Comments: 134 • Responses: 57  • Date: 

Doodle-Cactus21 karma

How do we avoid being conned?

geniusiq71 karma

Don't play any game. Why: On the most basic level--say the Weight Guess--the prize you win is worth less than the cost of playing the game. That's why the Weight Guess guy always guesses wrong. He doesn't care! As you move up the ladder in sophistication, the games are "gaffed" or fixed so that you never win unless it's in the "agent's" interest. Like if there's a big "tip" of potential players looking on.

Cookkec13 karma

Oh, I see... it's a profit deal!

geniusiq3 karma

Wouldn't have it any other way!

bobalob_wtf3 karma

So are you saying there is a high chance of winning if there are a lot of onlookers?

geniusiq5 karma

Could be. But don't bank on it.

gunsforthehomeless15 karma

how much & what kind of drugs are used in the carny community?

geniusiq56 karma

Any and all. Mostly speed so they can keeping talking 12 hours straight. They weren't born with carny teeth.

sock201415 karma

Have you ever had someone successfully "shoot out the star"? (Bb gun)

geniusiq26 karma

That wasn't on the midway when I was around. But one of my first jobs was the shooting gallery at the Michigan State Fair. Untethered pellet guns you just handed to the player. Try that one today.
My right ear still rings from the nonstop clanging.

Dr_Mottek6 karma

In a rather singular twist, these are still widespread in fairs in germany (gun-control-countray, remember?) They don't pack much of a punch and you're lucky if they shoot halways straight, but i always admired the courage of the shopkeepers, handing out loaded pellet guns to inebriated customers, just to have them directed in their general direction without flinching... shudder Edit: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/e1/Schiessbude2.jpg for example... and they will run around in direct line of fire.

geniusiq1 karma

Thanks. Will wonders never cease.

KrystalPistol15 karma

What is the "Flat Store"?

geniusiq14 karma

I wrote a long reply that was unfortunately deleted. The short version is the Flat Store is a "count game" where the agent miscounts the mark into a number of points, yards, etc. that brings him just short of winning. After that, with the mark hooked, the game takes over and it is impossible to win without the miscount. Hope that helps more than confuses.

KrystalPistol9 karma

I still don't get it, bit thanks for trying. I guess I'd best stay clear of the carnival!

geniusiq3 karma

Good idea.

geniusiq8 karma

Essentially. I worked the counting (miscounting) points variety. Others involve sleight-of-hand, which to me are less of a challenge. Bottom line, though, is that carnival cons are a sort of folk craft with variations from region-to-region and carnie to carnie.

Hearron1 karma


geniusiq1 karma


Thankee_Sai1914 karma

If the games are truly 'rigged' so that the paying customer cannot win, is there a risk of law enforcement closing the game down? Wouldn't it be considered fraud?

geniusiq19 karma

We played small towns. Law enforcement was "patched" by the carnival owner with a couple of teddy bears or a bottle of something. There was no concern about arrest.

itsacalamity25 karma

I love the thought of a small-town southern sheriff meeting a carnie in the dead of night and walking away with a teddy bear under each arm...

geniusiq8 karma

Now you've got me crying sentimental tears.

LaraineNewman10 karma

Now we know you're full of shit.

geniusiq7 karma

Goes with the territory.

Gospodin-Sun12 karma

Were you ever conned? If carnival con artists are one type of remora, what other types of carnival remoras are out there?

geniusiq30 karma

Day trading. Dot-com bubble. Multi-million dollar valuations for start-ups that were nothing but empty offices but for a few chairs. Remoras higher up the suck chain than me.

Your_Future_Self_9 karma

What is your best/most successful con story from work?

geniusiq30 karma

I beat a federal prosecutor for a couple hundred bucks on the Flat Store I mentioned. Didn't know what he was until I was half-way through with him. So I "chilled" him with a couple of teddy bears for his kids. Was quite tense. But no ramifications--he was probably too embarrassed to pursue things once he realized that he'd been screwed by a carnie.

tallerthanunicorngod1 karma

So when you "chill" people, is it basically you letting them win without letting them know you're letting them win? Or do you straight up give them free things to try to calm them down.

geniusiq1 karma

In this case I just handed him a couple of stuffed toys to let him leave with face saved. As far as letting people win-well, there are a number of reasons to do that. The basic idea is to build a tip in the type of game that flourishes on volume. On the flat store you may need only one or two players to make it a good day. You want them to leave happy but penniless.

rememberaccountafter7 karma

Has anyone ever become violent after realizing they were a mark?

geniusiq22 karma

The threat of violence is always there when you're standing face-to-face with a drunk farmer who just lost the grocery money his wife had entrusted him with. I managed to emerged unscathed, though others did not. The old adage was "always leave them a dollar for gas" so they could drive back home and kick the hound.

