Later Night Open Thread: Wizard Pinball

I was never much good at pinball (although the Spousal Unit was) and always cheered for the Witch in the Wizard of Oz. But I kinda want one of these:

Much (much) more at Slate:

When you’re creating a pinball machine from scratch, somebody, somewhere has to craft or acquire every mechanism and fixture. Jersey Jack Pinball licenses its flippers from Planetary Pinball Supply, gets its wiring assemblies from a company in New Jersey, and builds its soundboards in partnership with Massachusetts’ Pinnovators. A woodworking firm in Illinois fashions the Wizard of Oz cabinets and playfields, then sends them to another company that adds the game’s specially designed artwork using a $300,000 inkjet printer. Jersey Jack tested more than 10 different playfield finishes, rolling and shooting hundreds of thousands of balls before determining which one worked best. A pinball-crazy sculptor designed the plastic trees and munchkin huts.

In aggregate, these decisions reveal Jersey Jack Pinball’s grand plan: In every way that matters, the Wizard of Oz is a refutation of how modern pinball machines are designed and built. Rather than choose a bro-friendly theme centered on robots and/or guitars, Guarnieri acquired the pinball-ization rights to Dorothy, Toto, et al. Instead of the standard static back-glass art and dot matrix display, Jersey Jack’s machine is topped by a 26-inch widescreen monitor that displays full-color, cinema-grade animations. The game has no conventional, burn-out-able light bulbs—it’s illuminated by RGB LED lights that can generate any hue. And perhaps most significantly, the Wizard of Oz is the first “widebody” game since the mid-1990s. The fatter-than-usual apparatus means there’s room for an oversize load of eye-catching doohickeys: a spinning house, a winged monkey, a melting witch, and a video-displaying crystal ball that Guarnieri sees as his coup de grâce. “When you look into the crystal ball and see a moving image,” he explains, “you say, Holy shit, how much more could you put into this game?”…

Not for nothing, Tolkien geeks should cross our fingers, because the next game from Jersey Jack is based on The Hobbit

53 replies
  1. 1
    TenguPhule says:

    Drool. Drool. Drool.

  2. 2
    Amir Khalid says:

    A twist, there has to be.

    Just wondering, in this age of Xbox and PlayStation, are there still game arcades in America where people put these things?

  3. 3
    Michael G says:

    This is a good time to remind people to play more pinball lest it disappear forever.

  4. 4
    Alison says:

    @Amir Khalid: There are indeed, and I am just the kind of dork who would love to spend time there if I could. Although I’d mostly be playing Skee-Ball because HELLO. Best game ever.

  5. 5
    TheMightyTrowel says:

    So… I may be an academic but I also write fiction. Mostly for myself (though, nerd creds fully on display, some of it is fan fic and widely available) and nothing worth thinking about sharing yet, but still. Anyhow, i’m writing a story now in my spare time (ha ha ha) after a long day at work as a way to decompress before I go home and I’ve just hit a sex scene. And is there ANYTHING more awkward than writing a really hot and heavy sex scene at work in your office? Seriously? Going home now.

  6. 6
    JGabriel says:


    I’d mostly be playing Skee-Ball because HELLO. Best game ever.

    You can buy one for only $5000. Or, for solitary nights, you could get this single lane model for only %725. It’s a bargain!


  7. 7
    JGabriel says:


    And is there ANYTHING more awkward than writing a really hot and heavy sex scene at work in your office?

    Getting caught in one.


  8. 8
    Amir Khalid says:

    Only if your boss is reading it over your shoulder.

  9. 9
    Alison says:

    @JGabriel: If I had the money and my own home, you can bet your ass I’d be on that in a second.

  10. 10
    Debbie(Aussie) says:

    Thanks for the ideas and wishes tostay cool from last nights thread. Was only 36c today. Already down to 28. Like the wet t-shirt idea.
    Love the pinball. Never was very good but enjoyed them all the same.

  11. 11
    Amir Khalid says:

    I’m north of you in Malaysia, where we’re bracing for a tropical storm to hit the east coast of the Peninsula. The east coast gets it quite bad during the monsoon season, which also brings floods and keeps fishermen from going out to sea. (I’m quite safe in KL, though.)

  12. 12
    NotMax says:

    Whence it came I don’t know, but had a fully functional pinball machine (this would be during the late 50s and very early 60s) in my bedroom when a kidlet.

    Must have been made for home use as, if memory serves, it was maybe 3/4 the size of the standard models at the malt shoppe, the pool hall and against the far wall of the Skee-Ball Arcade at the boardwalk.

  13. 13
    TheMightyTrowel says:

    @JGabriel: naw. that’s practically expected of academics. half way home my bike tire was impaled by a sharp piece of wood and i had to walk therest of the way because Mr Trowel was on the phone with his mum and didn’t get my message. FML.

  14. 14
    Temporarily Max McGee (soon enough to be Andy K again) says:

    Man, that machine just looks too busy. Most of the modern machines are (the Addams Family machine being slightly less so, which is probably why it’s hard to get one’s hands on one).

    Gimme a clean Eight-Ball Deluxe machine any day.

  15. 15
    WereBear says:

    I love that all the other companies involved in this thing are American. Innovation, ya’ll.

    I’ve been researching small batch manufacturing, which might be our saving strategy (Innovation, ya’ll!) and ran across some internet forum where they are opining that the product itself does not matter, just your splash page.

    The problem with American business is American business.

  16. 16
    Raven says:

    @NotMax: You had some intense weather last week!

  17. 17
    Raven says:

    Joe is screaming at Mika and Katy, really screaming.

  18. 18
  19. 19
    Raven says:

    @WereBear: Obama’s male cabinet.

  20. 20
    JPL says:

    @Raven: Where’s Susan Rice when you need her? Oh yeah, she decided to withdraw her name.

  21. 21
    NotMax says:

    And if the nominations were otherwise, jerky Joe would be railing against Obama adhering to a quota system.

  22. 22
    kindness says:

    Imagine if they made a game based on a porn movie…

  23. 23
    NotMax says:

    Oh my. Here we go again.

    Inaugural Benediction To Be Delivered By Pastor Who Gave Vehemently Anti-Gay Sermon  Link

  24. 24
    Jager says:

    On the conference table.

  25. 25
    NotMax says:




    Hungry, Hungry Nymphos?

  26. 26
    arguingwithsignposts says:

    @Amir Khalid:

    Just wondering, in this age of Xbox and PlayStation, are there still game arcades in America where people put these things?

    Yes, called Chuck E. Cheese.

  27. 27
    lol says:

    Nice to see another company making pinball. Stern was the only one for the past decade, right?

    Pro Pinball on iOS (and others) is a pretty great simulation of older pinball machines. Prince of Persia, TNG, Theatre of Magic, etc.

  28. 28
    Suffern ACE says:

    @NotMax: Aunts in my Pants
    Shoots a Loaders

  29. 29
    NotMax says:

    @Suffern ACE

    Prophylaxis and Gal Lies

  30. 30
    jibeaux says:

    Whenever I’ve seen pinball machines, it’s been in bars.
    I like them, and I don’t like video games. There’s something tactile about them, about the third dimension and physical movement, that I like. And I’m sure if you’re good you play with skill, but I just play sort of randomly and I think that’s fun too, the unpredictability of it. Plus they take what, thirty seconds to play? I could see playing it socially out with friends in a way that doesn’t detract from conversation and general human interaction.

  31. 31
    Wag says:

    I got tired of hanging in those dusty arcades banging those pleasure machines

    And the dashboard was all lit up like an old Madame LaRue pinball machine.

    10 points for the first song
    100 points for the second.

  32. 32
    FridayNext says:

    @Amir Khalid:

    who cares. The best place to play pinball has always been smokey bars with a pint of beer on a ledge near you.

  33. 33
    FridayNext says:


    Should have read further down. What he said.

    But 30 seconds?

    nothing personal, but you really don’t play for skill do you? I remember back in my drinking days spending 15-30 minutes on one quarter. Minimum. The trick is to learn the narrative of each machine and hang on that razor thin edge of drunk enough to boost confidence but not so drunk to hamper reaction time and vision.

  34. 34
    Brother Shotgun of Sweet Reason says:

    @Wag: Springsteen, “Sandy” for 10 points. No idea whatsoever on the second.

  35. 35
    Bago says:

    This is how we do it in 2013.

    I love this game.

  36. 36
    YellowJournalism says:

    My dad had a pinball machine when I was a kid. It had a fireball theme, and it was stored in our garage. I would spend hours out there on it, until it rusted inside and it stopped playin more than one round at a time before resetting the score. Dad and I were so mad at my mom for not letting him store it in the house. The thing would have been worth a little money by this time. Dd sold it at a garage sale to a guy who planned to restore it.

