Those of you following our blog know that Scott McKinnon AKA “Mink Staccato”, local pinball expert and good friend, passed away in the spring of this year. Scott was always looking for ways to raise awareness and interest in his favorite pastime, and went so far as to teach an informal “Pinball 101” course that introduced newcomers to the game and helped intermediate players hone their techniques.
A few years ago, when Scott worked downtown, he would frequent Ground Kontrol on weekday afternoons. At that time he and I discussed the idea of rounding up another group of students and leading them through a course at Ground Kontrol. The course didn’t come to pass, unfortunately, but while going through some old papers recently, I found the “lesson plan” that he had prepared.
Here, then, are Scott’s “Ten Commandments of Pinball.” Besides being a fitting addition to his legacy, they’re also great advice for anyone who wants to improve their skills and increase their enjoyment of the great game of pinball.
Mink Staccato’s Ten Commandments of Pinball
I. Thou shalt maintain control!
The mantra that should be running through all pinball player’s minds before, during and after the game is this; “Control the ball.” The key to becoming a truly great pinball player is not reacting to a random situation, but creating the situation yourself. Learn to slow down the game. Learn to make the ball go when you want it to go. If you find that the ball is out of your control, find a way to bring it back into your control. This is paramount. People often believe that good reflexes are the key to being a great player, but the skill of controlling the ball is much more valuable in the long run.
II. Thou shalt covet thy extra balls!
Almost always, an extra ball is the most valuable item available on the table. A player should always be trying to get the extra ball(s). A typical game has 3 balls, so an extra ball should immediately increase your score by 33%! Many pinball machines also allow for multiple extra balls, so it is possible to double your average score simply through the capture of the extra balls.
III. Know thy machine!
The better a player knows the nuances of the individual pinball machine, the better that player’s game will be. Some questions you should ask about the machine include: What has to be done in order to get the extra ball lit? Is it possible to get two extra balls lit at the same time or will you “lose” one if it is already lit? Can the out lanes targets be rotated by flipping? Is the tilt sensitivity loose or tight? Is the table slightly off balance? Are any of the flippers a bit weak? On the newer machines, is it possible to have more than one ‘mode’ running at a time? Also, if you are playing against someone for cash or playing in a tournament, it is a good idea to arrive early and get a few games in before the competition. Any knowledge you have which your opponent does not…
IV. Know thy strategy!
Hitting the balls around willy-nilly can be loads of fun, but in order to obtain a stellar high-scoring game a player needs to get their strategy on. Knowing at all times where to hit the ball is just as important as having an accurate aim. Also be aware that your strategy during a game will often change from moment to moment. Getting an extra ball is usually the highest priority, but if multiball becomes available, go for that instead. With multiple balls on the table, you probably will pick up the extra ball without even trying.
V. Know thyself!
Know what you, as a player, are capable of and constantly try to push yourself to improve. Play a few games where you don’t worry about the score and just try to practice different playing techniques. Over time you will develop new skills which will pay off greatly by allowing you to make shots you could not before or save the ball from draining.
VI. Know thy trajectory!
The ball is constantly in motion, but tends to follow common paths. Knowing where the ball may end up after hitting various targets allows you to nudge the ball away from danger far in advance.
VII. Thou shalt not fear nudging!
Not only is pushing the machine around a bit legal, it’s encouraged. The manufacturers of pinball machines expect the tables to go through some motion. Don’t be afraid to give it a little shove here and there, especially when the ball is heading for the drain.
VIII. Thou shalt not abuse thy machine!
Pinball machines are sturdy, but they’re not indestructible, They can (and will) break if a player abuses them. They are expensive and require a technician to repair them. It important to always remember, when a ball drains, it’s not the machine’s fault, it’s your fault and yours alone.
IX. Thou shalt be respectful of other players!
Pinball etiquette is always important. If someone is playing a game, do not talk to them while a ball is in play. (The only exception to this rule is when the other player has completed a maneuver which requires exceptional skill. Then a compliment, such as “nice save” or “good shot” is appropriate. Statements like “Boy, I sure do like raisins in my cookies,” or “Hey, did you see that new movie with the cyborg dinosaurs?” are not appropriate.) Also, if another player is on a machine that you would like to play, wait until their game is completed before asking if they would like to play doubles. Also, it is considered rude to hog a popular machine. If you are playing on a machine and it appears that someone else is waiting to play, step aside when your game is over or, in the very least, offer to play doubles with them.
X. Thou shalt be Zen!
At then end of the day, it is always good to remember that pinball is only a game. You will find that if you sit back, forget everything you have just read above and play for fun, the rest will fall into place.
- Using both flippers
- Trapping the ball
- The ‘two flipper’ turnaround
- Trajectory Prediction
- The Skill Shot
- Flipper Juggling
- Not flipping
- The Multiball Trap
- Multiball Scanning/Blocking
- Trajectory Placement
- “Backwards” Shots
- “The Chill Maneuver”
- “The Death Save”
- Game Completion