Crane operator puts crane game to the test

Crane pro tries arcade claw crane
Matt Jones
March 19, 2019
By Matt Jones
Despite his 27 years in the business, Thane Tapley and his daughter Erin were bested by the claw crane game.
Despite his 27 years in the business, Thane Tapley and his daughter Erin were bested by the claw crane game. Photo: Matt Jones
Thane Tapley is in his 27th year in the crane industry. From his training in Ontario to the last 10 years working for Irving Equipment in New Brunswick, he’s seen it all – from construction to erecting wind energy farms and everything in between. But none of that could prepare him for his greatest challenge – trying to win stuffed toys from the arcade claw crane at a laundromat in Fredericton, N.B.

“Try to pick up the small one here,” his daughter, Erin, instructs.

“Let’s see if we can grab him by the head,” says Thane, as he deftly maneuvers the claw over a bright blue plush horse. The claw’s pincers grasp the toy around the head but then slide right off.

Claw crane games have a long history, going back to the early 20th century in North America; however, they became much more ubiquitous in arcades and stores in the 1980s. They generally feature a clear plastic enclosure filled with prizes. Stuffed toys seem to be the most common, but jewelry, hats, candy and other prizes are also seen. The claw itself travels along the top of the enclosure on a mechanism similar to overhead travelling gantry cranes often seen in machinery shops.

After paying for a play – two attempts for $1 in this case – the player is given an amount of time to position the claw where they want. Once the time expires or a button on the joystick is pressed, the claw descends, the pincers close, and the claw moves back into position to drop what it has collected into a chute that the player can access. Unfortunately, the claw is most likely to have collected nothing.

“Here’s one of the problems,” says Thane. “The net load is in excess of the clam capacity. The clam won’t remain closed when the load is imposed on it.”

The machine Thane is playing has a variety of different sizes of stuffed toys. However, the larger toys seem to be packed fairly tightly in the centre of the machine. Smaller toys seem to be so far along the periphery of the enclosure that the crane can’t actually reach them.

“The heavy ones are positioned so you can reach them with the crane,” says Thane. “The ones that are actually small enough to pick up with the crane are positioned so you can’t pick them up. For all intents and purposes, there are few options here that you could pick up. Doesn’t really seem fair, does it?”

“It speaks volumes that a crane operator can’t pick up one of these toys,” notes Erin.

“I could if they were playing fair, but they’re not playing fair,” adds Thane.

Playing fair is likely not the intention of the game. Claw cranes are designed to get as much money out of a player as possible, like any arcade game. It’s the same reason why arcade video games like Pac-Man and Donkey Kong just get harder and harder – to inspire to player to keep plunking in more coins. And that certainly is the case here.

“You better start looking for loonies, cause I’m getting this guy,” Thane instructs Erin after going through seven of the eight loonies that Crane & Hoist Canada provided. He adds with a laugh, “It’s the definition of insanity.”

“I’m getting frustrated and I’m not even the one playing it,” says Erin.

Modern claw cranes, like most arcade games, do allow the owner of the device to make adjustments to a variety of features, including claw strength and aperture, motion speed and pick-up strength. It’s unclear how the settings on this machine may have affected Thane’s efforts.

Asked how he would adjust the machine if the point was to make it an effective crane, rather than simply to make money, Thane notes that the main concern is the holding power of the claw.

“You have enough control, but what it’s lacking is the closing power,” says Thane. “It’s insufficient to bring the toys out of the game – which is a reasonable business approach. But that would be the single most important improvement. You know the physics behind it and it does work in the real world, but they’ve tinkered with the physics so it doesn’t work.”








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