Book Review- Murder on the Orient Express

Murder on the Orient Express
by Agatha Christie, 1934

murder on the orient express

Fun murder mystery. Maria and I listened to the book on tape, with the narrator switching accents with the characters very well. Without giving too much away (on an 80 year old book?), the story ends with the detective giving two alternative explanations to the murder. The owner/executive of the train is then allowed to choose between them. Intrigued?

Book Review- When to Rob a Bank

When to Rob a Bank: …And 131 More Warped Suggestions and Well-Intended Rants
by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, 2015

when to rob a bank

Collection of posts from the Freakonomic’s website. Maria and I listened together. Definitely less refined than the Freakonomics/Super Freakonomics duo. Still funny, though. I used to read the Freakonomics blog, so much of the content was familiar to me.

INFORMS 2016 Presentations

Nov. 14, 2016, 1:30 – 3:00 PM
Mind The Gap: Coordinating Energy Efficiency And Demand Response
Eric Webb, Owen Wu, Kyle D. Cattani, Kelley School of Business, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN

Nov. 15, 2016, 1:30 – 3:00 PM
Predicting Nurse Turnover And Its Impact On Staffing Decisions
Eric Webb, Kurt Bretthauer, Kelley School of Business, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN

Nov. 16, 2016, 12:45 – 2:15 PM
Linking Customer Behavior And Delay Announcements: Are Customers Really Rational?
Eric Webb, Qiuping Yu, Kurt M. Bretthauer, Kelley School of Business, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN

Nov. 16, 2016, 4:30 – 6:00 PM
Using Past Scores And Regularization To Create A Winning Nfl Betting Model
Eric Webb1, Wayne L. Winston2, 1Kelley School of Business, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN, 2Bauer College of Business, University of Houston, Houston, TX

Amusement Park Rankings

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Here is a summary of the roller coaster parks we visited on our crazy road trip:

We visited Michigan’s Adventure, in Muskegon, MI, on Sunday, July 17. We rode 6 roller coasters and 0 other rides. In descending order, my coaster ratings were 6, 5, 4, 2, 2, and 1 out of 10.

We visited Canada’s Wonderland, in Vaughan, ON, on Monday, July 18. We rode 11 roller coasters and 2 other rides. In descending order, my coaster ratings were 9, 8, 6, 5, 4, 4, 4, 4, 3, 2, and 2. My ratings for other rides were 7 and 6.

We visited Hersheypark, in Hershey, PA, on Tuesday, July 19. We rode 9 roller coasters and 2 other rides. In descending order, my coaster ratings were 9.5, 8, 8, 8, 7, 7, 6, 5, and 2. My ratings for other rides were 5 and 3.

We visited Dorney Park, in Allentown, PA, on Wednesday, July 20. We rode 6 roller coasters and 4 other rides. In descending order, my coaster ratings were 7, 6, 6, 6, 5, and 3. My ratings for other rides were 6, 3, 3, and 2.

We visited Cedar Point, in Sandusky, OH, on Monday, July 25. We rode 12 roller coasters and 3 other rides. In descending order, my coaster ratings were 10, 10, 9, 8, 7.5, 7, 7, 5, 5, 5, 4, and 3. My ratings for other rides were 4, 4, and 2.

44 coasters in 9 days. Whew.

It is safe to say that Cedar Point reigns supreme among the other amusement parks. Hersheypark was a pleasant surprise though. Here are the final park rankings:
1. Cedar Point, with 7 coasters scoring 7 or higher out of 10.
2. Hersheypark, with 6 coasters scoring 7 or higher.
3. Canada’s Wonderland, with 2 coasters scoring 7 or higher.
4. Dorney Park, with 1 coaster scoring 7 or higher.
5. Michigan’s Adventure, with 0 coasters scoring 7 or higher.

