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If you head down to your local arcade these days you can’t fail to be bombarded with a multitude of things designed to grab your attention and keep you entertained.
For many this could be the latest slot machine. For others it may be the newest arcade fighter. For a fair few of us, however, the draw of the claw machines, or mini claw machine, and the temptation of the prizes they offer are one of the main attractions that keep us coming back time and time again.
It’s fair to say that most claw machines are geared towards young couples with cuddly toys and extra-large chocolate bars screaming “win me to impress”. Others are full to the brim with children’s toys tempting your little ones to nag you for one more go.
Some machines are choc-filled with collectables that are geared towards the geeks amongst us, or electronic goods such as a phones or game console, teasing the high-end arcade market. But all of them have something that the vast majority of us would like to own.
But why are claw machines so popular?
Well it comes back to that teasing element again. The prizes are there, within reach. Grabbing the one you want is easy. Just bring down the claw, close it, and hope it reels in the prize. What could be simpler?
Well, that’s the thing. The simplicity of a claw machine’s, or mini claw machine’s, operation hides its difficulty. They are made to appear easy at first and it’s only on the tenth try, when the claw drops the prize with a sickening thud back into the pile of other toys, chocolates or gifts, that you begin to realise how fiendishly hard these machines actually are.
This idea that they are easy to win makes it tempting to ram coin after coin into the inviting slot as you become more and more frustrated by your own seemingly inept ability to get a prize.
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This frustration compels you to continue ploughing coins into the machine even when you are continually met with failure and you watch helplessly as the claw lowers, grasps, lifts and delivers… nothing. But you continue because you know at some point the claw will grasp something and it will bring you that prize. It’s just a matter of time.
So where do claw machines come from?
To answer this question, we have to travel back to the more wholesome decade of the 1920s when a man named Ernie Collins created a table top contraption that allowed users to manoeuvre a small steam shovel with a wheel that if wielded successfully would pluck a silver dollar from a sea of kernel corn. These contraptions were known as diggers.
Collin’s invention may not have given him a vast wealth, although William Bartlett the patent owner most certainly did attain one, but his predecessor to the modern claw machine that would eventually go on to populate almost every amusement park around the country, was born and, with a certain amount of controversy, pushed into the limelight of modern culture.
Ok, saying that Ernie Collins created the idea of claw machines is an over simplification. Some historians believe that these machines existed in some form as far back as the 1890s with evidence that similar machines were first mass-produced in 1926 when the Erie Digger first cropped up at funfairs across the US. But it wasn’t until Collin’s that claw machines finally found the fame they deserved.
The design may have changed over the years as we moved from the horizontal format of the diggers to the typically upright versions in modern arcades today, but the hypnotic interaction between player and claw is still the same.
So how do you beat claw machines?
Well unless you’re small enough to climb inside the machine, grabbing a prize from a claw machine is pretty tough. It may appear on the surface like a bit of fun and just a game, which of course it is, but there is quite a lot of skill involved too. There’s no way to cheat the machine and guarantee a win, but there are techniques that you can use to improve your chances of winning a prize.
1. Get to know your machine
Walk around the machine and get a good look at it from all angles. Observe where the claw tracks are and visualise the claws movement. Check to see if there are areas of the machine that the claw cannot reach and look at what prizes are in these areas. Some of the more unscrupulous claw machine owners will deliberately place prizes in areas that the claw cannot reach.
2. More prizes do not equal a better chance of winning
The first thing you need to look at when playing a claw machine are the prizes in the machine. If the prizes are packed tightly then it will be far harder to get the claw to grab anything. Look for the prizes and imagine the claw clasping around the prize. If everything is stuffed in close together then don’t waste your time as the claw will never be able to get around the prize.
3. Get a friend to help
Bring a friend along and get them to watch the claws movement from a different angle to you, preferably from the sides. Get them to indicate when they think the claw is over the item as well as when they think the claw has grasped it.
This way you get two different vantage points as your friend becomes the spotter who can guide you whilst you control the claw. Not only will this save precious time as the machines timer ticks away but it will greatly improve your chances of lining up the prize correctly.
