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NOTE: THEN AND NOW
This "carny lingo dictionary" makes no distinction between the way things were in the past and the way they are now. Here the old crooked carnival (with games in which you could be played until you literally lost a fortune) is mixed right in with the modern carnival (with games you’ll still rarely or never win, unless they’re "every player wins a prize" hanky-panks [q.v.].)
It has been pointed out, by those whose credentials are unimpeachable, that there was a time when carnies proudly earned their reputations as cheaters and unabashed crooks. It has also been pointed out (also by people who know first-hand) that the carnival no longer has any need to cheat the customer, for workers to sleep under the trailer in the mud and shower under a cold-water hose, to promise the world for the price of a ticket while delivering little or nothing. Those days are gone.
Except where they’re not. In some places, with some people, old habits die hard.
So as you read about the behind-the-scenes culture of the former and present carnival, with language unsorted by era, don’t look on this "dictionary" as a comprehensive guide to life on the lot today.
is copyright © 2012 Wayne N. Keyser,
Find an error? Please report it to me. Here's an EMAIL LINK
Question Mark Show — The banner may merely say "?" or "What Is It?" It's a show you can frame for almost nothing, displaying some badly-lit messed-up bouncer (q.v.) with absolutely nothing in the way of explanation, or any strange and ultimately unidentifiable thing. Ray Bradbury takes this idea and plays it for all it's worth in his short story "The Jar."
Quickie — A half-day's work on the lot, to be paid in cash at the end. Watch out for a "red light job" when accepting such work!
R-Key — A cotter pin, much used in assembling rides.
Racket — Any operation that depends on deception for success.
Racket Show — A carnival that derives most of its revenue from fixed games.
Rag — A tiny stuffed prize usually kept out of sight under the counter. Keeping these hidden leads customers to believe that the smallest of the prizes on open display above is the smallest prize they stand to win.
Raghead — Derogatory epithet for "gypsy." Although the carnival lot is a place where your background doesn't count against you, your ethnicity might. Ads can be found in Billboard looking for help, but specifying something like "no drinkers, woman-chasers or ragheads."
Rain Tip — The type of crowd you get in the exhibit tents when it rains. They only want to get out of the rain. They don't spend a dime, and they exit in favor of rides and games as soon as the rain stops.
Rangy or Wrangy (rhymes with "tangy") — Worked up, usually in a vulgar sense (possibly a variant of 'randy'). A show could be rangy (a really 'strong' kootch show), or the patrons might be in a rangy mood or wranged up on a very hot Saturday night; drunken, disorderly, disruptive, spoiling for a fight. "He's wrangin' the joint" would mean the customer is giving the jointee a very hard time. May also apply to an aggressive animal.
Raree Show — 19th-century term harking back to the museum's sideshow origins. A peepshow, especially one carried in a box. The changing set of views was often set up to give a 3-D illusion, viewed through a hole or lens and narrated by the exhibitor.
Razzle or Razzle Dazzle — Usually dressed up as a "football" game in which the player must scores a specific number of "yards". Played by spilling 8 marbles from a cup onto a game board with about 120 numbered holes. The numbers are added up to a total which the jointee compares to a conversion chart to determine the number of "yards" scored. The numbers most likely to come up are worthless or only indicate that the player must add to, or even double, his cash bet. The chart is incomprehensible to the player, who must believe the flattie's constant patter claiming that a win is almost within reach with just one or two more bets.The cost per game builds up exponentially and the winning score is claimed to almost within reach for a big payoff. This game can empty a mark's pockets quickly and completely, and some marks might even get 'put on the send' (q.v.) to come back with more money. A definite swindle covered in the "Games" chapter of my book "On the Midway".
Reader — A license to do business. Also, a phony driver's license (an indispensible item in a business where agents might require a sudden change of identity.)
Reading the Midway — Walking down the midway with your head down, looking for lost change or other valuables.
Red Light Job — You are the victim of a red light job when you undertake some work on the lot and, when you go to collect your pay, all you see are the red taillights of the employer's car receding in the distance.
