You've seen them in arcades all over the world: those little grabby claw machines full of toys or fake jewelry. Maybe you've even tried your luck at winning something to impress your date with your deft eye-hand coordination, but if you're like most people, you walked away with your hands as free of prizes as the day you were born.

With a little work, I have gotten good enough to actually do Christmas shopping via UFO Catcher. Now, you too can achieve the surgeon's touch and depth perception required to line your wall with Hello Kitty heads and cheap watches.

Step the first: Know Your Enemy

There are many different breeds of UFO Catcher, and it is important to know what kind you're going up against. A general rule of thumb is that the best prizes come from the hardest games. Here is a list of the types of UFO Catcher I have encountered, listed from easiest to hardest.

  1. Depth Claw: Prizes are hung from poles that stick out of the back of the machine. Move the claw vertically, horizontally, and finally towards the back of the machine. The pincers close, and pull your prize out toward you, and then drop it over the vending slot. There are small plastic knobs at the end of each pole where the loop prizes are held by may snag, and deprive you of your booty. This is the only game that can easily be won with one play.
  2. Pusher: Prizes are on multiple rings that spin around like a bakery pie display. You position a telescoping rod vertically, and then push a button to extend the rod, knocking a prize into the center of the rings and out the vending slot.
  3. Two-Prong Hanging Claw: Move the pincer claw across the top of the machine, and press a button to drop the claw to nab a prize from the bottom of the machine. Then hope it doesn't fall from your grasp as it jerkily moves to the vending slot.
  4. Three or Four-Prong Hanging Claw: Same as the Two-prong version, except that it's harder to line up a grab when those extra prongs can get in the way.
  5. Spinning Wheel, Dumping Buckets: Try to stop the pointer on the positive numbers to make the bucket tip that many points. When you have achieved enough points (usually 6 or 7) your prize slides from the bucket and falls into the vending slot. As hard as this game is, it usually contains prizes that are obviously worth money, such as giant Gundam models, and, on occasion, porn.

Step the second: Snatching The Pebble From My Hand

UFO Catchers exist for one purpose: to make money for the owner of the machine. The odds are stacked against the average user. You, however, are not the average user.

What you must understand is that most of these games are designed so that they cannot be won with one move. Most can be won in two moves, and a few can take more. Sure, you can get lucky, but it will cost you more money in the long run.

  1. Depth Claw: Can easily be won in one move, but this also means there is no real way to set yourself up for anything. The only trick is to position the pincers such that their grip is firm enough to pop the loop over the knob at the end of the pole. No tricks, just good eye-hand coordination.
  2. Pusher: The rod is not long enough to actually push anything into the center. The trick is to position the rod a little high and tip your prize over, possibly knocking it slightly behind the prize next to it. Now aim for the other prize and push the first one into the hole. Easy!
  3. Two-Prong Hanging Claw: If you're aiming for a doll, try to grab it under the armpits. This will keep the doll's center of gravity balanced on the claw. There is a little gap between the pincers in "closed" position, so if you have to grab the handle of a box, it will probably fall out. Because the claw decends in the "open" position, you can use the claw to push things around and knock things over to make them easier to grab in later tries. The wider an object is with respect to the pincers, the easier a time you will have.
  4. Three and Four-Prong Hanging Claw: Much like the Two-Prong version, only position of the claw usually matters more than position of the item, and knocking a prize over may make things harder, depending on circumstances.
  5. Spinning Wheel, Dumping Buckets: There is no strategy to this game. The spinner is probably faster than your reflexes. The only advice I can give is not to try for the +4 and +5 spots. Stick to +1 and +2. Usually the prizes are worth the extra money.

Step the last: Assume Your Opponent Is Not Honorable

Simply put: cardboard boxes are the bane of you as a player of UFO Catchers. They have no traction for the claws to grab, and usually come equipped with tantalizing but evil little handles.

Most of the time, just remember that the prizes in cardboard boxes are used to get money from suckers, and move on. However, if it must be yours, remember that the boxes must be at an angle for you to have any chance of getting them in your claw. Don't even bother with the ones that aren't. Seriously. Also, it's almost impossible to get your claw to close through one of those evil little handles, and if it does somehow, nine times out of ten it will slide off through the gap between the pincers.

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