The Science of Sing Along

By frdelrosario

October 08, 2021

49 days ago

The playfield in Sing Along, a 1967 Gottlieb electromechnical, is simple in its symmetry. Within the playfield, 16 standup or rollover targets correspond to one of four color groups: white, red, yellow, green.

The game's biggest payoff comes from making all four targets in one color group, intermittently lighting for special ("special when lit") the like-colored pit in the centerfield kickhole relay. 

To maximize one's scoring at Sing Along, there's a preferred order in which to complete each color group. With this understanding, there follows a realization that the most-desirable colored targets are most difficult to make within the deceptively-simple layout.

The kickhole relay moves left to right, so the ball lands in the leftmost, white kickhole least often, and most often in the rightmost, green kickhole. For the purpose of lighting the kickholes for special, completing the green group is most favorable -- the game accounts for that with a longer interval between "specials when lit" in the green hole (see footnote).

For the purpose of scoring points -- and earning replays for certain scores -- the red and the yellow targets are most desirable. In the row of 1 targets at the top of the playfield, the red and yellow rollovers each light two jet bumpers for 10 points instead of one. (Since yellow is further right in the kickhole relay, yellow is better than red.)

The player is in full control of the ball at two times: the plunger "skill shot" to start play, and after catching the ball on a flipper. The white 1 is hardest to make with a plunger shot because the ball can only tumble into the white lane from the left. On the other hand, the green 1 is easiest to make. A plunger shot that just trickles through the gate will land in green, the rightmost lane. 

If your plunger shot bounces off the big bumper at the top left, then the result is more random. Therefore, the player should aim to make the 1 targets on the fly, without a bounce. That requires a practiced touch.

The thermometer-like markings on each side of the plunger are purely ornamental. You can pull the plunger back exactly to the halfway marker every time, but you'll get different results depending on the workings of the mechanical parts. With gradual wear, the spring loses springiness. The lubrication of the plunger rod also figures in. So those markings are for show, and hitting a certain 1 lane takes feel.

The 2, 3, and 4 targets are placed according to desirability. Given that the red and yellow 1 targets are most wanted, then the red and yellow groups should be completed earliest. Note that the red and yellow 2/3 targets are at the top of the playfield in the left and right corners, making those the longest and most difficult shots to make with flippers.

By design, the player will make many more shots with the right flipper than with the left. At the end of the kickhole relay, the green hole ejects the ball straight at the right flipper. The other occasions when one can most reliably expect a flip are after the ball exits the white 2 or green 2 lane -- that's when the player is likeliest to attempt the profitable shots to the red and yellow 2/3 corners. That's also when the player finds that missing that flipper shot a bit wide hits a bit of rubber that rockets you straight to the green and white 4 outlanes.

The green and white 2's are far easier to make than the red and yellow 2's. For starters, green and white 2 share the lanes with yellow and red, so if you get a favorable bounce in the upper corners, you'll make two 2's. Also, there's a hole cut into the inside wall of the 2 lanes, enabling the ball to go in at the halfway mark. One of the most frustrating bounces for a Sing Along player is when the ball rolls into that hole, and bounces back out rather than rolling through the green/white 2.

The red and yellow 3's are one's most aimed-upon targets. In every pinball field, there's no death by gravity up there. Particular to Sing Along, successfully reaching the upper corners means:

1) Getting a jet bumper bounce into the 2 lanes; or

2) Uncommonly, getting a jet bumper bounce up through the 1's. It is a very happy occurrence when a bumper jets your ball up through an unmade 1, and a most happy event when the bumper hits your ball hard enough to make one 1 going up, get through the lane, then another 1 coming back down; or

3) Hitting a red or yellow 3. The unluckiest return on a well-aimed flip is a hit to the sliver between the 3 target and the entrance to the 2 ramp, coming back down -- not hitting anything on its trip bottom to top to bottom! -- to drain in red or yellow 4. (The rarest shot in Sing Along, I think, is hitting red or yellow 3 hard enough to zip across the field to hit the other 3. I've done this once, while the holy grail at Sing Along -- making all 16 numbered targets -- I've managed that twice.)

The 4's further illustrate Sing Along's diabolical design. The green and white 4's are often made by an unlucky slingshot bounce, or by player mishap while aiming at the 3 buttons right above the 4 outlanes. That is, the green and white 4's can be made on purpose (if reluctantly, since it's death), whereas the more desirable red and yellow 4's sit between the flippers, and except for the occasional skillful nudge, are left to fate.

* About the kickhole relay:

When a color group is complete and that hole is lit for special, a bumper or slingshot bounce turns the light off. Then the game counts some number of bumper bounces until it relights the hole. Through experienced observation, the green hole needs a greater number of bounces between special lights (it would make sense for the white hole to need the fewest bounces; to ascertain that would take some time observing another person playing, and counting the bounces -- perhaps someday I'll do that).

The gentle flips one must learn at Sing Along are those intended for the kickholes. It takes a deft touch to score a special in a lit white kickhole, then stroking the ball right back to that special after the green kickhole ejects to right flipper. That's one of the most valuable shots to master, since you'll score any special-lit kickhole if you sink the white one.

Another method for shooting at the kickhole relay is to aim for the standup 100 bullseye target in the very middle of the field, then landing in red or yellow kickhole on the rebound. That standup 100 bullseye is a trap, I think -- as often as you'll get a favorable bounce into the kickholes or off the jet bumpers, you'll get a straight-on drain down the middle.

In the 1970s, my neighborhood Sing Along had a green kickhole that was defective. Instead of ejecting down to right flipper, it ejected right, where the ball magically hit rubber, and bounced back to land in the yellow hole. That is, sometimes you'd get caught in a loop. Yellow hole -> green hole -> side rubber -> yellow hole. I never managed to achieve that bit of magic when the yellow hole was lit -- that would've saved some quarters.

On that topic, the Sing Along I'm playing today -- at the wonderful Pacific Pinball Museum in Alameda, Calif. -- has a broken red kickhole. The light is out, so after I complete the red target group, I never know when the kickhole is lit for special, which makes a great difference in my conduct, right?

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23 days ago

Great observations, have owned mine for over 30 years and never realized the value of said strategy. Now I'll have to go spend some quality time on it.

3 days ago

A great tutorial. My buddy Kevin told me years ago, when Sing Along was sitting dusty in my repair que, that I should get it going next, because it was my best game.

Well, it took years to get up the had odd issues.... But after full mechanical rebuild, I do indeed love it in my wedgehead lineup, with Cross Town to the left and Mini Pool to the right.

Sing Along might be the best out of them, maybe even a bit better than Cowpoke

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