Soap Box Derby – The Thrill of It All

Soap Box Derby – The Thrill of It AllFor years, sports fanatics have debated which is the most exciting spectator sport. Some argue nothing beats football for sheer intensity and physicality. Others point to the gladiator-like combat of hockey. And some people prefer badminton, but then, some people are idiots. For me, it’s female mud wrestling. I really don’t think I should have to explain this.

But recently I came upon one more contender for your consideration: Soap Box Derby racing. Before you scoff, hear me out. A few weeks ago, I attended the 11thAnnual Stanwood-Camano Island Soap Box Derby – the only such event in the entire state of Washington. When I heard the race was coming to town, I immediately submitted my application as a last-minute entry. Alas, I just missed the competition age limit (by 550 months – oh, so close).

First a bit of background. The Soap Box Derby is a racing program for kids ages 7 through 17, which has been run throughout the United States since 1934. The National Championship Finals are held each July at Derby Downs in Akron, Ohio. Racers compete in ultra-lightweight unpowered vehicles which they have built themselves, traversing a gentle incline over the space of roughly 1,000 feet, relying on their driving skills and gravity to reach the finish line first.

Having neglected to educate myself on the rich history and subtle nuances of this sport, I had no idea what to expect. I apparently arrived too late to catch the live pre-event concert by the Beach Boys. But what I did see was a colorful parade of home-built cars – 72 in all – each one sponsored by a different local business, like Camano Hardware, the Kiwanis Club, and Rothschild Estates’ White Swan Polo Club.

The competitors took great pride in their vehicles, having sawed, sanded, glued and painted them with only a little help from mom or dad. The Rothschild Estates entry, however, drew a few murmurs as the it appears the family’s footman clearly played a hand in its construction.

When the gun goes off, two underage drivers barrel down a straight asphalt track divided by a double yellow line. Miraculously, there were no serious injuries and not a single altercation among any of the kids. The only ruckus took place at the concession among a group of testosterone-driven dads over who had done a better job painting flames on the side of his kid’s car.

In other good news, not a single racer was eliminated for any performance-enhancing substances (the dads weren’t tested). However, there was one anxious moment when an 11-year-old boy was almost disqualified minutes before the start of his heat, due to sudden manic and erratic behavior. Turns out he was suffering from a nasty brain freeze from the strawberry Slurpee he’d just chugged a little too fast. After a few anxious moments he was fine.

It was fun watching these kids zoom down the track. Okay, perhaps zoom is overstating it slightly. Maybe “glide with an occasional careen” would be a more accurate description – sort of like my mother charging around the nursing home in her wheelchair.

Perhaps it wasn’t the adrenaline-pumping action of the Indianapolis 500 – or even the 5th Annual Las Vegas Female Mud Wrestling Finals. But it was still a kick to see the excitement in these kids’ eyes as they leaned forward, urging their cars to the finish line.

Sadly, one exuberant competitor was just about to win when she applied her brakes a few feet too early, letting the other race car eclipse her at the finish. Happily, she qualified for a consolation round, so her racing day was not over.

When I was the age of these dare-devils, I too tried my hand at building a blazing fast racing machine. I cobbled together a discarded bike frame and a lawn mower engine to create a motorized mini-cycle. Having inadvertently installed the engine on the frame backwards, the only direction the bike would go was in reverse (true). My maiden voyage only lasted about ten seconds, as I quickly wiped out and scraped my knees badly. Alas, my dreams of racing glory died forever that day.

At the soap box derby, by the afternoon’s end, two elated winners took home trophies and the chance to advance to the Nationals in Akron. I walked away thinking Soap Box Derby racing was actually pretty cool… and wouldn’t it be even cooler if they held the entire competition in a giant mud field like the female mud wrestlers? Yeah, now that would be something I’d watch for sure.

That’s the view from the bleachers. Perhaps I’m off base.


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How Does Casino Design Affect Success?

First impressions count for a lot. The biggest retail brands spend millions each year just to make sure the front of their stores, and the layout behind them, is geared towards impressing and often amazing customers. To give an idea of how big a business design and layout can be, fashion brand Dolce & Gabbana spent £7 million to take over all of Harrods’ shop windows last Christmas, as well as setting up multiple concession stands. Harrods itself is known for a dazzling, eccentric layout that can’t be found elsewhere too, making this a match made in heaven.

Casinos definitely subscribe to this ‘image first’ strategy, but sometimes for entirely different reasons. Naturally, physical casinos need to look appealing from the outside, and once customers have made the decision to go inside and play some games, they need to keep the experience both exciting but also comfortable. Behind the plush décor, however, there are a variety of tricks of the trade that are used to not only keep players happy, but actually make them spend more money.

One of the main issues that both land-based and online casinos face is the huge levels of competition. This is where clever design can not only keep players interested, but also build a reputation that will help the casino to stand apart from the others vying for new players.

An assault on the senses

When entering a casino, players will likely be greeted by an attractive main entrance, especially in places like Las Vegas, where the designs can be very garish. Just like a theme park, being greeted by something that says ‘you’ll have fun here’ is designed to get people excited as they arrive, and creates atmosphere before they’ve even set foot through the door. This will be accompanied by bright lights, often TV screens showing people having a great time, and sometimes a friendly greeter who is there to not only show you where the best tables are, but make sure you actually come through the doors and don’t turn away.

The next time you visit a casino, turn around and take a look at the entrance once you’re inside. Not as grand and obvious is it? You may even need to find an alternative exit if there’s a one way system, and even then you’ll probably have to ask where it is. This one of the easiest tricks in the book, and is used in places like department stores, too. Having no clear exit means players are more likely to be drawn into another game, and savvy casino staff may try to convince players to stay a little longer if they pluck up the courage to ask where they can leave.

