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I put in an order for a set of rubber rings for the Cyclone pinball machine with Bay Area Amusements. As it turns out, their warehouse is less than 2 miles from my house and, as such, I scheduled a pick up instead of paying for shipping. I also ordered a playfield cleaner because, as will be shown in some of the following pictures, the machine is in desperate need of a real cleaning.

I’m really enjoying working on the machine in my workshop. Previously, I have maintained machines in poorly lit areas or in skank-hole bars smoky bars with blaring music and lots of drinks. Having plenty of light and a controlled environment is a welcome change. Though, in truth, I certainly miss maintaining the Creature in the Village Idiot in NYC.

When tearing into a machine for the purposes of restoration, you first focus on getting the machine to boot, making it work to the point where you can put a ball in play and something remotely sensible happens, repair anything obviously broken and then cleaning it up and bringing it as close to perfection as you can.

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For the Cyclone, it already boots and can “play” a game in that the ball can be put into play and the flippers do something. So, I’m up to the repair and clean up phase.

Addams Family's Thing

There is another half of the pinball economy; that of the manufacturing.

A pinball machine is a very complex electromechanical system controlled by a comprehensive state machine implemented in software. The implementation is complicated by such fun little details like making sure that no two coils fire simultaneously on a single power supply section. If they do, a fuse blows.

But a pinball machine has to do more than just make noise and fire coils at the right time. A successful machine has to have some kind of a theme that is tied together into the grand package. Furthermore, game play has to “flow” in that certain shots need to play off of each other.

A pinball machine must also be designed such that the novice player can achieve rewards fairly easily without understanding what they doing. At the same time, a well designed machine will offer unique challenges to an advanced player, frequently with some kind of “super bonus round” that can only be had by collecting all other modes or challenges.

While any two pinball machines made by the same manufacturer around the same year will have a number of components that can be interchanged, every machine has many unique components ranging from specially shaped custom printed plastics, to particularly shaped pieces of metal, to molded plastic ball guides under the playfield, to custom wire ramps, and so on.

Cyclone Pre-Maintenance

Even those who have never played pinball, remember seeing a machine or two in a random bar, restaurant, airport, movie theater or some other random location. The profile of a pinball machine — from front or side — is unmistakable.

Now, anyone who has played some random pinball machine more than once has run into a machine that is in less than perfect condition. The flippers might be extremely weak. Or maybe a switch or two (or ten) doesn’t register the ball’s passing. Commonly, some random rubber ring somewhere is broken and bits of it are floating about the playfield. Maybe a ball is stuck somewhere or some random solenoid just doesn’t work any more.

Anyone with any mechanical sense will immediately ask, “How the hell can someone leave a machine in this condition out on location?”

Cyclone Backglass Clown

The good folks at Make Magazine have asked me to write an article on pinball machine restoration. After a bit of research, I found a Cyclone that is in need of restoration.

Cyclone is an excellent pinball machine made in 1988 by Williams. Full details can be found in the Internet Pinball Database. At a time when every machine had to have multiball, Cyclone is single ball all the way. The game play is brilliant, with lots of really well done kitschy state fair style sound track.