Damien Murphy's 3-year-old son, Jamie, is one of these curious, mischievous kids who gets into everything.
"Whenever I walk into a room and see something that could be trouble," said Murphy, of Nenagh, Ireland, in County Tipperary, "I instantly see Jamie in it. He's a real boundary pusher."
Once, for example, he and his dad were looking after an aunt's dog. Jamie "woke up early in the morning and cut a bunch of hair off it," Murphy, 35, told The Washington Post.
Still, Murphy said, he didn't see it coming – it being Jamie's Great Toy Machine Caper – when he, Jamie and his brother Shane, 5, walked into Jump 'n' Gyms, a commercial play center that boasts a "multi-level play area" filled with kidly delights.
Among them was one of those big claw machines filled with cuddly stuffed teddy bears, doggies, giraffes and dragons, a contraption tantalizing to young and old alike but especially to 3-year-olds. Even though it says "Prize Every Time" in big yellow letters, 3-year-olds can't read and are smart enough anyway not to be taken in.
Indeed, as someone recently wrote, getting a prize can be tough "unless you're small enough to climb inside . . ."
It happens that Jamie was small enough to climb inside, said his father.
"I was sitting down having a coffee," Murphy said, looking after the boys, when Jamie wandered off for just a second. "He went out of my sight, walked off just to my left. I heard what I thought was a muffled complaint," looked over and there he was.
"He was just there, inside the machine, looking out of the glass."
It seems that Jamie had climbed in through the flap where the toys come tumbling out, if you're lucky enough to get one, his father said. It's a small space, but then again, Jamie is a small boy, only a few feet high.
"He seemed a bit panicked," said Murphy, "and then I told him, 'listen, you're fine,' and gave him a big smile. Then he started laughing."
Meanwhile, as Murphy was alerting the staff, an off-duty fireman who happened to be at Jump 'n' Gyms with his children, "strolled over with a big grin on his face. He said '90 percent of my job is getting kids out of trouble like this,'" Murphy told The Post.
And so the fireman did get Jamie out of trouble, coaxing him to exit the machine just the way he entered, telling him to crouch down, crawl back into the slot, through the flap, and then shimmying him out of the machine.
It was all over in 10 minutes.
The owner of the gym, James O'Sullivan, confirmed in an email to The Post that the boy was in the machine. "But how he got there," he said, "nobody knows. Obviously none of the staff working Monday saw him getting into the machine."
O'Sullivan said he has had the machine removed and asked the company that operates it to review it. "At this stage," he said, "we are thankful that Jamie didn't manage to hurt himself during his little adventure."
Dad, son and son, were reunited, joined by two cuddly green dragons, one for Shane and one for Jamie, courtesy of Jump 'n' Gyms.
This sort of thing has happened elsewhere. ABC News reported on several incidents of small children getting into toy claw machines, and getting stuck. "The prizes are so close but they are just out of reach," Barbara Eldredge, a design researcher, told ABC. "The appeal of going inside is like entering a magic land. It's kid-sized and if the kid can fit, why not?"