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The E in Chuck E. Cheese means economics

I'm back from an evening celebrating Andrew's fifth birthday at Chuck E. Cheese, or as Tim Wilson would say, Chuck E. Cheese Hell.

Actually it wasn't too bad. I don't remember the last time I was at Chuck's, but I do remember the pizza tasting roughly like cardboard that time. This evening it tasted a little more like pizza. Which, of course, means they used slightly more pizza-flavored spray on it this time than they probably should have. And, that probably means there will be some firings after the weekend's birthday parties and such are finished. It'll probably be light this weekend anyway because of Super Bowl XLIV.

Now, on to the casual observations and what-not, since that's what I do.

What a racket. I'm talking about the games. They operate on a token system, which means you part with your US dollars at the border and get them converted to tokens which are worthless anywhere else. Kind of like visiting Great Britain. The exchange rate is 1 dollar to 5 tokens, so from that perspective, it's kind of like visiting Denmark.

The Maze of the Kings For each token, you get to play a game. Those of you who remember Aladdin's Castle will be familiar with the concept. The big difference there, though, is the games in Aladdin's Castle were actually decent. All the games at Chuck E. Cheese are third- or fourth-rate video games you would never ever see anywhere else. It wouldn't surprise me if they were made exclusively for the franchise. I mean, seriously... The Maze of the Kings? What the fuck? I played this one, and the gameplay is about as exciting as cutting the grass, if cutting the grass only took you three minutes and left you wondering why you even bothered.

Some of the games are more in line with "games of chance" at a carnival or at the state fair, and in exchange for your token, you get some tickets in return. The better you do at the game, the more tickets you receive. The tickets are even more worthless than the tokens. The tokens at least look, feel, and sound like money — and might even fool a vending machine here and there (or maybe a Dane). The tickets are paper, look almost identical to raffle tickets at a bingo parlor, are easily torn or lost, and certainly wouldn't be redeemable on future visits. I don't know what the exchange rate is at this point, but I can assure you we're deep into Bernie Madoff territory.

Chuck E. Warhol So once you have your tickets, you take them to a counting machine which basically eats up the tickets one by one and spits out a receipt when it's finished indicating how many tickets you turned in. I'm going to assume the machine is accurate, which may or may not be a fair assumption, but I'm also going to assume the Chuck E. Cheese staff doesn't care if it is or not, and I think that's an even fairer assumption. Anyway, you get to turn in all your tickets for a single slip of paper. I'll admit, that's pretty damned handy — one slip of paper is a lot easier to lug around than five hundred little tickets.

After all the tokens are spent and you've got your receipts in hand, you march up to the exchange counter where you can trade them for prizes. And the more tickets you have tallied up on your receipts, the better the prizes you can pick from. How cool is that? The top prize was something called a 4D Space Shuttle model, which retails for $135 at Amazon.com and can be yours if you somehow collect 10,000 Chuck E. Cheese tickets. You've got to be really hardcore if you're going for that prize. Andrew turned in 317 tickets, which they rounded off to 310 (more fuzzy math). For that, he got a felt picture and a few markers to color it, and one grape lollipop.

All in all, though, not too bad. Despite most of the games being shit, Andrew seemed to enjoy himself. He specifically asked if he could play one of the worst games — even worse than The Maze of the Kings — four times, so I gave him the four tokens and let him go at it. How many times do you turn five, after all?

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