Milk Jug Toss Breakdown

Have you ever seen someone else take on a task and thought that it looked easy, until you tried it for yourself?  I’ve tried and failed at a lot of things that other people made look simple (baking a layer cake, coding a phone game, braiding my daughter’s hair), but none so spectacularly as the Milk Jug Toss.

 Milk Jug Toss looks easy when you’re strolling your local midway, but once you step up to the plate yourself, you better come to play.  Otherwise, Milk Jug Toss will chew you up and spit you out faster than you can say “Got Milk?”

Game Overview

The first thing you’ll see when looking at Milk Jug Toss is a ramp with 15 holes leading to a big white jug in the back center of the game.  Throwing a ball into the jug will net you a cool 1000 points.  Hitting the holes near the front of the jug will earn you 300-200 points.  The point values of the holes then decrease the closer they are to the gamer, ending in four 50-point holes at the bottom of the ramp. 

To guarantee a jackpot, you need to sink the ball into the big white jug five times in a row.  That definitely looks easier than it is.  There is a sensor just past the divider of the ball dispenser and the rest of the game so you can’t get too friendly with your reach.  The balls are about the size of a softball and covered in dimples like a golf ball. 

Understanding the Physics

So here’s how Milk Jug Toss usually goes for me: I line up my shot, give it a toss, and then watch that perfect shot bounce right out and gets me a solid 50 points.

Was the game rigged?  When I was younger, I would have said it was rigged and moved on, but now I just can’t accept that.  So, what did I do wrong?  Well the answer is simple: the game is rigged.  Of course the game designers don’t want everyone winning over and over again, so they stack the game against us.  With a ceiling and the sensor just past the divider, you can only put so much arc on the ball.  That means you’ll never be able to “drop” the ball straight into the jug with minimal bounce.  And I assume that the opening to the jug isn’t much larger than the ball itself, making it very difficult to score that sweet “nothing but jug” shot. 

Most importantly, remember that ball covered in dimples?  As avid golfers know, golf balls are covered in dimples to reduce drag and increase speed.  But the downside to the dimples is that they create an uneven surface that can cause a random bounce. [The Physics of Golf by Rod Cross].  The same is true in Milk Jug Toss. 


To overcome the sneaky physics tricks employed by the design team, it’s time to get creative.  We need to find ourselves a better arc for the ball to drop into the jug, while at the same time, reducing the speed of the ball.  If you took physics in high school, you might remember that a simple bounce will reduce the energy of the ball as well as giving us a better angle to sink the ball and score those points.  I tested this method and found that hitting the right spot on the wall I could sink the ball into the jug!  With a little more practice, I think I’ll consistently be able to hit the jugpot on this game, after years of struggle.

My daughter once said to me on an arcade outing, “This game is rigged, let’s play something else!”.  As an Arcade Dad, I have never been prouder.  The most beautiful part is that I can now say to her, “Yes, this game is rigged against us.  Now let’s learn how to beat it!”

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