Step Right Up! Guessing Your Weight and Age

In a culture obsessed with age and weight, why do Americans subject themselves to those who guess age and weight at amusement parks? Jayne Eiben reports on the ubiquitous weight guessing game seen at state and county fairs and carnivals around the nation.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

I'm Alex Chadwick. This is DAY TO DAY.

You know politics and religion and sex are topics avoided in polite conversation. Asking strangers their age or weight, that's absolutely taboo, unless you are asking as the guesser at a carnival or amusement park. In a culture obsessed with youth and slenderness, why do we still go to these guessers every summer? Producer Jayne Eiben visited a few parks in Ohio to find out why.

JAYNE EIBEN reporting:

For 52 years, Ray de Freides(ph) has made a career out of guessing people's age and weight. He travels to carnivals around the country, including a recent stop at the IX Indoor Amusement Park in Cleveland, Ohio. Spending time with the charming, heavyset and weathered de Freides, it's easy to forget that discussing age and weight is anything but entertaining.

(Soundbite of traffic in background)

Mr. RAY DE FREIDES (Age and Weight Guesser): They love the game because they just want to see--you know, they want to see if--do they look their age or do they look their weight?

EIBEN: Before long, a muscular young man and his girlfriend step up to de Freides' booth.

Mr. DE FREIDES: How you doing?

Unidentified Man: Good. How are you?

Mr. DE FREIDES: Good. What do you want guessed?

Unidentified Man: My weight.

Mr. DE FREIDES: You weigh 186.

EIBEN: While those visiting de Freides' booth are all smiles, he's acutely aware of how serious age and weight can be for many, especially some women.

Mr. DE FREIDES: You don't look your age. How old are you?

Unidentified Woman: How old--I'm 56.

Mr. DE FREIDES: Not just 5-0.

Unidentified Woman: How about that? In fact, I'll be 57 next...

Mr. DE FREIDES: Wonderful.

Unidentified Woman: ...next month.

EIBEN: There are tricks of the trade to spare some customers embarrassment. When de Freides guesses an older woman's age, which he always writes down on a small pad of paper, and it's well over her actual age, she'll never know it. If he writes `60' but she's actually 56, he won't show her what he's written down. Instead, he'll automatically subtract 10 years and tell her he's guessed 5-0. She still wins a teddy bear, but he also makes her day.

De Freides is a rarity in the world of age- and weight-guessers. Most guessers at amusement parks across the country are college students, like Lindsay Pascovan(ph). This outgoing 21-year-old blonde from Swartz Creek, Michigan, has been a guesser at Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio, for four summers. Guests pay $5 for Pascovan to guess their birth month within two months, age within two years or weight within three pounds. Winners at her booth choose from an assortment of teddy bears and stuffed animals that, like most carnival prizes, are likely to be worth less than to cost of playing the game.

Guessers at Cedar Point are trained to be customer-friendly, but they're also trained to guess accurately, to win. Pascovan finds that many of the people who play the game look younger or older, thinner or heavier than they really are. It's her job to discern the truth.

(Soundbite of voices in background)

Ms. LINDSAY PASCOVAN (Age and Weight Guesser): Part of the game is just all strategy, and just like any other game. If you're going to play basketball, you think about, OK, how am I going to fake out my opponent? So you think about it that way.

EIBEN: Psychologists who study this behavior say the phenomenon makes sense in our narcissistic culture. People like being the center of attention, and the obsession with age and weight makes them appropriate subjects for a little light-hearted fun.

Men seem more impervious to the public embarrassment of having their age or weight overguessed. This 35-year-old visitor to Cedar Point has just been told he looks 50.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Unidentified Man: And I won. That's all that matters. Steph(ph), pick out what you want.

Unidentified Woman: What do you get?

EIBEN: And finally, it's that lure of winning a prize that trumps any potential embarrassment of heavily stepping on an oversized scale or being publicly told you look twice your age.

For NPR News, I'm Jayne Eiben.

CHADWICK: I'm Alex Chadwick, and DAY TO DAY returns in just a moment.

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