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Monkeys Figure Out How To Play Crane Games

Capuchin monkeys play a claw game to win tasty snacks

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A money uses a crane game.
Eyes on the prize.
Screenshot: 楽市楽座/YouTube

A crane game filled with raisins was left in the monkey pen at Japanese zoo Nagasaki Bio Park, to see if the animals could figure out how to use the redemption game to get snacks.

The crane game was put in the pen for the tufted capuchin (aka black-capped capuchin, brown capuchin, or pin monkey) primates, which are said to be exceedingly smart. As pointed out by Livedoor News, you might remember the capuchin monkey from Raiders of the Lost Ark.


These monkeys are able to use an array of tools:

The tufted capuchin has been observed using containers to hold water, using sticks (to dig nuts, to dip for syrup, to catch ants, to reach food), using sponges to absorb juice, using stones as hammer and chisel to penetrate a barrier and using stones as hammer and anvil to crack nuts. While some of these tasks are relatively simple by cognitive standards (e.g. using a stick to catch ants), others, like cracking nuts with hammer and anvil are only exceeded in complexity by chimpanzees.


But can they use crane games?

Crane games are, of course, among the oldest arcade games. After inserting a coin, players use a claw to try to pick up and retrieve a prize. Here, the machine was on free-play, so the monkeys didn’t have to fiddle around with loose change. Instead, they had to figure out how to operate the claw and get the tasty dried fruit.

The idea of seeing whether they could was a collaboration between Nagasaki Bio Park and Fukuoka-based arcade company Wide Leisure.

The machine had been slightly modified to make it more monkey-friendly: after the claw is moved into position and comes to a standstill, it would automatically descend instead of requiring the primate to press a button to execute the action. What’s more, after the crane successfully picked up a payload, it would automatically drop it into the slot.

The idea here wasn’t to test how good the monkeys were at crane games, but rather, whether they could understand the concept of them, and then play a crane game to get prizes.

For two days in early December 2021, the crane game was placed in the capuchin monkey’s area between the hours of 10 AM and 5 PM. Several things were tried to explain the concept of a crane game to the monkeys, such as showing them it on a tablet or have a zookeeper demo the machine. To lure the monkeys over to the machine, a plush toy was placed in front of the crane game.

On the second day, the monkeys started showing interest in the crane game. They tried eating the joystick, but discovered that it could move—and maybe pick up the raisins inside.

A monkey uses a crane game in the zoo.
The monkey watches the crane move.
Screenshot: 楽市楽座/YouTube

But crane games can be difficult for first timers!

A monkey looks hard at the raisins in the machine.
Intense focus.
Screenshot: 楽市楽座/YouTube

And this monkey got angry.

A monkey bangs on the glass after losing.
Screenshot: 楽市楽座/YouTube

After about twenty minutes, they successfully got raisins from the crane game.

The monkey that first figured out how to operate the crane game was a five-year-old male. The zoo describes him a curious and interested in new things. And, for a monkey, pretty good at crane games!

“There were lots of misses,” said the individual from Nagasaki Bio Park overseeing the project, adding that they were surprised and delighted when the monkeys were successful.