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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IOT Pinball Puts Oktoberfest Fun On Tap

We don’t really miss going out to bars all that much, unless you’re talking about the one downtown with all the pinball machines. Don’t get us wrong — pinball emulators have gotten crazy good, and you can find exact digital replicas of most machines to play on your phone or whatever. But it just doesn’t compare to the thrill of playing a real cabinet.

Don’t despair, because for the next couple of weeks, you can queue up to play on a real Oktoberfest pinball machine that’s sitting in Espoo, Finland. The controls are hooked up to a Raspberry Pi 4 through a custom HAT, along with a camera pointed at the playfield and another focused on the backglass screen. The game development/video streaming company Surrogate is hosting a tournament over the internet, and will be giving prizes to the top ten high rollers.

We usually have to wait until the holiday season to come across these remote-reality gaming opportunities. Having played it several times now, we recommend spamming the flippers until you get a feel for the lag. Also, just holding the flippers up while the ball is in the upper half of the playfield will catch a lot of balls that you might otherwise lose due to flipper lag, and sometimes they end up back in front of the launcher to shoot again. After the break, check out a brief but amusing video of setting up the cameras and Pi that includes a taste of the Oktoberfest music.

The tournament runs until the end of August, which should be enough time for somebody to set up CV and a keyboard to play this automatically. Need inspiration? Here’s an open-source pinball machine that can play itself.

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Virtual Pinball Cabinet Provides Real Thrills

Being a fan of pinball is bittersweet these days. In the go-go 1990s, you could still find pins in places like coffeehouses and the odd gas station here and there as the commercial arcade began to fade into the past. Things were looking up once booze-fueled b-arcades became a thing, but the pandemic economy may come for them soon enough.

Poor [smithsa3] doesn’t have a table around for hundreds of miles. Instead of settling for an older table or agonizing over the average price of newer tables, [smithsa3] found a happy medium and built a full-size virtual pinball cabinet to play pretty much any table there is. The only non-negotiable game was Addams Family, which you can see in the demo after the break.

Inside is a PC running PinballX, along with a 37″ TV for the playfield and two 17″ monitors that make up the backboard. Between the physical inputs and the faithful recreations of current and classic pinball games that are out there, this really is the best of both worlds.

We love that [smithsa3] combined stock and DIY hardware to pull this together. The cabinet uses standard legs and arcade buttons, but [smithsa3] built the plunger, interfaced it with an old keyboard controller, and made a coin slot mechanism that rejects everything but 10p coins.

Spend enough time playing pinball, and you’ll no doubt begin to fantasize about building your own. We’ve seen one or two of those, but not too many that can play themselves.

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Pinball Machine Needs No Wizard

Ever since he was a young boy, [Tyler] has played the silver ball. And like us, he’s had a lifelong fascination with the intricate electromechanical beasts that surround them. In his recently-completed senior year of college, [Tyler] assembled a mechatronics dream team of [Kevin, Cody, and Omar] to help turn those visions into self-playing pinball reality.

You can indeed play the machine manually, and the Arduino Mega will keep track of your score just like a regular cabinet. If you need to scratch an itch, ignore a phone call, or just plain want to watch a pinball machine play itself, it can switch back and forth on the fly. The USB camera mounted over the playfield tracks the ball as it speeds around. Whenever it enters the flipper vectors, the appropriate flipper will engage automatically to bat the ball away.

Our favorite part of this build (aside from the fact that it can play itself) is the pachinko multi-ball feature that manages to squeeze in a second game and a second level. This project is wide open, and even if you’re not interested in replicating it, [Tyler] sprinkled a ton of good info and links to more throughout the build logs. Take a tour after the break while we have it set on free play.

[Tyler]’s machine uses actual pinball machine parts, which could quickly ramp up the cost. If you roll your own targets and get creative with solenoid sourcing, building a pinball machine doesn’t have to be a drain on your wallet.

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Team Scores Big Points With Pinball Final Project

For their final project in [Bruce Land]’s class on designing with PIC32 microcontrollers, [Sujith], [Julia] and [Andrew] wanted to do something fun. And what could be more fun than bending to the electromechanical siren song of the pinball machine?

This machine looks great, and as you can see in the demo video after the break, it plays and sounds great, too. We particularly like the boomerang obstacle and the game state-driven LED strip. The more points you score, the brighter they go. We also like that this machine combines traditional scoring methods with a few really clever ones, like the boomerang target near the top and the scoring triggers made from copper tape.

The team started by designing the heart of any pinball machine, the flippers. Though we have seen car door lock actuators used in homebrew machines, the team went with traditional solenoids to drive them. Unfortunately the solenoids caused a lot of interference, but the team got around it with filter capacitors and aluminium foil Faraday cages around the wires.

If all this pinball talk has your circuits lit up, why not try making your own machine? Continue reading “Team Scores Big Points With Pinball Final Project”