PINBALL "SCORING THEMES"
By Russ Jensen
Ever since the inception of the pinball game in the early
1930's, some form of "scoring" was used to indicate the player's
prowess at the game. Although in the majority of cases some form
of "point system" was used, some games used other methods of
In this article I shall attempt to briefly describe many of
the "scoring themes" used on pinball games over the years, and when
a straight "numerical" scoring system was used, elaborate on how
the values of these scores changed over the years.
One point I wish to make at the outset. When I refer to the
"scoring theme" of a game I am talking about the theme of the type
of scoring used in the game, and not the theme of the artwork used
on the backglasses of later machines, except when the "art theme"
and the "scoring theme" happen to coincide. An example of this
latter situation would be a "baseball theme" machine where the
artwork and the "score system" (hits, runs, etc.) both depict the
game of baseball.
THE EARLY THIRTIES
The early "counter top" pingames of 1932 all had holes on
their playfields into which balls dropped for scoring. Most of
these holes were marked with score values in the hundreds (100,
200, 500, etc.) and the player had to total his own score by adding
the values of the holes into which he had succeeded shooting balls.
A very few games had holes marked less than 100, but this was rare.
Many of these early games also had a special hole (usually at
the top of the playfield) which would make the player's score count
double if a ball was shot into it. A few of the early games (for
example CONTACT in late 1933) had one ball which was a different
color from the others and which counted double the value of any
hole in which it landed. Within a year or two the values of
scoring holes on pingames increased, with holes with values in the
low thousands (1000, 1500, etc.) up to as high as 5000 by 1934.
Most of the early pins of 1932-1934 had "numerical" scores as
just described. A few of these early pins, however, had scoring
themes other than numerical. Some early games, such as Gottlieb's
1932 game PLAYBOY, had holes associated with playing card symbols
where the object of the game was not to get a high score, but to
make certain card combinations such as Poker hands.
It was also during this period that the theme of "baseball"
(hits, runs, and outs, instead of just plain points) came into
pinball with Rockola's classic game WORLD SERIES from 1933. This
novel game simulated the scoring of a real baseball game allowing
the player to accumulate "runs" until "3 outs" were made.
THE MID THIRTIES
In addition to the continuation of "point scoring themes",
with ever increasing top scoring capability (up to about 20,000 by
1938), new innovations in pingame scoring developed in the period
from 1934 through 1938.
With the introduction of "payout pingames" during this period
came a type of scoring in which cash payout amounts were
"disguised" as simple "points". While non-payout "novelty" pins
boasted of scores in increments of 100 and going up into the
thousands, the "payouts" had much lower values on their scoring
holes such as 10, 20, etc. (Some up to 200). These numbers
actually represented the number of "cents" the player would receive
for getting a ball into that hole (10 meaning "10 cents", 100 a
It is interesting to note that since it cost a nickel to play
one of these games, a player getting a ball into any of these
numbered holes would "make a profit" (or at least "break even").
For this reason these payout machines were constructed in such a
manner that it was very difficult to get a ball into any hole, and
therefore most of the time a player's ball or balls would end up in
the "out-hole" at the bottom of the playfield. That doesn't sound
like a very interesting game to play, does it?
Other forms of payout pingames originating in the mid Thirties
had what was known as "odds" which represented the actual number of
coins paid out, rather than their value (eg. A payout odds value of
"8" for a particular "winning combination" meant that the player
would receive 8 nickels (40 cents) if he succeeded in making
whatever game feature was required to receive those "odds"). The
actual "theme" of most of these games was generally a form of
"number matching" which will be discussed shortly.
This "odds" system was used on the many "one-ball horserace"
pingames which were quite prevalent from the mid Thirties up until
1950. For a detailed history of these games (and the "bingo
pinballs" which followed them) I refer you to my previous article
titled "Multiple Coin Pinballs" which appeared in the SPRING 1985
issue of COIN SLOT.
In December of 1936 Bally revolutionized the pinball industry
with the introduction of a new form of scoring device featured on
their game called BUMPER (the name which quickly became the generic
term for this device). BUMPER also featured a new form of score
indicating/totalizing device (the "score projector") which
projected a lighted number representing the player's score onto a
frosted area of the game's backglass.
