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I just finished reading an article about the ways carnival games are set up. Of course, I’ve always understood that these games are rigged but I never really understood how they’re rigged. I was expecting to be wowed by the technical end of things but I was wowed more so by the psychological end.

It’s difficult to pop an underinflated balloon with a dull dart. It’s difficult to shoot an overinflated basketball into an undersized oval hoop. It’s difficult to know over lead-weighted bottles with a softball that’s much lighter than regulation. Sure, it’s technically possible to win but the odds are not in our favour.

Then there are the electronic games. Hit the button at the exact moment the light scrolls by, and win an iPod. Shoot the duck with a beam of light, and get a teddy bear. We’re convinced that timing or aim are all we need. The problem is that the button isn’t necessarily linked to the passing of the scrolling light, and the gun we aim at the duck doesn’t always shoot where we’re aiming it.

Still, it’s a lot of fun! It’s fun because we’ve been convinced that our skills make the winning of these games a matter of skill or practice. When we “almost” win, we usually have an idea of what to do differently in the next round. The problem is that we’re not playing games with fixed variables. In plain English, the rules are constantly changing.

Ok, so this is all really interesting but what’s the point I’m driving at?

I guess it bothers me that we’re so easily convinced that we’re engaged in winnable games of skill, when these games are more a roll of the dice. We line up to throw money at one more chance to demonstrate how good we are at identifying where we went wrong, and adapting our strategies accordingly. We smugly look at the ways others have failed, and think that we’re going to win — even when our track record has shown that we can lose with the best of them!

Don’t get me wrong, I see what’s happening and I don’t really have a problem with it. I like the flashing lights, the cheesy music, the loud voices of the people running the games, the smell of the fried foods, and the sight of people happily gobbling down impossibly large portions of cotton candy.

These things aren’t a distraction from the fact that the experience is expensive, that the games are rigged, or that I’m going home with indigestion. They’re a happy reminder!

I’m learning that matters of the heart are very similar to a trip to the carnival. Making things work feels like a winnable game of skill but, in an environment where the rules are constantly changing, maybe it’s more of a dice roll than we care to admit.

David Danow said that “There is indeed a life-affirming and life-enhancing ‘spirit’ that pertains to the carnival in its varied and numerous manifestations.”

I think that is a wonderful way to look at matters of the heart as well.

To hear the podcast version of this (and other) stories, visit

AC Fischer is an inspirational speaker, an activist, a philosopher, a writer, a podcaster, a producer, and a romantic.

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