Red One — A profitable engagement. Opposite: "blue one" or "black one", probably from the usual colors of the winning numbers on a game layout.
Rehash — To give a customer a free replay, or (very profitable but very unethical) to resell used ride tickets.
Revue — A girl show that features more entertainment than bare skin.
Ride Jock, Ride Monkey, Ride Boy — Carnival employee who runs a ride. Susan Adcock, in her carnival blog "Cliffhanger," says "A good ride jock can make you scream with delight. He can also, given the right ride, empty your pockets and make you throw up on yourself and your friends. Be nice to him. He's usually a pretty good guy."
Right Hand Side — The right side, after entering a midway past the main ticket booth, is the most desirable location, since most midways are designed to induce the crowd to turn to their right upon entry. By the time they get around to the left-hand side, most of their money will be gone.Rides and games for children are usually found on the right-hand side.
Roadsiding — A flat joint not located at a carnival, often the incredibly larcenous 'razzle' game (q.v.), seeking its marks at the roadside. The flattie goes to a gas station and offers to give free games to all their customers, to promote their gas station. They have a duker stay out by the pumps to give out duckets and send the marks into the game. They make the kind of money only a flat joint can make, give the manager a generous tip, and leave before the heat gets back to them.
Robin Marx — Sort of a "utility name" when a carny wants to give a false name for himself or anyone else on the show. That's "robbin' marks" … get it? Sort of like calling yourself "Don E. Kerr" (donniker).
Roll Down — Any type of game in which the player rolls balls down an incline to land in slots or holes or cups at the bottom. Often operated as a "count store" (q.v.)
Roughy — A carnival employee assigned to handle miscellaneous duties, from relieving an agent who needs a break to enforcing management rules, from hiring help to "checking up" the agents' money and dispensing percentages at the end of the day. Sort of "middle management" on the lot.
Rounding Board — The carousel's "crown", a ring of about 16 panels called "rounding boards" mounted around the top of a carousel's structure. These highly-decorated boards provide a lot of "flash" with their painted scenes, lights, mirrors, etc. The rounding boards also hide the carousel's upper mechanism from the crowd's view.
Rube — Ascornful term for the outsider to show business; also "Elmer," "towner," "townie," "sucker," "yokel," "hayseed" or "chump". From the name "Reuben"; the term is in wide usage today. Viz. the old adage "never give a sucker an even break or wisen up a chump."
Score — To separate a mark from a significant amount of cash.
Screw Pool — A game in which the player must shoot a pool ball, knocking over a golf tee inverted amid a triangle of three pool balls. The balls touch each other with the tee in the small space between the three balls. If the tee is placed against the back of the first ball it will fall (making it possible to demonstrate "how easy it is to win." But if the tee is placed farther back, in the true center of the three balls, you can’t win … the balls will absorb the energy from the cue ball and will all move away from the tee without knocking it over. The game (which may be advertised under any title) was called 'screw pool' because an inverted screw used to be the object to knock over.
(to) Screw the Carnival — To leave the business mid-season (maybe school is starting, maybe you finally figured out that you're not going to make any money with the kind of fees you have to pay these days.)
Set Up — What you do after a jump: take it all off the truck and turn it into a carnival.
Shake Machine — Any ride that naturally (or by skilful operation of the clutch) tends to shake change loose from riders' pockets. These rides tend to produce plenty of vomit as well. The operator can "keep his shakes."
Sharpies, Sharpers — Players who have practiced a carnival game to the point where they can easily win.
Shell Game (shell-and-pea game, three-shell game) — One of the 'big three' dishonest street games sometimes played on the long-ago carnival lot (the others are 'fast and loose' and 'three-card monte'). Played, like the other two, on a small portable tabletop. Three hollow half-walnut-shells are mixed around rapidly on the tabletop, and the bettor (victim) attempts to keep track of and guess which one hides a little dried pea. But with simple sleight of hand, the grifter can easily control (both while the shells are being mixed and after the guess is made) whether the pea appears under any shell he likes. This enables a skilled operator to put on a performance that attracts swiftly-escalating bets and walk away with big money every time.
