It’s almost that time of year again, when we stock up on cotton candy, hop on Ferris Wheels and try our hands at winning big on carnival games. While it’s always tempting to go double or nothing on the balloon pop, just remember that you don’t have to get duped into forking out a fortune to have a good time. Here are our top insider tips for not getting suckered into blowing your life savings at the carnival this summer.

1. One Shot



This game, also known as “Knock Three Bottles Off,” seems relatively simple at first glance. The player has to knock three bottles or cans off of a table with one shot. The hidden trick behind the game is that the bottles are all weighted differently and usually weigh more than you will ever be able to knock over with one toss. Your best tactic is to ask the carnie running the game to stack them in a pyramid formation for you. You could possible knock them all over that way, by aiming towards the middle and hoping you hit all three, but even the best case scenario in this game has you losing a lot of money.

2. Water Gun Horse Races



This game, in which you spray a target to move a horse around a racetrack, is really about who wants it more. By “who wants it more” we mean, “who is willing to take down all the players in order to win.” The best strategy, according to an avid carnival gamer, who wishes to remain anonymous: spray the other players first, starting with the one you think will be most distracted by getting a face full of water. With any carnival game, the element of surprise will usually work in your favor. For the record, we don’t advise making enemies at the fair by spraying people in the face. The best way to win any game is to be on your best behavior and play by the rules.

3. Machine Gun



The classic refrain, “you’ll shoot your eye out,” loses its meaning when it comes to strapping on a BB gun and trying to hit a paper target in this carnival game. The whole point of the game is to enjoy shooting a BB gun, so don’t get caught up in the fact that it is almost impossible to win. The goal is usually to shoot out an entire target; sometimes it’s a star, other times a clown face. If there’s even the slightest bit left on the target, you lose. The carnival rifles are designed to have less precision than a normal BB gun, so even if you’re an excellent marksman, odds are you won’t hit the target. One trick that may help in taking down the whole target is to aim for the area around the target, not the target itself. You may be able to shoot a ring around it, which will punch out the entire target.

4. Balloon Pop


A little boy pays the money for a chance at a prize. (iStock)

Another carnival classic is the old “throw the dart at the balloon” game. This game seems super simple, just toss a dart at a balloon. Think again. A balloon is only easy to pop when it is fully inflated. If the balloons are not completely filled with air, this game is next to impossible to win. A tip: only aim for the fullest balloons, even if they are far away or at odd angles.

5. Basketball Free Throw

One in Wins

A basketball game of chance on a boardwalk (iStock)

This game, of all carnival games, would seem the less likely to be rigged. Many people play basketball and if you know how to make a free throw, you’ll be able to sink a few in this game. Think again. If you take a closer look at the set up you’ll realize that the sizes are all off. The ball is smaller and so is the hoop. The backboard is angled in such a way that it actually makes it harder to sink a shot if you try to bounce it off the backboard. Our advice, shoot underhand. You will most definitely look stupid while you are shooting, but once you’ve won yourself a giant pink teddy bear, well, you may still look stupid, but you’ll be a winner nonetheless.

6. Funnel Cakes



Yes, we know, it’s not a game. But let’s be serious, after losing all your savings to some carnie, the one thing you’ll want to do is drown your sorrows in a funnel cake. This is by far the best “game” at the carnival, because everyone feels like a winner with a fist full of fried dough and a face coated in powdered sugar. So our final words of wisdom: play the only game you can win, funnel cakes.