If you can’t bring anyone along to help, then make good use of the mirror that is often found at the back of a claw machine to get a similar second vantage point.
4. Observe other players before playing yourself
Keep an eye on other players and more specifically how the machine reacts when they play. Watch how the claw moves and how it reacts when attempting to grip a prize. The grip on the claw can be adjusted by the owner so observing how it reacts is important.
Take mental notes. If you see a claw lifting toys and then dropping the prize immediately, then move on otherwise you will be a wasting your time and money. Remember that the general rule is that the more valuable the prize, the harder the game will be.
5. Choose the right prize
Choose the prize that looks the most attainable not necessarily the most expensive. Be realistic about what you can win in any given machine. Choose a prize that appears loose, is sticking out a little bit, isn’t being blocked or obstructed by any other prizes, and isn’t too close to the side.
Don’t choose a prize if it is leaning against the glass as the track the claw moves on won’t allow it to get close enough to grab it. Often it is best to avoid round or rotund objects because a lot of the time there’s nothing to grab onto. Instead, aim for a prize that has some kind of appendage like a head, arm or leg sticking out.
6. Be wary of more expensive prizes
As mentioned previously and tying in with point five above, if the prizes are too good to be true then they probably are. If the prize is a new video game, expensive cologne, or even that new phone you have had your eye on, then the odds of winning are severely diminished. Think about it. No machine can afford to give away an expensive piece of electrical equipment before many, many hundreds of dollars have been ploughed into them.
7. Have a couple of practice goes
After picking a prize, play a couple of times to test the tensile grip of the claw and see how easily it will hold after it closes. If the claw jiggles open straight away then don’t play again. Move on to another machine.
Also, be aware that machines that have a three-pronged claw rather than a two-pronged claw are generally easier to play as the extra prong increases grip and the likelihood of winning. If it has a four-pronged claw even better. More claws equal a bigger chance of success.
8. Think about trying to move the prize into a better position
By this we’re not suggesting you rock or hit the machine but suggest that you try to bump other prizes out of the way or manoeuvre the prize you want into a better position using a couple of practice goes. It is also advisable to drag a prize closer to the win chute to make a second attempt easier and more likely of success.
9. Ready, steady, go
When you do finally put your money into the machine, get started immediately. All claw machines run on a timer of anywhere between fifteen and thirty seconds, so time is precious.
Plan how you’re going to use the time prior to putting your money in the machine – 10 seconds manoeuvring, 5 second for checking from the sides to ensure you are well positioned, 5 seconds for dropping the claw, etc.
Sometimes the claw will automatically move after a certain amount of time and it can sometimes move back to the drop area of its own accord if you dilly dally over positioning.
10. Use all the time you have to position the claw – In other words don’t rush
This may seem like the opposite of the point above but in many ways the two points complement each other. Don’t dally on starting but once you are going take your time.
The majority of claw machines drop and grab with one push of a button, although some need two pushes to operate – one to drop the claw and another to close it. They nearly all give you enough time to position the claw but bank on the player panicking and rushing the job. Don’t. Slow down and spend as much time as you can making sure that it is exactly above where you want it to be. Only then drop the claw.
11. Know when enough is enough
Some of the newer claw machines cost a chunk of change to play, and repeated play can soon drain your wallet. It’s important to know when to stop. Test the machine a couple of times as mentioned previously and you’ll soon get a feel for how likely it is to let you win. If after a few goes it seems like the claw will never grip anything then walk away.
12. Remember that not all claw machines are rigged
It’s tempting to take the popular stance that all claw machines are rigged. They aren’t and, as with all gambling machines, are governed by laws on how they operate. Obviously, they aren’t going to let you win every time but every claw is winnable. It just takes patience, a little skill, and following our tips.
And finally, remember it’s just a game
When it boils down to it, playing a claw machine or mini claw machine is supposed to be fun, a way to entertain and pass the time, not get frustrated angry and end up beating your fists against the Perspex glass with tears streaming down your face. Enjoy your time playing and take each win as exactly that, a win.
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