(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘pinball

“He’s a pinball wizard”*…

Mark Frauenfelder talks with Tanner Petch, the creator of play-able pieces of art: an arcade full of handmade pinball machines…

Sinkhole is a backwards game that borrows from the aesthetic of early pinball, particularly “wood rail” games from pre-1960s. The fact that it tilts away from you changes your experience a lot more than you’d expect and came from trying to question what were some of the very core aspects of pinball that could be tinkered with. In addition to the wooden components, the art style, playfield design, and overall theme were inspired by the esoteric nature of early games (at least compared to what we expect today)…

Prometheus was the first game I made and is based on the part of the myth where an eagle eats Prometheus’ liver every day after it regenerates. In the game, the player is the eagle, and the only objective is to hit four drop targets which represent four bites of the liver. You do this as many times as you want to, or until you lose. Rather than an individual score, the display shows the cumulative number of livers eaten as long as the machine has existed…

More at: “Check out Tanner Petch’s weird homebrew pinball machines@tpetch via @Frauenfelder in @BoingBoing

* The Who, “Pinball Wizard,” Tommy


As we finesse the flippers, we might recall that it was on this date in 1972 that Hewlett-Packard introduced the first handheld scientific calculator, the HP-35, a calculator with trigonometric and exponential functions. The model name was a reflection of the fact that the unit had 35 keys.

It became known as “the electronic slide rule”– a device that it (and its successors, from both HP and TI) effectively replaced.


“That’s when I gave up pinball”*…



Readers will recall the hysterical efforts of “Dr.” Frederic Wertham to protect children from the dangers of comic books; pinball machines faced a similar challenge…

During the decadent reign of Louis XIV, restless courtiers at Versailles became enchanted with a game they called ‘bagatelle’ which means a ‘trifle’ in French. This game was played on a slanted felt board. A wooden cue was used to hit balls into numbered depressions in the board – usually guarded by metal pins. The game arrived in America in the 19th century, and by the turn of the 20th century attempts were being made to commercialize the game. According to Edward Trapunski, author of the invaluable pinball history Special When Lit (1979), the first successful coin operated bagatelle game, Baffle Ball, was produced by the D Gottlieb Company at the end of 1931.

Soon the metal plunger took the place of the wooden cue stick, and lights, bumpers and elaborate artwork appeared on the machines. The game had arrived at the right time – the Depression had just hit America hard, and the one-nickel amusement helped entertain many struggling citizens. It also kept many small businesses afloat, since the operator and location owner usually split the profits 50/50. The game was particularly popular with youngsters in claustrophobic cities like New York, which boasted an estimated 20,000 machines by 1941. That year, one local judge who was confronted with a pinball machine during a case voiced the complaint of many older citizens when he whined: ‘Will you please take this thing away tonight. I can’t get away from these infernal things. They have them wherever I go.’

Although pinball was quickly vilified in many parts of America, the poster child for the vilification was none other than ‘the little flower’ himself: the pugnacious, all-powerful Fiorello H La Guardia, mayor of New York City from 1934 to 1945. La Guardia argued that pinball was a ‘racket dominated by interests heavily tainted with criminality’, which took money from the ‘pockets of school children’…

The whole sad story at: “A menace to society: the war on pinball in America.” (And more on the history of pinball machines here and here.)

* Haruki Murakami, Pinball


As we limber up our flipper fingers, we might spare a thought for a man who’d surely have approved of neither the comics nor pinball, Increase Mather; he died on this date in 1723.  A major figure in the early history of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and the Province of Massachusetts Bay (now the Commonwealth of Massachusetts), Mather was a Puritan minister involved with the government of the colony, the administration of Harvard College, and most notoriously, the prosecution of the Salem witch trials. His piety ran in the family: he was the son of Richard Mather, and the father of Cotton Mather, both influential Puritan ministers.



Written by (Roughly) Daily

August 23, 2016 at 1:01 am


Pinball machines as we know them are descendants of 19th century bagattelle tables.  Pinball emerged when, in 1871, British inventor Montegue Redgrave invented and patented “Improvements in Bagatelles”:  he made the game smaller, inclined the playfield, replaced the large bagatelle balls with marbles, and most notably, took advantage of the recent (1857) development of steel springs to add a coiled spring-rigged plunger to launch the balls.



The first machines, table-top units, were not coin-operated; players rented the balls.  Coin slots and legs were added in the early 30s; power and a “tilt” mechanism, in the mid 30s– the the games spread in mass.   The bumper was born in 1937, but the flipper didn’t appear until 1947.  In the 50s, lighted scoring and two-player games appeared.  And in the 60s, drop targets and digital scoring debuted.  The 70s– the pinnacle of pinball penetration– saw the introduction of the first solid-state, or electronic pinball machine.  By the 80s, digital video arcade games had begun to threaten pinball’s place.  Pinball added stereo sound; and the 90s, electronic flippers and ceramic balls.  But by the turn of the millennium, pinball machines had fallen prey to arcade video games; indeed, in 2006, “digital video pinball machines” appeared, replicating the look and feel of traditional machines, and allowing gamers to play any of a dozen retro games…

 The “Visible Pinball Machine” (source)

Readers can stroll– and pull and flip and bump and and jostle– down memory lane this weekend, at the 6th Annual Pacific Pinball Exposition at the Marin County Fair Ground, a benefit for the Pacific Pinball Museum.  Those who can’t make it can wander through the Internet Pinball Database.


As we collect our rolls of quarters (and further to yesterday’s missive), we might recall that it was on this date in 1967 that The Who “exploded” onto the American music scene with an appearance on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.  Three months earlier, the later-to-be-Pinball-Wizards had appeared at Monterrey Pop, where their set-closer– Pete Townsend’s guitar bashing and an flash charge under Keith Moon’s drum set, had inspired Jimi Hendrix (the act that followed them) to burn his guitar.  The Who brought this same act to TV, closing their performance of “My Generation” with Townsend’s ritual destruction of his axe and an explosive charge that was apparently mis-rigged– so strong that it singed Townshend’s hair, left shrapnel in Moon’s arm, and momentarily knocked The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour off the air.

The action, of course, is toward the end, beginning at about 7:25…

 The remnants of Townsend’s Vox Cheetah, destroyed that night, as auctioned by Christies in 2010 (source)

Written by (Roughly) Daily

September 17, 2012 at 1:01 am


From Popular Mechanics, “11 Things You Didn’t Know About Pinball History,” e.g.:

7. Pinball Has a Surprise Best-Seller

The best-selling pinball machine of all time is still “The Addams Family,” which came out in 1991.


11. Just One Company Still Makes Pinball Machines

And it does it in the U.S. Every new pinball machine comes from a single Stern Pinball factory in the Chicago suburbs, where factory workers assemble several thousand parts, largely by hand.

Readers will find the other nine nuggets at “11 Things You Didn’t Know About Pinball History.”

As we limber up our flipper fingers, we might recall that it was on this date in 1935 that Parker Brothers purchased the patent for “The Landlord’s Game” from Elizabeth Magie, a Quaker political activist who had created the game to illustrate the way in which monopolies impoverish (“bankrupt”) the many while concentrating extraordinary wealth in one or few.  Charles Darrow’s “Monopoly” was (to put it politely) closely modeled on “The Landlord’s Game”; when it became a hit in 1933, Parker Brothers bought it– and subsequently paid Ms. Magie $500 for her predecessor patent to avoid a (completely justified) claim from her that “Monopoly” was, in effect, stolen.  It is estimated that over a billion people have played “Monopoly” over the years.

“The Landlord’s Game” board, from Magie’s original patent application (source)


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