Glossary of pinball terms

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A glossary of terms, commonly used in discussing pinball machines.

A[edit]

Add-a-ball

Allows the player to add additional balls by achieving a specific task e.g. during an active multiball. A feature especially popular on the latest generations of Stern machines. Earlier in pinball history, add-a-ball was actually used to describe that a player can earn extra balls.

Apron

The large attachment at the very bottom of the playfield, which usually holds a score and/or instruction card and which covers the ball trough. The front edges of the apron lead the ball to the drain.

Autosave

For a limited time, every ball that goes down the drain will be returned to the plunger. Usually only available when starting with a new ball (to compensate for "unfair" very fast drains), it will also be available during the start of multiballs on later machines. Also known as Ball Saver.

B[edit]

Backbox

The vertical "head" of the pinball machine, where the score is displayed.

Backglass

The upright glass panel in the backbox, displaying the game's title and a game-themed illustration. Usually has several unprinted areas through which the score and credit/match displays are viewed.

Ball Lock

On some machines, a progression of "ball locks" leads to a multiball. On older machines this referred to the physical mechanism that would store the balls on the playfield.

Ball Saver

See autosave.

Banana Flippers

Curved flipper bats found on Williams' Disco Fever and Time Warp games, shaped much like a banana.

Bank

See drop target.

Bonus (End-of-Ball Bonus)

One of the universal paradigms of pinball games is the end-of-ball bonus. During play, certain shots and events can increase a bonus score or a multiplier, which is then applied to the player's score when the ball drains. The rules for the ball bonus vary from game to game - some games simply increase the bonus during play, and some add scores from various in-game modes and counters (e.g. the number of door panels and hitchhikers collected in Twilight Zone).

Bumper

An upright, typically cylindrical or rectangular area, that applies force to the ball when hit. The cylindrical variety is referred to as a mushroom bumper, when capped with a circular top, which usually lights up to show the points scored when the bumper is hit.
When flippers were introduced on Humpty Dumpty, they were referred to as "flipper bumpers"; this use is no longer live and "bumpers" never refers to "flippers".
Active bumpers are referred to as "jet bumpers" by WMS Industries and Midway Games (after the 1988 Williams-Midway merger), "pop bumpers" by Gottlieb, "thumper bumpers" by Bally Technologies (before the 1988 Williams-Midway merger) and "turbo bumpers" by Data East.

Buy-In

Many modern pinball machines give the player the option to continue their game after the last standard ball has drained, usually at a cost of one credit. Some games also keep a separate high-score table for games completed in this manner, so that "true" high scores are separated from ones that might be artificially increased through the use of extra credits. These scores are usually displayed as "Buy-In High Scores". Continuing the game sometimes also provides extra benefits, such as an extended ball-saver period or starting a mode automatically, to give the player an incentive to spend the extra credit(s).

C[edit]

Captive ball

A pinball trapped within a small area of the playfield. The captive ball never leaves this area, and the free ball can never enter it. However, the free ball can knock into the captive ball, which in turn can knock into targets in its area. Some tables even feature multiple stacked captive balls (e.g. Judge Dredd, Big Bang Bar), and some provide fixed balls as targets to trigger a moving captive ball (Theatre of Magic).

Combo

Combo (or combo shot) refers to an immediate combination of different moves, often continuous ramp and/or orbit shots. Some machines, like Taxi, Theatre of Magic, and Demolition Man, reward combo shots by an increasing number of points, depending on the number of successful consecutive shots made.

D[edit]

DMD

A dot-matrix display is a pixel-addressable display used to display the score and other status during the game. Almost always placed in the backbox (exception: Cirqus Voltaire). Most machines released from 1992 onwards, starting with Data East's Checkpoint, released in 1991, feature this display. Some exceptions are the two VGA-driven "Pinball 2000" series machines, pinball games that uses a LCD-display such as the machines from Jersey Jack Pinball and Heighway Pinball or retro style machines such as Whoa Nellie! Big Juicy Melons.

Drop target

An upright, pressure-sensitive rectangle that drops below the playfield when hit by the ball. Drop targets are often arranged in so-called banks, and may require being hit in combination or in sequence to score or light special features.

Drain

The common term used to refer to the area beneath the flippers. If the ball rolls into the drain area via an outlane or between the flippers, it will be lost. Also refers to the act of losing a ball in this manner.

E[edit]

Electro-mechanical (EM)

A pinball machine design that relies on relays, motors and switches to run. This design was phased out in the late 1970s. EM machines are easily recognized by their scoring displays that have mechanical score reels that spin to show the score. Newer machines are referred to as solid state (SS).

Extra ball

An additional bonus ball that can be earned by achieving a specific task.

