Whenever I spot a claw machine, I wonder, “Who the hell are these idiots who think it’s worth dropping a dollar to score a Mr. Happy Crab?” Then, my next thought is that I should own one and rule over this city like a dark, stuffed-animal overlord. It's easy money; besides, we all know that claw machines are rigged and no one wins anything from these damned things, am I right?---
The answer to this question can be found in an apartment on 800 East that features a hoarder-like pile of Superman dolls, Yosemite Sams and limited-edition Betty Boops. “This is about six months of toys, I guess,” says 31-year-old Doug Prescott as he shows off his bounty. It's also worth mentioning that he has a storage unit in Logan with 400 more claw-machine treasures. “I would have more, but my friends come over and steal 'em and I like to give some away to my nephews and nieces if I forget about their birthdays.”
Prescott is a self-proclaimed professional clawer. On the surface, you might think clawing is all about collecting cute little stuffed animals, but that isn't the case. For hardcore clawers like Prescott, the sport of clawing is about the thrill of beating the system. “It's addicting, man, but I don't get too carried away. I probably average around 75 cents to a dollar per animal,” explained Prescott. “But if there’s something like ... this little shark” -- he picks up a stuffed shark that says “Landshark” on its stomach -- “I might spend a few extra bucks to dig it out if it's buried.”
To see his skills in action, we met up with Prescott last Thursday evening as he made his rounds:
Though he claims the claw field is packed with amateurs, clawing is a somewhat-competitive thing in Salt Lake City. Like in the film Unbreakable, every hero needs a villain, and when it comes to clawing, Prescott isn't alone. There are a few other decent clawers in the area, one of whom he considers his nemesis. “I've talked about this guy forever and everyone thought I was crazy. I would be, like, 'Man, there’s someone out there who’s getting to these machines before I do.’ So one day, I’m at this machine in Smith’s and I was grabbing, like, six toys out of it. Anyway, I could feel this guy eyeballing me from the Red Box machine and he comes up and goes, 'Are you the other guy?’ and I’m, like, 'Yeeeeah!’ I was so glad my girlfriend was there because I said to him, 'I've been telling other people about you forever, man.’ ”
Obviously, Prescott’s a pro and he makes fishing for rainbow zebras look easy. But, if you want to throw caution to the wind and get into the high-stakes lifestyle of clawing, here are a few tips from the master himself:
- Avoid machines that feature prizes like headphones, DVDs and bootleg MP3 players. According to Prescott, these are nearly impossible to grab and they're not worth it. “I’d rather have a pointless and stupid stuffed animal than a pair of off-brand headphones,” says Prescott.
- Select an animal you know you can actually get. If it’s sitting on top of the pile or it’s fluffed up and close to the drop zone, your claw game will be strong. Don't go for prizes that don’t have anything to grab onto, like pillows and footballs. Pro tip: Look for claw marks or indentations on the animal; these are clues that it’s been packed down by stupid noobs.
- Before you begin to claw, be sure the machine is pushed back all the way against the wall. This is key, because when you go to grab the animal, sometimes you have to shake or “tilt” the machine to loosen it up.
- Make sure your claw is angled correctly. Sometimes, the tongs of the claw aren’t in the right position and most machines won’t allow you to spin it. A good way around this is to push the claw to the back left corner of the machine and have it catch on its own wire. When this happens, the claw spins until it’s free from the wire, allowing you to angle the claw however you want.
- Always pick a good machine. This is probably the most important rule. Don’t just claw for the sake of clawing. It’s all about layout. If the animals are packed down too tight, or fluffed up too high so that claw can’t open all the way before hitting the target, you’re gonna have a bad time. Like Prescott, try to hit these machines on their restock days.