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8 Tips for Beating a Claw Machine

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Unless you’re small enough to climb inside, grabbing a prize out a claw machine can be pretty tough. But Daily Beast entertainment reporter Jen Yamato and film critic Kim Morgan are very, very good at it: Yamato estimates that she’s nabbed 100 toys from the prize pits of claw machines, which she’s deposited in her car and at her house, and at one point, Morgan says, she had “two large garbage bags overflowing with stuffed animals from just one year. I donated them.”

Morgan has always been drawn to claw machines, but got really hooked in 2008: “Must be the dumb kid in me that spies an enormous box of stuffed toys,” she says. “A claw? It's almost something out of the Brothers Grimm … One time I clawed six animals in a row. There was a crowd around me! It was so silly.” Yamato’s obsession with claw games began in her adult life. “I only realized I was good at it because I kept winning stuff and I was keeping track of it on Instagram,” she says. “I’m a professional person most of the time, and it’s one of the only things that I will let myself be completely competitive about. … You get to bask in the glory of holding your bounty high above your head and saying, ‘Yes, I snatched this prize out of this machine! I beat it!’”

It might seem like fun and games—and, of course, it is. But there’s real skill involved, too. Here are the strategies Morgan and Yamato use to nab a prize.

1. CHECK OUT THE PRIZE PIT.

The first thing you should look at when thinking about playing a claw machine is the prize pit—specifically, how tightly the prizes are packed. “An easy tell is when all of the stuffed animals have been front faced and they’re packed in like sardines,” Yamato says. “That means nobody has jiggled anything loose yet, or maybe an employee has just stuffed them in super tight.” A tightly-packed prize pit will make your job a lot harder: “I’m not going to bother playing a machine that is clearly stuffed too tight,” Yamato says. “I won’t be able to reel anything in.”

Morgan agrees. “If the toys are stuffed so tightly that grabbing is impossible, don't waste your time,” she says. “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.”

2. WATCH THE PERSON IN FRONT OF YOU.

“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 says. “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. PICK YOUR TARGET CAREFULLY.

Yamato and Morgan go after the prize that looks the most attainable. “Sometimes, the most desirable prizes are the hardest ones to get,” Yamato says. “Being realistic about what you can win in any given machine will help you win a lot more.”

“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,” Morgan says.

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,” Yamato says. (If a prize is leaning against the glass, the claw track won’t allow the claw to get close enough to nab it.) Morgan also advises sticking to prizes that are close to the chute: “Don't drag something from the very end of the machine,” she says. “That rarely works.”

Yamato also avoids round or rotund objects. “Those are hard because a lot of the time there’s nothing to grab onto,” she says. Instead, aim for a prize that has some kind of appendage—a head, or an arm or a leg—sticking out: “Something you can get one of the claw prongs under is your best bet, if the angle’s right.”

4. PLAY ONCE TO GET A FEEL FOR THE CLAW.

After Yamato has picked her prize, she’ll play once, “to test the tensile grip of the claw to see how easily it will hold after it closes,” she says. “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 says she won’t play again ... “probably.”

In general, it’s easier to play machines that have a three-pronged claw rather than a two-pronged claw: “It’s all about the grip—if the claw has a weak grip, forget it,” Morgan says. “The two-pronged claws seem weaker to me.”

5. … AND MAYBE MANEUVER YOUR PRIZE INTO A BETTER POSITION.

“One strategy is bumping another animal out of the way to grab another,” Morgan says. She also advises grabbing and dragging a prize closer to the chute to make it easier to grab on your second try.

6. USE MOST OF YOUR TIME GETTING THE CLAW INTO POSITION.

Most claw machines drop and grab with one push of a button; some need two pushes—one to drop the claw, another to close it—but that’s rare. Either way, “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 says. “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.” Once you’re in the absolute best position, drop it.

7. KNOW WHEN TO STOP.

Most machines cost 50 cents to play, so Yamato will put in a dollar. “Maybe half the time I get a prize on my first dollar,” she says. “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!”

Morgan says grabbing a prize usually takes her a few tries “on good machines,” she says. “On bad machines—and they seem worse now—it takes me about five or ten times or never. I will not go past ten. That makes me feel like a junkie.”

8. DON’T ASSUME EVERY CLAW MACHINE IS RIGGED.

A few weeks ago, Vox posted an article that explained how claw machine owners can rig them—but Yamato doesn’t think that’s true for every game. “People might play less because they think every claw machine is rigged to screw them over, but not all claw machines are rigged,” she says. “I always believe that every claw is winnable—it’s just a matter of how much I want to stand there and keep playing if I already know that this particular machine is sort of stuck.” But people should avoid the machines that have money wrapped around the prizes: “In my experience,” Yamato says, “those are usually the ones that are rigged.”

