Getting into Pinball

Almost exactly a year ago, I began playing pinball at my friend Noah’s house. I didn’t understand how he could be so interested in Pinball that he bought two machines, but since I was staying there I figured I should play.

Playing pinball in a private home is a very different experience than playing it in the arcade. You don’t care quite as much about just staying alive, so you try different strategies in different games. With no background music it’s easier to hear the call-outs that tell you what you should be doing next. More than anything, you have the time and space to go deep enough that you realize that there’s more to pinball than just mashing the flipper buttons to keep from draining the ball.

Shortly after playing at Noah’s house, I built a virtual pinball machine. Unless you have played virtual pinball, it is impossible for you to realize just how good and realistic it is. A well built machine with all of the bells and whistles is such a tactile experience that you can feel where the ball is at any time. It doesn’t have the depth of a real pinball machine, but besides that it is better in most ways. I’m fortunate enough to live near the biggest publicly accessible pinball arcade (Pinball Hall of Fame), but I’d often play a game there and then play it back home on the virtual machine and prefer that experience.

I designed my first pinball machine to fold up into the guest room closet when not in use. My specific reason for making it fold was that I figured that a few guests, like my mom, wouldn’t be into pinball and wouldn’t want a machine jutting into the room they’re staying in. My mom turned out to be one of the most enthusiastic pinball players.

A key part of pinball is nudging the table. People think it’s cheating, but it’s actually a big part of the game. Tables are designed for it and are also designed to catch you if you tilt too much. You generally get two warnings before the machine freezes and causes you to lose your ball (and any expected end-of-ball bonus), and people use those warnings strategically. As my wife and I became better at pinball it was clear that our next frontier was learning to nudge, but although it could accurately detect it, I was hesitant to nudge the virtual machine because of the way it was attached to the wall.

My tea room, half of a converted garage attached to our house, was an awkward shape, maybe 12 feet wide by 25 feet long. What if I built a wall cutting it in half and built a pinball room in the resulting new room? Then I could rebuild my machine to be freestanding so that I could nudge it. I’d get a couple real pinball machines, too, just to fill out the room…

As you can imagine, I’m now fully obsessed with pinball. I have three real machines, I’m working on getting a fourth, and my next big project is to rebuild my virtual machine to match the physical machines. Having machines at home has given me the chance to practice enough to become good enough to be in the 100th score percentile on the two games I have that track that on the internet.

Pinball (like living in Vegas!) isn’t for everyone, but could certainly be enjoyed by far more people than enjoy it now. I’ve gotten most of my friends into playing pinball now, and I think if I share a few key things about it, you may get into it as well.

Don’t Just Stay Alive

Early pinballs had almost no real point other than to stay alive and hit some targets. If you look at early machines from the 30s and 40s they actually have the points printed on the bumpers and targets. In the 70s and 80s pinballs started to become more complex to the point that newer ones might take months to understand and some special modes and battles will only ever be seen by fewer 1% of players. What makes pinball really fun is understanding the goals in the table and reaching them.

For example, in Stern’s Deadpool, one of your main objectives is to defeat three bad guys. To do that you have to shoot the scoop, which is a relatively easy shot. The scoop is like an inverted ramp that puts the ball inside the table to be held while you choose your enemy on the screen. Each enemy requires different shots to be hit, so you might choose the enemy whose shots you find easiest.

If you aren’t exactly sure what to do, listen for the game to call out suggestions, and aim for things with flashing lights on them. If you plan on playing a game a few times it’s worth reading the rule sheets.


Multiball is exactly what it sounds like. Instead of batting one ball around, you have three or more (Apollo 13 has up to 13!). In general it is harder to control multiple balls, but you have several balls that may accidentally hit targets that you need. Multiball is one of the most fun things to do as a new player.

There are usually several multiballs in a game, including one fairly easy one. For example, in Avengers Infinity Quest, just hitting the Thor target 3 times will get you a multiball. If you play as Donatello on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, you can get multiball the first time you hit the right ramp.

Once you are more strategic, use your multiballs to go for shots that are more likely to send a rebound straight down the drain.

Ball Control

If you watch a pro play, nearly every shot is taken from a stationary ball that has been cradled in one of the flippers. There are a variety ways of catching the ball, but they’re hard to explain to someone who isn’t playing. Don’t worry about it too much at first, but once you start trying to get better at pinball, make sure that you are trapping and choosing each shot.

