5 Commonly Fixed Carnival Games

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iStock

The sights and smells of the carnival midway are nostalgically familiar: funnel cakes, carousel calliope music, and the sounds of hearts breaking when amusement park goers plunk down a few bucks to try to win the biggest stuffed animal in the place. Not all carnival games get rigged, but some stack the odds. Here’s a look at five common fixes for midway games.

1. KNOCK OVER THE MILK BOTTLES

It’s probably the most straightforward game on the midway: A carnival worker stacks three milk bottles in a pyramid, hands you a softball, and you cash in on your best Nolan Ryan impression, right? It’s not usually that simple. Bottles stacked on the bottom are often filled with lead and weigh in at 10 pounds, and the softball you’re given puts an emphasis on soft—they may be filled with cork to make them lighter.

Here’s one more trick to watch for: If one bottle sits more jutted out than the rest (even by just half an inch, according to a Today Show hidden camera investigation), it absorbs the force of the ball from the others when you give it your best toss.

2. BALLOON DART THROW

Before you step back and let that dart fly, remember you’re playing with what the house gives you. Dull darts (and often ones that are lighter to throw than store-bought darts) are often used in the game, and some carnival employees even heat the tips to make popping balloons more difficult.

But the balloons are equally deceptive: They might look ready to burst, but they’re usually inflated to just 30 percent of their full air capacity, making them tough to pop. The reason the balloons are a rainbow of different colors isn’t just to make the booth more alluring—it’s a distraction technique, too.

3. FREE THROW

The basketball hoop rims on free throw booths at carnivals are probably enough to give LeBron James fits: They’re smaller than regulation hoops, and according to a 2011 Art of Manliness article, “bent into an oblong shape to appear larger in the front.” Bruce Walstad, an investigator of rigged carnival games, says the oval hoop is designed to make players lose. Even with a perfect shot, there’s only a half-inch margin of error for shooters.

The rims aren’t the only thing that wouldn’t fly with NBA regulations: basketballs are often overinflated to give them an extra bounce, and Glenn Hester, a police officer from Georgia who specializes in carnival games fraud (he’s penned a book called Carnival Cop) says that “there may be netting or other items behind the rim designed to interfere with your depth perception.”

4. RING TOSS

When a carnival worker slides a ring around a pole to show how easy the game is, that’s because the game is exactly that simple—at least from where the employee is standing (usually somewhere where he can just drop the ring from directly overhead and with a ring that’s wider than the one he’ll give you to toss).

The Carnival Cop warns about the pitfalls of ring toss games in his book as well: The rings are just barely wider than the bottlenecks, Hester says, and are made of hard plastic so they’re more likely to bounce around than loop around your target.

5. BALL BOUNCE

Though it doesn’t have quite the infamy of the Tubs of Fun (and the New Hampshire man who blew his life savings playing the game earlier this year), bouncing a plastic ball off a vertical board and into a basket is no easy task. Carnival workers told the Today Show’s Jeff Rossen that what players don’t see is a spring behind the tub that bounces the balls back out.

Like in the ring toss, carnival workers have prime real estate to make the game look easy. Carnival workers standing right next to the board can lightly brush the ball against the board when they throw—there’s a lot less bounce-back from that angle.

8 Surprising Facts and Misconceptions About Recycling

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iStock.com/KatarzynaBialasiewicz

If you pat yourself on the back for just remembering to separate the recycling or haul that big blue bin to the curb each week, you're not alone. Despite the strides we appear to be making toward eco-consciousness as a country, we have a long way to go in helping the Earth, as evidenced by our complicated relationship with recycling. These facts about the most prevalent of the three Rs will make you pause the next time you throw anything away.

1. The United States's recycling rate is low—really low.

Figures from the Environmental Protection Agency show that America recycles about 34.7 percent of the garbage it produces. (The world's top recyclers—Germany, Austria, Wales, and South Korea—report a rate between 52 and 56 percent.) But Mitch Hedlund, founder and Executive Director of the organization Recycle Across America isn't even sure the recycling rate often quoted is accurate because there is so much junk mixed in with actual recyclables.

Recycle Across America is currently working to encourage the use of standardized labels for recycling bins to eliminate the confusion over what actually belongs in these receptacles. "If the U.S. gets the recycling number up to 75 percent, which we believe is completely possible once the confusion (over what to place in the bins) is removed, it will be the CO2 equivalent of removing 50 million cars from the roads each year in the U.S. and it will create 1.5 million permanent new jobs in the U.S. (net)."

