Roller coasters may seem like a very modern type of entertainment – constantly getting bigger, faster and scarier thanks to advances in technology. But they actually date back to the mid-1800s. Gravity-propelled railways built to transport coal from up in the mountains down to the town in Pennsylvania, US, were hired out at weekends by fare-paying passengers riding purely for the fun of it.

Today theme parks are big business. But with queues occasionally as long as eight hours for an average ride of under two minutes – not to mention reports of riders suffering strokes, brain deformation and serious injury due to crashes – how come we put ourselves through it? What is it about roller coasters that some love so much, and is it an experience we tend to like less as we get older?

Enjoying roller coasters is linked to sensation seeking – the tendency to enjoy varied, novel and intense physical experiences such as rock climbing and parachute jumping. But what sensation do roller coasters provide that is so alluring? At first glance, it may seem to be down to the experience of speed. But the evidence for linking sensation seeking to speed is not compelling. For example, when it comes to driving at speeds above the legal limit, many people do it, not just sensation seekers.

Perhaps the draw of roller coasters is the enjoyment of the visceral sensation of fear itself, much like watching a horror movie. Physical signs of fear such as a pounding heart, faster breathing and an energy boost caused by the release of glucose are known collectively as the “fight or flight response”. We know that a roller coaster ride is likely to trigger this response thanks to researchers who measured the heart rates of riders on the double-corkscrew Coca Cola Roller in 1980s Glasgow. Heart beats per minute more than doubled from an average 70 beforehand to 153 shortly after the ride had begun. Some older riders got uncomfortably close to what would be deemed medically unsafe for their age.

In another adrenalin-boosting pastime, novice bungee jumpers not only reported increased feelings of well-being, wakefulness and euphoria just after completing a jump, they also had raised levels of endorphins in the blood, well known to produce feelings of intense pleasure. Interestingly, the higher the levels of endorphins that were present, the more euphoric the jumper reported feeling. Here, then, is clear evidence that people enjoy the sensations that accompany the fight or flight response within a non-threatening environment.

Contents

Good vs bad stress

And yet, paradoxically, these bungee jumpers also showed increased levels of the hormone cortisol, known to increase when people experience stress. How, then, can a person simultaneously experience stress and pleasure? The answer is that not all stress is bad. Eustress – from the Greek “eu”, meaning good, as in euphoria – is a positive kind of stress that people actively seek out.

We know that a roller coaster ride can be experienced as a “eustressful” experience thanks to an intriguing study carried out by two Dutch psychologists. They were interested in asthma, and specifically its relationship with stress. Having noted previous research findings that stress leads asthma sufferers to perceive their asthma symptoms as more severe, they wondered whether an opposite effect might be possible by applying eustress.

And so, in the name of science, some asthmatic student volunteers were transported to a theme park and rode a roller coaster while their respiratory function was checked. The research findings were remarkable. While lung function predictably reduced from the screaming and general upheaval, so did the feeling of shortness of breath. This suggests that thrill seekers riding roller coasters perceive the experience as stressful in a positive way.

The role of dopamine

But roller coasters are not everybody’s cup of tea. Could differences in brain chemistry explain sensation seeking behaviours? The experiment with bungee jumpers suggest that people with higher levels of endorphins feel higher levels of euphoria. But there is no evidence that resting levels of endorphins might explain sensation seeking, they are more likely a response to the thrill than a predictor of whether we enjoy it.

A recent review instead looked at the role of dopamine, another chemical messenger substance in the brain that is important in the functioning of neurological reward pathways. The review found that individuals who happen to have higher levels of dopamine also score more highly on measures of sensation seeking behaviour. While this is a correlation rather than a causation, another study found that taking a substance called haloperidol, which disrupts dopamine’s effects within the brain, led to a measurable decrease in sensation seeking behaviour.

This line of research sets out the intriguing possibility that enjoyment of intense physical experiences such as riding on roller coasters may reflect individual differences in brain chemistry. People who have higher levels of dopamine may be more prone to a number of sensation seeking behaviours, ranging from harmless roller coaster rides to taking drugs or even shoplifting.

Love it or hate it? Jacob Lund/

The question as to whether roller coaster riding still appeals as we get older has not been researched directly, but a recent survey looked at how keen people of different ages were on thrill-seeking holidays such as rock climbing trips. It showed that interest in these kinds of holidays peaks in early adulthood, declining with each passing decade. This indicates that older adults are less inclined to participate in activities similar to riding roller coasters. Perhaps experiencing one’s heart rate spiking dangerously close to medically accepted risk levels is not such a draw for the over 50s.

Though hard to pin down, people enjoy roller coasters thanks to a combination of speed, conquering fear and the positive effects associated with a massive rise in physiological arousal. A roller coaster ride is a legal, generally safe and relatively cheap means of experiencing a natural high. Understandably, people have been happy to pay money in exchange for doing it for centuries, and there is no sign of any waning in the appreciation of a bit of eustress.

