The twists, the turns, the awkward group photos during the drop: Roller coasters are predictable and predictably thrilling. But they aren't all created equal. Where your run-of-the-mill loop-the-loop merely weakens knees, a great coaster – one of Ohio's aging wooden monsters or a Dale Earnhardt–inspired speedster in Virginia – makes riders question their decision to climb aboard then decide it was the right move after all.
Since the Mauch Chunk gravity railroad, a mining company track in Pennsylvania, opened in 1827, American engineers have been building bigger and badder thrill rides. Here are the best in the country.
Nitro, Six Flags Great Adventure (Jackson, New Jersey)
Zip through the sky at 80 miles per hour on this steel coaster. The first drop is 215 feet and the main event is a 540-degree helix spiral. Though it offers three minutes of thrills, Nitro is best known for its Hammerhead U-turn, a feature not found on any other coaster. (Don't worry about whiplash.)
Credit: Dusso Janladde / Wikipedia