After years of dancing around it, I finally fell into the rabbit hole...

By lockeness

January 16, 2021

39 days ago

As long as I can remember, I've been intrigued by pinball.   Never super into it, but whenever I would come across one I would play it.   I never really knew what I was doing but I always found them fun to play. 

I'm a gadget guy.  I am a tinkerer.  I always need a project or a hobby.  As a kid I loved model trains and building car/airplane models.  I was an Atari/Intellivision/Colecovision/Ninendo/Sega enthusiast.  I play golf, but when kids came along, I went from playing a ton to only 2-3 times a year.  At one point I had several thousand CD’s.  I embarked on a project to digitize them all years before iTunes and Spotify made that obsolete.  For many years, there was a home media system obsession.  I built my own media center PC’s for every TV in my home.  12 years ago I had a 5TB home built NAS in my basement with 1000’s of ripped DVD’s.  I used home brew software to create a custom menu system for accessing the DVD’s on the media players.  Now smart TV’s and streaming has made that obsolete.  I have installed every smart home gadget you can think of: switches, locks, lights, etc.  There is nothing in my home or summer home that I can’t remote control.

Like many of the stories I’ve seen here, my pinball intrigue increased significantly when I downloaded Farsight‘s Pinball Arcade on my iPad in 2012.  I was immediately hooked.  I purchased every table they came out with.  I really loved that they provided such an intricate explanation of the rules of every game.  I had no idea that these games were so complex and offered so much to try and accomplish.  Every once in a while there was a clunker, but generally, I tried to learn and master each game.  I really fell in love with the 90’s Williams and Bally’s tables and their cohorts like Medieval Madness, Attack from Mars, Monster Bash, Twilight Zone, The Addams Family, Creature from the Black Lagoon, Ripley's Believe It or Not, etc.  In general, they combined lots to try and accomplish with really funny call outs.  The downside with Pinball Arcade was that great as the physics of the app were, it was still pretty darn easy to say, Rule the Universe on AFM on just about every game.

So around that time I started to try and find these tables to play them in the wild and came to realize that, duh moron, I live in Chicago, the home of pinball.  So I would make periodic visits to Logan Arcade, Galloping Ghost, Emporium, Replay, etc. to get my pinball on.  I quickly learned that I could not Rule the Universe as easy in real life...

In 2014, my childhood best friend called me up and told me he had a gift for me he wanted to drop off.  I was shocked when he pulled up with a 1992 Data East Star Wars table and gave it to me as a birthday gift.  That reminds me.  I owe him a pretty damn good gift someday...

Despite being “so into” pinball, I had never contemplated owning one.  It was fun to be able to go to the basement and play a game.  The SW machine has gotten a decent amount of play.  Is a pretty good layout, has awesome callouts, but its not hard to walk away from.  I think the machine was rushed out, there are some unfinished modes and shooting the center ramp ad nauseam can get old.  It occasionally had mechanical issues and I dared not try to fix it myself, calling a local tech to make what appeared to be fairly simple adjustments.

So for a few more years I would hit a local pinball joint 2-3 times a year and always drop some quarters when coming across a machine in a bar.  My son played hockey for many years and quickly learned what rinks had machines or what bars near the rinks had machines I could hit to burn the hour + between kid drop off and game time.

Then in 2016 I think it was, I read somewhere that Chicago Gaming Company had secured the licenses to remake some of the Williams/Bally titles I really loved playing.  In 2017, After tons of procrastination, I finally bought a NIB Attack from Mars.  So much fun.  I had the machine delivered to my summer home and envisioned a game room up there (Michigan).  In 2019, I added the Monster Bash remake.  And a dart machine, a retro arcade and a shuffle board.  Man cave! 

In 2020, the pandemic hits.  When the lockdown hit in March, we headed up north for 3 months.  Every night after work, I would play.  It was dumb luck that I completed the man cave arcade just before the lockdown, but thank god.  It gave me and the whole family lots to do when it was cold and there was nowhere to go.  In June we headed back to Chicago and now I had a problem.  When I was up north, I had two really fun machines to play.  At home I had the SW which was fun but not something I could spend all night playing like up north...

So I now thought to myself, lets go get that Medieval Madness to round out the CGC collection and have it at home.  So I started looking around and, well this is going to sound really dumb, found all the pinball resources that are out there.  Podcasts, YouTube channels, websites, and this site.  For all my years of thinking I was “into pinball” I had never come across the deep roots and passion of this hobby.  I am super, beyond embarrassed to say that I had never once taken the glass off of the SW or AFM to clean them.  Then I come across all these threads on this site on best practices, Novus 2 is great, Novus 2 is terrible, etc.  It made me feel really stupid, and clean them for the first time.  I had never contemplated that you can mod a pinball machine, then I see all the fun things I can do to AFM and MB, and money I can spend...

So one night I’m sitting with my awesome wife, who for 20+ years has put up with rebooting media centers and lights that don’t always work and wiring up just about everything in our house with a Rube Goldberg machine, and I tell her I’m bored.  She says go play pinball, and I say, meh, I played SW last night.  She says, well you should get another machine here at home.  Uh, what.  Yes.  On it.