Including other parks I have been to in the last 10 years, I think the rankings would be something like this (weighting roller coasters most heavily):
1. Cedar Point
2. Six Flags Magic Mountain
3. Hersheypark
4. Kings Island
5. Kings Dominion
6. Canada’s Wonderland
7A. Dollywood
7B. Holiday World
9. Dorney Park
10. Michigan’s Adventure

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Cedar Point Rides

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The fifth coaster park stop on our whirlwind amusement park tour was Cedar Point, in Sandusky, Ohio, on Monday, July 25, 2016. We were joined at this park by our friends Telesilla and Serge. We arrived at the park around 11:15am. Cedar Point has 71 total rides and 17 roller coasters (2nd most in the world behind Six Flags Magic Mountain). Park map (click to expand):

31279 CEDRPT PARKMAP

Cedar Point has an unfortunate policy about backpacks being stored on ride platforms, so we had to store our backpack (with phones/cameras) for extended periods. As such, we don’t have our own pictures of all the rides. It should be obvious which ones below are ours and which aren’t.

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1. Magnum XL200
Steel coaster with a big first hill. 205 ft, 72 mph, tallest and fastest in world when it opened in 1989. We sat in the back car and felt a lot of “whip” effect as the back car tries to keep up with the train on the ride. Pretty smooth.
Eric: 7/10
Maria: 8/10
Telesilla: 7/10
Serge: 7/10

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2. Maverick
Steel looping coaster. Launch at start of ride and in the middle. 105 ft, 70 mph. Very smooth and twisting.
Eric: 9/10
Maria: 9/10
Telesilla: 8/10
Serge: 8/10

3. Antique Cars
Antique car ride as a break after such a fast start. Toward the end of the ride, there was a tunnel over water and birds were going crazy flying under the tunnel back and forth for some reason.
Eric: 2/10
Maria: 5/10
Telesilla: 10/10
Serge: 5/10

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4. Cedar Creek Mine Ride
Steel track on a wooden frame. Smooth. 2 lift hills. 48 ft, 42 mph. Pretty cool ride for how old it is (1969).
Eric: 3/10
Maria: 5/10
Telesilla: 5/10
Serge: 6/10

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5. Skyhawk
High swinging ride. 125 ft, 65 mph. Ride should be just a bit longer.
Eric: 4/10
Serge: 4/10

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6. Millennium Force
Still my favorite coaster in the world. 310 ft, 93 mph, 80 degree first drop, 6595 ft long. Excellent at everything (except inversions, I guess). Our second ride on it was at night, and my arms got plastered with bugs, which was interesting.
Eric: 10/10, 10/10
Maria: 10/10, 10/10
Telesilla: 9/10
Serge: 9/10, 10/10

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7. Rougarou
Steel floorless coaster on the same track that used to hold Mantis, which was a stand-up coaster. Looping. 145 ft, 60 mph. So basically, same track, new train. Bumps your head quite a bit. Somewhat average.
Eric: 5/10
Maria: 6/10
Telesilla: 6/10
Serge: 3/10

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8. Valravn
New in 2016. Steel dive coaster. You sit 8 across in 3 rows. Ride takes you out over the first drop and holds you there for a few seconds. Great experience in the front row (1st rating below), only okay in the back row (2nd rating below). 223 ft, 75 mph, 90 degree drop. Smooth. Cool view at the top.
Eric: 8/10, 7/10
Maria: 10/10, 8/10
Telesilla: 10/10, 8/10
Serge: 10/10, 9/10

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9. Blue Streak
Oldest coaster in park (1964), wooden. 78 ft, 40 mph. Out and back track. Smooth for a wooden coaster.
Eric: 4/10
Telesilla: 3/10
Serge: 5/10

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10. Raptor
Steel coaster with 6 inversions (feels like more). Floorless, so your feet hang. 137 ft, 57 mph, 3790 ft long. Tallest/fastest/longest inverted coaster in the world when it opened (1994).
Eric: 7/10
Maria: 7/10
Telesilla: 7/10
Serge: 7/10

