Pinball Expo: Free Play Heaven

A few days ago, Chris mentioned that he and Leslie were going to this Pinball Expo – a big event held up at the Wyndham hotel near O’Hare. To be more specific: they were heading up to play on the multiple pinball machines set on “free play” at the expo.


I was a bit late in my decision to go with, but I did end up going with… and boy am I glad I did. A bunch of us gathered, and packed into a car late on Friday night: me, Chris, Leslie, Ben and Allison all made our way together. We had hopes of heading out there at 10PM, but we didn’t really get there until closer to 11PM.

The good news? The pinball machines were available for play all night. That’s right.

Walking through the hotel hallways. Normally seeing something like this would make me chuckle. But tonight, I started getting excited. I kinda felt like a kid again, walking through the mall, waiting to round the corner where I knew the arcade would be.

Entryway. Very excited at this point. Fighting schoolgirl-like squeals, in an effort to maintain composure.

This is near the ticket area. This row of games was set for “Tournament Play,” as I guess a ton of folks were competing all week.

In the first main room, this is The Machine: Bride of Pinbot. I have incredibly fond memories of this game, as this pinball machine was set up in the main building in the dorm quad where I lived, as a Freshman.

My buddy Jim and I would head over to the small convenience store located in the main building (where they sold junk food and cigarettes), and the two of us would invariably play a few games. And then get more quarters, and then play some more.

I have incredibly fond memories of this game. The bummer was that there was constantly someone on this machine, and I never got a chance to play it while we were here. Suck.

Lots of vendors set up shop in the first room which, I guess, was used primarily as a place for people to sell their wares. There were a ton of pinball machines on free play, but all the machines in this room were technically on sale.

I was surprised to find a huge table of nothing more than ramps. I mean, I could see that they were essential elements to a machine… but to see such meticulousness was a bit surprising.

Case in point. To me, a ramp is a ramp. But I guess if you’ve got a machine, you’ll need a very specific component for it.

Ben, playing Whirlwind.

This game was at a local 7-11 store, near my home in Indianapolis. I have fond memories of going there while I was in high school and just… well, loitering, basically. Hassling the shopkeep some.

A bunch of us would go there, eat a ton of junk food (think Sun Chips, Nestle Quick and Slim Jims), and play endless games of pinball. One of the many games there at the 7-11 (in addition to Golden Axe, and a pinball game called “The Black Knight 2000”) was Whirlwind. Playing this game – I felt 16 again.

A small sidenote/confession: I remember playing this game while on acid. If you enter “Multiball” mode, there are three spinning plates that start to rotate in the center of the game… and the fan (up top) kicks into gear. While I wasn’t very sober, I remember OWNING this game. Ah, memories.

Getaway was a game that was available in the student Union, when I was in college. My friend (and roommate) Jim and I would go there often, meeting between classes and lose a bit of time playing in the arcade.

Good stuff. I’m surprised at how simplistic some of these games look, and am surprised to realize that many of these pinball games are at least 10+ years old. I still think of it as a fancy shmancy game, but in terms of actual age… it’s pretty dated.

Random shot of the room, circa 1:00 AM.

Another game that was at the Student Union. While I was generally ok with pinball (and did fairly well on Pinbot), this game… Addams Family… this game was all Jim. This was his machine. Everytime I walked by and saw this machine, I thought of him.

Detail view.

Best. Game. Ever.

While I was playing this, I had the feeling that somewhere out there… James and Jake were nodding their heads in approval.

Leslie, at the start of a row of machines.

One of my favorite shots of the evening.

What a fantastic evening/morning! We were there until maybe 2:30AM or so, before we decided to call it a night. By the end of the evening I found myself pretty overloaded, what with all the nights and bells and sweaty nerds in close proximity. Still – well worth the $15 admission price, as I surely played at least that much pinball… if not more.

Note to self for next year: Go late, and get caffeinated. The crowds die down after midnight. Bring booze, because the hotel bars close early.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. I don’t think I’ve thought of that Addams Family pinball machine in 12 years. I swear I looked at the Free Play shot and could hear the clunk. Thanks for the memories.

    Peter Reply

  2. I loved Whirlwind in college! And Bride of Pinbot!! And I spent MANY an hour playing Getaway II at Woodland Bowl, with Nik and probably with you too! This looks awesome. Thanks for the trip down memory lane!Ben

    Ben P Reply

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