So I don’t know who the rollercoaster fans out there are, but I’m sure at least some of you will appreciate this. Yesterday I spent the day at Cedar Point, the self-lauded biggest most amazing amusement park in the world.
The day was almost scrapped before we even left North Olmsted. Our tickets, purchased with a special NASA discount, were only good for July 24th, but the weather forecast warned of “severe thunderstorms” (a few notches above the typically advertised “scattered thunderstorms” or “isolated thunderstorms”…this weather report included a Severe Weather Notice from the National Weather Service, much like the kind Boston receives nearly every other day). Nonetheless, we decided to at least drive to Sandusky, OH (about an hour away) to see what we would see, and headed down the freeway in a light drizzle.
When we got to Cedar Point it was still cloudy and rainy, and there were dark purple evil-looking clouds looming on the horizon, but we decided we’d trust our luck and enter the park. For once the weather favored us. After an hour or two of grey drizzle the clouds parted and the sun came out to give us some of the most cooperative climate conditions we’ve had all summer.
But enough about the weather! I think I rode more rollercoasters yesterday than I have cumulatively in my entire life. (That is, if you count all the times we rode on Space Mountain in Tokyo Disneyland as just one rollercoaster.) I lost count eventually, but trying to look back, I think it was…um…twelve or thirteen, plus two really awesome rides that can’t quite be considered rollercoasters (the Power Tower, which takes you up 240 feet and then drops you, and this crazy thing that spins you around and swings you like a pendulum). So, after riding roller coasters that take you upside-down every which way, that dangle you and force you to stand up, and do just about everything else imaginable under the sun, my conclusion (besides that screaming makes everything more fun) is: the traditional no-bells-and-whistles rollercoasters are by far the best.
By traditional, I mean the rollercoasters that take you on a slow climb up a really big hill and then send you careening down the other side at an obscenely steep angle, where you then proceed to go up and down (and around) lots of smaller hills until you’ve used up all that potential energy you got from climbing the hill. Really, that’s way more exciting than going upside down again and again, because the thrilling part are all the acceleration changes you feel (i.e., going down a hill you feel weightless), and when you are going around a loop you are basically feeling the same acceleration the whole time. Also, I love the long climb up the hill, because the tension keeps building as you get higher and higher. You have time to take in the amazing view—Cedar Point is right next to Lake Erie—and freak yourself out a lot before you finally go down. And if you aren’t in the front car you never quite know when you’ve reached the top and when you are going to start the descent, which is just as exciting as getting the full view from the front. Also, wooden rollercoasters are RAD. So so rad.
That said, there was this really awesome rollercoaster called the Top Thrill Dragster. It’s marketed as the tallest and fastest rollercoaster in the world (at least, it was when it was first built). Unlike the traditional rollercoasters I just described, on the Dragster you are accelerated almost instantly (from zero to over 120 mph in four seconds) by a hydraulic launch system. Then you go pretty much straight up for 420 feet over a hill and back down. That thing was…something else. The scariest part is definitely the initial acceleration of the cart, but coming back down on the drop wasn’t too bad either. Oh, and I got to ride it at night. They closed it for several hours due to “high winds”—gives you a lot of confidence in the construction of the ride—but then reopened it around 9 pm so we were able to barely make it through before the park closed. This thing is so awesome it’s fun just to watch…over and over and over. Before each cart goes up to the start position the entire crowd waiting in line starts clapping. It makes this great noise when it goes by, and every so often the cart won’t get fast enough to make it over the top of the hill and has to come back down the way it came. I never saw that happen, unfortunately.
If I ever become a high school physics teacher I am definitely going to do whatever it takes to take my class to an amusement park to teach them about physics via rollercoasters.
I could write a whole blog entry about the people watching at Cedar Point, too. But…my lunch break is definitely over so I’ll have to save that for another time.