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Fascination is a game commonly found in North American amusement parks, boardwalks and arcades. The game would be considered in the same family as skee ball, in that prizes are often won for playing the game. The game dates to the 1920s as evidenced in pictures of Chutes at the Beach in San Francisco, a park that operated from 1903 - 1928 (when it became Playland at the Beach).
Game design and play
The game consists of a wooden table, roughly 1.3 meters long, 50 centimeters wide and 1 meter high. The player sits at one narrow end of the table. At the other end of the table is a series of 25 holes, roughly 5 cm in diameter, arranged in a five-by-five square matrix. The player rolls a rubber ball, similar to a racquetball or handball, toward the holes; the ball is only slightly smaller than the holes. As the ball falls through one of the holes, a light on a backboard behind the holes lights up, in a pattern corresponding to the hole the ball fell through. The ball then rolls back to the player on a slight incline slanted back from the holes. The process is repeated until a player lights five lights in a row, either across the matrix, in a vertical column, or on a diagonal, much like bingo—indeed, like bingo, the hole in the center of the matrix is a "free space." A glass plate over the front part of the table keeps players from reaching too far over the table to improve their aim.
Fascination tables are typically installed in groups from 20 to 50,but can be in as small a system of 2, up to any amount without limit, and are interlocked through an electromechanical, and/or electronic system. Players play against each other, with the first player to complete a row of five being the winner, with the interlocking system determining which was first and locking out all others. If two or more players tie, each is declared a winner. Games usually cost 10 to 50 cents each, normally placed on the glass plate where a game operator can collect it shortly after each game begins. Games usually last between 60 and 90 seconds, with a new game starting soon after the end of the previous one.
Winners receive a prize coupon or token, which can be redeemed for a small prize, or collected to redeem for bigger prizes later, or in some locations, coupons may be redeemed as cash to play more games. Bonus coupons or tokens can be won by winning with all spots lighted on a certain row marked by colored lights; usually, the top row on the board (the back row of holes) is red and wins three to five times the normal rate, and the fourth row from the top (the second row of holes from the front) is gold and wins double the normal rate. Some operators have additional bonuses for certain lines.
An announcer, sitting on an elevated platform, presides over the activities. He or she starts each game by pressing a button which rings a bell and activates all machines. He or she also announces the winner when the bell rings again, which the machines does automatically when a win is detected. One or more assistants collect the fees and pay winners. Other employees run a prize booth, where winners redeem their coupons or tokens. The prizes range from cheap trinkets for one or two wins to appliances, radios, televisions, toys and more expensive items for large numbers of coupons or tokens, often numbering into the thousands for the best prizes.
The game was a popular attraction at amusement parks before the modern theme park drained visitors away to the newer, more modern facilities. When the old-line amusement parks died off, the Fascination parlors went with them. The game was also popular in oceanside resort towns, particularly those with boardwalks and especially on the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic shorelines of the Atlantic Ocean. Atlantic City and Wildwood, New Jersey were popular places with multiple Fascination parlors; Wildwood is home to three remaining parlors. On the west coast there is a Fascination parlor on Seaside Oregon. The oldest remaining Fascination game is in Nantasket Beach, MA, and is the original 1918 game from Coney Island.
The game has declined not only because of the demise of old-style amusement parks, but also the age of the machines themselves. The heart of the system relied on relays used in telephone system, which have long been obsolete; moreover, manufacturers of the tables have long ago shut down, so spare parts have to be salvaged from old tables. Operation is also labor-intensive, with at least three employees (often more) at a time required to run a game. The game could easily be made more reliable and less labor-intensive with updated computer-based technology and automatic coin collection and coupon dispensing equipment such as that on a skee ball game, but the closure of many Fascination parlors has made such an effort unlikely.
A modern arcade game called "Lite-a-Line" can be found today, with roots in Fascination in that it features the same basic game play and pays off in redemption tickets. However, Lite-a-Line is a stand-alone game, played against "the house" as with skee ball and the like. It is commonly found in places such as Chuck E. Cheese. (It should not be confused with a 1930s pinball machine of the same name. Moreover, some Internet sites indicate that there may have been Fascination parlors that instead operated under the name "Lite-a-Line," but the evidence is inconclusive.) Fascination was invented in Salt Lake City Utah by John Taylor Gibbs who moved to Beverly Hills California, where he formed the business Taylor Engineering Corp.
Known Fascination parlors still operating
- Playland-Not-At-The-Beach Museum of Fun El Cerrito, California
- Indiana Beach, Monticello, Indiana
- Knoebels Amusement Resort, Elysburg, Pennsylvania
- Sylvan Beach Amusement Park, Sylvan Beach, New York
- Darien Lake Theme Park Resort, ,
- Nantasket Beach, Hull, Massachusetts,The only play for cash Fascination Parlor still in existence. These machines originally opened in Coney Island in 1918 and were moved to Nantasket Beach in 1944. They are the oldest Fascination machines still in operation.
- Funland, Seaside, Oregon
- Looff's Lite-A-Line, Long Beach, California
- Hampton Beach Casino, Hampton Beach, New Hampshire, Unlike traditional Fascination Parlors, the machines at Hampton Beach operate as a solo play game rather than a competition between other players. For 75 cents you are given a chance to roll the ball in your machine 10 times. If, in these 10 rolls, you succeed in creating a Bingo, either horizontal, vertical, or diagonal, a bell goes off and an attendant awards you with a prize token. Extra tokens can be earned by winning certain special lines.
