Riders daring enough for Speed--The Ride at the Sahara get propelled from 0-70 mph in four seconds, then into a loop and 224 feet straight up before the ride reverses. Photo by Jane Kalinowsky.
The Desperado at Buffalo Bill's in Primm is the highest, longest and fastest roller coaster we tested. But, with no loop, did it pull its weight in G-forces? Photo by Craig L. Moran.
The Canyon Blaster, inside the Adventuredome at Circus Circus, features a unique double loop and two corkscrews, but tops out at only 45 mph. Photo by Craig L. Moran.
New York-New York's Manhattan Express offers the highest G-forces available on the Strip. Photo by Jane Kalinowsky.
Most people inside a casino are either up or down. Some people outside are both.
Every Las Vegas casino that wraps itself in twisted, undulating steel promises more thrills on its roller coaster. We decided to put the hype to the test of science.
The R-J boarded the four big scream machines in the area (and a little one) with a triple-axis accelerometer (along with a box of Pepto-Bismol). This nifty device measures G-force, or acceleration, in each of the three directions riders get thrown: 1) front/back 2) left/right and 3) up/down.
"Acceleration is not velocity, but the rate at which velocity changes," explains University of Nevada, Las Vegas physics professor John W. Farley, who helped analyze our results. "Acceleration forward is what you feel if you stomp on the accelerator. If you step on the brakes, you feel acceleration backward."
G force expresses acceleration relative to gravity's pull. "As you sit in your chair and read this, you're feeling 1G," Farley explains. At launch, space shuttle astronauts experience 3.2 times this force upward, or 3.2 Gs. At that rate, blood rushes to the feet and can cause blackouts, which is why they wear trousers that pinch off blood flow.
Surprisingly, all five of the coasters we tested exceeded this level in at least one direction. Are we recommending tight pants? No, because most of the peaks we measured lasted a fraction of a second, not enough time to divert blood (or more embarrassing body fluids).
"Serious injury is caused by a combination of acceleration and time," Farley says.
Our Overall G-rating is calculated by totaling the positive and negative peaks, on each of the accelerometer's three axes, for each coaster. Positive (+) and negative (-) Gs represent the same force, just exerted in opposing directions.
Here are our test results in descending order of force:
5. Dragon Coaster, Las Vegas Mini Gran Prix
Overall G-rating: 8.92
Front/back Gs: +.65/-1.74
Left/right Gs: +1.3/-1.08
Up/down Gs: +3.14/-1.01
Highest point of roller coaster: 15 feet
Length of roller coaster: 90 feet
Longest drop: 10 feet
Top speed: 25 mph
Duration of ride: 1 minute, 30 seconds
We threw this one in as a joke. (Imagine the Stratosphere's late, timid High Roller coaster without the view.)
But this kiddie ride shocked us with the single greatest upward acceleration spike of any coaster in the survey: +3.14 Gs up its puny 10-foot incline. The effect repeated three times.
Thrill-seekers are not advised to strap themselves in next to junior and his friends, however. This spike leaves your spine utterly untingled. It owes only to the Dragon's slow velocity, which allows it to climb upward in less distance than the others.
Dragon Coaster, Las Vegas Mini Gran Prix, 1401 N. Rainbow Blvd., 259-7000
4. Speed -- The Ride, Sahara
Overall G-rating: 12.93
Front/back Gs: +1.35/-3.72
Left/right Gs: +2.43/-1.28
Up/down Gs: +1.51/-2.64
Highest point of roller coaster: 224 feet
Length of roller coaster: 1,365 feet
Longest drop: 224 feet
Top speed: 70 mph
Duration of ride: 45 seconds
Our most unexpected finding was that the most nauseating coaster we ever boarded delivers such wimpy G-forces.
Unlike all other area coasters, which chain-pull you to the top then hand things over to gravity, Speed's two linear-induction motors electro-magnetically propel you from 0-70 mph in four seconds. You're jetted out the side of the casino, into a loop and then 224 feet straight up into the sky, before your stint as a human cannonball slams into reverse.
But the maximum G-force produced is only 3.72 backward, or -3.72, on both sides of its 90-degree upward jut. How can this be?
Farley explains that the ride accelerates relatively smoothly in all directions. It has to, because its four separate instances of 3 or greater Gs last 3 seconds each. That's about three times longer than any other peak we encountered, and long enough to churn your stomach contents into Breakstone's.
The sensation of weightlessness is produced by exposure to about one second of 1 downward G, or -1G. An impressive five such periods mark this coaster.
Speed -- The Ride, NASCAR Cafe, Sahara, 2535 Las Vegas Blvd. South, 737-2111
3. Canyon Blaster, Adventuredome, Circus Circus
Overall G-rating: 15.26
Front/back Gs: +2.05/-3.07
Left/right Gs: +4.8/-1.68
Up/down Gs: +2.55/-1.11
Highest point of roller coaster: 94 feet
Length of roller coaster: 2,423 feet
Longest drop: 66 feet
Top speed: 45 mph
Duration of ride: 1 minute, 30 seconds
This is your coaster of choice -- if it's too rainy, windy or hot outside. However, if you want to feel organs against your rib cage, look outside in better weather.
This indoor coaster's double loop is certainly wild and unique. But loops don't confer any more forces than drops do. (Centrifugal force keeps Canyon Blaster riders in their seat, at about 1G, when they're upside-down.)
With a top drop of 66 feet at 45 mph, the simple fact is that this coaster has more downs than ups on the G-force scale. (The exception: an impressive leftward +4.8 during one of two corkscrews.)
The skyline isn't the only thing New York-New York does a good job of re-creating. The hotel painted the cars on its Manhattan Express like Yellow cabs, and riders are whipped around just as insanely as they are through busy Fifth Avenue traffic.
This coaster manages +3.7 leftward Gs out of its first drop, then does an electrifying loop and barrel roll. Although it climbs more than 200 feet, it drops only a maximum of 145 -- presumably to accommodate two inversions.
Fortunately, the excess kinetic energy is burned off by a series of intensely fast, tight circles near the end.
Manhattan Express, New York-New York, 3790 Las Vegas Blvd. South, 740-6969
1. Desperado, Buffalo Bill's
Overall G-Rating: 24.06
Front/back Gs: +3.42/-3.94
Left/right Gs: +4.55/-5.25
Up/down Gs: +2.8/-4.1
Length of roller coaster: 5,843 feet
Highest point of roller coaster: 209 feet
Longest drop: 225 feet
Top speed: 80 mph
Duration of ride: 2 minutes, 43 seconds
A roller coaster doesn't need a loop to throw you for one. Desperado registered the largest instance of downward force in our survey, -4.1 Gs in its first drop. That wasn't surprising, since that drop is the highest in our survey, 225 feet. (How can this be if the coaster stands 209 feet tall? Desperado actually whisks riders through an underground tunnel at the pit of that drop.)
Snapping back upward out of this drop, riders experience 2.8 Gs, or nearly three times their weight, before being dropped again and slung around to face the single largest figure in our survey: -5.25 Gs in a rightward turn.
In addition, Desperado riders experience nine instances of weightlessness. None of the other rides comes close. In fact, during our ride, we observed a cell phone slowly exit a man's pocket, launch 20 feet above the coaster, then plummet 150 feet to the ground.
Desperado also is the fastest coaster we tested, thrusting riders through and around Buffalo Bill's at 80 mph (a full 10 more than Speed -- The Ride). At 2 minutes, 43 seconds, it also clocks in as the longest ride. And when it was built in 1996, it briefly held the title of world's tallest coaster.
In other words, it's worth exerting the 45 minutes of forward force to get to Primm.