cheese_hotdog5 karma

Any good stories about small town folks running off with the carnival?

geniusiq12 karma

None that I can remember. They'd come and go throughout the season. The girl part was nice. Some saw us as celebrities. These were REALLY small towns.

cheese_hotdog7 karma

Yes a carnival came to my town every summer and there was always a girl who would fall in "love" and run off with them. That's what made me ask haha

geniusiq5 karma

What puzzled me were the girls who flirted with the ride boys (operators) so that they could ride the Tilt-a-Whirl or whatever for an hour or so until they threw up or started screaming "Let us off!!!!!"

dirtymoney5 karma

what is the idea behind making insults to passersby in order to get them to play their game? Had this happen a few times and I just dont get it. Insulting me doesnt make me want to patronize their game or even their carnival.

geniusiq4 karma

You're not a mark. But there are plenty of others who are. Think drunk jocks.

h3rpad3rp5 karma

Has an entire town ever called Shenanigans on your carnival South Park style?

geniusiq4 karma

Only in my dreams.

InTupacWeTrust4 karma

Will Trump win?

geniusiq4 karma

If so, he would be the first officially "with it" guy to occupy that exalted position.

Telenerd16 karma

If he does, maybe you could work for his carnival.

geniusiq2 karma

I'll accept any reasonable offer.

mbean126 karma

Second. Richard Nixon worked as a carnival barker for a time IIRC.

geniusiq2 karma

I'm gutted.

mealzer4 karma

What was a typical yearly income for you?

geniusiq9 karma

Enough to struggle by on with pennies to spare for Xmas presents.

Sevnfold2 karma

If you were scraping by why did you choose the carny job? Why not look for a better job/opportunity?

geniusiq1 karma

Sorry for the misunderstanding, but I'm circumspect about money.

geniusiq9 karma

I covered my expenses with pennies to spare.

Hearron4 karma


geniusiq1 karma

30 years? Thought you'd be retired in Florida by now. I've talked about the razzle elsewhere in thread, though I call it by generic name of flat store. As far as the swinger goes, it's all in your pinkie finger. Ever work the nail store?

Hearron1 karma


geniusiq1 karma

Nail store was murder--handing the mark a hammer. Yeah, joints are dead. Good luck on your new thing. Somebody's got to keep the flame alive!

dangerchicken1 karma

I'm not sure if I'm even reading a real language anymore.

geniusiq1 karma

Such is the goal of carnyspeak.

Bill_Cosby_Rapist3 karma

Did you ever have to bunk up under a ride or inside your carnie booth?

geniusiq11 karma

Yeah. Early spring in my first year I slept in an unheated trailer with a blanket of plush (stuffed toys). Caught walking pneumonia.

tallerthanunicorngod1 karma

Imagining this is both hilarious and strongly motivating to me to not be a carny.

Not that I had any desire before.

geniusiq1 karma

The nation needs more people like you and not me.

GroggyOtter1 karma

At least it wasn't running pneumonia.

geniusiq1 karma


ironoctopus3 karma

What popular culture work (movie, tv, book, etc) portrays carnies in the most realistic way?

geniusiq10 karma

There was a movie called Carnie. Think it came out in the early 80s. Starring Gary Busey and Robbie Robertson (musician from a group called The Band). But it's more atmospheric and fanciful. And then there's Eyeing the Flash: The Education of a Carnival Con Artist, published by Simon & Schuster in 2005. A memoir by me. At the risk of tooting my own horn, it's about as real as you'll find. One of my goals was to preserve a small slice of rural Americana before it was urbanized out of existence. Plus you can probably find it cheap or in a library at this point.

fluffy_butternut1 karma

Which was more entertaining? Working as a carnie or a reporter for The Enquirer?

geniusiq1 karma

Both were fun in their own ways. And the Enquirer was much less dangerous. I was chief paranormal reporter for a while and aliens never hurt me.

fluffy_butternut1 karma

That's just what someone probed by Aliens would say...

Thanks for answering the question!

geniusiq1 karma

Sure 'nuff.

AccusationsGW1 karma

What do you think about the films of David Mamet that cover con men, like House of Games, or The Spanish Prisoner? The Grifters?(not sure who made that one)

Any others you like?

geniusiq2 karma

Yes, I like the early Mamet stuff, particularly the one set in the sales office (?) with Jack Lemmon. Rings true for the way the characters interact.