- Hoarder's Arcade, (yes, this place was created on the TV show, HOARDERS), Boardwalk Mall, Wildwood, NJ also known as the Retro Arcade at the Boardwalk Mall, 3800 Boardwalk. The actual name is "Lucky's Fascination" and is a predecessor of Lucky's Fascination which operated in Seaside Heights from 1974 to 1995. This is the last Fascination game operating in the State of New Jersey. Games include standard bingo 5-in-a-row play, with special 4 corners, or large diamond, automatic wins as announced, plus numerous special games including Coverall, Round Robin, and Letter X. This extreme system also has the ability to run multiple-winner games and more. This is the most advanced Fascination game system in operation today, only second in features to Flipper's Fascination systems, which are in hibernation at this time. The owner/operator, Randy Senna, has operated Fascination games for almost 40 years, and has operated Fascination in Keansburg, Seaside, and Wildwood. Senna owns the Fascination systems from Kennywood Park, Hershey Park, Dorney Park, Keansburg, Seaside, and Wildwood, and has purchased the Fascination tables from Olympic Fascination, the manufacturing company which closed in 2014 after almost 50 years of operation. Senna is also the author of the book, "Fascination - The Lifetime Boardwalk Adventure". Winners receive multiple tickets for winning based upon the amount of players playing and type of win that is achieved, and each ticket may be redeemed as a full 25 cents value by using the ticket to pay for playing the game instead of paying with money. The promoter claims, "This is a real player's dream, and you are not stuck saving coupons to get some toaster that you do not need... bring your friends and enjoy, as the more who play, the more you win!"
- Agawam, MA (Riverside Park, now Six Flags New England)
- Asbury Park, New Jersey (714 Boardwalk, Casino Building)(known as "Ruben's Fascination")
- Atlantic City, New Jersey (The Boardwalk)
- Aurora, Ohio (Geauga Lake) (Rides and games closed 2007)
- Baltimore, Md (Gwynn Oak amusement park)
- Bowling Green, Kentucky (Beech Bend Park)
- Chicago, Illinois (Riverview Park)
- Conneaut Lake, Pennsylvania (Conneaut Lake Park) (Tables burned in Beach Club fire 1 Aug 2013)*There are rumors that at least some of the Conneaut Beach Fascination machines were salvaged,and although damaged, remain in storage at the park*
- Elitchs Gardens Denver Colorado (The old park, I went back in the late eighties and the game as already gone)
- Farmingdale, New York (Adventureland. Removed approx. 1994)
- Fort Lee, New Jersey (Palisades Amusement Park)
- Fascination Parlor, Geneva-on-the-Lake, OH,
- Hershey, Pennsylvania (Hersheypark) - no longer here (2014)
- Keansburg, New Jersey (Keansburg Amusement Park)
- Lincoln Park (Dartmouth, Massachusetts), game building burned down.
- Long Beach, LI, New York
- Lunenburg, Massachusetts, (Whalom Park)
- Mason, Ohio, (Kings Island)
- Monroe, Ohio, (Americana/Lesourdesville Lake Amusement Park, closed 2002)
- Montreal, Quebec (Belmont Park) (closed 1983)
- New York City, (Times Square, closed 1981)
- Palisades Park, Palisades Park, NJ
- Reno,NV (Circus Circus)
- Revere, MA (Revere Beach), Closed in 1984. Never recovered from "Blizzard of 78"
- Rockaway Beach, New York (Playland) (Pinky's Fascination)
- Rockaway Beach (Edgemere), New York (Faber's Fascination)
- Rockaway Beach (Edgemere), New York (Lenny's Fascination)
- Rochester, NY (Olympic Park)
- Roseland Park, Canandaigua, NY
- Salem, NH (Canobie Lake Park, removed prior to the 2001 season, replaced with "Jackpot Casino")
- Salem, Virginia (Lakeside)
- Sandusky, Ohio (Cedar Point; removed 2001)
- San Francisco, California (1027 Market Street) (Note: This parlor was reported as "Closed for Remodeling" in 2005, but may reopen; it is still listed in online phone listings. It was the last known Fascination parlor not located in a park or resort area, and paid winners money instead of prize credits.)
- Santa Claus, Indiana (Holiday World)
- Santa Cruz, California (Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, converted into restrooms in 2007)
- Seaside Heights, New Jersey (Seaside Heights Boardwalk)
- South Whitehall Township, Pennsylvania (Dorney Park)
- Surfers Paradise, QLD, AUSTRALIA (Grund's, Paradise Centre)
- Warwick, Rhode Island (Rocky Point Park)
- West Mifflin, Pennsylvania (Kennywood)
- Brooklyn, New York (Coney Island Amusement Park)
- Portland, Oregon (Jantzen Beach Amusement Park)
- Farmington, Utah (Lagoon Amusement Park)
- Las Vegas, Nevada (Circus Circus)
- Flipper's Fascination, Wildwood, New Jersey
- Olympic Fascination and Casino Arcade, North Wildwood, NJ