Sherry — British pitchman's and jam auction term indicating that you or someone else should leave. If a group of pitchmen get tired of hanging around, one might say “Let’s sherry” meaning "let's go our separate ways." If someone in your tip is wrangy, and you are working with a partner, you might say “Sherry the G”, and hopefully the partner can find the guy you referred to and eject him.
Shill — Also "outside man," "stick," "capper," "front-worker" or "timber." Employee who poses as a customer, playing a game (and being secretly allowed to win) or buying a ticket in order to motivate other customers to do likewise. If the agent needs to attract business, seeing the shill win "proves" to potential customers that the game can be won. Without a good shill, an entire tip may stay perfectly still after a bally, all with cash in their hands, and not one of them will go for the ticket boxes, unless some brave soul leads the way. Sometimes a shill might rush up to the ticket box, buy a ticket and move toward the show entrance, then go around and do it again. At medicine shows, shills conspicuously "bought" the first bottle ("Over here, I'll take a bottle!") breaking the public's reluctance to be the first to speak up. A good stick knew how to stand in a position that would block the progress of the passing crowd, slowing them enough to pay attention to a bally and subtly herding the tip closer. Alternatively, the shill might keep a tip from building when a flattie wished to avoid interruption while playing a particularly lucrative mark.
Short Change — A classic con, any of several ways of confusing a mark about the honest count of the money you were exchanging. Also, many shows had the ticket box counter at eye level and gaffed with a small ridge around the edge. The ridge looks like a simple expedient for preventing loose change from rolling, but when the change was swept toward you, the ridge would catch some coins which were quickly pocketed by the ticket-seller.
Show — The carnival itself. The show moves from spot to spot, but it's still the same show unless you move to a different show.
Show Ho' — A female who sleeps around indiscriminately with carnies. Might be a carnival employee, might be a local, but in either case this is a derogatory term.
Showie — An Australian synonym for "carny".
Showman — The preferred title of many proud lifelong outdoor amusement entrepreneurs, who would be very unhappy to be called "carnies."There is a firm social division between showmen and jointees, neither of which gives much respect to lower beings like ride operators.
Showtime — Trade publication of the Outdoor Amusement Business Association.
Sideshow — Any show on the circus midway (since any such show would be ancillary to the "big show" (the circus.)) However, the term usually refers more specifically to a freak show or ten-in one. These days, "sideshow" also refers to the modern revival of sideshow arts, a performance genre flowing from the old ten-in-one: bed-of-nails, walking on broken glass, sword-swallowing acts, piercing and "geek" acts are often performed in bars and theaters.
Sideshow Alley — Australian synonym for 'midway'.
Signal 25 — Police radio code for a fight. Replaced "Hey Rube" in some quarters.
Simp Heister (Chump Heister) — Carny slang for a ferris wheel. In widespread slang use, a "simp" is a simple or foolish person (a mark, or just a dumb townie) and "heist" in this sense is "hoist".
Single-O — A show consisting of a single attraction. From railroad slang for "single occupancy."
Skill Game — Games where players with ability have a good chance to win.
Skin Show — A girl show featuring nudity as the main attraction. Plays very well on military paydays.
Sky Grifter — A tent-revival evangelist of the more mercenary sort.
Slick — To slick someone is to catch them in the act of doing something.
Slough — To tear down or leave, or get rid ofsomething or fire somebody. Used more by jointees than by showmen. Most often pronounced to rhyme with "cow".
Slum — Ultra-cheap prizes, like a single toy soldier, bought in bulk for as little as $1.50 per gross. Oriental Trading Company, U.S. Toy, and Rhode Island Novelty are good sources.
Smark — A combination of the words "smart" and "mark." Used mostly in the wrestling field, but finding its way onto the carnival lot, the term refers to fans who believe they are "in the know" based on a certain amount of inside knowledge, but who are obviously (to those who are really "with it") poseurs much less informed than they think they are.
Snake Drop — Originated by John Strong, this is a heck of a gag for a "See the Giant Snake" show: let them look at the boa for a little while, then drop a modest-size rubber snake on a string from above the pit. Scares the old crowd out while giving them double the thrill they paid for!
