Sep 30, 2017

The Grocery Arcade

Atari Games arcade advertisement
Grocery Trade publications (1982)
The Arcade Blogger recently shared a full page ad from 1982 that Atari used to entice the owners of grocery stores to put arcade games on their property.  This may seem strange to folks today, but it wasn't at all unusual to see video games all over town back in the late 70's and throughout the 80's.  When I was a kid, I played Ms. Pac Man at the Blue Comet Diner every Saturday when I went out to eat with my grandparents.  Arcade games were as common as soda machines and those quarter machines that gave you a handful of candy or a small toy in a little egg.  They could be found at pizza parlors, restaurants, gas stations, grocery stores, hotels, rest stops, and just about anywhere else you could think of.

Throughout the 90's and 2000's, the began to fade from the landscape.  In 2002, on a trip from Northeast PA to Omaha, I found an Arknoid machine at a gas station.  By this time, arcade games at gas stations had become a rarity, so I spent about 45 minutes taking a break from the road while breaking some bricks on the Taito classic.

This photo was obviously staged, but I absolutely love the way that it captures the arcade gaming phenomenon of the time.  It features a young girl playing Centipede with a Red Baron cabinet in the background.  Her big brother is looking on, with the mother over his shoulder brandishing a box of Tide detergent.  Even her baby brother is looking on from his shopping cart perch, with dad equally fixated by the game.

Sep 29, 2017

The 2017 Bloomsburg Fair

The 162nd Bloomsburg Fair
Bloomsburg, PA
I have looked forward to the Bloomsburg Fair every year with the same level of excitement that a toddler has when they count down to Christmas morning.  It's one of my favorite places in the world to relax and forget that the outside world exists.  Yesterday was my last trip to the Fair for the year, so I thought I'd share a mini walkthrough of the places and things that didn't get covered in any other post.  The fairgrounds are huge, and these photos don't even scratch the surface of all of the things that there are to see and do at the Bloomsburg Fair, but it will give you a good idea of what it's like if you've never been there.

Sep 28, 2017

The Grandstand

Toyota Grandstand Building
Bloomsburg Fair - Bloomsburg, PA
The grandstand seating for concerts is built into a large building with two long hallways where vendors have shops set up.  It's about the size of a small strip mall, and they sell all kinds of different oddities.  These days, I mostly limit myself to some candy and beef jerky, but I found lots of trading cards, t-shirts and things over the years when I was a kid.  I even got a Venus flytrap one year.

The shop in the last photo has been there every year since I started coming to the Fair.  They sell bootleg copies of shows on VHS and DVD that I'm assuming have gone into public domain.  The prices are pretty outrageous, but in the days before e-commerce in the 80's and 90's, you really couldn't find this stuff for sale in too many places.  I remember that my grandparents bought a Ma & Pa Kettle tape here when I was a kid.

Jackpot At Uncle Nick's

Uncle Nick's Candy Game
Bloomsburg Fair - Bloomsburg, PA
I know it's the last thing I need, but I made a killing at Uncle Nick's this year.  I won a full box and four bars of candy.

Sep 27, 2017

Harvey's Spot

This is Harvey's favorite place to lay down, with his chin resting on the cool tile and his belly warm on the carpet.

It Turns On A Dime

Debbie's Dime Pitch
Bloomsburg Fair - Bloomsburg, PA
I shared some pictures of this game a few years ago, but I didn't do a great job of explaining it.  These guys have a really good racket.  I've been coming to the Fair since the mid 80's.  This game has been there every year, and it's always super crowded.

The rules are simple.  You can either bring your own dimes or cash in a couple of bucks for a handful.  You then take the dimes, one at a time, and toss them underhand toward the prizes (the round platforms you see with the glasses stacked on them are rotating).  If your dime lands in one of red shotglasses or on a plate, you win the prize associated with it.  The prizes aren't super special or anything.  Most of them are inexpensive coffee mugs and drinking glasses.

I called this game a really good racket with the utmost of respect and admiration.  Unlike a lot of carnival games, this one is not impossible, but it is more difficult than you're probably thinking.  This game hits the sweet spot of being easy enough to draw you in, difficult enough to keep you playing for a little bit until you win, and inexpensive enough to make you forget that you're literally throwing money away for the chance of winning something that you could probably just buy at the dollar store.  It's actually pretty brilliant.

My grandparents and my dad stopped every year to play.  They probably spent about five or six dollars total and usually won a small prize.  I've stopped every year too in my adult life.  Sometimes I win something.  Sometimes I don't.  And even though I fully recognize that I'm spending about three times the value of the prize, I don't feel ripped off in the slightest.  It's fun to play, and whether I win or lose, I feel like I got my money's worth.

You might think that this devolves into total chaos with people whipping dimes at each other and knocking the prizes over, but I've never seen anything like that happen even once in roughly 30 years of coming to the Fair.

That might have something to do with the rules that are clearly posted.  Most of them are pretty easy to understand: no leaning over the counter, no throwing the dime overhand, no hard throwing, you get the idea.  There are also two mystery signs which simply say "you can't do that here".  I'm not sure what, exactly, but whatever it is, people must have been doing it because no one was getting yelled at.