Morgan, on the other hand, does believe that many of the machines are rigged—which is why she prefers to play machines in places off the beaten path, like in California’s Yucca Valley. “Are they less rigged in the desert? I think so,” she says. “I have incredible luck out there. I always play in the desert.”

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11 Black Friday Purchases That Aren't Always The Best Deal
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Black Friday can bring out some of the best deals of the year (along with the worst in-store behavior), but that doesn't mean every advertised price is worth splurging on. While many shoppers are eager to save a few dollars and kickstart the holiday shopping season, some purchases are better left waiting for at least a few weeks (or longer).

1. FURNITURE

Display of outdoor furniture.
Photo by Isaac Benhesed on Unsplash

Black Friday is often the best time to scope out deals on large purchases—except for furniture. That's because newer furniture models and styles often appear in showrooms in February. According to Kurt Knutsson, a consumer technology expert, the best furniture deals can be found in January, and later on in July and August. If you're aiming for outdoor patio sets, expect to find knockout prices when outdoor furniture is discounted and put on clearance closer to Labor Day.

2. TOOLS

A display of tools.
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Unless you're shopping for a specific tool as a Christmas gift, it's often better to wait until warmer weather rolls around to catch great deals. While some big-name brands offer Black Friday discounts, the best tool deals roll around in late spring and early summer, just in time for Memorial Day and Father's Day.

3. BEDDING AND LINENS

A stack of bed linens.
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Sheet and bedding sets are often used as doorbuster items for Black Friday sales, but that doesn't mean you should splurge now. Instead, wait for annual linen sales—called white sales—to pop up after New Year's. Back in January of 1878, department store operator John Wanamaker held the first white sale as a way to push bedding inventory out of his stores. Since then, retailers have offered these top-of-the-year sales and January remains the best time to buy sheets, comforters, and other cozy bed linens.

4. HOLIDAY DÉCOR

Rows of holiday gnomes.
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If you are planning to snag a new Christmas tree, lights, or other festive décor, it's likely worth making due with what you have and snapping up new items after December 25. After the holidays, retailers are looking to quickly move out holiday items to make way for spring inventory, so ornaments, trees, yard inflatables, and other items often drastically drop in price, offering better deals than before the holidays. If you truly can't wait, the better option is shopping as close to Christmas as possible, when stores try to reduce their Christmas stock before resorting to clearance prices.

5. TOYS

Child choosing a toy car.
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Unless you're shopping for a very specific gift that's likely to sell out before the holidays, Black Friday toy deals often aren't the best time to fill your cart at toy stores. Stores often begin dropping toy prices two weeks before Christmas, meaning there's nothing wrong with saving all your shopping (and gift wrapping) until the last minute.

6. ENGAGEMENT RINGS AND JEWELRY

Rows of rings.
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Holiday jewelry commercials can be pretty persuasive when it comes to giving diamonds and gold as gifts. But, savvy shoppers can often get the best deals on baubles come spring and summer—prices tend to be at their highest between Christmas and Valentine's Day thanks to engagements and holiday gift-giving. But come March, prices begin to drop through the end of summer as jewelers see fewer purchases, making it worth passing up Black Friday deals.

7. PLANE TICKETS AND TRAVEL PACKAGES

Searching for flights online.
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While it's worth looking at plane ticket deals on Black Friday, it's not always the best idea to whip out your credit card. Despite some sales, the best time to purchase a flight is still between three weeks and three and a half months out. Some hotel sites will offer big deals after Thanksgiving and on Cyber Monday, but it doesn't mean you should spring for next year's vacation just yet. The best travel and accommodation deals often pop up in January and February when travel numbers are down.

8. FOOD AND SNACK BASKETS

Gift basket against a blue background.
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Fancy fruit, meat and cheese, and snack baskets are easy gifts for friends and family (or yourself, let's be honest), but they shouldn't be snagged on Black Friday. And because baskets are jam-packed full of perishables, you likely won't want to buy them a month away from the big day anyway. But traditionally, you'll spend less cheddar if you wait to make those purchases in December.

9. WINTER CLOTHING

Rack of women's winter clothing.
Photo by Hannah Morgan on Unsplash.

