(Topic ID: 170287)

Join the middle-pop club!

By NicoVolta

3 years ago

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#1 3 years ago

OK folks, the time has finally come for middle-pop games to get their own thread. Welcome!

Middle-pop pinball machines feature an uncommon but fun layout: A pop bumper between the flippers! This creates a wider than usual flipper stance and forces the player to learn new strategies of play. Trapping and passing the ball requires extra finesse to cross the gap and occasionally requires the use of the pop bumper. Many times the ball can be nudged back into play by using it alone, which often adds a fun level of unpredictability. Middle-pop games are thus a terrific way to spice up a collection of pins with traditional layouts and provide an opportunity to learn new skills.

I have combed the entire IPDB twice and, to my knowledge, the middle-pop + flippers layout began with Wayne Neyens' 1952 All-Star Basketball. A few months later in the year, Harry Williams designed Majorettes. Both have a similarly wide flipper stance and lower rebound slings:

"All-Star Basketball" http://www.ipdb.org/showpic.pl?id=54&picno=42764

"Majorettes" http://www.ipdb.org/showpic.pl?id=1529&picno=65529

The two designers each released a middle-pop game in 1953 as well... with Wayne's beautiful Marble Queen followed by Harry Williams with Lazy-Q. Notice how both designs again follow one another, now with twin center drains below the pop bumper:

"Marble Queen" http://www.ipdb.org/showpic.pl?id=1541&picno=1477

"Lazy-Q" http://www.ipdb.org/showpic.pl?id=1422&picno=23814

In 1954, Neyens released Hawaiian Beauty which was the only middle-pop that year and the only one ever produced with a cluster of three. BTW, from this point onward, take notice of the large area Neyens dedicates to the lower playfield area below the flippers. He repeats this "big lower area" style for his next (and last) two middle-pops:

"Hawaiian Beauty" http://www.ipdb.org/showpic.pl?id=1138&picno=19348

1956 sees a total of five middle-pops produced... and the last from the woodrail era. Two by Neyens (Derby Day, Score-Board) - again, notice his "large lower area" style below the flippers:

"Derby Day" http://www.ipdb.org/showpic.pl?id=664&picno=17111

"Score-Board" http://www.ipdb.org/showpic.pl?id=2063&picno=20423&zoom=2

...and three by Williams (Cue Ball, Shamrock, and Tim-Buc-Tu):

"Cue Ball" http://www.ipdb.org/showpic.pl?id=609&picno=581

"Shamrock" http://www.ipdb.org/showpic.pl?id=2107&picno=16366

"Tim-Buc-Tu" http://www.ipdb.org/showpic.pl?id=2561&picno=8931

Bonus round: Neyens designed a third middle-pop-ish game in 1956 called "Register". However, I don't think this one qualifies because the central bumper is a dead bumper (no action) and doesn't create a gap between the flippers... so it functions more like a bumper-shaped obstacle than a true middle-pop.

"Register" http://www.ipdb.org/showpic.pl?id=1942&picno=14826

#7 3 years ago

With the conclusion of 1956, no further middle-pop games would be designed by Neyens or Williams. The layout would remain dormant until the end of the woodrail era and well into the middle of the next decade. That is, until an innovative new designer at Williams revisited the idea...

In 1966, Norm Clark released 8-Ball, a 2p multiplayer - Player 1 shoots for solids, player 2 for stripes. Shooting the 8-ball after completion earns an extra ball.

With 8-Ball, Norm is credited with inventing a type of stepping/bank arrangement which could retain the players' pocketed ball count as the game progressed. The stripes/solids were displayed on the playfield and backglass simultaneously.


Clark's next middle-pop was produced in 1967 - the gorgeous-looking Magic City. By now, Norm was developing a reputation for being an innovator. His original design for Magic City included a spinning color wheel behind the fountain on the backglass. Alas, it was deemed too expensive for production and was never built as intended.

Magic City

In 1968, Ted Zale (of Bally) designed one middle-pop game, Safari. Perhaps due to the differences in coil specs between Bally/Williams, the middle pop bumper on this game isn't very strong compared to the ones designed by Clark.

(I don't own a Safari, but if I did, I'd likely remove a few turns of wire or swap in a stronger coil.)


Norm Clark's next middle-pop would be a return to his middle-pop + horseshoe layout. In 1969, he released two single-player versions of his earlier hit, 8-Ball. One in replay version (Miss-O) and the other Add-A-Ball (Cue-T). Layout is identical on both, with similar artwork.


In 1972, Norm Clark again produced a third iteration of his middle-pop + horseshoe layout with Spanish Eyes... which can be configured for replay, AAB, or novelty play. This was the first middle-pop game with 3" flippers, as the pinball industry had phased out the smaller 2" flippers by this time.

Spanish Eyes also re-introduced the concept of "flipper drains" (the first was '62 King Pin, Norm's first game). If the flipper is lifted while the ball travels underneath, it will fall through the playfield and drain. Beware! A hilarious surprise for unaware players.

Spanish Eyes

Later in 1972, Clark threw the kitchen sink at the middle-pop format... combining his roulette wheel invention (1966's A-Go-Go) with the Spanish Eyes middle-pop/flipper drain layout... a kickback and a shooter lane gate... and adding all of it to a huge 4p multiplayer: Fan-Tas-Tic. Which it is!


