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.”

The 11 Best Movies on Netflix Right Now

Laura Dern and Scarlett Johansson in Marriage Story (2019).
Laura Dern and Scarlett Johansson in Marriage Story (2019).
Wilson Webb/Netflix

With thousands of titles available, browsing your Netflix menu can feel like a full-time job. If you're feeling a little overwhelmed, take a look at our picks for the 11 best movies on Netflix right now.

1. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)

Spider-Man may be in the middle of a Disney and Sony power struggle, but that didn't stop this ambitious animated film from winning the Oscar for Best Animated Feature at the 2019 Academy Awards. Using a variety of visual style choices, the film tracks the adventures of Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), who discovers he's not the only Spider-Man in town.

2. Hell or High Water (2016)

Taylor Sheridan's Oscar-nominated Hell or High Water follows two brothers (Chris Pine and Ben Foster) who take to bank robberies in an effort to save their family ranch from foreclosure; Jeff Bridges is the drawling, laconic lawman on their tail.

3. Raging Bull (1980)

Robert De Niro takes on the life of pugilist Jake LaMotta in a landmark and Oscar-winning film from Martin Scorsese that frames LaMotta's violent career in stark black and white. Joe Pesci co-stars.

4. Marriage Story (2019)

Director Noah Bambauch drew raves for this deeply emotional drama about a couple (Adam Driver, Scarlett Johansson) whose uncoupling takes a heavy emotional and psychological toll on their family.

5. Dolemite Is My Name (2019)

Eddie Murphy ended a brief sabbatical from filmmaking following a mixed reception to 2016's Mr. Church with this winning biopic about Rudy Ray Moore, a flailing comedian who finds success when he reinvents himself as Dolemite, a wisecracking pimp. When the character takes off, Moore produces a big-screen feature with a crew of inept collaborators.

6. The Lobster (2015)

Colin Farrell stars in this black comedy that feels reminiscent of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman's work: A slump-shouldered loner (Farrell) has just 45 days to find a life partner before he's turned into an animal. Can he make it work with Rachel Weisz, or is he doomed to a life on all fours? By turns absurd and provocative, The Lobster isn't a conventional date movie, but it might have more to say about relationships than a pile of Nicholas Sparks paperbacks.

7. Flash of Genius (2008)

Greg Kinnear stars in this drama based on a true story about inventor Robert Kearns, who revolutionized automobiles with his intermittent windshield wiper. Instead of getting rich, Kearns is ripped off by the automotive industry and engages in a years-long battle for recognition.

8. Locke (2013)

The camera rarely wavers from Tom Hardy in this existential thriller, which takes place entirely in Hardy's vehicle. A construction foreman trying to make sure an important job is executed well, Hardy's Ivan Locke grapples with some surprising news from a mistress and the demands of his family. It's a one-act, one-man play, with Hardy making the repeated act of conversing on his cell phone as tense and compelling as if he were driving with a bomb in the trunk.

9. Cop Car (2015)

When two kids decide to take a police cruiser for a joyride, the driver (Kevin Bacon) begins a dogged pursuit. No good cop, he's got plenty to hide.

10. Taxi Driver (1976)

Another De Niro and Scorsese collaboration hits the mark, as Taxi Driver is regularly cited as one of the greatest American films ever made. De Niro is a potently single-minded Travis Bickle, a cabbie in a seedy '70s New York who wants to be an avenging angel for victims of crime. The mercurial Bickle, however, is just as unhinged as those he targets.

11. Sweet Virginia (2017)

Jon Bernthal lumbers through this thriller as a former rodeo star whose career has left him physically broken. Now managing a hotel in small-town Alaska, he stumbles onto a plot involving a murderer-for-hire (Christopher Abbott), upending his quiet existence and forcing him to take action.

11 Unusual Christmas Traditions Around the World

A Mari Lwyd—a ghostly horse figure brought door-to-door between Christmas and New Year’s Eve in Wales
A Mari Lwyd—a ghostly horse figure brought door-to-door between Christmas and New Year’s Eve in Wales
R. fiend, Wikimedia // CC BY-SA 3.0

We all know about the typical trappings of Christmas—Santa, the tree, eggnog and carols, turkey and ham, that fruitcake that’s made three trips around the country and counting. But what about traditions that are generally less well-known in America—the ones that might take place halfway around the world? Traditions like the Swedes watching the same Donald Duck cartoon each year, the Japanese devouring KFC, or Austria’s “bad Santa,” Krampus? Allow us to take you on a journey with the international Christmas traditions below.

