Every year, parks around the world try to up the ante with their attractions, hoping for something that will spark interest and become a must-do attraction. Sometimes, those fall short of expectation... and sometimes they knock it out of the park, creating a truly iconic experience that is not only a must-do in its opening season, but remains the must-do attraction many years afterward.
X (later renamed X2) is one of those.
In order to understand just how ground-breaking this ride was (and is), understand that you can't even talk about it without learning a new term: "4th Dimension Coaster"
This type of coaster was invented right around the turn of the millennium by Arrow corporation and opened for a season-pass-holder preview on Christmas Eve 2001. It was unlike anything anyone had ever seen. At the time, it was called "X."
Everything about this coaster was different. The trains, the track, the concept... it's quite hard to explain without a lot of photos - we'll get to that later. Anyway, as with most radically new concepts, it developed some hiccups and needed tweaking. Magic Mountain decided that the tweaks were substantial enough to warrant a new name. Thus, when the new version opened in 2007, it was dubbed "X2." In addition to redesigned, lighter-weight trains to reduce the stress on the track, an onboard sound system was installed, the whole thing was painted in a new color scheme, and there are even flamethrowers(!) The difference that most folks notice is the change in color. This was the original, "happy" palette of X:
...and this is the darker, more serious palette for X2:
Now at this point, if you've not seen this thing before, you're likely looking at that track and thinking holy crap. That's big, it looks like the first drop is pretty much vertical, and what the hell is that half-loopy thing and how is it that some of the track has rails on top and some of it has rails underneath and wait... are there too many rails? Oh yeah. You're right about all of that. This is where the term you just learned - 4th Dimension Coaster - is going to come in handy. Let's look at that track for a minute, up close.
Look at the track. There are clearly extra rails on there, two on each side. What is that all about? Well, to explain that we need to have a good look at the trains. You'll notice in the shot above that the seats stick way out to the sides of the track. This leaves you exposed and feeling vulnerable, even though you're (very) securely strapped in. But it's that extra set of rails that pushes this into "4th Dimension" territory.
See those large wheels in the center? Those are the "regular" wheels that the trains roll on. Unlike most coasters, the wheels that ride on the underside of the rail are just as large as those on top. This is because the trains sometimes ride on top of the rails and sometimes ride on the bottom. That extra set of smaller wheels on the extra rail? Those are connected to those metal spikes that are sticking up, which have gear teeth on them, and which are connected to the axle that the seats are attached to. If you move those wheels up or down, it pushes those spikes up or down, which engage the gears and rotate the axle. Yes, the axle that your seats are attached to. Let's have a closer look at the old color scheme so it's easier to see:
Look closely, it's pretty subtle. In the upper-left corner of the shot, you can see the pink rails that the regular wheels roll on and the yellow rail which controls the seat axle. Notice the vertical distance between the two. Now follow the track toward the lower-right corner and look at how much closer the yellow rails are to the pink ones. The end result is that while the train travels down the track, a rather innocent-looking drop, the axle that your seat is attached to is rotating. Yes, rotating. The subtle difference here means that the seats don't rotate very far, but in other parts of the ride, the change in distance between those rails can literally flip you head-over-heels. This is where you need to expand your vocabulary again, because you don't know enough curse words to ride this. Trust me.
So let's hop aboard and see what this is all about. The station is funky and futuristic with loading platforms on either side of the train and an operator's booth above. When the train pulls in, the first thing you notice is that it's coming in backward. When it stops, the seats tilt forward so riders can hop out and you can hop in. There's an elaborate system of restraints that hold you in snugly and the seats splay your legs way out to the sides, in a somewhat comical way.
See those speakers next to the headrests? They're playing some noises and a couple of vocal clips. "Is everyone in? Is everyone. In?" is the main one while there's a whispered one that goes, "X - X - X - 2 - 2 - 2" in a rhythmic fashion that sounds a bit like the "ch-ch-ch" sound from the original Friday the 13th movie. It sets a mood that's a bit unsettling. Once everyone is strapped in, the seats tilt backward to make sure your feet are clear of the floor and the train rolls out around a curve and up the lift hill. All during this time, the speakers are playing a mashup of audio clips - a bit of everything from Harry Connick Jr to Metallica to Aerosmith to "A Few Good Men" and other films. Ordinarily, I'd say you could have fun trying to identify all the sources of the soundbites, but you're likely going to have a hard time hearing them all over all the profanity spewing out of your pie hole. Seriously, you're heading up this lift hill backward, tilted on your back, looking at the entire park, seeing things that you know are really tall getting smaller and smaller as you keep going up and you can't see where you're going.
