Wayne Schmidt's Addams Family Pinball Game Page Playfield picture with target explanations and ball aiming techniques.

 
As strange as it may sound, I never played a pinball game in my entire life. Then one day while waiting for a movie to start in the local multiplex theater, I wandered over into the arcade area and tucked away in the darkest corner was an old-fashioned pinball game with real flippers and steel balls instead of animated images on a monitor.

I'd tried several computerized arcade games in the past and quickly grew bored with them. They were too simple and easy, typically a machine gun used to shoot at animated targets on a screen. No skill was needed, just keep firing until the monster fell down. The various car race games were also the same, turn the wheel to keep the car on the track. This pinball game appeared to be much the same sort of thing: just bat the steel ball to keep it from draining down to the bottom of the table. I checked my watch: 15-minutes to show time. What the heck. I shoved two quarters into the coin slot and started plugging away.

The first thing I noticed is that in spite of the advances made in computer animation it can't hold a candle to the real world... and in pinball the real world is out to get you. In less than a minute all five balls had drained away and the game was over. My score? $4M. Sounded good until the old-fashioned orange dot-matrix display at the bottom of the backboard told me the record for that machine was over $366M. Faced with that challenge I had to try again. Two more quarters disappeared into the coin slot. This game lasted a full two minutes and earned me $9M... but don't ask me how. The shiny steel balls whirled around so fast I could barely follow them. I dug more quarters out of my pocket. Another game. More quarters. On and on I played visiting the change machine as needed for fresh quarters to feed my new master. Two hours later I staggered out of the theater, eyes glazed. The movie? To this day I can't remember what I had gone to see and missed.

What followed this experience was three weeks of playing the game alternated with hours of studying playing tactics found on the Internet. Yes, I mean hours of studying. What I discovered about pinball games in general and the Addams Family game in particular is what this page is all about. It's intended to help people new to pinball, like myself, better understand these unique games and offer a few playing strategies that will increase their scores and enjoyment of the game. But first, two important warnings:



1. Pinball isn't easy.

People unfamiliar with pinball look at these games and assume all they have to do is use the paddles to knock the balls back up the table and trust to luck to make points. Wrong. Pinball is above all else a game of skill. Players have to learn where on the paddles to hit the balls to direct them to specific targets. This takes practice... and lots of it. The steel balls can reach speeds as high as 90 miles per hour. On a pinball table this translates into small fractions of a second to travel from the top to the bottom of the table. To deal with this challenge the player has to have nerves of steel, razor-sharp sight, be able to anticipate where the ball's going to go and lightening-fast reflexes. As if that's not bad enough, from time to time, more often than than one would expect, the ball bounces off a post and straight into the drain without ever giving you the chance to hit it.

Read on... things get worse.



2. Pinball isn't simple.

I discovered that getting high pinball scores isn't simply the result of hitting random targets. Certain targets have different points. Knowing which have the most is critical for high scores. Pinball games typically have several different "rounds" where, if the player hits the right combination of targets, the rules of the game change enabling the knowledgeable player to score enormous awards. The not-so-knowledgeable player, like me, will be lost. The level of complexity in the average pinball game is almost impossible to appreciate. For example, on the Internet I found two playing guides for the Addams Family pinball game. One of them (by Brian Dominy) is eight, closely-typed pages using a small font. The other (by Keefer) is 22 pages long.

I've carefully read both playing guides at least three times and am almost completely lost in the complexity and details of different play options. There are dozens of lights on the playfield, all of which tell you what the current playfiled set-up is, which in turn suggests strategies to the informed player. A moment later the conditions may change and you're playing a completely different game. It's hard to image how anyone could memorize all this information and be able to recall it in the heat of the game. (An indication of how complicated the Addams Family pinball game is can be found by carefully reading between the lines of the Keefer and Dominy guides. In spite of having tapped the experience of a dozen knowledgeable players comprising hundreds if not thousands of hours of play, in several places the authors are honest in stating that there are still unknown areas of this game.

 
Resistance Is Futile:

In spite of these warnings, there's something about pinball that's irresistible. Perhaps it's the challenge of attempting the nearly impossible or the satisfaction of mastering one of these games step by slow step. Additionally, unlike many games pinball provides immediate gratification. Hit a target and an attractive light flashes and a funny sound errupts from the speakers. Make a skill shot and lights blink, music plays and the score spirals up. Most games only provide positive reinforcement at the very end. With pinball you get then but also during the game.

