WEST FARGO — Despite a soggy opening morning, the Red River Valley Fair has arrived, bringing with it all the trappings of carnival fun.
The fair's midway is home to the usual suspects, including food vendors serving up corn dogs, funnel cakes and a variety of rides and games.
It's the latter of these attractions that brought Cass County Sheriff Jesse Jahner to the fairgrounds as the midway opened at 3 p.m. Tuesday, July 9 — delayed from the scheduled 11 a.m. start time due to rain.
Carnival-style games are notoriously difficult to conquer. Many of us can recall a time when we blew all our cash trying to win a stuffed animal.
That the games are designed to be difficult is a given, but they must be winnable. That's why local law enforcement inspects each game to check for fraud and ensure the game isn't impossible to win.
Jahner said his office often receives complaints about supposedly "unwinnable" games at the fair, so along with a couple of prosecutors and deputies, he comes to check for himself on or before opening day.
"We always have done this to be proactive," Jahner said. "We go out to each game and have the operator show us how it works."
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Jahner's inspection team consisted of deputies Lindsey Nettestad and Keenan Zundel as well as prosecutors SheraLynn Ternes and Ryan Younggren.
Their first stop was at a game called Clown Toss, where players are given two baseballs and must knock over two clown pins to win.
Although he wasn't able to hit two of the clowns, Younggren succeeded in knocking over one of the pins, proving they hadn't been rigged to be too heavily weighted.
Up next was Ternes as she tried her hand at the M.R. Ducks Ringateria game.
"If you want to see if these games are winnable, I'm not sure I'm the right person," she laughed, but she was able to successfully land a ring on one of the floating ducks.
The team also checked out a football tossing game called GridIron, making the operator show that the holes were large enough for the football to fit through, a common rigging trick for games requiring players to throw a ball through a hole.
They also inspected basketball toss games and a shooting game, and found them to pass muster, with the team particularly enjoying the chance to show off their shooting prowess.
Jahner and his crew's inspection didn't turn up any violations.
Zundel said mostly the inspection serves to put fair-goers at ease. "I've worked here for 12 years, and I can't remember finding any violations," he said.
This year, the Red River Valley Fair Association and partnering organization Murphy Brothers Exposition have teamed up with Crabtree Amusements to create a new midway after the group they worked with in the past, Reed Exposition Midway, went out of business.
Tips for winning carnival games
For games that involve hitting and knocking over or breaking a target, like a bottle or pin: It doesn't matter how good your aim is if your throw isn't hard enough to move a potentially weighted target. Aim toward the bottom of your target, but keep in mind that force, not accuracy, is ultimately what will help you win. There aren't prizes for simply hitting the target if it doesn't break or move as required.
For basketball tosses: These are among the most difficult games for carnival-goers to win for a couple of reasons. They aren't unwinnable, but players need to adapt to a few alterations to the hoop. Standard basketball hoops are circular, but carnivals sometimes use hoops that are slightly oval-shaped. The hoops are also usually higher and farther away than players are probably used to, so try to get as close as possible with your feet and lean in before shooting. It's also better to attempt clean shots. The ball is often over-inflated, making it more prone to bouncing off the hoop or backboard more than you'd expect.
Balloon throws with darts or balls: Similar to other target games, force is more important than accuracy. The balloons are usually under-inflated, making them tougher to pierce, so a hard throw is going to serve you best.
Ring toss: The rings are often a bit small for whatever they're supposed to fit over, and tend to be lightweight. Snapping your wrist will help stabilize the ring and help it settle over your target rather than bouncing off of it.
BB gun games where you have to shoot a target on a piece of paper: Not only are the guns notoriously inaccurate, but physics starts to work against you during this type of game. After a few shots go through the paper, there isn't enough stress left to rip out more of the design. Try shooting around the design so it will fall away completely.