Fun With Pinball


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.


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.


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.