Chris playing his tiny pinball machine

Tiny Pinball Is As Cute As Pi

Pinball machines are large, complex, and heavy boxes of joy and delight. However, when you don’t have the money or space for one, you have to make your own mini Raspberry Pi-powered one.

With access to a local makerspace and a bit of extra free time, [Chris Dalke] had plans to capture the flavor of a full-scale pinball machine in a small package. Laser-cut Baltic birch forms the enclosure, and a screen makes up the playing field rather than a physical ball. An Arduino Uno handles the three buttons, the four LED matrixes, and a solenoid for haptic feedback, communicating

with the Pi via serial. Unfortunately, even with a relatively decent

volume inside, it is still a tight squeeze.

Rather than use an off-the-shelf pinball game, [Chris] wrote his own in C using raylib and raygui, two handy libraries that can be included in the project quickly. SQLLite3 writes high scores out to disk. All in all, an inspiring project that has a very high level of polish.

If you’re looking for a tiny pinball machine but want more of the classic pinball feel, why not look at this scale pinball machine?

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A screenshot of pinball schematics

Get A Grip On Troubleshooting Your Vintage Pinball Machine

Restoring vintage technology can be a tricky business, especially without the appropriate schematics and documentation. To this end [Mark] has spent the past twelve months building a comprehensive schematic editor and circuit simulator library for electromechanical pinball machines.

Rather than explore each and every table in excruciating detail, the emSim software aims to examine how specific circuits work, and how they are used as part of the gaming experience. The aim of the project is to aid in the diagnosis and repair of vintage electromechanical pinball machines, the types that rely on a dizzying array of switches, gears, motors and coils in their operation, operating like clockwork underneath the play field. While these older pinball machines typically use alternating current, the game logic (for the most part) is still binary, and can be effectively described with Boolean operators.

Like any machine with moving parts, these systems will eventually wear down and require servicing, a task which may not be in the wheelhouse for your casual pinball enthusiast. [Mark]’s hope is that his circuit simulations will allow just about anyone to repair these classic tables, and keep them around for future generations to explore and enjoy.

If tinkering with pinball innards isn’t for you, then make sure to check out our coverage of this awesome virtual pinball table.

A 1981 Centaur pinball table rebuilt into a coffee table.

Clear Off The Coffee Table, It’s Pinball Time

Like many of us, [BuildXYZ] has always wanted to own a pinball machine, but doesn’t have the space to justify buying such a big and heavy toy. But where there’s a will, there’s a way. [BuildXYZ] figured that if they could build a pinball machine into a coffee table form factor, they’d be at least halfway to justification.

[BuildXYZ] didn’t choose just any pin. After doing a bunch of research, they settled on 1981’s Bally Centaur because it’s an early solid-state machine, and it’s one of the best. It has no secondary playfield levels to deal with, making it much easier to do this project.

Where do we even start to describe this beautiful labor of love? There are too many details to list, but know that it seems to be equal amounts of restoration work and custom work that brought this table together. The build video after the break is definitely worth your time, and you’ll gain a much better appreciation of the amount of time that went into this, from the custom score decoder chip built on an FPGA to the 3D printed replacement drop targets and new acrylic bits to replace the yellowing ones from the playfield.

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Hackaday Links: July 25, 2021

Everyone makes mistakes in their job, but very few of us get the chance to make a one-character mistake with the potential to brick millions of devices. But that’s what happened to a hapless Google developer, who made an understandable typo in the ChromeOS code that ended up making it all the way to production. The error, which was in the OS encryption keys vault, was supposed to include the “&&” operator for a logical AND. The developer instead used a single ampersand, which broke the who conditional statement. This meant the OS evaluated even correct passwords as invalid, leaving users locked out of their Chromebooks. To be fair to the developer there should be a lot of QA steps between that typo and production, but it still has to sting.

Speaking of whoopsies, sometimes it just doesn’t pay to be right on the internet. It started when a player of the popular tank battle simulator “War Thunder” took issue with the in-game 3D model of the British Challenger 2 main battle tank. The player argued that the model was inaccurate to the point of affecting gameplay, and thought the model should be changed to make things more realistic. There seemed to be some basis for this, as the player claimed to have been a Challenger 2 commander and gunnery instructor. What’s more, like any good Netizen, the player cited sources to back up the claims, including excerpts from the official Challenger 2 instruction manual. Players on the War Thunder forum flagged this as likely classified material, but the player insisted that it wasn’t — right up to the point where the UK Ministry of Defence said, “Not so fast.” It turns out that the manual hasn’t been declassified, and that releasing the material potentially runs afoul of the Official Secrets Act, which carries with it up to 14 years detention at Her Majesty’s pleasure.

For fans of pinball, the announcement that the Museum of Pinball in Banning, California is closing its doors for good is probably a mix of good news and bad. It’s obviously bad news for any museum to close, especially one that curates collections from popular culture. And there’s no denying that pinball has been a big part of that culture, and that the machines themselves are often works of electromechanical art. But it appears that the museum just couldn’t make a go of it, and now its cavernous space will be sold off to a cannabis grower. But the sad news is tempered by the potential for private collectors and other pinball aficionados to score one of the estimated 1,100 pins the museum now needs to find a home for. We’ve never been to the museum, so it’s hard to say what kinds of machines they have and how collectible they are, but regardless, the market is about to be flooded. If you’re nearby, you might want to take a chance to see and play some of these machines one last time, before they get shipped off to private game rooms around the world.

