Pinball Wizards’ Delight

vintage pinballAnyone over 50 must know the pleasure of winning a free ball on a pinball machine, but only the true “pinheads” are nostalgic for the machines made by Williams, Bally or Gottlieb. This was before the machines went solid-state. Before graphics became more important than skill. When you hear the sound of a pinball machine in a movie, what you’re hearing is the old school electromechanical machines, and if you want to hear a lot of them at one time, then you want to be in Las Vegas at the Pinball Hall of Fame.

Believed to have been invented by an Englishman by the name of Montague Redgrave, pinball got rolling (get it?) around 1869 when he installed a spring-loaded plunger on a French bagatelle -- a miniature billiard pokier pinballtable that sloped uphill. The ball would bounce off pins and then fall in various holes worth different points. If you got too jiggy with the table, there was a tilt mechanism that ended the game. And things did get jiggy when the first electric machines came along in the early 30s.

The Pinball Hall of Fame is about 3 miles off the strip on 3330 East Tropicana, where there are hundreds of machines packed into 4500 square feet of space in a mini-mall. They range from the 1950s thru the 90s, and all the old machines have been restored, and if you can believe this, they only cost only a quarter.

Even more amazing is that most of these machines were collected by one man -- Tim Arnold, who along with his brother had a string of impacto pinballPete’s Pinball arcades in the Lansing and Ann Arbor, Michigan area. When he got tired of Michigan winters and wanted to move someplace warm and with no taxes, but lots of tourists, Las Vegas was it. Best of all, there’s no admission fee and it’s a non-profit operation, with most of the proceeds going to the Salvation Army and St. Jude’s Ranch for Children.

It’s interesting to see how different age visitors are drawn to the machines of their youth. The over 60 crowd heads for the machines from the 50s, while the 40 somethings head for a game like the Sorcerer from Williams, and the youngest visitors are all over the new solid-states such as Pirates of the Caribbean and Family Guy. The point, however, is that everyone is having fun. Jumping up and down and high fiving each other fun. The kind where you actually talk to each other without a computer or text messages. Real human interaction.

Jay Harrison is a graphic designer and writer whose work can be seen at DesignConcept. He's written a mystery novel, which therefore makes him a pre-published author.

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