Cruel Amusement Park Instructions

Keep your hands inside the car at all times? Hold onto the handlebars? Don't rock the cars? Amusement parks just wouldn't be amusing without all the warnings that we ignore.

Safe Fun on the "Wild Mouse"

The "Wild Mouse" is a rollercoaster ride at a nearby amusement park. The line is pretty long for a rather short ride, so I had plenty of time to study the signs.

Wild Mouse safety instructions

This line really jumped out at me:

Sign on amusement park ride: No Pregnancy Permitted

That seems to be rather harshly phrased, don't you think?

Whipper-Snapper Whiplash Worries

"No head on collisions," said the attendant running the bumper car ride.

Boy sitting in a bumper car, while being told by park ride attendant to avoid head-on collisions.

Yes... the bumper car ride.

Excuse me? Did we accidentally get in the line for the "Defensive Driving Derby?"

That's cruel.

Bull's-Eye BS

This is the biggest ball pit I've ever seen. That's my son standing beneath the big bulls-eye target hanging from the roof beam. If you look closely, you'll see a tube, partially stuffed with bulls-eye balls, leading away from the center of the target.

As if I was playing a real-life Myst game, I traced that tube around the edges of the ball pit and found it led to a huge mechanical ball-washer. Cool!

The target is an affordance -- it suggests a way for the user to interact with the system, which clearly invites kids to try to stuff as many balls as they can into the tube. Looks like another brilliant example of harnessing kid energy. What's more, any ball that has been stuffed in that tube has been touched by a kid, and is therefore infested with germs. It somehow reminds me of those meat processing plants where the cows walk up a long ramp to the top floor, supplying the potential energy that moves their carcass through the machinery.

Sounds brilliant so far, but what are some problems with this design?

First of all, look at how high the frickin' target is! There's I guess the only balls that get washed are the ones stuffed there by kids who can leap twice their height, or by teams of mental whiz kids who can coordinate their efforts for long enough to form a human pyramid. But the balls handled by such kids are probably not the ones to worry about. The grossest balls will be the ones handled by the seriously sick kids -- the ones who are lying there just below the surface of the balls, kind of passively oozing various secretions, without any chance at all of lifting a ball above waist-level, much less getting it in the ball-washer target.

Second did you notice the little white sign in the upper left corner of the picture? Let's do a little PhotoShop® magic...

'Do Not Throw Balls' -- Sign in ball pit, next to a big, tempting bull's-eye decoration.

The sign, presumably placed there by the same lawyers who designed the aforementioned "Defensive Driving Derby," uses a "fun" typeface to send a strict message, because, as you and I both know, kids who throw balls are just asking to be sued. The sign works against the message delivered by the target component of the ball-washing system.

Anyway, you can see for yourself whether the text message or the icon won out.

Kids demonstrating the level of respect they have for the 'Do Not Throw the Balls' sign.

A few seconds after I snapped this shot, the park attendant screamed for everyone to get out of the ball pit. The kids, extra germy from all that repeated contact with balls that will almost never get washed, slinked away glumly, because, after all, they knew they were all delinquents who were ignoring a rule. Now that's cruel.

Astounding Amusement Park Physics

Ah, the Ferris wheel -- "an amusement ride consisting of an upright wheel with passenger gondolas suspended from the rim" (Wikipedia). Who knew riding it would involve so much reading? Let me zoom in on part of one of the signs for you...

Ferris Wheel Rules Sign beside amusement park ride: 'Rocking of cars will result in ejection from park.'

Further evidence of the astounding energy produced by children at play.

Ricky Racoon and my kids.

Who or what will perform the ejection? Certainly not Ricky Raccoon, the cute park mascot, or any of his walkie-talkie carrying friends.

"Ejection" is a nominalization, designed to obscure the actor and make the action sound inevitable. My son knows what the "eject" button does, and he's also knows what an "ejector seat" is.

My son was so terrified by the sign that, when I shifted my weight to get my camera out, and the car rocked slightly, he grabbed my arm and yowled -- he didn't want to be hurled headlong out of the park. He asked how far we would go, and would it hurt when we landed.

I've applied a graphic aid to illustrate my son's fears, sparked by the responsibility-shirking abstraction in the sign:

Do not rock cars, or sufficient force will build up to hurl you completely out of the park. Or so it would seem.

Now that's cruel.

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