Buying clothing out of season is usually a big money saver, and winter clothes are no exception. Although some brands push big discounts online and in-store, the best savings on coats, gloves, and other winter accessories can still be found right before Black Friday—pre-Thanksgiving apparel markdowns can hit nearly 30 percent off—and after the holidays.

10. SMARTPHONES

Group of hands holding smartphones.
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While blowout tech sales are often reserved for Cyber Monday, retailers will try to pull you in-store with big electronics discounts on Black Friday. But, not all of them are really the best deals. The price for new iPhones, for example, may not budge much (if at all) the day after Thanksgiving. If you're in the market for a new phone, the best option might be waiting at least a few more weeks as prices on older models drop. Or, you can wait for bundle deals that crop up during December, where you pay standard retail price but receive free accessories or gift cards along with your new phone.

11. KITCHEN GADGETS

Row of hanging kitchen knives and utensils.
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Black Friday is a great shopping day for cooking enthusiasts—at least for those who are picky about their kitchen appliances. Name-brand tools and appliances often see good sales, since stores drop prices upwards of 40 to 50 percent to move through more inventory. But that doesn't mean all slow cookers, coffee makers, and utensil prices are the best deals. Many stores advertise no-name kitchen items that are often cheaply made and cheaply priced. Purchasing these lower-grade items can be a waste of money, even on Black Friday, since chances are you may be stuck looking for a replacement next year. And while shoppers love to find deals, the whole point of America's unofficial shopping holiday is to save money on products you truly want (and love).

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Food
The Origins of 5 International Food Staples

Food is more than fuel. Cuisine and culture are so thoroughly intertwined that many people automatically equate tomatoes with Italy and potatoes with Ireland. Yet a thousand years ago those dietary staples were unheard of in Europe. How did they get to be so ubiquitous there—and beyond?

1. TOMATOES

For years, the wonderful fruit that’s now synonymous with Italy was mostly ignored there. Native to South America and likely cultivated in Central America, tomatoes were introduced to Italy by Spanish explorers during the 1500s. Shortly thereafter, widespread misconceptions about the newcomers took root. In part due to their watery complexion, it was inaccurately thought that eating tomatoes could cause severe digestive problems. Before the 18th century, the plants were mainly cultivated for ornamental purposes. Tomato-based sauce recipes wouldn’t start appearing in present-day Italy until 1692 (although even those recipes were more like a salsa or relish than a sauce). Over the next 150 years, tomato products slowly spread throughout the peninsula, thanks in no small part to the agreeable Mediterranean climate. By 1773, some cooks had taken to stuffing tomatoes with rice or veal. In Naples, the fruits were sometimes chopped up and placed onto flatbread—the beginnings of modern pizza. But what turned the humble tomato into a national icon was the canning industry. Within Italy’s borders, this business took off in a big way during the mid-to-late 19th century. Because tomatoes do well stored inside metal containers, canning companies dramatically drove up the demand. The popularity of canned tomatoes was later solidified by immigrants who came to the United States from Italy during the early 20th century: Longing for Mediterranean ingredients, transplanted families created a huge market for Italian-grown tomatoes in the US.

2. CURRY

Bowl of chicken curry with a spoon in it

An international favorite, curry is beloved in both India and the British Isles, not to mention the United States. And it turns out humans may have been enjoying the stuff for a very, very long time. The word “curry” was coined by European colonists and is something of an umbrella term. In Tamil, a language primarily found in India and Sri Lanka, “kari” means “sauce.” When Europeans started traveling to India, the term was eventually modified into “curry,” which came to designate any number of spicy foods with South or Southeast Asian origins. Nonetheless, a great number of curry dishes share two popular components: turmeric and ginger. In 2012, traces of both were discovered inside residue caked onto pots and human teeth at a 4500-year-old archaeological site in northern India. And where there’s curry, there’s usually garlic: A carbonized clove of this plant was also spotted nearby. “We don’t know they were putting all of them together in a dish, but we know that they were eating them at least individually,” Steve Weber, one of the archaeologists who helped make this astonishing find, told The Columbian. He and his colleagues have tentatively described their discovery as "proto-curry."

