A few weeks back when I was checking out Evangelion 3.0 for the second time in the theaters, I walked into the neighboring Sega arcade. Right inside the door they had a raffle set up and anyone with a movie ticket got a free draw. Even though I didn't win anything special, the consolation prize was one free try at any crane game in the arcade. So I thought, "what the hell, right?" and browsed the machines until I found the one prize I desperately wanted: a figure of Sheryl from Macross Frontier, dressed as Basara from Macross 7—what can I say, Macross is a hell of a drug.
So I called an attendant over and got my free try put into the machine, only to realize I was looking at a crane game unlike any I had seen before. My personal experience with crane games is seeing them in restaurants or super markets—where you control a giant claw which drops down, grabs the item you want, and (hopefully) carries it over to a hole before dropping it down to you. This machine was different, to say the least. The figure I was after was sitting on a trap door above the hole. All that was holding the trap door shut was a string attached to a plastic plate balanced on a rubber ball at the end of a metal rod. Thus, knock the plate off the ball and the prize is yours. Simple, right? HAHAHA. No.
With my first try, I encountered a problem: If you aim dead center, the two-pronged claw touches nothing. You have to be just off center enough that when the claw closes, it hits the plate. After plugging in five dollars for an additional six tries, I got very good at having the claw in the right place on the left/right axis. On the front/back axis though, I was still hitting dead center; so the claw ended up hitting the rubber ball, and not the plate. Of course, even hitting the plate in the sweet spot was barely enough to turn the plate, much less knock it off.
Over the next few minutes I got change twice, once breaking a $50 bill in the change machine, as I began slowly-but-surely hitting alternating sides of the plate—walking it millimeter-by-millimeter towards its final plummet. During this time, I realized several times that I had gotten myself into an un-winable position where the plate was turned at an angle that made it impossible to hit. However, the arcade staff members were quick to readjust the plate—without resetting it—whenever I asked. By the end, I had a staff member on hand cheering me on and more than a few onlookers. Yet, when my figure finally fell and the staff girl gave me a bag to carry it in, I was more relieved than excited. All in all it took me (only?) about $15 to win the figure.
What have I learned from all this? Crane games are applaud-worthy in how deceitful they are. They are the perfect mixture of looking easy to win while at the same time sitting on just this side of impossible. But despite this, I felt happy with my experience. I had never won a crane game before in my life, but it was always something I'd wanted to do since I was a little kid. Sure, I could have bought the figure in Akihabara for $8 but an additional $7 was a small price to pay for the experience.
After I claimed my prize, they offered to take my remaining tries to another machine—where I did my best to help the next person to play it. By the time I reached the train station to head home, I was feeling pretty good about my little adventure. Then I opened my wallet to buy my ticket and realized, that in my excitement, I had left $40 of the $50 I broke in the change machine and it was long, long gone.