down can be a 9). Take a look at the following winning numbers chart where winning numbers become losing numbers if held upside down:

Winning #'s
Losing #'s

I think you get the idea. If the selected clothes peg is a winning number, the game operator just holds it upside down and yells out the losing number, quickly placing the peg back onto the line before the player catches on.


The Milk Pail Toss Game

Several feet in front of you sits a large metal milk pail about 3 feet high. Its fat base tapering into a wide open spout at the top with a hole just big enough to fit a large rubber ball through. The object of the pail toss is to throw the rubber ball into the whole at the top of the milk pail from a set distance. In doing so, you win a prize.

On its own, this game requires the perfect toss. The ball must be thrown high into the air and fall strait into the hole without touching the sides (much like a swish in basketball). If the bouncy rubber ball even slightly touches the rim of the pail, it will bounce and not fall in. With most people not adding the extra height to their toss, they almost never make the shot.

To make the game harder and virtually impossible to win. The carny has rigged the pail so that it sits on a tilt towards the back wall. By doing this, he creates an angle to the hole making the ball hit the rim on just about every shot. WIth the spout of the pail hiding a clear view of the hole, there is no way to tell this game is a rip off.


The Basket Toss

You take a large rubber ball and throw it into a basket. The objective being that the ball must stay in the basket to win, if the ball bounces out, you lose.

This is a very hard game on its own however, with the added "gaff" by the game operator, your chances of winning are next to none. The baskets are sitting on a tilted platform, making it extremely easy for the already bouncy ball to bounce out. However, with the the proper toss height and spin on the ball, the toss can be successfully repeated with practice.

In order to take this advantage away from the player, the game operator has built a mechanism that attaches to the platform. With the press of a foot switch hidden on the floor, the operator can secretly create a steeper tilt in the platform/basket, making it next to impossible to keep the ball from bouncing out of the basket, even with the proper toss.


The String Game

Fifty prizes are lined up row after row. Attached to each prize is a long blue string that runs up to the ceiling and then to the game operator. The operator holds the ends of each string in their hand and for a few dollars, you can take a chance and win the prize attached to the string you select. Every player wins a prize.

Although the game seems to be all about luck, in reality the game operator is able to control what prizes are won. You see, out of the 50 prizes only 10-20 of them are actually worth something where the others are only worth 50cents. The operator is happy to give away a 50cent prize in exchange for a few dollars. They are even happier to entice the players with the 10-20 fabulous prizes on display that you will never win.

How is the string game fixed you ask? Well, the trick is the operators hand and how they hold the strings. Much like the old rope magic trick, the game operator separates the winning strings from the others. They are still in the operators hand however, the winning strings are folded back up into the palm and held with the thumb so that the ends are concealed. It is very sneaky and if the operator is ever questioned, all they need to do is lift their thumb and let the strings fall back into place hidden amongst the other strings. As well, there are several game operators that have been to known to hide the winning strings from the bunch all together.


Pop the Balloon (with Dart) Game

Attached to the wall is a series of balloons with hidden prize tags behind them. The object is to pop a balloon by throwing a dart at it. If successful, you win the prize listed on the tag.

Although this game seems rather easy, the game operators rig a few things in order to make you lose. The first thing they do is make the darts very dull, making it hard to pop the balloon. The second thing they do is they only attach the balloon by the tip so that it easily spins, throwing the dart off course. The third thing they do is they only half blow up the balloon, making it very hard to pop. And lastly, the darts they use are way off balance and make the sharp end turn downwards in mid air. Combine these tricks with being kept at a far distance and your chances of winning are very low. Even if you do win, you have just exchanged a few dollars for a 50cent prize.


The Fish Pond Game

A favorite for kids, this game includes a wide aquarium filled with water and artificial fish. Each fish is marked with a number on its side that is hidden by a sliding cover movable by the game operator. You pay a few dollars to select a fish and if your number matches with one of the winning numbers posted on the wall, you win. If the number doesn't match, you lose or end up with a cheap prize.

The scam in this game is a creative one. It starts with the movable cover on the fish which hides the secret number. If the cover is moved upwards it will display the number 11 (losing#). If the cover is moved downwards, it will display the number 71 (winning#). By positioning the cover at just the right angle and stopping it in just the right spot, the operator is able to hide a portion of a number to make it look like another. ex; when the top of the 7 is hidden in the number 71, it would show as an 11. If the top of the 7 is hidden in the number 75, it would show as a 15. By using this form of trickery, the operator is able to decide if the selection is a winner or loser.


Hammer the Nail Game

Mostly appealing to men, this game involves hammering a nail into a wooden board in one wing of a hammer. It usually starts off with the not so strong looking game operator demonstrating that even he can do it with ease, explaining that its all in the wrist. However, when it comes your turn to try you are unable to get the nail entirely into the wood with your one swing.

The swindle in this game is in the nails. The carny has a bunch of hard nails that he keeps in his apron while the player is handed soft nails that look exactly alike. With a hard nail it is fairly easy to hammer the nail in one swing however with a soft nail, its extremely difficult.


Age Guessing Game

The rules of this one are simple, the game operator must guess your age within 2 years. If his guess is 3 or more years off, you win a prize.

The secrets used in this game are very clever. It is a combination of gathering facts and sleight of hand trickery. By observing the friends of the player, signs of gray hair, age spots, wrinkles, clothing and other personal factors, the operator is able to make an accurate guess. However, these aren't the only tricks used. Many carny's will write 2 guesses down on his pad giving him a 9 year range to play with. ex; if the operator writes down 25 and 30, that gives him a range from 23 to 32. The trick is that when he asks the player to reveal his age, he shows the correct of the 2 possible choices and secretly hides the other using slight of hand. Another trick is the use of a magicians device called a Nail Writer (add affiliate link). By using this secret device, the game operator is able to write his guesses down without anyone noticing. So when the player gives his age, the operator quickly uses his device to secretly write his guess down.


Weight Guessing Game

As in the above example of the age guessing game, the same forms of trickery are used. Some other things the game operator has to consider on this one is to examine the height, thickness, age, bone size and muscle size to make his educated guess. And if that fails, he uses his bag of tricks such as the nail writer.


Shoot the Star Game

A favorite to most, this is the game where you are given 100 pellets to shoot out a red star printed on a piece of paper that hangs about 15 feet away. The goal is to completely shoot out the star so that there is absolutely no red left.

The way in which the carny scams you is rather slick. To start, you are promised a 100 pellet cartridge for your riffle. However, the reality is there are at most 75 pellets (its not like they will let you count). As well, the aim on the riffles are way off making it impossible to aim correctly. And last but not least, even if you did have 100 pellets and a good riffle, it takes a great deal of skill to shoot out the star as the trick would be to shoot a complete circle around the star.









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