It’s been haunting you since you were 10 years old and you really wanted that fluffy dolphin. You wasted between $5 and $10 anytime you were around one, but no matter what you could never figure out the evil machine.
Whenever you see one, you immediately hear the green squeeze-y toy aliens from Toy Story say the machine’s diabolical name: The Claw.
Mastering the claw machine can take a lifetime, but Daily Beast entertainment reporter Jen Yamato and film critic Kim Morgan gave Mental Floss their expert tips for beating the machine.
Morgan said she once clawed six animals in a row, and Yamato estimates that she has roughly 100 toys scattered in both her home and her car. Here are nine of their personal tips and some additions from WikiHow:
1. Survey The Prize Pit
Yamato and Morgan agree: Steer clear of overstuffed prize pits. “If the toys are stuffed so tightly that grabbing is impossible, don’t waste your time,” Morgan told Mental Floss. “I think it’s better to find those weird lone claw machines in places that seem more abandoned—they don’t get stuffed as much. Those are the only places you can win because there’s more room to drag an animal.”
Ideally, you want to find a prize pit with some loose animals or toys, because then you will be able to aim and maneuver the claw around that target much easier.
2. Try To Watch Someone Else Play Before You
WikiHow suggests watching someone else play the same game you’ve chosen. While you’re watching, count how many seconds they have to position the claw before it automatically drops on a toy. You will also be able to see just how the claw on that particular machine is designed.
“Don’t necessarily watch how they play, but watch how the machine reacts when they play—that information can help you whenever it comes to be your turn,” Yamato told Mental Floss.
“I can see if the claw grip is too loose, or if it’s designed to let go or give a jiggle after it grasps something, then I won’t play because I know the odds are definitely against me … unless it’s a really, really sweet toy that I want. Then I’ll spend a little extra time.”
3. Have A Friend Help You
If you have a friend with you, have them watch the sides of the machine while you’re play from the front. This way they will be able to see if you’re actually positioned well around the toy once you’ve found a suitable target.
If you don’t have a friend with you, plan to use the mirror inside the machine to help you find the perfect clawing position.
4. Pick Your Target With The Utmost Care
Find the toy that you want before you begin the game. Yamato told Mental Floss the ideal prize is “sticking out a little bit, isn’t being blocked or obstructed by any other prizes, and isn’t too close to the side,” where the glass could keep the claw from being able to grab on all sides of the prize.
Morgan advised choosing prizes that are close to the chute: “Don’t drag something from the very end of the machine,” she said. “That rarely works.”
Morgan said choosing a prize is all about being realistic. “If the pretty pony in the far end, stuffed tightly next to the cute teddy bear, is an impossible option, you’re going to have to settle with the ugly duck/monster thing with red shoes and a cape or whatever the hell it is and live with it,” she said.
5. Consider The Claw You’re Working With
WikiHow says that four-pronged claws are great for grabbing around the chest area of a stuffed animal, with two prongs above the arms and two prongs positioned below.
With three-pronged claws, two prongs should be positioned around one of the arms, and the claw should be slanted so that the third prong will go across the chest (two prongs will be below the prize’s arms).
Being realistic is important here as well. It would be much more difficult to grab a basketball toy, for example, than a stuff animal that has appendages you can position the claw around.
Morgan said that weaker claws will also affect how you play. She said that two-pronged claws always seem the weakest, and you might just want to save yourself the frustration of working with a two-pronged claw.
6. Play Once To Get Used To The Claw & Maneuver Your Prize
After Yamato has picked her prize, she told Mental Floss she will play once, “to test the tensile grip of the claw to see how easily it will hold after it closes.
A lot of them will jiggle open right after they close, so even if you’ve caught something, it’ll screw you over by opening up the claws a little bit.” If that happens, Yamato said she “probably” wouldn’t play again.
You can also use this first play to knock your desired prize into a slightly better position. Morgan also advised dragging a prize closer to a the chute on the first try so that you have less work to do the second time.
7. Use Most Of Your Time To Position The Claw
WikiHow suggests spending 10 seconds maneuvering the claw if you only have 15 seconds to play, and then the last five to check to be sure that you’re positioned well over the prize.
If you have 30 seconds to play, use 15 to maneuver, 10 to check the boundaries of the claw, and five for perfecting the position.
“Most machines give you enough time to position your claw, and most of them will let you move it forward and backward and then sideways,” Yamato told Mental Floss.
“I usually try to spend most of the time of the clock running down to make sure that I’m exactly above where I want the claw to drop.”
8. Know When To Cut Yourself Off
Morgan said she cuts herself off at 10 plays, because if she goes past 10, “that makes me feel like a junkie,” she said.
Yamato said that since most machines cost 50 cents per play, she will usually stop playing after $1. Most of the time, anyways.
“Maybe half the time I get a prize on my first dollar,” Yamato said. “I’ll usually play a couple of dollars at most before I realize that I should walk away. It’s like gambling—for no monetary gain!”
9. Don’t Assume That All Claws Are Rigged
Yamato said that not all claw machines are rigged. She said that in her experience, though, the machines that are rigged are usually the ones that have money wrapped around the prizes.
Unlike Yamato, who believes that almost every claw is winnable, Morgan said she will only play claw machines that are off the beaten path, like in California’s Yucca Valley, because she knows that those are much less likely to be rigged.
“Are they less rigged in the desert? I think so,” she said. “I have incredible luck out there. I always play in the desert.”