All things pinball; news, gossip, maintenance, tools, etc.

PIN-BOT: Backglass & Playfield

I recently acquired a new pinball machine. Got it in unrestored condition for a decent price; low enough that I could make my money back and then some by parting it out. Don’t want to do that, though, as it is always sad to see something of limited production be destroyed.
Specifically, a Williams PIN-BOT. PIN-BOT was a very popular– 12,001 units made– pinball machine manufactured in 1986.
As always, the Internet Pinball Database has a complete set of information, manuals, ROM images, and pictures of PIN-BOT. Love that site.
Now, this particular PIN-BOT is a rather odd machine, when it comes to unrestored pinball machines.
Notably, the machine is beat to hell. Detailed pictures of exactly what I mean on the click through. It is missing the arch assembly entirely (the purplish plastic thing normally found on top).
The playfield has quite a few bare spots — heavy wear — and it is obvious that mylar was put onto the playfield after a number of spots had already worn through.
However, just about every lamp works. And all of the mechanics work just fine. Sure, it needs a flipper rebuild, but that is too be expected!
Hell, even the plastics are in good shape. The only plastic with damage is the spiral ramp and that was quite competently repaired! I have never seen a PIN-BOT with an intact spiral ramp.
Finally, all of the displays work and the ground-fault noise is present, but minimal. A couple of new capacitors and the audio should be clear as a bell. Beyond that, there are a couple of switches out, but that is it for electrical faults.
Once I replace all rubber rings, do a flipper rebuild, and fix a few switches, there is nothing about this machine that should negatively impact play. And a great machine this is!!
Of course, nothing beyond these photos will happen until post WWDC.

Addams Family Playfield

The New York Times has an awesome article about Gary Stern of Stern Pinball, the last pinball manufacturing company around. This may not be entirely true. There was a company in Australia that bought the rights to a bunch of Bally/Williams IP and is supposed to re-making some classics, but they seem to have disappeared (or it might have been a scam — I honestly don’t know what happened).

Pictured at left is Addams Family. It was the most popular pinball machine ever made, selling 22,000 machines (which is more than Stern’s entire annual production run, these days). Pat Lawlor, the designer, is now at Stern and continues to design some truly great tables.

I wasn’t entirely surprised to learn that most pinball machines are sold individuals and placed in homes. The economy of route operated — corner store / pub — pinball machines was always based on conflict that was quite easily resolved by simply replacing all the machines with video games. Lower maintenance, less square footage, easier to move, and easier to simply swap software (these days) to “upgrade” the play experience.

I currently own 2 machines; Cyclone and Addams Family SPecial Collectors Edition.

Both are fully restored and both will be appearing at next month’s Maker Faire, along with a Dr. Who that I restored a few years ago and gave to a friend.

I may likely also be bringing a PIN-BOT. It is quite thoroughly beat and is going to be the target of some radical restoration experiments, I think.

The best conference ever will be held May 19th-20th, 2007 at the San Mateo Fairgrounds.

I will be bringing fully restored pinball machines — Addams Family, Cyclone, and Dr. Who — and will have them on hand for everyone to play and to answer any questions folks might have about finding, buying, restoring and maintaining pinball machines.

See you at the faire!!

Cyclone Backglass Clown

Make 08 is [about to] hit the news stands and I’m really damned happy to announce that my pinball restoration article appears in this issue!

With the publication of the issue, Make has made available a web page that contains a bunch of links to additional resources. Cool! I even have an author’s page!

The article was a total blast to work on and I hope the Make enjoyed working with me as much as I enjoyed working with them; a huge thank you to Dale, Mark, Paul and the rest of the crew. Your patience and attention to detail was definitely appreciated. I learned a lot!

Update: Make 08 is available from Amazon.

Seriously Worn Flipper Rubber
New Flipper Rubber (clean playfield, too!)

At left is a before and after picture of the flipper rubber on my Addams Family pinball machine. The before picture is of grime and wear build up after, maybe, 18 months of home use play plus one weekend of fairly heavy play at the Makers Faire (15,812 flips on that flipper in one weekend).

