Tracking the roller coaster wars
This column originally ran in ComputorEdge on June 30, 2006
It's summer official roller coaster season, I believe.
To be honest, the newer ones scare the bejeebers out of me I won't even ride them.
But I can still admire the engineering feats that they are, and enjoy the braggadocio of the amusement park managements in their competitive quest for the ultimate roller coaster experience.
For those trying to plan road trips to check out the newest, fastest and highest coasters, the Web is, no surprise, a tremendous resource.
The Roller Coaster DataBase isn't as polished as some sites, but may have the deepest information of any of the roller coaster sites.
Philosophically, the RCDB is much like the better-known Internet Movie DataBase both seem to allow for knowledgeable visitors to contribute to the existing information store (although the RCDB doesn't make it as easy to submit information as the IMDB does).
Still, with more than 3,000 roller coasters in the database, there's a ton of neat information here.
Growing up as a kid in southern Ohio in the 1960s and '70s, we couldn't always afford to go to King's Island. Some of the neighbors were hooked on a smaller, less-expensive park called LeSourdsville. Next door to LeSourdsville was an even smaller amusement park called Fantasy Farm, aimed at the kindergarten and younger set.
That was my first roller coaster a little, tiny, almost toy ride at Fantasy Farm.
The RCDB has that ride in their database. (It was purchased at auction when Fantasy Farm closed, and is still in operation today at the equally small Williams Grove Amusement Park in Mechanicsburg, Pa. Somehow, that gladdens my heart.)
Of course, most roller coaster fans are more interested in the state of the art "super roller coasters" than in some vintage little-kid ride.
You go to the Record Holders page on the RCDB, and you can find out where the top rides in the world are with links to their home parks.
And each amusement park includes a link to a mapping service, so you can see how to get there.
If your travel funds and/or time are limited, you can search by region in the Tree View see what's nearby.
The Ultimate Rollercoaster Page is another good starting point. Not only does this site have lists of and links to the various top-ranked coasters, it also posts news articles about coasters. There are also lists of the top 10 in various categories fastest, longest, tallest.
A lot of the excitement surrounding roller coasters comes from the extreme enthusiasts those fans who just have to ride the latest, highest, fastest, craziest coaster.
a And these folks tend to congregate in clubs. Their clubs tend to have Web pages.
The American Coaster Enthusiasts are one of the older (founded in 1978) and apparently larger, more active such clubs. They have gatherings (at amusement parks with big coasters, of course) scheduled all summer long, all across the United States.
Coaster Zombies has more of an international flavor than the ACE group, and has events scheduled from Mexico City to Maryland this year.
Not surprisingly, there are also a lot of sites that explain the how of coasters.
Roller Coaster Physics is part of a larger site that explains the physics of amusement park rides in general. Be prepared to waste a couple of hours on this one!
An education-oriented site, Funderstanding, has a page devoted to roller coasters. This was by far the very coolest of all pages we visited for this column. A real-time roller-coaster simulator in Java, it allows you manipulate the height of two hills and a loop. Make the second hill too low, and the coaster gets airborne. Make it too high, and the coaster won't crest. Slider bars allow you to change the height of the hills, the strength of gravity, the initial speed of the car, the amount of friction between the car and the rails, and the mass of the car. Airborne coastering has rarely been so fun, even if the graphics are decidedly low-rez.
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