For decades, carnivals and the circus have been one of America’s favorite pastimes. These days, the traveling shows are few and far between, and most people get their gaming fix at amusement parks. But once upon a time, these entertainment capitals ruled the world for excitement, dating back to the 1770s in Europe with Philip Astley.

Yoshu Chikanobu, "World's No. 1 Chiarini Great Circus Illustration" (c. 1886) 

The rise of the circus in the 1800s was due to Phineas Taylor Barnum (better known as P.T), James Anthony Bailey, and of course, the Ringling Brothers. You'll be able to take a visual tour of the circus' history this Christmas when The Greatest Showman hits theaters; the film shows P.T Barnum (played by Hugh Jackman) as he rises to fame hosting The Greatest Show on Earth. What makes it even more poignant is the fact that the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey’s Circus took their final bow just a couple months ago. The last show ever was performed on May 21, 2017. A message on their website reads:

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“On Sunday, May 21, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey said its final farewell to a sold-out crowd of incredibly enthusiastic fans. The response they gave to everyone who made the show possible – performers, staff and crew – was heartwarming. Though it was difficult to say goodbye, my family and I were heartened to send off The Greatest Show On Earth in the celebratory and positive fashion that this American treasure deserves.”

The circus reigned as the pinnacle of amusement for people all over America and it helped shape what we've historically found entertaining, from unfamiliar physical wonders and death-defying performances, to what still remains today: the games. While the circuses have all but faded, and carnivals are few and far between, the games are still familiar to anyone who's recently attended a county fair or school picnic.

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Okay, enough of the history and goodbyes; it's time for the tricks to help you at the carnie games we all know and love. Hopefully, now you’ll finally be able to walk away with that obnoxiously large stuffed teddy bear.

The Hammer/Mallet Swing

Good news: You don’t have to be built like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson to win this game. In fact, it is more about precision and accuracy than strength.

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Derek Potter helps us out in his article on Theme Park Insider and says, “The real key is accuracy, hitting the center of the pad squarely (not at an angle) with the mallet, which is why the little guy has as good a chance as any to show up the muscle heads. Think of it as chopping a piece of wood or swinging a sledge, the same technique applies here.”

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The best way to do this is to stand at an angle with your knees bent, not squared up perfectly with the target. If you swing directly over your head, your mallet will most likely hit it an an angle since the pad is down by your knees so the top point of the mallet will hit first and probably not centered.

The Softball In The Jug

If you aren't familiar with this one, it's the thing that resembles The Stanley Cup. This is one of the tougher games at any carnival or fair because your accuracy has to be pinpoint perfect. Plus the fact that these jugs are only 1/16 of an inch larger than the softball itself makes it even more difficult. On The Art of Manliness, Brett and Kate McKay help walk us through what we are supposed to do:

“The secret to winning Milk Can is to give the ball a bit of backspin and hit the back of the can’s rim. The backspin will decrease the ball’s momentum, and instead of bouncing off the can, it will slide into the hole. Easier said than done, of course!”

You’ll want to aim for the back of the rim and deflect the ball into the hole, instead of hitting it like a nothing-but-net basketball shot. Grip the ball underhand like you’re going to loft it with the flick of your wrist, and give your throw some serious backspin and a small arch to it can roll backwards off the rim into the hole.

Rope Ladder

This can be one of the hardest games at the fair since you’re not tossing or hitting an object—you are the object. This little game looks a lot easier than it is, after all, it’s just a small horizontal ladder with a few rungs you have to cross, right? Well, if you have tried the rope ladder game then you’ll know, things can get shaky quickly.

Boredom-beating website Blifaloo has some tips: “The trick to climbing carnival rope ladders is to completely ignore the "rungs" and only use the outside ropes to climb on. While applying equal pressure with your right foot and left arm, move your left foot and right arm uat the same time. Then do the same thing with the opposite limbs -- shimmying yourself up the ladder. Do not move both hands or both feet at the same time - you will lose your balance.”

Basically, you want to stay low and flat and shimmy up the ladder using opposite and equal body movements: left arm, right leg, move at the same time and shimmy; then right arm, left leg, move at the same time and shimmy.

Ring Toss

One of the toughest games in all the land. This game we openly admit is probably not going to result in prizes unless you cheat, which we don’t advise!

However, in my younger days, my buddies and I may have banded together while one person distracted the worker, another hopped over to place the ring on, then hopped back. Then we paid to play, threw our rings at the already circled one, and another friend acted like a random kid screaming that we have won. We got our prize and met back at the cotton candy stand with no one else the wiser. But we were young and immoral and we don't recommend you do this.

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If you want to win honestly, then follow the advice of Maxwell Barna, who explains the trick over at Lifehacker: “The name of the game here is trajectory. Don’t flip the rings like coins, and don’t load them onto the board. Try to put a little spin on them and toss them low and horizontally. Just pretend each ring is a little Frisbee. Don’t aim for one particular bottle. With enough spin and a horizontal trajectory, the ring may very well get hooked on one bottle then bounce off onto another. That’s your best bet.”

Some Last-Minute Pointers:

Darts and Balloons: Throw hard! Dull tips and halfway-inflated balloons are not a good combo.

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The Stuffed-Bowling Pin-Looking Men You Throw Balls At: That's probably not the real name of it, we have to be honest. Aim at their noses, not the bottom or the very top. Right in their face.

Milk Cartons/Glasses: Throw at the base of the two that hold the single one up. Don’t try to hit right in the center where the three connect; instead, hit the legs out from under and you’ll be safer with a larger space to aim for.

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Basketball: Try to aim for the middle of the net. The ball is over-inflated, the rim is bent, and the background is garbage. Your best chance is to swoosh it.

Softball Off Backboard in Laundry Basket: Aim high, put backspin on it, and try to hit the very bottom of the backboard so it drops into the basket. Don’t aim too high, though, or it will bounce off too far and go anywhere but the basket.

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