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Learn the Science Behind Carnival Games—And Which Ones Are Scams

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Anyone who's spent $40 trying to win a life-sized Minion doll only to go home empty-handed knows that carnival games are a scam. But that doesn't stop many of us from falling for them. Playing for the chance to win a flashy prize can be thrilling, and more often than not, the way the games are set up is deceptively simple. Even though the odds are always stacked against you, there are ways to outsmart the trickiest booths, as former NASA engineer Mark Rober illustrates in this video spotted by Sploid.

Following an investigation at a small theme park, Rober concludes that games fall into three categories: random chance games, skill-based games, and games that are pretty much impossible. The first group includes all the games that involve tossing a ball into a field of cups and hoping it falls into the right one. These usually feature lightweight balls that tend to bounce around, so depending on your keen aim won't do you much good. The best you can do is hope that your ball is one of the 10 percent that fall into the correct cup by chance.

The next category is where you'll find the classic skill games—shooting a basketball through a hoop or knocking over a stack of bottles with a ball, for example. Carnivals use sneaky tactics to get players to overestimate their abilities here (the dimensions of the basketball "court" are slightly modified from a normal three-point throw, and the bottles in the tossing game are heavier than ones you encounter in everyday life). But if you know these tricks going in, you can develop strategies of your own to beat them.

Finally, Rober lists the games you should steer clear of altogether. The most famous of the bunch is the rope ladder game. The wide bars of the ladder make it look like it's possible to keep your balance, but because the bridge is attached at just one point on either end, crossing it is about as difficult as crawling on your hands and knees on a tight rope. After a day of observations, Rober and his team didn't see a single person walk away victorious from this booth.

Even if you think you have a knack for carnival games and some decent hand-eye coordination, the system itself is impossible to beat, because the prizes are virtually always worth less than the money you spend to win them. Winning a simple game on the first try, for instance, probably means you just spent $1.50 on a $.45 toy. Maybe see what stuffed animals they have at the dollar store down the road before blowing your paycheck at the ring toss booth.

[h/t Sploid]

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Samsung’s Star Wars Vacuums Offer Everything You Want in a Droid
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Hate housecleaning but love Star Wars? Samsung’s got the solution. In anticipation of December’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi, the newest film in the Star Wars saga, Samsung has transformed a limited number of its VR7000 POWERbot robot vacuum cleaners into two familiar faces from George Lucas’s legendary space opera: a Stormtrooper and Darth Vader (which comes with Wi-Fi connectivity and a remote control).

In order to create a unique device that would truly thrill Star Wars aficionados, Samsung consulted with fans of the film throughout each stage of the process. The result is a pair of custom-crafted robo-vacuums that fill your home with the sounds of a galaxy far, far away as they clean (when you turn Darth Vader on, for example, you'll hear his iconic breathing).

“We are very pleased to be part of the excitement leading up to the release of The Last Jedi and to be launching our limited edition POWERbot in partnership with Star Wars fans,” B.S. Suh, Samsung’s executive vice president, said in a press statement. “From its industry-leading suction power, slim design, and smart features, to the wonderful character-themed voice feedback and sound effects, we are confident the Star Wars limited edition of the VR7000 will be a big hit.”

Be warned that this kind of power suction doesn’t come cheap: while the Stormtrooper POWERbot will set you back $696, the Darth Vader vacuum retails for $798. Who knew the Dark Side was so sparkling clean?


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Tales from the Butterball Hotline
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It’s 8 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day and you just realized you forgot to thaw your turkey. What do you do?

Don’t panic. You just need to call 1-800-BUTTERBALL. Yes, the Turkey Talk-Line is real. And yes, they really do have poultry experts standing by to help you with your last-minute snafus, flubs, and foul-ups. If you wake up in a cold sweat at 2 a.m. thinking about salmonella or whether you can bathe your turkey with your toddler (see below), never fear—Butterball is there for you. And it's not just about Thanksgiving. The line is open in December, too, to help you with those holiday feasts as well.

When the hotline first opened up to panicked chefs in the early 1980s, a mere six “home economists” responded to 11,000 phone calls during November and December. These days, their staff has expanded to more than 50 and they answer more than 100,000 questions. 

Those staff members have heard it all, too. They get the typical questions you’d expect turkey experts to get, of course: How long will it take to thaw the turkey? How do I stuff a turkey? Are there any allergens in Butterball products? But there’s also the, um, unexpected.

Among the more questionable calls the turkey experts have received: “Can I brine my turkey in the washing machine?” and “The family dog is inside the turkey and can’t get out.” (It was a Chihuahua, in case you’re wondering, and the Butterball expert did manage to help the owners get the dog out safely.)

Another inexperienced caller worried that her turkey wouldn’t come out of the oven because she figured it was going to rise like bread does.

One Butterball employee actually stayed on the line while her caller walked through a grocery store and painstakingly picked out ingredients for his Thanksgiving dinner.

More recently, a hotline employee was surprised to hear from a wife who came home to find the turkey floating in the tub while her husband gave the kids a bath. Believe it or not, because the turkey hadn't been removed from the package, it was salvaged—though the kids complained about the chilly water.

Don’t feel bad if you have to call the Butterball hotline for assistance, though. Even President Bartlet knows when to call in the experts:

By the way, there’s also an option for those of you who prefer assistance in the form of written word: you can text your questions to 1-844-877-3456 through December 24. The company is also answering questions via its social media channels, including Facebook and Twitter. And they've recently added Spanish-speaking experts plus their first male turkey-talker.

This post originally appeared in 2011.

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