At the fair, games of chance take great skill

What kid doesn’t have technicolour visions of walking around the fair midway carrying a giant stuffed animal the size of garden shed?

What kid doesn’t have technicolour visions of walking around the fair midway carrying a giant stuffed animal the size of garden shed?

“Look, I think there’s a kid somewhere under that giant panda,” people would say, their voices quavering with unbridled envy.

Yes, everyone would know for once and for all that you, that little shrimp staggering under the weight of a massive stuffed beast or reasonable facsimile, had shown incredible skill by spending the last four hours and every cent of your ‘fair money’ squirting water into a plastic clown’s mouth so that by clever use of fluid dynamics (similar to gravity) you could cause your little plastic horse to win a cheesy plastic horse race going on over top of a row of slightly disturbing clown faces.

“Man, that kid must be really good at fluid dynamics!” they would say with great reverence as you stumbled by. You can’t buy that kind of respect. Especially not at the booth where you try to throw small rings onto tops of bottles. Everybody knows that’s just dumb.

Then there’s knocking over cement “milk bottles” that weigh 150 kg each by throwing a baseball that is stuffed with feathers so that even if it was shot from a canon from a metre away it wouldn’t knock over a house of cards.

Or throwing bent wobbly darts that are as sharp as a piece of cheese (i.e. sharp cheddar ha-ha) at small slippery balloons. Tossing an oval-shaped, lopsided basketball into a custom made hoop that is obviously too small for the basketball except for when the game operator (also known as a carney because all fair workers eat chili-con carne on the road) demonstrates and sinks every single basket.

All part of the magic of the midway.

My buddies and I loved the machine-gun booth because, after all, very few boys can resist shooting BBs from a fake machine-gun. The object was to try to obliterate a big red star on a tiny piece of paper, and if you shot out all the red star, you’d get a prize. The red star was hung about five blocks away and your machine-gun was loaded with about 12 BB pellets that took roughly three seconds to shoot. And the carney would inspect the paper with a high-powered electron microscope and always find a molecular spot of red, smaller than the period at the end of this sentence.

So of course, none of us ever won anything at the machine-gun booth. We decided it was on account of the sights on the guns were off, although none of us ever admitted to not having a clue as to how to use sights on a fake machine-gun in the first place.

The only game I ever won … on account of everybody wins … was the classic game of skill called Duck Pond. Little plastic ducks float by in a little channel and you have a little fishing rod with a little magnet on the end of a long string, and when you snag one, there is a mark on the bottom of the duck that determines what prize you get.

With skill only matched by your clown-squirting talent, you cleverly manoeuvre the magnet to flop right on that special duck that you have had your eye on for the past 20 minutes of intense Duck Pond research observation. But of course the really good ducks, the ones that get you the really good prizes, those ducks for some strange reason seem to repel the magnetic “fish hook” so that it immediately snaps onto the nearest loser duck. After countless childhood and many adulthood years playing the Duck Pond at the fair, I’m still mystified as to how bad my odds have been. Not to mention my knowledge of basic science.

But like I said, I was proud to earn a prize anyway, which was always something like a little plastic fish that for some reason squeaked when you squished it. And it only cost about $26 worth of duck dunking to get it.

But what about those guys strolling around the midway showing off? You see them coming, carrying a stuffed animal slightly larger than the real animal itself, strutting down the midway triumphantly with a fancy girlfriend and an entourage. They always have a fancy girlfriend and an entourage … coincidence?

I have this sneaking suspicion that those guys actually bought those gigantic stuffies at Canadian Tire and snuck them into the fair to impress those of us who are crowded around the Duck Pond.

It’s the fair and all’s fair in love, ducks and darts.

So this year, once again I’m looking forward showing my incredible skill at the games of chance. And then heading home afterward, tired but happy, squeaking my little plastic fish.

Harley Hay is a local freelance columnist and filmmaker.

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