The Oklahoma State Fair is in full swing and thousands of visitors will make a visit to the fairgrounds many making their way through the midway. Those visitors will be greeted by the sights and sounds of the carnival and the allure of winning the big prize. But the question is can just anybody walk up and win the giant stuffed animal? Fox 25 went to the fair to find out how you can master the midway.
"Carnival games are the most over stereo-typed part of our business today," said Frank Zaitshek the man in charge of Wade Shows, the company that runs many carnivals around the country. "In the old days maybe they deserved that reputation, but today our goal is for a customer, win or lose, there's entertainment value in that game."
Zaitshek is a second-generation carnival worker. His parents were game operators and he ran games during his younger days, but don't call him a 'carnie.' "When I was a kid that was a badge of courage, today it's used as more of a derogatory word and I prefer to say carnival guy."
When it comes to carnival games, Zaitshek says there is a simple rule of thumb; the easier the game, the smaller the prize. Some of the easier games offer customers a chance to purchase multiple games in an effort to eventually trade up to bigger prizes.
Zaitshek says he wants customers to have the best possible experience at his carnivals. "We do everything we can to make customer experiences enjoyable and we sure as heck don't want a negative experience in a game or anywhere else to ruin that."
Fox 25 went to try out some of the games on our own. We didn't want to rely on our own abilities, so we brought in a couple of ringers.
One of the most popular games at the fair are those using darts to pop balloons. The concept is simple and the prizes don't start out that big. We enlisted the help of Vernon Farquer to test the dart games. Farquer has been playing darts for more than two decades and once won a world championship title.
"I've won a bunch and lost a bunch and had a great time doing all of it," Farquer told Fox 25. He said the key to hitting the bulls eye is to "focus and follow through with your shot." Farquer says he begins by lining up one foot with the target and uses ring finger to help guide the dart.
At the fair Farquer was very successful. He popped all three balloons and was even able to put the darts right in the star on the more difficult darts game. He did notice the dart fins were bent when we walked up. He says they are good darts and the fins were likely bent due to heavy use. Farquer says the darts they used are inexpensive, but nearly indestructible so straightening the fins is an easy task to ensure the darts will fly straight.
One of the most difficult games at the fair is the "shoot out the star" game using a fully automatic BB gun. "This is truly a game that fits the description, win or lose, there has to be entertainment value," Zaitshek said.
We wanted to see how much skill, or luck, is required for this game so we enlisted the help of Phil Stewart, a former U.S. Marine and trained law enforcement sniper.
He is also an instructor at Practical Shooting in McLoud where he teaches several courses including long-range rifle classes. "We focus on what we call surgical fire," Stewart said, "I want to be able to put that bullet inside a quarter at 100 yards under any circumstances."
During our trip to the gun range Stewart was able to not only shoot a target at 100 yards, but also hit a quarter at the same distance. He even taught us the tips to using his customized sniper rifle. "This rifle that you're looking at was built to shoot one round, it's extremely accurate."
It probably goes without saying, but the customize sniper rifle is a superior weapons platform to the automatic BB guns at the fair. Stewart also says the .308 bullet used in the sniper rifle moves in a much more predictable path than a round BB.
When we sat down to try our hand at shooting out the star, we failed. We tried twice and improved each time. Zaitshek says the key is to shoot around the star, but even that is not as simple as it sounds. "The target is flexing a little bit, you've got a finite amount of ammunition to remove a certain amount of that target," Stewart said.
The game is not impossible to win, as witnessed by other winners, but don't be surprised if you're accuracy on the gun range doesn't equate to a giant stuffed animal. Even without the big prize, we didn't walk away with nothing. "It's enjoyable, it's a game and it accomplished what it's supposed to do," Stewart said.
Zaitshek says he measures progress one smile at a time and wants everyone to have a good time while at his carnival. He says his games are inspected every year to ensure they are winnable and encourages people who think something is amiss to contact the office. Zaitshek says Wade Shows works more fairs around the country than any other carnival operator and he says that's due to his efforts to make his rides and games fair and fun.
Zaitshek had some other tips for the games:
Basketball - There are two different kind of games, regulation rims and bent rims. The bent rim games offer a greater challenge and bigger prizes. For either game make sure the ball is not over inflated (ideally between 7 and 9 pounds) or else it will be too bouncy.
Milk Bottles - The idea is to knock all three of the "milk" bottles down. They have a beveled bottom, which makes it a challenge. Just make sure the bottom two bottles are flush with the black line or else it will be nearly impossible to knock them over.
Water Race - Zaitshek says this is your best deal and offers the best odds because every game has a winner. The number of players determines the size of the prize.