My heart pounded. The lights flashed around me. The crowd roared. I took aim and fired.

A squirt gun.

Perhaps I am exaggerating a little bit, but I possess a competitive streak, even when the stakes are only a stuffed dog at The Great Frederick Fair.

As a child, my eye-hand coordination skills were woefully lacking. At every carnival, I sneered at my more dexterous friends who would walk away with a Homer Simpson blow-up doll twice their height.

So when I was challenged to participate in a few of the traditional carnival games at the fair on Saturday, I viewed this as a chance to prove wrong all my classmates who had cast me a pitying glance as they cooed at their carnival goldfish.

I’m not bitter.

So, back to the beginning: I was playing a water racing game. The task was simple – you aim a water gun, not a free floating one, but attached to a base, at the bullseye of a target.

You don’t even need to press a button to activate the stream — you just aim. In the first round of this game, I had been bested by an 18-year-old, who, in a classic tale, had won a minion (the yellow creatures from the film “Despicable Me”) for his girlfriend.


The victor, Sean Sutherland, said that The Great Frederick Fair is much grander than that of his home county, Charles County.

He handed the minion to his girlfriend, Kylie Green.

“It’s pretty cool — much better than Charles,” Sutherland said.

I would not be deterred, though I had been trounced by this youngster.

Fortunately my next two opponents were two small girls. I won’t go into my much detail here even though I did win a cream-colored stuffed puppy.

My triumph inspired a lot of weird pride for being so happy about beating two little girls in tiny kitten shirts.

Whatever. I hadn’t much success earlier in the evening. My first try was a game I’d never seen before, and though in concept it appeared easy, the amount of money the worker was sifting through – and the fact that an assortment of large stuffed animals were still hanging – told me it was not.

You needed to use a fishing rod with a plastic ring attached to the end to make a glass soda bottle stand on a slightly slanted board. But the bottle slips off the ring every time, so here I failed.

Perhaps a more classic game: ring toss. Before I purchased myself a bucket of rings, I observed those who went before me.

Feeling sneaky, I Googled “how to win at ring toss” and scoffed as others demonstrated terrible technique.

A website called Blifaloo (I don’t know either) told me to flick my wrist and aim for the outside bottles.

Surely now I could win myself a child-sized bike.

Well, I kind of waffled it, but at least I was in good company.

The Andersons, a local family, also shared in my misery. Daniel, 8, told me his friend had won an enormous stuffed dog yesterday – but couldn’t tell me how exactly we did it.

At this point, I was down on myself, so I roamed around and ended up chatting with Libby Murphy, a worker running a game that involved picking a random can and winning a prize dependent on the color dot on the bottom of that can.

I enjoyed this game because it took absolutely no skill and you won a prize every time.

“This is the first of its kind at the fair and in the U.S. as far as I know,” Murphy said.

My reward? A small purple polyester popsicle with a face on it that felt cheap in my hands. For some reason, this consolation prize did not my assuage my disappointment.

After winning the dog, I figured I would try a very adult game – dime toss, where you won whatever glass in which you landed a dime. As the man next to me racked up a martini glass and two frosted mugs, I assumed this would present little challenge.

You know how this story ends.

I spent a total $14 on carnival games and realized what was missing.

Perhaps, yes, shelling out money on these games feels a little silly, a little bit of a waste. But you don’t usually mind when you’re with a friend, because you’re so focused on making fun of each other for losing, you really don’t realize when you don’t succeed at anything.

For some reason, our photographer Sam Yu declined to participate with me, choosing only to serve as paparazzi.

Next year, when I blow my entire paycheck to win a purple popsicle, I’ll rope somebody else in with me, and then maybe I won’t feel so bad.

Follow Jeremy Bauer-Wolf on Twitter: @jbeowulf.

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