Snorting Pole — A pole extending from floor to tent-top in the center of a kootch show stage (q.v.) used by the strippers to pose, swing around on, and mime various acts of a sexual nature.
Soft Lot — A wet or muddy lot.
Spectacular Ride — A super ride (Pirate Ship, Sky Wheel), often costing half a million dollars or more, usually owned by the owner of the carnival.
Spidora — Illusion show giving the appearance of a giant spider with a real woman's head. A mirror hides the woman's body and makes the creature appear to be supported only by its web.
Spiel — Sometimes used to describe the selling phase of a bally, made on a show front by the talker to the gathering tip, convincing the onlookers that they absolutely must see this show. Followed by the "grind" phase during which he or an assistant attempts to keep up the ticket-buying momentum.
Spindle(or "Chicago Set Spindle") — A classic two-way game, a spinning arrow like a "wheel of fortune" which could be operated honestly (even then your odds were not that good) or gaffed. The mechanism appears fair, but the pins ("twisted" like a drill bit so that their cross-section varies at different heights/twists) are set alternately to catch or miss the pointer. If the pointer were dropped just 1/16" by the secret gaff, the operator could choose whether the pointer would stop on an odd- or even-numbered pin (good prizes or slum).
Splinterhead — The type of carny who specializes in game joints. So called probably because, traditionally, these were housed in ground-level booths made of wood and canvas, as opposed to metal trailers.
Sponsor — The local charitable organization that publicizes and, in the public's perception, "legitimizes" the carnival. If the local American Legion or Lions Club or Volunteer Fire Department arranges a carnival's license and location in advance, for a percentage of the income, their prestige can often keep the police away. Moreover, their efforts to publicize the show as a fundraiser for their charity can be all the advertising the show needs.
Spoof — A small trick or gaff.
Spoofer — The really big plush animals displayed as a game's largest prizes. Can wholesale for $15-$20 or more. Handy to give away when a mark has been separated from a bit too much of his money without a prize.
Square — To settle a dispute without resorting either to the law or to fisticuffs. Also used by the patch to mean the process of "fixing" City Hall, including bribes and the lavish dispensing of passes to keep the police happy.
Stake Bites — The ankle wounds inflicted by the heads of metal stakes that youtrip against while crossing the lot in the dark. The worst ones are inflicted by stakes with the heads split and cracked and flattened by mallets to razor-sharpness.
Stand — The date, the show's run at any individual location.
Stick — See "shill," above.
Stick Joint — A portable concession fashioned from rough lumber and canvas.
Still Date — An engagement not concurrent with a fair (which would attract crowds).
Still Show — Also called a "museum show," an exhibition of stuffed freak animals, sometimes even a freak show using only photographs of famous freaks.
Stock — General term for prize merchandise.
Store — Another name for a joint, especially one that features a 'prize every time" and is essentially selling cheap prizes for expensive play.
Store Show — In the off-season,especially during the depression era, a good attraction might come into a town and rent an empty storefront to squeeze out some more performance time from the year. The best location was close to a Woolworth Five-&-Dime store. The attraction would stay for a week in smaller towns, six weeks to two months (or as long as business would hold up) in larger towns.
String Show — A ten-in-one, possibly called a "string show" because several acts are "strung together." Others use the term to mean a show in which the audience moves through the tent (and out) along a walkway marked by rope barriers.
Strong — Describes a successful operation ("I have a strong flat joint" or "He is a strong agent") or an aggressive quality ("Did you have to play the mark that strong?") or running a game "strong" with the gaff in use. When a girl show works strong all the clothes come off and the girls do the most amazing things with parts of their bodies you didn’t know a woman could use for that purpose. Also 'work hot', 'work tough.'
Strong-arm — To put a lot of pressure on marks to play at all or to remain to play for bigger prizes. Also, an agent skilled at earning more by such tactics.
Sucker Netting — Rough fencing, akin to the cheap, light orange plastic fencing used today on construction sites. The fencing kept the crowd inside the midway and out of the backyard.
