Winning fair games: A flick of the wrist or a stroke of luck?
Is it the intoxicating smell of deep-fried Oreo cookies, sugary funnel cakes and crispy corn dogs that draw people in, or the dizzying radiance of the 155-foot Midway Sky Eye Ferris wheel that captures fairgoers’ attention?
For Jay Valentine, it’s the flush of pride he gains every time he bests an impossible-to-beat fair game.
A local resident of Port St. Lucie, Valentine has been faithfully attending the South Florida Fair for the last 20 years.
Surrounded by his family and friends the opening night of the local carnival, the game connoisseur happily paraded around the center square carrying his hard-earned trophy: a 10-foot-long stuffed snake.
It was hard to tell whose face was brighter: Valentine or his fluorescent pink prize.
Despite the pulsating lights and tantalizing noises of the competing game stands, it was the classic BB Gun game that first caught his attention.
First produced by Shooting Star Inc. in the late 1980s, the carnival favorite is generally designed to hold at least 10 Tommy guns, depending on the size and capacity of the stand.
The targets destined for destruction are printed on white paper and hung across from each player, the vivid red star on each target serving as both a reminder of the company’s namesake and the game objective.
For a player to win, “all (red) must be shot from card to win a prize,” according to the words printed at the bottom of each classic target.
Dedicated to the art of securing fair prizes, Valentine emphasized the meaning of the phrase
“third time’s a charm.” Having tried and failed on his first two attempts, he triumphed his third go at the challenging game.
Despite the common assumption that most carnival games are rigged or randomized, he believed his victory stemmed from more than just sheer luck.
“There is a secret,” Valentine said. “Do not shoot for the red star. Shoot around the star. You start a little bit off on the left side, work your way up and then back down around the other side [of the target].”
But young fairgoer Sophia Doyce said skill had nothing to do with her carnival winnings.
Supporting an equally pink stuffed sloth on the back of her small shoulders, Doyle described her game-stand experience to be quite different than Valentine’s.
Favoring a water gun game, the young girl beat her opponents on her second attempt at shooting at the target. In response to her family’s excitement over her accomplishment, Doyle earnestly spoke about her good fortune.
“I believe it was just luck,” Doyle said. “And once you just hit [the target] in the correct spot, it just goes up.”
Robert Barron, a game stand attendee, refuted the beliefs of many prize winners by shedding light on the behind-the-scenes process that typically goes into securing a prize at one of these events.
Barron has worked at the South Florida Fair for three consecutive years and with Friendly Frank’s W.G. Wade Shows the last 38.
For the experienced employee, Barron’s interaction with participants continues to capture his commitment to fun and games.
Currently stationed as an attendant for the “Break a Plate” stand, Barron disregarded the debate of luck versus skill by explaining what he has noticed over the years.
“They win 30%,” Barron said. “For every $100 I take in, I give away $30 worth of teddy bears. Some days I give away $40 worth of teddy bears.”
Barron had just given away two large stuffed animals to a pair of little boys. He thinks it is possible for anyone to win a fair game. But, if he had to choose one side of the debate of luck versus skill, Barron would pick a third side: not falling prey to the heat of the moment.
“The trick is to be patient,” Barron said. “People get frustrated and they just start throwing fast. That’s when they lose.”
By Brenna Brown