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How to Make Old-Time Carnival Games

With an ever-growing number of theme parks, plus the amusement park rides popping up at local family fun centres, drawing crowds to small community carnivals can be a challenge. An assortment of inexpensive, simple-to-assemble carnival games can help make your event popular and well-attended. Intersperse the games with eccentric sideshows inspired by the great showman P.T. Barnum, as well as carnival food stands selling favourites such as candyfloss and caramel apples. Pulling together these and other activities and attractions will entice crowds to linger for a while and even come back with friends in tow.

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  1. Construct a classic "Prize Fishing" carnival game by sliding blue curtain panels onto a rope. Suspend the curtained rope between two upright, footed poles. Tie a 5-foot piece of string to one end of each of five dowels to create play fishing rods. Attach a wooden clothespin to the loose end of each string to create a fake hook. Instruct the players to "cast" their rods over the top of the blue curtain to play the "Prize Fishing" game. Booth attendees attach inexpensive carnival prizes to each clothespin hook tossed over the curtain, then tug on the line once the prize is secure as a signal for players to reel them in.

  2. Assemble the simple "Ducks on the Water" old-time carnival game by filling a child's paddling pool with water. Colour-code rubber ducks by marking the bottom of each duck with one of three permanent marker colours. Mark 75 per cent of the ducks with a red marker, 20 per cent with a green marker and 5 per cent with a blue marker. Sort a selection of prizes into three, colour-coded categories -- put the least expensive prizes into the red category, more expensive prizes into the green category and the most expensive prizes into the blue category. Float the ducks in the paddling pool, then instruct the players to pluck a single duck from the water. Each player then gets to pick a prize from the category that corresponds to the marking on the bottom of his duck.

  3. Create a "Nickel in a Haystack" coin-search game by first spreading a tarp on the ground. Arrange hay bales around the perimeter of the tarp to hold it down and to create boundaries for the haystack pit. Fill the area inside the pit with loose hay or straw pulled from the bales; spread enough hay to hide the tarp from view without overflowing the borders. Mix a half roll of nickels, two rolls of pennies and one roll each of dimes and quarters into the loose hay. To play, several players climb into the haystack pit at a time to search through the hay for as many coins as they can find within a preset time limit of 2 minutes that ends at the ring of a timer. Players get to keep all the coins they collect within the time-frame -- any player who has found a nickel can trade that coin in for a prize.

  4. Tip

    To prevent controversy in distinguishing the colours of the marks in the "Ducks on the Water" game, use letters in place of dots on the bottom of each duck. For example, write an "R" using the red marker, write a "B" using the blue marker and a "G" using the green marker.


    Clothespins can get caught on the rope when players are pulling in their prizes, so be sure the poles are properly secured or weighted to prevent players from pulling down the curtain.

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Things You'll Need

  • Blue curtain panels
  • Rope
  • 2 poles (upright, footed, approx. 6 feet high)
  • String
  • 5 dowels (varying lengths)
  • Wooden clothespins
  • Inexpensive carnival prizes
  • Child's paddling pool
  • Rubber ducks, assorted
  • 3 permanent markers (1 red, 1 blue, 1 green)
  • Large tarp (thick plastic or canvas)
  • Bales of hay or straw
  • Pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters (rolled)
  • Timer

About the Author

A former art instructor, high school counselor and party planner, Christine Bartsch writes fashion, travel, interior design, education and entertainment content. Bartsch earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in communications/psychology/fine arts from Wisconsin Lutheran College and a creative writing Master of Fine Arts from Spalding University. She's written scripts for film/television productions and worked as the senior writer at a video game company.

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