Entertainment
Man makes video showing the science behind carnival scams and gets over 81M views
The great thing about knowing the science behind the scam is knowing how to beat the system.
Cherie Gozon
09.06.21

Once in our lives, we’ve tried playing carnival games.

YouTube Screenshot|Mark Rober
Source:
YouTube Screenshot|Mark Rober

Who wouldn’t be enticed to play a game or two? With the cheerful atmosphere of fun and prizes, we can take out a few bucks to see how much we fair in these chance games. But are we getting our money’s worth from them?

Mark Rober used statistics and science to prove that carnival games are a scam.

YouTube Screenshot|Mark Rober
Source:
YouTube Screenshot|Mark Rober

Well, not totally a scam, but these games are designed that it’d be impossible for someone to win the games. He went to a particular carnival and had his team collect data on all 24 carnival games in a full game. Their data includes how many times each game was played, how many times people won each game, and the prize they want.

He divided the games into three categories. Let’s start with the Random Chance Games.

YouTube Screenshot|Mark Rober
Source:
YouTube Screenshot|Mark Rober

According to Mark, these are games that don’t involve any skill. In other words, based on chance. You can calculate your chance of winning by dividing the winning outcomes by the total outcomes; that’s your winning percentage. Not bad, right?

But here’s the catch… (There’s always one, of course!)

YouTube Screenshot|Mark Rober
Source:
YouTube Screenshot|Mark Rober

Usually, the materials used in these games are lightweight and have a high coefficient of restitution. Simply put, they bounce off well and make it less likely that the ball will end up where you initially aimed compared to materials that are weighted.

The next game category is Skill-Based Games which requires specific skills.

YouTube Screenshot|Mark Rober
Source:
YouTube Screenshot|Mark Rober

This includes basketball shot, milk bottle throw, or basket toss games that require some skill (like shooting) or strategy to increase your chance of winning. It would be easy for someone who plays the sport to win games in these categories.

The catch? (Yes, you were expecting we’ll say this.)

YouTube Screenshot|Mark Rober
Source:
YouTube Screenshot|Mark Rober

They make subtle changes to the setup to set you off than your usual muscle-memory three-point shot or baseball throw. For example, in the basketball shot, the standard three-pointer is 24 feet from the rim and has a height of 10 feet off the ground. But in this case, the line is 28 feet back on a rim, and the rim is 11 feet high.

Lastly, there are the games that are just “borderline scams” because there’s zero chance of winning them.

YouTube Screenshot|Mark Rober
Source:
YouTube Screenshot|Mark Rober

These games look easy to the players, but if you look deeper into a scientific viewpoint of the games’ setup, you’ll find it nearly impossible to win these games. You can watch the full video below for his explanation, including comparative examples applying scientific concepts to it.

But for Mark, these shouldn’t be a reason not to go to carnivals anymore.

YouTube Screenshot|Mark Rober
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YouTube Screenshot|Mark Rober

He said that you can still go and find enjoyment in them but manage your expectations for winning. If you’re out there to have fun, then go. But if you’re aiming to get those prizes of stuffed toys lined up, you’ll save more if you buy them in the store or online.

The cost of the number of tries you make until you win is higher than buying the prize in stores.

YouTube Screenshot|Mark Rober
Source:
YouTube Screenshot|Mark Rober

His example on chance games gives you these odds: if you got lucky and one on your first throw, it would cost you $1.50 for a prize that cost them 45 cents. But you usually don’t get it on your first try. Statistically speaking, it would take you an average of five times to land in a yellow cup, which means you pay $7.50 for something that cost them 45 cents.

YouTube Screenshot|Mark Rober
Source:
YouTube Screenshot|Mark Rober

Yes, you can still go and have fun, but don’t expect any “return of investment” at the end of the day.

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By Cherie Gozon
hi@sbly.com
Cherie Gozon is a contributor at SBLY Media.
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