The following essay is reprinted with permission from The Conversation, an online publication covering the latest research.

Roller coasters may seem like a very modern type of entertainment—constantly getting bigger, faster and scarier thanks to advances in technology. But they actually date back to the mid-1800s. Gravity-propelled railways built to transport coal from up in the mountains down to the town in Pennsylvania, US, were hired out at weekends by fare-paying passengers riding purely for the fun of it.

Today theme parks are big business. But with queues occasionally as long as eight hours for an average ride of under two minutes—not to mention reports of riders suffering strokes, brain deformation and serious injury due to crashes—how come we put ourselves through it? What is it about roller coasters that some love so much, and is it an experience we tend to like less as we get older?

Enjoying roller coasters is linked to sensation seeking—the tendency to enjoy varied, novel and intense physical experiences such as rock climbing and parachute jumping. But what sensation do roller coasters provide that is so alluring? At first glance, it may seem to be down to the experience of speed. But the evidence for linking sensation seeking to speed is not compelling. For example, when it comes to driving at speeds above the legal limit, many people do it, not just sensation seekers.

Perhaps the draw of roller coasters is the enjoyment of the visceral sensation of fear itself, much like watching a horror movie. Physical signs of fear such as a pounding heart, faster breathing and an energy boost caused by the release of glucose are known collectively as the “fight or flight response”. We know that a roller coaster ride is likely to trigger this response thanks to researchers who measured the heart rates of riders on the double-corkscrew Coca Cola Roller in 1980s Glasgow. Heart beats per minute more than doubled from an average 70 beforehand to 153 shortly after the ride had begun. Some older riders got uncomfortably close to what would be deemed medically unsafe for their age.

In another adrenalin-boosting pastime, novice bungee jumpers not only reported increased feelings of well-being, wakefulness and euphoria just after completing a jump, they also had raised levels of endorphins in the blood, well known to produce feelings of intense pleasure. Interestingly, the higher the levels of endorphins that were present, the more euphoric the jumper reported feeling. Here, then, is clear evidence that people enjoy the sensations that accompany the fight or flight response within a non-threatening environment.

But roller coasters are not everybody’s cup of tea. Could differences in brain chemistry explain sensation seeking behaviours? The experiment with bungee jumpers suggest that people with higher levels of endorphins feel higher levels of euphoria. But there is no evidence that resting levels of endorphins might explain sensation seeking, they are more likely a response to the thrill than a predictor of whether we enjoy it.

A recent review instead looked at the role of dopamine, another chemical messenger substance in the brain that is important in the functioning of neurological reward pathways. The review found that individuals who happen to have higher levels of dopamine also score more highly on measures of sensation seeking behaviour. While this is a correlation rather than a causation, another study found that taking a substance called haloperidol, which disrupts dopamine’s effects within the brain, led to a measurable decrease in sensation seeking behaviour.

This line of research sets out the intriguing possibility that enjoyment of intense physical experiences such as riding on roller coasters may reflect individual differences in brain chemistry. People who have higher levels of dopamine may be more prone to a number of sensation seeking behaviours, ranging from harmless roller coaster rides to taking drugs or even shoplifting.

The question as to whether roller coaster riding still appeals as we get older has not been researched directly, but a recent survey looked at how keen people of different ages were on thrill-seeking holidays such as rock climbing trips. It showed that interest in these kinds of holidays peaks in early adulthood, declining with each passing decade. This indicates that older adults are less inclined to participate in activities similar to riding roller coasters. Perhaps experiencing one’s heart rate spiking dangerously close to medically accepted risk levels is not such a draw for the over 50s.

Though hard to pin down, people enjoy roller coasters thanks to a combination of speed, conquering fear and the positive effects associated with a massive rise in physiological arousal. A roller coaster ride is a legal, generally safe and relatively cheap means of experiencing a natural high. Understandably, people have been happy to pay money in exchange for doing it for centuries, and there is no sign of any waning in the appreciation of a bit of eustress.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The Science Behind Why We Love Terrifying Ourselves on Rollercoasters

If you think about it for a second, rollercoasters make almost no sense. People plan expensive holidays around attending crowded theme parks where they proceed to line up for hours on end – all to spend maybe a minute or so screaming in absolute, upside-down terror. Why do we do this to ourselves?

According to Malcolm Burt, a researcher at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) in Australia, it’s because people have an emotional compulsion for thrill rides and the sense of controlled fear they provide.

Burt’s recently completed Masters project was perhaps the sweetest postgrad research gig of all time. He travelled the US and Asia, visiting as many theme parks as he could, riding rollercoasters and thrill rides on his merry way.

When not doing corkscrews and loop-de-loops, he interviewed theme park managers, psychologists, and rollercoaster enthusiasts about why we love to terrify ourselves on these insane machines, using their perspectives to help construct his thesis and this fascinating documentary, which you can watch in its entirety on YouTube.

“It very quickly became obvious that roller coasters exist because we have a strong psychological need for them, and of course they make a lot of money for theme park owners,” says Burt. “So the next question became: why do we have such a psychological need for them?”

