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Action Park is Bringing Back the Cannonball Loop

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Action Park in Vernon, New Jersey—which first opened in 1978 and closed in 1996 after earning itself the nicknames "Traction Park," "Accident Park," and "Class Action Park"—reopened last year. And though it's only been back in business for a season so far, the people in charge are already making daring decisions: They're attempting to bring back the infamous Cannonball Loop, a waterslide that was open at the park for just one month during the 1980s.

Very few people got to ride the gravity-defying slide—which had a loop-the-loop at the end—but there were rumors that the test dummies would come out missing limbs. Looking at the pictures, it's not hard to see why this slide was shut down. Human bodies could not move fast enough to clear the loop, so riders would often end up falling to the bottom. As one park employee recalled,

I remember being ecstatic when I had cleared the pinnacle of the loop, however the worst was yet to come. Apparently my sub 100 lbs. body was not heavy enough for the ride and rather than sticking to the slide on the back end of the loop, I actually fell to the bottom of the loop. I smacked the back of my head on the slide and was nearly knocked unconscious. It was then I saw light as I sputtered out of the exit of the tube [...] I was able to orient myself enough to get to my feet and smile with pride as the stunned crowd cheered for the little kid who just went down the most dangerous water slide of all time. It was closed again within minutes and although I went to the park a dozen times after that day I never saw that slide opened again.

Action Park wants to recreate the ride—but in a safe way! Dubbed the Sky Caliber, the new ride is planned to be unveiled in 2016. It has a 45-foot drop, complete with a 30-foot loop; riders are expected to zoom through at 50 miles an hour. For safety, park-goers will be fitted into pods that resemble roller-coaster restraints. The apparatuses are supposed to give the rider enough speed to complete the loop. 

The new slide admittedly looks pretty sleek: 

The original Action Park came by its nicknames for a reason: According to Weird NJ, the Herald said a staggering 110 injuries—including 45 head injuries and 10 fractures—were reported in 1985. Weird NJ puts emphasis on "reported," because allegedly, the park often did not report the injuries that occurred. According to io9, there were at least six deaths at the park.

Safety is paramount at the new Action Park, though. “There were some really zany things that went on back then,” park president Bill Benneyan said. “In three decades, the industry is different, the regulations are different, the safety training is different.”

Construction of the new loop can't start until necessary approvals, but a prototype has been created. Benneyan even got a chance to ride it. "Everybody in every sport wants to do a full 360 ... and the original Cannonball Loop was a backyard approach to that," he told NJ Advance Media. "These guys have figured out how to do it right. It's a heck of a ride. It rides like a dream." 

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12 Secrets of Roller Coaster Designers
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Back in the early 20th century, engineers attempting to push the limits of roller coaster thrills subjected riders to risky upside-down turns and bloody noses. A century later, coaster designers rely on computer software, physics, and psychology to push the limits of the roughly 4400 rides in operation worldwide. To get a sense of what their job entails, Mental Floss spoke with several roller coaster specialists about everything from testing rides with water-filled dummies to how something as simple as paint can influence a coaster experience. Here’s what we learned.

1. GETTING STRAPPED IN MIGHT BE THE MOST EXCITING PART OF THE RIDE.

Roller coaster passengers prepare for a drop
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Known as a “thrill engineer,” UK-based Brendan Walker consults with coaster manufacturers and parks on the psychology of riding the rails. In his experience, riders getting secured into their seats are at the peak of their excitement—even more so than during the ride itself. “The moment the lap bar is being locked down and you have that feeling of things being inescapable, that you have to suffer the effects of the ride, is the highest moment of arousal,” Walker says. “The actual ride might only achieve 80 percent of that excitement.”

2. THEY TEST COASTERS WITH WATER-FILLED DUMMIES.

Bill Kitchen, founder of U.S. Thrill Rides, says it can take anywhere from two to five years for a coaster to go from idea to execution. Part of that process is devoted to the logistics of securing patents and permits for local site construction—the rest is extensive safety testing. “We’re subject to ASTM [American Society for Testing Materials] standards,” Kitchen says. “It covers every aspect of coasters. The rides are tested with what we call water dummies, or sometimes sandbags.”

The inanimate patrons allow designers to figure out how a coaster will react to the constant use and rider weight of a highly-trafficked ride. The water dummies—which look a bit like crash test dummies, but filled with water—can be emptied or filled to simulate different weight capacities. Designers also sometimes use the kind of crash-test dummies found in the auto industry to observe any potential issues prior to actual humans climbing aboard.

3. EVERY FOOT OF TRACK COSTS A LOT OF MONEY.

A roller coaster track is ready for passengers
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There is absolutely nothing random about the length of a coaster’s track. In addition to designing a ride based on the topography of a park site, designers take into account exactly how much space they’ll need to terrorize you and not an inch more. When England’s Alton Towers park was preparing to build a ride named TH13TEEN for a 2010 opening, they asked Walker exactly how much of a drop was needed to scare someone in the dark. “It was a practical question,” Walker says. “For every extra foot of steelwork, it would have cost them £30,000 [roughly $40,000].”