Which Games To Play

Three friends and I played in a pinball arcade yesterday, and all three of us had totally different favorite games, with one person’s favorite being another’s least favorite. Almost any pinball machine that is in good shape (works properly and has powerful flippers) will be a lot of fun. When in doubt, go for a newer Stern game. These can be identified by the small LCD screen on the backbox. They are some of the best games ever made, and they’re all new enough that they should be in good shape.

Some of the best classic games for new people are Medieval Madness, Attack From Mars, and Monster Bash. All three of these also have modern clones that play very well.

If you are going to buy a game for home, just about anything from the 1990s on will be good enough for you to practice and for you to learn the game, but my top recommendation would be a very complicated Stern game. The best choice would be Godzilla Premium (currently the #1 rated game of all time). Avengers: Infinity Quest is similarly complicated and fun, but not quite as good for beginners as it is maybe the most complicated game out there.

When buying a Stern game, read a lot of opinions on whether you need to buy the Premium version or if you can get away with Pro. The two versions will look similar but may have radically different playing features. I love Godzilla Premium, but don’t care for Pro. On the other hand, Deadpool and TMNT are functionally almost exactly the same between the two versions.

Building a virtual pinball machine is also a great choice as you get to learn the rules and nuances of many different games. The first time I played a real life Medieval Madness I got a high enough score to get a free game, only because I’d played it so much virtually and had figured out some decent strategies.

To find a game to play in the wild, go to Pinball Map. Be sure to read the notes about how well the machine is maintained. Playing a machine where the ball gets stuck or the flippers aren’t powerful enough to make all of the shots is infuriating. If you post the city you are in, I will tell you which arcade to go to.

How To Play

When you are first starting, find someone to play with and play multi-player on the same machine. When it’s the other person’s turn, watch them and see if you can learn about what they should be doing. It seems to go by a lot faster when you’re the one playing and you don’t always have time to read the screen and see what it wants you to do. Once you find a machine you like, play multiple times on it to go deeper. If you have a friend who has a pinball machine, see if you can play it with them (or solo) for an hour to get to know one machine really well without the stress of spending quarters.


Photo is my arcade-in-progress in Vegas. I thought I had better photos than this, but it turns out I don’t. The thing on the floor between the machines is the carcass of my old virtual one. I need to rebuild it.

I’m on a cruise and would love to write more posts while I have a good writing environment. Anything you want to hear about? Write ideas at tynan dot net.






21 responses to “Getting into Pinball”

  1. Moo Avatar

    I would like to know more about your process of entrepreneurship and how to select from the many possible things the world needs… and maybe a few ideas on what the world needs (I’m kinda simple, so I tend not to notice needs).

    1. Tynan Avatar

      I’m going to write this one. Can I link anywhere to give you credit for the idea?

  2. JW Avatar

    Cool post, that helped explain the term “full tilt” that I’ve heard before.
    As for writing prompts, I think I remember you mentioning trying to start a hedge fund long ago… I’ve been studying different trading strategies, from automation/bots to manual trading, with DEX, CEX, forex brokers, and stock options trading. The last few days I’ve been watching a high leverage trader make quick trades that may only last a few minutes and would like to test this in the coming week. I’m wondering if you ever found strategies (either automated or manual) that worked well for you.
    Enjoy the cruising!
    Many thanks!

    1. Tynan Avatar

      Hey JW,

      I would write about this… but I think it’s basically 100% scam and unfeasible to do. There’s a big survivorship bias where the people that get lucky teach it and the people who fail slink away. My hedge fund (a generous title for a 21 year old investing his friends’ money) was also horribly misguided and we lost 100% of investor money.

  3. George Avatar

    Random writing prompt:
    Dating Ideas That Are Not Boring (But Also Affordable)

    I recently went on a date that consisted of having a drink at an open roof bar which cost $23 in total, and then we watched the sunset at a scenic area near the beach.

    I am curious about what other interesting but affordable dates you have gone on in the past. Looking for inspos 🙂

    1. Tynan Avatar

      Love the idea but it’s been so long since I’ve dated. My first go-to date was jumping a barbed wire fence and climbing a radio tower. Back in my 20s my #1 criteria was someone who was adventurous like me. Then a girl took a step in the wrong direction and almost fell off, and another had a panic attack on the way up… so I stopped going.