Within a week, I had a brand new Avengers Infinity Quest LE.  It’s the first Stern I have owned and is really a fun game.  I started looking for and finding fun mods to make to the machine.  I also made mods to AFM and MB.  I began doing much more routine maintenance on all the machines.  A month later, I had a new Jurassic Park premium to join the movie machine club (SW, AIQ, JP).  I have made mods to JP.  I came across the JP Theatrical software mod and installed that, its so awesome.

It finally all hits me.  I’m down the rabbit hole.  Pinball is fun.  The games are challenging.  They require skill and strategy.  They are complex machines that can be tinkered with.  Under the glass is like a model train that can be customized for each game, bringing the theme to life.  While a bit frowned upon, the new generation of machines can be software mod’d, adding music, videos and callouts that enhance the game.  Unlike my CD’s and DVD’s and media centers, they are investments that hold most of their value if you maintain them.  

I am fortunate that I can afford this hobby (based many posts on this site, I appear to be Stern’s target demographic).  I truly appreciate this site and the others I now have pinned in my browser, constantly hitting refresh during never ending Zoom meetings.  I appreciate the help (and patience) that members of this forum have provided as I learn my way around the hobby.  I love the passion and debates on the forum, especially the “next pin” debates.  [BTW here’s mine:  The Smiths - featuring a Vicar in a Tutu toy, Meat is Murder multiball and of course, the Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want wizard mode.  I'm sure Morrissey would be a very reasonable person to negotiate rights with.  lol].

Anyway, I’m hooked and look forward to hanging around here for the long haul...

Story photos

No photos are attached to this story.


33 days ago

Thanks for sharing. I completely agree that as a “gadget person“ myself. Keep on flipping as you wait for the next challenge and project.

33 days ago

Your story hits home with me. My Dad and I built model train layouts, plastic model cars and balsa planes. In my adult life, I got into classic British and then American muscle cars. I got involved in R/C airplanes, because the going around in circles attached to a pair of wires made me dizzy. I was into pinball with my college roomate back in 72. I also searched out bars that had pinballs and rock music. From Melbourne to Houston to DC. I am new to this Pinside hobby and am looking to make my first purchase. Being retired, I do not have the unlimited budget that many have for this hobby. Justification I guess. I could sell a classic car and have a wall of pinball. But thats not happening. LOL. Thanks for your story.

31 days ago

Great story! And I feel like I’m down the rabbit hole as well. I’ve never been a big tinkerer but my Stern Stranger Things has forced me to take the glass off more times than I wanted to. But I love the game and wouldn’t trade it for anything. I need a JP now too to try out that Theatrical release software. Thanks again for sharing your story.

31 days ago

Don't know where you're at in MI, but if anywhere near Traverse City please come visit the Traverse City Pinball Club's every-other Thursday night tournament at Right Brain Brewery. The wide selection of games are well maintained, and the comradery and beer are excellent.

31 days ago

Great story - thanks for sharing. I couldn’t agree more how exciting and crazily addictive pinball can be! I’m VERY new to the world of pinball having only really played pins as a kid, back in the day, at the local arcades!

After a recent move from CA to NJ - i found my self with a large empty basement. I managed to convince the wife we needed a proper man cave and started researching on Pinside and other sites to identify our first addition. Fast forward and we’re just under a month into enjoying our very first pin (a JJP Willy Wonka LE) and I’m absolutely hooked. The wife and kids, including my 15 year old with Autism (who is INCREDIBLY good on the machine) absolutely love our pin.

With the boss’ approval, we started looking for our next addition (or two). I’m really enjoying Pinside and the great information from so many active enthusiasts. Can’t believe I’m so late to this party, but looking forward to what’s in front of us!

[BTW - someone needs to start a reference thread with all the pinball slang and terminology in this hobby. Took me some time to figure out what folks were talking about]

30 days ago

Great Read, Thanks for the insight

29 days ago

Great story. Thanks for taking the time to share your experience with us!

29 days ago

A most enjoyable story.
Wondering when you'll start building your house extension now you've 'taken the glass off' lol.
Also you've got me searching for my Smith's cds..

29 days ago

Fun story! A journey not so different from a lot of us here. Pinball is a gadget lover's dream gadget :)

26 days ago

Fabulous story and writing!

Sounds like we have very similar stories!I live in the balmy South Midwest in Ohio and was sucked into this hobby by my son. There are so many aspects of this hobby that are so fun. Scouring the classified and pinside ads, maintaining and modding the machines, getting together with friends for pinball parties (okay, not so much right now because of the virus), and playing a very addictive fun game that really teaches you a lot about yourself (the good and the bad).

22 days ago

The correlation to model railroading is strong. Miniture worlds, lights and mechanical action. I started a number of layouts only to move and all that work/expense goes to waste. Pinball provides a world under glass (dust free!) in a nice package that can be moved or sold off easily and the costs can be contained within individual machines.

21 days ago

I was properly educated to pinball thanks to the Farsight games as well. Always liked pinball, but didn't have a clue until I used the tutorials section.

19 days ago

Pinball is a niche hobby that seems to somehow be everywhere (of that makes sense).

Welcome to pinballitis!

11 days ago

Excellent! Thanks for sharing. I can relate and love The Smiths theme idea.

Add a comment

Wanna make a comment? Click here to sign in or register.