The best roller coasters are engineered to mess with the human mind and trigger a sense of simultaneous fear and ecstasy.
Here are the coasters that create a knot in the pit of your stomach and make your heart race.
Although there is a one in 750 million chance that you will die on a roller coaster, part of the thrill is in the unpredictability.
Takabisha at Fuji-Q Highland in Fujiyoshida, Japan:
The Takabisha coaster hasn’t caused one injury (*knocks on wood*) since it opened in 2011, but it apparently makes you feel like you’re defying death.
Its movements are completely unpredictable: it starts with an inward drop at 121 degrees, speeds through a long, pitch black tunnel, and then launches into corkscrews, banana rolls, and 180 degree turns.
Fury 325 at Carowinds in Charlotte, North Carolina:
Fury 325, which just opened last year, isn’t just one of the world’s tallest roller coasters. The 325-foot-tall coaster is also an experiment in human psychology.
Fury 325’s designer Rob Decker explained to Bloomberg that the coaster plays with riders’ emotions as soon as they enter the park. It wraps around the front gate, which he says creates an intense feeling of anticipation.
The design then throws in a lot of surprises, like a beam that barely clears riders’ heads, to create a feeling of danger.
Montu at Busch Gardens in Tampa Bay, Florida.
Another common fear tactic is making riders feel like they’re losing control. Elements like sudden drops, sharp turns, and hills or trenches around the coaster heighten this feeling of insecurity.
Montu at Busch Gardens drives riders through five trenches, most of which come as a surprise after sharp turns. Riders can’t see where they’re going or what’s around the corner, which makes them feel like they’ve lost control.
“Most coasters travel below 70 miles an hour, slower than many people drive, but designers heighten the sense of speed and danger with close flybys of terrain, buildings, people, even other trains,” Busch Gardens VP of design and engineering Mark Rose told Psychology Today.
Millennium Force at Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio:
The Millennium Force takes advantage of its location, which borders Lake Erie. The coaster’s first 300-foot climb offers spectacular views of the lake, before it catapults into the drop.
Its velocity and height, combined with beautiful surroundings, heighten riders’ concentration.
Research shows that this can be deeply satisfying and even therapeutic.
”Being totally absorbed is in itself pleasurable,” Seymour Epstein, a psychologist at the University of Massachusetts, told The New York Times. ”Complete concentration that blanks out everything else temporarily relieves you from all conflicts. Even if it’s scary, it’s a way to drive out disturbing thoughts.”
Formula Rossa at Ferrari World on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi:
Speed is another characteristic that make coasters feel dangerous. And it only makes sense that the fastest roller coaster in the world would be at Ferrari’s amusement park. Formula Rossa takes riders at speeds up to 149 mph.
Bizarro at Six Flags in Agawam, Massachusetts:
The scariest roller coasters can also manufacture an illusion of speed.
The average duration of a coaster ride is only two and half minutes, and it begins to lose momentum once it hits the bottom of a hill. So by making the turn tighter at the coaster’s biggest drop, it creates an illusion that riders are going faster than they actually are.
The Bizarro coaster does this by making its turns super tight, right after the first fast drop.
Smiler at Alton Towers in Staffordshire, United Kingdom:
Scary coasters don’t always need to be tall. Being upside down (which again creates that feeling of losing control of your body) can be enough to trigger fear.
The topsy-turvy Smiler coaster has held the record for most inversions in a single ride since 2013. Riders do a series of 14 loops in under three minutes.