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Our resident UFO catcher expert reveals six tips for when you’ve got your eyes on the prize in the glass case.

The crane game, commonly called the UFO catcher in Japan, has the potential to be either the dizzying high or the abysmal low of your trip to an arcade. If everything goes well, you can walk away with an amazing prize for just a few hundred yen (the equivalent of a few U.S. dollars). On the other hand, on a bad day you could blow all the cash in your pocket trying to win something but still end up walking away empty-handed.

That uncertainty makes crane games unlike just about any other arcade amusement option, so to try to get a clearer picture of things, we went with Yoshio, RocketNews24’s self-titled crane game expert and Japanese-language reporter, to the Taito Station in Tokyo’s Shinjuku, not far from our offices. Once there, we gave him 10,000 yen (US$96) and told him to put together the best pile of prizes he could with that investment.

With over 20 years of crane game experience, Yoshio has a number of techniques and maxims he follows, which he shared with us while putting them all to use.

Tip #1: Use 500 yen coins

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Crane games accept both 100 and 500 yen coins, but if you’ve got your heart set on a specific prize, go with the latter. How come? Because while arcades will generally give you one play for 100 yen, many UFO catchers give you six tries if you toss in a 500-yen coin, which is almost a 16-percent discount on the cost per try.

Tip #2: Find a machine where the crane movement feels natural to you

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This slightly contradicts Tip #1, but you’ll want to find a machine where the crane’s movement and control feels smooth and predictable. During this reconnaissance stage, Yoshio recommends using 100 yen coins. It’s also important to remember that a little experimentation goes a long way for this step. If you overdo it by trying out a dozen different machines, they’ll start to mix together in your head and you won’t be able to skillfully control the crane.

Tip #3: Remember, you can use the claw for more than just grabbing

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Depending on the position of the prize, you can also get good results using the claw to push, pull, or press the item.

Tip #4: Don’t expect to snatch the prize on your first try

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Instead, think strategically, moving the prize progressively closer to the collection hole on each attempt.

Tip #5: Always be conscious of the prize’s center of gravity and position within the machine

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Using objects (especially the prize itself if you’ve already won one) to measure distances from outside the case, instead of just eyeballing them, often leads to better results.

Having explained most of his tactics, now it was time for Yoshio to put them into practice. After trying out a number of machines, he told us he felt confident in his ability to win one of these cuddly Snoopy stuffed animals.

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After dropping his 500-yen coin into the slot, Yoshio deftly grabbed the controls…

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…and immediately grabbed the world-famous beagle in the claw!

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Could it be? Was Yoshio going to win the prize on his very first try?!?

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…he was not.

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Yoshio quickly tried again, but with similarly disappointing results. Finally, after a string of failures, he decided is was time to employ one more strategy.

Tip #6: Enlist the help of the arcade attendant

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“The attendants aren’t heartless monsters,” Yoshio explains. “If you fail enough times, they’ll start to feel sympathy for you, and you can ask them to put the prize in a position that’ll make it easier to win.” While you might feel a little embarrassed about asking for help, it’s Yoshio’s firm belief that if you let your self-consciousness dictate your actions, you’ll never became a truly successful crane game player. Some employees will even give you suggestions about the best way to win a specific prize.

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So shortly following some assistance from the attendant, Yoshio had his Snoopy, having spent roughly 5,000 yen in the process.

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However, it seemed like Yoshio was off his game today, as it took his remaining 5,000 yen to capture just one more Snoopy stuffed animal, this time in a girlish pink.

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5,000 yen a piece might seem pricey for these plushies, but the prizes in a lot of UFO catchers are exclusive items that you can’t get your hands on any other way. Plus, there’s nothing quite like the exhilarating sense of accomplishment that comes with winning the prize that caught your eye.

▼ The satisfied smile of a man with 10,00 yen less to his name, but two victories more.

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Images ©RocketNews24
[ Read in Japanese ]

Casey has never won anything bigger than a Zaku keychain in an arcade, but you can follow him on Twitter anyway.

[ Read in Japanese ]