It's no sur-prize: When it comes to old-school Boardwalk games, kids love the swag

Minions-fcov31juillet-Falk-600
Madison Wagner 7, and her sister Gabrielle 5 from Easton, Pa. with their water squirt Minions prizes at Wildwood's Morey's Pier. (Steven M. Falk / Staff Photographer)

ARMED with a look of fierce determination and concentration, and an increasingly empty baggie that was, at one point, weighted down with quarters, 6-year-old Jude Snyder was resolute. He was going to win a prize Tuesday night at Morey's Pier in Wildwood.

The object of his game of choice - to land a 25-cent piece on a glass cake plate - proved a little too difficult for the tyke, as it seemingly did for everyone - young and old alike - who tried their luck and skill at the game on this sea-breeze-cooled evening.

But with dreams of leaving the popular seaside amusement pier carrying, perhaps, a small, fuzzy, brown bear wearing a Phillies jersey, or a pillow in the shape of a guitar, the pint-sized Mayfair resident played on until, inevitably, his stash of coins was gone.

Jude was just one of the countless kids that evening who availed themselves of the complex's games. Whether it was flipping quarters, puncturing balloons with darts or shooting streams of water at small targets, it was clear that boardwalk games still have a place in our high-tech, digital world.

So, what's the appeal of trying to toss a small plastic ring onto the neck of a glass bottle, or trying to knock three wooden blocks off a platform with a vinyl-wrapped bean bag? Why do kids, from kindergarteners to high schoolers, still flock to low-tech, old-school boardwalk games?

That's easy: It's the prizes.

Whether you ask the kids themselves, their parents or those involved in the boardwalk-amusements industry, that is the primary explanation for the games' enduring appeal among the younger set: No matter how thrilling or satisfying it may be to vanquish a platoon of Middle Ages marauders or send a drug dealer's body parts sailing off in multiple directions on a screen, nothing, apparently, beats a tangible, hold-it-in-your-hands symbol of triumph.

The popularity of such games is "always about an item," suggested Sharon Franz, sales and marketing director at Atlantic City's iconic Steel Pier. For instance, she noted that in the summer of 2015, tchotchkes based on the animated films "Minions" and "Frozen" are pretty much guaranteed to lure kids to the games.

Certainly that was why Madison Wagner, 7, and her sister, 5-year-old Gabrielle, of Easton, Pa., were drawn to one of the water-gun race games at Morey's Pier. Playing alongside two older relatives, each girl left the amusement center with a plush, yellow "Minions" toy, which, all told, cost their grandpa, Charles Palmeri, $40.

Probably a steep price for something that likely wholesales for a few dollars, but the looks on the girls' faces as they tightly clutched their trophies were, as they say in the credit-card commercials, priceless.

Nonetheless, said Madison, "I had fun playing the game."

Not every youngster is in it just for the swag. As Steel Pier's Franz noted, the element of actually performing a physical feat, as opposed to passively manipulating a joy stick, figures in the mix. "Whether it's the ring toss, or the balloon bust, or basketball," she said, "you're physically throwing or tossing something yourself. And [kids] like to do that."

Like so many boys his age, Riley Clarke, 10, of Scranton, Pa., loves to play video games. But, said his dad, Kevin, his son enjoys the challenge of the boardwalk activities. Riley, he said, "considers [the ring toss] a game of skill. That's why we're here."

Of course, for older kids - more to the point: older boys - there is another motivation to want to succeed at such games that hasn't changed with the passage of time.

Having admitted to losing $10 trying to land a quarter on the cake plate, Eli Vaillancourt, 16, of Sherbrooke, Quebec, another self-described avid video-gamer, offered what was the most convincing argument of all for playing.

"I have a girlfriend," he said in his French accent. "I want to win something for her."

A shell of a contest

Wednesday afternoon, Ocean City hosts its annual Miss Crustacean Hermit Crab Beauty Pageant, arguably the most prestigious competition of its kind in the world (do they even do this elsewhere?).

A bevy of comely hermit crabs will compete for the coveted Cucumber Rind Cup, a cucumber placed in a loving cup. The prize will be bestowed upon the winner to the strains of the pageant's not-so-world-famous theme song, "Here It Comes, Miss Crustacean."

The fun begins at 1 p.m. on the 6th Street beach. We advise being there in person; as far as we can ascertain, there will be no broadcast or cable TV coverage of the contest.

Yeah, yeah, yeah

It wouldn't be summer in Atlantic City if "Beatlemania Now" wasn't spending the season at a casino. Because its longtime home, Trump Plaza, is but a memory, the top-notch tribute to the Beatles that covers the Fabsters' epochal career from the frenzy of Beatlemania through the bittersweet end days of "Abbey Road" and "Let It Be," has taken up residence - through Sept. 6 - at Golden Nugget Atlantic City.


Golden Nugget, Huron Avenue at Brigantine Boulevard, 8 p.m. Saturday, Tuesday through Thursday, $39.65-$61.94, 800-736-1420, ticketmaster.com.