Pinball Number Count
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Pinball Number Count (or Pinball Countdown) is a collective title referring to 11 one-minute animated segments on the popular PBS children's series Sesame Street that teach children to count to 12 by following the journey of a pinball through a rather fanciful pinball machine. These segments are notable for the colorful, imaginative animation as well as the funky "one, two, three, four, five...." soundtrack provided by The Pointer Sisters. Pinball Number Count was originally produced in 1976 by Imagination, Inc. in San Francisco, California for the Children's Television Workshop. It made its debut on Sesame Street in 1977.
The Pinball Number Count segments contain common beginning and ending sequences showing the launch of the pinball into the machine and the exit of the pinball from play, respectively. Between these two sequences is a number-specific animated narrative showing the pinball in play. This middle segment features a scene in which a number of contraptions moved the pinball about the interior of the machine. Each scene begins with the ball following ramps and hitting some bumpers, then various features belonging to a theme specific to the number. The pinball then exits this area to the end sequence where it leaves play.
At the beginning of each segment, we see a number with a group of stars circling around it. We hear a voice whispering the current number.
Music for Pinball Number Count was composed by Walt Kraemer and arranged by Ed Bogas. The vocals were provided by the Pointer Sisters. The arrangements in the eleven films reflect musical idioms commonly found in 1970s urban culture, predominantly funk and jazz, though other styles including Caribbean steel drum music are also represented. The number-specific middle sections contain one of three different (presumably) improvised instrumental solos over a basic progression, respectively featuring soprano saxophone, electric guitar, and steel drum. Consistent with an abbreviated jazz structure, a prearranged head and turnaround / coda are played during the common starting and ending animation sequences. The vocals work in similar fashion with improvised shouts of the numbers 2-12 during the middle section and a return to the arranged counting at the end.
The song employs complex rhythms, starting with a 7 beat, then incorporating 3s, 11s and other timings around a rhythmically straightforward but harmonically complex middle improvisation section.
Animation for the segments was directed by Jeff Hale and recalls contemporary psychedelic and pop art styles, typified by the ornate pinball bumpers, colorful geometrical motifs and whimsical themes and devices inside the machine. While great liberty is sometimes taken with respect to physics (the pinball moves smoothly over curved ramps lacking guide rails), subtle yet striking efforts toward realism are made by the animators to express the mechanical nature of the objects within. In particular, note that most of the contraptions in the pinball machine have discrete hinges and joints held together by screws and moved by rods or slots in the floor of the playing field.
List of segments
Despite the lyrics' counting from one to twelve, Pinball Number Count did not feature a segment for the number 1. The number 7 is the only segment where the ball doesn't enter a hole at the end of the segment, while the number 8 is the only segment where the ball doesn't enter the scene immediately.
- #2: A Day at the Carnival (amusement park) The pinball finds its way through carnival and amusement park-themed obstacles—riding a roller coaster, a ferris wheel, and some hanging airplanes until being dropped into a clown's mouth that leads to a haunted house ride. It passes by a ghost, a skeleton, a spider, and a bat (which zooms toward the camera), before exiting the clown's mouth. Now it runs over a balloon man, goes through a ball toss, gets rejected from a duck game, then is bounced into the hole by two bumper cars.
- #3: Circus Capers (circus) The ball rolls through circus attractions. It is shot from a cannon (flowers pop out), caught by clowns, and handed off by a ringmaster to a juggling monkey who tosses it to a lion tamer and his lion, who throws it through the hoop. The ball then gets dropped by a flying parrot and it lands on the nose of a seal and is launched from a seesaw by a hippopotamus to a pink elephant that runs it into the hole.
- #4: FORE! (golf course) The ball rolls down a hill and is hit by a golfer. It crashes into a duck and fish jump out as it spins. The golfer gives the ball another shot. It then runs over a guy with a flag standing next to a hole before entering a rabbit burrow (causing six purple rabbits to pop out of their holes). The golfer makes the last shot. The ball bumps off the bottoms of some trees which makes a fox, a wild boar, and a deer come out before rolling into another tree where it woke up a sleeping owl and a squirrel drops it into the hole.
- #5: The Only Way To Travel (modes of transportation) The ball is kicked into the backseat of a car which enters a tunnel, from which emerges a bicycle with the ball in its basket. The ball is then pushed by a locomotive, then a magnet attached to a plane picks it up and drops it into a tugboat, causing it to sink. After the ball is shot out of a volcano, it is caught by a blimp, which drops it into the hole.