According to Burt’s hypothesis, the answer has to do with the civilised world in which we live – a moderate, sheltered environment that may have become a little too benign for our needs as an animal species.

“The world has changed enormously since the Industrial Revolution but, from a biological perspective, we haven’t,” Burt says. “We aren’t at immediate risk every day any more – we actually live in a fairly lazy, consumerist society, but we still need a way to stay in touch with our primal selves. Coasters and other thrill rides are one way of maintaining a ‘hands on’ form of release, an adrenaline rush without being in any danger.”

Burt also suggests that despite the costs and time involved with visiting theme parks, compared to more intense adventure-seeking pursuits, thrill rides provide a practical and accessible outlet – perhaps in much the same way as virtual reality experiences and the scares that come with watching horror movies.

“In the Western world we have very limited amounts of paid leisure – most us of don’t have the time, money or skills to get the genuine release from doing something extreme like climbing Mount Everest,” he says. “But we can easily head to the theme park and scare ourselves senseless, as the biology of the thrill you get from a scary coaster and that of the peak experience when climbing a mountain is almost identical.”

You can find out more about Burt’s research here, and be sure to check out the full documentary below:

QUT is a sponsor of ScienceAlert. Find out more about their research.

The Weird Reasons You Love Amusement Parks

Thinkstock

Summertime is practically synonymous with roller coasters, carnival games, and funnel cake. Most of us have fond memories of amusement parks from childhood, and many of us still make regular trips there as an adult. (Yes, even those of us who don’t have kids of our own!)

Yesterday, a fun feature in the Boston Globe looked at precisely why we love these parks so much. It’s more complicated than one might think, and it has as much to do with savvy marketing and brain science as it does with thrilling rides and junk food. “The modern amusement park is, beneath the flash and the chaos, a carefully tuned psychological machine,” the article states.

Here are a few ways our brains can be “hijacked” by amusement parks, according to design experts, psychologists, and historians, and what you can expect when you pay one a visit this season.

1. Scary (but safe) rides make us feel alive. It’s no surprise to anyone who’s ever dropped to their near death on Disney World’s Tower of Terror or screamed their way through a ride on Coney Island’s rickety Cyclone (seriously, that thing feels like it could break at any second): Terrifying experiences can make us feel pretty euphoric once we’re back on solid ground. And we enjoy those experiences even more, experts say, when we’re within a “protective frame” that assures us that deep down, we’re still safe.

2. Love is in the air. Amusement parks are a great place to take a date, and not just because you can grab his hand on the aforementioned scary rides (although that’s certainly a plus) Anthropologist Helen Fisher says that people tend to become attracted to each other when they’re in “novel and exciting” situations, like on vacation or while walking around a (quite literal) fantasy world. Use this to your advantage, ladies, but make sure your amusement-park-induced romance holds up in real-life situations too.

RELATED: 14 Must-Try Summer Activities

3. It’s no coincidence that you “almost” won that giant teddy bear. Classic carnival games are designed to capitalize on what scientists call the “near-miss effect:” It’s easy to get very close to your target or to progressively improve, so you keep spending money, thinking that you’ll get it the next time. Spoiler alert: They’re a lot harder than they appear. By all means have fun, but don’t fall victim to this common mind trick.

4. Long lines make us appreciate the rides more. They’re arguably the worst part of amusement parks on hot summer days, but research suggests that waiting in line makes us appreciate the outcome more than we would if we’d simply walked right on. And it doesn’t have to be miserable: Focus on the number of people in line behind you (rather than the number in front of you), suggests a 2010 study, to keep your excitement from diminishing.

5. Big crowds encourage us to pig out. It’s not just the amazing smell wafting from the cotton candy cart that makes us so likely to splurge on less-than-healthy theme-park fare. Research suggests that being surrounded by strangers (e.g. giant park crowds) makes us feel anonymous, less accountable for our actions, and more likely to indulge in behaviors we wouldn’t otherwise. We’re not saying you shouldn’t enjoy some fried dough now and then, but maybe keeping this tidbit in mind can help you from getting swept up in a full-on binge. After all, summer isn’t just amusement park season-it’s bikini season as well.

  • By Amanda MacMillan

Why Do We Love Roller Coasters?

Roller Coasters have been terrifying and exhilarating thrill seekers for centuries. The earliest incarnation was an ice slide built in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1750. 50 years later, a Frenchman brought the idea to Paris, building a more permanent structure out of rails and wheels.

The first American roller coaster was built in Coney Island, Brooklyn, in 1884. For a nickel, adventurous Americans rode “Thompson’s Switchback Railway”. Although it trundled along at a mere six miles per hour (9.7 kph), it caused a sensation, and established Coney Island as a major summertime attraction. They unveiled the legendary wooden coaster the Cyclone in 1927, which held the title of the king of coasters for years and still is in operation today.

RELATED: Extreme Roller Coasters in Slow Motion!

