When 3-year-old Kael Ireland found his way into the Bear Claw arcade game at a Lincoln, Neb., bowling alley this week, employees were mystified.
"We're like, how did he get in there?" said Rachell Hildreth, a bartender at Madsen's Bowling and Billiards, where Kael was found Monday night, happily playing with the stuffed animals that always somehow seem to slip from the grasp of the giant metal claw looming above them.
"All we could think was maybe he crawled up in where the prizes come out," Hildreth told NBC station WOWT of Omaha. "But that still seems pretty impossible."
But it's not impossible — difficult, perhaps, but definitely not impossible.
"It took him some time to get in there, so it wasn't easy for him to do. Let's put it that way," said Jim Lackey, a representative of VVS Canteen, the Nebraska company that supplies the arcade games for the bowling alley.
That's because the opening where prizes tumble out — it's rare, but they sometimes do — has to be big enough for stuffed animals to slide down. And that's just big enough — roughly the same size as the door on a standard mailbox — for a small toddler to squeeze into.
Kael apparently slipped away while his mom was in the bathroom of their home across the street, pattered into the bowling alley and crawled up the chute. (There's no indication of neglect, Lincoln police said Wednesday, and his mom won't be charged with anything.)
It's a startlingly common thing to happen, in fact:
- In 2012, 3-year-old Noah Jeffrey made his way up the chute of a crane claw game in Ballarat, Australia, and started handing out toys to children outside.
- In October 2010, a boy climbed up through a crane claw machine's chute at a Walmart in Sun Prairie, Wis. He got to take two toys home with him.
- Just two months later, a 2-year-old girl was found "sucking her binky" in a machine at a mall in Robinson Township, Pa.
- And YouTube is stuffed with (mostly unverified) videos of other young children inside crane claw machines.
It's such a well-known problem that one company, SMS Manufacturing, which made several popular arcade games during the 1980s, installed "special prize chute security devices" in its Skill Crane "to prevent unauthorized intrusion into the internals of the Crane" (PDF).