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Clowns at the carnival

Updated on August 27, 2019
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I have been teaching mathematics in an Australian High School since 1982, and I am a contributing author to many mathematics text books.

My friends and I knew summer was here, and its promises of good times, once the carnival arrived at our local park. It would open for business early each afternoon, so from time to time we played hooky from school and had free reign of the rides.

Even when our funds were depleted, we enjoyed balmy evenings meandering from one side-show attraction to another, often to the accompaniment of muffled music drifting from speakers perched on anchored poles.

As we milled past stall keepers passionately enticing passersby with promises of fun and prizes, I sympathised with the plight of patient parents dragged from one stall to another by their excited progeny.

When our pocket money allowed it, we observed the panorama from a birds-eye view atop the ferris wheel, munching on toffee apples and candy floss.

It was from this vantage point that I became Walter Mitty, imagining some developing crisis amid the festive crowd. My heroism and superhuman powers would have me race to the risk zone and effect a rescue. This deed would always be followed by prolonged appreciative applause and generous offers of money and free rides.

On terra firma we were adrenalin fueled and aimed for total domination with using dodgem cars.


Such pleasant memories kindle a yearning for lost youth, but they also remind of other pleasurable experiences such as the ubiquitous clown ball game.

Although the gaping mouth conveyed images of a visit to the dentist, I could not escape its captivating presence. The clown's head swivelled clockwise and anticlockwise and its eyes followed me as I walked past.

I dared to put my head in the clown’s mouth, so to speak, by playing the game, and losing. What intrigued me was why did I consistently lose.

Here is how the game plays.

There are nine numbered slots. Five ping-pong balls are dropped -one at a time- inside the mouth of the moving clown and the balls land on one of the nine numbers. The total of the five numbers determines the prize.

Astute clown operators would display the totals required to win a big prize, all the while knowing the totals are very difficult to obtain.

To earn one of the coveted major prizes such as a watch or large teddy, the chance is 1 in 500,000. Additionally, you have no better than 1 chance in 20 of securing a mediocre prize, whilst the odds to secure a trinket prize is about 1 in 10.

Only now do I understand why I got stuck with a lousy pencil as a prize each time.

I also now understand why clowns are always laughing. You can never beat them at their own game.

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    • k@ri profile image

      Kari Poulsen 

      2 years ago from Ohio

      I can see why you despise clowns now. My children are afraid of clown. They made me understand how clowns look like zombies and such.

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