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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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The Annual Festivals That Draw the Most People in Every State
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Every state has that one big event each year that draws residents from across the region or even across the nation. Louisiana has Mardi Gras. Kentucky has the Kentucky Derby. South Dakota has Sturgis. Genfare, a company that provides fare collection technology for transit companies, recently tracked down the biggest event in each state, creating a rundown of the can't-miss events across the country.

As the graphic below explores, some states' biggest public events are national music and entertainment festivals, like Bonnaroo in Tennessee, SXSW in Texas, and Summerfest in Wisconsin—which holds the world record for largest music festival.

Others are standard public festival fare. Minnesota hosts 2 million people a year at the Minnesota State Fair (pictured above), the largest of its kind in the U.S. by attendance. Mardi Gras celebrations dominate the events calendar in Missouri, Alabama, and, of course, Louisiana. Oktoberfest and other beer festivals serve as the biggest gatherings in Ohio (home to the nation's largest Oktoberfest event), Oregon, Colorado, and Utah.

In some states, though, the largest annual gatherings are a bit more unique. Some 50,000 people each year head to Brattleboro, Vermont for the Strolling of the Heifers, a more docile spin on the Spanish Running of the Bulls. Montana's biggest event is Evel Knievel Days, an extreme sports festival in honor of the famous daredevil. And Washington's biggest event is Hoopfest, Spokane's annual three-on-three basketball tournament.

Mark your calendar. Next year could be the year you attend them all.

A graphic list with the 50 states pictured next to information about their biggest events
Genfare
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Ben Leuner, AMC
You Can Cook (Food) With Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul in the Original Breaking Bad RV
Ben Leuner, AMC
Ben Leuner, AMC

A new contest is giving Breaking Bad fans the chance to cook a meal with Walter White and Jesse Pinkman. A new charity fundraising campaign is sending one lucky fan and a friend out to Los Angeles to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Breaking Bad’s premiere with the stars themselves—Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul, and that beat-up RV.

“That’s right, the real Walter White and Jesse Pinkman will join you in The Krystal Ship to whip up some delicious food, take tons of pictures, and bond over the most addicting show ever made,” the contest’s page on the charity fundraising site Omaze trumpets.

All you have to do to throw your (porkpie) hat in the ring is break out your wallet and donate to a good cause. Every dollar you donate to the contest through Omaze is basically a raffle ticket. And the more you donate, the better your odds are of winning. Each dollar donated equals 10 entries, so if you donate $10, you have 100 chances, if you donate $25, 250 chances, etc. At higher donation levels, you’ll also get guaranteed swag, including T-shirts, signed set photos by Cranston and Paul, props and scripts from the show, and more.

Technically, you can enter without donating, but don’t be a jerk—it’s for the kids. The proceeds from the contest will go to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and the Kind Campaign, an anti-bullying charity.

The contest winner will be announced around September 12, and the big event will take place on September 15.

Donate to win here. The contest ends at 11:59 p.m. PT on August 30.

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