F[edit]

Flipper

A tapered bat, typically found in pairs at the bottom of the table, that is the player's primary means of controlling the ball. Normally a downward slope extending the bottom structure of the table, one end is moved upward in an arc when the player taps the appropriate button.

G[edit]

GI

An acronym of general illumination, this refers to the lights on the playfield used simply to make the playfield visible in a dark room. Also known as street lighting

Gobble hole

A hole in a pinball table that ends the game or the current ball if the ball falls in it.

H[edit]

Habitrail

A wireform path for the ball to travel in a straight line. May consist of either two wires on the bottom, or four wires to fully enclose the ball.

I[edit]

Inlane

See lane.

J[edit]

Jackpot

A specially designated point bonus; typically among the highest amounts that can be scored with one shot. Jackpots are only available when certain actions are completed, often only during a mode.

K[edit]

Kickout hole

A depression in the pinball table that the ball can fall into. This is usually just large enough for the ball to fit into it. After gaining some points, and/or adjusting the game state, the ball is kicked back into play in a predictable direction and speed.

L[edit]

Lane

A lane is in general any area of the table just wide enough to let the ball pass through. Special kinds of lanes are inlanes and outlanes; both types are situated at the bottom of the playing field. The outlanes are at the far ends and connect to the bottom (causing loss of the ball), the inlanes are next to them and connect to the flipper area.

M[edit]

Magic post

A post that can rise up between the flipper fingers and completely block the middle drain. Sometimes also called Recovery Post or Up post.

Magna-save

A feature that allows the player to activate a magnet located just below the entrance to an outlane. A ball headed for the outlane will be held by the magnet and diverted to the corresponding inlane instead. Williams Electronics pioneered this feature on the Black Knight game.

Match

The chance to win a free game after the last ball has drained. On most machines the free game is received when the last two digits of the score match a pseudo randomly picked two digit number. The winning chance can be altered by the operator. Most modern games incorporate a short animated skit that culminates in the match number selection.

Mode

A configuration of the table where specific goals must be met in a limited time to score points, hitting specific lanes or dropping specific targets, sometimes combined with multiball. Some tables have multiple modes that must be activated in order, usually building up to an "ultimate" last mode or the wizard mode where the most points can be scored.

Multiball (multi-ball)

A situation where multiple balls are on the playing field, as opposed to the single ball the player usually has to contend with. Multiball can be part of a mode, as well as a goal in its own right. Generally, multiball consists of two or three balls, but many more have been used on some machines, such as Apollo 13, which uses 13 for multiball.

O[edit]

Outlane

See lane. The outlanes are generally the outside lanes at the sides of the playfield that lead the ball to the drain (sometimes with a possibility of striking a peg and re-entering the adjacent inlane).

Orbit

A path for the ball that hugs the outer rim of the game. Orbits generally have a slingshot effect; sending the ball into an orbit generally means it returns immediately from another. Orbits are generally named for the side of the playfield on which the ball enters (e.g. the "left orbit" means the ball enters the orbit on the left side and travels to the right).

P[edit]

Passive Bumper

A bumper which does not kick the ball when hit, although it may register a score or play a sound effect. Also known as a dead bumper.

PCB

Abbreviation for the printed circuit board. Circuit boards are used in solid state machines. Most are located in the back box. Others circuit boards can be located under the playfield or in the main cabinet.

Plunger

A player-controlled, spring-loaded rod that allows the player to send the ball into the game. Usually located at the bottom-right corner of the playfield, where the ball is kicked out from the trough. The amount of force applied to the plunger is directly proportional to the force the ball receives, allowing for harder and softer shots. Some games replace this plunger with a machine-controlled kicker that sends the ball into play automatically or when interacting with a special device (e.g. the gun grip on Indiana Jones: The Pinball Adventure), and some games provide a hybrid manual/automatic plunger. A small number of games, including FunHouse, feature a second plunger on the left-hand side for special shots.

Popper

A device that launches the ball vertically, often to a raised playfield.

Peg

A small, stationary vertical post with a rubber ring, designed to deflect the ball away from sensitive parts and to reject poorly-aimed shots. Some games place a peg between the flippers, giving the ball a chance to bounce away from the drain and back onto the flippers (see also "Magic Post" and "Stopper").

Playfield

The main flat surface of the game, on which targets, ramps, orbits, flippers and bumpers are arranged. "Playfield" refers both to the surface itself and to the overall play area (to distinguish it from other parts of the machine such as the backbox). The ball rolls along this surface. Many games refer to the "lower" playfield (nearest the player) and the "upper" playfield (nearest the backbox). In some cases, this distinction is more literal, as in the separate, vertically-arranged playfield levels in Black Knight 2000.