The score values used by BUMPER were in units of 10, up to a
maximum of around 400, producing much lower total scores than the
other games of the period which had hole values generally between
100 and 5000. Players however probably didn't mind those lower
scores because now the job of adding up their final score was
performed by the machine!
These projectors, however, were only used for a short time on
a few machines (mostly by Bally) as the primary score indicating
device, because the idea of indicating score by lighted "panels" on
the game's backglass was to become the most popular method used to
indicate score on most non-payout ("novelty") pingames for many
years to come.
NOTE: Even though "score projectors" were not used as the primary
score indicating device on too many pingames, these units were
quite widely used for many years for other purposes, such as replay
indicators and "reserve jackpot" displays; but more about that
Possibly the first game to use this form of "light scoring"
was Chicago Coin's LIVE WIRE in early 1937, followed quickly by
Genco's ROLLOVER. When this form of scoring was introduced, score
increments of 100 (as opposed to 10 in BUMPER and other "projector
scoring" games) were again used, with the backglass having scoring
panels for 100-900 and for thousands, usually ranging up to between
4000 and 9000 at first. This scoring you will notice had similar
values to the "scoring hole" games prevalent at the time this new
score indicating system was introduced.
The use of the new scoring "bumpers" on the playfield quickly
spread to almost all forms of pingames, including payouts; games
with almost all types of scoring themes. An example of the use of
bumpers on a very novel payout pingame, Bally's GOLDEN WHEEL, will
be described shortly. Enough about strictly numerical point
scoring for awhile. What about other scoring themes used in the
Baseball theme pingames were also quite popular in the mid
Thirties, especially in 1937 and 1938. The "scoring" in these
games was based on "runs" which actually was "unity" (lowest score
increment of "1") scoring which was quite rare on other pins since
the scores seemed low, but it did simulate baseball scoring.
In early 1937, for example, no less than five "baseball pins"
were introduced, all of which utilized the new "spring bumpers" (as
introduced on Bally's BUMPER) to advance "light animated" base
runners on their backglasses. Chicago Coin's HOME RUN came out
first around January of 1937, followed in April by four more games
using this theme: Genco's BATTER UP, Bally's BOOSTER, Gottlieb's
"(electric) SCORE BOARD, and Daval's BASEBALL.
Another scoring theme used by games in the mid 1930's was that
of "number matching". By far the most common type of games to
employ this principle were the "one-ball horserace" games mentioned
earlier. These games had numbered holes on their playfields
(generally numbered from 1 to 7 or 8). When the player inserted a
coin one or more numbers would light up on the backglass, and in
order to win the player had to get a ball into a hole with a number
corresponding to the lighted number(s). These games were generally
"payouts" employing the "odds" system described earlier.
Another "number match" game, which came out near the end of
1935, was Bally's novelty pin MATCH THE DIAL. This game had holes
on the playfield numbered between 1 and 15 and had a dial-like
device near the bottom of the playfield which indicated a number at
the start of each game. If a player got a ball into the hole
corresponding to that number he would win a "free play".
Still another game, MATCH 'EM, made by Genco in early 1937,
had a short backboard on which a different column of three numbers
would light up at the start of each game. A player was given 6
balls per game and in order to win had to "match" any one of the
three lit numbers by getting a ball into a correspondingly numbered
Probably the most interesting "number match" pingame however
was Bally's 1937 "classic" GOLDEN WHEEL. In that game one (or
possibly more) groups of 4 numbers would light on the backboard
when a coin was inserted. This game used bumpers to increment a
"score" indicated by a score projector similar to that introduced
on BUMPER. In order to win the player's final score (number of
bumpers hit) had to exactly match one of the lit numbers on the
backglass. This was a "payout", and the number of coins paid out
for a "match" varied depending on whether you matched the lowest
number in the group of four lit numbers or one of the higher
numbers (the larger the number matched, the larger the payout). A
very novel idea indeed!
Another scoring theme used on a few games in the mid 1930's
was that of the game or "Blackjack" or "21". In these games the
player had to make a total score as close to "21" as possible
without going over that amount as in the card game. Examples of
games of this type were Chicago Coin's SWEET-21 and Pamco's BEE-JAY
(both "payouts" coming out around November of 1936), and Gottlieb's
"novelty" pin "(Electric) 21" from April 1937.