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11. Gatekeeper
Steel coaster with a winged floorless train design. Has the highest inversion of any coaster in the world (at 170 ft). Cool track design takes you through multiple keyhole structures. 170 ft, 67 mph.
Eric: 8/10
Maria: 7/10
Telesilla: 7/10
Serge: 7/10

wicked twister

12. Wicked Twister
Steel U-shaped launch coaster that takes you forward/backward up the two towers. Unlike Possessed at Dorney Park, both towers have twists. Currently the tallest (215 ft) and fastest (72 mph) inverted (track above train) coaster in the world.
Eric: 5/10
Telesilla: 8/10
Serge: 6/10

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13. Windseeker
High (301 ft) swing ride. Equivalent to the same ride at many other Cedar Fair parks. My mom says that it is relatively unusual for it to be able to run, as it is so windy in Sandusky. The Windseeker in Canada’s Wonderland wasn’t running due to wind while we there.
Eric: 4/10
Maria: 5/10
Telesilla: 6/10
Serge: 7/10

gemini

14. Gemini
Racing wooden coaster. 125 ft, 60 mph. Tracks are asynchronous, so sometimes you feel like you are winning and sometimes not. Maria and my train beat Telesilla and Serge’s.
Eric: 5/10
Maria: 4/10
Telesilla: 8/10
Serge: 7/10

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15. Top Thrill Dragster
We got to ride it! It was closed all day, until opening around 10:15pm. Awesome experience to ride it at night. Launching steel coaster that goes 0 to 120 mph in 3.8 seconds. Then you go up straight up 420 feet (2nd tallest coaster in the world) before falling straight back down. Ride is only 17 seconds, but so awesome.
Eric: 10/10
Maria: 10/10
Serge: 10/10

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(Me, Maria, Serge, and Telesilla on Cedar Point’s beach)

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Comparing Wildwater Kingdom Water Parks

Cedar Fair will have to confirm this, but Maria and I may be the first people to ever goto Wildwater Kingdom in Allentown, PA and Wildwater Kingdom in Aurora, OH on back-to-back days.

First, the obvious: Parks should have different names. It’s stupid that they’re called the same thing.

Second, the subjective conclusion: The park in Pennsylvania is better, but the park in Ohio has more potential.

I’m not a water park enthusiast (I much prefer roller coasters), but I’ll try to compare the two water parks. Maria and I only do tube slides. We don’t body slides.

Wildwater Kingdom in Allentown, PA (inside Dorney Park):
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Park map can be found on this morning’s post about Dorney Park. Two lazy rivers. Two wave pools. For the slides, we rode Constrictor and Boa Blasters at the Snake Pit, Cascade, and Aquablast.

Wildwater Kingdom in Aurora, OH:

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Park map

wildwater kingdom ohio

One lazy river. One wave pool. For the slides, we rode Liquid Lightning (which flows into one of the giant funnels). Should have ridden the tubes at Thunder Falls, but we were too tired.

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If you read about the attractions of the parks in Ohio and Pennsylvania, it’s pretty clear that the Pennsylvania park has more options. And it’s attached to a park with coasters. So it wins, right now.

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However, in the past, the world’s largest theme park area was located in Aurora, OH. Please, please read the linked-to article in the previous sentence; it is great. In 2001, Six Flags World of Adventure in Aurora, OH combined a world-class Six Flags park with a Sea World and a water park. Just compare the below park map to the one for Wildwater Kingdom by itself above.

six flags ohio

At about 700 acres altogether, the mega-park was literally created by building a bridge between a full-sized Six Flags and a full-sized SeaWorld. Consider the scope of it: Disneyland Park is about 70 acres (or one-tenth the size) while the garganuan Animal Kingdom is 500 (including the giant safari area traversed by truck.)

And then it collapsed on itself.

Six years after becoming the world’s largest theme park, only a fraction of the property around Geauga Lake would re-open in 2008 – the water park Cedar Fair had built on the remains of SeaWorld.