Sunday-School Show — Generally, a clean show, particularly a show which can be worked strong, but is cleaned up for this venue. Also 'Boston version,' 'Sunday Schooler.'
Superstitions — There are many, though disagreement about them runs high. Yellow is a color often considered bad luck for an agent working a joint. Also forbidden: eating peanuts in your joint (peanuts are for animals, marks, and suckers like circus employees), or scattering peanut shells in front of your joint. Carrying pennies (pennies only attract more pennies). If you accept a $2 bill, you should tear off the bottom right corner and get rid of it as soon as you can. And don't let your fellow carnies ever hear you talking about bad weather.
Swing — To steal money from your boss.
T & K Operator — A traveling pitchman, referring to his "tripes and keister" (q.v., the sales display case and supporting tripod). As quoted in Arthur H. Lewis' Carnival, "A T&K man can work practically anywhere, from the back of a trailer, and sometimes out of the rumble seat of our old Hudson. That was a 'high pitch.' If he had to set the tripod on the ground, then it was called a 'low pitch.' Bob'd sell textbooks, ink eradicators, can openers, fruit juicers, medicine, rattlesnake oil, spark plugs — you name it."
Tableau — A grouping of figures, the term most commonly used in wax museums and their midway counterparts, the wax shows. They were usually depictions of historical scenes, but could be literary, mythical, horrific, etc.
Talker — Never "barker" (q.v.). The man who makes the spiel to build a tip in front of an attraction. If he talks inside the attraction, he is a "lecturer" or "inside talker".
Tattooed Man — This exhibit wouldn't make a dime today, but there was a time when a person with tattoos covering their entire body was considered "bizarre". Some performers even explained their tats (and increased audience fascination) by claiming to have been tattooed head to toe against their will in strange and distant lands as captives of savages.
Tear Down — To disassemble the rides, pack up the stock, and depart for the next engagement.
Teaser Curtain — A short curtain positioned in the open doorway of a show, allowing patrons outside only a partial "teasing" view of the legs and feet of the customers viewing the wonders inside.
Ten-In-One — One of the two "classic" form of the midway show (the other is the "single o"). The Ten-in-One was a show featuring (approximately) ten acts or attractions, lasting a total of about 40 minutes. Similar shows had been playing circuses for decades. But in the carnival setting of the 1904 Canadian National Exhibition, ex-wrestler Walter K. Sibley took several of his existing 'single-o' attractions and packaged them together for a single admission, and the next year he expanded the show and presented it as the 'ten-in-one', where it came to wider attention as a distinct type of attraction. Features included a variable mix of acts: born freaks who would display themselves, lecture briefly and sell pitch cards or novelties, "made freaks" who would do the same, performers like magicians or sword-swallowers, and curiosities like an "electric chair act." Typically, there would be a "ding" or "blowoff" at the end for additional profit. The bannerline could feature each attraction in a spectacular and dazzling array, and of course the showman could change out one banner for another as acts came and went. Of course, a showman might have a "Five-In-One" or any variation.
Ten-Pointing — Covering one of the numbers on a prize slip with your thumb. Thus, if a mark darted a balloon with a winning "16" on a paper slip behind the balloon, the jointee might cover one number or the other and claim that the mark's score was a losing "1" or "6", and still be able to show inspectors that there were plenty of "16" slips on the board. Another use of this cheat is for an age-and-weight guesser, with a mark probably in her mid-fifties to mid-sixties, to write "561" and cover either the 5 or the 1 when displaying the written guess, allowing him (with the game's two-years-either-way spread) to win if she's anywhere from 54 to 63.
