Pinball Machines, Philosophy, Life The Universe and Everything

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I should be writing a blog post to promote our pinball hire services and maybe this will to a degree, but I’m going to go off on a tangent and take my sales hat off for this post.

I am continually surprised how often Pinballs are used in Film, Advertising, Music, Art, Literature, Science and Fashion. They are used to sell us stuff, explain stuff and to entertain us whilst we are away from the machines themselves.

When I was a kid, pinballs were seemingly everywhere. In pubs, clubs, hairdressers, cafes and lots of other businesses. Over the years this saturation of pinballs in public businesses has lessened and the shift has been to them being bought more by private individuals to go into their homes, man caves and offices. However, the concept, ethos and mechanics of Pinball Machines remains powerful in the public consciousness and is used to convey sales messages, philosophical messages and just messages.

This is probably in part due to the eternal status of cool that Pinballs maintain.

In a conversation like this, it is all but impossible to avoid considering the impact of the album Tommy by The Who and written by the maestro that is Pete Townsend and I have no intention in avoiding it either. When Pete Townshend wrote the first drafts of Tommy, the abused, passive, but ultimately victorious champion that is Tommy, didn’t go anywhere near a pinball machine. A pinball machine was only introduced after Pete Townshend tried to win over music critic Nik Cohn who came to hear the album long before it’s release. The reason being that Pete Townshend knew that Nik Cohn was a keen pinball player. He and Pete Townshend often visited Soho and played pinball machines there.

Knowing how much he liked Pinballs, Pete Townshend added the pinball element to Tommy, almost as an act of antagonism and challenge to Nik Cohn to then not write a positive review regarding the album. Pete Townsend himself felt the inclusion of the pinball element to the story watered down the high philosophical goal that he had set himself in writing Tommy. Little did he know that its inclusion both made the philosophy more accessible to fans, raised the bar and reciprocally brought more cool to what was already cool Pinballs and the cool Who. The game of pinball also represented perfectly the ups, downs, submissiveness and randomness of Tommy’s deaf dumb and blind life and his ability, with skill, to ultimately overcome both.

Elton John, Keith Moon, Roger Daltry and The Ox (John Entwistle) performing the Pinball Wizard. - guessing Pete Townshend in airbound somewhere and out of shot

Elton John, Keith Moon, Roger Daltry and The Ox (John Entwistle) performing the Pinball Wizard. – guessing Pete Townshend in airbound somewhere and out of shot, near the ceiling.

People know pinballs are cool.

Barry Manilow with a pinball machine (not sure if this raises the idea of pinballs being cool?)

Bob Dylan -v- Pinball in the cool stakes,. Split decision I would say.

Joe Strummer playing the Pinball. Enough said.

Tina Turner and Pinball both looking cooler than the guy stood with them.
























Advertisers know that Pinballs are both fashionable, cool and are representative of the knock about lives that most of us lead. They use them all the time and the idea has never become old hat or superseded by any other analogy.

Pepsi within the following advert show the potential of the world around us to be seen as a Pinball Playfield. The guy in the advert enjoys the trials and tribulations and dangers of the ride because he has a Pepsi to lift his spirits. The message at the end is to probably stay vigilant however.

This Belgium Environmental Ad shows how if you’re bad in life, pinball will put you back into your place.

A group of football superstars not cool enough for you? Stick them inside a pinball. This Ad is from 2017 .

Pinballs sell us everything from cars:

to Food and Drink.

to Gambling.

to Music.

to Telecoms.

And banking.

I could go on with the TV ads – but this is probably enough to demonstrate how advertisers understand that to associate their products with a Pinball Machine is to raise its level of kudos and cool.

The world of fashion also buys into this.

Victoria’s Secrets Fashion Show using a Pinball backdrop




















There are also no end of pop videos and music acts that want to be associated with Pinball Machines.



And when they’re not in pinball videos – music artists can’t help dropping pinball lyrics into their songs.They use not only the cool of pinball, but also the mechanics of pinballs.

Bruce Springsteen:
And the wizards play down on Pinball Way
on the boardwalk way past dark

Emmylou Harris.
thrill, I’ll tell you Oh, I lost him to a jukebox and a pinball machine

The Fall.
I’m an old hog hauler
I drive a big truck
I shot the pinball machine, but it caused me bad luck.
I wish they’d outlaw them old pinball machine

Aerosmith.(Who now have their own branded pinball machine).
Back in the saddle gets you sore My fist your face That’s for sure East house pinball wizard

Suzanne Vega.
Am I your Mad Magazine
Skin trampoline
Pin-up pinball machine
Your fantasy girl

The Band.
your hat, and take that ride
Get yourself a bride,
And bring your children down to the river side.
Pinball machine, and a queen,
I nearly took a bust

Rick James.
Ooh, you got me tiltin’ just like a pinball machine
Keep workin’ my love such a magical feeling
You got me tiltin’ just like a pinball machine
And I love it, love it, love it

Joe Jackson.
Sunday evening down the penny arcade
I see your face in the pinball game
Put in a quarter and it starts to fade

The Clash.
Your eyeballs feel like pinballs

The Pogues.
I’m bouncing like a pinball

The White Stripes.
Playing a country pinball machine

Johnny Cash.
Whats with you cowgirl you stole a pinball machine.

