Inside The Stern Pinball Factory, Again

About six months after the Popular Mechanics article about the last great pinball factory, Stearns gets the video treatment from the Onion’s A.V. Club. Stearn is the “oldest and largest designer and manufacturer of arcade-quality pinball games [remaining] on the planet”



I was surprised to learn that about fifty percent of all pinball machines produced by Stern are exported out of the country. Additionally, most of the parts are manufactured in Chicago and the machines are hand assembled. I think if Trump truly wants to throw some money at American manufacturing the pinball machine industry would be a great place to start.

Inside The Stearn Pinball Factory

Manufacturing as a whole in America has been suffering. Add to that the fact that video game consoles have entered millions of homes since the early 90s and you have a perfect storm that has resulted in the shuttered and faltering sales of major pinball manufacturers for decades. A great pinball machine requires a vast amount of craftsmanship, and one of largest producing places you’ll find that kind of work happening today is at Stern Pinball. Last month Popular Mechanics went inside of Stearn Pinball manufacturing facility to see how a 21st-century pinball machine comes together. It examines the process by dividing it into four main sections:

  • Finding a license
  • Designing the game
  • Sub-Assembly
  • Assembly and testing
  • While there won’t be anything new in the article for enthusiasts, it is an excellent primer on pinball manufacturing in America. What pinball machines and manufacturers has sold the most over the years? The table below could give some insight.

    The Highest Selling Pinball Machines Of All Time

    A list of all pinball machines that have sold 10,000 or more units, Source: IPDB
    YearName  (Click to display that game)MFGProd.Rating
    1932BallyhooBally50,000*8.8
    1990FunhouseWilliams10,750*8.1
    1976FireballBally10,000*6.3
    1992The Addams FamilyMidway20,2708.2
    1977Eight BallBally20,2307.1
    1979FlashWilliams19,5057.6
    1978PlayboyBally18,2507.4
    1980FirepowerWilliams17,4107.8
    1986High SpeedWilliams17,0807.9
    1979KissBally17,0006.9
    1979Star TrekBally16,8427.1
    1978Mata HariBally16,2607.8
    1976Capt. Fantastic and The Brown Dirt CowboyBally16,1557.8
    1993Twilight ZoneMidway15,2358.4
    1991Terminator 2: Judgment DayWilliams15,2028.0
    1979Harlem Globetrotters On TourBally14,5507.5
    1987F-14 TomcatWilliams14,5027.7
    1979GorgarWilliams14,0007.5
    1977Evel KnievelBally14,0007.5
    1978Power PlayBally13,7507.4
    1992Fish TalesWilliams13,6408.0
    1992The Getaway: High Speed IIWilliams13,2598.0
    1980Black KnightWilliams13,0757.9
    1978Strikes and SparesBally12,8207.6
    1993Indiana Jones: The Pinball AdventureWilliams12,7168.3
    1976Royal FlushGottlieb12,2507.9
    1986PIN·BOTWilliams12,0017.9
    1978SinbadGottlieb12,0007.6
    1993Star Trek: The Next GenerationWilliams11,7288.3
    1976Space MissionWilliams11,6527.8
    1980Space InvadersBally11,4007.7
    1980XenonBally11,0007.8
    1982Mrs. Pac-Man PinballBally10,6007.1
    1976Grand PrixWilliams10,5547.5
    1992Star WarsData East10,4008.0
    1992Lethal Weapon 3Data East10,3507.5
    1980Silverball ManiaBally10,3507.4
    1979SupersonicBally10,3407.0
    1978Lost WorldBally10,3307.0
    1978The Six Million Dollar ManBally10,3207.2
    1975Spirit of 76Gottlieb10,3007.6
    1976AztecWilliams10,1507.7
    1976Surf ChampGottlieb10,0707.7
    1975Wizard!Bally10,0057.9
    1981Flash GordonBally10,0007.9

    A Poem So You’ll Know All Of Scrabbles Two-Letter Words

    Happy National Scrabble Day! David Bukszpan, author of Is That a Word?, wrote this poem to help us remember all 101 105 two-letter words that you can use in Scrabble.

    The most important lesson for aspiring Scrabble nerds
    is to memorize the whole list of two-letter words.
    There’s one hundred and one, just like the Dalmatians,
    but instead of pooches they’re pronouns, prepositions, exclamations.
    And rather than skinning these pups, à la Cruella de Vil,
    you’ll play with them daily—it’s your opponents you’ll kill.
    Some of these words are obvious, others uncanny
    But master them all and you just might beat Granny.
    AA, pronounced “ah-aah,” is cindery lava,
    the word’s from Hawaii but you may find some in Java.
    An AB is a muscle found on magazine covers,
    an AD in the mag says Virginia’s For Lovers.
    AE thing is one thing, the word’s oldish and Scottish;
    AG means agriculture, the word’s academic and oddish.
    AH expresses surprise, like “Ah, look at those!”
    an AI is a sloth who’s just got three toes.
    AL is not just Pacino, it’s an East Indian tree,
    and AM is not just talk-radio, it’s a form of “to be.”
    AN is an indefinite article, I just said it twice,
    and AR is the letter that starts the word “rice.”
    When you use an example, you can use the word AS,
    and AT tells you where, such as “At Alcatraz.”
    We make the sound AW when we see kittens sneeze,
    or when lumberjacks insensitively AX stately trees.
    AY one might say, to say “I agree.”
    BA is the Ancient Egyptian idea of the soul, basically.
    To BE is to exist, to have actuality;
    a BI is a guy or girl with bisexuality.
    BO is a pal, like “Meet my bo, Jackson.”
    “BY the way,” one might say, “he’s looking for action.”
    DE, from the French, means “of” as in “from;”
    DO, like the deer, is the first tone you hum.
    ED is education, it’s just shorter this way,
    And EF is for F, like “What the ef word did you just play?”
    EH…it’s like…I don’t know…like an expression of doubt?
    The EL train (think el tren elevado) is a pain to wait for when it’s raining out.
    EM refers to the letter; the same goes for EN.
    ER is…hesitation; use ES to start “sen.” (A former Japanese currency.)
    ET is a past tense of to eat; the letter EX marks the spot.
    FA is also sung as part of the scale. (Some folks think it’s “far” but it’s not.)
    The Hebrew letter FE (“fay”) was long ago used by Moses.
    As GO is a word referring to the game, so its plural gos is.
    “HA!” blurted Adam, earlier in the Bible, when HE saw Eve evolve from his rib,
    “HI,” she replied, then “HM,” because she couldn’t ad lib.
    “HO!” Adam said, easy—it can be another sound of surprise—
    and Adam’s ID fought his ego. (The superego decides.)
    IF, IN, IS and IT we pretty well know
    But how about for sweetheart the endearing term JO?
    Then there’s a couple kay words that can keep back a conniption,
    the first one is KA: the spiritual self—like ba, it’s ancient Egyptian.
    The other is KI—pronounced “chee”—is a deep concept, son,
    referring to the Chinese vital life force—way before Obi Wan.
    LA, a note to follow sol
    LI, about five hundred yards
    That, LO—attention!—will bring us up to MA, a mom, a female mom,
    ME, a name a I call myself…
    But in the song of course MI also a note meant.
    Use “MM” to assent; and a MO is a moment.
    The Greek letter MU, MY friend, should NA (not) be unknown to us,
    At least compared to El Greco’s real name—NE Dominikos Theotokópulos.
    NO, the Greek letter NU should likewise not be a shock,
    Unlike the word coined by the German Baron Dr. Carl von Reichenbach,
    who came up with OD, a hypothetical life force,
    which he derived from the god Odin—who of course was Norse.
    From that same part of the world, not far from the Highlands,
    we get the word OE, a whirlwind off OF the Faroe Islands.
    “OH,” you cry, “OI, my brain is starting to swell!”
    But relax, my friend, take heart, you’re doing so well,
    try saying an OM to help counter confusion,
    for ON we go to OP, abstract art based on illusion.
    OR think also of OS, another word that might be new to us,
    it could refer to a bone, or an orifice of the uterus.
    You might exclaim, “OW!” if like an OX,
    you stub your big toe, wearing just sox.
    “OY,” you might cry, “come help me, PA!”
    (Which reminds me to warn you not to try to play “da.”)
    PE, like fe, is another Hebrew letter,
    tho Greek and math people prefer their PI better.
    QI, Scrabble’s most popular word, is just ki spelled with a kue,
    and like qat (or your cat) it doesn’t need U.
    Back to the Von Trapps, let’s not forget the tone RE,
    and don’t SH them yet—they have more to say:
    there’s also SI and SO from the scale diatonic,
    and don’t say TA, or thanks, to them yet, for their lesson harmonic
    because we likewise have to make time for TI,
    TO which the music teacher Sarah Ann Glover changed the tone si.
    UH, UM…oh yeah, there’s UN,
    Juste comme the French, it simply means one.
    There’s UP and US, and UT—an old name for the first (and last) tone, do,
    and WE (the funnest pronoun) and WO, which is woe.
    With the Greek letter, XI, we’re near the end of our song.
    The Viet coin, XU, was a cent to their dong.
    Congrats: YA got all the words that I wanted to teach YE
    And—YO! —I almost forgot: there’s ZA, which is pizza!
    So now you know your Scrabblish AA, BO, QIS,
    next time won’t you sing with MI?