1. Sweden // Watching Donald Duck on Television

Every year at 3 p.m. on Christmas Eve, around half of Sweden sits down to watch the 1958 Walt Disney TV special “From All of Us to All of You.” Known in Swedish as Kalle Anka och hans vänner önskar God Jul, the title translates to “Donald Duck and His Friends Wish You a Merry Christmas.” But, really, it’s usually known as Kalle Anka. Since 1959, the show has been airing without commercial interruption at the same time every December 24 on TV1, Sweden’s main public television channel. According to Slate, it’s one of the three most popular TV events each year, and lines of the cartoon’s dialogue have become common Swedish parlance.

Slate’s Jeremy Stahl, who remembers his first Christmas visiting Sweden with his soon-to-be-wife, observes, “I was taken aback not only by the datedness of the clips (and the somewhat random dubbing) but also by how seriously my adoptive Swedish family took the show. Nobody talked, except to recite favorite lines along with the characters." Stahl notes that for many Swedes, other Christmas Eve festivities revolve around watching the show—what time they eat the Christmas meal, for example—and that, although the tradition may seem strange, it also makes some sense: “For many Swedes, there is something comforting about knowing that every year there is one hour, on one day, when you sit down with everyone in your family and just be together.”

2. Venezuela // Roller Skating to Christmas Eve Mass

Roller skates on a wooden background
xavigm/iStock via Getty Images

In the Venezuelan capital of Caracas, it’s a long-established tradition to strap on your skates and roll on over to morning Christmas mass. According to Metro.co.uk, legend has it that children go to bed with a piece of string tied to their toes, with the other end dangling out the window. As the skaters glide by early the next morning, they give the strings a firm tug to let the children know it’s time to wake up and put on their skates. Firecrackers accompany the sound of the church bells, and when mass is finished, everyone gathers for food, music, and dance. The custom continues today.

3. Japan // Eating KFC on Christmas Eve

A KFC in Japan at Christmas
A KFC in Japan at Christmas
Robert Sanzalone, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Christmas isn't a widely celebrated holiday in Japan—a mere 1 percent of Japanese people are estimated to be Christian—and yet a bucket of KFC “Christmas Chicken” is the popular meal on December 24. According to the BBC, 3.6 million families celebrated this way in 2016.

It all began with a 1974 marketing campaign—“Kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii” (Kentucky for Christmas). According to Smithsonian, when a group of foreigners couldn’t find Christmas turkey and opted for KFC instead, the company saw it as a fabulous marketing opportunity and advertised its first Christmas meal—chicken and wine for the equivalent of $10, which, Smithsonian notes, was rather pricey for the mid-'70s. These days, the Christmas dinner includes cake and champagne, and costs roughly $40. Many people order their meals far in advance to avoid lines; those who forget can end up waiting for as long as two hours.

4. Ukraine // Decorating the Tree with (Fake) Spiders and Webs

A Ukrainian spider web Christmas tree ornament
A Ukrainian spider web Christmas tree ornament
Marty Gabel, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

According to Ukrainian folklore, there was a poor family with a widowed single mother who couldn’t afford to decorate their Christmas tree. One night, as they all slept, a wonderful Christmas spider decorated the tree with a beautiful, sparkly web. The rays of the sun touched the web, turning it to silver and gold, and from that day on the family wanted for nothing. Ukrainian families decorate their trees with glittering spiders and their webs in honor of the tale.

5. Guatemala // La Quema del Diablo, “Burning the Devil”

Bonfires in Guatemala on La Quema del Diablo
Bonfires in Guatemala on La Quema del Diablo
Conred Guatemala, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Every December 7, beginning at 6 p.m. sharp, Guatemalans build bonfires to “burn the devil” and kick off their Christmas season. The tradition has particular significance in Guatemala City, according to National Geographic, due to its association with the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, which honors the city’s patron saint. The tradition evolved from simply lighting bonfires during colonial times to burning a devil figure to clear the way for a celebration of the Virgin Mary. In recent years, devil piñatas have been added to the festivities, too. These days, an estimated 500,000 bonfires burn in the course of an hour on the holiday, and fireworks explode across the smoky sky.