R[edit]

Ramp

A section of the playfield with a raised gradient. Ramps generally lead either to raised playfields or to inlanes.

Replay

A free game received after a certain score is reached.

Rollover

A flat switch residing in the playfield itself. A rollover is activated when the ball rolls over it.

S[edit]

Score motor

A motor in an EM pinball cabinet used primarily to ensure that score reels are updated correctly. It activates relays repeatedly until a specific task is completed. Also known as a "cam timer".

Slam tilt

This particular form of tilt is given if the machine is nudged with such violence that it risks damaging the hardware. Such an action generally sounds an alarm and causes the machine to reset (hence voiding the credit). A slam tilt is sometimes also given if force is applied to the coin box.

Solid state

A pinball machine design that relies on computers and printed circuit boards to run. This design was introduced in the late 1970s. SS machines are easily recognizable by their scoring displays, which are powered by electricity. Older machines are referred to as electro-mechanical (EM) and have mechanical score reels that spin to display the score.

Special

Some machines allow the player to earn a free game (called a special in that context) by achieving a specific task (e.g. lighting all monsters and their instruments in Monster Bash).

Spinner

A rotating target, mostly placed at the entrance to a loop/orbit or ramp, which spins in place when a ball rolls underneath it.

Standup targets (stand-up targets, spot targets)

A standing target on a playfield, similar to a drop target, but which does not drop into the playfield when struck.

Stopper

A small metal post, often with a rubber ring, typically found between and slightly below the bottom flippers. If the ball hits the post, it will bounce up and away, saving it from draining. Skilled players can use the stopper to make trick shots. On some tables, the stopper is made available only as a reward. (See also: "Peg", "Magic Post")

Skill Shot

A bonus awarded to the player for completing a specific task when releasing the ball. Most games that include skill shots require the player to either plunge the ball with just the right amount of force to hit a specific target, or to make a specific shot with the flippers as the first shot once the ball is on the playfield. (Not to be confused with "combo shot".)

T[edit]

Tilt

The tilt mechanism detects when the machine is being lifted, tilted or shaken beyond an acceptable level. Originally designed to prevent players from lifting the front of the machine to cause balls to roll backwards, it also helps prevent damage to the machine's hardware, body and legs by discouraging players from shaking the machine too hard. When the mechanism is triggered, the machine "tilts", ending play for the current ball and usually forfeiting any bonuses earned. Most modern games provide a configurable number of warnings per ball before tilting. Some older games would void the entire game upon tilt.

Toy

Many pinball machines have unique objects on or above the playfield to enhance the theme of the game. They are called "toys" mainly because they often resemble children's toys and are specific to the machine in question. Some directly impact gameplay, while others are non-interactive or purely cosmetic. For example, Twilight Zone features two significant toys: The Gumball Machine (which stores and releases balls), and a working analog clock (which is used to show the time remaining in various game modes). Another example of a gameplay-affecting toy is the spinning soccer ball in World Cup Soccer.

Translight

The plastic or glass sheet in the backbox, generally displaying the game's main illustration on a translucent piece of printed plastic, allowing light to pass through. Also called the "backglass". The term "translight" (or "translite") usually refers more specifically to the printed plastic in modern pinball games using dot-matrix displays, since those displays are mounted underneath the glass, not behind it, allowing the artwork to be one single unmodified sheet.

U[edit]

Up post

See magic post.

Up-Kicker

An electro-mechanical feature that physically propels the ball upwards onto a second-tier playfield, as used in Gottlieb's Haunted House.

V[edit]

Vari-target

A target that can be moved by the ball by a varying amount. Normally this directly corresponds to the amount of points received, as it is usually risky trying to shoot the narrow target with full force.

Vitrigraph

Gottlieb's patented photo-realistic mylar overlay for pinball playfields rather than the industry standard silk screen on the wood.[1]

VUK

Short for vertical up-kicker. Synonym for popper.

W[edit]

Wedge Head

Trapezoidal shaped cabinet backboxes when viewed from the front.[2]

Widebody

Widebody pinball machines offer more playfield space and more to be packed in but are more expensive

Wizard

An exceptionally skilled player. This term comes from the 1969 rock opera Tommy, where the likewise nicknamed protagonist becomes famous, when he masters pinball. The title of the song "Pinball Wizard" quickly gained acceptance among pinball enthusiasts as an honorific.

Wizard mode (wizard bonus)

A special mode or bonus, started only after completing a long and difficult series of tasks in a pinball machine. The first wizard bonus was the "King's Ransom" in 1989's Black Knight 2000.

Woodrail

Pinball machines manufactured prior to appr. 1961 that used wood to frame the playfield glass.[2]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]