So, if you've found a pinball game, which is a rarity these days, and want to learn how to play it better then I hope the following page will be helpful. I'm writing it for myself, as well as anyone who discovers it, to record what I learn for future reference. While most of this page is dedicated specifically to playing the Addams Family game, the methodology for approaching any pinball game and the ball aiming strategies should be universally useful.

Before I go any further I must make it clear that I am just a beginner. I've played the Addams Family game less than 1000 times prior to starting this page and I've never played any other pinball game in my life. My highest score on an Addams Family game is only $2,059,409,930, less than one-third of the record. My average game is down around $300M. I don't want anyone to think I'm an expert just because I put together a web page about it. Also, this is not a stand-alone page. I consider it a supplement to the much more extensive Keefer and Dominy guides. It's intended for novice-level players like myself. Finally, much of the information on this page comes from the Keefer and Dominy guides. All I'm doing is presenting it in a way I find easier to visualize.

(A note about high scores: I found several pinball game score lists on the Internet. The highest official score verified by an independent referee was 1,111,408,740 by Marc Conant on April 20, 1997 in San Jose. The highest score achieved by 106 competitors in the 2006 Stockholm Open Pinball tournament was 372 million. Steel City Pinball reports the league average for 408 players is 49,476,786 with the highest score being 616,426,000. The problem with comparing these scores is that it's not always clear whether they were playing 3-ball or 5-ball games and whether extra ball buy-ins were allowed. Additionally, I could not find verification as to how the games were set up. I assume most were in the "tournament play" or "factory setup" configurations. More importantly, I couldn't information about any playfield changes. Adjustments to the outlane openings can have an enormous impact of ball survivability. If it sounds like I'm bending over backwards to qualify these high scores it's because it is very difficult to compare game scores between different pinball machines even if they are the same model. The set-up options available to Addams Family game owners allows them to create games that are very easy or extremely difficult. Also, a dirty table with a 6-degree incline will play much more slowly and easily than a very clean and highly polished table set to 7-degrees. Finally, I'm not sure if the high scores are the total of a single game or if they're the total of the primary game plus additional games won while playing the initial game.

A later search for high TAF scores turned up a site (pinballhighscores.org) where the highest score claimed was 6.24 billion. I emailed Brian Dominy about this score and he thought it might be possible for a championship-level player. Brian's best, 1.2 billion, took 45 minutes so a 6-billion game would last 3 to 4 hours. It's hard to believe that anyone could stay sharp for that long. Brian also explained that high scores like this are anomalies. His average TAF score is below 100 million and he feels good topping 300 million.

My highest score after playing an average of 5 games a day for three months was $919 million. It took 30 minutes during which I toured the mansion twice and got two triple jackpots. Comparing this score to the multi-billion achievements of others shows that while it's respectable it's hardly outstanding. After playing seven months I topped $1 billion and have ten $900 million games. Since then, playing an average of one game a day, by the time I'd had the machine 15 months I'd racked up 10 billion-plus games with the highest being $2 billion. This was a quadruple-tour the mansion game that took an hour and twenty minutes to play. Considering that this is the only game I play and am intimately familiar with all it's ideosicracies this isn't nearly as impressive as it may appear, particulary when comparing it to the $6 billion record. Clearly, this is a challenging game that may take years to master.

 

First Up: Know your Enemy

The idea behind pinball games is simple: use flippers to drive balls into targets to earn points, extra balls and free games. Doing this requires that the player know where the targets on the playfiled are, how they score and how to hit them. Because of the complexity of these machines, if you really want to get good at one I recommend a slow, methodical approach.

 
Learn the Playfield:

Before putting any money in the coin slot, take time to study the playfield. Make a sketch or better yet take a photo of it. Mark all the targets then do an Internet search for that game to find a playing guide. The guide will supply information about what the different targets are, what they award and how to hit them. Use this information to annotate your drawing or picture and then memorize it. In the heat of battle you won't have time to refer to this chart so learn it well ahead of time.

Below is the playfield photo I took of an Addams Family game with the names of all the targets. Below the picture are paragraphs explaining how each target works. (For my own use I have the target details printed right on a laminated copy of this picture and review it before each playing session. I tried posting this more easily followed picture on this page but the letters were so small that they weren't readable without increasing the image to multi-megabyte size.)


