The Name’s The Game


By Russ Jensen

One of my personal pet peeves as a pinball collector and historian is when I answer an ad in a newspaper for a pinball for sale and ask the owner for the name of the game in most cases they will either reply "What do you mean?" or, after going to look at the machine come back with something like "Williams Electronics, Chicago". In other cases I have talked to people who have owned a machine for a year or so and when I asked them the name of their game they do not know, even though they have been staring at the backboard for. over a year! To me the name is the game's Identity, which separates it from any other game, just as a person's name is his identity. For this reason I am devoting this article to pinball names including much trivia concerning them.

Probably one of the most interesting stories concerning pinball naming deals with how the name chosen for a particular pioneer pingame resulted in one of the most famous pinball and game manufacturers getting its corporate name. In the later part of 1931, Raymond T. Maloney and his partners in a small Chicago printing company decided to build and market a small counter top pingame. The game they designed had a brightly colored playfield which they thought had a lot of flash. The name they finally decided to give to their creation was "BALLYHOO" which was the name of a very popular satirical magazine of the time, similar to MAD magazine today. After releasing this game they decided to incorporate a new company to build these machines which they decided to call BALLY MANUFACTURING after "BALLYHOO". As we all know that name is still alive and well in Chicago.

That wasn't the end of the name "BALLYHOO", however. In mid 1947 Bally came out with another pingame called Ballyhoo, and again in late 1969, this time a two player flipper game. I wouldn't be at all surprised if next year Bally comes out with a solid-state Ballyhoo (maybe "Ballyhoo 82") to celebrate that company's 50th Anniversary.

In 1932 (which was the start of the pinball industry for all practical purposes) the selecting of clever names for pingames began. This was not the beginning of the coining of catchy names for games; the trade stimulator manufacturers had been doing this for years. Many of these names were short and catchy and had no direct connection with the characteristics of the game itself; names such as "King Ball", "Boop-A-Doop" and "Hooey Ball", for example. Other names were directly connected with some feature of the game such as "Juggle Ball", which actually had a player controlled 'stick' which could make contact with the ball in play (something which was not allowed again until the invention of the 'flipper in 1947). Other names were connected with a 'theme' of the game such as a simulation of a sport or game. Early examples of such names were: "Billiards", "Fan Tan", "Hi-Lo" (a playing card theme) and "Par Golf".

Early pingames were often named for popular fads, songs and current events. A good example of a game which was named after a fad, and also associated with a current event, was Rockola's'' Jigsaw" which not only was named for the jigsaw puzzle fad that was sweeping the country in the early thirties, but also displayed a map of the 1933 Chicago World's Fair, a very popular event in that depression clouded year. And what about Field Manufacturing Company's "New Deal", certainly named for current event of the period. Two examples of pingames named for popular songs were Genco's "Forty Second Street" in 1933 and Gottlieb's "Flying Trapeze" in 1934.

At the end of 1936 Bally came out with a game with a sensational new scoring device which was to change the complexion of all pingames in the future. The name of the game, "Bumper", was selected to describe this innovation and became the 'generic term' for such scoring devices. A play on the word was even used on the cover of the advertising brochure for this game as seen in the accompanying illustration. That term is still used today for a circular 'target which scores points when struck by the ball from any direction around its periphery.

Other pingames of the thirties were named after special scoring and other features of the game. Chicago Coin's "Beam Lite" of 1935 featured bright lights on its playfield. Ball's "Spottem" and "Pickern", both of 1939, were named for features wherein a free number or numbers (in a number sequence which must be completed to obtain a certain scoring goal) could be lighted prior to shooting the balls. In "Spottem" the free numbers were determined by the machine; in "Pickem" the player could select a free number using a dial on the front of the cabinet.

