PINGAMES AT THE FUN FAIR (1981)
By Russ Jensen
The third annual Loose Change Coin Machine Fun Fair was held the weekend of October 1Oth and 11th at the Pasadena Exhibit Center in California. This show and sale is of course primarily oriented towards slot machines, although juke boxes are always significantly present. Undaunted by this situation, however, I have attended all three fairs hoping to see some interesting pinball machines which, as you all should know by now, is my main area of coin machine enthusiasm.
While the quantity of pingames is sadly lacking there always appears to be a few at each show which are quite interesting. Most of the machines are from the thirties probably because they are small and therefore easy to transport and can be considered "antique". This makes me wonder whether dealers might think that later model pins are illegal to sell as is the case with slot machines in many states. At the first two shows there were also several late mode1 (1970s) type machines displayed by a few dealers. At this show however only seven late model machines were there; three on sale by one of the exhibitors and four others owned by "the management". What has always been absent from all shows (and any of the slot machine oriented auctions which I have attended) are the 'woodrail', 'electric light-up' pingames of the late thirties through the fifties which are my personal favorites. A run down of the pingames which were available at this year's Fun Fair will illustrate the diversity (and sometimes similarity) of design of games in the early thirties
The earliest pingame at the Fun Fair was a small counter-top game called "Shooting Star". This game was made by one of the many small companies which tried to cash in on the 'pingame boom' of 1932, namely Specialty Manufacturing Company. To my knowledge this company made only one other game called "Bingo" and this may even be open to dispute. Shooting Star was first advertised in the trade publications in March 1932 which makes it one of the earliest pingames. It was a square cabinet machine with a circular playfield, a format which was used by several of the early pingames. The playfield scoring holes were well 'hedged' by steel pins which was typical of all these early games (in fact, thatís where "pinball" got its name; "pin and ball games"). An array of scoring holes near the center of the playfield were shaped in the form of a star, thus accounting for the name of this game.
Another very early pingame appearing at the Fun Fair was "WOW" manufactured by the famous slot machine manufacturer Mills Novelty Company. This game came out in early 1932 and style wise was very similar to the extremely popular "Ballyhoo", the game which was responsible for the founding of the Bally organization, Mills had preceded this game with another counter-top pin called " English" and it was followed by Mills' most popular early pingame "Official". These three games were Mills primary contribution to early pingames, but later, when coin payout pins became "all the rage", Mills again became active in the pinball field.
WOW was a simple 'pin and ball game', like Ballyhoo, with very eye catching playfield artwork The playfield art utilized the old three dimensional cube optical illusion effect. Another interesting fact about his game was its extremely low price of $12.50, a veritable bargain for operators in the midst of an economic depression.
Another pingame of simple design which was on display was a game, made in 1932, called "Whiffle". This game was apparently the only game to be produced by a company calling itself "Automatic Industries Inc". This outfit was located in Youngstown, Ohio, a town which some rumors have it may have been the birthplace of the pingame idea. While this game was of the simplest design, the typical 'pin and ball games' which were abounding in 1932, it was well constructed and appeared to have been quite popular in its day. Pinball pioneer Harry Williams recalled it vividly when interviewed for a 1961 TRUE Magazine article concerning his illustrious career in the pinball industry. He even credited the popularity of this game as being one of the things that convinced him to go into freelance pingame manufacturing. So even if Whiffle only served to launch Harry Williams into his fantastic career in pinball, this simple game has certainly contributed immeasurably to pingame history. enthusiasm.
The next in chronology of the Fun Fair pins was "Figure 8", manufactured by Butler Specialty Company. This was another of the myriad of small manufacturers who tried to "jump on the pingame bandwagon" in 1932, but it appears that, like so many other companies at that time, they came out with only one model. Figure 8 appeared on the market in the Fall of 1932 and utilized a design consisting of two circular playing areas, one above the other, with a narrow connecting passage between them. This pattern resembled a "figure eight~' and hence the name. The interesting thing about this type of playfield configuration is that if a ball is shot hard enough it could circle the top playing area before beginning its descent down the playfield. A similar configuration was also used on other games of the period, most notably Gottlieb's popular "Five Star Final. Figure 8 was a counter-top pingame and, aside from its odd shaped playfield, had no features that made it stand out from the many other simple pins of 1932.