The pingame's "competitor" in the 1930's, the "bell slot
machine", was also used as a pingame scoring theme. A few very
early pins had slot symbols (Bells, Cherries, Lemons, etc.) next to
their score holes, but Mills' ONE-TWO-THREE, which first appeared
in 1938, really "took the cake".
That game had three slot machine type reels behind it's
backglass which, instead of "spinning" as in a slot, "advanced",
one symbol at a time, when the ball in play hit bumpers on the
playfield. At the end of the game, if the reels ended up on a
winning slot machine combination, a payout would be made based on
that combination in the same manner as with a slot. This game was
so popular that it was produced for quite sometime. There were
also a few pingames, such as Mills' 1935 game TEN GRAND, which
actually contained a Mills slot machine mechanism beneath it's
Other popular games were also used as pinball scoring themes
in the mid Thirties. The always popular game of Golf was used as
the scoring theme of GM Laboratory's PAR GOLF in 1935, the
scoreboard indicating the "9 holes" of a golf game. A dice game
was the theme of Keeney's 1935 payout pingame IVORY GOLF, with the
player shooting one ball to try to get it into a hole next to which
was a number between 1 and 11. Landing in the "7" hole (very
difficult to do) gave the player 48 nickels, "11" giving 20, with
other numbers paying less, or nothing at all.
One very popular game used as a scoring theme on pingames was
the game of pool. One such game was Gottlieb's KELLY POOL which
came out in the Spring of 1935 and had it's playfield holes
arranged in the form of a "rack of pool balls". Bally's POCKETS
from late 1936, however, was a "life-like" simulation of that game.
The playfield of POCKETS (which was flat, and not sloped like
other pingames) resembled a real pool table. It only had six holes
(in the same positions as the pockets on a pool table) and was
covered with a green synthetic felt material. The "catlin" (a form
of ceramic) balls were launched onto the playfield using a pinball
type plunger. When they reached the top of the field a slanted
rail would direct them into the playing area.
Since the field was flat (except when tilted downward at the
start of each game to retrieve any balls still "stranded" in the
middle) the balls could stop anywhere on the field without going
into a pocket. The sides of the field were cushioned however like
a pool table so balls striking the side would be deflected,
possibly into one of the 6 pockets. Balls stopping in the center
of the field could possibly be placed into a pocket when hit by
another ball played later.
The player's "score" (number of pocketed balls) was indicated
on the backboard by a "light-up totalizer". This was probably the
closest simulation of the game of pool using a pingame plunger
which was ever produced. Some may argue that this was not truly a
"pingame" because it did not have a sloping playfield, but it's use
of a plunger certainly made it "pin-like". Anyway, I'm sure you'll
agree that Bally's POCKETS was a very novel amusement device
Probably one of the most popular pinball scoring themes
(although not often the "primary scoring theme") from the late
1930's through the 1940's (and even later) was that of "number
sequences". In fact pioneer pinball designer Steve Kordek is fond
of saying "'One to Ten' was the most popular pingame ever made".
For an in-depth discussion of number sequence pins I refer you to
my previous article, "Bally's Variety, and Other 'Sequence'
Pingames" which appeared in the FALL 1985 issue of COIN SLOT.
One of the early "sequence scoring" games was Exhibit's REVIEW
which came out in the Summer of 1938. This game had fifteen
bumpers on it's playfield which were numbered "1" through "15".
The backglass had a nautical theme with fifteen "ship's flags"
correspondingly numbered. The object of the game was very simple;
hit the 1 through 5 bumpers for a small replay payoff (probably 1),
hit 1 through 10 for a larger number of replays, or hit all fifteen
bumpers for the "Big Bank-Nite Award" of a large number of free
games. There apparently was no other form of scoring on this game,
thus making the "number sequence" it's "primary scoring theme". By
the way, this was also an early pin employing the new "light-up"
In the years to come, variations on this theme of hitting
bumpers to light "sequences" were often used in pingames. On many
of these games the number sequence was "supplemental" to other
scoring themes, most often "high score", the completing of the
number sequence (or part of it) enabling certain game features
which promoted better scores.
Some pins, such as Bally's RESERVE of 1938, used the
completing of a number sequence to award the player a "reserve
jackpot" (of coin payout or free games) the value of which
increased the more the game was played until it was won. This same
general idea was also used as a "come-on" feature on many of the
previously mentioned "one-ball horserace" pins, the "reserve
jackpot" being awarded when the player got a ball in a special
"pocket" (usually labeled "Feature") when that feature was enabled
by insertion of extra coins at the start of the game.
