Goin' Nuts at the Las Vegas Pinball Hall of Fame

Games Features Las Vegas
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“I wanted to call it ‘No Fucking Videogames’.”

Tim Arnold, the owner of the Pinball Hall of Fame in Las Vegas, doesn’t mince words. His collection of over 150 pinball machines includes some of the most popular pinball machines ever made alongside some of the most obscure. Just don’t expect to play videogames while you’re there.

Housed in a nondescript box next to a small strip mall just off the Strip, the Hall is a grungy, not-for-profit museum that pays tribute to the resurgent art of pinball. Its collection encompasses the entire flipper era of the game, starting with a machine from 1947 and stretching all the way up to 2014. Don’t get hung up on that hall of fame concept, though. Unlike Cooperstown or Canton, there’s no committee or professional organization voting in new members.

”[The Pinball Hall of Fame] is just a name we came up with,” Arnold admits. “We needed a name that would have the product in the name first and then something that said super duper giant—really neat!, so we came up with the Pinball Hall of Fame. They’ve got a basketball and a baseball and a football, and now they’ve got a pinball hall of fame.”

One of the Hall’s main attractions is Goin’ Nuts, which might be the weirdest pinball game I’ve ever played. Normally multiball is a reward you have to earn, but Goin’ Nuts starts off with three simultaneous balls. Time builds up on a counter as those balls hit bumpers and drop targets. After I lose two of the balls those seconds start to count down, and I have to score as many points with one ball as I can during that time. When the seconds are up, the flippers lock and the last ball drains down the hole. It’s even more of a juggling act than most pinball games, one with the added pressure of a fatal countdown. The name refers to the artwork’s Alvin and the Chipmunks-aping theme, with three squirrels frolicking amid a field of acorns on the backglass, one smirking, one bespectacled and one overweight. The name’s an accurate description of how the game plays, though, with an immediate flurry of balls and a constant level of stress.

Goin’ Nuts is also one of the rarest pinball games I’ve ever played. It was never put into production, and only ten prototypes are known to exist. “The factory went out of business and then reopened six months later and by that time they decided to move in a new direction,” Arnold explains. “How many times have I heard that?”

goin nuts backglass.jpg

Pinball Circus is even rarer than Goin’ Nuts. In the early 1990s the legendary designer Python Anghelo made a pinball machine that fit in an upright arcade cabinet. The thought was that arcade owners would be more likely to buy a machine that took up less space and fit in snugly alongside Street Fighter II or Pac-Man. Anghelo designed a pin with a circus theme and four different playfields stacked on top of each other. It’s an almost Goldbergian contraption with circus-themed gimmicks moving the ball from one level to another, like when the ball hits a certain ramp on the first playfield and an elephant lifts it up to the next level with its trunk. The top level is a smiling clown with drop targets for teeth, a de facto boss battle that unites pinball with the arcade games normally found in this kind of cabinet. It’s not just a novelty, but a fully functional and totally idiosyncratic piece of pinball history. Only two were ever made, and one is in Las Vegas.

Pinball Circus was never officially cancelled,” Arnold says. “It always just kept getting moved back in production until the company decided to quit making pinballs. Then they just got rid of the two machines they had built and I ended up with one.”

Rare machines like Pinball Circus, Goin’ Nuts and the Spanish anomaly Impacto make the Hall of Fame a mandatory destination for true pinball fanatics. I’ve been to a lot of pinball arcades over the last few years, from Pinball Wizard in New Hampshire to the Asheville Pinball Museum, and although the Pinball Hall of Fame might not keep its machines in as good a shape as some places, the size and variety of its collection can’t be beat. It features more pinball machines than anybody could play in a day, and is one of the few entertainment choices in Las Vegas that doesn’t charge a cover. And, again, it’s the only place you’ll be able to play some of the hardest to find pinball machines ever made.

The Hall of Fame name might be a marketing gimmick, but it serves a good (and surprising) purpose beyond preserving old amusements. The Hall is a not-for-profit organization with a volunteer staff and donates much of its proceeds to the Salvation Army. Every quarter you pop into a machine helps charity, and that’s a lot of quarters, with every game costing between one and four quarters to play.

”[Being not-for-profit] removes any economic pressure from us to run spreadsheets and decide that certain non-performing games have to go to be replaced by other games that make more money,” Arnold explains. “There has to be something that differentiates a for-profit arcade, which is all about maximum revenue, and something that presents the work as a whole, which means a lot of it isn’t going to make any money.”

After decades in the arcade business, Arnold admits to being “over the whole pinball thing. I’m here seven days a week and it’s all-consuming. The last thing I want to think about when I get time off is what pinball machine to play.”

He might be tired of pinball, but Arnold is downright contemptuous of videogames. “They’re for children,” he says. “They’re little baby games. They have little tiny buttons for little tiny hands and it’s the same repetitive junk over and over again. Why would anyone play a baby game after they’re beyond nine years old? I don’t play tic tac toe anymore. Why would anyone want to play videogames? You grow up, you become a man, you play a man’s game.”

You play pinball.

Garrett Martin edits Paste’s games section.

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