Keeping out natural light

Lighting plays a huge role in casino design. At the Wynn Casino in Las Vegas, lighting is used to create specific zones throughout the gaming floor, as well as in areas like bars and restrooms. Attractive, coloured lights create an ambience at tables, but the walkways that lead to exits are often poorly lit, and it’s virtually impossible for sunlight to enter the gaming floor. This not only keeps players at the tables, but prevents them from seeing what time of day it is using the sun. Letting players lose track of time is a key feature of many casinos – the idea being that if players can’t see and feel time, then they’ll play longer and end up spending more. If the lighting is dull and miserable at the bar, but warm and inviting at the tables, then humans will naturally go to the comfortable looking place – where the tables and slot machines are, which just happens to be where the money is made.

The persuasive power of music

Music is another weapon that casinos use to keep players at the tables, and even to coerce them into taking more risks. London’s Hippodrome casino looks fantastic and still has elements of the theatre that used to be inside the building, but a big part of the atmosphere created comes from the music being played. Lots of casino use subtle music, and the Hippodrome uses a clever mix of relaxing, upbeat songs at the tables, and faster, less appealing tunes at places like the bars and in bathrooms and cloakrooms.

The tempo and melody of music can alter a player’s perception, and control how they act. A bit like the effect of fast music making people drive faster, quicker tempo in the less important places makes people buy their drinks faster, or wash their hands that little bit faster, in order to get back to the tables sooner. Once players are at the tables, music that makes them feel relaxed in their minds also helps them become more relaxed with their wallets, too.

Getting it right online

Naturally, online gambling is a different world when it comes to design and layout. Tricks like altered lighting and free food and drinks can’t be used to keep players playing, and the exit is visible at all times with a big red cross in the top left or right of the screen, or a home or back button if playing on mobile. This is where unique and intuitive design players a key role in retaining customers, and keeping them playing for longer, too.

Many online casinos simply lay out their games within a polished but often boring-looking web page format, with players navigating the ‘gaming floor’ through a difficult to navigate interface. With almost 100 ‘large’ online casinos in the (with a combined turnover of £10m) there’s plenty of choice – and if players get bored quickly or aren’t initially impressed by what’s on offer, then getting to another ‘casino’ takes as long as a Google search.

One way online casinos can keep hold of their customers is by standing out from the crowd with a unique design and a huge massive selection of virtual games. 777 Casino, part of the 888 Holdings Group, does this masterfully. With a 1950s theme, players can enjoy a bit of nostalgia, and the whole design really stands out from the crowd, essential when there are lots of website clones that share the same games and sometimes even the same jackpots.

The other key factor for online gambling now are apps. Right up until summer 2017, neither Google or Apple allowed ‘real money’ casino apps on their app stores, which changed in August when both platforms started hosting them. This provided a huge opportunity for gambling operators by making their app designs even more tempting. Online casino apps again use themes, interfaces, easily navigable menus and even music and video to provide a premium feel, but getting a design in place that keeps customers coming back for more is a huge challenge.

The prime example

When Trump’s Castle, then Trump Marina, opened in Atlantic City in 1985, it had a weird mixture of modern, stylish casino and odd, renaissance, medieval theming that just didn’t work. There was a lot of negative space, a definite ‘big box’ feel and some truly awful interior décor. Luckily, and unlike many other unfortunate casinos in Atlantic City that folded or remain closed, Landry’s, who own the Golden Nugget brand, brought the Marina casino into line with the famous Golden Nugget theming and layout. They transformed it into the classic, lightbulb-studded affair seen on the old Vegas strip, and applied a modern, planned layout.

The $150 million upgrade just goes to show how important layout and design are to a brand like Landry’s, and it’s nailed on that the casino will make a profit over the next five years according to their figures. These vast amounts of money and the reviews, repeat visits and reputation that casinos earn may come from good customer service and of course an enjoyable time, but casinos certainly couldn’t do it without a solid foundation – and this is exactly what good a good casino design provides.


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Alex Ferguson and Kim Jong Un.

One is a vicious dictator from the frozen wastes up North who is utterly brutal to friend and foe alike.

The other…

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Crazy Cannibal Hannibal Lecter Disgusted He Can’t ‘Take a Knee’ at NFL Matches

Notorious violent extremist and culinary-diverse social mayhem warrior Hannibal Lecter is “disgusted” and “repulsed” at being forbidden to take a knee from NFL players.

I’ve lived in this country so long, I’ve contributed all I have.

I’ve never just decided to take, take, take…

Well, apart from the odd spare rib.

Or ankle, or toe, or something.

But who cares?

This is the USA, and if I’m not allowed to take a knee, then I don’t recognise this country any more.

Surely it’s all about individual liberty?

What kind of ‘freedom’ is this, when I’m not even allowed to have a cheeky Nando’s, er, cheeky chomp on the ankle of my BNFLF?

It starts off with the cannibals, but it never ends with the cannibals.

Those who burn cannibals will soon burn terrorists and Nazis.

Culinary diversity truly is our greatest strength!

Justin Trudeau loving quacks:

It is a source of great grief and disappointment that Mr Lecter’s contributions to the rich culinary diversity of America have not met with full approval or even indiscriminate, hysterically flamboyant celebration from his peers.

Mr Lecter, you are always welcome in Canada.

Kraft Durch Diversität!

Some, however, argue that while pluralism is a good thing, you still have to draw the line somewhere.

Some might say that eating other human beings is as good a line as any!