Back when I lived in Chicago, I had a huge collection of giant stuffed animals because I could win the quarter toss and hula hoop pitch. Combine that with a season pass to Six Flags Great America, which had both of those games, and space in my house dwindled fast. I gave a lot of my prizes away before I left the park, but enough made it home to entice the “Hoarders” crew to hover around my block, just waiting for things to tip over into crazytown territory.
I got rid of them all when I moved to Florida, but several of the parks around here have games, too. While the quarter toss and hula hoop games are nowhere to be found, SeaWorld, Busch Gardens, and Disney’s Animal Kingdom all have goblet tosses, and Universal Studios used to have one before Diagon Alley took it over. I can’t win it 100 percent of the time, but I have enough skill to tilt the odds in my favor and win quite a bit.
Most of the time, I give my prizes away to kids, and sometimes even adults. It’s so much fun to see a little kid’s eyes light up with delight as he grabs a toy that’s nearly as big as he is. The adults make for some interesting memories, too. I’ve had foreign tourists tell me they’re going to take out all the stuffing to take a toy I’ve given them on the plane, then restuff it when they get home. One giant SeaWorld polar bear even went back to England on a cruise ship with the wife of one of the officers, who took it for her grandchild.
Sometimes, though, I don’t run into anyone who feels like hauling a giant critter home, or I’m only at the park for a short time and don’t have time to give a prize away. Thus, enough Florida winnings made it home to rival my former collection in Chicago. Some had great memories attached, like winning a big Scooby Doo and then riding Jaws with him just days before it closed down for good or taking my giant Cookie Monster with me through the haunted houses at HowlOScream, where the scareactors were quite merciless.
But things finally reached the point where it was time for them to go in the name of spring cleaning and downsizing. Despite the fact that some of the stuffed animals make it home, and that I have a huge comedy/tragedy mask collection, I can’t wrap my head around the hoarder mentality. That’s probably because my mom was a bona-fide, certified, flea market and rummage sale-frequenting hoarder, which gave me a hatred for clutter. She passed away many years ago, but I often wonder what she’d think now that hoarding has gone mainstream and is all over TV. I try to imagine surprising her with the “Hoarders” crew, but I know that wouldn’t have ended well.
Thus, to avoid following in her footsteps (and to make more room in the house and garage), I gave the collection away. You can see some of my prizes in the photos accompanying this article. Almost all were won on the goblet toss, although Radioactive Man is the result of uncanny luck on the Universal ring toss. The room where they were once stored looks rather empty now, but I’m not worried. The tiny little hoarder part of me that’s buried deep inside knows that there are many more days ahead at theme parks to hit that yellow spot and rack up more goblet winnings.
This isn’t really a locals’ secret so much as my own tip for winning the goblet toss. Little kids love to throw the balls willy nilly, and sometimes they score because there’s a big element of luck in the game. But if you want to increase your chances, stand in a direct line with the winning cup. There’s usually only one, and it’s usually yellow or red and positioned at the center of the board, although that varies by theme park. Roll the ball so it goes directly down the line, over the winning cup, and to the back wall so it rolls back toward the winning spot. That doesn’t always work because the cups or slots can easily veer it off course, but if you play as much as I do, you get a feel for each park’s goblet board, so that ups your odds.
When you choose your spot to stand, select the spot with the highest concentration of colored cups near the far wall. In addition to the grand prize color, most games have goblets in two other colors that score you a small or medium prize. If you miss the grand prize, your odds of hitting one of the other colors is increased when you choose a good spot. If you win three small or medium prizes, most games let you trade up to a larger prize. I’ve won more than a few giant critters when I couldn’t hit the center spot but was on a roll with hitting small and medium.
The rollback doesn’t work with certain types of goblet boards, like the big one at Busch Gardens, so just roll the ball in a straight line toward the winning spot and hope for the best. You won’t win 100 percent of the time, but as these photos show, you’ll at least tip the odds in your favor.
Follow me on Twitter via @themeparkwriter and stay tuned for more tips, observations, comments, and rants from someone who lives close enough to Walt Disney World to hear the fireworks from her house every night. I literally write my blog In the Shadow of the Mouse.