news & gossip

SEVEN Questions with PAUL SONIER

Originally published in Skill Shot 21, October 2011

When/how did you first get into pinball?

While I remember some pinball machines from childhood (my first was a Big Chief at a convenience store, and I remember playing Royal Flush while on vacation at some point), I only really got into pinball after graduating high school.  I remember an Earthshaker machine that was my first real experience with hitting “the zone”, and after that, I was hooked.

When/why did you start participating in tournaments?

I actually started playing in a league in college, at a bar called Doc’s Place, in Pittsburgh; it wasn’t very far from my school, and a fellow CMU student named Dave Stewart would come in and play the games a lot.  We got to be friends, and when he started a pinball league, I was in!  After graduating from college, I moved around a bit, and with work and whatnot, I didn’t have much time to play regularly, until I saw a flyer for a Sunday tournament at Shorty’s, then run by Kevin Lessig.  I went, and won every single game (against some seriously good opponents, including Jason Hatch) to win the tournament, and ever since, I’ve been playing in tournaments in Seattle.

How would you explain your role at the Sunday Tournaments at Shorty’s?

I run the tournaments.  Simple, eh?  I gather entrants, gather entrance fees, take down names, create brackets, create matches, and (randomly) choose the initial machines to play on.  The process is a little mechanical and a little annoying, as anyone who’s tried to set up a tournament can attest to.

How long have you been involved with the Sunday Tournament?

I’ve been involved with it for about 3 or 4 years now; initially as a participant, but when Kevin decided to bow out as tournament organizer, I decided to step up and take on the task myself.  I’ve been running them myself now (with assistance at times from Jawn Wakefield and Jeff Gagnon) for about 3 years, I guess; it’s kind of surprising to realize it’s been that long!

What advice do you have for someone competing in the Sunday Tournament for the first time?

Have fun!  The tournaments are all about having fun, and playing pinball with different people.  Competitive play is very different from normal friendly play; you can expect to do worse than you normally do when playing someone else.  Stick with it and enjoy playing with someone else; I’ve probably learned more about good pinball play from watching my competitors play than I have from tons and tons of solo practice.

We heard that you are working on a pinball related web project, can you give us any details?

There is definitely a web project in the works, but that’s under wraps right now.  However, as a lead-in to the web project, I’ve been putting together an Android app that runs on phones that will help Tournament Organizers create and manage their tournaments; it lets you keep track of entrants and their registration status, track tournament results, etc.  It’s going to be published on the Android Market soon, and will be free to download for anyone who wants a little bit of help running a tournament!  In fact, it’s not pinball-specific, but can be used for all sorts of tournaments, from pinball to darts to billiards to board games!  I’ll be using it to help me with the tournament this Sunday, and that will be a good debugging run, so if you want to see it in action, come on out to the tournament!

What is your favorite pinball machine?

Ooh, the trickiest question.  While I’m fond of Tron recently, and I really have a soft spot for some of the older machines such as Surf Champ and other EMs, I’m just a total fan of Pat Lawlor machines. Earthshaker, Whirlwind, Addams Family, Road Trip… even Family Guy shows that brilliant Pat Lawlor design.  But my favorite of all of his machines, and the one that I’d just love to have and play constantly, would be Twilight Zone.  From the the excellent music (Golden Earring! Yeah!) to the fantastic theme (Rod Serling = the epitome of cool) to the fantastic toys / gimmicks (Powerball!) to the wizard mode (nothing like getting Lost in the Zone!), it’s just a constant joyous experience.  So much about that machine just sticks with you… anyone who’s played it for any amount of time can recognize the sounds, from the rocket launch to the Hitchhiker chime to the excellent voice work (“Don’t touch the door!”).  The playfield design is marvelous; it SHOULD feel cramped, from the looks of it, but it’s really very expansive, with tons of “hidden” shots that are a joy to discover (Town Square, or the left-flipper shot off the left side of the slot machine to a Camera shot, or any of the seemingly random but surprisingly repeatable ways to hit the piano from the right flipper).

The Sunday Tournament at Shorty’s is the first Sunday of every month. A potluck brunch begins at 1 and the tournament starts at 3. Shorty’s is at 2222 2nd Avenue.

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