(circa 2005 — re-edited, images added)
A Review of Sorts
It didn’t matter where you were in the Florida Centennial State Fairgrounds: the “SLINGSHOT” ride was always visible, towering — Godzilla-like — above the carnival skyline, daring you to rearrange your roving in order to take a closer look. I’d wager to say NO ONE passed by the other-worldly SLINGSHOT without standing silently for several minutes, head askew, looking straight up and wondering what kind of fool would pay $20 to be launched into space like that.
“90 MILES PER HOUR IN UNDER THREE SECONDS! 5 G-FORCES!”
. . .is what a simple black, red and white sign nestled just beneath a $20 ticket price and a hoard of screeching seagulls boasted.
What other kind of fool is there?
“Hey, Pat,” I exclaimed. “Let’s do it!”
I recalled a similar carny moment forty years prior when we both had stood in front of Coney Island’s infamous wooden-tracked “CYCLONE” roller-coaster ride. Only that time it was Pat who asked ME the same question. “Uh, uh,” I had stammered back then. “Not me.” But to no avail. Literally dragged onto the rickety ride, I remember screaming nonstop and nearly peeing my pants. “Wow, let’s do it again!” Pat had gushed back then, long before those intervening years caught up with her depthless curiosity, or — perhaps – wisdom had merely won out.
“No way, Tim,” said Pat emphatically in the here and now, watching the SLINGSHOT fling two screaming passengers hundreds of feet into the air in a matter of nanoseconds. “Some rides are best taken from a distance.”
“Aw, come-on, Pat,” I pleaded. “Remember when we went last year on that Bush Gardens ride — the one that flipped us upside down in cork-screwy loop-de-loops? That was FUN!”
“Not the same thing,” she said. “No, YOU go on. I’ll wait over by the corn dog stand.”
Now, undecided about taking the Florida Stare Fair SLINGSHOT ride sitting next to a total stranger, I began checking out the structural integrity and underlying engineering principles of the SLINGSHOT ride; my brain started clicking. (I do exactly the same thing while sitting in the window seat of a Delta airliner just before takeoff: Flaps down? Engine connected firmly to the wing? Any sounds of screeching metal against metal? Brownish fluid dripping from the wingtips? Ground crew appears alert and on top of things?)
The SLINGSHOT consisted of a two-passenger seat suspended dubiously on two metal guy wires that hung down from either side of twin erector-set towers (sturdy masts of super-cranes that once worked on mile-high skyscrapers or perhaps in a shipyard?). A 20×20-foot spring assembly, made up of literally HUNDREDS of individual and tightly-coiled steel springs, was hydraulically winched down immediately before every launch sequence using a classic Rube Goldberg pulley system. The cocking process took a couple of minutes, during which time I was able to clearly note the whites of the passengers’ eyes flashing like disturbed stars just before going supernova.
And then, without warning of any kind, WOOOOSHHHH!
Here is a YOU Tube video of the SLINGSHOT ride. In this version I notice a cage surrounding the two riders has been added. The one my sister and I watched was an open air two-seater. You get the idea…
Just like a ball bearing hurled from a gigantic slingshot, the terrified passengers TWANG! into deep space, clamped firmly to their seat by restraining devices similar to vice grips. At the apogee of the flight, the chair seat turns briefly upside down in near zero gravity before plummeting back to the earth in true bungee-cord freefall fashion. Major screaming going on here. Up and down. Springs creaking. Up and down again. Way MORE screaming, passengers gyrating like yo-yos amid a sudden cloudburst of corn-dog-colored confetti.
The seagulls go wild.
Mercifully, the passengers are lowered to the ground, where a zillion springy coils are once again compressed, waiting for the next forty-dollar twosome. . .
What could possibly be more terrifying than THAT?
No thanks. Pat was right: “Some rides are best taken from a distance.”