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Fun With Pinball

Fun with Pinball is a hands on, interactive exhibit to foster your curiosity,
built from retired pinball machine parts.

Highlights

Highlights from the rest of the website are available on the Highlights page.

Events

Some of the Fun With Pinball exhibit is on display at the Chabot Space and Science Center in Oakland, California as part of a larger exhibit from the Pacific Pinball Museum.  If you're in the area stop by and see for yourself before September 24.

ChabotPinballThe Art and Science of Pinball

Fun With Pinball will also be at Maker Faire Denver on October 14 & 15.

Denver_MF_Logo_Border-300x59Maker Faire Denver

After attending many local Mini Maker Faires since 2013, most of the Fun With Pinball exhibit was shown at the 2017 Bay Area Maker Faire in San Mateo, California and was awarded red and blue ribbons!

MF17BA_Badge2017 Bay Area Maker Faire BAMF17 Ribbons closeupBAMF17 Ribbons BAMF17 RibbonsBAMF17 Ribbons and Poster

Details

The Fun with Pinball exhibit is comprised of several groups of displays.  Follow the links below for details.

Roto_TargetSmall boards Small boards that focus on a single or small number of devices.
_MG_0619Original games Multiple devices combined into original working games.
Atomic Clock FrontAtomic Pinball Clock The Atomic Pinball Clock which receives the WWVB atomic clock radio broadcast and displays the time.

Since it's debut in 2013 the exhibit has been shown at Maker Faires, museums, pinball shows and public libraries.

Learn from pinball machines

Beyond the hands on interaction with the exhibit pieces on these pages, there are things to learn about the science and technology that make them work.  Visit the Learn pages to see what you can learn from them and the game design example  page for more complete details of parts of one of the complete games.

Background

Fun with Pinball was initially built for the inaugural NoCo Mini Maker Faire in Loveland, Colorado in October 2013.  The idea was to give guests the opportunity to explore many of the remarkable devices used in pinball machines.  Devices are mounted on boards to expose their workings and wired to power with push buttons so guests can activate them and figure out how they work.  The devices are all from electromechanical (EM) pinball machines which were made until the late 1970s when solid state (SS) machines built with electronics took over.  Most of these devices are well used, having been replaced during a game restoration, but still work well enough for demonstration purposes.

Motivation

Fun with Pinball isn't just for pinball enthusiasts.  Certainly pinball fans might enjoy seeing some of the components of their pastime in more detail, and recognize the ingenuity and creativity of the designers who originally put them together.

But the intention is that a much wider audience might be curious enough to take a few minutes to explore how something works if given the opportunity to activate, observe, experiment and study it.  While a pinball machine is complicated and hard to comprehend, the individual mechanisms are pretty straightforward and easy to understand.  Beyond the obvious question of "What does this do?" are more subtle and interesting questions and answers from many fields including electricity, magnetism, mechanics, physics, logic, etc.  These pinball related devices are just a hook to foster a curiosity in the underlying science of how things work.

In a world of smart phones and disposable electronics it's hard to get a grasp on what makes things work.  Taking a close look at this older, more tangible technology where everything is visible might be a good starting place for developing an interest in and understanding of much more complicated technologies.

Inspiration

The inspiration for the Fun with Pinball exhibit came primarily from two sources.  The first is a collection of mechanical models built in the late 1800s to teach the fundamentals of machine motion.  Each model is completely functional and clearly demonstrates a single mechanism.  Students could manipulate the models and discover how they work by interacting with them.

The second inspiration of course is the remarkable Visible Pinball Machine built by the Pacific Pinball Museum.

Ideas for the Future

Most of the effort put into the Fun with Pinball exhibit for the first few years has been in designing and building the exhibit pieces and custom made crates to facilitate moving and storing them.  As the exhibit has grown building has slowed because it has reached, or even surpassed, critical mass.  Attention is gradually moving to other areas including the development of this web site.  Ideas for the future include:

  • Design and build a few more pieces as compelling ideas come to mind.
  • Develop more online science and technology lessons using parts of the exhibit on the Learn page.
  • Develop curricula and presentation materials using parts of the exhibit for seminars, workshops, classes, etc.
  • Take it on the road to reach a wider audience.