1. Left Outlane: This is where balls drain away to end play on that ball.

2. Left Inlane: Balls drifting down through this inlane are fed to the lower left flipper. As they pass over the wire sensor the number of bear kicks earned if a ball is shot through the center ramp is increased from one to two for 4 seconds. This may not seem like much time but one second after activating this switch the ball is in perfect position on the paddle to make this shot.

3. Far Left Inlane: As with the previous inlane, this one sends the ball to the lower left paddle, in the process triggering a switch that activates the ramp diverter in the left ramp and turns on the automatic Thing Flipper control four 8 seconds. If a ball is fired into the center ramp within this time the diverter will rotate clockwise so the ball falls straight down to the Thing flipper on the left instead of running down and across the playfield on the wire track to the lower right flipper. Because the automatic Thing Flipper is active, the flipper will activate itself and hit the ball into the Swamp... making it 60-percent of the time.

4. Thing Flipper: A small flipper used to bat balls into the Swamp on the right side of the playfield. As the ball falls down, either from the far left ramp or after coming out of the Graveyard, it trips an optical sensor that lights or activates the Graveyard. This increases the award for making the shot by 5X.

5. "G" and "R" Graveyard targets: Hitting either of these turns on the light to its corresponding Graveyard bumper (the 5 mushroom-shaped bumpers in the Graveyard area on the left side of the field.) Hitting it a second time makes the light start flashing. Each light status indicates different points are awarded every time the bumper is tripped by a ball running into it. By hitting all 5 GRAVE targets to light all 5 letters, you are awarded $2M to $10M depending on how many times you've already lit all of them in the past.

6. Left Loop: Shooting a ball up through this path through the Graveyard sends it up and around the top of the table to come out behind the vault and fall down toward the upper right flipper. If the Adv. X light is lit by a ball that has drifted down through the right inlane within the last 5 seconds, driving a ball up through this loop will multiply any bonus points by 1X to 5X depending on how many times it's already been made.

7. Graveyard: An area filled with 5 mushroom-shaped bumpers. If unlit, every time a ball hits one of these the Graveyard award (earned by shooting a ball into the Swamp) is increased by $10K, if lit by $20K and if flashing by $30K. The ball exits this area either by draining down in front of the Thing flipper or to the left of the Electric Chair.

8. Four Cousin It Targets: These score $250K each time they are hit. During the Cousin It round (one of several mini-games where the rules change to increase the chance of earning huge awards) the award is increased to $1M and increases the award for any target hit on the playfield by $50K.

9. Diverter: When activated rotates clockwise to let balls falls straight down the left side of the table instead of being steered into the wire rail and taken across to the lower right flipper.

10. Left Ramp: Shooting a ball up this ramp awards $1M to $10M depending on how many times you've already done it on a single ball. It also lights the next letter in THING on the backboard as well as the next GRAVE letter. This ramp always activates the diverter to send the ball to the Thing flipper. In the multiball mode it awards the Super Jackpot award. If the Left loop has already been shot, making this ramp lights a star on one side of the THING letters below the dot matrix display. If the THING award is collected later, this star earns and extra $5M.

11. Train Wreck Target: Awards $1M per hit. Initially, 2 hits awards a bonus of $5M for a train wreck. After that the number of train wreck target hits required to earn this extra train wreck award goes up by one each time you get a train wreck. Getting a train wreck freezes the Graveyard value for the next ball so it doesn't start over at a smaller value. Four train wrecks (14 train wreck target hits) earn an extra ball.

12. Thing Ramp: Awards $100K and sends the ball to the Thing Eject. If the green lamp is lit a ball here will be locked (saved) for release the next time a multiball round is started. If THING is spelled out on the backglass then sending a ball into this ramp collects the THING award: $5M, $10M or $15M depending on how many times the THING award has been earned. Any star awards are also earned at this time. The yellow light indicates the THING award is ready to be collected. If you've earned a Quick Multiball or Thing multiball, shooting a ball into this ramp starts that round. Getting a ball into this ramp also earns you an extra ball when the Extra Ball lamp in the Mansion is lit.

13. "A" target: Hitting this target lights "A" in GRAVE.

