Old-time games share space with modern arcade favorites
By Amy Orndorff
Friday, May 13, 2011
Colorful lights blink frenetically in the darkened room. Noisy bells and voices fill the air. Dozens of pinball machines vie for your quarters.
At first glance, it's clear: This glorious pinball arcade is worthy of the greatest wizard.
But take a closer look and you'll see that this room is also an interactive shrine and just one corner of the 14,000-square-foot National Pinball Museum in Georgetown.
The museum, which opened in December, features about 60 machines that you can play. But what really sets this place apart from an ordinary arcade is that you can experience the history of pinball one round at a time. The pay-for-play area has modern, computerized arcade games as well as their great grandfathers. Games range in price from free to $1, and most cost 50 cents.
There are rare games (Big Bang Bar -- one of only 14 made!), legendary designer Pat Lawlor's works (including the most-sold modern pinball game based on "The Addams Family" television show) and older machines with pinup girls gracing the tables. And be sure to read the placards above many of the games to learn when they were made, their manufacturers and what makes them stand out.
The collection belongs to curator David Silverman, who is surprisingly not protective of his gems, which he considers pieces of history.
"They took tremendous abuse," Silverman says with a smile. "I think every game should be played."
The museum is open Thursday through Sunday with the largest crowds -- from curious tourists to pinheads -- on Sunday afternoons. Silverman also makes sure the smallest visitors can get in on the action -- the museum offers step stools so kids can see the machine.
One game you definitely don't want to miss is Humpty Dumpty, the first pinball game to have flippers. The 1947 machine might lack the bells and whistles of modern computerized machines, but with an iconic silver ball, spring-loaded plunger and tilted board the relation is undeniable. Best part: It's free to play.
If your wrists get tired, then head to the history exhibit so you can truly appreciate how far the game has come. Pinball's ancestor is the 18th-century bagatelle, similar to pool. A variation of that game came to America from France via ships during the Revolutionary War. (Note that the floor in the ship room display rocks!)
End your tour in the theater, where you can really see the intersection of pop culture and pinball. Three documentaries, "Special When Lit," "Tilt: The Battle to Save Pinball" and "The Pinball Art of Charles Leroy Parker," screen in repertory.