With the coming of war in Europe, games named for war themes started to appear, even before Pearl Harbor. Exhibits "Contact" had a warship theme and came out in 1939. Early in 1940 Stoner produced "Doughboy"; Bally's "Fleet" and Baker's "Defense" appeared later that same year. In 1941, prior to the U.S.'s entry into the war, we saw Stoner's "Armada" and Western Products' "Barrage". Then came December 7th! Within two weeks Genco was advertising "Victory" in the trade publications! The wording on the backglass "A U.S. Victory" makes one wonder how that company could have designed that game within two weeks after that fatal day. After the U.S. entered the war, games with war themes abounded such as "Bombardier", "Sky Chief", "Victorious", "Midway", "Invasion", and "Hit The Japs", just to name a few. Then to celebrate the end of the war, Bally came out with the one-ball multiple-coin machines "Victory Derby" and "Victory Special", the first new games to be produced by them after the war. Gottlieb's first post-game "Stage Door Canteen" was even reminiscent of the war scene and the returning GIs. Even as late as 1947 Chicago Coin produced "Kilroy", a name very popular during the war.

With the war behind them pinball manufacturers began concentrating on more pleasant names for their games. Pretty girls and exotic places became popular pingame themes. In the late forties United came out with a series of games named for places beginning in early 1947. This series of names ("Rio", "Havana", "Mexico", "Hawaii", "Nevada", "Singapore", "Tropicana", and "Manhattan") was later used by that same company, in the same order, for a series of multiple-coin 'bingo' machines in 1954 and 1955. Williams also had a series of games named for places in 1949 ("El Paso", "St Louis", "Dallas", "Maryland", and "Boston"), but many other Williams games of the late forties featured pretty girls; games such as "Show Girl", "Amber", "Ginger" and "Virginia".

As everyone knows, in December 1947 Gottlieb came out with "Humpty Dumpty" the first game with that revolutionary new device, the flipper. This was the first of a series of games by that company featuring 'fairy tale' themes. The games which followed in that series were "Lady Robinhood", "Cinderella", "Jack and Jill", "King Cole", "Ali Baba", "Alice In Wonderland" and "Barnacle Bill".

Pinball games of the 50s, 60s and early 70s had a wide variety of names but several themes seemed to be quite popular. One of the most popular themes of this period was "Sports", which had been one of the most popular themes since pinball's beginning in the early thirties. Typical examples were: "All Star Basket-ball", "Golden Gloves", and "Baseball". It is interesting to note that the latter name probably holds the record for the most pinball machines using the same name, as at least eight machines were named "Baseball" over the years.

Other popular themes of this period were Space ("Rocket", "Friendship Seven", "Space Mission", etc.), The Old West: ("Stage Coach", "Cow Poke", "Lawman", etc.) and Card games, also a very popular theme since pinball's beginning, ("Canasta", "Royal Plush", "Dealer's Choice", etc.).

The "All American" game of pinball ("As American as baseball and hot dogs" to quote a Gottlieb advertising slogan of the late fifties) did not miss the opportunity to celebrate the American Bi-Centennial. The major manufacturers each had their Bi-Centennial game. For Gottlieb it was "Spirit of '76", for Bally "Freedom", and Williams came out with "Liberty Bell".

The latest pinball naming craze began in the mid 70s and continued into the "solid state era". The popularity of the movie version of the rock opera "Tommy", which is credited by many as reviving the nation's interest in the game of pinball, prompted Bally to come out with "Wizard" in 1975 and "Captain Fantastic" in 1976. The later game featured a caricature of rock star Elton John on the backglass. This was the beginning of the era of naming games for popular personalities, fictional 'super heroes', movies, and TV shows.

Typical games inspired by personalities were "Evil Knievel", "Power Play" (Hockey star Bobby Orr), "Eight Ball" (TV character 'Fonzie'), "Playboy" (Hugh Hefner), "Dolly" (Parton, of course), and last, but not least, "Ali". The popular rock group "Kiss" and the legendary basketball team "Harlem Globetrotters" also inspired pingames.

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