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Midway Games by Mary Jane and Eliza

We head to the Minnesota State Fair every summer. We check out the animals, eat lots of snacks and try to go on every ride possible. We play all the games, but we never seem to win. How can we win at those carnival games?

What did we do?
To figure it out, we took some notes and measurements at the State Fair and then headed back home to make our own versions. We picked two of the carnival games to practice: knock the blocks off the table, and break the plates. We started by testing which kind of ball is best for knocking things over, and which is best for breaking things. We used different kinds of balls and threw them at a large box. If the box ripped or dented, that ball was good for breaking; if the box fell off the table, that ball is good for knocking things over. Then we tried those balls on the two games we made.

What did we find out?
We found that just because a ball is good for knocking things over doesn't mean it always will. When we studied our notes carefully, we realized the carnival game operators set the blocks diagonally. This meant the energy of the ball doesn't go to all the blocks, and one block always seems to stay on the table. When we tried our own break-the-plates game, we found that if plates were leaning forward in the rack, they were harder to break, because they could absorb the ball's energy. If the plates were leaning back in the rack, we could break them almost every time!

What can you do?
  • Midway games often use science to make the game challenging. Come up with a carnival game of your own, and investigate how changes in the game set-up make it easier or harder. What are the science principles the game uses?
  • Some carnival games, like toss the ball into the milk can, are more easily won when you use the right throwing technique. Toss a ball at a bucket, and try putting no spin, top spin, and back spin on it. Does one type of spin seem to increase your chances of winning? How does spin affect the way the ball bounces?
  • Design an experiment to determine if the age of the player is an important factor in winning a carnival game. Do older players have an advantage? Why or why not?
  • Use this phsyics investigation as a science fair project idea for your elementary or middle school science fair! Then tell us about it!
more resources
More on momentum.

Go to the DFTV Boards, and tell us about your science investigation.
whiz quiz
What game was invented in 1931 by an unemployed architect?

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