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Sleepyville, USA

Yesterday, I had the wonderful experience of going to a theme park in semi- rural America. Located in Farmingdale on Long Island, it’s a really nice small park, which was relatively cheap to get into and didn’t feel commercialised at all. Aside from the usual kids stuff, there were some really good rides there which was a bit surprising. Also, I managed to achieve that rare position of being the person who holds a high-score on an arcade machine. I should explain.

They had this ticket system. The idea was that you played various games, and won tickets, which you could trade in for prizes. 6 tickets got you a plastic frog, 23,000 tickets got you an oven. That sort of thing. Before I knew it, I was gripped by ticketmania. I had to get a way of getting tickets cheaply, below their “actual” value (what you could buy the tickets for, in cash). Soon, we stumbled on the “Swamp race” game (lets call it Swampy). The idea was simple: give it money and then press the buttons that lit up as fast as you could to “race” your frog-like-being up the track. After some competitive games (which I won), we discovered that if you set a high score, you get about 2.5 times the number of tickets than if you get a reasonably good score. Turns out I was rather good at this important life skill of hitting lit up buttons, so I set to work. In the first game, I had set a time 11.4s. A bit of practice and a few quarters later, I had this honed to a reasonable 10.6s. Suddenly, The Dotty One had an idea: if we worked as a team, we could achieve a better score! After a quick decision over who would take which buttons, we did the first round, and instantly smashed the 10 second barrier with a record- breaking 9.4 seconds. Subsequent rounds revealed scores of only 9.7 and 9.9s. A quick rethink of our strategy suggested that next time, we should be not too awesome too soon. Just a little bit of awesomeness at a time would allow us to continue to break the record on each go, rather than set an unbeatable time first time around.

The plan sprung into action. Swampy failed to notice as he was too busy chucking out tickets from our previous wins. First time, 8.6 seconds. Rookie mistake of being too awesome again. We clocked up a few more sub-9 second times before eventually we got an 8.5 followed by an 8.4. This was the exactly correct amount of awesomeness that we needed to stick to.

Unfortunately, we ran out of quarters and were weighed down by several tonnes of yellow ticket-card. On the way to cash these in and get more quarters, we noticed the roulette wheel (we’ll call him…. um…. wheely). Normal roulette involves numbers, a spinny thing, a small ball and luck. This was only slightly different in that the ball was large and rubber, the spinny thing spun automatically, and there were 5 coloured areas of different sizes. A bet was a quarter, and the smaller area the colour, the bigger the winnings. After watching a bit, it seemed that the probability distribution was skewed. The red and green areas covered more than half the wheel and yet the ball rarely landed on them, instead opting to choose the more profitable blue, yellow and white spaces. Wheely was broken and broken arcade-ticket-dispensing machines = Profit!!

After playing for a while, betting on just the top three colours, we managed to come away with a rather good amount of tickets (4,323!). This was enough to get a cool dolphin-shaped neon lamp (which broke when we got home - different story) along with some other stuff.

In all, a rather good day involving strange gambling, good pizza and some rollercoasters with no queues.