May 5, 2013

A lesson in luck

So, you think carnivals and county fairs are all fun and games? Not everyone would agree.

Last week, a 30-year-old New Hampshire father suffered the third-worst thing that can happen to you at a carnival. (First, someone forgot to tighten the bolts on the Tilt-a-Whirl. Second, your teenage daughter runs away with “The Astounding Half Man-Half Crocodile!”)

That is, of course, he lost his entire life savings playing one of those impossible-to-win carnival games.

The tragic episode should serve to provide the rest of us with important lessons about life, and carnivals.

The poor victim, Henry Gribbohm, went to a Manchester, N.H., carnival with $300 in his pocket and a dream of using his mad ball-tossing skills to win his kids an Xbox Kinect. His game of choice was “Tubs of Fun,” which requires the contestant to toss two balls into a slanted bucket, without either bouncing out.

A couple of practice throws showed that the game was in fact a cinch to win, so Gribbohm handed over his $5.

It is here that I offer a real-life secret of the carnival industry. When you get a practice throw with one ball, the second ball is already sitting in the bucket. That ball blunts the momentum of the thrown ball, making it very easy to keep it from bouncing out. With no balls in the bucket, however, it’s virtually impossible to keep one from coming out.

Gribbohm lost and lost again. The game operator apparently offered him double or nothing — all his money back, plus the prize, and in no time, the $300 was gone. Who among us hasn’t lost $300 the same way?

Undaunted, and showing the admirable never-surrender American spirit, Gribbohm left the carnival, drove to the closest mall and purchased an Xbox Kinect anyway. Oh, wait, that’s wrong.

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