City Cast

The Analog Allure of the Best Pinball Games

Dayvid Figler
Dayvid Figler
Posted on November 3
Photo of a pinball machine fixture.

You’re more likely to see adults than kids at the Pinball Hall of Fame. (steinphoto/Getty)

The Pinball Hall of Fame is a magical place. When I go, I load up with quarters and make a beeline to the best ones. Some because they have historical significance, others for their tinge of nostalgia, and some just because they slap.

My fandom began in the mid-1990s. A piece of wood sloppily painted with “PINBALL” would appear in the median on Annie Oakley Drive, and enthusiasts would descend on the private warehouse owned by longtime pinball restorer and collector (but, curiously, not enthusiastic player) Tim Arnold. Tim assembled a vast array of working pinballs. A sign, “All proceeds to charity.” A few moves later, it’s now the colossal gathering of pinball machines on the south Strip, under the giant red PINBALL sign. Profits still go to charity.

I might start by playing Kings & Queens (1965) — who can resist the machine Roger Daltrey played in the pivotal “Pinball Wizard” scene from “Tommy”? Or Funhouse (1990), centered with a talking (sometimes mocking) 3-D head named Rudy, which sports creepy moving eyes like the dummy in the film “Magic.” This was the fun time-waster in many a Gen X’er’s misspent youth.

But my favorite is Attack from Mars. A loose homage to the Tim Burton film “Mars Attacks!,” this machine has an epic warning for people triggered by flashing lights — which says it all. You play toward a multi-ball sequence showdown called “total annihilation,” and “You must save the Earth!”

There are hundreds of machines — as well as old video games and other fun coin-op diversions, plus new machines that companies still crank out — but these are my favorites. Beyond the thrill of guiding a silver ball through the sights, sounds, and gorgeous playfields, or getting a high score, these games are a respite. Watching proud papas teach their children the way of the plunger, or tech-savvy kids getting a little more analog on a first date, you see how they’re a throwback to a time when entertainment was simple — even if the machines providing it are anything but.

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