As can be seen in the before shot, that is one beat to hell piece of rubber. It is cracking and even starting to split.

The black goo appears to be a combination of dust and something else — carbon goop from the electrical bits in the machine — that builds up over time within a machine.

Now, keep in mind, that blackened, crackled, bit of rubbery nastiness is pretty much exclusively from home use only! Imagine what it looks like in some skank-hole bar full of cigarette smoke! I used to maintain a machine in exactly such an environment and the addition of cigarette smoke so fouled the machine that optical switches would start failing after about four months. A simple cleaning fixed it (but not my lungs — I still occasionally flash back that godawful Village Idiot smell. Oh, how I miss it.)

Grime Around Electric Chair
Grime Near Flipper

Said grime layers the playfield too. While the open areas gradually grow dingier and dingier over time, the areas where the ball rolls along something will build up a very distinctive line of grunge.

While that grime is clearly something that needs to be cleaned up to keep a machine in tip top condition, keeping an eye on the grime-lines can actually be useful.

For example, that the grime line next to the flipper wavers a bit in the transition from lane guide to flipper indicates that I really ought to make sure that the flipper is in exactly the right spot and the lane guide is not starting to warp from over a decade of poundings. While it isn’t affecting game play in a negative fashion, I certainly want to make sure that nothing is loose and, thus, may fall apart and cause bigger problems in the near future.

Cleaned Playfield

Fortunately, Addams Family is a “diamondplated” playfield. Basically, the entire playfield is covered in a coating of varathane. Cleaning is just a matter of a good scrub down with a plastic cleaner.

And the best plastic cleaner I have found is pictured at right; Novus #2 is perfect for cleaning diamondplate pinball playfields and various plastic bits.

In any case, the Addams Family looked and played quite beautifully over the weekend; a perfect addition to the Holt’s awesome annual Halloween Party.

Addams Family Playfield

I took two fully restored pinball machines to the Maker Faire over the weekend. One was a Dr. Who (with translite sadly left behind at my friend’s house) and the other was an Addams Family Special Collectors Edition.

The Addams Family was really the showcase for restoration. When I purchased the machine, the playfield was black with grime, 2 of the 4 flippers didn’t work, none of the lamps worked (couldn’t see ’em through the grime anyway), many rubber rings were broken, and the display was on the way to dead.

When I set the machines up at the Faire, I reset the audits on Addams Family so that I could capture an accurate set of statistics as to how many folks played, average scores, features exercised, game times, etc…

Summary: A lot of people played a lot of games, but very few people understood the depth of the modes or rules. Not surprising and I was ecstatic to see so many kids totally get into playing pinball!

Actually, funny thing. This morning my Addams Family was complaining that a number of switches were clearly broken as they hadn’t been triggered in some large number of consecutive games. Turns out that no one at MF on Sunday actually hit a ball in the vault or made Thing pick up the ball.

Full audits below. Some of the audits can be better understood in the context of the full rules of the game.

The audits are slightly skewed due to the one game I played during the weekend; I put up a 2 billion point game that included 3 tours of the mansion, around 8 extra balls, and well over 200 bear kick ramp hits. Best game I have played in years.

There were 352 games started with 318 total games played completely. 13 percent of the games earned a total of 42 extra balls. There were 11 matches awarded.

Bookcase in Motion

The machine was on for a total of 16 hours and in play for 11 hours of that.

There were 994 balls played of which 156 drained down the right outlane and 62 exited via the left. The remaining 776 exited straight down the middle.

The left flipper was activated 15,812 times while the right flipper fired 18,610 times.

Of the games, 198 (62%) successfully opened the bookcase while 33 (10%) games managed to start multiball. I was the only person to start a 2nd and 3rd multiball in a single game.

Addams Family Playfield

I have machine #830 of 1001 Addams Family Special Collectors Edition pinball machines.

It is truly an awesome machine. Four flippers, optical targets in the bookcase, automatic flip that learns to hit a particular shot…

The upper left flipper — the thing flipper — had recently started to behave a bit oddly. At first, it was flipping, but not holding (it would bounce at extension and then snap back to resting position). Later, it started holding at maximum extension at random.

