Cool or cruel? This game lets you play with your food

Angry Lobster

By Nikki Neu

Since before I can remember, I’ve been eating lobster.

When I was adopted from Korea at three months old and landed in Manhattan, my first meal off the plane was at the Palm Too restaurant, sitting on the table in my carrier, wishing I had teeth while my parents feasted on lobster. As soon as could, I joined my parents in what became our traditional Saturday night meal for years.

I love lobster.

So it caught me off guard when I was particularly disturbed and angered by a recent find. While doing research at the Fremont Street Experience, I stumbled upon a machine in the Las Vegas Club’s Tinoco’s Kitchen that looks much like the carnival or arcade game. It’s a vending machine with a claw at the top. You position the claw to descend down and grab the toy or stuffed animal so you can give it to your girlfriend.

Only this machine wasn’t filled with soft, fluffy stuffed animals, it was filled with water—and in the water—live lobsters.

I know how cooking a lobster works. Back in my culinary school days, I had the pleasure of dropping one of these live crustaceans in a pot of boiling water and you had to hold the pot cover to keep the lobster from escaping. Not a great visual, but necessary nonetheless. The difference between this game and cooking it in the kitchen would be in a kitchen, the ingredients and preparation are sacred and respected–not mocked.

But it was something about trivializing this process as part of a game, where guys would egg on their friend desperately trying to maneuver the joystick and position the claw so he could “win” a lobster. Cries of joy ring out as the poor, relatively helpless lobster gets jostled and grabbed by the claw—much the way the demolition crane would pick up an ‘86 Cutlass Supreme in a junkyard.

Then after you “win” the lobster, the restaurant cooks it and you get to eat your “win.”
But this lobster fan isn’t hungry, and neither is PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. In an interview with the “Denver Post,” PETA’s Vice President, Tracy Reiman, called the vending device a “machine that turns torture and death into a game.”

While PETA’s reaction is certainly an intense one, I didn’t really see the “fun” in catching my own lobster out of a measly tank either.

Within a 25-minute time period downtown, I managed to find two of these lobster games, one at Tinoco’s Kitchen and one at Micky Finnz. The latter even has a special sign that advertises a $2 lobster dinner—if you catch it.

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There are 4 comments for this article
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  3. Bari Dee at 4:17 pm

    I kind of have mixed feelings about the lobster game. First and foremost I’m a retired Executive Chef ( Canadian Recipes of the Great White North) and have cooked my share of fresh lobster. I love the great dishes you can make with fresh lobster – like lobster bisque or lobster creole ( just to name a very few). Not sure if this is cruelity to crusteceans. We use to quickly end the lobster life by a quick strike of a very sharp knife before we would stick it into the boiling hot water. This way the lobster was already dead before it hit the boiling water – we felt this was
    a more humane way to kill a lobster. I have mixed feeling because I’m against people torturing animals – like my long time companion and dog friend was (hit and run on purpose) by the cruelity of some immigrant from an eastern country.
    The reality of it all is that you have to eat protien of some sort and no matter how you mask it – we are carnivores. It up to you if you want to eat a ton of beans or have protien rich food items either from the sea or a nice thick steak from the farm.
    If you think this is cruelity, then maybe you should have a look at what the Japanese are doing when they kill dolphins and all their young ( It’s a complete slaughter within a pool of blood with the young crying and franticially trying to get out, but knowing they soon will die along with their parents).

    We must eat and I think it is important to respect the animal species and utilize every part of that

    animal. Cruelity is not only within man, but three months ago I saw how killer whales tired out a mother whale in order to kill its baby along side of the mother whale. As soon as the mother whale could no longer protect its baby, the killer whales swiftly killed the baby… and this is the important part….they did not even eat the calf…it slowly sank to the bottom of the ocean. So – what were the Killer Whales doing …it was a game to them….just a game.
    P.S. I love going to Vegas and Freemont Street – We go every year from Canada and enjoy every minute we are there. We have stayed at the Mirage, T.I. (Treasure Island), Beligio, CeasarsPalace and going back to CeasarPalace. I really enjoyed #Margaritaville and – great place for casual dining