2. Proper recycling can result in monetary savings.

Businessman stepping on green squares with recycling symbols
iStock.com/Rawpixel

While Hedlund admits the idea of providing universal labels clearly stating what should be placed in the bins is a simple one, it's making a serious impact on those who have jumped on the bandwagon. "Many schools are seeing dramatic increases in their recycling levels since using the society-wide standardized labels on their recycling bins," she says. "For instance, in the pilot program at Culver City schools in Los Angeles [County], their recycling levels doubled when they started using the standardized labels and the materials they were collecting in their recycling bins were so much less contaminated with garbage." Another story, she says, is that "as a result of a donation from Kiehls (who makes a donation to Recycle Across America each April in the sum of $50,000), all of the schools in the San Diego Unified School District and San Diego County started using the standardized labels. San Diego Unified School District reduced their landfill hauling fees by about $200,000 (net) in the first year."

3. Recent changes from China have severely impacted the recycling industry.

Until 2018, China took 40 percent of the United States's recycled paper, plastic, and metal. But in January of that year, China imposed strict new rules on the levels of contamination (think food or other garbage mixed in with the recyclables) it's willing to accept—standards American cities are largely unable to meet. Because of that, and a lack of suitable destinations closer to home, many cities have been forced to incinerate or stockpile recyclables until they can find a better solution.

4. Only 9 percent of plastic is recycled in the U.S.

The nation recycles less than 10 percent of its plastic, compared to 67 percent for paper materials, 34 percent for metals, and 26 percent for glass. And China's restrictions have especially affected plastic—while exports of scrap plastic to China were valued at more than $300 million in 2015, they amounted to $7.6 million in the first quarter of 2018, down 90 percent from the year before.

5. Clothing can be recycled, but it rarely is.

Clothing at a garage sale
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Unfortunately, most curbside haulers don't accept textiles, and America has a serious problem with old clothes ending up in the trash. In 2019, the nation is on track to throw away more than 35 billion pounds of textiles, according to the Council for Textile Recycling—almost double the number from 1999. On the plus side, some cities have set up drop-off points for unwanted clothes, and there are a variety of ways to sell or donate unwanted items. Some brands, including Eileen Fisher and Patagonia, have also introduced buy-back programs for their items.

6. Aluminum is the world's most-recycled packaging product.

Crushed aluminum cans
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Nearly 70 percent of aluminum cans are recycled internationally, according to Novelis, a leader in rolled aluminum products and recycled aluminum. Aluminum is infinitely recyclable without degrading, meaning it can be reused in a way completely different from what it was in its previous life, or recast into its original form. Not only is aluminum the world's most-recycled product, it's also the most profitable and the most energy-efficient. Using recycled aluminum instead of virgin materials saves about 95% of the energy, compared to 60% for paper and 34% for glass [PDF].

7. That soda can you're drinking from could find its way back to you more quickly than you think.

According to Novelis's research, an aluminum can that is recycled can be back on a grocery store shelf within 60 days [PDF]. That's a seriously speedy turnaround.

8. Scrap recycling is big business.

While the words scrap recycling might have you humming the Sanford & Son theme song, it's far from being a junkyard industry. According to the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI), in 2017 U.S. scrap recyclers processed more than 130 million tons of scrap metal, paper, plastic, glass, textiles, and more—material that was sold back to industrial consumers in the U.S. and around the world, generating close to $18 billion in export sales. All told, scrap recycling was a $117 billion industry in 2017 [PDF].

This list first ran in 2015 and was updated by Mental Floss staff in 2019.

From Cocaine to Chloroform: 28 Old-Timey Medical Cures

YouTube
YouTube

Is your asthma acting up? Try eating only boiled carrots for a fortnight. Or smoke a cigarette. Have you got a toothache? Electrotherapy might help (and could also take care of that pesky impotence problem). When it comes to our understanding of medicine and illnesses, we’ve come a long way in the past few centuries. Still, it’s always fascinating to take a look back into the past and remember a time when cocaine was a common way to treat everything from hay fever to hemorrhoids.

In this week's all-new edition of The List Show, Mental Floss editor-in-chief Erin McCarthy is highlighting all sorts of bizarre, old-timey medical cures. You can watch the full episode below.

For more episodes like this one, be sure to subscribe here.

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