When you top the hill, it's worse. Now you're looking at the sky and the train slips over the crest into a small dip that points your feet at the sky and your head toward the ground. This is when you start to need more curse words, since you've likely exhausted all the ones you know in the long climb up the lift. I might mention that this is the least-messed-up part of the whole ride. Hang on, kiddies, things are about to get seriously freaky.
The first part is actually a bit comforting. You bottom out of the dip and as the train heads up the rising track, you tilt back forward and you can see the world again. Whew.
...and then it happens. The seats just keep tilting forward. The hill isn't causing this, though, it's that extra rail rotating your seat axle. You're freaking TWENTY STORIES UP and your chair, which felt so secure a moment ago, is now rotating forward. It rolls until you're sitting upright, then keeps going. Now you're pitched forward, you start to panic, and then you're face-down looking at the ground, twenty stories below you. This might just be the most perfectly-executed mind fuck in the history of the amusement industry. You thought you were in the back of the train? Nope, now you're in front. You were going backward, now you're going forward. Oh, and you're free-falling face-first at the ground. Yeah. More curse words. You'll need those right about now.
You can see in the photo above how the seats rotate forward as they crest the hill. You aren't facing downward for long, though. Check out the next picture and notice that the seats begin to rotate again while you're dropping.
About halfway down the drop, the seats rotate again and put you on your back. This is so you can handle all the G forces at the bottom of the drop and the rise into the next mess-with-your-head moment: the Raven Turn.
The train rockets skyward into a half-loop. The seats generally follow the curve, so you're on your back at the bottom and end up face-down at the top. The track is now overhead and you're in a prone position, so for just a brief moment, X2 is essentially a Flying Coaster. Shortly after diving out of this Raven Turn, however, your seat rights itself and it feels more normal. A short camelback hill is ahead and for the briefest of moments you almost imagine that things are going to settle down. You'd be wrong. That next hill is evil.
Up till now, the seats have rotated forward. Forward at the crest of the drop, forward again to put you on your back at the bottom of the drop, forward again to make you "fly" in the Raven Turn... so you should've seen this coming, but you haven't. Before you even analyze what is happening, your seat does a complete backflip as the train rises up into the camelback hill. Have a close look at the photo above and you'll see it.
A long, sweeping turn way up in the air comes next and you've finally got a moment to catch your breath... or you would, except that there's nothing you can look at to be able to tell what your seat will do next. It looks like a simple turn, but is it? After that backflip-from-hell on the last bit, can you trust anything anymore? As it turns out, the turn is just a turn - but since you can't be sure of that, tension just keeps mounting with every second that goes by. The longer this ride remains "normal" the bigger the next shock is likely to be, you think.
And you'd be right.
After a long downhill run, the track rises a bit and flips over so the train is no longer hanging below, but riding on top. Oh, and while the train is doing a barrel roll, your seat is rotating around in the opposite direction. If there is any part of this ride that will mess with your head more than the face-first drop at the beginning, it's this maneuver. On my first ride, I had already been inventing new vocabulary pretty much from the top of the lift, but when this shit happened, I just lost it. I can't even remember what I said, but I can promise that it was loud, probably unintelligible, and screamed through hysterical laughter. That's what happens when a ride catches me off-guard: I start laughing. I'm still laughing as the train careens toward another Raven Turn and I haven't even noticed that the flip means that we're going backward again.
This Raven Turn is reversed from the first one in that you begin at the top and plunge toward the ground. Oh, and now we're going forward again. Oh, and two flamethrowers just belched huge balls of fire which you don't really see, but you certainly feel the heat. Oh, and then another flip over while the seats rotate and now we're going backward again. Oh, and... oh, we're done.
The train hits the brakes and backs into the station and you're suddenly aware that the speakers are playing music again... or maybe they never stopped. With all the screams and laughs and shrieks, it's doubtful you'd be able to hear them during the ride, anyway.
At the time of this writing, Magic Mountain has nineteen coasters and this one will turn fifteen years old at the end of the year. Still, it can be argued that X2 is still their signature attraction. There was nothing like this anywhere in the world when it opened and it's still the only one in North America. Get to the park early and head straight for this coaster as soon as the gates drop - the queue line stacks up quickly and within a few minutes of the park opening, wait times can be an hour or more. If you want to ride again, save it for the end of the day as lines tend to be a bit shorter in the late evening.
Whatever you do, though, make sure you don't miss this one when you visit Magic Mountain... just brush up on your 4-letter vocabulary first.
Hopefully, the article and photos explained well enough the mind-warping design of this ride, but it helps to actually see it in motion. Here's a video that shows the whole layout from a vantage point near the ride:
And here's an on-ride video, courtesy of Six Flags Magic Mountain. The audio track on the lift hill is audible in this one, so make sure your sound is turned up.