Whac-a-Mole is an arcade redemption machine that has been popular for many years all around the world. Please note that Whac-a-Mole is the correct title for this game, it is not Wack a Mole or Whack-a-Mole, two mispellings that have been popularized by their inclusion in the jargon file.
The game has a simple concept that has stood the test of time. Little plastic critters (moles), pop up out of holes, and you must whack them with a padded mallet to knock them back in the holes. This simple gameplay seems to be fun and even therapeutic for people of all ages.
The first Whac-a-Mole machines were built in 1971 by Bob's Space Racers, a company out of Florida who specializes in electromechanical games. The standard Whac-a-Mole cabinet features two copies of the game side by side, sharing a single marquee/nameplate. Each side has a mallet on a short cord, and five holes that moles pop out of. The area behind the moles is mirrored and has a mechanical scoreboard, and a set of flashing lights. The front of the cabinet is red, while the playing surface is yellow.
There is no real strategy to this game, besides the rather common cheat of having two people play at the same time on the same playing surface (using both mallets). Smart operators will have remounted the mallet cords to prevent this from happening anyway, but that still won't stop a determined group of cheaters from simply using their hands. There are no patterns to the game, well at least no learnable patterns as the machine does a pretty good job at making the moles pop up at random. The game will start out slow (at this point it is possible to hit the moles more than one time whenever they pop up), and will speed up towards the end, often having several moles pop up at the same time. When your game time is over (game length is operator selectable), you will receive some redemption tickets that you may trade in for whatever prizes that venue is offering behind the prize counter. From time to time you may encounter a Whac-a-Mole that is not a ticket dispenser, these versions are only played for score, and usually have the game time set a bit longer.
This game spawned a whole new category of electromechanical games. The "Whacker" game. This same basic concept has been used in dozens of games since the original release in 1971; such as Wacky Gator, Cracky Crab, Gopher Bash, and a whole family of Whac-a-Mole variants from Bob's Space Racers.
Whac-a-Mole has spawned protest from PETA for the mere concept of bashing poor defenseless moles with a hammer (even though the "moles" look more like plastic turds with eyes than animals). But animal lovers need not fear, because you can retrofit your Whac-a-Mole machine with a wide variety of custom heads that are not animals, such as footballers, mushrooms, or plain unadorned heads.
If you would like to procure your very own Whac-a-Mole game, then you have several options. The first is to simply buy the home version, which is sold by Toy Biz. You might not be able to find the home version in your local shop, but they come up on eBay fairly often (and fairly cheap at that). You can still purchase a brand new Whac-a-Mole machine from Bob's Space Racers or several other vendors, but be aware that even the cheapest versions cost several thousand dollars (USD) new. Your other option is to try and buy one at an amusement industry auction. But these machines generally only come up for sale when an operator is going out of business, because Whac-a-Mole machines still make money, and are rarely just trashed.