6. Catalonia // Caganer, the Pooping Christmas Figurine

A caganer figure at a Barcelona Christmas market
A caganer figure at a Barcelona Christmas market
J2R/iStock via Getty Images

A regular figure in Catalonian nativity scenes, the caganer is a bare-bottomed man with his pants around his knees as he bends over to poop. He typically wears a white shirt and a barretina, a traditional Catalan hat. The caganer most likely first appeared in nativity scenes in the early 18th century; nativity scenes in the region typically represent pastoral scenes with depictions of rural life. The caganer often appears crouched behind a tree or a building in a corner of the nativity. Caganer literally means “pooper” in Catalan, and no one is certain of his significance, though one theory is that he represents good luck and the wish for a prosperous new year, since the pooping could be construed as the fertilization of the earth. Another theory is that he represents the mischief that resides in all of us. Yet another theory: he could merely represent humility and humanity. After all, everyone poops.

7. Wales // Mari Lwyd, or “Gray Mare”

Mari Lwyd, or “Gray Mare,” is the name given to the ghostly looking horse figure often brought door-to-door between Christmas and New Year’s Eve in Wales. Typically constructed of a horse skull, a white sheet, and adorned with colorful ribbons and bells, the Mari Lwyd is carried around Welsh towns by singing revelers who challenge their neighbors to a battle of wits through poetry. Atlas Obscura explains that despite often being associated with Christmas, Mari Lwyd is actually a pre-Christian practice, and some Welsh towns choose instead to parade their horse skulls on other days, such as Halloween or May Day. However, the Christmas season is the most popular time for Mari Lwyd, and the practice often includes wassailing, which involves the drinking of a boozy, sugared-and-spiced ale.

8. Austria and German-speaking Alpine region // Krampus, the Christmas Devil

Krampus characters parade on St Nicholas' day
Krampus characters parade on St Nicholas' day in Italy
dario_tommaseo/iStock via Getty Images

While well-behaved children in Austria and elsewhere look forward to St. Nicholas rewarding them with presents and sweets, those on the naughty list live in fear of Krampus. Part demon and part goat, Krampus is a “bad Santa” devil-like figure with origins in pagan celebrations of the winter solstice. Later, Krampus became a part of Christian traditions alongside the celebrating of St. Nick. During Krampusnacht, or “Krampus night,” right before St. Nicholas Day, adults dress up as Krampus, and Krampus might also be seen on a Krampuslauf—literally a “Krampus run.” He also appears on Christmas cards throughout Austria, and enjoys a long-held place in the country’s holiday traditions, as well as in other German-speaking areas near the Alps.

9. Iceland // The Yule Cat

Iceland has its own frightening Christmas figure, the Yule cat, which lurks in the snow and waits to devour anyone who has not received new clothes to wear for Christmas. National Geographic did some digging into the origins of this tradition, and notes that in Icelandic rural societies employers often rewarded members of their households with new clothes and sheepskin shoes each year as a way to encourage everyone to work hard in the lead-up to Christmas. “To this day Icelanders still find it important to wear new clothes on Christmas Eve when the celebrations begin,” the website writes. So, basically, the Yule cat punishes the lazy by devouring them, though, as National Geographic observes, “According to some tales, the Yule Cat only eats their food and presents, not the actual people.” Whew!

10. Greenland // Whale Blubber Dinner

Although women around the world have often traditionally prepared the Christmas meal, in Greenland the men serve the women. The main dish is mattak, strips of whale blubber, as well as kiviak, flesh from auks buried in sealskin for several months and then served once it begins to decompose. Dessert is a little more familiar: Christmas porridge garnished with butter, cinnamon, and sugar.

11. Italy // Befana, the Christmas Witch

Befana, the Christmas witch of Italy
Befana, the Christmas witch of Italy
corradobarattaphotos, iStock via Getty Images

Like Austria’s Krampus, Italy’s Christmas witch, Befana, is scary-looking—she has the warts and the sharp nose of the typical witch depiction—and yet every January 5 she leaves gifts and sweets for the good children. Of course, she also leaves coal for the naughty ones. According to legend, she swoops up the particularly bad children and brings them home to her child-eating husband. According to Vice, Italy honors Befana with festivals each year, complete with market stalls, raffles, games, and prizes. Children also write letters to Befana just as they do to Santa Claus.

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