Three Card Monte — One of the 'big three' dishonest street games sometimes played on the long-ago carnival lot (the others are 'fast and loose' and the 'shell game'). Three-card monte is still seen on big-city streets. Played, like the other two, on a small portable tabletop (now more often on an upended cardboard box). The game calls for finding the one queen in a line of three cards tossed in a confusing rhythmic pattern. A simple sleight allows the operator to win or lose at will. This enables a skilled operator to put on a performance that attracts swiftly-escalating bets and walk away with big money every time. The grifter might pretend to lose to a shill so the mark believes that the game can be won, or he might win from the shill several times when any idiot could follow the "money card", so the mark thinks he can easily spot the winning card if he bets. The shill might even mark or bend the money card (while the operator is looking away) to make the mark certain that he can spot it, but a second sleight easily switches out the marked money card and switches in a neutral card with an identical mark. There is always a confederate to watch for police and act as a shill. A good team can take all of someone's money quickly. It was first played in France, where it is called "bonneteau" (A "bonneteur" was a courtier who tipped his hat too much, the implication being that he was being so obsequious because had a hidden agenda). The operator is sometimes called a "broad tosser" referring to the money card, which is almost always a queen. An entertaining line of patter and a growing tip makes the game a hypnotic attraction for the unwary. "Inky dinky finklestein, three times nine is twenty-nine … You must be the luckiest man alive, pal, move your feet I want to see if you're standing on a lucky spot." There is also a gaffed "card-with-a-flap" version called "The Dutch Looper" or "English Monte", but a skilled practitioner can fool any audience solely by means of manual dexterity.
(to) Throw Stock (or Kick Stock or Blow Stock) — To award prizes in games. The agent's profit can turn on as little a thing as a ¼" larger or smaller star the customer has to shoot completely off a card, and the first place his profit will be reflected is in the percentage of stock he throws (percentage of cost of prizes given out to dollars taken in). An agent may decide to loosen up his game a little and be seen to throw stock to keep his tip going, either to real customers or to shills, or he may throw stock to appear to be an un-gaffed game when the police are around. Part of the unwritten carny code says to always throw stock to the handicapped (either out of pity, or as a sort of charm against being injured yourself). Sometimes used to mean throwing too much stock, thereby losing money. Sometimes agents refer to their job as "selling teddy bears."
Throwaway — When an agent lets a member of the crowd win a large prize so the crowd can see (always accompanied by loud and excited praise), thereby stimulating business.
Tip — The crowd gathered in front of an attraction to hear the outside talker's bally. They watch the free exhibition on the bally platform, and if the talker is convincing enough, he can "turn the tip", getting them to buy tickets and go in to see the show. When the entire tip has been turned by a talker's opening, he has "cleaned the midway".
Torture Show — A museum show displaying implements and scenes of torture.
Touch — The price asked (and inevitably gotten) for the major items offered toward the end of a jam auction (q.v.). A major jam pitch might move items for a $50 to $200 touch at the end.
Trailer — One who trails a medicine show selling refreshments. Also, a person who followed a circus or carnival but was not on the payroll, perhaps hoping to peddle goods as a concession or to wait for a job to open up. Such men were usually welcomed as a reliable source of experienced help when needed.
Trailer Joint — A concession housed in a portable trailer rather than in a canvas-and-wood shack.
Tripes — The folding tripod to support a "keister" (pitchman's sales display case).
Trouper — A person who has spent at least one full season in the traveling amusement business. In common use in theater as well.
Turn the Tip — When the crowd of onlookers (the tip) watching a bally are asked to crowd up to the ticket box and start buying tickets, the talker has turned the tip. During the active ticket-buying, he stops "spieling" (the selling portion of the bally) and "grinds," keeping up the excitement with rhythmic phrases (if a talker ever actually did say "hurry, hurry, hurry!" it would be during the grind).
Twenty-Four Hour Man — An employee who plans the route to the next town and marks the way with arrows.
Two-Way Joint — A game that can be run fairly or rigged.
Under the Blue — To work a rigged game without a fix or patch to keep you out of trouble.
Universal Ticket System — First seen in the 1970s, this admission plan requires the purchase of tickets at a central ticket booth rather than paying for each ride or show at the front of the ride or show.
University Horn — One of the old indestructible, harsh-sounding, horn-shaped public-address speakers made by University Sound (also by Electro Voice and Atlas Sound), good for blasting the midway with your grind-show ballys (on an endless 8-track tape using a cheap pre-recorded tape recorded over on one of those awful 8-track home recorders). Simple PA hookups, including one or two university horns, were usually supplied by audio engineer Wally Baptist, who operated Baptist Sound in Illinois. You could frame a whole show with just Brill's Bible, the O'Henry banner catalog, and the Baptist Sound catalog.