Before leaving the mid-Thirties one other pinball scoring
theme should be mentioned, although at that time it was only used
a few times, but was revived in the 1950's as we will see later.
That theme was "in-line" scoring.
Possibly the earliest pingame to employ this theme was Pacific
Amusement's LITE-A-LINE which appeared on the market in late 1934.
This game had a circular playfield containing 25 holes numbered "1"
through "25". The backglass had three 5 by 5 number patterns
similar to a "bingo card". The player "bought" 1, 2, or all cards
by depositing coins in three separate coin chutes (one for each
card). In order to win the player had to light a row of 5 numbers
on the selected card(s).
Two later games with this theme were Keeney's KEEN-O from
Spring of 1937, and Bally's LINE-UP later that same year. KEEN-O
had one 5 by 5 card on it's backglass with a center "free spot"
replacing the number "13". Numbered spring bumpers on the
playfield would each light one (and in a few cases two) numbers on
the card. In order to win the player again had to complete a five
number line on the card (which could include the "free spot").
Bally's LINE-UP had a similar "bingo card" on it's backglass,
but the playfield contained a 5 by 5 array of holes in the exact
same pattern as the backglass card. We shall see later that a
similar game format became very popular in the 1950's.
UP TO THE WAR
In the years from 1939 until the World War II pingame
manufacturing ban in early 1942, "numerical scores" were the
primary pinball scoring theme. There were a few games of this
period with baseball (runs) scoring and a couple, such as
Gottlieb's LITE-O-CARD, which had an "in-line" theme to supplement
high scores. Many games in this period used "number sequences",
mostly in addition to "numerical score" scoring. As far as
"payouts" were concerned, they were almost all "one-ball horserace"
number matching games with the payout "odds" as described earlier.
The "scoring units" in the numerical scores used during that
period began to change from what they had been in the mid 1930's.
Previously scores had generally been in units of 100, with maximum
scores reaching up to between 5 and 10 thousand. During the late
Thirties and early Forties scores increased and many of the later
games of that period had maximum scores ranging into the 10,000's,
in some cases up to as high as 70 or 80 thousand.
Most of these games had "visible" scoring panels on their
backglasses indicating "thousands" (from 1000 to 9000) and
"ten-thousands", starting with 10,000 and going up to at least
40,000, with some as high as 80,000.
The "basic scoring increment" for most of these games was
generally 100, or some other "pseudo-score" unit as will be
described shortly. In most cases these 100-900 scores (or the
corresponding "pseudo-scores") were "hidden" on the backglass, only
visible one at a time (100, then 200, etc, for example) using some
form of "light animation" as the score was advanced during play.
Some of the later games abandoned these "sub-thousand" scores all
together using 1000 as their smallest scoring increment.
Some games during this period (instead of using 100 as their
basic score increment) used the "completion" of some
"light-animated activity" on the backglass to score 1000. For
example, Genco's METRO from 1941 had an animated display of 12 cars
circling on a roadway which advanced each time certain bumpers were
hit. Each time this "circle" was completed (12 hits of the
bumpers) 1000 was scored. This "pseudo-score" was equivalent to
each bumper hit being worth 1000/12, or approximately "83 points"
in straight numerical scoring.
Before leaving the subject of pingame scoring in the near
pre-war period, one additional type of "score display" should be
mentioned, that being the display of "replay credits".
Many games in the early 1940's displayed "replays" in units of
"1" in some area (usually near the bottom) of the backglass. These
indications were usually of the "hidden" type, only the number lit
being visible to the observer. On some games however, like many
games made by Exhibit and Gottlieb, replays were "disguised" as
"numerical scores" in unit of 1000, each 1000 being equal to one
"free play credit". This was probably done to aid operators
operating pingames in areas where "free games" were illegal. In
these areas the operator or location owner could say these were
merely "special skill scores" having no intrinsic value.
AFTER THE WAR
When the World War II ban on pingame production ended, the
first new games to be manufactured were almost identical to those
produced in 1941. Numerical "high scores" were the primary scoring
themes of most games (except for the "gambling type" pins, but more
about them later) with "number sequences" used on almost all games
as an "adjunct" to high score scoring.