The rides have advanced by serious leaps and bounds since: they routinely exceed speeds of over 100 mph (160 kph), and heights well over 400 ft (122 m). It’s the physics involved that make them fun: the build-up potential energy on the hills, kinetic energy on the drops, acceleration and g-forces on the loops and turns that get your blood pumping and adrenaline flowing.

Coasters basically use those forces to manipulate your inner ear, internal organs, and other senses to mess with your brain chemistry: all those drops, jerks and free-floating gravity trips are meant to give you a whiff of fear, (without actually putting you in any real danger).

RELATED: The Tallest Roller Coaster Ever!

People get a natural high from the endorphins released when they encounter the brain’s “fight-or-flight” response, regulated by our amygdala, which dumps a host of chemicals into our blood streams to prep our bodies to fight or run. The brain releases dopamine, serotonin, adrenaline and oxytocin to help hone the mind, focus the senses and prepare the body for action.

Are you a roller coaster junkie? Do you plan on riding any this Summer? Let us know how they make you feel in the comments section!

Learn More:
Curiosities: Why do people like to scare themselves by watching horror movies or going on thrill rides? (WISC.edu)
“Why some people crave this type of stimulation isn’t clear. Perhaps certain individuals simply need a more active amygdala for some reason.”

Why Do Some Brains Enjoy Fear? (The Atlantic)
“This time of year, thrillseekers can enjoy horror movies, haunted houses, and prices so low, it’s scary. But if fear is a natural survival response to a threat, or danger, why would we seek out that feeling?”

Thrill-Seeking: What Parts of Your Brain Are Involved? (Psychology Today)
“Why do so many folks, from daring Olympian snowboarders, skiers and skaters to motorcyclists and car racers, not to mention college students at the beach for spring break, find themselves drawn to risk and danger time and time again?”

On August 16, 1898, Edwin Prescott, a roller coaster designer from Massachusetts, was granted a patent for an improvement to roller coasters that ride enthusiasts have come to take for granted—the vertical loop. While the roller coaster depicted in the patent’s illustration, and later realized as the Loop the Loop coaster at Coney Island, wasn’t the first to invert riders in a loop, it did usher in the safer, more comfortable and now prevailing elliptical-shaped loop.

Prescott’s Loop the Loop was surprisingly unsuccessful—mostly due to the fact that only one car with four passengers could ride the coaster at a time. It closed in 1910 after only nine years in operation. But the inventor’s pioneering spirit is honored every August 16 on National Roller Coaster Day.

To mark the occasion, we bring you 14 fun facts about roller coasters.

1. The American roller coaster was invented to save America from Satan.

In the 1880s, LaMarcus Thompson was troubled by America’s slide into hedonism and immorality. Out of that concern, we got the rollercoaster

It may be hard to believe with roller coasters named Dare Devil Dive, Steel Vengeance and The Beast, but the rides were initially developed as a distraction from Satan’s temptations.

In 1884, disgusted with the uprise of hedonistic amusements like saloons and brothels, LaMarcus Adna Thompson invented the Switchback Gravity Railway, a patented coaster that visitors to Brooklyn’s Coney Island could ride for just five cents. Because it was situated at Coney Island, Thompson is often referred to as the “Father of the American Rollercoaster” for establishing its connection to amusement parks. His initial invention, however, isn’t like the thrill-inducers we know today.

These were gravity-powered, slow-moving cars that faced outward, rather than forward, so one could enjoy a constructed scene as the car coasted at less than six miles per hour. These scenes would often be built to emulate beautiful landscapes around the world; Thompson constructed one of the Swiss Alps, for instance, and another of Venetian canals.

2. One of the earliest coasters in America carried coal before it carried thrill seekers.

Mount Pisgah with the Mauch Chunk and Summit Hill Switchback Railroad, 1846-47 (Wikipedia)

Predating Thompson’s Satan-distractor by a few decades was a railway that served dual purposes: a coal carrier in the morning and a joy ride in the afternoon. The Mauch Chunk Switchback Railway was a gravity railway built in 1827 to haul coal about nine miles between coal mines. Gravity forced the cars carrying one-and-a-half tons of coal downhill, which were later brought back up by mules when emptied. With that much weight behind them, they could reach 50 miles per hour through the Lehigh Valley. As any curious human would ponder when gazing upon such a zippy device, tourists saw this and naturally thought: “I want to go to there.” In 1873, at its peak, Mauch Chunk carried 30,478 adrenaline-rushed passengers—each for just 75 cents.

3. “Russian mountains” predated roller coasters—and Catherine the Great improved them.

“Russian mountains” helped to inspire early roller coasters of Europe, like the Promenades Aeriennes that opened in Paris in 1817. (Wikipedia)

In the 15th century, Russians really upped the ante on sledding, building giant, wooden slides—some up to 70 feet tall and 100 feet in length—that they covered in slick ice. Mounted on an ice block with a straw seat, riders could reach up to 50 miles per hour.

