The Theory of Chaos

Friday, October 13, 2006

I also write about roller-coasters

Wednesday night Monkeygirl and I, in a fabulous foursome with The Voluptuous Geek and her husband Pirate Steve, went to Knott’s Halloween Haunt. For you non-Southlanders out there, Knott’s Berry Farm is like the punk kid brother to Disneyland, a little scuzzy, not quite magical, but with rides that go upside-down. And funnel cakes. Soul-corrupting funnel cakes.

For over 30 years, Knott’s has given itself a mutilated face lift in October, charging separate admission for people to crawl the park at night, scuttling furtively through strobe-lit mazes and letting local volunteers in rubber masks leap out and frighten them. They’ve got it down to a science by now.

I can’t break the habit of peeking around every corner and looking for the unlit spots they might hide in, but it is fun to be spooked once in awhile. The scariest thing that happened to me this year was when a ghoul leapt into our path, looked at me, and shouted “
Oh my God! It’s Bon Jovi!

While for a long time Knott’s had all of two rides worthy of the “thrill” nomenclature, they’ve been busy little Bob-the-Builders in the last decade, and have kept the SoCal theme park nausea arms race lively. So in addition to the mazes, we had time to patronize three excellent coasters:

The Silver Bullet
holds a reserved place deep in Monkeygirl’s heart, even if for awhile we suspected it had given her whiplash. Maybe the finest local example of the leg-dangling “suspended” coaster, it’s a long, proud steel beast not afraid to fling you around its axis a few times. After swaying you back, forth, and over and over, it wraps up with a dilly of a corkscrew, and when you’re essentially sideways with your head oriented straight towards center, it gives it all the more blackout power. It’s just not fair to make you navigate a real stairway at the end.

It always fills me with a special fear, because no matter how hard I squeeze, I just can’t get the shoulder harness down to that last snug “click” that helps you feel locked in. When you’re arcing down on the outside of a loop-de-loop, the coaster seemingly flicking you ground-ways like a booger off its finger, it
will crimp your heartbeat when you feel your torso smack into the pads, and pray that they stay shut.

Montezooma’s Revenge
is a simple novelty, a lot of acreage for a ride that lasts all of 30 seconds. It’s rollercoaster Zen, you sit in silence on a long straightaway, the operator mutters the immortal words: “Clear. Dispatch.” And with a hiss, you blast up to 60mph at an eyelid-peeling rate. That one surge carries you through a long, graceful loop, then up a near-vertical slope. Then you fall back, back through the loop, back through the station, and back up another slope, finally racing forward into the station for a neck-jarring quick-stop.

Once I rode this ride 13 consecutive times. Way back when, I took my grandfather on this ride on his 70th birthday. I can only hope to ever be that cool.

Ghost Rider
is as good as wood gets. Steel coasters are elegant and antiseptic; you can imagine how each curve was plotted to a thousandth of a degree on powerful, benevolent computers. By contrast, wooden coasters always look and sound like they were hammered together by madmen – towering, clattering cages meant to trap the evil in their hearts. On a good wooden coaster, every ride feels different as the wood stretches in the heat or moisture, and every cross beam looks like it’s coming straight at your forehead until the track suddenly plunges you downwards.

They cannot go as fast, they cannot plunge as steep, and they can’t take you upside-down, but since they usually stick you with a lap bar and
maybe a seatbelt, your most fiendish wooden coaster will make you feel less safe, like it’s going to shake your skeleton right out. Ghost Rider is endless and vicious, the track even crosses a street on its way around. It’s a dark jungle of 4x4 boards and it’s very hard to trust. Best to ride with a chiropractor on call.


  • Nice write up, my fiance and I actually just got back from Knott's Scary Farm Sunday night. We had a BLAST and I'm planing a write-up on GhostRider on my blog because I had forgotten how much I loved that thing. You can check my blog at and the GhostRider write-up is coming soon.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:32 PM  

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