key to the midway

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Carny slang, from the custom of sending a rube on a quest for the (non-existent) “key to the midway”.


key to the midway (plural keys to the midway)

  1. A fictional item, the subject of a fool's errand.
  2. A Ferris wheel or carousel, due to their central location.
    • 1985, Rob Karwath, “The Gritty Side Of Life Along The Midway”, Chicago Tribune, August 14, 1985:
      “I’m a wheel man,” he says. “I’ve been crazy about Ferris wheels since I was a kid. The Ferris wheel is the key to the midway. When it’s up and running and the lights are on, everybody knows the show is open.”


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