4. ROLLERCOASTER TYCOON BROUGHT A LOT OF PEOPLE INTO THE BUSINESS.

The popular PC game, first released in 1999, allowed users to methodically construct their own amusement parks, including the rides. As a proving ground for aspiring engineers and designers, it worked pretty well. Jeff Pike, President of Skyline Attractions, says he’s seen several people grow passionate about the industry as a direct result of the game. “I remember when the game first got popular, I would go to trade shows and there would be kids looking to get into it using screen shots of rides they designed. The game definitely brought a lot of people into the fold.”

5. PAINT MAKES A BIG DIFFERENCE IN SPEED.

Cans of paint are arranged on the floor
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For all of their high-tech design—the software, fabrication, and precise measures of energy—a good coaster ride can often come down to whether it’s got too much paint on it. “The one thing that will slow down a steel coaster is a build-up of paint on the track rails,” Pike says. “It softens where the wheel is rolling and hitting the track, which increases the drag.” A good, worn-in track will have grey or silver streaks where the wheel has worn down the paint, making it move more quickly.

6. A COASTER’S SKYLINE IS KEY.

Brian Morrow, Corporate Vice President for Theme Park Experience at SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment, says that the looming curvature of coasters spotted as guests drive toward and enter the park is very purposeful. “It’s like a movie trailer in that we want you to see some iconic coaster elements, but not the whole thing,” he says. “You approach it with anticipation.”

7. SOME COASTERS ARRIVE AS GIANT MODEL KITS.

The loop of a roller coaster track
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Whether a coaster’s theme or design comes first is largely left up to the end user—the amusement park. But for some rides, manufacturers are able to offer pre-fabricated constructions that designers can treat like the world’s biggest Erector Set. “Sometimes I work on rides that have already been built,” Walker says. “They’re produced by a company and presented almost like a kit with parts, like a model train set. There’s a curve here, a straight bit here, and you can pick your own layout depending on the lay of the land.”

8. WOODEN COASTERS ARE WEATHER-SENSITIVE.

If you’ve ever been on a wooden coaster that seems a little shaky from one trip to the next, check the forecast: It might be because of the weather. Pike says that humidity and other factors can shrink the wood, affecting how bolts fit and leading to a slightly shakier experience. “The structure itself can flex back and forth,” he says. It’s still perfectly safe—it just takes more maintenance to make sure the wood and fasteners are in proper operating condition. A well-cared-for wooden coaster, Pike says, can usually outlast a steel model.

9. THE TIME OF DAY CAN AFFECT THE RIDE EXPERIENCE.

A roller coaster track at dusk
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“A coaster running in the morning could run slower when cooler,” Morrow says. “The wheels are not as warm, the bearings are warming up. That could be different by 2 p.m., with a slicked-up wheel chassis.” Coasters experiencing their first-ever test runs can also be slightly unpredictable, according to Pike. "Those first trial runs [during the testing phase] can be slow because everything is just so tight," he says. "A lot of coasters don't even make it around the track. It's not a failure. It's just super-slow."

10. DESIGNS CAN COME FROM UNUSUAL PLACES—LIKE JAY LENO’S CHIN.

The twisting, undulating tracks of coasters can often be the result of necessity: Pike says that trees, underground piping, and available real estate all inform designers when it comes to placing a ride in a specific park. But when they have more freedom, coasters can sometimes take on the distinctive shape of whatever happens to be around the designers at the time of conception. “We had a giant piece of land in Holland that just had no constraints, and we were sitting around talking," Pike says. “And we started talking about Jay Leno’s chin.” The ride was a “loose” representation of the comedian's jaw, but “it is there.”

11. RIDERS ARE REALLY PERFORMERS.

Roller coaster riders enjoy the end of the ride
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For Walker, the best advertising for a coaster is having spectators watch riders de-board after an exhilarating experience. “It’s all about that emotion,” he says. “A spectator basically asks, ‘What’s making them so aroused? What’s giving them such pleasure?’ The line for the ride is the audience. Imagining yourself on the structure becomes a very powerful thing."

12. THE FUTURE IS VERTICAL.

Biggest, fastest, longest—coasters are running out of superlatives. Because rides can only be designed with so many drips, rolls, or G forces, some companies are looking to the sky for their next big idea. Kitchen has been overseeing design of the Polercoaster for years: It’s a sprawling, skyscraper-esque ride that uses electromagnetic propulsion to carry riders upwards instead of across horizontal tracks. “We want to put it in places where land is very expensive, like the Vegas strip,” he says. “You can only do that if it takes up a lot less space.” Kitchen believes it’ll be another two years before ground is broken on the project, which is set to exceed the 456 feet of the current tallest ride, Kinga Ka at Six Flags in New Jersey. “It’ll be the world’s tallest—and hopefully the most fun.”

