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Reporter's notebook: Step right up and try your luck!

One thing hasn't changed: Games of chance at the carnival midway are never quite the sure thing they appear to be.

July 25, 2013|By Bradley Zint
  • Brad Zint plays Ring A Duck, a carnival game at the Orange County Fair on Wednesday.
Brad Zint plays Ring A Duck, a carnival game at the Orange… (SCOTT SMELTZER…)

The crosswind is killer on the Ring-a-Duck.

It comes from somewhere in the West — the ocean, perhaps — to impede the already arduous task of throwing a lightweight plastic ring completely onto the neck of one of those smiling yellow duckies as it and its friends go round and round in their little pond.

Like nearly all the Orange County Fair midway games, this one is deceptively tough. I failed after four throws.

Thus, I blamed the wind. Sosa Amadin of Irvine blamed the ducks' orange beaks.

"It's the lips that get you!" he exclaimed, frustrated after having spent 15 bucks without anything to show for it. He then went to get more money.

The rings, you see, have to go all the way around a duck's head and onto its neck. Those orange beaks make that objective harder than it looks.

One of my rings went around the neck but not all the way down. That pesky beak got in the way.

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Amadin, though, eventually had better luck than I. As his 9-year-old daughter watched, the 6-foot-7 native of Nigeria finally ringed a duck.

Thanks to her dad's determination and $25, little Grace was presented a giant stuffed clown fish that looked like Nemo. The fish, as it were, also happened to match Amadin's orange tennis shoes.

Seeing the smile on Grace's face, he commented: "For this, it's really worth it."

I agree. That's why carnival games are my favorite aspect of the fair, win or lose.

Winning them, though, has been a lifelong obsession. Growing up, sometimes I'd bring my copy of Matthew Gryczan's book, "Carnival Secrets: How to Win at Carnival Games," to the fair. It was fun to read, but it didn't really help.

Games have changed somewhat since my youth. No longer are the carnies barking at you to play as you stroll down the midway, surrounded by the oversized stuffed animals that, I suspect, are hoping you'll rescue them from the traveling carnival.

There aren't any cash transactions anymore, either. I remember handing carnies cash to play the games, and sometimes they'd make sudden "deals" with you for more tries once they saw extra bills in your wallet.

Now it's all digital. You buy flimsy little paper cards that electronically have tickets on them. The game operator scans the cards and takes your tickets that way.

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