14. Center (Bear Kick) Ramp: Lights the "V" in GRAVE. Awards Bear Kick points, which go to earning extra balls. The number of kicks needed is usually 8 for the first ball and 50 for the second. (The 8-ball threshold increases with the highest scores obtained on the game. It can be reset back to 8 but starts moving up again. The game's software seems to have a mind of its own in this respect.) At 15, 30, 45, etc. kicks a Mansion room starts flashing indicating the award associated with that room can be collected by hitting the correct target. Making this ramp in Multiball adds $1M to the Jackpot and $1M to the vault award in Quick multiball. Balls follow the blue arrow to the right inlane or the other blue arrow to the Thing flipper if the Thing Flips light has been lit by the far left inlane or during the Seance round. $500K is awarded in bonus points each time you make this ramp and these as cummulative for all the balls in a game. This bonus can build up to one of the big pointmakers in a long game where it's easy to have 30 to 40 bear kicks worth tens of millions of points.

15. Thing Eject: This is a circular target in front of Thing's box. It awards $2M to $5M on the skill shot depending on how many times it's already been made. (The skill shot is made by releasing the plunger after pulling it back just far enough so the the ball barely clears the top of the entry ramp and falls into the Thing eject hole.) Balls are ejected down to the upper right flipper.

16. Thing Box: This is the box out of which Thing comes, picks up the ball and most times drops it down a hidden ramp to the Swamp kickout on the right side of the playfield. If THING has just been awarded, Thing returns the ball to the Thing Eject. (To be honest I'm still not certain why Thing sometimes does and sometimes doesn't pick up the ball. But then the machine I play on has many problems and this unpredictable behavior may be one of them.)

17. Vault: If its green light is lit it means it'll lock a ball for multiball. If the red one is lit it'll start a multiball round, award a jackpot or enable a super jackpot to be won.

18. Bookcase: Every time you hit the bookcase one of the four optical sensors in front of it is triggered and the next letter in the word GREED is lit. Lighting all of them causes the bookcase to rotate sideways exposing the Vault opening.

19. Upper Right Flipper: Used to fire balls into the Left Ramp. Can also send them into the Train Wreck target, the Cousin It targets, the center ramp and if you're lucky, bounce the ball off a post and into the Vault even if the Bookcase is closed.

20. Swamp: An opening that if a ball goes into awarding you the Graveyard award or 5X this award if the optical sensor above the upper left flipper has been triggered. Balls can be locked here for multiball rounds and it's the "E" target for spelling GRAVE. It awards Mansion room awards the same as the electric chair. There is one target above and two below the Swamp entry, which award $1M when hit if the 5X light is light by the upper left flipper's optical sensor. These targets are also used by the game's computer to fine-tune the timing of the automated Thing flipper controller.

21. Swamp Eject: This is where balls exit the Swamp. They're fired at the lower right flipper. This is also where the first ball in a multiball round comes from.

22. Electric Chair Shooting a ball into the opening under the electric chair awards any currently flashing rooms in the Mansion if the yellow light in the chair is lit. If its red light is on, a ball into the chair starts a multiball round if you've earned it. Balls kicked out of it are directed at the middle of the lower left flipper. The yellow light is lit at the beginning of each ball. It's also lit four 4 seconds by a ball passing through the right inlane or permanently by a ball going through either the left or center ramps so something must happen during play to turn it off. (Haven't figured that one out yet.)

23. Right Inlane: Enables the ADV. X award for the left loop for 5 seconds. Since the ball immediately falls down to the lower right flipper for a shot toward the left loop this is plenty of time.

24. Mansion: This isn't a target but rather an indicator of the game's status as far as 13 special Mansion Award options are concerned. When a Mansion room's light is flashing, the award associated with that room can be collected if you can shoot a ball into the target associated with it, usually the electric chair or swamp. (I have a tough time with this for two reasons. First, I'm usually too busy trying to follow the ball to look at the lights. Second, 8 of the lMansion room lights on the game I play are burned out.)

25. Right Outlane: Ball drain into the bottom of the table and out of play.

 

One Additional Thought: Points, actually money in the Addams Family game, are awarded in two different categories for each ball. First there are points earned immediately from the balls hitting various targets. Second, there are bonus points which may be increased by various multipliers activated by making specific shots. The reason for dividing the points into two groups is because if a tilt is triggered you lose all the bonus points, but keep the immediate points. This way you're punished for over tilting the machine but still earn some points to keep you interested.

 
Is that all? Not even close. This just provides a cursory overview of the playfiled and some of the award options. For complete information you need to study the player guides by Keefer and Dominy (links available at the bottom of this page.) But, what I provided serves as a good introduction. Next up: Learning how to make the critical shots.