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10 Amazing Additions Coming to Disney Parks and Resorts
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© 2017 Disney

Whether you're a Star Wars fan, a Marvel aficionado, or a Mickey and Minnie purist, Disney Parks and Resorts has just announced new rides, hotels, and attractions that are sure to make your mouse ears perk up. Here are 10 of the most exciting changes announced over the weekend at D23 Expo.

1. A STAR WARS-THEMED HOTEL

That sound you just heard was Star Wars fans across the galaxy warming up their lightsabers. Disney Parks and Resorts Chairman Bob Chapek announced plans for a completely immersive Star Wars-themed hotel, where guests are declared citizens of the galaxy the moment they check in. "The story will touch every single minute of your day, and it will culminate in a unique journey for every person who visits," Chapek said. More details, including the opening date, are yet to come.

2. A RATATOUILLE RIDE

© 2017 Disney

A bit of Disneyland Paris is coming to the U.S. In 2014, the Paris park introduced a 4-D attraction where guests "shrink" to the size of Remy, the rat from Ratatouille, and scurry across the floor of Gusteau's restaurant. The ride will make its stateside debut in the France Pavilion in Epcot's World Showcase by 2021.

3. A GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY RIDE

© Marvel © 2017 Disney

Sorry, Ellen DeGeneres fans—"Ellen's Energy Adventure" at Epcot will take a bow on August 13. Following the success of Guardians of the Galaxy - Mission: BREAKOUT! ride at Disney California Adventure, Disney has announced a similarly themed adventure for Florida. The new thrill ride will replace the Universe of Energy pavilion, which currently houses Ellen's Energy Adventure. Like the Ratatouille ride, Star Lord and his pals should be ready to escape sometime in 2021.

4. A NEW LIVE ENTERTAINMENT THEATER

To bring more live entertainment to the Magic Kingdom in Orlando, Disney is building a theater inspired heavily by the Willis Wood Theater from 1920s-era Kansas City, where Walt Disney spent part of his childhood. The building will be located just off of Main Street, USA.

5. "MICKEY AND MINNIE’S RUNAWAY RAILWAY" RIDE

© 2017 Disney

There's another new ride headed to Hollywood Studios—and, unbelievably, it's the first ride at Disney Parks to feature Mickey himself as the theme. The attraction puts guests inside a Mickey cartoon, promising "surprising twists and turns, dazzling visual effects and mind-boggling transformations," all in a new format Disney is referring to as "2 1/2 D."

The new attraction isn't without controversy, though—it's slated to replace The Great Movie Ride, which, with its Grauman's Chinese Theater facade, has been one of Hollywood Studios' visual anchors since it opened as Disney-MGM Studios in 1989.

6. A TRON LIGHTCYCLE POWER RUN

The highest-rated attraction at Shanghai Disneyland is coming to Florida. In "TRON: Lightcycle Power Run," riders will board a train of two-wheeled Lightcycles before heading out to explore the TRON universe. Scheduled to be ready for riders in 2021, the new TRON coaster will be situated next to Space Mountain at the Magic Kingdom.

7. PIXAR PIER

The area at Disney California Adventure currently known as Paradise Pier will go through a Pixar-themed overhaul, with "whimsical neighborhoods" featuring characters from The Incredibles, Inside Out, Toy Story, and more.

8. SKYWAY GONDOLAS

© 2017 Disney

Magic Kingdom-goers who miss the old skyway ride that took weary guests between Fantasyland and Tomorrowland have something to rejoice about. The new Disney Skyliner gondola system will connect several of their hotels with Disney's Hollywood Studios and the International Gateway at Epcot. Though an official opening date wasn't announced, construction is already underway, with insiders speculating at a date as early as summer 2018. Also announced: an Uber-like point-to-point transportation system with a familiar red-and-white polka dot motif.

9. A MARVEL-THEMED HOTEL

© Marvel © 2017 Disney

You’ll have to get yourself to Disneyland Paris to experience this re-themed hotel, which is currently called Disney's Hotel New York. After the overhaul, hotel guests will find themselves transported to worlds including the Avengers and Spider-Man, among others.

10. "IMMERSIVE SUPER HERO EXPERIENCE"

Very little detail was provided on this upcoming project, but we do know that Spider-Man and the Avengers will be joining Guardians of the Galaxy heroes at Disney California Adventure sometime in the future.

BONUS UPDATES

Disney also provided new news on two much-anticipated projects that are currently underway: the Star Wars and Toy Story Land additions. Two rides are on the way to Toy Story Land: Slinky Dog Dash, a family roller coaster, and Alien Swirling Saucers, in which the three-eyed green guys try to capture your rocket using The Claw. The toy-centric addition to the park is scheduled to open in summer 2018.

Construction on Star Wars-themed lands, officially called Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge, has begun at both Disney's Hollywood Studios in Orlando and Disneyland in Anaheim. Both lands will feature a ride that gives guests the opportunity to pilot the Millennium Falcon through a critical mission. Another attraction will give guests the experience of being on a Star Destroyer. Both the Florida and California lands are scheduled to open in 2019. Until then, this fly-through will have to tide you over:

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