About 20 games are offered at this year's fair, including water races, balloon darts and ring tosses. It's possible to win every game on site, but the majority aren't easy to play, said Jesse Bogue, a game owner and assistant manager with Butler Amusements, the company that runs the carnival at the annual fair.
"They all are winnable," said Bogue, 43. "The same people are coming to the same fairs and if you don't give them anything they're not going to keep on coming back year after year after year. We want them to win."
Regulations for amusement games that include limits for prize payouts and the type of games that are allowed are part of the state's 1973 Gambling Act. The Washington State Gambling Commission is responsible for writing rules for carnival amusement games.
Those rules are enforced with spot checks during the Evergreen State Fair to ensure that the games there are honest, said Susan Newer, a spokeswoman.
"Our rules are written so the public is protected and so everyone has a fair and equal chance of winning," she said. "The outcome depends a material degree upon the skill of the contestant. If somebody practices they should get better over time, where in a typical gambling activity, it's total chance."
So, how can you make sure your arms are full of stuffed animals? Everyone seems to have their own theory, depending on the particular game.
Start by understanding how a game is played. Read any directions and closely watch how others play, said Everett resident Brian Asnicar.
"I'm seeing how people play and how the guy who works the game is doing it," said Asnicar, 27. "You have to watch how he's doing it and then from everyone else who plays the game you learn from their mistakes."
Asnicar wanted to spend his $5 wisely. Four years ago he'd spent about $100 on a dart game to win a stuffed unicorn for his daughter, Bailey. His wife, Ranae, said Friday night that this time he wasn't allowed to spend very much on carnival games.
Asnicar settled on Bank A Ball, a game where the object is to hit a ball off of a backboard and make it land in a basket. The game can be won if a player softly aims for the top of board, letting the ball roll down it and into the basket. Asnicar knew the tip but couldn't win with his three tries.
"Oh, well, I tried," he said with a smile. "That was my last five dollars. No matter how much I watch them do it, it's not meant to be."
One of the most difficult carnival games at the fair, according to Bogue, is a shooting game where the person playing takes aim at a red star. The object of the Machine Gun Alley game is to completely shoot out the star with 100 BBs. To win, there can't be any red part of the star left on the target. The best way to accomplish that feat is to shoot around the star, Bogue said.
"You don't want to shoot all in the middle," he said. "Usually everybody likes to do that."
Another popular game that requires skill is the Rope Ladder, where people try to climb up a suspended ladder to ring a bell without flipping over.
Mike Melton, 36, gave his daughter, Suzanne, some advice before she took her first of two tries.
"I've done this before so I told her how to do it," the Port Orchard man said. "I told her when you move your right hand up you move your left leg with it."
It's a combination of moves to stay balanced on the ladder, Suzanne, 10, said she understood. Four rungs from the top, the girl flipped over but managed to hang on upside down for a short time before falling onto the mat.
"I do the monkey bars so I'm used to it," she said. "I might try again."
Drew Cook let his 8-year-old daughter, Emily, try climbing the rope. He offered encouragement, telling her to "take her time." Under one of his arms was a giant white and brown stuffed dog with big droopy ears. He won the animal after making a basket at the Hoop Shot, a game that challenges a player to make a high shot through a non-regulation-sized basket.
"We picked the game we played a lot on our own so that was kind of our strategy," said Cook, 41.
Cook, of Newcastle, added that he used a soft touch and a high arc to make the winning shot and was happy with the performance.
"We're always happy when you can tell the vendor isn't happy," he said.
Friends Austin Pence and Cody Bowman of Mill Creek and Cameron Winkler of Snohomish tried doing "a nice high rainbow arc" at the basketball game but couldn't make a shot.
They recommended playing games that involved few players to guarantee a win. The 14-year-olds pooled their money -- $18 in all -- so Austin could race against himself at the Roll A Ball booth. Each ball he rolled into a hole moved a clown car farther across a board until it reached the end of its track. He won a large stuffed banana.
"He was the only one there, so we played right hand, left hand," Cameron said. "So the trick is to go when there's no one else."
Oftentimes, the possibility of getting a specific prize displayed at a booth can be enough of a reason to try a game.
At Ring A Duck, Trevor Smith, 19, threw several blue and red rings into a pond of plastic rubber ducks before one landed perfectly around a duck's neck. He didn't have a strategy for winning. The Marysville man said he just wanted to win his girlfriend, Shay Nelson, 18, a stuffed animal she desperately wanted.
After seeing the ring fall neatly in place, Nelson kissed Smith. The person working the booth rang a bell and screamed, "Winner!" before handing over the prize. Nelson smiled and hugged the giraffe with both hands.
"I just threw it," Smith said. "She really wanted the giraffe."
Luck had something to do with winning several games during a visit to the fair with friends, said Monique Ogden of Las Vegas. It was "pure luck" when her fiance, Salem Takriti, looped a duck with the ring and won a blue and white stuffed unicorn. She had her finger on the trigger button at the water balloon race long before the start and won a stuffed Siberian Husky. Ogden, 35, said she's typically lucky when it comes to winning carnival games.
"Every time I go to a carnival, I come home with a bunch of stuffed animals," she said. "I have a set of monkeys that are really cute that I got from the Santa Monica pier. I won them throwing darts."
For Marysville resident Kathy Sommer-Good, 54, the biggest prize of all at the carnival Friday night was seeing her 7-year-old grandson, Cory Collins, get excited over winning several of the games.
"I think we probably spent $20 on a $5 animal, but who knows, and who cares, when it comes to him," she said.
Amy Daybert: 425-339-3491; email@example.com
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