Popularized in upper class circles, Catherine II of Russia had one installed on her property—but hers wasn’t limited to winter enjoyment. It had wheels that fit into grooved wooden rails, putting the “roller” in roller coaster and allowing the thrill to continue into summer months, as Wired reports. Some say her clout gave roller coasters the credibility to spread into Europe by the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

4. Roller coaster loops are never circular.

Visitors ride the roller coaster “Big Loop” in Heide-Park in Soltau, Lower Saxony, Germany. (Hauke-Christian Dittrich/picture alliance via Getty Images)

Sure, some roller coasters can loop-the-loop, but have you ever noticed it’s never perfectly circular? To oversimplify things, the loop isn’t a circle itself, it’s roughly the part where two circles hypothetically overlap, sort of like the middle of a Venn diagram.

Secondly, some physics: Centripetal force is what holds keeps you from falling out of roller coaster while it’s upside down. Simply speaking, this means when you’re traveling on a curved path and velocity is pushing you forward, you’re also being pulled toward the curve’s central point. When roller coasters are designed, the engineers’ first job is to establish how fast they want you to go. Taking centripetal force into consideration will dictate the shape and size of the loop. (For numbers folks out there, you can find a very in-depth mathematical breakdown on Gizmodo.)

5. Riding Big Thunder Mountain Railroad at Disney World could help dislodge kidney stones.

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad (Wikipedia)

You just found out you have kidney stones, what’s next? Go to Disney World! Prescribing patients prone to the condition a trip to the amusement park as a form of preventative care sounds like a pretty wild idea, but wild enough that it works.

While wearing a backpack containing a transparent, 3D-printed kidney with a fake stone inside, researchers rode Disney World’s Big Thunder Mountain Railroad coaster about 20 times to study how the stone would move with all those ups and downs, according to a 2016 study in The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association. (The “work” won them a beloved Ig Nobel Prize.) About two-thirds of the time, the kidney stone passed—as long as the rider was seated at the back of the coaster.

6. You can thank inventor Phillip Hinkle for that clanking, anxiety-inducing powered chain lift that allows roller coasters to climb their first big inclines.

(USPTO)

We no longer have to climb up a steep hill or stairs to board coasters because, in 1884, Phillip Hinkle patented a powered chain lift to pull the cars up that first incline before letting gravity do the rest of the work. Because of this, Hinkle coasters—like Coney Island’s Gravity Pleasure Road, also known as the Oval Coaster—could be built on elliptical paths, rather than from point A to point B. (The Mauch Chunk coal-mine coasters used mules to bring cars back to the top of a straight path, if you recall.)

7. The tallest roller coaster in the world is Kingda Ka at Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson, New Jersey.

Riders approach the summit of the “Kingda Ka” roller coaster 19 May, 2005, at Six Flags amusement park in Jackson, New Jersey. (Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images)

Interested in riding 465 feet straight toward the sky and then descending at a rapid clip? Then the Kingda Ka roller coaster at Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson, New Jersey, is for you. It goes from zero to 128 miles per hour in only 3.5 seconds in order to speed you up the rails 45 stories high at a 90-degree angle, according to the website. The rest of the ride is a spiraling 50.6 second blur.

8. The fastest roller coaster is Formula Rossa at Ferrari World Abu Dhabi.

Formula Rossa (Wikipedia)

So, you want to go fast? Hop on the Formula Rossa roller coaster at Ferrari World Abu Dhabi. This baby goes from zero to 149 miles per hour in just 4.9 seconds. You’ll peak at a maximum height of 170 feet and get an adrenaline rush worth 4.8Gs, according to their website. It’ll leaving you feeling like a real race car driver. Or maybe it’ll just leave you sick.

9. The longest roller coaster is Steel Dragon 2000 at Nagashima Spa Land in Japan.

Steel Dragon 2000 (Paul Gerrard/Getty Images)

When it opened on August 1, 2000, the Steel Dragon 2000 was the fastest, tallest and longest in the world. Others have stolen the fastest and tallest crowns, but the Dragon is still the longest. At 1.5 miles long, you’ll be on this coaster for four minutes. And what will you be doing in that time?

According to Coasterpedia:

After the chain lift hill is an initial drop of 306.8 foot and a 252 foot camelback hill. The train subsequently rises up and into the figure-eight shaped helix. The train then passes through a mid-course brake run and over six more camelback hills, passing through two tunnels along the way before reaching the final brakes.

10. Fabio may have killed a goose with his face on a roller coaster.

If you’ve ever been suspicious of boarding a roller coaster because that’s awfully close to where birds are zooming around, your fears are not unfounded. In 1999, Fabio Lanzoni—a dashing Italian-American actor and model known to grace many covers of romance novels in the ‘80s and ‘90s—was allegedly struck in the face by a goose when debuting the Apollo’s Chariot at Busch Gardens Williamsburg. The moment lives on as a single sentence in his Wikipedia page—and several other blog posts. Lanzoni himself, however, claims a different version of events: The goose didn’t strike him; it struck a video camera that then struck him.