#8 3 years ago

By 1975... several interesting twists of fate occur.

Norm Clark, ever the innovator who was experimenting with emerging solid state technology at this time, is subsequently hired by Bally as the head of their pinball department. He joins Greg Kmiec who is on a hot streak having recently designed "Wizard!" the first blockbuster to top a 10,000 production run, Bow & Arrow nearing 8,000 units, and is busy designing his next hit, Old Chicago, which would go on to exceed 7,000 produced.

It is an exciting time for Bally... brimming with hit games, high production runs, new and experienced designers coming on board, and the advent of exciting technology on the horizon. "Freedom" is subsequently produced by Bally as their newest game and proof of concept.

Freedom isn't officially credited to a single designer. IPDB claims Kmiec remembers it was "designed by George Christian under the direction of Norm Clark". However, knowing what we know of Norm Clark's prodigious design history (and the fact that he has stated in interviews that his favorite personal touch was "putting a pop bumper between the flippers"), it is clear to me that Freedom was largely his work as well as a team effort. Let us examine the evidence...

Freedom prototype

The lower layout is obviously a continuation of Norm's previous work on Spanish Eyes and Fan-Tas-Tic, complete with his signature flipper drains. The spinning award wheel in the center is also quite similar to the roulette wheel on Fan-Tas-Tic. However, we do notice some Bally-specific elements for the first time. None of Norm Clark's prior games had sequential rows of drop targets nor spinners (perhaps only "Eager Beaver" as O-din mentioned below had any drop targets at all). Where did these elements come from? Let's have a look at what Kmiec was designing next door...

Old Chicago

Well well well... Old Chicago just happens to have a row of five drop targets on the side, at the same approximate height and angle. It also has a spinner at the upper left with a similar trail of round inserts underneath. Another similarity: Two kickout holes... one in the center, one to the right. Flip them on a vertical axis and they'd be practically identical to Freedom.

I'm guessing Norm, having just joined Bally with a new house of company toys to play with, just might have borrowed a little inspiration from Kmiec next door who was on a hot streak using the same parts. It is telling that Freedom, Old Chicago, and Night Rider were all on the project table at more or less the same time... and thus the similarities are not entirely a coincidence.

George Christian, for his part, might have contributed the three offset pop bumpers at the top which is a common feature in his designs. Otherwise, Freedom doesn't really resemble his style. Again, I think Freedom largely served as a learning platform since he had little commercial experience otherwise. The biggest fingerprints on the Freedom layout are obviously Clark's. It is his last middle-pop design to be produced.

I've gushed a bit about Norm Clark and the Freedom prototype in another thread so I'll try not to repeat it here. Check it out if you'd like to know a few more facts about Clark's inventiveness: https://pinside.com/pinball/forum/topic/11-em-games-mini-pinraid-worth-anything#post-3284223

It suffices to say that of the middle-pop games, the Freedom prototype is pretty special for a number of different reasons. It had an extremely low production run, is the only middle-pop design to be built on the last Bally EM hardware platform (which was the best, IMHO), and is the last middle-pop game to be commercially produced. It is also amusing to note how the prototype narrowly escaped the European revision with its "freedom" intact (ironic considering the bicentennial theme).

Perhaps most significantly of all, Freedom went on to become Bally's first commercial solid-state game in production and prove the strength of the concept. It laid the groundwork for Bally's subsequent rise to overtake and dominate the market through 1982 and lead the pinball industry into a glorious new era. Freedom is thus a significant game in the history of pinball and I hope we can eventually track down as many of the 100 of the prototypes as possible if they can still be found.

#9 3 years ago

To sum up...

If you are looking to add a middle-pop game to your collection, the good news is that they were produced in fairly plentiful numbers:

3" flippers (1970's) - Spanish Eyes (3905), Fan-Tas-Tic (5680), Freedom prototype (100)

2" flippers (1960's) - 8-Ball (3250), Cue-T (2800/AAB)/Miss-O (2351/replay), Magic City (2675/replay)/Magic Town (3950/AAB), Safari (1100)

Woodrails (1950's) - All-Star Basketball (1000), Cue Ball (?), Derby Day (1600), Hawaiian Beauty (900), Lazy-Q (?), Majorettes (?), Marble Queen (1000), Score-Board (1300), Shamrock (?), Tim-Buc-Tu (?)

I personally recommend Fan-Tas-Tic as the best overall choice in terms of availability. Due to the high production count they are still fairly easy to find and relatively inexpensive. However, keep in mind it is a 4-player with the roulette wheel and is thus a bit more complex than most EM's. Lots of pieces to clean and restore. But hey, you'll have Norm Clark's "kitchen sink" middle-pop game with tons of fun features!

Spanish Eyes would be my second choice since it is also relatively easy to find. Although the rules are a bit simple, the action is blazing fast... the fastest middle-pop of all, actually. Really fun game. I love the artwork but it puts off some folks.

Of the 2" middle-pop games keep in mind that 8-Ball/Cue-T/Miss-O all share the same horseshoe layout (similar to Spanish Eyes but without the flipper drains). Of the three, I'd go for 8-Ball since you get multiplayer and the cool stripes vs. solids gameplay/backbox lights with extra ball potential. Though really you can't go wrong with any of them... they're all fun.