I think it is fascinating to see the fate of some of the coasters at Geauga Lake (info from Wikipedia). I rode 2 of these coasters on our road trip (would have been 3 if we went to Kings Island):
Beaver Land Mine Ride: Sold to Papea City amusement park in Yvré-l’Evêque, France
Big Dipper: Currently still standing on the property. A potential sale to two enthusiasts in September 2010 fell through. Fate is currently unknown.
Dominator: Now open at Kings Dominion
Double Loop: Demolished, sold to Cleveland Scrap for $25,000
Head Spin: Now open at Carowinds as Carolina Cobra
Raging Wolf Bobs: Demolished. Purchased for $2,500 at auction; some wood and track sold in online auctions; steel track, station, and all mechanical elements removed in 2008; part of track and car donated to Geauga County Historical Society; Full demolition of coaster took place in July 2012, more than five years after the ride last operated.
Steel Venom: Now open at Dorney Park & Wildwater Kingdom as Possessed
Thunderhawk: Now open at Michigan’s Adventure
Villain: Demolished, sold to Cleveland Scrap for $2,500
X-Flight: Now open at Kings Island as Firehawk

You can still see Big Dipper (opened in 1925!) from the top of some of the rides at Wildwater Kingdom.

Not everything at Wildwater Kingdom has been scrubbed of the Geagua Lake branding:
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Dorney Park Rides

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The fourth stop on our whirlwind amusement park tour was Dorney Park, in Allentown, Pennsylvania, on Thursday, July 21, 2016. We arrived at the park around 12:45pm. Dorney Park has 59 total rides and 8 roller coasters. It also has a big waterpark, Wildwater Kingdom. Park map (click to expand):
dorney park

Ride reviews:
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1. Talon
Steel looping coaster. 135 ft, 58 mph. Smooth, twisty track. Kind of average at everything, no extremes.
Eric: 6/10
Maria: 6/10

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2. Cannonball
Train through park
Eric: 2/10
Maria: 2/10

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3. Hydra
Steel coaster with a corkscrew before the hill lift. 105 ft, 53 mph. We sat in the front. Smooth and better than expected, but Maria’s head banged on the twists a lot.
Eric: 6/10
Maria: 6/10

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4. Demon Drop
Cedar Point fans will recognize this one. Formerly at that park. 131 ft tall. Old, clunky, first generation drop ride. You drop and are sloped down onto your back. Liable to bang your head at the end when the ride tries to right you upward again.
Eric: 3/10
Maria: 2/10

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5. Thunderhawk/Classic Coaster
Wooden coaster from 1925. 45 mph. Less bumpy than expected.
Eric: 3/10
Maria: 5/10

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6. Steel Force
Long steel coaster. 205 ft, 75 mph, 5600 ft long. Loose restraints allow for good air time. 9th longest steel coaster in the world.
Eric: 7/10
Maria: 6/10

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7. Dinosaurs Alive
A lot of the parks have a Dinosaurs Alive exhibit now, but we decided to do it Dorney Park because they only have 8 coasters. 30 animatronic dinosaurs. Life-size-ish (though if you read the descriptions, some of the models are way too big). Pretty well done and interesting. We asked silly questions of the bored looking guides wandering through the park. Costs $5 unless you have a season pass.
Eric: 4/10
Maria: 5/10

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8. Stinger
Steel, you ride the same track twice, once forward, once backward. Same ride as Face/Off (now Invertigo) at Kings Island. Many other parks also have this ride.
Eric: 5/10

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9. Possessed
Steel, U-shaped launch coaster that sends you up each tower iteratively. Odd that only one of the towers twists at Dorney Park; typically both towers have twists. Formerly at Geauga Lake.
Eric: 6/10

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10. Thunder Creek Mountain
Log flume ride. You will get wet, you may get soaked (even if you hide behind the person (Maria) in the front. Not sure how this happens).
Eric: 3/10
Maria: 4/10

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11. White Water Landing
Shoot-the-Chutes ride. You will get wet, you may get soaked. 80 ft, 42 mph drop down the hill into a splash-down.
Eric: 6/10
Maria: 5/10

12. Wildwater Kingdom
We also went to the water park, which I will describe in the afternoon post.

We arrived at Dorney Park at 12:45 and left the water park around 7:30. You could probably do the park in less time than that pretty easily. Not a ton of attractions. We were also a bit annoyed that seemingly all of the ride attendants that were mic’ed had heavy accents. Couldn’t understand any of them.