    My favorite pinball games were one with a Twilight Zone theme and another ultra freaky one called Funhouse. Loved the last one so much, but it creeped me out if I was playing in a secluded or empty area of an arcade or restaurant.

  37. 37
  38. 38
    Matt McIrvin says:

    The trouble with real live pinball these days is finding it (and when you can find pinball machines, often they’re not well-maintained and not worth playing). There’s been some resurgence of interest fueled by pinball-simulation videogames.

    One of the best places in New England is Pinball Wizard Arcade, next door to the Chunky’s in Pelham, NH. It’s pretty amazing: 100+ machines, most of them from the 80s and 90s (though they’ve got some recent Sterns as well), generally kept in good repair, and some classic Eighties videogames too.

    There’s also been a wave of “pinball museums” opening in various cities, in which you pay a flat admission fee and the machines are all on free play.

  39. 39
  40. 40
    redshirt says:

    Glinda is the villain. She took out every power player in Oz.

  41. 41
    Matt McIrvin says:

    Speaking of Tolkien, Stern’s Lord of the Rings pinball was actually pretty good, one of their better efforts.

    But Jersey Jack does seem to be taking it to the next level in a way that Stern isn’t, or wasn’t. Stern has many of the great names of 1980s/1990s pinball working for them, which is a major advantage, but they’ve been very conservative; little that they do would have seemed unusual twenty years ago.

  42. 42
    The Pale Scot says:

    Skee-Ball, God’s favorite game.

  43. 43
    The Pale Scot says:

    @jibeaux: “Plus they take what, thirty seconds to play?”

    You need some practice my friend.

  44. 44
    Mom Says I'm Handsome says:

    @arguingwithsignposts: As the parent of four Charles E Cheese loving children, I can say that I’ve never seen a pinball machine in their infernal establishments. I think a pinball machine is targeted towards an older demographic — a typical 6-year-old isn’t going to be tall enough to see the play surface, let alone finesse the flippers.

    Gotta agree with Temporarily Max McGhee, though — Eight Ball Deluxe was the pinnacle of pinball machine design!

  45. 45
    Wag says:

    @Brother Shotgun of Sweet Reason:

    Tom Waits Ballad if Big Joe and Phantom 309

  46. 46
    Matt McIrvin says:

    @YellowJournalism: Simulations of both Twilight Zone and Funhouse are available as downloadable content for The Pinball Arcade (at least on Android, iOS and Mac; Twilight Zone may be a while coming to the consoles).

    TPA can be frustratingly buggy, and they’re clearly overstretched releasing all this content for so many platforms, but the greatness of the original games shines through.

    You have good taste: while I haven’t actually played Fireball, all three of the tables you mentioned are beloved classics. Funhouse and Twilight Zone were actually designed by the same guy, Pat Lawlor, who also did Addams Family.

  47. 47
    The Pale Scot says:

    @Matt McIrvin: the Inebriati? I’ve found my people

  48. 48
    Matt McIrvin says:

    @Mom Says I’m Handsome: There’s a 1990s Super Mario Bros. Mushroom World pinball designed for kids (smaller table, shorter legs, spits redemption tickets) that I’ve seen at the local Chuck E. Cheese. I think that’s the only one.

  49. 49
  50. 50
    Thor Heyerdahl says:

    @Wag: From “Nighthawks at the Diner” – a great album. The original by Red Sovine (sans this Tom Waits lyric) is pretty good too.

  51. 51
    Jibeaux says:

    @The Pale Scot: I admit, I am not good.

  52. 52
    Sour Kraut says:

    Believe it or not, classic arcades are making a (limited) comeback: Barcade in Brooklyn (and several other cities), Ground Kontrol in Portland, Galloping Ghost Arcade outside Chicago and the granddaddy of them all, Funspot in Laconia, NH, certified by Guinness as the largest in the world (500+ games). Funspot houses the American Classic Arcade Museum, which features over 250 games from 1987 and earlier. They even had a working Funhouse PB last time I was there.

    But if you really want a pinball fix, visit the Las Vegas Pinball Hall of Fame. Pretty sure their collection is the world’s largest.

  53. 53
    YellowJournalism says:

    @Matt McIrvin: Thanks for the compliment. I spent a lot of time at a Godfather’s pizza just because they had that Funhouse machine. It gave me some freaky nightmares. The machine, that is. The pizza just gave me indigestion.

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