Tuesday, June 5, 2007

The best roller coaster ever, period.

First of all, I'm a bitch for being totally absent lately, especially after I ripped my cohorts (and myself, kinda) for not posting enough. But I wanted my next post to be something different from a random-thoughts (a la Jack Handey) or a status-of-the-Mets post. So I went out and did something fun, and for the last two days, I've been doing some real actual "research" to beef things up. There are gonna be lots of links and pictures! Yay! Blogging is hard goddamn work! I hope it was worth it.

As good New Jerseyans ("San Diego-ans? San Diego-ites?" "San Diegans," quoth Ron Burgundy), you have all probably been to Great Adventure in the last two years. However, prior to Monday, I hadn't been there since the summer of 2003.

But if you have been there recently, you are certainly familiar with the world's greatest amusement park ride: Kingda Ka.

That tall thing in the back? That's it. I'm giving you a
nice long-distance shot to create a sense of anticipation!

How to describe this ride -- that is the difficulty. Remember how you felt after you first had sex? No, forget that. If you're like me, it probably was awkward at best, more likely a troublesome failure, or possibly worse. But wait -- remember when you first had good sex? Anyway, if you've ridden Kingda Ka, you know. For the rest of you, let me start by giving you a few of Kingda Ka's vital statistics:
  • It lasts a mere 28 seconds, which doesn't sound like much, but believe me -- those 28 seconds are worth the price of admission ($64 now, unless you go Mon-Fri and bring a Coke can -- half price! Score!).
  • Whereas many coasters slowly crawl up to the peak so they can drop you that much faster, Kingda Ka's hydraulic launch mechanism propels you on an initial straightaway that's about 400 yards from 0-128 m.p.h. in 3.5 seconds. (Go engineers!)
  • It then turns upwards, launching you 456 feet into the air. To give you some perspective, the Statue of Liberty is 305 feet at its height, which is barely 2/3 as tall. The Eiffel Tower is 324 feet tall. Kingda Ka's 456-foot height means you go up 45 stories. And then back down again. (There are many states, let alone countries, that don't have a building nearly that tall.) This all takes less than 30 seconds.
  • After the initial straightaway, where you reach 128 m.per-fucking.h., Kingda Ka turns upwards at a 90-degree angle (i.e., STRAIGHT UP), maintaining its speed until the apex, where you immediately drop straight down, and in a corkscrew fashion.
  • What kind of power does this take? The world's fastest car runs 0-100 m.p.h. in 5.3 seconds, boasting 730 horsepower. What kind of power does it take to go 0-128 m.p.h. in just 3.5 seconds? 20,800 horsepower. Yeah.
Oooh, a new angle! And a bit closer. Look at how short the
are compared to the tower. And those are real trees, man!
We're slowly getting some perspective, right?

When it comes to roller coasters, I think two things matter most: speed and height. Way back in 1992, when I was in 8th grade, I went on the class trip to Great Adventure, three years after the Great American Scream Machine opened.

The Great American Scream Machine has three cars -- one red, one white,
and one blue. This ride is fucking patriotic and totally approves of torturing
any evil-doers by applying absurd levels of centrifugal force.

It was my first roller coaster, and I will always love it because it directly created my love of roller coasters. When it opened in 1989, it was the tallest and fastest coaster in the world. At 173 feet tall and 68 m.p.h., it's child's play now, even compared to many non-Kingda Ka coasters. I went on it again on Monday, but the only joy I really got was a nostalgic sense-memory of back in '92. Great Adventure now has many others far better: Medusa (awesome; 142 feet high, 61 m.p.h.), Batman and Robin: The Chiller (outstanding; 200 feet, 70 m.p.h.), and Nitro (unbelievably great, a solid Silvio to Kingda Ka's Tony; 230 feet, 80 m.p.h.).

(The Superman ride blows, in my opinion. I only say this because it gets a lot of bullshit hype. Yeah, once you strap in, it pulls you up into a horizontal position so you'll feel like you're "flying." But you can't even look forward during the ride because the "head rest" prevents it, so you're stuck staring down at the ground for the whole ride, totally unaware of where you're headed, which takes away a significant percentage of the enjoyment of a roller coaster. And it maxes out at 51 m.p.h., which only occurs during the initial drop. And its height? 106 feet. All of that adds up to this judgment: Fucking Weak. My neck and back hurt afterwards too. That ride sucks.)

