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January 12, 2018 10:41 AM   Subscribe

Motherboard's profile of Mike Hooker, who is one of the last pinball repair technicians in New York City.
posted by artsandsci (11 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Yes. Speaking as the owner of a High Speed pin, this guy is doing god's work.
posted by Kafkaesque at 11:32 AM on January 12

Good players compose long, largely repetitive songs based on an individual board’s gameplay quirks; bad players compose songs made of flipper smashing as they quickly rip through their allotted three balls.

It’s Hooker’s job to make sure pinball players are able to make music.

posted by stinkfoot at 11:46 AM on January 12 [2 favorites]

I used to own a Swords of Fury game which was fun on a number of fronts. I bought it, broken, at an auction and set it up at my place of employment. When I was unable to make progress in my work, I would take out the schematics and repair the broken bits, replace bulbs, clean switches, replace solenoids. When it was running perfectly, it was a great game, although one needs to take into account that certain elements of the game were designed for obvious puerile responses ("Go for the tunnel!").
I kept the game for more than a decade, across several moves. Eventually, my time available to maintain it exceeded the time it required to be maintained, so I sold it to someone who was going to restore it.
One of the things I loved about this game was the music. The music features a logical progression of layering for the game. The "goal" of the game is to get multiball. When there were no balls locked, the music is a simple ostinato riff. After the first ball gets locked, the ostinato gets a new simple layer over it. After the second, another more complicated layer. On multiball you get something worthy of an NFL highlight reel. However, what I really liked was the high score music. It was a 3 voice fugue. I sincerely hope that Brian Schmidt knew that there would be people who heard it an appreciated it for what it was, rather than more noise in a bar.
posted by plinth at 12:21 PM on January 12 [8 favorites]

I help maintain about 25 pinball machines at a pinball club, and it is extremely rewarding. The more challenging mechanical or electrical issues are fun to track down and fix. Even just routine cleaning and rubber replacement can really change how a game feels to play.

After the long decline of arcades, lots of games ended up stuck in people's basements, played very rarely. In the last few years more and more pinball machines have been set up in bars and restaurants, and more semi-public places like pinball clubs or event spaces have opened up. It feels like there are more pinball machines available to play on location now than there have been in 15 years.

I don't think "one of the last pinball repair technicians in NYC" is quite accurate. There might be fewer people working full time jobs fixing pinball machines than there were in the 70s and 80s, but I would bet there are more people working to keep games running because they love pinball than there ever has been. Whether working on one or two games in a home or office, or dozens in arcades, there's plenty of people out there.

PS: The best thing about Swords of Fury, after the music, is LIONMAN!
posted by helicomatic at 1:15 PM on January 12 [5 favorites]

When I worked at Kenny's Castaways we decided to buy a pinball table outright instead of renting one from the mob. You would think that I'd remember the name but I don't. As my only clear memories are the glass off and the table raised. Since we owned it we fixed it. Sure we wanted to have a tech come over, but even in the early 1980s pinball techs were rare enough to charge a lot. And Pat, the owner, thought that we had paid just about all the money we ever would on that game.

So we did the repairs. The main issues were the flippers not being responsive enough and the kicker solenoids dying. The flippers you could mess with. Solenoids had to be replaced. Luckily the guy we bough it from always had replacements on hand. Luckily.

We would spend a lot of time inside that monster. If a connection went bad, I'd borrow the soldering iron from the sound guy. We learned a lot about the guts of a pinball machine. We also could futz with the various tilt sensors. Some days Bobby or I would decide that the game was going to tilt if you breathed on it. Other days it just wouldn't tilt at all.

There are a couple of tilt sensor types. The one we messed with was a metal pendulum. If it swung too far it would hit the inside of a metal ring and complete a circuit. TILT If you wrapped some aluminum foil around the pendulum weight, it didn't have to swing so far to connect. If you wrapped it in a paper towel... you get it. The most fun was that before you closed it up you could hit the little wire that the quarters hit when they were inserted. 10, 20 credits? No problem. Knock yourself out.
posted by Splunge at 4:05 PM on January 12 [2 favorites]

Yeah...there's a guy in my garage repairing a pinball machine AT THIS MOMENT!

Reader, I married him.
posted by Nancy_LockIsLit_Palmer at 4:40 PM on January 12 [6 favorites]

There's no pinball near where I live. There used to be an Elvis table, but it had issues. When the Elvis figurine was supposed to dance around he looked like he was having a seizure. Then one day Elvis was gone, replaced by an even more decrepit Ripley's Believe It or Not that only lasted a few weeks. There is, however, a lot of pinball on my iPad. The only real reason to buy a big one.
posted by lagomorphius at 5:26 PM on January 12

If you’re into pinball and ever find yourself in Las Vegas, http://www.pinballmuseum.org should be on your to do list.
posted by Warren Terra at 7:09 PM on January 12

I feel like Seattle has a lot of pinball machines per capita; who fixes'em over here?
posted by batter_my_heart at 12:13 AM on January 13 [1 favorite]

When I was growing up (late 70s) a friend’s father had an old (1960’s) pinball machine. I forget the name but it had a poker theme and predated LED scoreboards. It was a blast and ever since then I have always wanted my own machine. Maybe this will inspire me to look around and see what’s out there.
posted by TedW at 9:39 AM on January 13

posted by SpiffyRob at 11:34 AM on January 16 [1 favorite]

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