Most, if not all, of the pingames produced in 1946 had 1000 as
their lowest scoring increment, with their maximum scores at first
ranging up to about 90 thousand. It wasn't long, however, until
10,000 became the basic scoring increment, remaining so through the
1950's, except for the "multi-player" games which will be discussed
(NOTE: Some of the early post-war pins actually had 1-9 thousand
scores displayed, with the lowest value bumper scoring 5000 by
pulsing the 1000 score unit 5 times for each hit. So these games,
you might say, had a minimum scoring increment of 5000).
With the introduction of 10,000 minimum scoring came an
increase in the maximum score possibilities. In 1947 and early
1948 games with "100 thousand" scoring panels on their backglasses
began to appear. Early games of this type, such as Chicago Coin's
1947 hit KILROY, only indicated 100 and 200 thousand. By late
1947, however, a few pins could score up to 800 or 900 thousand.
Then, in 1948, a few games came out with a "One Million" light
on their backglass, thus beginning the era of the "million scoring
pingame". One of the early pins capable of scoring over a million
was Gottlieb's 1948 game ALICE IN WONDERLAND. In this game there
was a "One Million" light on the backglass, which was not visible
except when lit, with the words "One Million" shown in sort of a
Within a year all pins had scores ranging up to 8 or 9
million. These high scoring pins even prompted a Country and
Western song in the early Fifties titled "Pinball Millionaire", the
lyrics of the chorus saying: "I made a Hundred, I made a Thousand,
I made a Million, but I won't quit there; I'm going to be a
In the early 1950's a "secondary scoring system" was
incorporated into many pingames, in addition to their
"multi-million scoring". These "scores" were called "points" and
generally had a basic scoring increment of only "1", while the
"high score" scoring system on the same games had an increment of
The "points" earned by a player (from hitting certain bumpers,
targets, etc.) were in many cases indicated by lighted plastic
"inserts" on the playfield, rather than on the backglass where the
"high scores" were displayed. The maximum number of points
possible usually ranged between 20 and 50, a player being awarded
replays for exceeding one or more point values indicated on the
For example, on Williams 1951 game SHOO SHOO, a player could
earn up to 40 points, with replays being awarded at 32 and 40
points, for instance. This idea gave the player an additional goal
to strive for, thus increasing the "player appeal" of the game.
A major change in "high score" scoring in pingames came with
the introduction of "multi-player" (2 and 4 player) pins in the mid
1950's. With the exception of a few Williams games in 1953, all
pins in the early Fifties indicated the player's score by means of
lighted panels on the backglass, nine light-up numbers indicating
10 to 90 thousand, nine more indicating 100 to 900 thousand, and
additional panels for the millions.
Well, in 1955 Gottlieb produced the first 4-player pingame, a
game called SUPER JUMBO. Apparently the Gottlieb designers decided
that four separate sets of "scoring panels" would leave the
backglass too cluttered and decided on using "reel type" digital
counters to display each player's score. One big difference
between the "light scoring" method and this "reel scoring" idea was
that the lowest scoring unit became "1" instead of 10,000, with
"maximum" scores being lowered to 999, instead of going up into
(NOTE: The previously mentioned 1953 Williams games used scoring
reels, but used "fake" zeros for the low order digits so that the
minimum scoring increment was still 10,000. Williams shortly went
back to "light scoring" again however).
Shortly after SUPER JUMBO, Gottlieb introduced a 2-player pin,
DUETTE. Williams soon followed suit and the two major amusement
pinball manufacturers in the 1950's began producing "reel scoring"
multi-player games in addition to "light scoring" single player
(NOTE: Bally, who throughout the mid-Fifties concentrated on their
"bingo pinballs" (more about these later), produced three 2-player
games around 1957. Two of these, BALLS-A-POPPIN' and CIRCUS, used
"light scoring" for both player's score with a lowest score
increment of "1", and the other, CARNIVAL, used "reels" like
Gottlieb and Williams).
In late 1959 Gottlieb came out with a single player pin called
UNIVERSE which used "reel scoring" like the multi-players. Their
next few single players again used "light scoring", but they soon
started using "reels" on all their games. About a year later
Williams also went over to "reel scoring" exclusively.
Some games had three reels with a possible high score of 999.
