Via The Agitator, I find this video on how to beat the skill crane games you find at video arcades and bowling alleys.
I’m skeptical. For many years, I thought those games were simply impossible to win, since I’d never actually seen anyone getting a prize. Then I met my friend Chris (memorialized here), who won prizes all the time and eventually taught me his tricks. Since then, I’ve won many prizes from skill cranes; in fact, a pile of stuffed-animal victories sits under my Christmas tree (still up, I’m afraid). And what the video says doesn’t quite jibe with my experience.
The video claims that a yellow box inside the machine has two settings: (1) frequency of payout – e.g., allow a win every 5th or every 10th play, and (2) claw strength. My skepticism is about setting (1). There have been numerous occasions on which I’ve won two or more prizes in a row, which is inconsistent with a setting that only allows a win on every nth play. Moreover, I can’t think of any mechanism that could invisibly affect the likelihood of victory for every nth attempt other than an adjustment to claw strength – which is what the second setting controls. Maybe there’s an interaction between the two controls (claw strength increases for every nth attempt); if so, the video could have been clearer on that point.
In any case, if you want to win at the skill crane, here are some tips not mentioned in the video (most of which I learned from Chris):
1. Don’t go for the coolest prize, or the prize your girlfriend has her eye on. Go for the one that’s easiest to get, because it’s better to win a lame prize than to not win a cool one. The easiest prizes will generally be those sitting on top of the pile, without any other prizes in the way. Even a little obstruction can jostle a prize loose from the claw.
2. Make a judgment about claw strength relative to prize size. If some prizes are smaller than others, they’ll be less likely to fall from the claw’s grip.
3. Be prepared to abandon a machine whose claw is especially weak. Selecting the right machine is part of the game.
4. Beware of machines whose prizes are too orderly. If every stuffed animal is right-side-up and facing forward, someone has been arranging the prizes, and that means they are probably wedged in tight against each other. You stand a better chance when the prizes are in a random jumble.
5. Look for prizes with tags, labels, hooks, or other projections. Sometimes you can snag one of these with one prong of the claw, allowing you to win despite the claw’s low strength.
6. Try a multi-attempt strategy. If you’re going to pay more than once anyway, your first attempt might simply involve nudging an obstruction out of the way.
7. Look for prizes perched on the edge of the deposit box. Sometimes you can lift these just enough to tip them in.
8. Most importantly, remember the purpose of the game. It’s not to get a stuffed animal; if that’s what you want, go to the toy store and buy one. The prizes are so cheap to make that the skill crane owner would probably turn a profit even if every attempt won. So what you’re buying is not a stuffed animal, but a chance to claim victory. Think of the skill crane as a kind of video game, and the prize is your score.