      In my more recent dating that led me to get married, my go to 1st date was tea because it is variable length (1 quick steeping all the way to multiple hours) and you actually get to know the person. That’s probably what I’d do now.

      1. George Avatar

        Will definitely give tea dates a try. Thanks for responding!

  4. Ryan Avatar

    If you post the city you are in, I will tell you which arcade to go to = orlando, Florida
    Thanks !

    1. Tynan Avatar

      Looks like the best choice is The Pinball Palace. They have a HUGE amount of games. No super modern ones, but many of the better classic ones. Try Star Trek, Addams Family, Attack From Mars, Batman Dark Knight, Creature from the Black Lagoon, Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park, Star Wars (2017).

      1. Ryan Avatar

        Awesome thanks Tynan!! I wasn’t sure which ones to try so many of them!!

  5. Alexander Avatar

    Your systems for managing your friendships.

    I remember years back you built this phone system to keep in touch with your international friends and your posts always mention your friends, thus they seem to be very important to you so I was wondering what methods, apps, rules you use or have.

    For example, every Sunday morning I will call a friend, or the only Facebook notifications I get are birthdays.

    1. Tynan Avatar

      Hmm… I sort of forget the system now! These days I mostly chat with 8-10 people most days, and try to travel with everyone a few times a year at least.

  6. […] Coming into into Pinball ( […]

  7. Fabien Avatar

    Perfect, another +40 getting into pinball. Prices have been going crazy post covid on pinside. What do you do for repairs and maintenance?

    And I don’t know about ball control. Depends on the player’s style, there are many excellent on-the-fly shooters who only slow things down once in a while.

    1. Tynan Avatar

      I’ll do repairs and maintenance myself. So far I’ve only had to do fairly minor things, but I’m going to rebuild the flippers on NGG when the parts come in.

      1. Adam Avatar

        Many people nowadays are increasingly addicted to social media, browsing, videogames etc. Even some of the most disciplined people admit they cannot control themselves in this regard.

        You code and so spend a lot of time at a computer. Maybe I’m wrong but you don’t seem to have had this issue however.

        Is this an issue for you or has it ever been? Ever found your views or behavior changing in good or bad ways because of this? What do you do or how do you think about these things to avoid this problem?

  8. […] do this is because I’ve always designed my life such that it can benefit from having money (pinball arcade rooms and all that…) but is also compatible with having no money. For around seven years I lived on the […]

  9. Sarah Avatar

    Hi, I came across your blog by chance through a page that redirects to random posts and I was gripped reading your entry about pinball machines. It brought fond memories of me playing as a kid with my dad. I’ve now read some of your other posts and I’m glad that chance guided me here.

    Regarding your comment about recommended arcades, do you know of a good place in London? I’m visiting this year and now I’m thinking it could be a good activity to do. Suggested arcades on Scotland are also welcomed! Thanks.

    1. Tynan Avatar

      Yes, there is a good place in London. It’s called Funland and it’s £10 for an hour of pinball. They have a bunch of really good Stern games.

      1. Sarah Avatar

        Thanks for your reply! I’ll try to include it into my itinerary.

  10. Bailey Ende Avatar
    Bailey Ende

    64 y/o widow…my late hubby was into Golden Tee and had the high score at so many different bars….he was a Captain for Delta Airlines so had the opportunity to play/critique NUMEROUS machines around the world….what a shock to find a working Golden Tee machine on the ship we were cruising in the Mediterranean….he played for hours and had a surprisingly large group surround him each time he played….news traveled fast….i am a pinball lover and have decided that’s the only thing missing in my house but wanting it to match the Western Chic decor I have….silly I know but we want what we want….found one on EBay a few months ago but unfortunately my son thought I was kidding when I asked him to follow the “bidding” (I am basically computer illiterate)….have started searching again without success….any tips on where to search in the Sarasota Fl area to play/buy a machine ?? My community has a very nice amenity center that has a restaurant, bar, pools, gym, etc and yes I am the old lady that is in the “Children’s Arcade” playing the very decent pinball game they have….only problem is summer is upon us and the quiet school time will be gone for a couple of months.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *