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How to Always Win Ringtoss and Other Notoriously Tricky Carnival Games

Carnival games are rigged even harder than slot machines, but not every game is equally unfair.

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Ali Blumenthal for Reader's Digest

Milk-bottle pyramid

Can you beat it? Yes, but it’s unlikely.
Why? This is one of the more winnable games, if you know what you’re doing. Many carnivals use leaded glass for the bottom bottles, making them heavy enough to withstand getting hit with a ball (a ball that is sometimes filled with cork to make it lighter, no less). The trick? Aim for the middle of the bottom row, and throw as hard as you can.

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iStock/Jose Gil


Can you beat it? Probably not.
Why not? The rings are barely big enough to go around the bottles. Plus, they’re made of hard plastic that bounces if you don’t land the ring directly on the bottle. If you want to win, put spin on your throw to slow the ring’s momentum and hope it settles in smoothly; if you miss by even a couple of millimeters, say goodbye to your cash.

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Basketball toss

Can you beat it? Yes, but not often.
Why? If your free throws swish through nothing but net, then you have a chance. If not, get ready to fall prey to some of the worst tricks at the carnival: an overinflated ball, an oval rim that’s smaller than a normal hoop, and a hard backboard (often plywood) that ensures the ball flies off if it makes contact.

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Ali Blumenthal for Reader's Digest

Balloon dart throw

Can you beat it? Nope.
Why not? This game is a double whammy of cheating. First, the balloons are partly deflated so they’re harder to pop (they’re also all different colors to distract you). Second, the darts aren’t regulation darts but cheap plastic ones that wouldn’t even pop a pimple. Your only chance is to throw the dart as hard as you can and hope. (But you’re better off spending your dollars on cotton candy.)

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Rope ladder

Can you beat it? Actually, yes!
Why? It has a razor-thin margin of error, but once you figure it out, you can win every time. The trick is to avoid the rungs, as they will unbalance you. Instead, slowly work your way up the ropes, moving your right leg with your left arm and vice versa. Don’t rush—if you move too quickly or your limbs aren’t in sync, you’ll topple over faster than you can say “Give me my money back.”

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iStock/Robert Deal

Ball toss into tub

Can you beat it? Not a chance.
Why not? This may be the best-rigged carnival game: Attendants use a deadened ball while they’re demonstrating, which makes it more likely that the ball will remain in the tub. However, when it’s your turn, they hand you a bouncy, lightweight softball.
Good luck.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest