It was the twelfth inning of the second game of the World Series. The game was tied at six apiece. The Mets were threatening, with Harrelson on third and McGraw on first. There were two out and the immortal Willy Mays, the goat of the ninth inning, had a chance to be a hero at the plate. It was a tense moment in a wild game --and I missed it.
In fact, I missed most of that ludicrous Mets victory. You see, one of my roommates purchased a pinball machine (an early sixties Gottlieb model called Olympics), and I'm becoming an addict. The thwack of cowhide against a Louisville Slugger just couldn't seem to compete with the clack of the free game as the shiny silver ball thanks and dings its way about a maze of gaudy bumpers and bizarre pictures.
It's not easy living with a pinball machine. Television isn't the only thing that this wicked electronic monster entices me from. Somehow, reading about the lineage system of the User tribesmen isn't quite as thrilling as the orgasmic excitement of getting a really good flip that sends the ball into seeming oblivion. The satisfaction of saving the ball from the "kamakazi drain" by giving just the right body English is far greater than finally figuring out Taylor's theorem.
Pinball has been entrapping its victims for longer than you would think. The ancestor of the modern machine is the bagatelle board, a little known game that consisted of a flat board on which one shot a ball with a cue stick or a bat into a maze of holes and bumpers.
It was a man named David Gottlieb who, in 1930, marketed the first coin operated bagatelle board with a tilted playing surface. he called it "Baffle Board," The machine sold for 17.50, and could be played for a mere penny. It caught on fast and soon Gottlieb's idea was copied by a Chicago businessman, Raymond Alone, who came out with his own version called "Bally-Hoo." His company, Bally Manufacturing Company, along with Gottlieb's are now two of the biggest names in the business.
In 1933, electricity came along to revolutionize the game. In 1935 pinball was introduced to the anti-tilt device and the solenoid-powered bumper units, essentials to the modern game. 1937 was a banner year as well, as the now defunct Western Electric and Supply company added the allure of free games. The final major invention to hit the pinball scene came as recently as 1947, when the late Harry Mas introduced the solenoid-activated power flipper.
Other innovations were, of course, to follow, such as multiple player machines, free balls, captive balls and the like. But these are only refinements, with which the wicked pinball machine snares even more unwary players like me into those dens of iniquity known as pinball parlors.
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