    The Official Scrabble Players Dictionary Fifth Edition has added some new two letter words since this poem was first published at The Daily Beast way back in 2003. I have created the following addition to modernize David’s poem.

    Since time has passed, Scramble has changed its ways
    and you will come to find out DA is a safe word to play.
    GA is the white robe worn while performing martial arts.
    TE sounds like TI, the seventh note if you’re smart.
    PO is a chamber pot, a safe place to pee in.
    And now that you know this, more Scrabble you should win.

    Pinball Is A Game Of Skill, Not Chance

    Pinball was illegal in New York City from 1940 till 1976. The above short explores the surprisingly troubled history of pinball in New York and why it was banned there for over 35 years. The ban was lifted when WWII ended and the state finally (and rightfully) determined that pinball is a game of skill and not a game of chance. The great Big Story explains:

    In 1940, pinball machines were banned in New York City. Like most contraband, this simply pushed pinball underground. After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, the “Salvage for Victory” campaign called on Americans to turn in scrap metal to bolster the war effort. As a result, then New York City mayor Fiorello LaGuardia went on a hunt for pinball machines. By February 1942, more than 3,000 machines has been confiscated, turning roughly 2,500 of them into one ton of metal for the war. Unfortunately for pinball enthusiasts, the ban in New York lasted for decades, outliving LaGuardia, who died in 1947.

    At Least I Have Chicken

    Leeroy Jenkins changed the gaming world for the better. During a game of World Of Warcraft Ben Schulz was away from his computer reheating some KFC so he didn’t listen any of his group’s attack plans. His haphazard charge turned out to be a landmark event and it ended up spawning what is arguably the most viral video in online gaming history. It was ten years ago today, on May 11, 2005, the video of this event was uploaded to the site WarCraftMovies.com

    The rest is history. At Least I Have Chicken.

    Lowest Discrete Auction

    Lowest Discrete Auction

    After months of playing, I’m finally winning at Lowest Discrete Auction. The game works sort of like a reverse auction where you attempt guess what you think is the lowest distinct number out of all the players (currently there are 232 players). Creator Nick Berry describes describes the rules like this:

    At the end of every day Multiple times a day (currently four scheduled, and some ad-hoc), out of all entries, the lowest distinct number is selected as the winner. When a new competition starts, all previous entries are automatically re-entered. If you win auction, others might guess the same number as you on later auctions, duplicating you and invalidating your low distinct status. Similarly, players who guess lower than you and have been blocked out, might move into the winning position by another player changing their guesses!