Alright, Toss In Ball #1

I Got It
Bloomsburg Fair - Bloomsburg, PA
This is one of my favorite carnival games of all time, and it's an iconic part of the Bloomsburg Fair experience.  If you've ever played it, you could probably hear the guy's voice in your head when you read the title of this post.  It's an especially good place to go if it starts raining while you're at the Bloomsburg Fair because you can sit, relax and toss some rubber balls to win a prize without spending a fortune.

It costs a dollar to play, and it's run like bingo where you have to wait for the start of a game before you can play.  The games move pretty quickly.  I'm guessing that each one lasts about three or four minutes on average.  When a game starts, the caller on the loudspeaker will tell everyone to toss in ball #1.  At that point, you toss one of the small red rubber balls into the box in front of you, where it will bounce around for a bit and eventually settle into one of the squares.  Then, after a brief pause, he calls to toss in ball #2 and so on.  In other words, you don't just sit down and start throwing balls willy nilly; you've got to throw one at a time as they're called, or else you'll be disqualified.

The game keeps going until someone gets five balls in a row on their game board.  When they do, they're supposed to shout "I Got It".  The game then pauses while someone comes over to check that you have five in a row, and that you don't have any extra balls in the game.  If you win by yourself, you get a ticket that can be exchanged for a prize.  If two or more players win at the same time, each of the winners gets three tokens that are each good for a free game.

There are two challenges that are built into this game.  Sometimes you throw a ball into the box and it gets stuck.  If that happens, you pretty much just have to wait until the next ball is called, and then try to hit the stuck ball with the next ball so that both of them fall into a square.  The other challenge is the random people who walk past the tent and shout "I Got It", but the folks in charge here have been running this game for at least three decades, so they've gotten pretty good at tuning out the jackasses.

When you're finished playing, you bring the prize coupons you've collected up to the front and trade them in for something.  There are two levels of prizes: the stuff on the top shelf costs two prize tickets, while everything else costs a single prize ticket.  The prizes are generally pretty good.  There's a little something for everybody: toys, sporting goods, housewares, kitchen appliances, etc.  If I had to guess, I'd say their value is in the $5 to $25 range.

Like most good carnival games, the real joy of this is the game itself.  You're not going to win anything that's going to change your life, but it's fun and it's a good way to spend some time off your feet and out of the hot sun for a little while.  My grandmother was a sucker for I Got It back in the day, and I guess I am too because I play at least two or three games every year.

Sep 26, 2017

The Agriculture Building

Agriculture Building
Bloomsburg Fair - Bloomsburg, PA
While I was thinking about what to write here, it occurred to me why I like these buildings, and the Fair in general, as much as I do.  I wasn't raised as a farm kid who joined 4-H or anything like that, and while I do like planting the occasional juniper bush in the back yard, I'm not especially interested in gardening.  I think that I enjoy these displays because I have a mild interest in these things, and the Fair is like a sampler platter.  I look forward to the Olympics for the same reason.  I really don't care too much about swimming or bike races or bobsledding, but I can watch it once every four years and have a good time.

The Agriculture Building is next door to the Horticulture Building that I wrote about earlier.  While the Horticulture Building showcases things like flowers, shrubs and other greens, the Agriculture Building is where you'll find displays relating to fruit and vegetables.  It's also where you find the cookies, pies and cakes that were submitted for judging, and a couple of other things.  When you first walk into the building, there is a Bloomsburg Fair Court of Champions where some of the grand prize winners are displayed.  I can't say for sure if the same types of things are here year after year, but there is always a massive pumpkin 

The building is set up with two very long walkways with displays on the left and right with a few intersecting hallways to join the two.  Most folks seem to walk down the right side to the end of the building and then loop around and come back down the left side toward the entrance.

There's a food stand called The Apple Cart in the far right hand corner of the building that I make a point to stop at every year for an apple cider float.  It's nothing fancy; just a few scoops of vanilla ice cream and apple cider in a cup, but it really hits the spot after a long day of walking around in the sun.  Also, it's only three bucks, which is a pretty terrific value for a tasty dessert at the Fair.

There is an outdoor area between the Horticulture and Agriculture buildings where you'll find lots of undecorated trees, but the back wall of this building is set up for trees that have been decorated by local organizations for Bloomsburg Tree Fest.

The left wall of the building is mostly dedicated to baked goods, like cakes, cupcakes, cookies and pies.  I've never been there for the judging.  In fact, I'm not even sure when the judging takes place.  However, if they ever want to raise a ton of money for charity, they should sell raffle tickets for a seat on the judging committee.  I'd buy a ton of 'em.

A lot of the cakes are made to look like other things.  These three are my favorite from this year's entries.

The left corner nearest to the entrance of the building where the scarecrow display is kept.  It's usually a mix of social groups and pop culture references.

So, that's the Agriculture Building at the Bloomsburg Fair.