You can't quite see the initial straightaway here, but that camel-hump there
in the middle rises 129 feet, higher than most roller coasters ever reach.
The best part? You're going so fast at that point that at the summit,
you get a sense of weightlessness. Good for you if that sense
outweighs the sense of sheer fucking terror you've just felt.

For those of you have been on these rides, do you disagree that the most significant aspects of a roller coaster are speed and height?

There are several ways you can be seated on a ride -- standing (the way-old-school Shockwave), "flying" (Superman), hanging in your seat from above (Batman: The Ride) -- but the best always seem to be the most basic: sitting down. (The Chiller and Nitro both do this, and double points to them for having no shoulder harnesses whatsoever.) Other characteristics of roller coasters, such as loops or overall length, pale in comparison to the big two. The point of a coaster is to thrill you, to give you a sense of genuine exhilaration. At their best, they can actually scare the crap out of you. Regardless if it's some superhero-inspired ride or makes you sit in some strange position, what matters most in terms of truly thrilling you is how high it goes and how fast it goes. Everything else is bells and whistles.

And as far as speed and height go, Kingda Ka rules.

Since its inception in 2005, Kingda Ka has retained the title of Fastest and Tallest roller coaster in the world. The guy who designed it, Werner Stengel, seems to know what coaster junkies want. Prior to Kingda Ka, the titles of Tallest (420 feet; "420, smoke!") and Fastest (120 m.p.h.) were owned by the Top Thrill Dragster at Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio. Werner, God bless him, designed that one too. He also designed the first coaster with loops (Revolution, sorry, can't find a link), way back in 1975. This man deserves some kind of Nobel Prize.

All right, here's a half-decent shot of the straightaway. See that car there?
And see that big tower thing? They're about 400 yards apart. And see the
third horizontal beam up from the ground? That's about as high as the
tallest roller coasters at Great Adventure and other parks get.

Exhilaration has recently become something commercial, meaning that nowadays you can find numerous ways to pay for an adrenaline rush. Bungee jumping, BASE jumping, sky-diving, para-sailing -- these are all relatively recent economic innovations. (As an extension, how about the X-Games?) I've never done any of these things, but I love roller coasters. I wish I could go across the country, testing various amusement parks. But my experience is basically limited to the little slice of heaven that is Great Adventure. Three years ago, Nitro blew me away. And it's still a helluva ride. But until engineers and physicists come up with some way to rocket me on a tiny little cart going upwards of 900 m.p.h. from the earth to the moon, I'll stand by the feeling of true terror and exhilaration that Kingda Ka gave me. Feelings like that are literally impossible to fake, and I urge everyone to try it.

Here's another look at that first straightaway. You start there. Then some
scientists figured out how to propel you 400 yards in about 7 seconds.
They did this by figuring out how to make your cart go from 0-128 m.p.h.
in 3.5 seconds. Sitting in the front row? Get ready to eat some bugs.

Maybe we can arrange a trip down (or up, for our millions of readers south of Jackson, NJ) to Great Adventure, where everyone can see for themselves.

Though it's clearly impossible to properly describe the physical experience of what Kingda Ka gives you, I thought it appropriate to show you a front-row view of it. Watching this, you can't actually feel your eyelids peeling off or taste the drool streaming out of your mouth or hear the people in the back cars begging for their lives as you accelerate at an absurd level, but for God's sake, use your imagination!

The first 50 or so seconds are build-up. But please turn up your volume.

(For the record: I actually bought a picture of how I looked on Kingda Ka -- you know those brutally expensive pics they sell of you on rides, right? -- and I think it may be the best image of pure terror/exhilaration I've ever seen (of me, I guess). As soon as I can scan it and post it, I will update this.)


The Notorious LJT said...

I went to Great Adventure in September of 2005 - checked my blog back then and found this "Their new ride, the Kingda Ka was off the hook. It, like, catapults you at 130 mph up a 40 story incline, where it flips you around and hurls you back down in a free fall - but it become like inverted so everyone can see the ground racing at them as you head back down. As Max has already remarked, we both screamed like two little girls."

ChuckJerry said...

Blog research. I'm impressed.

Max said...

Well done, Open Bar.

Personally, I'm also a big "Nitro" fan.

Did you ride that new "El Toro" wooden roller coaster?

Open Bar said...


Yeah, I rode El Toro twice. What a pleasant surprise! I rode because it was on the way to Kingda Ka, and I loved it. Fast as hell, great dips and rises, and I especially loved the end where it whips you back and forth sideways. That's a great touch.

Also, the initial drop rocks.