Fascination: The Lifetime Boardwalk Adventure
Written by Randy Senna and self-published
Fascination was once a staple of American amusement parks, as ubiquitous as Skee-Ball. Often referred to as “Bingo with balls”, a Fascination table is a long, inclined table, with a speed-bump followed by a 5 by 5 grid of holes, with the center plugged, and a 5 by 5 array of lights on the backplane, with the center light always lit. When the ball goes through a hole, the corresponding light is lit. The first player (a Fascination parlor typically has 48 or more tables) to light five in a row wins; typically, the prize is one or more tickets, which have significantly more value than a typical Skee-Ball ticket.
While I’d been to amusement parks with Fascination parlors for years, it was not until the early 1990s, when we lived near Whalom Park, that I really got hooked on the game. It was a fun way to take a break from the rides, and just sit and relax for a bit. Since then, I’ve sought out Fascination at other parks I’ve visited – though they’re disappearing quickly, with less than a dozen places left to play, and fewer than ten traditional Fascination parlors remaining.
Being curious about the history of the game, and only finding one book on the subject, I was very pleased to receive a copy as a gift from my wife. And then I started reading the book and realized that it was not all I’d hoped for; first and foremost, it’s primarily an autobiography. It just happens that Mr. Senna is obsessed with Fascination, and as a result the vast majority of the book involves the game in some way, shape, or form.
The first thing one notices, going through the book, is the author’s paranoia. This starts with small things – feeling singled out when playing Fascination constantly as a teenager – but Mr. Senna’s sense of unfair treatment grows with age, as do his legal reactions to this. Seeing only one side of the story, it’s hard to say who is in the right in any particular case with certainty – though it seems likely that Mr. Senna’s perceptions have some basis in reality. But – hearing why life has not been equitable for him does not make for entertaining reading.
Perhaps the next most notable thing about the book is the malapropisms. Sometimes these are innocuous, such as the use of “to” in place of “the”. Others, though, such as “tourney” for “tyranny”, or “try and error” in place of “trial and error”, are more disconcerting, though to be fair I was able to make out what Mr. Senna intended in all but one case. There are some other minor grammatical errors as well, though they aren’t so obtrusive. Really, though, the book would have benefitted from thorough editing – both to catch these errors and to tighten up a rambling style favored by Mr. Senna. While a minor issue, I was bothered by his consistent misspelling of “Knoebels” as “Knoebles”, even on the back cover.
While there are other issues with the book, such as the Mr. Senna’s ego invading the stories, there is still something to recommend the book. Between and among the stories there is hidden a fair amount of the history of Fascination – exactly what I was looking for from the book. While I might wish there were more of it, there is certainly enough included as to keep me reading through, and to have some appreciation for the book in spite of the annoyances. I do wish Mr. Senna had spent more time on the technical aspects of the machines – he is clearly mechanically gifted and relates a lot of the work he has spent in restoring and improving Fascination machines, but without sufficient detail as to really appreciate his accomplishments.
On the whole, I can recommend Fascination: The Lifetime Boardwalk Adventure to anyone who is fascinated by the game, because of the historic information sprinkled throughout. For anyone else, I doubt the book will ignite an interest. Personally, I remain hopeful that a definitive history of the game can be assembled, with a wide variety of views and opinions, but for now I’m happy to at least have this.