3. THE BAGUETTE

Several baguettes

A quintessential Gallic food, baguettes are adored throughout France, where residents gobble up an estimated 10 billion every year. The name of the iconic bread ultimately comes from the Latin word for stick, baculum, and references its long, slender form. How the baguette got that signature shape is a mystery. One popular yarn credits Napoleon Bonaparte: Supposedly, the military leader asked French bakers to devise a new type of skinny bread loaf that could be comfortably tucked into his soldiers’ pockets. Another origin story involves the Paris metro, built in the 19th century by a team of around 3500 workers who were apparently sometimes prone to violence during meal times. It’s been theorized that the metro foremen tried to de-escalate the situation by introducing bread that could be broken into pieces by hand—thereby eliminating the need for laborers to carry knives. Alas, neither story is supported by much in the way of historical evidence. Still, it’s clear that lengthy bread is nothing new in France: Six-foot loaves were a common sight in the mid-1800s. The baguette as we know it today, however, didn’t spring into existence until the early 20th century. The modern loaf is noted for its crispy golden crust and white, puffy center—both traits made possible by the advent of steam-based ovens, which first arrived on France’s culinary scene in the 1920s.

4. POTATOES

Bowl of red, white, and black potatoes on wooden table

Historical records show that potatoes reached Ireland by the year 1600. Nobody knows who first introduced them; the list of potential candidates includes everyone from Sir Walter Raleigh to the Spanish Armada. Regardless, Ireland turned out to be a perfect habitat for the tubers, which hail from the misty slopes of the Andes Mountains in South America. Half a world away, Ireland’s rich soils and rainy climate provided similar conditions—and potatoes thrived there. They also became indispensable. For millennia, the Irish diet had mainly consisted of dairy products, pig meats, and grains, none of which were easy for poor farmers to raise. Potatoes, on the other hand, were inexpensive, easy to grow, required fairly little space, and yielded an abundance of filling carbs. Soon enough, the average Irish peasant was subsisting almost entirely on potatoes, and the magical plant is credited with almost single-handedly triggering an Irish population boom. In 1590, only around 1 million people lived on the island; by 1840, that number had skyrocketed to 8.2 million. Unfortunately, this near-total reliance on potatoes would have dire consequences for the Irish people. In 1845, a disease caused by fungus-like organisms killed off somewhere between one-third and one-half of the country’s potatoes. Roughly a million people died as a result, and almost twice as many left Ireland in a desperate mass exodus. Yet potatoes remained a cornerstone of the Irish diet after the famine ended; in 1899, one magazine reported that citizens were eating an average of four pounds’ worth of them every day. Expatriates also brought their love of potatoes with them to other countries, including the U.S. But by then, the Yanks had already developed a taste for the crop: The oldest record of a permanent potato patch on American soil dates back to 1719. That year, a group of farmers—most likely Scots-Irish immigrants—planted one in the vicinity of modern-day Derry, New Hampshire. From these humble origins, the potato steadily rose in popularity, and by 1796, American cookbooks were praising its “universal use, profit, and easy acquirement.”

5. CORN

Corn growing in a field

In the 1930s, geneticist George W. Beadle exposed a vital clue about how corn—also known as maize—came into existence. A future Nobel Prize winner, Beadle demonstrated that the chromosomes found in everyday corn bear a striking resemblance to those of a Mexican grass called teosinte. At first glance, teosinte may not look very corn-like. Although it does have kernels, these are few in number and encased in tough shells that can easily chip a human tooth. Nonetheless, years of work allowed Beadle to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that corn was descended from teosinte. Today, genetic and archaeological data suggests that humans began the slow process of converting this grass into corn around 8700 years ago in southwestern Mexico. If you're wondering why early farmers showed any interest in cultivating teosinte to begin with, while the plant is fairly unappetizing in its natural state, it does have a few key attributes. One of these is the ability to produce popcorn: If held over an open fire, the kernels will “pop” just as our favorite movie theater treat does today. It might have been this very quality that inspired ancient horticulturalists to tinker around with teosinte—and eventually turn it into corn

BONUS: TEA

Person sitting cross-legged holding a cup of green tea

The United Kingdom’s ongoing love affair with this hot drink began somewhat recently. Tea—which is probably of Chinese origin—didn’t appear in Britain until the 1600s. Initially, the beverage was seen as an exotic curiosity with possible health benefits. Shipping costs and tariffs put a hefty price tag on tea, rendering it quite inaccessible to the lower classes. Even within England’s most affluent circles, tea didn’t really catch on until King Charles II married Princess Catherine of Braganza. By the time they tied the knot in 1662, tea-drinking was an established pastime among the elite in her native Portugal. Once Catherine was crowned Queen, tea became all the rage in her husband’s royal court. From there, its popularity slowly grew over several centuries and eventually transcended socioeconomic class. At present, the average Brit drinks an estimated three and a half cups of tea every day.

All photos courtesy of iStock.

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