Geek Trivia: Roller (coaster) derby

What unlikely agency plans to build the world's third tallest roller coaster for debut in 2014, a thrill ride topped exclusively by the only two so-called <em>stratacoasters</em> on Earth?

Sign of the apocalypse #8,674: Your kid complains about an amusement park because "it doesn't even have any stratacoasters." It might not have happened yet, but if certain marketing departments and roller-coaster enthusiast organizations have their way, you can bet it's coming. The appropriate response, of course, is to lecture the kid on how "in my day, all we had were megacoasters, and we were happy with that!"

The terms megacoaster and stratacoaster define classes of roller coasters as separated by the maximum height of their tallest drops. High-end amusement parks compete for press and for guests by constantly waging an arms race to build bigger, taller, faster roller coasters, and these buzzwords are a derivative of such efforts. It breaks down like this:

  • Gigacoaster -- a maximum drop height of 200 to 299 feet
  • Megacoaster -- a maximum drop height of 300 to 399 feet
  • Stratacoaster -- a maximum drop height of 400 to 499 feet

A hypercoaster is a rollercoaster designed explicitly for speed and negative G-forces -- without any inverted elements such as loops or corkscrews. Most hypercoasters are gigacoasters, so much so that the terms are often interchangeable, muddling an already confusing lexicon of roller-coaster taxonomy. The fact that a megacoaster is taller than a gigacoaster is also a bit counterintuitive to those of us who grew up knowing that gigabytes were bigger than megabytes.

These terms also apply only to closed-circuit coasters, wherein the passenger cars complete a full forward-motion transit of the track and arrive back at their starting position without ever reversing direction. Coasters that double-back on themselves are shuttle or boomerang coasters.

As of today, there are only two stratacoasters on the planet. Top Thrill Dragster at Ohio's Cedar Point was the world's first, topping out at 420 feet when it opened in 2003. Kingda Ka at New Jersey's Six Flags Great Adventure dethroned the Dragster in 2005 when it unveiled its 456-foot drop.

Still, you don't have to be the tallest coaster to earn notoriety: Top speed, length, loop count, G-forces, and straightforward uniqueness can earn you supreme coaster enthusiast marks. The latter will likely be the case for the world's third tallest coaster, set for debut sometime in 2014 -- thanks to the unusual agency that's planning on building it.


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