Saturday, April 5, 2014

Are you a Pinball Wizard?

When was the last time you played a game of Pinball, not a video game, on a real machine that squawked and rocked as a silver metal ball bounced around a board lit up by a multitude of colored lights?  I was a kid in the 70's/80's when pinball machines went from being the "hot" thing to do in the early to mid 70s to pushed aside  during the  "Golden Age" of video game arcades (1978-1986).  As a kid and teen, my friends and I skipped instead of competing to get the highest score on pinball machines gave our attention, and quarters, to the new "high tech" video games like Atari's Astroids, Namco's Pacman, Nintendo's Donkey Kong, and Konami's Frogger.   So I can easily relate to the famous Frogger storyline from that classic Seinfield episode:

I fell in love with pinball machines during my college years.  There was a Star Wars one in the rec room next door to my dorm's laundry room that ate up a lot of my time, and quarters that should have been used for washing and drying my clothes. I developed an appreciation for the "mechanical" nature of the beast when it comes to pinball machines that just isn't there in a video game.  The feel of the the flippers, the ball bouncing against bumpers, the vibrations from the game play, the colors and sounds that envelope you when you are in the zone focusing on a silver sphere and getting just the right tilt to beat your previous high score provides a sensational element that is lacking from video games.  I have found memories of epic battles for high score on that "Star Wars" pinball machine against my buddies from the 5th floor.  You'll always find a few quarters in my pocket and I'll take a timeout for some pinball if I stumble across a machine.

This weekend there is a great annual event that is hosted at a college down the street from my house called the MICHIGAN PINBALL EXPO.  The event features more than 100 pinball machines ranging from classic models to brand new ones with cool high tech features.  They are all set to FREE PLAY, so you don't need to bring quarters, you just pay $20 adults/$15 kids for unlimited play while you are there.  Children 4 and under are FREE too!  This free play option is nice especially if you aren't a pinball wizard but enjoy playing the games.  In addition to the general game play, the Michigan Pinball Expo has sessions for children with tips on playing called "Wizards in Training", speakers, vendors who sell and/or repair machines for home and business uses, and tournaments ranging in skill and age from rookie children to adults competing for the "Michigan Pinball Champion" trophy.  If you are in the Metro Detroit area this weekend, whether you have a love of pinball or are just looking for a family outing to check out something new, swing by the Michigan Pinball Expo for a fun time.

If you aren't in the area and the MICHIGAN PINBALL EXPO peaked your interest there are a variety of similar events taking place across the country that you may want to attend:

APRIL 24-26 PINBALL @ THE 'ZOO (KALAMAZOO MICHIGAN) 2014 will be this event's 15th year.  Enjoy the free play gallery or participate in a tournament.

MAY 2-3 ALLENTOWN PINFEST (PENNSYLVANIA) features over 200 pinball machines at the Agri-plex Expo Center.

MAY 16-18 PIN-A-GO-GO PINBALL SHOW (CALIFORNIA) in its 18th year features more than 250 pinball machines includes "pinball celebrity" demonstrations, pinball school to help you become a better player, tournaments and a free play gallery.  Proceeds from this event benefit local youth charities. 

MAY 16-18 ANN ARBOR PINBALL SHOW CASE (MICHIGAN) I had no clue that pinball was still so popular in Michigan but in addition to the pinball expos in Oakland County and Kalamazoo there is a pinball museum just outside Ann Arbor (home of the University of Michigan).  The Ann Arbor Pinball Museum called VINTAGE FLIPPER WORLD (located in Green Oaks Township which is about 8 miles north of Ann Arbor) is hosting their first ever showcase event in 2014 which will feature 200 machines.  There will be free play and tournament opportunities at this event.

SEPTEMBER 26-28 FRASER VALLEY FLIPOUT (BRITISH COLUMBIA, CANADA) is the largest pinball tournament in Canada.  All skill levels are welcome! 

OCTOBER 15-19 PINBALL EXPO 2014 (CHICAGO ILLINOIS) this is the premiere pinball event of the year hosting its 30th annual show in 2014.  Attendees can register for a group tour of the STERN pinball machine factory.  Open to the general public but this show also has huge turnout of industry manufacturers, sales, and service companies and an emphasis to appeal to pinball collectors and enthusiasts.  The event includes autograph sessions with pinball design artists, seminars, pinball-related merchandise, free play gallery, and tournaments.

If you haven't played Pinball lately...why not?  If you know of a pinball expo that you'd like to add to this list please leave a post with the info or email: thegeekdaddy [at] yahoo [dot] com.

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