Thursday, March 08, 2012

And Endless Supply Of Baby Ruth

When I'd just started 6th grade, my best friend Curtis and I went to the South Carolina State Fair without adult supervision. It must have been a big deal for my parents, but I don't recall there being any stress around it at all: no extra warnings about being careful or being good or anything like that. I don't remember having to beg them for permission or money. My memory is fuzzy about the details, maybe because there was so little obvious emotion involved, but I'm pretty sure it was mom who drove us to the fairgrounds, which were in a part of town with which we were largely unfamiliar, and picked us up at an appointed time and place. I did have a watch.

Up until that point, fairs for me had always been about rides, but Curtis, it turned out, really liked playing the carnival games wagering a dime at a time in an effort to pop a balloon with a dart or knock some wise guy off his perch into the water. 

At one point we found a game that seemed to be pure gambling. There was a large square board, set in the center of the booth like a table, with dozens of divots, each painted a color. Everyone who wanted to play, placed a dime on a colored circle painted on the counter in front of them. A ball was then tossed by a randomly chosen gamer and if the ball landed in your colored divot you took home an entire box of candy bars. Seriously! I'm talking a 12 bar box of Zagnuts or Butterfingers here. Talk about a lure! 

I put a dime on red and the woman running the game gave me the honor of tossing the ball. I aimed for red, of course. The ball bounced wildly around the table, finally settling in a red divot! Bam! I chose Baby Ruth. Naturally, I played again. I switched colors a few times, but after losing about 50 cents, I stepped back and just watched. That color red seemed to be coming up too often for the law of averages. Why was that? I walked all the way around the booth trying to figure it out. It wasn't just red, it was a particular red divot that was capturing the ball more often, the one in the corner. It was then that I could detect that the board was tilted slightly in that direction. It was an uneven playing play field, tipped in favor of red!

I rejoined the game. I probably wound up spending $3 all told, but went home with 5 boxes of candy bars. When the woman joked with me about my "luck" I nervously answered, "Red is my lucky color." I only quit playing because I was beginning to feel guilty. I remember Curtis and I sitting on the curb at the end of the day, waiting for mom, devouring candy bars.

I'm reminded of this episode in my life every time I set up this game for the kids. I flip one of our tables, then use Brown Cow yoghurt containers to serve as the divots. The idea is for the kids to try to drop or toss balls into them. I've used ping pong balls, but they make the game pretty wild, with their tendency to rebound and bounce, so when I want to keep things a little more tame we use wiffle (practice) golf balls. For added challenge we also provide a couple stools of different heights.

As you can see, we also write numbers in the bottoms of some of the cups. I used to write numbers in the bottoms of all the cups, but now I just start with a few to plant the idea, then hand a Sharpie to the parent-teacher responsible for the station with the instruction to write/draw whatever the kids want to use as their target: you know, their "lucky color."

You hear the older children calling out, "I got a 7!" If they don't, you almost always hear an adult calling it out, just like the carney did for use at the state fair. I suppose you could put anything in the bottom of those cups: shapes, colors, letters. Someone will always name them.

There's no gambling involved in our version of the game and no boxes of candy bars at the end, but there's plenty of strategizing as the kids try all kinds of ways to either challenge themselves or increase their odds of success. Some bend way down and carefully drop their ball into their chosen target. Others try sitting on the stools or standing on the highest stool and dropping the ball from over their head. A few try to assist gravity by throwing their ball. Some think the most fun is chasing the stray balls around the room when they get away.

But whatever they do, I'm back in South Carolina, working on my endless supply of Baby Ruth and wondering what mom thought about the gamble she'd taken.

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Mrs. West said...

What a great idea! I would definitely use this idea to reinforce learning of colour, shape, etc. My class would love it.

Amy said...

I find it hard to believe that you didn't at least get a "Be careful, be good and have fun (in that order)" as you got out of the car.

Teacher Tom said...

@Amy . . . That was a later innovation. I don't think she started saying that until I got to high school.