A drop on a rollercoaster can be a surprise, but it shouldn't be a surprise to know that it took a lot of money to create that drop. When "Thrill engineer" Brendan Walker was working on a ride named TH13TEEn at England's Alton Towers park, he was asked about the logistics of a drop which would scare someone in the dark. “It was a practical question,” said Walker. “For every extra foot of steelwork, it would have cost them £30,000 [roughly $40,000].”
2. The Most Exciting Part Of The Roller Coaster Is Getting Strapped In
According Walker, death-defying drops have nothing on the thrill of being strapped into your seats. “The moment the lap bar is being locked down and you have that feeling of things being inescapable, that you have to suffer the effects of the ride, is the highest moment of arousal,” Walker told Mental Floss.“The actual ride might only achieve 80 percent of that excitement.”
It's an age old question: Which came first? The rollercoaster theme or the roller coaster design? Well, that's a decision that's left up to the amusement park. And when the amusement park makes that decision, they can order pre-fabricated constructions for some rides, which means the rollercoasters are able to be assembled like an "Erector Set." “Sometimes I work on rides that have already been built,” said Walker. “They’re produced by a company and presented almost like a kit with parts, like a model train set. There’s a curve here, a straight bit here, and you can pick your own layout depending on the lay of the land.”
Rollercoasters take minutes to ride, but years to create. According to Bill Kitchen, the founder of U.S. Thrill Rides, the time it takes a rollercoaster to go from idea to execution can be between two to five years. It's a long time to wait, but for some reason, it doesn't sound as long as the hour it takes to wait in line to ride it?
5. Dummies Filled With Water Are Used To Test Roller Coasters
Rollercoasters seem to be above the law of physics, but they're not above the regular law. “We’re subject to ASTM [American Society for Testing Materials] standards,” said Kitchen. “It covers every aspect of coasters. The rides are tested with what we call water dummies, or sometimes sandbags.” In order to make sure rollercoasters are completely safe, designers use dummies filled with water. Why? Because they can be emptied and filled to mimic different weights of people.
6. 'Rollercoaster Tycoon' Was A 'Gateway Drug' For Future Designers
Rollercoaster Tycoon was more than a computer game. It was a gateway drug. The game, which was first released in 1999, allowed players to create their own amusement parks. According to Jeff Pike, the President of Skyline Attractions, he's witnessed many a future engineer become engaged in the activity via Rollercoaster Tycoon. “I remember when the game first got popular, I would go to trade shows and there would be kids looking to get into it using screen shots of rides they designed. The game definitely brought a lot of people into the fold," said Pike.
According to Brian Morrow, the Corporate Vice President for Theme Park Experience at SeaWorld, theme parks deliberately tease you with some, but not all, of a view of the rollercoaster. “It’s like a movie trailer in that we want you to see some iconic coaster elements, but not the whole thing,” says Morrow. “You approach it with anticipation.”
Believe it or not, the amount of paint on a rollercoaster can change how the ride feels. “The one thing that will slow down a steel coaster is a build-up of paint on the track rails,” said Pike. “It softens where the wheel is rolling and hitting the track, which increases the drag.” Who knew?
Inspiration can come from anywhere — including necessity. According to Pike, the terrifying twist and turns could have more to do with the available real estate of the park than they do with the ride. Is there a tree the park can't get rid of? That's going to change the shape of the rollercoaster. But when the designers have no restrictions, literally anything can become inspiration. “We had a giant piece of land in Holland that just had no constraints, and we were sitting around talking," Pike said. “And we started talking about Jay Leno’s chin.” The result? A "loose representation" of his jawline. Fun! But also scary!
Rollercoasters are not morning people. According to Morrow, the time of day can change the ride experience. “A coaster running in the morning could run slower when cooler,” said Morrow. “The wheels are not as warm, the bearings are warming up. That could be different by 2 p.m., with a slicked-up wheel chassis.”
Loops are sooo yesterday. The rollercoaster of the future could look completely unlike the rollercoasters we know in the present. Kitchen has been working on the "Polercoaster" — a skyscraper of a rollercoaster that utilizes electromagnetic propulsion to lift passengers up in order to give them the thrill of their lives. “We want to put it in places where land is very expensive, like the Vegas strip,” says Kitchen. “You can only do that if it takes up a lot less space.”
12. The Riders Sell The Ride Better Than Any Commercial
The best advertising is free advertising. And when park goers watch rollercoaster riders scream with terror-slash-enjoyment, the advertising the park gets from it is priceless. “It’s all about that emotion,” says Walker. “A spectator basically asks, ‘What’s making them so aroused? What’s giving them such pleasure?’ The line for the ride is the audience. Imagining yourself on the structure becomes a very powerful thing."
13. Wooden Roller Coasters Are Sensitive To The Weather
Wooden rollercoasters are scary. But if a wooden rollercoaster seems scarier than normal, blame the weather. Humidity and other elements can shrink the wood which affects how the bolts fit, resulting in a shakier, creepier ride. “The structure itself can flex back and forth,” says Pike . It’s still perfectly safe." Nah. We're good!
14. But Wooden Roller Coasters Can Outlast Metal Ones
While wooden rollercoasters require more maintenance than their metal counterparts, they can actually last longer. According to Pike, if the wood and fasteners of a wooden rollercoaster are properly taken care of, it normally outlasts a steel one. Plus it's way, way scarier!
When a rollercoaster goes on it's first test run, nobody knows what to expect. Obviously. That's the point of a test run, right? "Those first trial runs [during the testing phase] can be slow because everything is just so tight," said Pike. "A lot of coasters don't even make it around the track. It's not a failure. It's just super-slow."