My Favorite Carnival Game

Last night, Sidney and I watched a movie called “Adventureland.” It is a coming-of-age film chronicling the summer experience of a bunch of teens and young adults working at a dusty amusement park. The main character, James, is put on carnival game duty. Upon his hire at the park, James is introduced to the rigged nature of pretty much every game available.

As we were watching this, Sidney told me that growing up her dad would try to steer the family away from the carnival games. It wasn’t that he detested the fact that most of them were corrupt, it was that he didn’t want to deal with the hassle of carrying around the consolation prizes that were given out. I don’t blame him!

Sid then asked if I had a favorite carnival game growing up. I told her yes I did, but it wasn’t just my favorite carnival game…it was my family’s favorite carnival game.

My dad’s passion for a game that was always at the Walla Walla Fair rubbed off on us. Have you ever heard of the Dime Toss? In a square space area boxed in by wooden tables was a skirted platform that served as the base of a “sculpture.” Glasses, plates, bowls, ash trays, and other containers were piled high and long on top of each other. Participants stood behind the tables and flicked dimes at the sculpture, hoping that their coin would fall on top of a plate or inside a cup. If the coin did in fact rest inside or on a piece of glassware, the item was theirs.

This was the best image I could find on the internet of a Dime Toss that looked similar to what we played growing up.

This was the best image I could find on the internet of a Dime Toss that looked similar to what we played growing up.

We probably came close a couple times to wiping the carny out of dimes. My dad couldn’t be kept away from the game so neither could we. The Dime Toss was cheap and challenging. Having the opportunity to play for ten cents a pop was attractive and even though the game took skill, it wasn’t impossible to win. Just ask my mom…

Now she is probably going to kill me for revealing this, but growing up our most used drinkware in the house came from the Walla Walla Fair. Even back then, I can remember my mom cringing just a little bit when we enthusiastically stuffed under her nose the latest glass we won. Not only would she be responsible for safely packing it for the three hour drive back to Spokane, but she also knew that we would insist it be inserted into the circulation of the Reser Family Glassware Collection. Because she is such a nice mom, she would oblige, and I honestly think they would grow on her.

Okay, I am really pressing my luck now, and I feel an angry text might soon be on its way, but I kid you not when I say my mom still has some of the Dime Toss glassware in her cupboard. Yes, 20 years later, my mom still uses several cups that we won her at the fair. Mom, if you are reading this, I am talking about those glasses with the strawberry design on them that were still around when I visited this past summer.

Of course I don’t think it is anything to be embarrassed about. I love those glasses and they bring back great memories whenever I go home. I just have a feeling my mom is probably more concerned about what her neighbors will think.

But I still haven’t arrived at the best part of the story. My brother and I loved the Dime Toss so much that we replicated it at home. During those long summer days, we would raid my mom’s cupboards and take out glasses we won at the fair and glasses we didn’t win at the fair. We would take our loot downstairs and build our own sculpture. At that point, we would let the coins fly! We would compete against each other to see who could record the most makes and we also invited the neighbor kids over and made them use their own coins to participate. No one got to keep any glasses, it was just done for the fun/challenge of it. Like I am fond of saying, my parents didn’t believe in Nintendo so we had to come up with alternative forms of indoor entertainment.

I haven’t gone to a carnival in years so I don’t know if the Dime Toss is still around, I doubt it. But I can say that game was another memorable sliver of my childhood. As for “Adentureland,” I give it three stars. Don’t Blink.

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