Denver Mini Maker Faire: Fun With Pinball

[Mark Gibson] probably has nothing against silicon. He just knows that a lot that can be done with simple switches, relays, and solenoids and wants to share that knowledge with the world. This was made abundantly clear to me during repeat visits to his expansive booth at Denver Mini Maker Faire last weekend.

In the sunlight-filled atrium of the Museum of Nature and Science, [Mark] sat behind several long tables covered with his creations made from mid-century pinball machines. There are about two dozen pieces in his interactive exhibit, which made its debut at the first-ever Northern Colorado Maker Faire in 2013. [Mark] was motivated to build these boards because he wanted to get people interested in the way things work through interaction and discovery of pinball mechanisms.

fun with pinball thumbMost of the pieces he has built are single units and simple systems from pinball machines—flippers, chime units, targets, bumpers, and so on—that he affixed to wooden boards so that people can explore them without breaking anything. All of the units are operated using large and inviting push buttons that have been screwed down tight. Each of the systems also has a display card with an engineering drawing of the mechanism and a short explanation of how it works.

[Mark] also brought some of the original games he has created by combining several systems from different machines, like a horse derby and a baseball game. Both of these were built with education in mind; all of the guts including the original fabric-wrapped wires are prominently displayed. The derby game wasn’t working, but I managed to load the bases and get a grand slam in the baseball game. Probably couldn’t do that again in a million summers.

fun with pinball baseball game
Take me out to the Maker Faire! Click to embiggen.

About five years ago, we covered [Mark]’s build of an atomic clock from pinball machine parts. It’s about time we featured his work again. We have shared a lot of pinball-related builds over the years from the immersive to the gigantic to the dankest of the dank.

5 thoughts on “Denver Mini Maker Faire: Fun With Pinball

  1. Nice web site and exhibit. I was born in ’64 and played a lot of pinball well into my teens and beyond…. was always in awe when the playing board was lifted revealing all the electro-mechanical guts. Mark brings it all to life and explanation in his web site. Meticulously and carefully laid out. Lots of …. “I remember that” moments. Thank you!

  2. I like the giant ‘score counters’.
    Nice old tech, kinda jealous that [Mark] gets to play inside these and I don’t!
    I’ve always been a fan of relay logic. :)

  3. This is awe-inspiring to me because these machines are everywhere, often in not-particularly-working condition, just begging for someone to restore them. But getting every piece working again, all at the same time, can be quite a task!

    By breaking out the individual modules, Mark has shone light on a few alternate approaches: Perhaps a gutted machine could live on in individual demonstrators like these, which might be really neat in a local science museum or something. Perhaps certain modules like counters and displays could be repurposed into other projects, a cumulative rain counter for one’s weather station, a time’s-up annunciator, et cetera.

    Or perhaps, by individually understanding and individually operating each module, the divide-and-conquer approach might prove an easier path to full-machine restoration and maintenance.

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