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Nine-year-old Caine Monroy, owner and operator of Caine's Arcade in East Los Angeles, has an engineer's mind and a showman's soul. The young inventor, the subject of a beguilingly heartwarming short film, has become the Internet's latest viral sensation (

Last summer, Caine turned the front of his family's auto parts store into an elaborate DIY arcade full of his favourite games. His first project involved a plastic hoop and a cardboard box. A successful free throw would win you one of the boy's old toys. The price was a nickel.

But he had no customers. The auto shop sits on a street with little foot traffic and does most of its business online.

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Still, Caine was determined to grow his arcade. The joy was figuring out how to craft enticing attractions out of the materials on hand. To make a claw machine, he attached a metal hook to a piece of string and dropped it through a small opening into a box filled with prizes. How to have his games pay out strips of tickets like they do at other arcades? Crawl inside the boxes and feed out tickets through a slot.

Caine designed tokens, gift-bags, business cards. And waited. Then – his first customer. Nirvan Mullick, a filmmaker seeking a door handle for his old Corolla, stumbled upon the arcade and a boy asking him to "step right up." Caine offered two turns for $1 (U.S.) but announced a special promotion: a $2 Fun Pass that entitled the bearer to 500 turns. Mr. Mullick bought the pass, and saw in this young creative mind a kindred spirit and the subject of his next documentary.

Mr. Mullick organized for a flash mob to pay the arcade a surprise visit and filmed Caine's meeting with the boisterous crowd of gamers chanting 'we want to play!'

The 37-year old filmmaker set up a website to raise a college fund for this budding Barnum, who says he would like to study advanced game design. $100,000 has already been donated. With college costs more than covered, the family is reportedly refusing to accept any more donations.

An L.A. pinball shop recently invited Caine to test out their wares and presented him with a vintage pinball machine. Caine's Arcade finally has a "real" game, but it is doubtful that it is as exciting as the cardboard ones.

Special to the Globe and Mail

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