Pinball Fans Host Expo

A battle of the silver ball is taking place this weekend at Oakland University and Metro Detroiters of all skill levels are encouraged to come and join the fun. WDET’s Rob St. Mary reports on the Michigan Pinball Expo.

(click the audio link above to hear the story)

"(sounds of the Rolling Stones pinball machine)"

The sounds of flippers and bumpers being hit by a metal ball may be recognizable… but instead of the usual beeps and buzzes… Mick Jagger and the boys come through loud and clear. This is one of the newest pinball machines which seeks to deliver the excitement of the Rolling Stones rock and roll experience. Many would call pinball a low tech entertainment in a video arcade packed with computer displays showing more life-like interactive games. But for pinball fans, that’s fine by them.

“It’s very old school. It’s still the same game it was decades ago. You can… make it a little bit fancier and showier… but it’s still you, the ball and flippers. How can you keep the ball from going down?”

That’s pinball enthusiast Aron Boag.

“My personal best would be on a marathon session I had on a Addams Family back in college. I had 4.842 billion on a game that I could really slap around a good bit.”

Boag is one of the coordinators of the Michigan Pinball Expo taking place this week at Oakland University.

Mick McDonald is a fellow pinball fan. He says the expo is a way for collectors like him to share their love with the community.

“It’s basically a chance for us collectors to bring our pinball machines out of our personal collections. Bring them out for everybody to check them out. Relive their childhood. See games they have never seen before. See games they loved to play as a kid and never see anymore. Introduce their kids and other family to pinball.”

McDonald says beyond owning a few machines that will be in the expo, he also knows how to play, really well.

“My personal best is probably on Twilight Zone… I got 5.5 billion on one game.”

As for expo coordinator John Kosmal, he says pinball, while old in its technology, is interesting for that very reason.

“There’s a lot of geometry involved – it’s a thinking game. It’s not like blind luck… like video games where you can memorize patterns. With pinball, every experience is a different one. There’s different ways to stack rules with multi-balls and modes and stuff like that. It’s always interesting. People still play games from the 40s and 50s just because they are entertaining and there’s different ways of playing them and different things to do. Not everyone plays the same game the same way.”

Kosmal says his highest score has also been in the billions on a single play.

“The best game I ever had was probably “Scared Stiff”. I used to play that game for like three or four hours on one game. It’s just set up in a way were you can just keep cycling, getting extra balls and I played that one to almost 2 billion… and a couple times I just had to go because I had to get back to work. (laughs)”

Kosmal and McDonald will join Boag as some of the competitors in Michigan Pinball Championships during the expo.

“It’s not about competing with each other… to see who has better games or not. It’s competing with each other to see who has better skills or not. There’s a lot of trash talking. It’s all for fun and pride… and dollars, yes… (laughs).”

Organizers of the Michigan Pinball Expo say $10,000 in cash and prizes are up for grabs in several competitions across various categories and skill levels. McDonald says all are welcome because pinball enthusiasts can be found in every stripe.

“There’s guys that are boilermakers, there are guys who are engineers at Ford, there’s ladies that are schoolteachers who have machines and love the play. Really, the only common denominator is pinball.”

The Michigan Pinball Expo runs Thursday through Sunday on the Oakland University campus.

I’m Rob St. Mary – WDET News.

On the web: