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

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.

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.

I tried a few other games, including Ring-O-Bottle. It's that game with the little plastic rings that must be thrown onto a glass Coke bottle. It's darn near impossible to win. You can hear it a mile away, too, as rings unsuccessfully clank against the glass and into the retrieval pit below.

Me and Ring-O-Bottle? Yeah, we go way back.

As a youngster enjoying the San Diego County Fair (which I still call the Del Mar Fair), I fell victim to a carnie ploy on that game. It was a good one, though.

It seemed to me that back then, during the day's early hours, carnies would practically give away a few big prizes to unsuspecting players.

The scheme was to have a few conspicuous winners walking about the fair and dragging around some monstrous stuffed animals. People might see them and get the idea that they, too, could win the games.

Yep. I got to be one of those conspicuous people.

On my last red ring to throw onto the Coke bottles, the carnie grabbed it, midair, and put it on a bottle.

"You're a winner!" he shouted.

He rang a cowbell and asked me to take a few steps back.

He then threw me a giant "Red Baron" Snoopy who, on the way home on the school bus, required his own seat just like the rest of us kids.

It was a great moment, but I can't say I've won that big since.

In my effort this week toward getting the big prize — or any prize, really — I lost and lost.

I tried the Shoot Out the Star game with the machine gun. The goal is to rapidly shoot BBs and completely perforate a paper star, thus making it "disappear."

Mine didn't.

I did one of the water jet race games. I didn't come in first, so no prize for me.

I also tried one of the basketball games. "One in wins!" the signs proclaim. A recorded voice saying, "Winner, winner, winner" blared as I shot two baskets and missed.

I wasn't a winner, winner, winner this time.

In all, I spent $20 seeking a stuffed animal, which I planned to donate to a young fairgoer. Twenty bucks wasn't enough to win, however. I should've known better.

It takes at least $40 for luck and skill to smile upon you at the midway.

BRADLEY ZINT is a reporter for the Daily Pilot. He can be reached at

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