11. Whether or not you enjoy roller coasters may have to do with your brain chemistry.

A teenage girl screams during rollercoaster ride in an amusement park on July 26, 1957. (Hy Peskin/FPG/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

The loops, hills, turns, speed, dips, drops and spirals of today’s coasters aren’t for everyone—and the chemical makeup of your brain might be the reason for your preference. Higher levels of dopamine, which are neurotransmitters associated with reward-motivated behavior, are linked to sensation-seeking activities. Another study that focused on bungee jumpers found that higher levels of endorphins led to increased feelings of euphoria, which would explain why some people dig the thrill so much.

12. The future of roller coasters promises cars that rotate and roller coaster-water slide mashups.

Roller coasters of the future are bound to be wild. Last fall, in just one day, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office published five patent applications from Universal for amusement park technologies. Two patents laid out ways for coaster cars to change direction while the coaster was moving, turning sideways as well as forward while the ride is in motion. Disney similarly applied for a patent that would allow a car’s seat to move while the coaster is cruising. But spinning cars aren’t the only thing coming. This spring, a German rollercoaster manufacturer shared conceptual renderings for what it called the “world’s first hybrid roller coaster and waterslide,” according to Orlando Weekly. Others are after that title too—a Canadian company plans to open a water-coaster, called the Cheetah Chase, in Indiana in 2020.

13. One of the most famous roller coaster designers had a “bad motion sickness problem.”

Ron Toomer is an American engineer credited with pioneering steel rollercoasters. He designed the Runaway Mine Ride at Six Flags Over Texas in 1966 known for its “tubular track” and the “inverted helix-shaped” Corkscrew, which sprung up at number of parks, in 1975. The first suspended coasters—where the car hangs like a swing—are Toomer’s too.

Just one problem: he had a really miserable motion sickness problem and rarely rode any of his rides. “They’ve gotten too big. And the bigger they are, the sicker I get. Just the thought of riding on one makes me queasy. I’d much rather sit at my drafting table and draw them,” he told People magazine in 1989.

14. There is a wooden roller coaster still in operation that was built in 1902.

Leap-the-Dips (Wikipedia)

If you like your coasters rickety, then Leap-The-Dips in Altoona, Pennsylvania, is the ride for you. The wooden rollercoaster was built in 1902, and, yes, 117 years later, it’s still in operation. It goes ten miles an hour and doesn’t have seatbelts, lapbars or headrests.

Leap-the-Dips was quite the innovation for its time. It is what’s called a side friction coaster, meaning it has weight-bearing road wheels underneath the cars to guide it and side-friction wheels off to the side that employ friction to keep cars on the track. (These types of coasters lack the now industry standard underfriction, or up-stop, wheels that keep speedy coasters from lifting off their tracks.) And the ride’s apparently still inspiring inventors today. Elon Musk’s Loop, a traffic solution that could be used to move vehicles at speeds of 150 miles per hour, is essentially a side friction coaster on steroids.

“The speed and forces that make roller coasters so much fun also are the potential causes of injury in susceptible riders,” said Adam Phillips, physician assistant on the Trauma Team at Utah Valley Regional Medical Center.

As described on Lagoon’s website, “Cannibal lifts riders 208 feet and plunges them into a 116° beyond vertical free-fall into an underground tunnel. Cannibal is Lagoon’s most thrilling ride, including a 140 foot tall inverted loop and water feature. Riders travel up to 70 mph over 2,735 feet and through 3 inversions.”

While that experience may sound fun to many people, it’s important to remember there are serious forces at work. As people walk around earth, they experience “normal” gravity (i.e. 1 G). On high-intensity roller coasters, the G-forces may briefly exceed 4 Gs. Cannibal actually reaches 4.2 Gs.

To put that in perspective, Space Shuttle occupants experienced around 3.5 Gs (sustained) on takeoff and re-entry. A fighter pilot may experience upwards of 8-10 Gs of force temporarily. People often black out around 5 Gs of force.

Phillips said these forces put significant strain on riders’ musculoskeletal and cardiovascular systems. Four Gs of force means a rider’s head now weighs four times what it normally does. The muscles, ligaments, tendons, joints, and discs throughout the body must support four times the weight they do at rest.

Healthy riders can most likely withstand these forces without any problems. In fact, most healthy individuals rarely experience new injuries due to these significant forces. However, those with pre-existing conditions may not be able to handle the added stress.

“People with pre-existing issues in their muscles or bones or cardiovascular system are already prone to have injuries exacerbated. That’s why it’s absolutely necessary to follow the safety guidelines posted for Cannibal or other similar rides,” said Phillips.

According to the “Fun and Safety Guide Sign” for Cannibal, the ride is not recommended for pregnant women or anyone with heart trouble, high blood pressure, back/neck/bone injuries or recent surgery or illness. Guests less than 48 inches may not ride and due to the design of the seat restraints, exceptionally large or tall individuals may not be able to ride.

