My son loves to go to Chuck E. Cheese. The pizza is okay; he eats a slice or two. He does enjoy the games, but – honestly – he’s there for the tickets. When you play games, such as Skee Ball, you get issued tickets that can be redeemed for prizes that have a markup similar to what “Wheel of Fortune” used to get back in the early 1980’s.

I can play six games of skee ball and amass ten tickets. You want to get a small plastic ball with the Chuck E. Cheese logo? It will cost you approximately 400,000 tickets.

In a lot of ways, Chuck E. Cheese is essentially a casino for kids. Some of the games do require skill, such as Whack a Mole. Others like Drop the Token on the Spinning Platform (I’m sure there’s a catchier name for it, but that’s what it is) are no more than slot machines in training. You essentially throw your tokens away in the off chance that you will win lots of tickets. Daniel has probably dropped several dollars’ worth of tokens down this particular hole and I don’t believe he has got a ticket from it yet.

Eventually the pizza is reduced to a pile of crusty rinds and the cup of tokens hath runneth dry. You’ve heard the same three songs by Chuck E. and his animatronic band and they’re starting to sound pretty good. Time to leave. Daniel converts his tickets into a receipt accepted at the prize counter. This machine is called a “Ticket Muncher”. Daniel used to be a little afraid of it; worried it was going to suck him in along with the strings of tickets. However, with fabulous prizes on the line, Daniel was able to overcome any lingering fear of being eaten alive.

Getting the prizes tends to be the longest time of the night. Arab traders have nothing on eight year olds clutching their ticket receipts and eyeing the counter with undisguised avarice. Most of the prizes on the back wall are – of course – unreachable. Scientific notation is required to display the number of tickets needed for the mountain bike and Playstation 3. The small prizes at the counter are where the action is; where a kid with a couple of hundred tickets actually has some choice. Five tickets get you a wad of gum. Ten tickets get you some colorful bit of plastic that will be left in the car under the seat on the way home.

Still, it’s the principle of the thing. Daniel paces back and forth in front of the counter, second grade arithmetic being put to the ultimate test as he runs through every possible permutation of tickets and prizes possible. This can take up to fourteen hours, but usually my patience begins to wear thin after 20 minutes or so. He instructs the teenager behind the counter of his order, it gets calculated (like any child at Chuck E. Cheese would ever be inaccurate on their own ticket count) and the prizes are dispensed.

We leave, a bit worse for wear. Daniel has to ride one last ride; spinning through the revolving door until he’s dizzy. We stagger to the car and leave until the next special occasion (like, when there’s a coupon in the newspaper), or Dad gets a strange urge to play Skee Ball.


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