By Pro-Graham Klym

(Originally published in Skill Shot 26, October 2012)

You know that sweet feeling you get when you walk into a place and see a pinball machine you’ve never played before? Forget about it. I want to talk about the other end of the spectrum. This article is about those ubiquitous pins around every corner and why they deserve just as much of your attention.

Let’s face it: the unavoidable games that we find everywhere are clearly going to steal more of your quarters whether you like it or not, because you want to play and that’s all they’ve got. This isn’t a bad thing. Embrace it! Master it! The more common the pin, the more likely you’ll find it in a tournament setting or out with friends. And the more you play, the more you’ll win.

Fortunately, the two most frequently found pins in Seattle (and King County at large) are fantastic games: The Lord of the Rings and The Simpsons Pinball Party. These two games have a lot in common. Both were released by Stern in 2003 and are the two top-ranking Stern tables on IPDB. Both make the most of well-known licenses with great voiceover work and fun playfield toys. But most importantly, both offer tons of modes and multiballs that can be stacked on top of each other.

The Lord of the Rings

LoTR is perfect for beginners and experts alike. All the shots are fanned out in front of you! The game revolves around the three movie multiballs, after which you can Destroy the Ring. With the right approach you will be queuing up all three multiballs in no time. Here’s how to start:

Start with the Orthanc Skill Shot (top left tower). It’s not hard to make and it’s a good opportunity to collect souls and advance the Return of the King multiball. The ball returns through the left inlane and lights a KEEP letter to advance the sword lock (Aragorn/right ramp) for Two Towers multiball. Shoot any fellowship member and with one plunge and one flip you’ve advanced all three movie multiballs! Out of the three movie modes, the Fellowship multiball may be the easiest to pursue and the most cinematic, so gathering the fellowship straight away is a good idea as well as nice target practice for every major shot of the game. The fellowship is spread out across the orbits, saucer, pop bumpers, and ramps. For extra points, start a mode at the center Ring ramp just before starting a multiball as you can’t start mode during multiball.

Gollum multiball, which is lit after collecting 9 rings of men and collected at the Gimli/right saucer, will run on top of any other mode or multiball. This means an additional ball, and a chance for extra points when Gollum’s channeling Smeagol. So while collecting fellowship members, try aiming first for the lit ring of men. Subsequent ring combo shots will give you two of the same ring, so hit them fast to get more bang for your buck.  Destroy the ring in record time and your initials are immortalized on the dot matrix display. Not quite a Tengwar inscription on the One Ring, but not too shabby either.

The Simpsons Pinball Party

TSPP is colorful and busy but not nearly so straightforward. There are tons of crazy modes, and I’ve got to admit I haven’t seen most of them. Good starting points are to go for the Itchy and Scratchy Multiball on the right side of the playfield, and to hit the garage. The garage will bring you to the upper playfield to work toward couch multiball, start modes at the TV, and give you letters to spell “Simpsons” for D’Oh Frenzy.

After starting a mode, the TV will show the remaining time you have left on the mode. TSPP has a shared timer for everything, so you can stack modes easily by just making sure the timer doesn’t run out, either by starting another mode or shooting Otto to add time.

The Ruleset for TSPP can be especially overwhelming – and near impossible to approach on a table with a broken garage door, weak flippers, or any number of issues. That’s why it’s so important, for this game in particular, to find one in good working condition.

Where to Play

The Narwhal on Capitol Hill is home to both LoTR and TSPP, and as they are serviced by Shorty’s they are generally in excellent shape. The Eastlake Zoo Tavern also recently received TSPP in good condition, but games get beat up pretty quickly there, so go play it now or play later at your own risk.  You can also expect a beautiful playfield on LoTR at the Ballard Full Tilt, with XX Amusements taking care of it. The White Center Full Tilt location is a good all ages option for TSPP, where games are also diligently maintained.