What's so Fascinating about Fascination?
Fascination left the Boardwalk scene in 2008. Some guests truly mourned its Boardwalk passing! What was it about that game?
Seaside Company archives hint that concessionaire C.J. Fitzsimmons brought an early version of this game to the Boardwalk in 1944. It was located along the colonnade near the Plunge entrance. By 1956, however, a full-scale, 32-table Fascination parlor was operating in a new building just east of the Looff Carousel.
The game was played like bingo, with players competing against other players. A rubber handball, not much smaller than the holes it dropped into, was rolled down the wooden table. As the ball dropped into a hole, a corresponding light on a backboard lit up. The ball came back to the player to be rolled again. The objective was to illuminate a 5-light row on the backboard – either vertically, horizontally or diagonally. The first player who did, won the round!
Dedicated players had a favorite table, and might occupy it for hours. Strolling by the game, I would peek in to see who was intently participating. If a friend, co-worker, or my brother Ken occupied a seat, it might draw me in to offer them encouragement, being careful not to break focused concentration on the board.
My time playing Fascination occurred mostly in the 1960s, I'd test my skill during my hour-and-a-half dinner breaks and played with as much precision as my limited practice would yield. My dime (later it became a quarter) was set on the glass shield, as I waited for the start bell to ring - "Roll that ball!"
Giving my ball just enough oomph to make it over the V-hump beyond the glass shield, I guided it in the direction of my desired hole, hoping for minimum bounce. When I realized I was getting close to lighting a full 5-light straight or diagonal row, or better yet, the horizontal gold or red row, my adrenaline kicked in. After casting an eye on the location of the travelite to see if i ahd a chance to double my winnings, I would furtively glance at the boards in play near me to see how I stood. This is when the returning ball always seemed to take forever to fetch for another roll.
A bell signaled another winning table. "We have a winner," the operator would herald – usually not me! The operator then announced the winning table number and an assistant made the coupon payoff. I’d put another dime on the glass shield and get ready for another round, lucky ball in hand. An assistant would collect the fare, the bell would ring and I’d be competing again. Seasoned players would watch the control operator for a hint to begin play and gain a head start just before the bell rang.
Sometimes a game would last awhile, usually when there were few players. Sometimes it was over too soon, especially when a seasoned veteran was contending. Once again, the dreaded bell announced a winner and coupon rewards were issued. After player fares were collected, the starting bell would ring and it would be time to roll that ball again. This cycle was repeated all day long!
The prizes put the game in a league of its own. They were not the usual game trinkets. The U-shaped display counter in the center of the store revealed housewares, small appliances, and home decor, things that served a real purpose at home. Winning tickets, valued at 50¢ back then, were really worth something! Players could also win cigarettes – by the pack and carton. I was not a smoker, but many players were.
Does anyone out there have a Fascination memory to share? Was anyone a regular die-hard player? Any former operators with a tale to tell?
Charles Canfield, as a concessionaire, took over Fitzsimmon's Boardwalk games in 1965. The Seaside Company began operating all the games in 1993. In Fascination’s later years, outmoded electrical relays on the tables would fail and not have a central maintenance source for replacement. Our staff would hastily assemble in-house logic boards. These too, became difficult to maintain. More and more "dead boards" sat in our parlor. As life got busier over the years, fewer Boardwalk guests appreciated the slow pace of board games, like Fascination. Finally, the time came for the space to be used for more pressing needs. A new set of men’s restrooms and expanded women’s restrooms took over the space where Fascination once reigned as the king of Boardwalk skill games.
In 2009, the Seaside Company donated four Boardwalk Fascination tables to Playland-Not-At-The-Beach, in El Cerrito, CA. You can relive your memories there. But do it soon, because word is that delightful place is closing by summer’s end. Check out that Museum of Fun’s website to see a video of the tables in action and images of their Fascination Parlor including one of myself, Charles Canfield and other Seaside Company management enjoying a game.
If you can't make it there, enjoy a virtual game at a Fascination parlor in Seaside, Oregon here: https://youtu.be/Elk99KHwiAs
Till next time –