Jackpot! Lafayette Pinball League ‘flips’ for a classic

Many gather at Main Street Amusements for Lafayette's Pinball League.
Many gather at Main Street Amusements for Lafayette's Pinball League.

LAFAYETTE, Ind. (WLFI) – For some, Tuesday night is a league bowling night. For others, it may mean bingo night. But for a small but growing group of fans, it’s the night to grab a few quarters and head to the arcade for league pinball.

The game begins with the token, then a quick pull back of the plunger. Then, you know you’re in business.

It’s clear from the beeps, the bounces and the buzzers, it was the first night of a new season for the Lafayette Pinball League at Main Street Amusements at 642 Main Street Tuesday.

“Pinball is different. Every game is different. The ball is wild,” said Lafayette Pinball League President Tom Vandenberg.

There’s a little of everything at Indiana’s largest pinball arcade.

From the movie-themed machines like Star Wars and Tron, to themes like South Park and the Twilight Zone, sports or a board game like Monopoly, there’s something for everyone.

“If you know how to press a couple of buttons, you know how to play pinball,” said Vandenberg.

“It’s fun,” said player Bob Skinner. “It’s challenging.”

But perhaps best of all, it’s cheap. Each game costs between 25 to 75 cents. And if Lady Luck is smiling, you might just get a free game or two in the bargain.

“Three dollars gets you a lot of fun,” said Vandenberg.

“It’s a different game every time, not one set pattern. It’s always random,” agrees Skinner.

But don’t be fooled, there’s some skill and strategy involved for the best players too. There are basic fundamentals like flipper control to make a better aimed shot, knowing when to risk it to go for the jackpot and lots and lots of patience.

There’s even a ranking system, based on the number of tournaments a player enters and how well he or she finishes. Of the 15,000 ranked players in the world, Skinner has been ranked as high as 97. Vandenberg is currently ranked 628.

“I try not to tell too many people about that,” said Skinner with a smile.

“I don’t usually tell people that because it doesn’t really matter. I do tell people I play pinball.”

Now it was time for the novice to challenge the veteran.

Skinner is currently ranked 176. It’s obvious he knows what he’s doing, achieving bonuses for several skill shots and multi-ball. It turns out to be an average score for him, 64.9 million.

I started off strong, but fortunes quickly changed and ball one was gone. I found a little bit more of a rhythm with the second ball. But a deficit of 30 million points proves to be just too much for the final ball, and I finish with a score of 51 million, which Skinner said was pretty good for a beginner.

But it’s not all experts out for league night or even all men. Carrie Wing just happened to stop by and decided to join the league with a friend.

“I would definitely recommend it. I didn’t feel intimidated being out here,” said Wing.

For the regulars, that’s the kind of atmosphere they are trying to develop and encourage.

“If you’re intimidated or think you’re not any good, that’s okay. We’ll teach you the games and we’ll show you what to do,” said Vandenberg.

League pinball may not be for everyone. But with no league fees and a weekly cost of roughly $3, it can be for just about anyone.

“It’s such an iconic thing, such a nostalgia thing. I don’t think it’s as nerdy as some people might think,” said Vandenberg.

No matter your skill level, sooner or later, ‘Game Over’ will be the end result to your game. Which is why it’s a good thing it only takes another quarter or three to be game on, once again.

The Lafayette Pinball League has a league night or a monthly tournament every Tuesday beginning at 7:30 p.m.

For league nights, each player plays the same five of Main Street’s 31 machines. Players are awarded points based on how they finish. At the end of the season, there is a tournament where players are seeded based on how they finished during the regular season.

This is the fifth Lafayette Pinball League. The league starts new each spring and fall based on Purdue’s schedule.

For more information on the Lafayette Pinball League, click here.

The League is a part of the International Flipper Pinball Association which ranks players worldwide. For more information on IFPA’s rankings or events around the world, click here.

Main Street Amusements is open from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. For more information, click here.

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