Bob Dylan.
Like in the middle of Life magazine Bouncin’ around a pinball machine

And there are thousands more. The urge to use Pinballs as an analogy of life is seemingly irresistible to many songwriters. Its even more surprising when any musical reference to pinballs will invariably have overtones of the behemoth that is Tommy, by The Who.

As well as using pinball machines in song lyrics, people evoke the play of pinball machines when contemplating life in books and poetry.

“The Earth is God’s pinball machine and each quake, tidal wave, flash flood and volcanic eruption is the result of a TILT that occurs when God, cheating, tries to win free games.”
― Tom Robbins, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues

“The last few days have already taken their toll – knocking him around like a pinball in a scoreless game.”
― Joseph MacKinnon, Cypulchre

“Purpose is how God controls the randomness of life. Without it, you’re just silver ball in the arcade game of life.”
― RJ Blizzard

The world changed from having the determinism of a clock to having the contingency of a pinball machine.
– Heinz R. Pagels

I’m not a ball in a pinball machine. I know what I want.
– Emile Hirsch

Nobody trusts anyone, or why did they put tilt on a pinball machine….
– Steve McQueen

Giving advice is like playing pinball: only by pushing and pulling can you encourage the ball to go in a new direction and increase your score. But too much pushing and pulling can cause a tilt and stop the game.
– Chip R. Bell

Programs to demonstrate Darwinian evolution are akin to a pinball machine. The steel ball bounces around differently every time but eventually falls down the little hole behind the flippers.
– Robert J. Marks II

And I think that it is certainly possible that the objective universe can be affected by the poet. I mean, you recall Orpheus made the trees and the stones dance and so forth, and this is something which is in almost all primitive cultures. I think it has some definite basis to it. I’m not sure what. It’s like telekinesis, which I know very well on a pinball machine is perfectly possible.
– Jack Spicer

Somebody had tipped the American continent like a pinball machine and all the goofballs had come rolling to LA in the southwest corner. I cried for all of us. There was no end to the American sadness and the American madness. Someday we’ll all start laughing and roll on the ground when we realize how funny it’s been.
– Jack Kerouac

Political Commentary is also as likely to evoke Pinballs when discussing events and Politicians:

Representative Peter T. King of New York suggested that Trump could appear to be all over the place when issues were discussed among lawmakers but that the president eventually managed to move things along. “It’s totally not on a straight line,” King told The Washington Post. “It’s zigzagging, something like a pinball machine. But he does move [the ball] down.”


Kids excluded from school and then dealt with by various social departments are described as “Pinball Kids”



Reporters of the most prestigious Newspapers just cant help using the Pinball Analogy – even when it is talking about themselves and their workplace.





Science also gets in on the act and concedes that everything from the human brain to the movement of the cosmos can be explained using Pinball Machines.

Rogue alien planets are forcing astronomers to rethink the birth of our Solar System. What’s emerging is a tale of hellfire, chaos and planetary pinball – and it’s a miracle our Earth survived.
– Toby Macdonald, Producer and director, BBC Horizon

The gravitational pull of large gas giant planets can affect the orbits of smaller planets; that scenario is thought to have occurred in our own solar system. In some cases, the smaller planet may be flung into a much wider orbit, perhaps even 100 times wider than Pluto’s. In the case of single stars, that’s normally how it ends. In a binary star system, however, the two stars may play a game of “cosmic pinball” with the poor planet first.
– Nick Moeckel and Dimitri Veras of the University of Cambridge, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

In Computer Sciences.

Felix Millinga designed a Pinball Machine to demonstrate the flow of personal data around the internet and ho wit might be appropriated and used by people and agencies you never intended for it to be used by. -Full article is here

In Business there is a term called ‘Pinball Syndrome’ whereby if you suffer from it – you bounce around from one meaningless task to another without achieving anything in particular.

A Pinball Machine has been designed by Canadian artist Ho Yan (Howie) Tsui to show how a musketball entering the human body rattles around it and destroys it.

Musket Ball Pinball


Is our love affair and use of pinballs to represent everything from life, the universe and our surroundings because we have pinballesque brains?

And so for the future. Will Robots ever theorize about Pinball Machines?

But, just maybe, once Pinballs have sold us everything we don’t need and explained the workings of the Universe, they will then outlive us and the robots and will live forever happily on their own.

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