Magic City and Safari are the most unique 2" middle-pops as they share no layout with any other game. If you get a Magic City, be sure to put rotating color bulbs or color blinkers behind the fountain (to honor Norm's original design specification). It looks great when done with care.

As mentioned, I think Safari is a near-miss for a couple of reasons. The first issue is the weak middle-pop. It really needs more zip. [UPDATE: This is a DEAD bumper with NO pop action whatsoever - basically only disguised as a pop bumper! For this reason Safari should be disqualified as a middle-pop game].

The second issue isn't really fixable: The lack of "air" in the lower part of the layout. Safari is the only middle-pop designed by Ted Zale and he doesn't seem to have understood the concept quite as well as Neyens, Williams, and Clark. Examine how the lower pop bumper/drain lane/flipper arrangement is all smooshed together down there. Safari doesn't provide any air space for the ball to rebound/zing around versus all of the other layouts. It's not a total fail, but it could have been improved upon if Zale had experimented a bit more with the geometry.

The tigers are concerned... where's the 'air'?

As for the woodrail era, I've played Marble Queen and Derby Day but that's about it. They are a bit tamer in terms of gameplay compared with the crazy speeds of the Norm Clark-era... but still more fun than you'd expect.

The Freedom prototype is not only my favorite middle-pop game, but my favorite EM, period. Obviously if you see one, grab it immediately! They should all be preserved and restored. It is a fantastic game with a perfect balance of skill/chance and always gets heavy amounts of play and favorable comments at my events.

With so many regular production Freedoms still circulating out there, I'd like to try converting one back to the original prototype. It will require extensive playfield rework and reproducing the lower plastics, but I think it can be done with reasonable effort. I'll post it here when the time comes. If it proves to be worthwhile, it would be great to have more of them out there for people to play.

Bottom line: Middle-pops are great! The gameplay isn't mere novelty. It's a legitimate & worthwhile twist on a familar game and will give you a new skill set the more you play. It's a great way to shake up a pinball collection with something unexpected and fun. I suggest keeping one around as a secret weapon if you run tournaments. *grin* Now take some pics and show us what you got!

#13 3 years ago
Quoted from zacaj:

Only have one so far, but need more!
My collection won't be complete without a freedom and fan tas tic, however the latter has never popped up in my area below $1200...
DC center pops rule

NICE looking Spanish Eyes! BG looks perfect, great cab, playfield... excellent. I've seen Fan-Tas-Tic pop up around here a couple of times around the $350 price point but didn't know enough about middle-pops at the time to spring for them. Argh!

Quoted from Shapeshifter:

Wouldn't say Marble Queen is tame when properly set up. It is an awesome player and the middle pop bumper is a sight to behold in most games. [It] has been near top of my list since I got interested in woodrails and it doesn't disappoint.
Would love a Hawaiian Beauty as heard it is fantastic player.

While the slope on that MQ is a bit floaty, you are correct that it is a lively-looking woodrail. Always loved the artwork and with no side drains it doesn't look like a punishing game even with the gobble hole. In fact, it might be a little too easy... at least for me.

#19 3 years ago

I had an opportunity to purchase one last year... passed on it because I had (have) too many projects. It also looks a little *too* easy for me. But if it comes up again I'll pass it along here.

#20 3 years ago
Quoted from RyanClaytor:

Thought of you this past weekend at York, Nick.

Are you saying I look like a horse? :p

#26 3 years ago
Quoted from AlexF:

Nice write up Nick. I have Spanish Eyes still waiting on me to give it some love. Would love to add a Williams 8 Ball one day.

Quoted from Dr_of_Style:

Great write up Nick! I love mt 8-Ball, its a real butt kicker!

One of our local VECTORIANS (Pinsider dallaspinball) recently picked up an 8-Ball. I can't wait to play it. He also has a Spanish Eyes.

Two of our other members are seeking Fan-Tas-Tic and Magic City. If we get all of these going, we'll do a glorious middle-pop row at TPF in 2018. Sound like fun?

Quoted from CactusJack:

Probably one of my biggest not-buying regrets was on a Magic City. No, make that two Magic Cities. Stumbled on a Yard Sale with Sam Harvey probably in the early 80's. A whopping $147. Decent shape as I recall. But at that moment in time, that was quite a bit of change as I was "between jobs". Fast forward to only a few years ago: There was what looked like an absolutely mint one for sale on Ebay fairly locally (about an hours drive) but I just couldn't justify adding another one to the overflowing collection so I passed. Sold for the opening bid of $400.
Maybe someday a decent Magic City will find its way into my collection. I have fond memories of dropping a dime into the one in a Burger Joint across from the Canoga Drive in theater every time I rode by on my bike.

They're actually fairly common and I've seen at least a half-dozen on CL over the past couple of years. Often for less than $400. Keep looking and subscribe to the project/EM craigslist finds threads. They do show up semi-regularly!

Quoted from CactusJack:

I see a Coffee Table Pinball history book in your publishing future!

Thanks! But if only I had the time... and frankly I'd rather use my knowledge to build concept games and engineer new parts/hybrids. It's all about the making for me.

Quoted from nman:

Cool, please do. I know it heavily depends on condition, but what's the likely price range for something like a MQ? I have no basis to even guess on older, rarer games like this.

