pinball


I knew it was going to happen : my first pinball repair disaster. Fortunately, I resolved it within an hour. An hour of spazzing out.

Space Shuttle is known to include internal AA batteries to keep your settings & scores retained. These batteries are also known to leak & destroy the expensive CPU parts. There’s a mod which many people do that moves these batteries to a less sensitive part of the machine in case they leak. I cracked open the machine to investigate this (or at least switch out the batteries for newer ones) and found that someone had already done it for me – but the scores still weren’t being retained after the power was shut off.

Only later did I read that you need to leave your machine ON during this process, or else your specific settings will be totally lost. My settings included free play, and when I turned the machine back on, it refused to start an actual game. And the screen which presumably displays your setting choices – well, that’s dead. A new one is coming in the mail, eventually, and it’s a rare $75 piece.

I don’t know how I did it, but after I e-mailed a dozen people about WHAT THE FUCK DO I DO NOW, I figured out some weird thing by hitting buttons until the bizarre number displays kinda made sense, and I pressed a ’19′ until it said ’0′, based on weird manual instructions – and I can play again.

This marks the beginning of a 2-week vacation away from my family, and 3 weeks away from work.

I played around with the first round of machine improvements, as more problems reveal themselves. I was brave enough to open up the field glass and touch some of the mechanisms to test them out. The main shuttle ramp is supposed to activate a ‘heat shield’ – an illuminated orange bumper which emerges from between the flippers, but it hasn’t been doing anything. Thankfully, it’s not an electrical problem – it’s just a wire that’s not bent at the right angle to trip another sensor. A few re-bendings later, it works inconsistently. Still thinking about how to fix it completely, because there’s a very fine line between trapping the ball and setting off the right switch.

The machine also pitches to the right and might be at too shallow an incline, so I’m playing with a level and the leg bolts.

I’m a little discouraged by the cult of pinball. While they present themselves as a welcoming group, they’re surprisingly unwilling to spit out certain details. I learn best by hard visualizations of things – I prefer satellite maps to illustrated ones. I reverse engineer better than I engineer, so pages of schematics aren’t too useful to me. Show me something which is already assembled and I can probably fix it or improve it.

So, when a pinball supplier has a pack of fuses designed for my machine but does not disclose what’s actually inside this pack, I write to find out. When the seller then tells me to check my manual, instead of actually just telling me what’s in this mystery pack, it’s not helpful in the least.

The local pinball supplier who I hoped to befriend is ridiculously oldschool, refusing to take credit cards or in-person pickups. Instead of driving the 45 minutes it would take to pick up my supplies in person, he insists on charging 12 bucks for shipping and getting a money order via the mail. As a result, a process which could take 24 hours and be incredibly simple is prolonged into an expensive week-long event. Which, honestly, is fucking annoying. Why be so encouraging about the hobby and then make it difficult for me?

It’s all a little offputting, but dammit, I’m enjoying my crazy little pinball machine. Once I get these pieces in my hands and experience them, the understanding of the next machine will be much easier.


I recently visited the half-forgotten graveyard at the end of my road, complete with rusted-gate-falling-off-the-hinges and Revolutionary War heroes aplenty. It’s much larger than I recall it being, but back in high school, most of it was impassably overgrown. Since then, it’s been cleared out and forgotten again. I recently had dreams about a deep, dark evil that lived there – but when I was actually there, it felt really peaceful.

I’ve been preoccupied with Google Maps lately, and found a completely residential path to my favorite sushi restaurant instead of taking various busier roads. I also stumbled upon a local road called ‘Enrico Lane’, which culminates in ‘Fermi Ct.’, which is awesome and amazing and now I need to go take a photo of that street sign.

Oh, and that Chicago Museum doesn’t want me. I blame my unsexiness. There’s gotta be a better way to earn $10,000.

Also, Toyota rotated my tires and forgot to tighten a hubcap, which vanished the next day. After a week, they replaced it for free. I’d like to go to Curry Toyota just once and get in and out without them really messing something up.

My grandfather and I drove over to Wappingers yesterday to pick up Space Shuttle, after a day of stomach aches and black outs. Either I ate some undercooked sausage or some unholy force is seeking vengeance upon me, but the headaches and waves of nausea aren’t too great. As a result, I haven’t slept all night and I’m now obligated to bring my niece & her friend over to the semi-local arcade after work today. About eight years ago, said arcade had a Star Trek : The Next Generation pinball machine there, which is the object of my ultimate desire – so here’s hoping it’s still there.

The man selling the Space Shuttle machine is a hardcore pinball collector, but is moving from Williams machines to Gottlieb machines, and was thus making room for the new additions to the collection. I was glad that he didn’t have some hard luck story which was forcing him to part with his most favorite possessions. I prefer the ‘such good luck that I have excessive awesomeness to get rid of’ stories. We plugged it in, I played a ball, got a brief tutorial in pinball machine care and moving (and they are heavy as bastards, presuming that bastards are very very heavy), took it apart and loaded it into the SUV. I managed to get it back out of the SUV by myself, except for reattaching the fourth leg, when my industrious mother helped out. In reassembling the thing, I realized that the guy had forgotten to pop a necessary bolt into the toolkit, so I’m off to Home Depot for a replacement part later today. Home Depot, by the way, opens at 6 AM, which is news to me.

I look forward to a few hours of playing it to figure out what needs to be done. There are some burnt out bulbs and some dirt all over the playfield, but the most troubling thing is a few LED readouts that won’t light up. They don’t impact gameplay at all, and the scores are still displayed for the first player, but it would be nice to fix it all up. Unfortunately, the game’s original cabinet graphics were painted over, so I’m deciding on whether or not to get decals printed, or to carefully mask out things and paint them by hand. Most people seem to use acrylics to repaint small details, and I have a steadier painting hand than most, so I’m not too concerned.

I’ve dreamed of owning a pinball machine for 20 years, so I’m quite psyched to finally have one of my own – at least until I fix it and possibly resell it, but I think I’m just gonna fall in love with it.

… which would be an awesome indie band name.

So, a few days ago I set out to find a pinball machine to refurbish. Everything was either far away or too expensive, so I was shooting for anything under $500 and local. Yesterday, I made a deal with someone in Wappingers for a $375 Space Shuttle pinball machine from 1984.

The display doesn’t light up (possibly a fuse or a bum wire), it’s been poorly repainted, and it’s probably a little shaky – but it’s MINE. I’ve been watching pinball refurbishing tutorials all night, so I’m learning all of the magical tricks to making this thing look brand new. I’m picking it up today after work. If I can’t get it to work, it shouldn’t be hard to resell it – I just happened to beat out a handful of other buyers due to my close proximity to the seller.

Regardless, it’s an awesome theme, and I’ve been taking astronaut photos lately.

Also, and this is especially neat, I won an Emmy.

Well, Star Wars : Uncut won an Emmy, and I have some film in it. The top-rated Cantina scene, no less. Can I call myself an Emmy winner now?

Try and stop me.