By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Imagine it as the roller-coaster version of Disneyland’s whirling tea-cups ride. Germans designed this ride. It is their vision of what a desert sidewinder snake would do, influenced by a touch of waltzing. Targeted for older kids (and wussy adults), each of the spinning four-seater cars rotates uncontrollably, like a quartet of dizzy ladybugs, so you can’t try to game the ride and pick out a nonspinning one beforehand. Guys, they all spin. You’ll walk out with deranged visions of Camp Snoopy, which stretches out beneath. Many of the rides at both Knott’s and Magic Mountain come equipped with video cameras that capture people’s expressions. My suggestion to the ride makers: How about some cameras outside the ride to capture everybody clutching their stomachs and dropping to their knees?
Best Mild-Mannered Water Coaster: (Tie) Log Ride vs. Splash Mountain
There is a certain class of rides that is not quite waterslide, not quite roller coaster proper. Water-coasters are distinct from rides like Big Foot Rapids at Knott’s, where you and your party clamber aboard a large circular rubber innertube with seats, are carried along a rolling bagel-toaster-like conveyor belt and bounced along swirling “rapids.”
Splash Mountain is like a musical safari, on water, on LSD. There is a narrative, presumably to explain the bears, donkeys, buzzing bees, gigantic mushrooms, oversized carrots, storks, pelicans, dancing cats, dancing birds and the hootenanny of other animals that serenade you as your log floats by in the underground caverns, but who knows what it is? It is sublime, though, in a way that makes perfect sense if you are autistic.
The Log Ride, however, is old school. There you are, rolling along in a bathtub tricked out like a log, water sloshing over the side, endeavoring as directed to “keep your arms and legs inside the log at all times.” Then, suddenly, whoa! Ducks! Wolves! Disembodied eyes! Creepy loggers! Mocked by grown-ups, feared by small children, Log Ride’s charms are nonetheless considerable, akin to being stuck inside a historical diorama. Won’t you give it another chance?
Best Simulation of Quidditch, or Broomstick Riding: Tatsu
Silver Bullet at Knott’s is like Harry Potter taking a pleasant little joyride on his broomstick. Tatsu at Magic Mountain is like Harry flying on his broomstick, chasing after the golden snitch with Voldemort on his tail about to devour his soul. For those of you unfamiliar with the Potter oeuvre, translated, that means: Tatsu is worse. So much worse. You hike up Samurai Summit to the loading zone, cram into a bucket seat. A brace comes down over your chest and ankles, and the seat tilts forward until you are in a variant of the yoga position Downward Facing Dog. At that point, the ride begins. Then it’s dives, loops, zero-g rolls and pretzel loops, at more than 60 miles per hour. The Tatsu tracks pass over that of Revolution, which once was the only ride that did a full inverted loop, as if to say, “Oh, how cute. Look how far we’ve come in this world of making the human body do things it was never meant to do.”
Best Appetizer of Terror: Boomerang
As you stand in line, the cars rush past you like a horde of screaming banshees. It is a terrible sound. It’s so terrible, it’s almost funny. You pull out of the station backward, up a hill, through the station again, through a roll, an inverted loop, then a hill, then falling, falling, falling, backward. A swift kick in the pants of a ride, this one is short and sweet, just enough mayhem to ruffle your hair, it’s a good one to do first as an hors d’oeuvre of terror.
Best Moody Atmospherics: Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
For mood and atmosphere, night is the ideal time to ride certain coasters. Most roller coasters attempt to put your body through the ringer — screw the theatrics. If you expect animatronic werewolves to pop out at you on Silver Bullet at Magic Mountain, you’ll be disappointed. While queuing up for one roller coaster at Magic Mountain and noting the unfinished galvanized-metal walls, the bare chainlink fence, someone remarked, sarcastically, “Well, they spared no expense in the set décor, did they?” Nomenclature at most parks is an afterthought, but Disney is different. From the stalagmites rising up inside the caverns and the rusty-red canyons to the dinosaur bones glowing eerily as you glide beneath the creature’s rib cage, Walt’s designers understood that you could sculpt and paint with light. None of his rides are the fastest or scariest, but they are without question the most gorgeous.
Best Unintentionally Scary Roller coaster: Matterhorn
The abominable snowman with the glowing red eyes who growls as your bobsled shoots by? Not scary. The rumbling mountain itself, which threatens to rain avalanches of snow down on you? Not scary. The sensation that your ridiculous carnival-style seat belt might come unbuckled as you hurtle down the track? Pretty damn scary. In 1984, 48-year-old Dolly Regene Young was killed when she unbuckled her seat belt during the ride and was thrown from her sled onto an oncoming train. Then, more recently, while disembarking, two teenage girls clutched each other in mock horror. “Oh, my god, my seat belt totally came off,” squealed one. “It was so scary!” Statistics wonks who like to quote figures on plane crashes and shark attacks will frown on anectodal evidence, but once, when I was a kid, my seat belt, too, came unbuckled. If not for the Matterhorn’s feeling of barely controlled chaos, you’ve probably ridden more thrilling parking-lot trams.