Walk Around Show or Walk Through — A show set up with the entrance to the right of the ticket box and the exit out the left side of the ticket box, so patrons enter, walk around the three sides viewing the attraction, and walk out. Or a show in which patrons walk around the various exhibits at will, in no particular order, exiting when they please.
Walk Back — Someone who actually returns after a period of time to buy your product.
Walk Money — The ticket-seller needs a lot more than his/her salary to get a living wage. Some depend on short-changing, some won't, but all of them hope for enough money from "walks", the money people walk away from the booth without remembering to pick up. "Walk money" also comes from people who don't think to take discount offers for larger purchases - "Here's $10, give me twenty 50¢ tickets" will get them 20 tickets, but according to the posted price list $10 might have also bought a sheet of 24 - the next guy who buys (the remaining) 4 tickets will pay $2, which will go right into the cashier's pocket. "I only get $5 an hour but I make it up on walks."
Wall of Death — See "Motordrome".
Washer Pitching (also Washoes or Toad-in-the-Hole) — British fairground game similar to the penny pitch, with variants. Standard hardware-store metal washers are pitched to land in holes in the ground, or in a hole on a small carpeted tabletop.
Wax Show — A show featuring wax statues of famous people, often murderers or notorious criminals.
Whale Show — A trailer or rail car equipped to display the frozen or preserved carcass of a whale.
Wheel — The Ferris Wheel is just called "the wheel." Since it's visible from most of the lot, at closing time the wheel operator puts out the ride's lights at a signal from the office, indicating that the other rides, joints and concessions can close for the night.
Wheel of Fortune — A large wheel, usually mounted vertically and marked randomly with various scores in equal segments facing the players. Pins between segments help slow and stop the wheel, while a pointer identifies which segment the wheel has stopped on. This scoring device can be used in many games (see “country store”) but in its most familiar form it is marked with dollar amounts and is used to gamble. Now illegal in many localities.
Whistling Gopher — A mark who departs with a whistle of disbelief after he hears the price of your ride or show or product.
Wide Open — A show or carnival where "anything goes": the girl shows can play as "strong" as they want and the games can take the marks for as much as they can get. A show could never play wide open without the police turning a blind eye to the whole affair, after big payoffs by the patch.
Wing-Ding Broad — Female shill who faints in front of a geek show in order to attract customers.
With It — "(I’m) with it" means "I work at this carnival (or at some other carnival)." Generally pronounced "widdit!" Some claim that it is not really used at all, favoring "on the show" as the actual term. A carnival term not used in the circus. If I was walking down a midway and an agent or a talker tried to call me in I would say "with it," in other words "you're wasting your breath talking to me."
"With It and For It" — Describes someone who is both a veteran of outdoor entertainment and (unlike those who try it and quit) who finds the life well-suited to him or her.
Wobbly — A person who hangs around the food stands looking for odd jobs like peeling onions, emptying the garbage, raking up the trash, etc. They usually work for food and a couple of bucks for the bar. Probably from the nickname ("Wobblies") of radical anti-capitalists the Industrial Workers of the World.
Working Act — A performer whose attraction is something he does (magician, contortionist, "blockhead") — a skilled performer rather than just a human oddity.
"Working Hot and Cold" — Operating a game that treats some customers one way (take the money and give nothing) and others the opposite (give the Mayor's pals lots of stock). Every now and then, the arrangement might be reversed (a pleasant game for Mom and Dad and the kids, a very expensive proposition for a particularly rich and dumb mark or for someone the owner doesn't like).
X — A guarantee that an operator will have the e(X)clusive right to operate his type of game or ride on a particular lot, closing out competition from similar attractions. An X may be purchased, or it may be offered to sweeten the deal. If you can't work because someone else has the X, you've been "X'ed out."
Zamps — Kiddie rides, many made by the Zamperla Rides company. Although Zamperla makes some coasters and other major rides, their specialty is flat rides.
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