 

Second: Mastering Critical Shots

While the following shots are particular to the Addams Family pinball game, most of them have relevance to many games at least as far as controlling the ball's direction. The following are listed order of what in what my extremely limited experience and skill level tells me are the most important as far as the Addams Family game is concerned. (I apologize if I use the wrong names for certain shots. I live in a pinball vacuum and am forced to make this up as I go along.)

 
The Skill Shot:

There are two reasons I believe the skill shot is the most important to master. First, it awards $2M to $5M before the ball really enters into play. Second, it ejects the ball directly to the upper right flipper for a shot to the important Left Lane. The skill shot is easy to make after learning a couple of tricks.

The first thing to learn is how far to pull back the plunger. Each pinball table is different so this has to be learned from scratch for each table. Position your eye directly above the scale showing through the plunger window and remember to go back to this same position every time. (Because the plunger and scale are not at the same distance from your eye, any movement of your eye will change the relative position of the plunger.) Now find a convenient mark on the plunger and pull it back to an easily remembered point on the scale. Release the plunger and see where the ball goes. If the ball falls short pull the plunger further back next time, too far and select a shorter position. Experiment with the release location until you find the one that drops the ball into the Thing Eject for the skill award.

Critical to making this shot is the release. It has to be the same every time. Letting your hand move forward or backward on the release will throw the ball speed off. Also remember to use a clean release. Opening your fingers slowly will cause the knob to drag over your skin and slow the release causing the ball to fall short. One way to avoid this is not to hold the knob with your fingers but with your fingernails. This allows for a cleaner, drag-free release.

I've discovered that the shooter rotates every time it's used, which seems to change the pressure the spring exerts. If pulled back to exactly the same position and released the same way every time, some shots will go in, some will fall short, and some will overshoot the skill shot. The key to correcting for this is to be away of how hard it is to pull the plunger back in the zone around the approximate release position. If it feels a little tight, move the plunger 1/16th inch or so in, if loose, pull it back a little farther. Practice will quickly show how much extra push or pull is needed to adjust for changes in spring tension.

Above all, the key to making this shot is consistency. The better you're able to do everything the same way each time, the higher your percentage will be for making this critical shot.

 
The Stop Shot:

I rate this as the second most important shot because it enables the player to stop the action, catch his breath and see where he is in the game to select the best target strategy. Actually, it isn't really a shot.

When a ball is kicked out of the Swamp toward the lower right flipper, if you raise and hold the paddle before the ball reaches it, nine out of ten times the ball will bounce on it a few times before coming to rest in the valley formed by the flipper and the right inlane guide. (This stop is dependent on the speed of the table. It may not work on some.) This stop shot can also be made on any ball that isn't coming at the flipper with too much speed. It can't be done with balls rolling down the right inlane (at least not on the machine I play) because they have enough speed and the flipper's angle is low enough so that they dribble off the end of the flipper.

Important note: Holding the right flipper up until the status report starts to appear in the dot matrix display also turns off the deflecting magnets when THE POWER is active. Using a stop shot at such times and holding it until this happens may provide a clear shot to a desired target that the magnets, if still on, would almost certainly deflect. In rounds with time limits it may be hard to let 10 seconds drain away while this happens, but the investment may pay off in making an otherwise impossible shot.

Once you've stopped the ball you can select a number of different shots to attempt. These are much easier than trying to make them with balls that are on the move because when you release the flipper to let the ball roll down it, the ball will be rolling very slowly, which greatly increases the accuracy with which you can select the triggering point. And speaking of triggering points...

...the positions above are numbered in order of importance and ease of making the shot.

1. Trigger the flipper when the ball is just short of rolling half way down the flipper and it'll almost always shoot straight into the Thing ramp. The great thing about this shot is that the ball is then ejected toward the upper right flipper for a shot at the Left ramp.

2. Triggering the flipper a little earlier, say around 45-percent of the way down, and the ball will almost always shoot up into the center ramp or the "A" target. This shot is critical for building up the bear kick count for extra balls and stating mansion room rounds.

3. Shooting with the ball at the 60-percent spot usually fires it into the electric chair. Because the angle of approach reduces the effective available opening to the chair and by the time the balls rolls this far it's going pretty fast, I find this shot tough.

4. At the 70-percent point the ball goes into either the "G" or "R" targets or up the left loop.

5. If the ball is at the 40-percent position it'll go almost straight up and hit the bookcase.

I haven't had much luck trying to send the ball up to the upper right flipper by hitting it when it's shorter than the #5 position. The reason is that the flipper's movement is so short at that point that it doesn't push the ball hard enough to make it go anywhere. This is something I'm still working on.

