Pinball players help ‘flip out hunger’ with tournamen

On Saturday, pinball players competed at Eight on The Break in Dunellen to raise money for the hungry and enjoy their favorite pastime, pinball. The event was called “Flip Off Hunger.”

On Saturday, passionate pinball players gathered at Eight on The Break in Dunellen to follow their hearts in two ways: raise money for the hungry and enjoy their favorite pastime, pinball. The event was the New Jersey tournament in the second annual nationwide effort of the International Flipper Pinball Association, called “Flip Off Hunger.” One of the organizers, Francesco Laroca, who comes all the way from Brooklyn to play at Eight on the Break, expected at least 20 players to compete in the tournament. Every player was charged an admission fee of $15, though some donated even more money than that, and all the fees and donations went to FISH, a service organization that feeds the hungry and elderly in the Dunellen area.

“We don’t have a goal of how much money we’ll raise,” Laroca said, “but if we get 20 players, we’ll raise at least $300.”

Mike Pantino of Brooklyn and other players warm up on pinball machines for a Flipping Off Hunger fundraising event at Eight on the Break. The money will go to buy food for the hungry at Thanksgiving.

Players discuss pinball games and machines

Eight on the Break, which is New Jersey’ oldest continually running arcade, has 10 pinball machines. Laroca said during Flip Out Hunger, all the machines would be used, and players would play head-to-head, with the machines keeping score to see who plays best. Koi Morris, another organizer, said his two favorite machines are the Addams Family and Monster Bash.

“They’re a lot of fun to play, and the rules are good,” Morris said. Several other players commented particularly about how they enjoyed Moster Bash.

Basci Dinc of North Arlington said, “It’s really fun the way the Monster Bash machine talks to you. It talks like Dracula and Frankenstein.”

Dave Baiano of Monroe, who has pinball machines at home, said no two machines play the same way, even if they are built to play the same game. This is because of wear on the machine. He enjoys playing at Eight on the Break and loves playing against the others there, but he said his own 20 machines at home play differently.
Koi Morris of Plainsboro, right, donates money as Francesco LaRoca, one of the organizers of the event, collects the dough. Players warm up on pinball machines for a Flipping Off Hunger fundraising event at Eight on the Break. The money will go to buy food for the hungry at Thanksgiving

“Don’t get me wrong, they do an excellent job here,” he said. “But you’ll see more wear on these machines because they’re used so much.”

Paul Drabik, owner of Wanna Pinball, a pinball-machine maintenance company in Green Brook, is under contract to maintain the machines at Eight on a Break, and he was there both to keep the machines in perfect operation and to play in the tournament. He agreed with Baiano about the individual variations from machine to machine.

“Every machine has its own personality,” he said. “And just changing the rubber on the surface can make such a difference. Old rubber absorbs dirt. It reacts differently than brand new rubber.”

Drabik, who has been in the business for nine years, said he sees pinball as an art form, and he would like people to enjoy it. As players were gathering and practicing for the tournament, he was busy with last-minute tinkering to ensure that every machine would be absolutely perfect for the game.

Dincz said Eight on the Break is his favorite pinball spot in New Jersey.

“It’s the only place where all the machines are up to date,” he said.

Jay Steinberg of South Brunswick said he enjoys all the machines and plays at Eight on a Break more frequently than any other pinball shop, although he’s also familiar with the Silver Ball Museum in Asbury Park. He likes playing with the more experienced players at Eight on a Break because as he does so, his game keeps improving.

Frank Romero, who comes down from Rockland County, N.Y. to play at Eight on A Break, said he used to play in the leagues at Eight on a Break, but he’s cut down on his driving, though he still plays in tournaments, such as the one on Saturday. He loves to compete and is ranked 41 in the world by the International Flipper Pinball Association.

Jay Steinberg of South Brunswick plays pinball as players warm up for a Flipping Off Hunger fundraising event Saturday at Eight on the Break in Dunellen. The money will go to buy food for the hungry at Thanksgiving .

Although “Flip Off Hunger” is a charity tournament, the IFPA accepted the scores as it would for any authorized tournament. Romero said it won’t affect his rating much unless he gets a very high score. With the help of the IFPA, “Flip Off Hunger” will offer an exemption to locations that have previously hosted their annual event. This means that “Flip Off Hunger” sites can host a tournament worth full WPPR Value as long as it occurs on a weekend during November 2014, regardless if they have already hosted an annual event.

Last year, the first year of “Flip Off Hunger,” the IFPA raised $9,572 in tournaments in 14 cities. Based on a $1 donation creating 3 meals, “Flip Off Hunger” donated over 28,716 meals. The association’s goal for 2014 is to double that number of cities and tournaments.

Fish is an organization in the Dunellen area that feeds the elderly, the homeless, and those who “fall between the cracks” of public assistance. Fish, Inc. is registered with the Internal Revenue Service as a nonprofit organization.

People interested in learning more about pinball can contact Eight on the Break at 732-752-8880 or visit

Staff Writer Pamela MacKenzie; 908-243-6616;