There was even one pingame at the Fun Fair of which two copies were offered for sale. This was the famous "World Series" manufactured by Rockola in the Fall of 1933. This was one of the most ingenious of the mechanical pingame designs which appeared in 1933 and later. The designers of pingames during this period made excellent use of mechanical principles to produce games which held the players fascinated. This was a much more difficult task than using electricity to provide playfield effects because the only 'motive power' which was available was gravity and the momentum of the moving ball.
In World Series the folks at Rockola attempted to simulate a baseball game complete with men (in the form of steel balls) running the bases. This was accomplished by a 'turntable' made to look like a baseball diamond in the midst of the playfield. A ball entering the "HIT" channel on the playfield would then enter the "Home Plate" hole. This would cause the turntable to rotate from one to four quarter turns carrying the ball with it (around the bases). The amount of rotation for each hit (single, double, triple, or home run) was determined by the mechanics of the machine in pseudo-random fashion. A ball finally reaching "Home Plate", after a complete circuit of the 'diamond', would be dislodged from the turntable and would roll down into a "Runs" slot to be counted by the player to determine his score. This game even simulated "balls" and "strikes"; the third ball going into the "Strike" slot on the playfield would be deflected into the "Out" hole, and the fourth ball going into the "Balls" slot would be deflected into the " Hit" runway. The game also had an "Out Register" which would indicate the number of Outs (balls entering the "Out" lanes or three strikes). The player could keep shooting balls until he made three outs which would terminate the game. World Series was indeed a truly mechanical marvel of the pingame designers art.
The latest of the thirties pins at the show (with the possible exception of one 'mystery game') was "Rebound' by Exhibit which came out near the end of 1934. This game had a large attractive cabinet and had several interesting 'action' features. The advertisement for this game, appearing in the December 1934 issue of Automatic Age, boasted "No Sewer?", a reference to the fact that there was no "Out Hole" at the bottom of the playfield as in most games. In its place was one of two electric 'kickers' which propelled the ball back into the scoring area.
Probably the most striking feature of this machine was the elevated track and "loop-the-loop" in the center of the playfield. If you were lucky (or skillful) enough to get a ball in the "kicker slot" in the top section of the playfield the ball would be propelled by this kicker over an elevated track, around the "loop the-loop', ending up in a playfield area containing the highest scoring holes. This game also had two pairs of low scoring holes, which, if you get two balls in any pair, would return both balls so you could "try again" for better scores. All in all Rebound was a very intriguing pingame.
To round out the list of early thirties pingames shown at the 1981 Fun Fair there was one little machine which is a 'mystery game' to me as to its manufacturer. The only name on the machine is "Target" which is obviously the name of the game, but no indication as to its manufacturer can be found on it according to previous owner Ron Weingarten. This little game is interesting in that it is a small counter-top, electrically operated (originally by batteries), payout pingame. In order to receive a payout (which varied from 2 to 8 coins on a pseudo-random basis) the player must succeed in getting a ball into each of two holes As an added 'action feature' a small electrically operated 'cannon like' kicker is aimed at an area of the playfield containing the three highest scoring holes (getting a ball into this 'cannon' is the only way to get into this high scoring area). The highest scoring of these holes is also one of the two holes required for a payout, the other one being a hole labeled "Bullseye" at the top of the playfield. All the other holes on the playfield were for scoring only and not connected with the payout feature.
The date of manufacture of this game appears to be 1934 for the following reasons: 1) the first battery operated payout mechanism on a pinball machine was on Bally's "Rocket' which came out late in 1933, 2) the first use of electricity to move the ball in any manner was in Pacific Amusementís "Contact~', designed by famous pinball designer Harry Williams which was released at the beginning of 1934) This game also featured a "Ball and Pedestal" tilt mechanism which was also introduced about this same time. If anyone has further information on this unique little pingame please let me know.
Finally, a mention should be made of the 'late model' pins at the Fun Fair. These were, in chronological order: "Sing Along" (Gottlieb, 1967), "Big Valley" (Bally, 1970), "El Toro" (Bally, 1972), "Nip It' (Bally, 1973), "Wizard" (Bally, 1975), "Space Mission" (Williams, 1976), and last, but not least, "Captain Fantastic" (Bally, 1976). Space does not permit a run down of the significant features of these games, but even these each have a story of their own.
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