“The engineering and safety restraint systems of commercial amusement park rides are highly regulated and regularly inspected. Most of the time, accidents have to do with human error or rider noncompliance with safety rules. Follow the rules and you’ll enjoy the ride,” Phillips said.

I’ve been on a good number of roller coasters in my day and generally love riding on them. So when Network World Cool Tools Editor Keith Shaw and I were researching the story of Six Flags New England introducing virtual reality headsets on their star Superman ride, I knew I wanted to experience it for myself.

The ride is incredible, even without the VR headset: It’s got a 220-foot drop, 5,000+ feet of track and it goes 77 miles per hour. It’s a trill-lovers paradise.

+MORE AT NETWORK WORLD: Virtual Flying with Superman: How Six Flags added even more thrills to its top roller coaster | Superman the Virtual Reality Ride, in pictures | First-person reaciton to Superman VR Ride +

The VR headsets are placed over your eyes and tightened across the back of your head. My initial reaction upon putting it on is that it’s a completely immersive experience. All you could see is the digital world being displayed on the Samsung phone inside the headset. You can’t see the roller coaster track, you can’t see the person sitting next to you, you can’t see the other people on the ride screaming their heads off.

For me, it was almost slightly claustrophobic. Once the large lap restraint was locked into place I lost my sense of place; I didn’t know where I was on the ride, whether I would be able to tell if the coaster was moving or whether it was just the VR video.

As the ride started up the steep ascent the video graphics were really cool. It’s amazing how well synchronized they are. I loved the storyline of Superman and Lex Luther battling it out while the coaster is zooming across the track.

By the time it got to the end of the ride though – a full two and a half minutes later – I was ready to take the headset off. I was even feeling a little queasy, which doesn’t normally happen to me on roller coasters.

Don’t get me wrong – it was an incredible experience. But riding a roller coaster as intense as Superman three times in an hour, which is what we did for this story and video shoot, is quite intense even for someone who considers themselves a coaster enthusiast.

Keith seemed to love the coaster and even did the VR twice. What was the difference between Keith and me? For one, Keith has a lot more experience using virtual reality headsets. I’ve used them before, but not to a significant extent. I think the combination of riding the coaster three times in an hour, combined with my little experience in VR made my knees shake a little bit.

With that being said, I’m glad I tried it, and if you like Coasters or VR, I would certainly recommend trying it too. Just be prepared!

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by Brady MacDonald

In the past 10 years, ride makers built an astonishing collection of world’s first and record-breaking coasters designed to wow thrill-seekers around the globe.

The 11 best new roller coasters of the decade

1) Formula Rossa

Formula Rossa wasn’t satisfied with merely being the fastest roller coaster in the world. The 2010 Ferrari World ride is so fast it crushes the next closest competitor by more than 20 mph.

At a stunning 149 mph, Formula Rossa blows the doors off of the 128 mph Kingda Ka at New Jersey’s Six Flags Great Adventure, the last coaster to hold the “world’s fastest” title. It is so fast that the United Arab Emirates theme park requires riders to wear safety goggles to keep the desert sand from getting in their eyes.

The hydraulic launch coaster built by Switzerland-based Intamin and themed by JRA, accelerates to its top speed in a mere 4.9 seconds. The speeding Formula 1-themed train needs 1.4 miles of track just to slow down, also making it one of the longest coasters in the world.

2) New Texas Giant

Rocky Mountain Construction changed the theme park landscape forever in the 2010s with a string of spellbinding new wood-steel hybrid coasters.

In 2011, Rocky Mountain converted an ageing wooden coaster at Six Flags Over Texas into the New Texas Giant. The $10 million IBox track conversion served notice to fellow ride makers that RMC had come to play. A 79-degree drop sent riders racing 65 mph through turns banked at up to 115 degrees.

Amusement Today awarded New Texas Giant the Golden Ticket Award for best new ride of 2011. A 2013 fatal accident resulted in modifications to the restraint system on New Texas Giant.

3) Outlaw Run

Idaho-based Rocky Mountain Construction took the traditional wooden coaster concept and turned the idea on its head in 2013 with upside-down inversions that thrilled ride enthusiasts.

Purists debated whether to call the RMC rides wooden coasters, but riders didn’t seem to care as they lined up for each new jaw-dropping creation.

The built-from-scratch Outlaw Run at Silver Dollar City in Missouri was the game-changer. The $10 million Outlaw Run included an overbanked inversion and a double heartline roll — something never seen before in a “wooden” coaster.

Outlaw Run picked up the Golden Ticket for best new ride in 2013.

4) Smiler

Next on the list of the best new roller coasters is Alton Towers‘ Smiler. This holds the record for the most inversions on a roller coaster: 14. The $23 million Gerstlauer Infinity coaster was built in 2013 at the United Kingdom’s Alton Towers. Smiler’s spider web of track includes corkscrews, sidewinders, dive loops and a heartline roll.