The asking price was about $1300 in pretty good shape. I think that's a good ballpark depending upon condition. It is one of the more desirable classics IMHO, even for those who aren't middle-pop savvy.

#28 3 years ago
Quoted from EMsInKC:

Did Sam Harvey then buy it and yell, "Thank you very much!"

Haha always a favorite... rassen frassen fricken TYVM!

#30 3 years ago

Yes it is quite bewildering. Some kind of Tae Kwon No Can Pinball Do.

#49 3 years ago
Quoted from o-din:

The first pinball machine with a center pop bumper between or below the flippers was United's Carolina from

Good catch! I've asked the mods if I can edit and include it. Historically it's a good introductory machine, though it isn't quite like the others in the sense that the distance is so great from the flippers (with lanes dividing the path and the pop surrounded by kickouts) that it functions more like a nudge & tilt machine from the pre-flipper era. Almost zero chance of a rebound back to the flippers which I think is one of the essential interactive qualities of a middle-pop game. But... it is what it is... so let's recognize it.

Quoted from o-din:

(photo of Eager Beaver w/drop targets)

D'oh! Missed that one... added a comment and will remove mine if I can edit the main copy again.

#53 3 years ago
Quoted from frobozz:

Obscure footnote: in the 1970s Harry designed several center-pop and other weird-bottom games, but they were never produced. One, which he designed in September of 1972 (therefore well after Spanish Eyes was on location), precisely copies the very bottom flipper/bumper/post arrangement of Spanish Eyes, but then puts proper slings above the flippers and gets more and more different the farther up the playfield you go.

How cool! Where did you find this information? Are these layouts published anywhere? Would be cool to see the sketches!

I'll edit the text if possible to say "no further middle-pop games would be produced" and add the info... thx!

#54 3 years ago
Quoted from o-din:

It is what it is. I had played a Carolina and it was pretty fun. The first flipper game, Humpty Dumpty designed by Harry Mabs had a middle bumper , although not a pop bumper, it was still a bumper that redirects the ball and can be hit with the flippers.
His Lady Robin Hood has two or three depending on how you look at it.

LRH is a cool game with great lighting effects. Played it at the PHOF a few years ago. But personally I wouldn't include it in the middle-pop lineup... would you? Anyone else care to chime in?

A lot of pre-flipper games had "bumpers in the middle" of some sort and LRH generally resembles this older 40's-era style. Designers were still figuring out what to do with flippers around that time. But, to me, the "main thing" about middle-pop games is a deliberate design philosophy which places an active pop bumper between two flippers to serve as a third flipper of sorts... often ricocheting the ball around and saving it from oblivion.

Carolina has a lower pop bumper but the flippers are pretty much out of the picture once the ball gets down there.

#57 3 years ago

Let's not overlook "Miss Adventure", a custom middle-pop work-in-progress by Brian Cox (creator of other custom machines - Tattoo Mystique, Retro Spa, and Jupiter Crush):

tattoo (resized).png


#60 3 years ago

In my opinion, All-Star Basketball is the game where middle-pop gameplay "effectively" originated... at least as far as how we came to know it. You can see for yourself how the style evolved over the years while retaining a familiar feel/geometry throughout.

Just one person's opinion, of course. This is a discussion forum, after all, not a historical document.

#62 3 years ago
Quoted from o-din:

The pop bumper on Carolina might be able to knock the ball back up thru one of those rollover lanes, and it is a middle pop bumper that came before all the others you have written about. So I figured I'd mention it so credit could be given where credit was due.
LRH is not a pop bumper, just a preview of what was to come.

The thing about Carolina is that it really isn't like all the ones which followed in terms of gameplay. The proximity of the lower pop is so far away from the flippers (and separated by lanes) that the chances of the ball returning to the flippers after it falls down there is very low. In fact it might not even happen a single time throughout a five-ball game. Whereas all of the other games which followed offer multiple encounters between the middle-pop and flippers. I think that particular give-and-take/touch-and-go aspect is a key part of what gives middle-pop games their character... yes?

Seems like splitting hairs but hey, we're doing this for posterity and future generations.

#64 3 years ago

True... just thinking of the various ways in which to categorize everything. I think we're just looking at this from slightly different points of view. The phrase "middle-pop game" can be interpreted a couple of different ways.

In terms of gameplay, I really do think the style was established with All-Star Basketball. The back-and-forth flipper/bumper action is kind of the "main thing" when it comes to the middle-pop experience. Carolina technically has a pop bumper down there... but the proximity distance and layout is closer to flipperless/nudging games like Fun Cruise than the others which followed.

Anyway, do appreciate spotting it & if any others "pop" up, post 'em here. And keep the pics rolling from your own collections!

#66 3 years ago

Eh? Score-Board and Derby Day get way more flipper/pop interaction... whereas by the time the ball reaches the lower pop bumper on Carolina it's pretty much a nudge/flipperless game by that point.

No worries... I'll add it to the story as soon as I can edit it.

#68 3 years ago

A photo of "Miss Adventure" in playable condition. Photo was taken in 2014... wonder if it has received any updates since?

Miss Adventure

#70 3 years ago

Cool beans! Let us know what the latest is. That playfield looks like it would be a lot of fun. Double opportunities for the ball to hit the middle-pop by falling through the top set of flippers onto the lower playfield... neat!

