How Do You Win the Claw Game?

Answers to your questions about the news.
Feb. 7 2012 6:34 PM

How Do You Win the Claw Game?

Use a partner.

How often can you win when you play a claw game?
How often can you win when you play a claw game?

Photo by Robert Benson/Getty Images For Bloomingdale's.

An Australian 3-year-old climbed inside a coin-operated claw game at a family restaurant Sunday, and proceeded to hand out the game’s candies and toys. Similarly frustrated players have busted into claw machines in Wisconsin and Minnesota over the last few years. If you’re playing by the rules, what’s the best way to grab a prize with the claw?

It depends on the machine. Claw games can be adjusted to make the prizes either easier or harder to grab. The difficulty is controlled by setting the length of time allotted for each attempt and the number of attempts given for each quarter spent. Operators can also change the strength of the claw’s grip. Given these variables, claw-game experts recommend spending a few minutes on the sideline while others play. Once you have a sense of the machine’s idiosyncrasies, ask a partner to stand on one side of the machine to help you align your claw on the depth axis. If the prize is a plush toy or stuffed animal, aim for the chest, which allows for the firmest grip. If the claw has a weak grip, try knocking objects sideways into the prize chute. Experts differ as to whether it’s easier to win with a three-pronged or a four-pronged claw.

There are other ways that a claw-game operator can tweak the odds. In some machines, the prizes are crammed together such that it requires more force to pull them out. According to the British TV show Brainiac, some claw machines (or “fairground grabbers,” as they’re known in the United Kingdom) are programmed so that they only maintain a firm grip on every fifth or 10th play; they’re guaranteed to drop the prizes the rest of the time. Whatever their methods, claw-machine operators lean toward settings that allow a ratio of about $3 worth of prizes doled out for every $10 in revenue.


While claw games have been compared to kiddy slot machines by critics, the law considers them to be to be games of skill, as opposed to games of chance. In several states, so-called “Chuck E. Cheese laws” ensure that children’s arcade games won’t be tagged with regulations designed for casinos. (Even under these rules, claw games are illegal when they don’t give players a fair shot.)

Got a question about today’s news? Ask the Explainer.

Explainer thanks Robert Jarvis of Nova Southeastern University.

Forrest Wickman is a Slate staff writer. 


Sports Nut

Grandmaster Clash

One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.

The Extraordinary Amicus Brief That Attempts to Explain the Wu-Tang Clan to the Supreme Court Justices

Amazon Is Officially a Gadget Company. Here Are Its Six New Devices.

Do the Celebrities Whose Nude Photos Were Stolen Have a Case Against Apple?

The NFL Explains How It Sees “the Role of the Female”

Future Tense

Amazon Is Now a Gadget Company


How to Order Chinese Food

First, stop thinking of it as “Chinese food.”

Scotland Is Inspiring Secessionists Across America

The Country Where Women Aren’t Allowed to Work Once They’re 36 Weeks’ Pregnant

The XX Factor
Sept. 18 2014 11:40 AM The Country Where Women Aren’t Allowed to Work Once They’re 36 Weeks’ Pregnant
Sept. 17 2014 5:10 PM The Most Awkward Scenario in Which a Man Can Hold a Door for a Woman
  News & Politics
The World
Sept. 18 2014 1:34 PM Americans Fault Obama for Giving Them Exactly the Anti-ISIS Strategy They Want
Sept. 18 2014 2:49 PM Amazon’s Carrier Billing Lets You Pay for Digital Purchases in Your Monthly Phone Bill
Sept. 18 2014 2:00 PM On the Death of My Homophobic Dog I named him Liberace, but I couldn’t have chosen a less appropriate namesake for this coarse, emotionally withholding Norwich terrier.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 18 2014 12:03 PM The NFL Opines on “the Role of the Female”
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 18 2014 1:23 PM “It’s Not Every Day That You Can Beat the World Champion” An exclusive interview with chess grandmaster Fabiano Caruana.
Brow Beat
Sept. 18 2014 2:32 PM Kern Your Enthusiasm: The Friendliness of Chicago
Future Tense
Sept. 18 2014 2:39 PM Here's How to Keep Apple From Sharing Your iPhone Data With the Police
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 18 2014 7:30 AM Red and Green Ghosts Haunt the Stormy Night
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.