Tonight, I dove in and discovered that there was a catastrophically cold solder joint. A Williams pinball flipper is actually two coils; a high power “flip” coil and a low power “hold” coil. Across each coil is a diode that prevents the induced current caused by the collapsing magnetic field from blasting the flipper control board.

Well, the cold solder joint was such that the flipper was “holding” when it shouldn’t have. When we (the machine is actually at my neighbor’s house as a party prop — I just haven’t dragged it back yet) discovered the problem, we shut the machine down. If it had been on location, this problem would have quickly escalated into a full blown flipper control board melt down.

Unfortunately, replacing the diodes didn’t lead to a working hold circuit. Turns out that the coil was on its last legs, too. Fortunately, I had a replacement. Unfortunately, replacing the coil requires enough disassembly of the flipper mech such that any caring maintainer cannot possibly do so without also doing a full flipper rebuild.

So, Thing’s flipper has been fully rebuilt. And now Thing is very confused — “he” has dropped from about 98% accuracy on his auto-shot down to about 20% accuracy. I’m sure he’ll get better soon. Just in time for me to tear down the machine, pack it up, and set it up at the Maker’s Faire. Which, of course, will mean that Thing will be right good confused once again.

Don’t know what the hell I’m talking about? Show up to the Maker’s Faire and I’ll explain. Better yet, I’ll show you because I will be bringing my Addams Family pinball machine to the show.

Upper Playfield Disassembly 1.jpg

Over the weekend, I finally mustered the courage to tear into the upper playfield of the Cyclone. The “upper” playfield is everything beyond the big open area just above the flippers. It also happens to be the part of the playfield that pivots down and into the machine when you lift the playfield. Coincidentally with being the least accessible part of the playfield, it is also the most complex as it is where all the tight shots, loops, ramps, and complex targets are layered together.

Upper Playfield Disassembly 39.jpg

In other words, there really isn’t any way to tear into the upper playfield without pretty much removing all ramps and most plastics from the playfield. That big pile you see in the first image to the left was quickly turned into a pile of ramps, screws, plastic bits, and washers/spacers seen on my work desk to the right.

Upper Playfield Disassembly 43.jpg

The end result can be seen to the left. Most of the toys have been removed and only a handful of plastics need to be pulled to gain access to the grime, lamps, and rubbers hidden underneath the multiple layers of playfield components.

Before Cleaning
After Cleaning

Tonight, I finished off cleaning the lower left quadrant of the playfield. My hands are sore from all the scrubbing.

Pictured on the left is the area around the flipper prior to the cleaning. On the right is the same area after a thorough cleaning.

Quite a difference. Next up is the upper left portion of the playfield. This includes the ferris wheel and a lot of hidden lamps that have been burned out for ages.

Daniel Jalkut commented It’s amazing how dirty something sealed in glass can get! I guess most of that grime is probably originated from within the machine itself?

Flipper Mechanism

A lot of the dirt is sourced from the machine itself. If you look at the high resolution original of the image at left, you can see just how grimy that (originally) white piece of plastic has become.

Box Of Screws

When I was growing up, we had a neighbor who was quite mechanically inclined. If he didn’t have a lawnmower disassembled and strewn across his shop, then his car hood was up and the engine was in parts.

He had a most impressive coffee can — one of the really large ones — that was completely full of random screws, nuts, bolts, washers, and other random fasteners. And he used it often. At the time, I couldn’t understand how taking something apart and putting it back together with no modification beyond cleaning might require additional fasteners.

Box Of Screws 2

In the intervening 25 years, I have reassembled my share of computers, mowers, pinball machines, and other random bits of hardware. It always seems that some random screw is either lost, missing, or simply needs to be replaced.

Whereas my neighbor collected his fasteners over 50+ years of collecting parts wherever he might find them, I took a short cut. I bought 4 scoops ($2) of random fasteners from Weird Stuff. And I have already used a half dozen parts in the 4 hours of pinball maintenance I did today.

I think I’ll get more. Can’t have enough random fasteners.

And the photos make for some really nice desktop images.

I have already used a half dozen of these to replace various random stripped, destroyed, or lost screws from the Cyclone.