#73 3 years ago

I'm curious about the rules of Magic Town. Post a video if you can... would really like to see it in action and how it works/how generous the AAB rules are. Is the playfield artwork any different?

It was fun to research the evolution of middle-pop games and see how the designs evolved. It all started with the Freedom prototype... the story just kept getting more interesting as it unfolded. Really cool to see how Neyens/Williams influenced one another as the years progressed. After the woodrail era, Norm Clark was entirely responsible for resurrecting middle-pop games and designed all which followed (with the exception of Safari). If you listen to his interview from the TOP podcast, you will hear him say his favorite personal touch was putting a pop bumper between the flippers:


Middle-pop games are different enough to deserve their own category. They have an interesting give-and-take flow which requires a slightly different set of skills. I'm certain it was my familiarity with the Freedom prototype which helped me dominate the competition at a recent EM-only tournament. It literally threw the other players for a loop.

#80 3 years ago

Too much work. I'd hold out for one with a good backglass.

#83 3 years ago

LOL O-din you are O-fficially hired as our keeper of pinball obscura! Good work tracking down the outliers (and love the artwork on Struggle Buggies).

I think it's a bit closer to the rest than Carolina because there's obviously more flipper/bumper interaction possible. But if we're soliciting opinions I think the distance is still a bit too far apart to offer the same type of gameplay as the rest. It looks more like a "lower-than-usual" pop bumper to me than the sort of thinking employed by Neyens/Williams/Clark.

Do keep 'em coming though. Grey areas are fun to figure out.

#86 3 years ago
Quoted from Otaku:

I know I probably don't count but my 1966 Gottlieb Mayfair has a very unique center double kicker. Plays like a center pop game. Great game.

Similar story: Check out Norm Clark's first game he did with Williams... 1962 King Pin. A sign of things to come? Single up-kicker between the flippers and almost the same spacing as the Spanish Eyes/Fan-Tas-Tic/Freedom (and "Miss Adventure") layout.

king (resized).jpg

#87 3 years ago
Quoted from Electrocute:

Never played a game with a pop bumper almost between the flippers. Looks like fun!

Come to TPF next year! I'll likely have my Freedom prototype on the floor again.

Quoted from o-din:

I like to be a club member and looking around it was the closest thing I have.
Until I can find an 8-Ball. It can't be that harder to find one than it was getting an Eager beaver.

Oh, definitely easier. I've seen a fair number of them pop up on CL over the years due to the higher-than-typical production count.

#89 3 years ago

We may need a center-upkicker-game thread. The first one I ever played was Silverball Mania.

1 week later
#95 3 years ago

Thanks for sharing! Catapult was obviously inspired by Spanish Eyes. Viking... wow. Gotta be some crazy ball velocity on that one!

I'm going to call the Spanish Eyes lower middle-pop layout the "castle" because it looks like it has a moat and drawbridges. The "castle layout" followed through Fan-Tas-Tic, Freedom prototype, and the recent Miss Adventure. I hope we see more!

#99 3 years ago

Yes, the middle-pop HAS to be powerful and responsive! Otherwise it just doesn't work... the gameplay falls apart like having a weak/dead flipper.

#100 3 years ago
Quoted from frobozz:

My mom was hoping it would be I did not see anyone filming all seminars this year, like there has been in the past.

Did you attend the prior seminar about the "awesome overlooked EM's"?

#106 3 years ago
Quoted from Pecos:

Oh great Middle-Pop guru and thread Pooh Bah, may I join the Middle-Pop club?

Yes indeed... and a pair of Spanish Eyes'es? Don't be keeping them all to yourself now. :p

Curious to see the sides of the cabinet of the upright one. Front panel paint looks unusual.

Quoted from frobozz:

I am the guy that did the seminar, and he does

I saw "Pinto", "Viking", and "Catapult" in that .jpg but there was a fourth called Typhoon? Someone intends to build it?

#109 3 years ago

Incredibly cool story & thank you so much for putting that together and sharing it. Absolutely deserves its own thread... and quite exciting to think another middle-pop might be joining the flock.

#111 3 years ago

Do let me know if you might attend TPF 2017... would like to say hello if so. VECTOR showcases many restored EM's and the Freedom prototype will likely make a return trip.

#114 3 years ago

Do the usual "best of both" combination strategy and sell the other as a project.

The original paint might be recoverable under those!

#117 3 years ago
Quoted from golden_arrow:

Recently finished restoring my Spanish Eyes and it is probably my favorite pin right now. Exceeded my previous best score just today... LOVE IT!

Give us the pics! The movies! We wanna see!

1 week later
#123 3 years ago

As much as I like Fan-Tas-Tic... I'd have made the same trade. Old Chicago is my #2 EM just behind Freedom prototype. Gorgeous, fun, and never a pushover.

...and boy, does that one look nice!

1 week later
#126 3 years ago

Ahhhh... and so it begins! Fan-Tas-Tic?

#128 3 years ago

If 3", Spanish Eyes! (easy math here, admittedly)

If 2", let's go with Magic City!

#131 3 years ago
Quoted from RyanClaytor:

He-hee! I figured this one might throw you.

Thrown! Figured you'd stay in the post '66 Norm Clark-era... but noooo! Ryan is different, but different is good.

Agree with Tom. The plastics appear to be flipped over, yes?

