State Fair of Texas

How to Beat Some of the Most Frustrating Games on the Texas State Fair's Midway

The Midway isn't just a place where people plunk down tickets for a few seconds of competitive fun. It's the Thunderdome with a carnival theme. It's a testing ground where nerves, patience and skill are the only ways to achieve supreme victory. It's an outright war — where battles are settled over games of ring toss and rubber duckies are maritime weapons of destruction.

If you don't want to leave this year's Texas State Fair with your head hanging in shame, you need to arm yourself with information. All it takes is a little knowledge of how these classic carnival games work and some practice, and you'll take home that big-ass stuffed animal that requires a moving van. We scoured the web and the libraries for the best tips on how to beat some of the most challenging games on Fair Park's historic Midway. 

Ring Toss 
It seems so simple: Take a plastic ring and hook it around the mouth of a soda bottle. And yet, players will spend truckloads of coupons trying to get just one ring around the bottle as that annoying clinking sound mocks their every throw. The game's not rigged, but it's also not as easy as it looks. The ring is only slightly wider than the mouth of the bottles you're aiming at, as evidenced by this video from of a New Jersey State Fair carnival worker explaining the nuances of the game. So your best bet is to keep the ring parallel to the ground as you're throwing it, to maximize your chance of hooking a nozzle before it starts bouncing all over the place, according to Mental Floss magazine writer Luis Paez-Pumar

Water Gun Shooting Gallery 
If you're looking to win while spending as few tickets as possible, the real key is watching and learning. Theme Park Insider's Derek Potter suggests this strategy for pretty much every game in his guide to "Winning Carnival Games" but it's most helpful for games that use motorized water guns. Having an accurate shot helps but it's also important to know that some of the guns might not work as well as the others. So watch a few rounds to see which gun has the most water pressure before you sit down behind one and take hold of the trigger. 

Basketball Shootout 
Any game that involves shooting a basketball through a seemingly standard hoop is bait for a guy looking to prove his sports mettle to his friends or best girl. If he can drain a three-pointer from half court in his intramural basketball team, then surely he can sink a kid-sized ball through a hoop that's only 6 feet off the ground. The hoop, however, may not be as wide as you think, thanks to faulty depth perception and perspective. So your best bet, according to Yahoo! Games writer Mike Smith, is to forget about using the backboard and go for nothing but net every time you take a shot. 

Rope Ladder Climb 
This staple of the modern carnival can offer double the humiliation. Not only is the prize snatched out from under you, you're also thrown to the ground in a lifeless heap by a cruel pair of mistresses called gravity and physics. However, the rope ladder climb is one of the easier ones to win if you know how to maintain your balance and can get the feel for the rope ladder at the same time. The key, according to the Art of Manliness, is to distribute your center of gravity evenly across the ladder as you make your way up the rungs. Anyone can do this by grabbing the ropes instead of the rungs with your hands and reaching your way up the ladder with your opposite legs and arms (i.e. reach for the rope with your right arm as you lift your left foot up to the next rung of the ladder). 

Stand the Bottle Up 
Few games can create a panic attack quicker than this bottle lifting challenge. All you have to do is lift an empty Corona bottle from its side to its upright position on a raised platform using a fishing pole with a 2.5-inch diameter plastic ring in place of the hook. It seems so simple, and yet that stupid bottle keeps falling over before you can even lift it beyond a 30-degree angle. This game is one that requires quite a bit of practice. The website has a guide to setting up your own practice version at home before you head off to the fair. The trick, according to the guide, lies in how you hold the pole and hook the ring on the bottle. First, don't choke up on the pole because you need the extra slack to help with your lifting technique. Then, hook the ring on the lip of the bottle and watch for it to sway in order to get your bottle in the right starting position. When it starts swaying, simple lower it and try again. Once you can lift it without that annoying sway getting in the way, simply lift up the bottle in "one fluid motion, without pausing" and rock your body forward as you lift instead of just moving your arm. 
KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Danny Gallagher has been a regular contributor to the Dallas Observer since 2014. He has also written features, essays and stories for MTV, the Chicago Tribune, Maxim, Cracked, Mental_Floss, The Week, CNET and The Onion AV Club.