January 31

NEWS : The Last Pinball Doctors : We met with the people repairing the games fueling America’s pinball resurgence. : MOTHERBOARD


Great video and article about a bar owner and a pinball tech who enjoy pinball machines and the every day repairs.

Mike Hooker spends his nights maintaining trains on the Long Island Railroad. He spends his days fixing pinball machines.

He’s a freelance pinball repair tech, one of the last serving the New York City area. As you might expect, people call him when their old stuff breaks; often times, they simply want to get rid of it.

When we visited Hooker at his Sayville, Long Island home, he led us downstairs to a museum of rare, odd, and historical games. Sea Devil, a submarine-hunting game with a periscope from 1970; Coney Island Rifle, a boardwalk-style target shooting game manufactured in 1976 but that feels like it’s from the Roaring 20s; and Bull’s Eye, a 1972 electronic wall dart game. I hadn’t seen or heard of any of these games before, let-alone played them.

Hooker systematically destroyed me on all of them, before turning to the only pinball game he’s actually kept: Happy Clown, an electromechanical pinball board produced by Gottlieb in 1964 whose art features a disembodied, bouncing clown head. Hooker has replaced Happy Clown’s pinballs with The Twilight Zone’s infamous “Power Ball,” a white ceramic ball that, because of its lighter weight, zooms around the board at speeds much faster than a standard steel ball. He crushes me at Happy Clown, too.

“Everybody knows pinball,” he said. “It’s uniquely American. We exported it. It’s like jazz.”

Mike Hooker. Image: Lara Heintz

Like a jazz band, pinball machines emit a cacophony of improvised noises that, in the end, sounds like music. Plungers, targets, flippers, and ramps are activated as the player fights against gravity to keep the steel ball bounding around the playfield. Good players compose long, largely repetitive songs based on an individual board’s gameplay quirks; bad players compose songs made of flipper smashing as they quickly rip through their allotted three balls.

It’s Hooker’s job to make sure pinball players are able to make music. Unless he’s rebuilding a machine, Hooker usually makes house calls to repair the machines of collectors (moving a pinball machine is expensive and often results in damage).

“Light bulbs, fuses—these things blow constantly.”

Pinball machines are finicky and getting harder to repair because most of the companies that made them have gone out of business.

Read the entire article below :

Thanks to Jason Koebler and Motherboard for the article