1 week later
#142 3 years ago
Quoted from Elvisinmypants:

1962 WMS King Pin also had drains below the lower flippers.

D'oh! You are correct... and that was Norm Clark's first game. Interesting how the arrangement of flippers/drains/middle-upkicker resembles his middle-pop layouts which followed.

1 month later
#145 2 years ago

Nice going Pecos! How do you like Fan-Tas-Tic? Norm Clark really threw the kitchen sink at that one. It has a little bit of everything.

I confess after I bought a Fan-Tas-Tic I caved and bought a Spanish Eyes too. Looking forward to working my way through them! Interesting to note how hard the skirt gets worked on the middle-pop... might also want to check the switch spoon. My Freedom prototype had a plastic spoon and needed to be replaced... not sure if Fan/Spanish has those or metal ones?

#147 2 years ago
Quoted from Pecos:


There are still two issues having to do with loose wires that I am going to have to solve. What is supposed to happen, if anything, when the pinball rolls through both A and B lanes?

Regrettably, I haven't got mine up and running yet. Anyone else care to comment on the rules?

Quoted from Pecos:

I must admit that I am more than just a little bit disappointed. Fan-Tas-Tic has two kick-out holes in a similar location to OXO's kick-out saucers which is one of my favorite shots in pinball. But getting the pinball from flipper to eject hole in Fan-Tas-Tic is next to impossible. Getting the pinball into one of the three kick-out holes is key to the game since it spins the roulette wheel and that is the only way to collect the bonus. I'm hoping I will warm up to it even more if or when I can figure out that eject hole shot.

Yeah those side shots look quite narrow... like only a glancing hit will do. Seems like the safest option would be to send it back to the top.

I'll have mine going by summer, methinks. Will "pop" back in with my personal take soon...

#148 2 years ago
Quoted from Pecos:

Fan-Tas-Tic has two kick-out holes in a similar location to OXO's kick-out saucers which is one of my favorite shots in pinball. But getting the pinball from flipper to eject hole in Fan-Tas-Tic is next to impossible. Getting the pinball into one of the three kick-out holes is key to the game since it spins the roulette wheel and that is the only way to collect the bonus. I'm hoping I will warm up to it even more if or when I can figure out that eject hole shot.

What about catching and back-handing the shots? I do that all the time on Freedom prototype to hit the drop targets. Can it be done on Fan-Tas-Tic for the SPIN holes?

#152 2 years ago

I'm with you there. I like bells the most, especially the ones from the Williams reverse-wedgehead period. Wouldn't remove the bell if there is one... but might upgrade it to a 5" if it makes sense for the game (like maybe every 10,000 threshold).

#158 2 years ago

Hijack? This IS the middle-pop thread, after all. Post away!

Heck, now you have me curious. I haven't peered inside of my Fan-Tas-Tic yet. Now I'll have to make a trip to my storage unit tomorrow...

1 week later
#165 2 years ago

I still need to play a Fan-Tas-Tic... can't find any internet videos which have it leveled properly or fully working. Argh! Hard to determine the fun factor of the gameplay.

I'm wondering if I'll eventually revise my opinion and put Spanish Eyes ahead of it....?

#167 2 years ago
Quoted from CactusJack:

Personally, I prefer Spanish Eyes over Fantastic. Fantastic was a good game to begin my flipper life on but today, the stop and wait of the wheel is just not my cup of tea.

Exactly my thoughts lately... speed and flow tend to keep me interested longer than gizmos/animations/rollover completions. Which is also why Bally, not Gottlieb, is my overall favorite classic pinball manufacturer if I had to choose just one.

Roulette wheels slow down the action but I just did a deluxe restoration on an A-Go-Go and it plays very nicely. Even with the stop-and-go action, it's fun! Jury is out for me until I can get some time with Fan-Tas-Tic to be sure if the rules and features beat the blazing speed of Spanish Eyes.

#170 2 years ago

*gasp* two awesome updates out of the blue! I do hope the exalted Pecos Insider will dispatch their stealthy video camera crew to capture the Fan-Tastical-Ness in action. Glad to see success in your retrofitting chime endeavor!

Ryan, you win the obscure pinball hunt award! I've never seen a single one of these early-era SEGA pins anywhere. Might have to go overseas to find one. Perhaps some dedicated collector in Japan has a basement nestled in the foot of Mt. Fuji somewhere with all of these old SEGA games in it. If so, I'm going.

Although it is a late-70's solid-state game, Millionaire appears to have taken a page from Norm Clark's earlier 1960's-era of middle-pop designs. Millionaire has 3" flippers but lacks the "castle" layout present on Spanish Eyes, Fan-Tas-Tic, and the Freedom prototype. Instead, it only has drain lanes like 8-Ball/Miss-O/Magic City but with very little rebound space by comparison. Looks like if the ball ever disappeared below the flippers, it probably wouldn't return. Overall it looks like an easier table than most... but in a way that makes the middle-pop less dynamic. Bad tradeoff if you ask me. And I knew you might, hence the pre-emptive answer.

Well... looks like Millionaire now holds the "last in production" title. Anyone ever played one of these old SEGAs? I can't even find a single one on YouTube.

1 month later
#176 2 years ago

Zac... is yours behaving like the one in this video? Whenever the ball hits the lower half of the pop bumper below, it never zings around in there. Just goes down the drain every time.

Or is it more like this one? Looks like more action here.

#178 2 years ago

I don't think any are are wild as Spanish Eyes. It's truly in a class by itself. Still, my Freedom prototype zings around better than either of the two videos above.

The Freedom "moat" (I call it the castle layout) is a smidge larger than Spanish Eyes and thus the back-n-forth rebound action isn't quite as lively. Does Fan-Tas-Tic have a larger moat than Spanish Eyes? Are the rebound rubbers further away from the pop?

#184 2 years ago

Zoicks! Thank you Tom for pointing that out! I *was* tricked by the PAPA video... it does look like it has a weak but active pop bumper. But if it is a totally dead bumper that makes it even worse! No option to increase the strength... blech. In which case Ted Zale didn't merely under-implement the concept but totally missed it altogether.

Hmmm I guess this would remove it from the middle-pop category since it is only an obstacle disguised as a pop bumper. Awwwww... :/

Found another video... yep. Looks to be totally dead.

2 weeks later
#187 2 years ago


Nice score!!!

Who from? Where? How much? Oh, the questions...

#189 2 years ago

Very interesting... I forget where I saw the "100" count for the early version prototype but if there are more to be found, this is encouraging. I have several local pals who would like to find one.

It's amazing how much better it is with the middle-pop. The shot angles on the regular production version are all a tight V from the bottom... whereas yours has a huge figure-8 with extra loops and much improved angles.

Norm Clark is my favorite EM designer and as far as I am concerned this is his best game and best example of the middle-pop format. Do let me know if you ever tire of it.

#195 2 years ago

I can't recall where I found the original 100 estimate... anyone know? Thought it was IPDB but didn't see it there.

1 month later
#203 2 years ago
Quoted from bflagg:

I tried to get into the club, but the lady said her average Spanish Eyes goes for $3500, but she was willing to sell it for $1000. Uh No. one of these days I will have one.

They made a lot of Eyes'ses. I'd pay a premium for perfect glass/pf/cabinet, but for $1000 I'd need it to be really special.

Most sell in the $400-$500 range and are at least pretty nice, typically unshopped.

BTW, my favorites have shifted somewhat. I played 8-Ball at Allentown and it was a lot more fun than I expected, especially 2-player. I think it is the best of the 2" middle-pops... and Magic City the worst. Love the art, but the geometry is the weakest in the lineup.

I NEED TO REWRITE THIS ARTICLE! Will need your help to submit new photos, because I can't embed IPDB ones here due to copyright.

2 months later
#212 2 years ago

Good find, Odin! I saw this game at the PPM Annex and my eyes almost popped out. How did I miss that one?!?

I took a few good photos of Rose Bowl and will include them in the rewrite. This article needs inline images to make it readable... almost have them all ready.

8 months later
#218 1 year ago

Yes indeedy our own Ryan Claytor found that obscurity last year... https://pinside.com/pinball/forum/topic/join-the-middle-pop-club/page/4#post-3570488

You know... there is a distinct possibility that Roanoke Pinball Museum will soon have all of the middle pops. Well, at least the ones after the woodrail era!

#219 1 year ago

On a further note, the geometry is really weird. Has 60's-style Bally angled lanes at the top, spinning pop platter like Williams Nags, left drop target bank like a 70's Bally, and the lower portion is a fusion of Norm Clark's earlier 2" middle-pop layout but with 3" flippers... an inferior arrangement if you ask me. Norm's "castle" arrangement with the flipper drains and rebound zone was the best version by far (Spanish Eyes, Fan-Tas-Tic, Freedom proto).

Still, would like to flip it. Looks like it'd be a bit of a mess though. Too much waiting/dead space.

#221 1 year ago

Good point. I see the side drain rebounds (Flip Flop/Viking)... however, there is nowhere for the ball to re-enter except for a lucky sideways bounce to the middle-pop. Even if that happened, it's unlikely a hit would send the ball upwards. Another poor adaptation of existing concepts.

It is interesting that the upper left kickout hole has two directions, either back to the top or across the rotating pops down the right drain lane (assuming a pop isn't hit on the way out). However there is no way to hit it from the flippers. Looks like it can only be hit with a rebound shot, which isn't a good design if so.

Looks like it would be clunky and frustrating overall. I wonder if any survived...

1 week later
#224 1 year ago

Whoa! Excellent find... and of course I’d say that because it is my favorite EM.

If you like the gameplay, I suggest having it airbrushed and clearcoated by a professional restorer. Or if it’s not your cup of tea, please contact me immediately.

#228 1 year ago

Nice catch! Even though mine is a middle-pop Freedom, yours appears to be even earlier than mine. My playfield text matches the later version...

freedom (resized).jpg

#234 1 year ago

I’ll have it in a month. Moving my prototype to the museum.

1 month later
#238 1 year ago

Very cool! I've got two I'm working on at the museum. If you'd like to try something fun, you can put slow-fading RGB's behind the fountain (you'll need four total). Norm Clark wanted to install a spinning color wheel there, but Williams said it was too expensive. Technology to the rescue!

magic city (resized).jpg
1 week later
#239 1 year ago

OK... time for a Fan-Tas-Tic tweak to make the middle-pop less stingy. Note how the side posts are angled downward?

850ABEEB-9F29-4DC1-902A-79356FD9F90A (resized).jpeg

Nobody wants that. Even Norm Clark himself updated the design later and straightened them out.

