Flippers, Tilts, and Balls...Oh My!

Alma B., Librarian, Art, Music & Recreation Department,

I can’t quite put my finger on it.  Maybe it’s because of my love for all things 1960’s or because I treasured my family’s Friday nights at Lamppost Pizza as a kid. It might be the simultaneous bombardment of lights and sounds, compounded with the tactile quality of the flippers and the shock waves the careening ball would send up and down the machine.  It certainly doesn’t hurt that almost anyone can find the perfect machine for them.

Pinball is something that’s nostalgic for many of us. We enjoyed playing it as children, teens, or young adults. It was something to do in arcades, bars, and, if you were very lucky, in private residences.  Pinball has its roots in the French table-top game of Bagatelle. It also has a fascinating and surprising controversial past fraught with numerous legal troubles.

Our photo collection showcases the legal troubles that followed pinball and marble games, as they were perceived as games of chance that promoted gambling and delinquent behavior. The image below depicts a strike at the heart of that misconception, as a 15-year-old newsboy was brought to trial to prove that marble games required demonstrable skill.

Boy playing pinball

Below is Sheriff Biscaluiz taking the first swing with the ax as his department destroys gambling equipment.

Sheriff Biscaluiz

The majority of texts regarding pinball in the library are reference items that cannot be checked out, but the Art Department now has a state-of-the-art scanner system and users are welcome to scan text and images from books straight to their email accounts (after accepting the copyright notice, of course). Some of the titles we have include tips on both how to play and repair machines; others focus on the history and artwork of this silver-balled wonder.

Places to visit:

There are many locations with still-functioning pinball machines. There are even venues dedicated solely to pinball, such as the Pacific Pinball Museum in Alameda, California (where paid admission to the museum provides unlimited free play to all machines for the entire day) and the Pinball Hall of Fame in Las Vegas, Nevada (a glorified warehouse with aisles and aisles of machines, including a completely bizarre vertical pinball table). Locally, there are several bars, arcades, bowling alleys, and even private enthusiasts who are willing to let you play if you’re polite, bring cash, and (most importantly) respect the machines.

My personal favorite machine is Doctor Who-themed, but I’m also fond of the bubbly, Art Deco artwork of Spanish Eyes. Future Spa is a comical table, and Twilight Zone will always hold a special place in my heart due to the hours I poured into it as a child. There is a pinball match made in heaven for everyone if they are patient and diligent. While virtually all of the manufacturers making these intricate machines have gone the way of the dodo, it is a great comfort to know that there are people and institutions dedicated to keeping the art and passion of pinball alive.

Further Reading

Pinball! by Roger C. Sharpe

Pinball: An Illustrated History by Michael Colmer

Special When Lit: A Visual and Anecdotal History of Pinball by Edward Trapunski

Tilt: The Pinball Book Home Maintenance, History, Hot Tips by Candace Ford Tolbert

Other Resources

The Pinball Map has been a useful resource to me on a consistent basis. It is an interactive map displaying the locations of pinball machines around the country (searchable even by specific machine). As with anything on the Internet, it is wise to call ahead to confirm that the machines are in operation and that the facilities still exist. Images of machines can be found on the Internet Pinball Machine Database.

*Photos are from the LAPL Photo Collection. Color photo is the author’s.