How to Win a Stuffed Hamster for Under $100

My kids and I went to the state fair the other weekend, and my ambition was simple: get out of there as quickly as possible, without anyone having a terrible case of motion sickness in the cup. of tea and fried Oreo and without me spending $90 playing games to win a stuffed hamster worth 11 cents.

I succeeded on one of these points.

I’m a sucker for a carnival game. From a young age, it’s as if I wandered among dartboards, water guns, and ramshackle basketball rims with a sign around my neck: HERE TO LOSE MONEY. While I have fond memories of competing for rabbit’s feet, Van Halen t-shirts and Jack Daniels mirrors, I won next to nothing. The carnival workers relax as they see me approach. They know their giant pandas are safe.

Now it seems that I have passed this unfortunate disease on to my children, who happen to be just as crazy about carnival games as their father. To them, there’s no greater spoils of victory than a stuffed crocodile, no better use of money than spending $10 in 40 seconds on the game in which you try to throw a ring around a ring. a plastic duck.

Each game seems incredibly easy: of course, I can knock over three milk bottles with a softball!

I can’t blame them. It’s hard not to be intoxicated by the experience, especially at night, when a real carnival takes on the appearance of an outlaw: bright lights, squeaking noise, the smell of fried dough mingling with cattle dung, they love it all that, and me too. .

The games are mostly recognizable, although those darts and beanbags have become more expensive. You’re still trying to hit things, knock things over, throw balls through hoops and buckets, and chase prizes you wouldn’t pick up if you found them on the side of the road. Each game looks incredibly easy: Sure, I can knock over three bottles of milk with a softball! You watch the carnival worker do it ten times in a row, like it’s child’s play.

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

Failure has become us. My kids had a few minor hits—my son won a stuffed Pokemon, which he carried around like a record-breaking largemouth bass—but they weren’t much better than their old man. I felt like I was teaching them a useful life lesson: the house always wins.

Then my daughter who loved hamsters saw it: the huge stuffed hamster hanging from the top hook of a balloon dartboard. We bought seven darts for $10, and miraculously, she and I hit seven balls 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 carnival worker said temptingly to my daughter, “you can make your way 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 walk away. Alas, I did not do the right thing. We spent the next 15 minutes at this game of balloon darts, never hitting seven in a row, but gradually progressing from an onion-sized hamster to a ball-sized hamster. bowling to a hamster the size of a dorm fridge and, finally, to a hamster almost the size of my daughter herself. Everyone won. Especially the carnival.

I’m embarrassed to tell you what I spent. I’m sure that makes me a lousy parent and an even worse columnist for a newspaper that’s supposed to dispense sound financial advice. But I think about that night, and I saw that stupid stuffed hamster, and I think he was worth every penny.

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