A 2015 collision on the Smiler coaster left five riders seriously injured and forced the closure of the ride for several months.

5) Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts

One of the best new roller coasters of the 2010s utilizes motion-based ride vehicles, projection screens, detailed sets and special effects. Not the sort of things you expect to be associated with a roller coaster.

Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts debuted in 2014 as part of the second phase of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at the Universal Orlando Resort.

The Intamin roller coaster-dark ride combo is the flagship attraction in Diagon Alley at Universal Studios Florida. Scenes from the Potter films appear on large projection screens alongside detailed physical sets as riders travel through Gringotts Bank.

6) Raptor single rail coaster

A pair of revolutionary new attractions debuted a month apart in Summer 2018. These redefined what a roller coaster track looks like and how riders experience the ride.

Rocky Mountain Construction built the first Raptor single-rail coasters at California’s Great America (Railblazer) and Six Flags Fiesta Texas (Wonder Woman Golden Lasso). Passengers sit in an inline-style train with their legs straddling a monorail I-beam track.

Wonder Woman Golden Lasso, Six Flags Fiesta Texas

Railblazer and Golden Lasso have similar lengths (1,800 feet), top speeds (52 mph), drop angles (90 degrees) and inversions (3).

7) Hades 360

The addition of a corkscrew inversion on the Hades wooden coaster at Wisconsin’s Mt. Olympus theme park got overshadowed in 2013 by the debut of the award-winning triple-inversion Outlaw Run at Silver Dollar City.

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A post shared by Mt. Olympus Resort & Parks (@mtolympuspark) on Oct 21, 2019 at 11:11am PDT

The spotlight would have been on Hades 360 if Mt. Olympus had asked Ohio-based Gravity Group to add a 360-degree inverted roll to the coaster just a summer sooner.

The renovation turned a run-of-the-mill wooden coaster into a must-ride looping thrill machine. A corkscrew inversion and 110-degree overbanked turn replaced an ordinary hill in a segment of Hades track built on an island in the Mt. Olympus parking lot.

8) Fury 325

Also on our list of the 11 best new roller coasters of the decade is Fury 325. This towering ride knocked a couple of legendary coasters from their lofty perches when it debuted at North Carolina’s Carowinds in 2015.

The $30 million high-speed steel giant from Switzerland-based Bolliger & Mabillard ranks as one of the fastest (95 mph), tallest (325 feet) and longest (6,600 feet) coasters in the world. Fury 325 ousted Japan’s Steel Dragon 2000 as the world’s tallest giga coaster. This is a designation for coasters over 300 feet tall.

Fury 325 also nabbed the Golden Ticket award for best steel coaster in 2016. And, it has held onto the title ever since. The Carowinds coaster took the top prize from reigning champ Millennium Force at Ohio’s Cedar Point.

9) Batman: The Ride

Six Flags slaps the Batman name on all sorts of rides. But the Fiesta Texas coaster named for the Caped Crusader truly belongs on this list of the best new roller coasters of the decade. The first-of-its-kind 4D Free Spin coaster by Utah-based S&S Worldwide features a track manufactured by Idaho-based Rocky Mountain Construction.

The Batman fourth-dimension roller coaster debuted in 2015 at Six Flags Fiesta Texas. It has seats that spin forward and backwards as the train navigates a zigzagging track. The ride also includes undulating straightaways and free-fall drops.

Batman: The Ride looks like a demonic pachinko game. It has a snaking 1,000-foot-long track that slithers back and forth on a compact footprint.

10) Thirteen

Thirteen debuted in 2010 at the United Kingdom’s Alton Towers theme park. It arrived as the world’s first vertical freefall drop roller coaster.

The Intamin ride combined a traditional steel coaster with a dark ride-style surprise. This is designed to shock riders even when they know it is coming. Alton Towers billed the superstition-themed ride as a “psychoaster,” with the coaster’s official name stylized as Th13teen.

The freefall drop element takes place in a darkened crypt with audio effects and air blasters. The train and track segment initially drops a foot followed by a longer drop of approximately 15 feet. The train exits the crypt backwards into a helix.

11) Flying Turns

Finally, we finish our list of the 11 best new roller coasters of the decade by highlighting Flying Turns. With this, Knoebels amusement park brought back a ride in 2013 that coaster enthusiasts long thought had been left for dead.

The Flying Turns trackless toboggan coaster features a wooden chute. Here, the train glides freely like an Olympic bobsled through a twisting course at a top speed of 25 mph.

The family-run Pennsylvania park spent eight obsessive years building and rebuilding a faithful replica the coaster. This slow, squat and serpentine ride had disappeared decades earlier from the amusement park landscape.

The first Flying Turns bobsled coaster was built at Ohio’s Lakeside Park in 1929. The last wooden bobsled coaster at New York’s Coney Island was demolished in 1974, according to Roller Coaster Database. Knoebels based the reborn ride on old plans, grainy photographs and the recollections of a few Flying Turns veterans.

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