How to win a stuffed hamster for less than $100

My kids and I went to the state fair the other weekend, and my ambition was simple: get out of there as fast as possible, without anyone having a dramatic case of unspent fried Oreo and teacup motion sickness. $90 playing games to win a stuffed hamster worth 11 cents.

I was successful in one of those charges.

I am a fan of a carnival game. From a very young age, it’s as if I’ve wandered between dart boards, squirt guns, and dilapidated basketball hoops with a sign around my neck: HERE TO LOSE MONEY. While I have fond memories of competing for rabbit feet, Van Halen T-shirts, and Jack Daniels mirrors, I have barely won anything. The carnival workers relax when they see me approach. They know their giant pandas are safe.

Now it seems I have passed this unfortunate affliction on to my children, who happen to be just as crazy about carnival games as their father. For them, there is no better prize of victory than a stuffed crocodile, and no better use of money than spending $10 in 40 seconds on the game where you try to throw a ring around a plastic duck.

All the games seem incredibly easy: Of course I can knock down three milk bottles with a baseball!

I can’t blame them. It’s hard not to be intoxicated by the experience, especially at night, when a proper carnival takes on an outlaw air: bright lights, screeching noises, the smell of fried dough merging with cattle manure: they love it, and I also. .

The games are mostly recognizable, though those darts and beanbags have gotten more expensive. You’re still trying to hit things, knock things over, throw balls into hoops and buckets, and chase prizes you wouldn’t collect if you found them on the side of the road. Every game seems impossibly easy: Of course I can knock over three milk bottles with a baseball! You see the carnival worker do it ten times in a row, as if it were child’s play.

But is not. Each game is its own hilarious scam and despite my best efforts to use technology to fight back, yes it was me, watching “HOW TO WIN THE MILK BOTTLE GAME” YouTube videos behind the milk bottle game. milk, they’re just as invincible as they were in 1987 or 1955. One of those bottles secretly weighs as much as a Volkswagen. I wasn’t throwing anything away, and I quickly lost $20.

Failure became us. My kids had some minor successes: My son won a stuffed Pokémon, which he carried like a largemouth bass, but they weren’t much better than his dad. I felt like I was teaching them a useful life lesson: the house always wins.

Then my hamster-loving daughter saw it: the huge stuffed hamster hanging from the top hook in a game of balloon darts. We bought seven darts for $10 and miraculously she and I hit seven balloons in a row.pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, popa DiMaggio-like streak that was good enough to win… a stuffed hamster the size of a boiled onion.

“If you keep playing,” the fair worker told my daughter, enticingly, “you can get to that big hamster.”


What are your favorite carnival game memories? Join the conversation below.

I want to tell you that I did the right thing, which was to tell my daughter to take the onion-sized hamster and call it a night, and learn the important habit of knowing when to leave. Unfortunately, I didn’t do the right thing. We spent the next 15 minutes or so on that game of balloon darts, never hitting seven in a row again, but gradually we went from a hamster the size of an onion to a hamster the size of a bowling ball, to a hamster of the the size of a bedroom fridge and, finally, to a hamster almost the height of the daughter herself. They all won. Especially the carnival.

I’m ashamed to tell you how much I spent. I’m sure he makes me a lousy parent and an even worse columnist for a newspaper that’s supposed to provide sound financial advice. But I think back to that night, and I see that silly stuffed hamster, and I think it was worth every penny.

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