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Pinball Week

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Chicago once waged a 40-year war on pinball

Posted By on 05.05.18 at 04:14 PM

Pinball machines were routinely confiscated and destroyed after they were banned. - CHICAGO SUN-TIMES
  • Chicago Sun-Times
  • Pinball machines were routinely confiscated and destroyed after they were banned.

Pinball was banned in Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York City for decades and . . . wait, what?

I didn't have a clue about pinball's prohibition until I interviewed Roger Sharpe for this week's Reader cover story. He's the man who helped overturn the 35-year old ban in New York City with his Babe Ruthian "called shot."

Then again, the ban was overturned in Chicago in early 1977—before I was born. As an 80s kid who spent a significant time playing pinball and video games at a Bally's Aladdin's Castle (th
e Chicago-based "McDonald's of the arcade business"), my general impression was that arcades were viewed by adults as dens of adolescent sin. That manifested itself in the pop culture of that era when arcades became lazy visual shorthand to suggest misspent youth. That's where you'd find Sean Penn as slacker icon Spicoli hanging out in the Reagan-era flick Fast Times at Ridgemont High. The low-budget 1983 comedy Joysticks was a (bad) movie about teens fighting to save their arcade from a moralistic businessman who claimed the joint was a threat to their mental health.

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Friday, March 2, 2012

Bill Paxton and pinball, the perfect marriage

Posted By on 03.02.12 at 08:00 AM

  • Benjamin Heckendorn
Maybe console modder Benjamin Heckendorn (aka Ben Heck) had a good reason to spend five years building a pinball machine solely devoted to the film roles of actor Bill Paxton, but I don't even want to know what it was. Knowing why the machine exists would only taint the incredible mystery behind its creation.

Bill Paxton Pinball was completed in 2010 and features themes and artwork from a number of Bill Paxton classics—except for Twister, which already has a pinball identity. The machine includes a torpedo loader (U-571), a Jamie Lee Curtis Progress-o-Meter (True Lies), oxygen tank stirrers (Apollo 13), Heart of the Ocean Progress Lights (Titanic), a killer sun (Near Dark), sentry gun LED counters (Alien), a greasy pork sandwich light (Club Dread Weird Science), and a recrushable Hamm's can (Frailty).

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Thursday, March 1, 2012

Arcade game throwback at Galloping Ghost

Posted By on 03.01.12 at 08:00 AM

Pinball and arcade enthusiasts in Chicago started salivating when news of Emporium Arcade Bar broke. The new spot is slated to bring the delightful combination of booze, pinball, and old-school arcade games to Wicker Park later this month. If you’re looking for a video game throwback sometime sooner, however, I’d highly recommend the short drive to Brookfield for a visit to Galloping Ghost Arcade.

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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

First Flush of youth

Posted By on 02.29.12 at 02:41 PM

  • jm3/Flickr
What is it about college that drives young men to pinball?

It's bright and noisy and tactile, and it offers something else to master when you're learning so many other things. Most of all, of course, it's cheap—or it was. What else were you going to do with those quarters but something dreary like the laundry?

Pinball played a brief role in my life, but while it lasted it was mainly devoted to a Gottlieb game called Royal Flush. I remembered it, at first, as Joker's Wild, but a quick check against the Internet Pinball Database (who knew?) corrected me.

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The game of misfits

Posted By on 02.29.12 at 07:09 AM

Pinball art by Dave Christensen
  • Eric Kantor
  • Pinball art by Dave Christensen
The first time the world said no to me because I was too young, what I was too young to do was play pinball. The playground around my new school, Prince Charles Elementary in Sudbury, Ontario, was covered with pebbles, but at its westernmost end there was a dip into a dirt field where older kids played football, and beyond that field, beyond the magisterium of the principal, Mr. Carlaw, a tiny general store offered a pinball machine. I think it was the first one I ever saw. I’m not sure what age I had to be to legally put a nickel in the slot, but it was an age I was nowhere close to. I was seven.

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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Pinball at the Deadwood Institute for Higher Learning

Posted By on 02.28.12 at 03:36 PM

  • Eric M.
I openly confess to only having played once or twice. I suck at pinball. But I spent the bulk of my college years at an Iowa City bar called the Deadwood. File this under pinball players I have known and loved.

Blanford was a brilliant graduate student in English who cultivated a coterie of brash and funny Chicago lads. Granted, I was a chick, but that didn't stop him from reading me all of The Rape of the Lock in one of the Deadwood's booths, or long selections from Lucian, Herodotus, and Thucydides. He was a stumpy, stout, ginger-bearded man with prodigious powers of memory and storytelling. He'd been raised a la John Stuart Mill—which is to say, force-fed. His rebellions were the Beatles, Coke in bottles, and pinball.

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An interview with Jersey Jack

Posted By on 02.28.12 at 08:00 AM

Jersey Jack Pinballs Wizard of Oz machine
  • Jersey Jack Pinball's Wizard of Oz machine
As I mentioned in my piece on Stern Pinball, the Melrose Park company is the last of the many Chicago-based pinball manufacturers left standing, and in fact for the past 12 years it's been the only company in the world manufacturing new machines. Or at least it has been.

Sometime in the next couple of months the first completed machine is expected to roll off the assembly line at upstart Jersey Jack Pinball's Lakewood, New Jersey headquarters. Founder Jack "Pinball Jack" Guarnieri is a former pinball repairman and designer, the founder of, and a pinball columnist, which is a title I've been begging my editors at the Reader to create for some time now.

Before Pinball Jack's debut machine, based on the classic film version of Wizard of Oz, officially ends Stern's benevolent monopoly of the pinball industry I talked to Guarnieri on the phone.

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Monday, February 27, 2012

Pinball Week: RIP Steve Kordek

Posted By on 02.27.12 at 08:00 AM

It only feels right to start off Pinball Week by acknowledging the recent passing of pinball innovator Steve Kordek, without whom pinball as we know it may not exist. In 1948 Kordek was the first pinball designer to place a pair of flippers at the bottom of the playfield above the game's "drain." Before then pinball had evolved only marginally from its predecessor, bagatelle, and played less like modern pinball than another bagatelle descendant, pachinko, where players would have little to no control over the course of their ball once it left the plunger.

The addition of flippers to the game wasn't Kordek's idea—like many of history's great innovations it was stolen, from his competitors at Gottlieb, who had put six of them at the top of their Humpty Dumpty game. But his decision to place one single, high-powered pair at the bottom of his 1948 Triple Action machine for Genco immediately evolved pinball from a game of chance to a game of skill and technique. (Although the specter of its history as a gambling machine is why pinball was banned in cities across the country even after flippers came into the picture.)

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Starting today on the Bleader: Pinball Week

Posted By on 02.27.12 at 07:00 AM

Today begins a new edition of our blog feature "Variations on a Theme," in which we devote digital ink to a topic that fascinates us. This week, it's pinball.

Pinball week coincides with Miles Raymer's feature story on the Stern Pinball factory and the company's new AC/DC machine. The piece, a terrific read, contemplates the future of pinball in the face of changing times.

And in case you missed it, here's "Protest Week," last week's "Variations on a Theme."

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