Yesterday was my birthday. I am now the answer to life, the universe, and everything. To celebrate, I went to Baltimore and visited the National Pinball Museum.
The drive up was nice. I really like to drive, especially road trips, but I don’t do it much any more because I’m trying to be nice to the planet. I took a back way through Olney, down 108 to 32, so that I didn’t have to drive down to the Beltway. It’s a shorter drive, but takes about the same time, which means the roads are slower. To some people I guess those are draw backs, but to me it just means double savings on fuel.
I got up there just before they open at 10am. They have a nice exhibit on the history of pinball, going back to the French during that overly self-indulgent royalty phase. Back then it was a variation on pool. You would shoot the ball through arched gates, and behind that were pins (like nails) directing the ball to various holes or bells that scored different points. From there it evolved to a bar game where you shot the ball up and it dropped down through a set of pins, resting in a hole that determined your prize. The one they had on display gave out one to five cigars. Then you had electric games with powered bumpers. How many bumpers you hit and which holes you landed in determined your scores.
It was around that time that flippers were invented. That was what I found most interesting about the trip. The night before I saw a news piece about Steve Kordek, who was credited with inventing the two flipper machine that is what we think of pinball. The museum doesn’t mention him at all, concentrating on Henry Mabs and Wayne Neyens, who actually invented the flippers. Although I believe they did mention Triple Action, the machine that Kordek designed.
Pinball had a lot of problems. Most pinball manufacturers shut down during World War II to make war materiel. When they started back up after the war, they ran into trouble with the anti-gambling laws. Those laws targeted slot machines, but pulling on a handle and pulling on a plunger weren’t always seen as that different. Some of the older machines they had on display had two versions: one for states where the plunger was outlawed, and one for states where the plunger was required. One of the popular gambling work arounds was to have a gap at the top of the glass covering the play field. Players would roll the ball up the glass and it would drop down the gap, making it a game of skill rather than a game of chance. All of the problems with the anti-gambling laws is why you often see “For Amusement Purposes Only” on pinball machines.
After tooling through the exhibits, I went to the main attraction, the Pinhead Gallery. That’s where all the photos in this post are from. If you think that’s a lot of pinball, keep in mind that I forgot to take pictures of one area where there are about ten more machines. I got up there at 10am, and left a little after 5pm. Excluding time for the exhibits and lunch I probably spent about five and a half hours playing pinball. I played Avatar, Indiana Jones, Creature from the Black Lagoon (first picture); Banzai Run, Earthshaker, Whirlwind, Fun House, Addams Family, Twilight Zone (second picture); Revenge from Mars (third picture); Roto Pool, Sitting Pretty (fourth picture); Jurassic Park, Queen of Hearts (fifth picture); Black Knight (sixth picture); Flipper Football, and WHO dunnit (not pictured).
It’s been a long time since I played serious pinball. At one time I played three to four dollars worth every day. Before yesterday, I had probably played that much in the past ten years. So my skills are not what they used to be. Still, I managed to get extra ball, multi-ball, jackpot (or the equivalent), and replay on Earthshaker, Whirlwind, Fun House, Addams Family, Indiana Jones, Revenge from Mars, and maybe Twilight Zone (I can’t remember). I also got a daily high score on Revenge from Mars and all four daily high scores on Earthshaker.
All in all it was a complete blast, and totally worth being sore all over my arms and back. I highly recommend it to any serious pinball fan. Note that the all day pass only gives you four hours of play. If you want to do like I did and play all day, get the three day pass.
Best Quote: Guy playing Avatar: “It’s just like the movie! It’s a total ripoff!”