- #6: Down on the Farm The ball rolls down a slide attached to a barn and is kicked by a donkey past a group of sheep before rolling into the bottom of a haystack. It emerges from the top and is tossed by a goat dressed like a farmer. Now it rolls under a group of chicks and is laid like an egg under a chicken who then pushes it away with its beak. The ball now rolls into a doghouse and is chased out by the dog inside. It then chases a pig into a barn where the goat farmer emerges from behind it carrying the ball in a wheelbarrow and drops it into the hole.
- #7: World Tour (famous world landmarks) The ball slides down from the roof of a Taj Majal building and under a snake charmer whose pet snake is startled awake and pushes the ball out from under him with its tail. The ball rolls under a sphinx (the statue turns its head to see the ball as it rolls behind him), passes a camel, and into a pyramid. The ball leaves the pyramid from the top and bounces off two thingies resembling the rooftops of St. Basil's Cathedral before being kicked into the air by a Russian dancer. A mountain climber blowing a horn swings to the right to catch the ball. Then he swings to the left and blows the ball loose (birds fly out). The ball lands on a bull in a ring, bounces off him and crashes into a matador. It then bounces off a windmill, runs over a constable and rolls into a sentry box which causes two British guards to pop out of their holes.
- #8: Forest Follies Many forest animals pass the ball around. A unicycling brown bear, a frog, a monkey, a pelican, a kangaroo, a beaver, a tree bear, two more unicycling brown bears, and a raccoon who drops it into the hole.
- #9: Play Ball! (baseball) The ball encounters some baseball players, runs over a hot-dog seller, and is chased under the bleachers and dropped into the hole by a mechanical dog.
- #10: Medieval Times (fantasy Middle Ages) The ball slides down a ramp attached to a wall shaped like a castle roof and is launched from a catapult into the mouth of a dragon who spits it out with fire. The ball rams into a knight. We see a tent with a hole behind the flap which the ball tries to go through but is stopped by a giant who pushes it away with his spiky flail. Now the ball rolls into a castle where a prince rescues a princess through the doorway as the bridge lowers, then it is shot from a cannon into the cave, and splashes into a witch's cauldron. The dragon then emerges from the cauldron with the ball in its mouth and drops it into the hole.
- #11: Wild Things (African jungle animals) Mechanical jungle animals pass the ball around, including a monkey, an elephant, a giraffe, a leopard, three flamingos, a crocodile, a rhinoceros, a zebra, a lion, a rabbit, a tiger, a peacock, and a gorilla that flicks it into the hole.
- #12: Sightseeing, USA (American landmarks) The ball goes sightseeing through replicas of American landmarks, including the Statue of Liberty, the Washington Monument, Mount Rushmore, the Grand Canyon, Old Faithful, Red Wood Tree, the Golden Gate Bridge, and a San Francisco Trolley which drops it into the hole.
Cover versions and parodies
Pinball Number Count has been covered and remixed by a number of artists. One such version, done with the cooperation of Sesame Workshop, was released under the DJ Food name by Ninja Tune Records on a 12" EP  and the Zen TV DVD. Other versions have been performed by Venetian Snares (on the Infolepsy EP), Wicked Hemlocks, The Postmarks and an instrumental version by Big Organ Trio. The refrain was prominently featured in Many Moons by Janelle Monáe. It was covered by Brandon Williams on his 2014 album 'XII' featuring Dames Brown & Nicholas Payton.
The Family Guy episode "The Father, the Son, and the Holy Fonz" used a plastic bubble-encased Stewie as the pinball in a close parody of the segment. The Pointer Sisters' distinctive counting style in particular is also referenced near the start of the film Half Nelson, where Ryan Gosling's character Dan Dunne mumbles the numbers in the same fashion.
- "Classic Sesame Street Tunes Become Dance Favorites as New 12" Vinyl Hits Market" (Press release). Sesame Workshop. 2003-08-04. Retrieved 2008-10-15.
- "Pinball Number Count/C is For Cookie (ZEN12143)". Ninja Tune Records. Retrieved 2013-01-04.
- "Ninjatune Releases - Solid Steel Presents Sesame Street". Ninja Tune Records. Retrieved 2013-01-04.