Others used a single light, next to the hundreds reel, to indicate
"1000", therefore allowing scores up to 1,999. Still other games
used four reels allowing a maximum of 9,999.
Well, it wasn't too long before pinball manufacturers
apparently decided that players wanted even higher scores than a
few thousand points. At first one "fake" zero was added to score
reels making the minimum increment "10", then another, bringing the
minimum increment up to "100", etc, boosting "maximum" scores by
the same factor, of course. When solid-state pingames were
introduced "fake" zero displays were also used to give the player's
higher scores. Today's solid-state pins again have high scores
running up into the "millions", like their ancestors three decade
We have just seen how "high scores" in pingames have changed
in the four decades following the end of World War II, but what
about other pinball "scoring themes" used during that same period?
Paralleling the "amusement pinballs" in these years (at least
until very recent times) were the "gambling type" pingames. The
"One-ball horserace" pinballs, which were very popular in the late
1930's and early 1940's, again emerged after the war's end,
beginning with Bally's VICTORY DERBY and VICTORY SPECIAL coming out
as soon as the war was over. These were "number matching" games
with "odds" similar to the ones I described earlier.
Well, in 1951 these games were almost totally "outlawed" with
the passage of the Johnson Act which forbad interstate shipment of
"gambling devices". The major manufacturers of this type of game
had to come up with a "substitute" to keep from losing a lot of
The new type of game which was developed to replace the "One
ball" utilized the "in-line" scoring idea similar to that used on
Pamco's LITE-A-LINE, Bally's LINE-UP and Keeney's KEEN-O in the
1930's which were described earlier. These games soon became known
as "bingo pinballs" because of the resemblance of the number
arrangements on their backglasses to the common "bingo card". For
a detailed description of the "evolution" of these games I again
refer you to my article MULTIPLE COIN PINBALLS which I mentioned
Baseball scoring pinballs (scoring in "runs") were not to be
found after the war. The only games using this type of scoring
were the "pitch-and-bat" arcade type baseball machines very popular
during the late 1940's and 1950's.
One game to use an unusual scoring theme in the early 1950's
was Genco's 1951 pin STOP AND GO. This game had an "auto racing"
theme with scoring in terms of "laps" and "miles".
As I said previously, "number sequences" were used as
"supplemental themes" on most pingames coming out right after World
War II. Within a few years some pins were using a variation of
this idea where the player would try to light the letters in the
name of the game displayed on the backglass.
Examples of games using this idea were United's series of
"destination games" (games named after cities, countries, etc.) in
which the player would hit bumpers (or go through rollovers) which
lit certain letters in the game's name, such as MANHATTAN.
Completing these "sequences" (either in total or in parts) would
enable certain special features in the game, such as doubling the
value of "bonus" kickout holes on the playfield. Many games of
this same period also employed straight "number sequences" for
Playing card "sequences" were also a popular "supplemental
theme" on many games made from the 1950's through the 1970's. This
was really just another form of the old "number sequence" idea
started in the late Thirties, with replicas of playing cards (or
just the numbers 1 through 10 and the letters A, K, Q, and J)
replacing a strictly numerical sequence.
One example of a game employing a "playing card sequence" as
a supplemental scoring theme was Gottlieb's 1957 game STRAIGHT
FLUSH. The 13 card "heart suit" was pictured on it's backglass.
The player could light some of these cards by rollovers on the
playfield, while a "roto-target" in the center of the playfield
gave the player the possibility of lighting any of the cards,
possibly 2 at a time, if hit properly by a ball in play. The
advertising brochure for this game indicated that a "special score"
could be obtained by lighting "any five cards in a row".
Gottlieb's QUEEN OF DIAMONDS two years later had the diamond
suit in a semi-circle on it's backglass. These could be lit by a
combination of rollovers and playfield targets. Lighting all 13
cards awarded the player a replay plus 400,000 points. In the
early 1970's Gottlieb came out with several games which had the
then popular "drop targets" labeled with "card values" (1 through
10, J, Q, K, and A). On their 1971 game DROP-A-CARD hitting the
2-5 or 6-9 targets lit pop bumpers for extra points, hitting 10-A
increased the value of the bottom rollovers, and getting all 13
targets down lit rollovers for "specials".