AccusationsGW1 karma

Glengary, Glen Ross.

geniusiq1 karma

Yes. Think I'll see if it's on netflix

Bill_Cosby_Rapist3 karma

Did you survive on a diet of fair food? Any favorites?

geniusiq16 karma

Favorite: Thirteen-inch foot longs, which were foot-longs in shorter buns. An invention of my friend's father--the carnival owner. A good tip in general is to avoid eating ANY carnival food the first day the show hits town. Leftovers from the previous week are served first. Cost effective!

jgo31 karma

I just read your tip to my wife and her reaction was hilarious. "Uhhh! Ahhh! I don't want to think about that!" Thanks twice for the tip.

geniusiq2 karma

Always happy to help!

jewhealer3 karma

What was the most interesting reaction someone had to realizing they had been had?

geniusiq5 karma

A guy chased me for a few blocks. I stayed off the midway for a few hours. He didn't return. Probably passed out in a corn field.

Bill_Cosby_Rapist2 karma

Did folks ever tell you that the games were unfair?

geniusiq4 karma

Countless times every day. Whiners!

Hearron1 karma


geniusiq1 karma


AutoModerator2 karma

Users, please be wary of proof. You are welcome to ask for more proof if you find it insufficient.

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geniusiq26 karma


thejensenfeel10 karma

Looking at the AMA Guide, you're getting this message because the Twitter account you linked to is not a "verified" account. That's all.

It is kind of funny that /u/AutoModerator is warning us to be wary in an AMA by a self-professed con artist.

geniusiq1 karma

That's amusing. I'm open to DNA testing should the need arise. In the interim, try this email address: [email protected].

GroggyOtter2 karma

I can only imagine OP sending pics to the admins:

"And here's a picture of me with cotton candy. And a picture of me riding the tilt-a-whirl. Oh, and here's a picture of me screwing a bunch of kids who drove 2 hours to come to the carnival. Any more proof?"

geniusiq1 karma

Cameras were frowned upon based on the conceit that the cops could use them to build a case. Actually, I don't think there was anything to worry about.

CoolDeathFalcon2 karma

Which facet of your upbringing made you not give a shit about conning people?

geniusiq6 karma

Just about all of it. I don't know if this is allowed by reddit, but here's a link to a podcast I did a few days ago for an NPR show called Snap Judgement. They did a good job of telling that part of the story: https://soundcloud.com/snapjudgment/carnie-snap-judgment-dirty-work

VicFatale1 karma

What is the best carnival attraction for not getting conned? Are there any booths that have better odds?

geniusiq12 karma

As a general rule, the greater number of teeth the fairer the game.

reindeer731 karma

What do you do now that you're retired?

geniusiq4 karma


gil_gondreth1 karma

How does your panhandling success compare to that of carnie cons?

geniusiq19 karma

Bernie Sanders rallies can be quite lucrative. Trump--forget about it.

mankind_is_beautiful1 karma

Do you ever feel like a scumbag for screwing gullible people out of their money?

geniusiq2 karma

No. For a variety of reasons. 1. Players are motivated by greed. Countless others keep walking. 2. I was young and too busy trying not get beat up.

Kingofclean1 karma

Thanks for doing this AMA - I've always been fascinated by carnival culture including medicine shows, geeks, freak shows, fortune tellers, etc. I think we see some of this culture in magic and specifically with Penn and Teller and similar - a little bit of pre-industrial or at least pre-WW2 America. Is it mostly gone now? Is the big carnival a Midwest thing? I never saw them growing up in Tennessee, only country fairs. Thanks again.

geniusiq1 karma

Surprised you didn't see any in Tennessee. I lived in Knoxville for a while and bumped into a few. I think your correct--traveling carnivals of the sordid sort are mostly gone. But the carnie culture is still alive and perhaps has been mainstreamed in the form of reality TV, etc. The Kardashians as geeks? Might work.

Kingofclean1 karma

Thanks. Gonna get your book.

geniusiq1 karma

Best comment yet. Thanks even if you don't mean it.

Kingofclean1 karma

I'm dead serious. And what's more, I'm gonna pay FULL PRICE. Merry Christmas.

geniusiq1 karma


fish0241 karma

Do you have any videos online? I cant find any. Only a podcast!

geniusiq1 karma

The podcast is it.

TI_Pirate1 karma

Is carnival slang prevalent? Any particular turns of phrase you're especially fond of?

geniusiq2 karma

Yes. There's lots of slang. Also carnie talk--a sort of gibberish allowing carnies to talk freely in front of a mark. I like "cutting up jackpots" aka the stories carnies tell each other over a brew or three.

gillenar1 karma

Did you ever get lonely traveling with the carnival? Assuming you never got married to a fellow carnie who would travel with you. Do you feel you missed out on spending your life with another person romantically?

geniusiq1 karma

No. I was young and it was one long party. Even work was fun--the adrenalin rush.