There is one branch of technology that baffles me. In amusement parks across the world, ever more advanced machinery is being rolled out together with complex, computerised control systems. This machinery is designed with the express purpose of terrifying the users. People flock to these meccas of terror in their thousands to experience the flood of endorphins that accompany being scared out of their collective wits.
The amusement park industry is worth about $25Bn a year, so there is a big incentive to develop new rides to gain market share. Because the rides are so complex, they cost a fortune to develop. Universal Studios‘ Jurassic Park ride is reputed to have cost twice as much to develop as the movie it’s named after. It took 6 years to design and build, cost $100m and it remains the most expensive ride ever developed.
These machines are truly colossal feats of engineering. The tallest are over 125m tall. The longest is nearly 2.5km long and speeds approaching 100mph are not unusual. The idea behind amusement parks is not new. There is an amusement park in Klampenborg in Denmark that has been around for over 400 years.
I once found myself walking through the Pleasure Beach amusement park in Blackpool. I was with some companions and we were chatting away. We must have been lost in whatever the topic of conversation was, because somehow, we ended up at the top of a set of stairs about to board “The Big One“. As roller coasters go, the Big One is fairly tame by world standards. It stands a mere 65m tall and runs for just under 1.7km.
I’d never been on a roller coaster before, so I thought what the hell. I’ll give it a go. We sat in the seats and pulled the safety bar down. A countdown began and then we began our slow ascent up to the apex of the roller coaster. The ascent took an awfully long time and staring out the side, I noticed with some alarm how high up we were and how little steel seemed to be holding us there.
Slowly, we crawled to the point of no return. When we reached the peak, we almost seemed to hover, staring down into what seemed like an abyss in front of us. Suddenly, we plunged. The acceleration was terrifying, but worse was yet to come. When we hit the bottom, the full force of gravity reminded us who was boss and my head was flung forward, alarmingly close to the safety bar.
About halfway round the ride, there was a technical failure of some sort which meant we came to an abrupt halt. We hung at a terrifying angle, staring at the ground some distance below us. Eventually, the ride was restarted, but we had lost nearly all our forward momentum and the centrifugal force necessary to keep us in our seats just wasn’t there. I was convinced I was going to fall out.
Eventually we made it to the finish and I couldn’t wait to get out. My companion, however, had other ideas and he was sat in my way. He told me to relax and that we would get another go because of the glitch. As if on cue, a voice came over the microphone “Sorry about that folks – would you like another go?”. Somehow my feeble cry of “No!” was drowned out by all the other yeses and we had to do the whole thing again.
I have never been so terrified. I literally had to prise my fingers off the safety bar and I had jelly legs for about an hour afterwards. Never again!