Operational Thoughts on Fast Pass

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Businesses like to make money. Amusement parks are a business. I get those two premises. However, I observed a lot of operational issues with Fast Passes/Fast Track/Fast Lane tickets at the amusement parks on our trip.

Fast Passes/Tracks are upgrade purchases that guests can make at a park. The Fast Pass allows you to skip some or all of the line on some or all of the rides, depending on the park and the specific version of the upgrade that you buy. We saw prices that ranged from $50 at Michigan’s Adventure to $120 at Cedar Point.

1. Some implementations of the Fast Pass idea had two lines that merged into one prior to the ride. Presumably, the Fast Pass line is always shorter than the normal line. However, this implementation requires an employee to act as traffic cop when the lines merge, a job with little added value. Other implementations keep the distinct lines all the way up to the ride itself, whereby the typical ride employees can officiate how many Fast Pass riders to allow and how many normal riders to allow. I think the second option makes more sense. First, you don’t need the extra employee. Second, normal customers feel jealousy/aggravation when their line is stopped so that Fast Pass customers can literally line jump in front of them. There’s less aggravation if the merge occurs more seamlessly at the ride itself and normal customers do not have to wait with Fast Pass customers for an extended period.

2. Some rides were saving seats for Fast Pass riders, with the Fast Pass line coming up the exit ramp to the ride. All of the rides that did this were saving too much capacity for Fast Lane. Magnum XL-200 at Cedar Point (built in 1989) was saving 4 seats for Fast Pass riders on each train. Storm Runner at Hersheypark was saving close to half the train for Fast Pass riders. In my brief wait for each ride, I didn’t see anyone come up the Fast Pass line for either ride. As such, that capacity was being left empty on the train, to the annoyance of normal waiting customers. You should only save capacity that you can routinely fill. For older rides with little Fast Pass interest, I don’t see the point in saving any capacity.

3. From a customer point of view, I would rarely decide that it was worthwhile to purchase a Fast Pass. I routinely get on every ride (that interests me) at parks in a single day. Yes, occasionally a Fast Pass will save you a one-hour wait, but you can typically get on every ride without a Fast Pass. The exception would be if you are silly enough to goto a popular park on a Saturday in the summer. Then it is crowded, and you may need a Fast Pass to ride every ride.

I think strategic thinking in terms of park dynamics is almost as valuable as a Fast Pass, and it is free. If you want to minimize your wait for rides, do the opposite of what other guests are doing. Most guests work their way from the front of the park to the back. So if it’s early in the day, the rides in the back of the park will have shorter lines. Go there first. Many rides will have shorter waits during dinner time as customers stop for food and a break. If a park has a water park, it will become crowded in the mid-afternoon, taking riders away from normal coasters.

4. Are Fast Passes fair? It’s always frustrating when a person willing to pay for extra privileges gets to do something ahead of you, after you have been waiting. I am of the opinion that everyone should wait the same duration for the same ride (and I miss days gone by when Fast Passes didn’t exist). Having said that, I understand why parks offer them. They are a means of price discrimination, getting richer customers to pay more for a slightly better experience. If I were running a park, I would get rid of Fast Passes and make up the lost revenue by moving some concession stands to the longer queues of popular rides. Concessions are price-discriminatory as well, as richer customers are more likely to buy. I would think concessions would sell well in a line where customers don’t have much else to do but wait. Concessions are less attractive in the park at large, where customers can bypass them to get to the next attraction, game, or ride. Moving concessions to the queues of long lines will more than make up for the lost revenue from eliminating Fast Passes, and “normal” customers will not be as frustrated by the presence of concessions as they are by being jumped in line by wealthy park patrons with Fast Passes. After all, line jumping is cause for ejection from the park.

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This discussion has been specific to the Fast Pass concepts I saw at the Cedar Fair parks and Hersheypark. I understand that Disney has a form of this as well, but it is free to everyone. I have never experienced Disney’s system myself, but from what I understand, it simply rewards strategic customers over non-strategic ones. Perhaps this is valuable to Disney because strategic customers like to game the line-skipping system and non-strategic customers don’t notice the ruse.