 

Shots from the Upper Flipper:

1. This one's critical because it's the only way to drive a ball into the all-important left ramp. The shot is tricky because the ball's so far up the table its position is difficult to see and the fact that by the time it's rolled down from the Thing Eject it's picked up considerable speed. I find I have the best luck triggering the flipper when the ball's 90-percent down it.

2. Triggering at the 80-percent location drives a ball into the train wreck target.

3. At 70-percent there is a good chance to make the Thing ramp, which gives you a second try. For this reason it's best to trigger a little early than a little late.

4. Balls hit when they roll down to the 95-percent location tend to go into the Cousin It targets. But be careful, much past this point and the ball just dribbles off the end of the flipper.

 
Unfortunately, the angle the flipper makes when triggered does not enable it to stop and hold a ball like the lower flippers.

Note: because there are so many posts close in front of this flipper, it's not uncommon for a ball to hit one and bounce back into the reach of the flipper. Stay on guard for this and you might get a second shot at your target.

 
The Thing Flipper:

1. After the ball drifts down from the left ramp or out of the Graveyard, triggering the Thing flipper when the ball has rolled 60-percent down the face of the paddle will shoot it into the Swamp 25-percent of the time. The black decal area is close to where you want to it be, but each table will be slightly different.

 
The Lower Left Flipper:

As with the left flipper, balls rolling down the left inlanes have too much speed and will dribble off the end of the flipper if you try a stop shot. Unlike balls fired out of the Swamp eject at the right flipper, which can be stopped, balls fired out of the Electric Chair at the left flipper can't. They have too much power and the impact angle is wrong. What usually happens is they end up drifting into the lower left sling bumper (the triangular-shaped bumper above and slightly left of the flipper), get pushed away by it into the right-hand sling bumper, back into the left sling bumber and from there to God only knows where. But, if during the course of play a ball drifts down slowly enough to be captured with a stop shot, the following aiming strategies can be employed:

 
1. Triggering the flipper when the ball rolls down to the 60-percent zone shoots it into the Bookcase or Vault. Although the vault opening isn't that much smaller than the center ramp, for some reason I always have a hard time making this shot.

2. The 70-percent point drives the ball into the Swamp eject, but because the ball's rolling pretty fast I usually miss it. I make this shot less than one-third of the time. Because the ball often bobbles in the opening then heads straight for the exact center between the two flippers it is also extremely dangerous.

3. At the 30-percent position the ball will fire into the Electric Chair.

4. Activating the flipper as the ball rolls into the 50-percent zone will many times send it up the center ramp.

 
Background References:

Estimating the 50 or 70-percent locations on a flipper to know when to trigger it can be difficult. One technique that helps is to spot a detail on a playfield decal under the ball that marks where you want the ball to be when triggering the flipper. Don't be afraid to write these cues down to prompt your memory in the future.

 

Third: The Fine Art Of Tilting

Tilting or nudging a pinball game to prevent a ball from draining out of play is necessary to achieving high scores. The idea is that because the playfield surface and ball are very smooth and because the balls rolls so easily, nudging the table causes the playfield to move without changing the path of the ball. If the ball's heading for the opening between the two lower flippers but is going to come close to the tip of one of them, a nudge at the right time will push the table over far enough so that the flipper can bat the ball back into play.

Unfortunately, this is a skill I have barely begun to practice. What I've learned so far is that on the Addams Family game I play, it's safe to nudge the table hard enough to move the playfield 0.2-inches, any farther and I always get a warning or a tilt. Once nudged to the maximum, the tilt sensor plumb bob (below:)

will oscillate for up to three minutes. Attempting even a small nudge before then risks moving the table is phase with the bob's swing so that the two motions add and cause a tilt were normally it wouldn't happen. (Just to general information, the bob on my sensor oscillates at 2 Hertz.)

Equally important to knowing how far the table can be nudged is learning when to do it. Typically, the motion of the table lasts only 1/4-second. Nudging too soon will allow the table to move back into its normal position and the ball will drain away as if the table had never moved. The key then is to do any nudging at the last possible moment. (Note: nudging or tilting isn't just for flippers. It can also be used to get the ball to fall into an inlane instead of an outlane or, at least in the case of the Addams Family game's left inlane, steer it into one or another inlane as needed.)