And finally, exciting news from Hackaday superfriend Fran Blanche, who will soon tick an item off her bucket list with a zero-G ride on “G-Force 1”. Not to be confused with its military cousin the “Vomit Comet”, the weightlessness-simulating aircraft will afford Fran a total of about five minutes of free-fall when she takes the ride in a couple of months. There will also be periods of the flight that will simulate the gravity on both the Moon and Mars, so Fran has promised some Matt Damon mythbusting and Buzz Aldrin moonbouncing. And always one to share, Fran will bring along a professional video crew, so she can concentrate on the experience rather than filming it. We’ve actually scheduled Fran for a Hack Chat in August, to talk about the flight and some of her other cool goings-on, so watch out for that.

K’nex Pinball Machine Is A Playable Work Of Art

It’s really a wonder that we missed this one, what with all the extra time in front of a computer we’ve had over the last year or so. But better late than never, we always say, so behold, (a little at a time, because there’s quite a lot to look at), [Tyler Bower]’s pinball machine built entirely from K’nex.

Where do we even start? This is a full-size pinball machine, as in 7′ tall, 5′ long, and 3′ wide. [Tyler] estimates that it’s made from about 16,000 pieces, or around 73 pounds of plastic, much of which was obtained locally and is secondhand. Many of those pieces make up the ten drill motor-driven chain lifts in the back — these move the ball through the machine after it goes through one of the track triggers and return it to the playfield in various delightful ways.

Speaking of ways to score, there are nine of them total, and some are harder to get to than others. They all involve some really amazing K’nex movement, and each one uses aluminum foil switches to trigger scoring through a MaKey MaKey.

Of course there’s a multi-ball mode, but our favorite has to be the trap door in the playfield that gets you to the mini pinball game in the upper left, because only the best pinball games have some kind of mini game. Either that, or our favorite is the rotating arm that swings around gracefully and drops the ball on a track. Anyway, all nine elements are explored in the video after the break, which frankly we could watch on repeat. If you’re hungry for more details, there’s quite a bit of info in the description.

The only thing this machine is missing is a tilt switch, but as you’ll see in the video, it would probably get triggered quite often. Is this somehow not cool enough for you? Here’s a slightly bigger K’nex ball machine that doesn’t seem to move as much, but also isn’t a full freaking pinball machine complete with meta game.

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Three Ways To Detect The Silver Ball

We speak from experience when we say that making pinball targets is harder than you might think. The surface area of the part of the ball that touches is oh-so-small, and you really need to have gravity on your side for best results. Luckily, [TechnoChic] did the work for us and came up with these three versatile sensor designs that would be good for any game, not just pinball. They all use fresh, pristine cardboard from the Bezos Barn and a conductive fabric tape made by Brown Dog Gadgets that they call maker tape.

With the possible exception of not being solderable (can you solder it? ours hasn’t showed up yet), maker tape is seemingly superior to copper tape because it is designed to be conductive in the Z-direction, and if you’ve ever laid out a copper tape circuit, you know that tape overlaps are pretty much par for the course.

First on the list is the track switch, which we think is pretty much necessary. After all, what fun is a pinball machine without at least one pair of rails to ride? Might as well score some points at the same time. This one looks to be the trickiest since the rails have to be consistently spaced, otherwise the ball will fall. The drawbridge target uses a cardboard hinge and the weight of the ball to force two pieces of tape together to complete the circuit.

The flappy hole target is probably our favorite because it’s the most adaptable. You could use it for all kinds of things, like getting the ball to a basement level of a pinball game, or if you want to be evil, set it up in the drain area and deduct points every time you lose the ball, or just use it to trigger the next ball to drop. This one would also be really good for something like Skee-Ball and would really keep the BoM cost down compared to say, IR break-beam targets or coin slot switches.

You can check out these sensors in a brief demo after the break, and then see how [TechnoChic] put these ideas to use in this winter-themed pinball machine we showed you a few weeks ago.

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Micro:bit Makes Cardboard Pinball More Legit

What have you been doing to ward off the winter blues? [TechnoChic] decided to lean in to winter and make a really fun-looking game out of it by combining the awesome PinBox 3000 cardboard pinball sandbox with a couple of Micro:bits to handle and display the player’s score. Check it out the build and gameplay in the video after the break.

The story of Planet Winter is a bittersweet tale: basically, a bunch of penguins got tired of climate change and left Earth en masse for a penguin paradise where it’s a winter wonderland all year round. There’s a party igloo with disco lights and everything.

[TechnoChic] used a Micro:bit plugged into a Brown Dog Gadgets board to keep track of scoring, control the servo that kicks the ball back out of the igloo, and run the blinkenlights. It sends score updates over Bluetooth to a second Micro:bit and a Pimoroni Scrollbit display that sit opposite the pinball launcher. She went through a few switch iterations before settling on conductive maker tape and isolating the ball so it only contacts the tape tracks.

There are two ways to score on Planet Winter — the blizzard at the end of the ball launcher path nets you ten points, and getting the ball in the party igloo is good for thirty. Be careful on the icy lake in the middle of the playfield, because if the ball falls through the ice, it’s gone for good, along with your points. It’s okay, though, because both the party igloo and the ice hole trigger an avalanche which releases another ball.

Seriously, these PinBox 3000 kits are probably the most fun you can have with cardboard, even fresh out of the box. They are super fun even if you only build the kit and make a bunch of temporary targets to test gameplay, but never settle on a theme (ask us how we know). Not convinced? Hackaday Editor-in-Chief [Mike Szczys] explored them in depth at Maker Faire in 2018.

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