As in the mid 1930's, the theme of the popular card game
"Blackjack" (or "21") was also simulated on a few pingames in more
modern times. On these games the player could score special "card
points" in addition to the "high score" aspects of the game. In
order to win an additional replay the player's "card score" had to
be as close to "21" as possible, without going over that amount.
Examples of this type of scoring were found on Gottlieb's 1950
"turret shooter" game JUST-21, Williams' BLACKJACK and "21" in
1960, and their 1968 pin LADY LUCK.
The popular game of pool was an even more popular theme on
post-war pingames than it was in the Thirties. Most of these games
used depictions of the standard 15 pool balls on either their
backglass, their playfield, or both. Lighting these "pool balls"
in reality was just another form of the old "number sequence" idea
discussed earlier, the balls simply being a "sequence" of the
numbers 1 through 15. This again was a "supplemental theme" with
"high score" as the main theme of almost all "amusement" pingames
made since World War II.
Another theme used by some pingames in the 1950's through the
early 1970's was that of "horseracing". While the "one-ball
horserace" games mentioned earlier were supposed to be simulating
a horserace (their "number matching" theme indicating the 7 numbers
to be seven "selections" on a racing program, and their 4 playfield
sections corresponding to the "finishing position" of a horse), the
games to which I am now referring had "animation units" (either in
their backbox or on their playfield) employing mechanical horses
which advanced when certain playfield bumpers/targets were hit.
These games were all made by Williams, and their horse racing
themes were again generally "supplemental" to the "high score"
aspects of the games, except in a few rare cases. Both Williams'
NAGS in 1951 (which gave the player only one ball) and TURF CHAMPS
in 1958, had the "horserace" as their "primary" scoring themes. On
the former game, one of the 6 horse "selections" was randomly lit
at the start of a game, but a rollover between the flippers could
change it if the ball passed over it as it exited the playfield.
On TURF CHAMPS, on the other hand, the player himself
"selected" which horse he wanted at the start of the game using a
button on the front rail. On all these games "thumper bumpers",
rollovers, and targets on the playfield advanced each of the horses
in the animated unit on the game.
(NOTE: For a fairly good list of both pool and horserace theme
pins (including a more detailed description of two pool pins and
one horseracing game) I refer you to my previous article "Pingames
At The 1988 Fun-Fair" in the WINTER 1988/89 issue of COIN SLOT).
Before leaving the subject of pinball "scoring themes", I
think I should mention the "Special". While not exactly a "scoring
theme" per se, it was a very important part of pinball scoring (at
least the winning of replays) for many years from the early 1940's
up until fairly recently (at least I don't believe today's pins
have them). Exactly when that term was first used I do not yet
know (that is something I am trying to determine) but I have
narrowed it down to somewhere between the beginning of 1939 and
August of that year.
For those "non pinball players" reading this who might not
know what a "Special" is, it is a bumper, target, or rollover on a
pingame which scores one (or more) "replays" ("free games") when
contacted by a ball, if it is "lit" (a playfield light
corresponding to it is lit). The term "Special When Lit" has been
a "standard pinball phrase" for many years and even the title of a
fine book on pinball written by Canadian Ed Trapunski. Anyway, for
us pinball fans who played pins during the Forties, Fifties,
Sixties, or Seventies "lighting the Special" was one of the primary
objectives of playing any pingame.
Well, that ends this discussion of the various "scoring
themes" used on pinball machines since the early 1930's. Although
many "themes" were employed in pingames over the years, many were
only themes of the artwork and were not connected with the
"scoring", other than that in the earlier "light bulb scoring"
games the score numbers on the backglass were blended in with the
Before concluding, one final note regarding the "scoring
values" found on pingames over the years. While reading this
article you probably noticed that the "minimum scoring increment"
(10, 100, 1000, or 10000) and the "maximum score" (1000 or so on
some games, and up into the "millions" on others) have changed
considerably over the years (both upwards and downwards). Well,
there is one "side effect" of this phenomena which can be
beneficial to pinball collectors.
By combining knowledge of how these scoring values have
changed over the years with knowledge of other changes in pinball
construction (such as the complexity and size of the backglass - or
lack of it altogether) one can make a fairly accurate "educated
guess" of the date of manufacture of a game you may hear about or
have found. If the game is not listed in "Pinball Reference Guide"
this may very well be your best method of judging it's age!