The picture above shows the gaps between the flippers and the ball, which are 0.75-inches. Considering that the maximum sideways nudge distance is only 0.2-inches, it's obvious that nudging can't save balls that track straight down between the flippers even though as the rotates the gap closes a little.

There are advanced techniques where the entire end of the table is slid sideways or the bottom is nudged to bounce a ball in an outlane into the reach of a flipper. These are far beyond my skill.

While learning how to tilt will help you achieve higher scores, it's not absolutely necessary. I've reached 1.1 billion, a respectible though admittedly not outstanding score, without tilting or nudging a single time.

 

Strategy

Seven months after purchasing my TAF I was playing a game that was going quite well. I'd just finished my second Tour of the Mansion, had three balls left and was making all my key shots reliably. The score was only $745 million, but with three balls left and a chance for an extra ball I was confident I might get a third tour and top $1 billion. Then everthing fell apart.

The Mamushka room was flashing and a ball was in the shooter. As usual I decided to gamble on losing control of the ball by firing it into the cemetary in the hopes of moving the lit flashing mansion room closer to the extra ball room. Three balls in a row went into the cemetary, bounced around to move the lit room down to the $3 million spot (furthest from the extra ball room) and then drained with my ever having a chance to save the ball. Game over. Final score $796 million. Rats.

What happened is that I failed to think. Usually, by the time I've completed a mansion tour I only have one ball left. The odds of working through nine mansion rooms to get a chance at the extra ball on one ball is so small I gamble by firing the ball into the cemetary to get closer to the extra ball room. The game's almost over so the risk is reasonable. But, in the case of this game it was completely wrong. With three balls the odds of working my way to the extra ball room was excellent, particularly since my shots were going well. Along the way I'd build up a lot more points so the final score would look respectable even if I didn't make the third tour.

What I learned from this is that strategies have to be worked out in advance. Once you're in a gaime things are moving along too fast to stop and ponder options because doing so might let your timing go cold.

So, after touring the mansion my currect strategy is:

1. If i'm on my last ball I shoot for the cemetary, gambling that it'll help me get in position to get the extra ball.

2. If I have two balls left and my shots aren't going well, I'll again gamble on the cemetary.

3. If I have two or more balls left and the shots are going my way, I avoid the cemetary and work my way through the mansion rooms.

 
Lastly, keep an eye on the bear kick count. If you're one away from an extra ball it might be a good idea to take it even if you're in position to collect another mansion room. There's always a chance that when the balls comes out of the electric chair you'll get a funny bounce off the flipper and lose control of it. An extra ball is always worth more than anything you can earn from a mansion room, except if the room is the extra ball room.

 

 
Final Thoughts:

Why did I focus on the Addams Family pinball game? For 60-miles in all directions where I live, with a population of half a million, there is only pinball game: a beat-up old Addams Family game with 12 burned-out lights and paddles that stick. The high maintenance costs for pinball games, lack of knowledgeable repairmen, scarcity of parts and difficulty of play which drives people away from them all conspire against these noble games. I guess I'm lucky there was even one within a reasonable drive.

That it turned out to be an Addams Family pinball game is not surprising. This is the most popular pinball game ever produced. Depending on which reference is used, between 21,000 and 23,000 were made. That's ten times the number of the typical pinball machine. If there's a pinball game in your area the odds are it'll be an Addams Family game.

There are several reasons why this game was so popular. Most obviously, the game's theme built upon the popularity of the original TV series (which attracted people of the mid 1960s for nostalgia value) and the 1991 and 1993 Addams Family movies (which were themselves immensely popular, attracting a new generation to the game.) By using the actual voices of the actors from the movies for many of the utterances in the game, a unique connection is made between the game and the visualizations provided by the movies. This means that when Gomez says, "Have a nice swim," as a ball gets kicked out of the Swamp eject, the player easily imagines the movie Gomez making this statement. Few if any other games offer this level of realism. Additionally, the lights, humorous statements and sound effects make it hard not smiling when playing this game. Since games are supposed to be fun and make the player happy, this makes it more attractive than many. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, this is a perfectly designed game. It's entertaining whether you play it as a novice, mid-level or advanced player. At the easiest level even beginners will occasionally strike it rich and earn high scores, extra balls and sometimes extra games. At the other end of the skill spectrum this game has enough complexity and challenges to thwart even the most experienced players. Many people claim that the Addams Family pinball game is one of the greatest pinball games ever designed. Aficionados adamantly claim that without second, it is the greatest.