16D1182A-12D4-41CE-BA86-2164244F8DE6 (resized).jpeg

47781F26-1B44-4FCF-8F05-693214CC9D68 (resized).jpeg

8F3138FD-47CF-44F1-8C38-E35BACDB3066 (resized).jpeg

All you need to do is align all three posts by drilling a new hole for the middle post.

8C468DE8-4507-428F-82F4-E01DEB9877A4 (resized).jpeg

2963FAB2-ED66-4500-8D35-95AD6B6A2E94 (resized).jpeg

Bingo! More rebounds, more fun.

3E2C99E5-9FE1-4363-A234-5D8413405D95 (resized).jpeg

Also be sure to slide the lowest posts inward to the “most generous” horizontal position. This will narrow the drain gap and increase the rebounds... because those dramatic saves are what middle-pop games are all about.

1 week later
#241 1 year ago

Fan-Tas-Tic owners... finding your flippers a little sluggish? You can upgrade them to these.

IMG_5974 (resized).JPG

Same ones used in Aztec. Lastest and fastest in Williams EM pins.

1 month later
#243 1 year ago

Very cool Pecos! I’ve got a Miss-O, Magic City, Fan-Tas-Tic, and Spanish Eyes here. Once I bring my Freedom prototype, I’ll only need an 8-Ball to have the complete set (excluding Safari and the woodrails).

Might have to line them up and do a special exhibition someday...

1 week later
#251 1 year ago

Hot DAMN, Odin... YOU are the Indiana Jones of the middle-pops! So cool to keep finding these. And WHAT a find considering it predates all the rest! Could Neyens or Williams have spotted this beast on a European business tour? Awesome find.

I may be a fan of the middle-pops (and now a museum curator it seems), but I’m only one person when it comes to having an opinion about Carolina. To me, it doesn’t quite make the cut... but....

....maybe we should host a poll on it? Opinions?

#254 1 year ago

Also more Magic Towns than Magic Cities!

3 weeks later
#257 1 year ago

Congrats Dennis! The middle-pops deserve the love too. It is a shame only three games were made using Norm’s most-evolved layout with 3” flippers. It really is one of the most clever lower geometries in pinball.

We currently have quite a few of these at the museum: Miss-O, Magic City, Spanish Eyes, and Fan-Tas-Tic. I plan to bring my Freedom prototype later this year... so all we’d need is an 8 Ball to fully represent the Norm Clark-era. Middle-pop row ahoy!

1 week later
#263 1 year ago


Mark Gibson (of Fun With Pinball fame) is doing it again! His latest contraption gloriously re-imagines Norm Clark's original intention of merging a color wheel behind Magic City's fountain. Get a load of this awesomesauce!


*sniff* it's just so... beautiful..... must... have...

magic (resized).png

#268 1 year ago

O-din is the master unearther of edge cases.

I wouldn’t quite call it a middle pop, but then again, it does exhibit some significant aspects of the format.

Dennis, what say you? Or anyone else?

1 week later
#283 1 year ago

To me, these look like the closest edge-cases yet. But is Humpty Dumpty also a middle pop? I see flippers on the sides, I see a bumper in the middle... has to be one?

humpty (resized).jpg

Register also has backwards flippers and a bumper in the middle. Middle pop?

register (resized).jpg

I didn't consider either one because Humpty's layout was less of a deliberate middle-pop design and more a matter of covering the playfield with them newfangled flipper contraptions and seeing what happens kind of thing. Yes, there are technically "pops in the middle", but it's more a matter of circumstance. Reverse-flippers play differently than most games and have different ways of interacting with the geometry. As for Register, it has a dead pop like Safari which disqualified it.

In Judy's case, it has a cluster of dead rebound posts in the middle... like a dead pop. As such, the lower pop is the only zone where any action would take place. Considering the flippers are backward (and most upward kicks would be blocked by the post zone) they'd hardly be able to interact with the lower active pop. Which means the design wasn't intended for that kind of interaction. And, if not, it wouldn't make the cut in my estimation. Looks more "Humpty" than "Rose Bowl" here.

Oasis gets us a bit closer. Pretty much the exact same design as Judy except the pop bumper is active, in the right place, and can interact with the flippers. However, again the layout strikes me more as a circumstantial holdover from the Humpty-era than not. But still... a tougher call on this one. Clearly some deliberate thought was applied to the flipper/pop interaction in the middle. Hmmmmmm... need to kick this one around for a bit.

If not a hard yes then certainly an inspirational one!

Thus far, the Marchant you found is the earliest obvious pick. Deliberately designed to be a middle-pop, no question.

6 months later
#292 8 months ago

FYI... if you would be interested in a Freedom prototype conversion kit (new playfield, plastics, parts, and instructions) click the like button on this reply. We'd need to get to about 30 commitments to make this a reality. Could be done with enough interest.

2 months later
#297 5 months ago

Fun find, but nah... wouldn't call it. The pop is near two sets of flippers, but not "interactively part of the set".

Kinda like Struggle Buggies. Low pop, but not middle pop per the way the gameplay works.

1 month later
#302 3 months ago

No worries. It's just a different way to learn new skills.

I'm working on rebuilding an entire row of middle-pops at RPM, so you'll be able to get a lot of practice on your next visit.

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