Playing note: At the end of a game the dot matrix display will show a cart full of numbers rolling across the screen. As it hits a bump two numbers will bounce out. These have always been 10-increment numbers between 20 and 90 when I've played. I contacted several Addams Family game owners and they all explained that if these randomly selected numbers happen to match the last two numbers in your final score you'll be awarded a free game. Cool.

Another important playing note is that it's critical to remain emotionally ice-cold when playing. Getting either excited because your shots are going where you want or frustrated because they're not causes adrenalin to be released into your system. This flight-or-fight hormone increases reaction speed. The is damning in pinball because it tends to make you fire flippers a little early, thereby missing more shots, making you madder, missing even more shots and so on. Stay calm. Stay cool. No matter how bad a game starts or how cold the table turns during a game, strive to remain settled and go about making shots in a business-like manner. I've had many games that began with the first two or three balls draining away in quick order that ended up being double-tour-the-mansion games because I kept a level head and focused on making shots rather than brooding about what went wrong with the last. If things start going wrong, try playing safely for several shots to cool off before you get really hot. Think of what shots are working for you and focus on making several of them, even if they aren't big point-makers. This will build confidence and help get your timing back.

You might think that playing pinball is expensive. It isn't. After learning a few of the critical shots and understanding some of the simpler strategies for increasing your score, you'll regularly earn free games. Once you achieve this level $5 will easily last two or more hours. That's cheaper than most movies and a lot more entertaining.

Finally, this is not intended as a comprehensive guide. For that I recommend you visit http://www.geocities.com/tafpinball/rulesoriginal.htm for Dominy's guide and http://www.geocities.com/tafpinball/Rulesgold.htm for Keefer's guide. Both are excellent and each provides a unique and valuable perspective. The amount of information in these pages can be daunting. I recommend taking it slowly. Commit one or two details to memory and then go and try to apply them in actual play. Do this two or three times a week and in ten years you should be an expert.

For more information on skill shots, I recommend visiting http://www.ipdb.org/playing/skills.html and http://www.pinballnews.com/learn/index.html.

As I've said before: pinball isn't easy and it isn't simple. I think that's why it's all but vanished in the ten years since it hit its peak in 1996. Most people want easy fun and computer arcade games give it to them. Additionally, if played poorly a pinball game can be over in less than a minute. Most computerized arcade games are set up so that players are guaranteed at least a minimum amount of playing time, usually five minutes. Pinball games are less merciful.

After reading this page you might wonder why anyone in their right mind would want to even try pinball. For me the reason is the thrill of taking on an insurmountable challenge and the satisfaction when I pull of a small success: like earning a free game. Others may value the mental challenge. (A famous scientist was asked what he got out of working so long on a particularly obtuse problem. His reply was that there is unequaled satisfaction in knowing a very complicated thing very well.)

All I can say is that pinball is unlike any other game. It's as complicated as chess, faster than boxing and more frustrating than stacking ping pong balls on a glass table.

I love it. I hope you'll give it a try.

 

Two weeks after posting this page I found an Addams Family pinball game for sale and grabbed it as fast as I could. Three generations of Schmidt's are now enjoying this game and it's always the focus of family get-togethers. The photo below shows me introducing it to two of my six grandchildren: James (playing) and Daniel.

The manufacturer's date for this game is May 20, 1992. It's running the L-4 ROM, has Uncle Lester in the electric chair and has an upgraded subwoofer that shakes the house's foundations when multiball starts.

A year after purchasing this game, I drove to Las Vegas to visit Tim Arnold's Pinball Hall of Fame museum and play as many games as possible. This is a must-see place for anyone interested in pinball. It has 200 different pinball and arcade games under one roof, enabling the enthusiast to try many games and see which is the best for him or her. I learned my favorite, after Addams Family, was Theater of magic. My wife's was Pirates of the Caribbean. One of the interesting things I learned from trying many different games is that the sound track has a major impact on how much fun the game is. Many otherwise entertaining games were ruined for me because the background music was so annoying that I couldn't enjoy the game. Another thing I learned is that the Addams Family games really are one of the greatest games of all time. The reasons, as already mentioned, are that it combines the fun of the Addams Family's counter culture lifestyle with an entertaining and humorous soundtrack tied to a playfield that's both challenging and fun to play at many different levels.

 
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