BALLY'S VARIETY AND OTHER "SEQUENCE" PINGAMES
By Russ Jensen
As I have done a couple of times in the past, I thought I'd
describe another of the early pingames in my personal collection.
This time, however, in addition to describing the game, Bally's
VARIETY, I thought I would give some historical background on
pingames which share this game's chief playing feature, the
"number (or letter) Sequence."
"Sequence games", as I shall call them, all have one
characteristic in common. Each of these games require the player
to light a sequence of numbers, or in some cases letters, on the
backglass. In a few cases the numbers must also be lit in
numerical order (first '1', then '2', etc) but in most of these
games this rather difficult task is not required.
In some games the entire sequence must be lit before any
'scoring advantage' is obtained, while in others, various
sections of the sequence (such as 1-5, 5-10, etc) will enable
lesser advantages. The "sequence game" was especially popular in
the later 1930's and early 1940's, but as you will see, sequences
were used in pingame design in later years as well.
EARLY SEQUENCE GAMES
The earliest pingame employing a sequence of numbers that I
could discover in perusing the advertisements from the coin
machine trade publication Automatic Age was Bally's AIRWAY of
1937. It had ten numbers on the backglass which were lit by ten
bumpers on the playfield, each corresponding to an airplane
pictured there. From the ad I could not determine the scoring
significance of these numbers, and I presently know of no one
owning this game, but it was possibly the earliest pingame
employing a sequence of numbers.
About six months after AIRWAY, around March of 1938, Bally
came out with their famous RESERVE. This game was the first of
another class of pingames which are generically referred to as
"reserve games." In "reserve" games half of the coins deposited
were saved in a special "reserve" (or 'jackpot') compartment in
the machine and the amount contained in this jackpot was
indicated by a projected number on the backglass. The game had
twelve numbered bumpers which when hit would light the numbers 1
thru 12 on the backglass. If a player succeeded in lighting all
twelve numbers, a rather difficult task, he would receive the
"reserve" jackpot and a new one would be started. All "reserve"
type games followed this general idea; a 'jackpot' which
increased until it was won, and a number sequence (or some
equally difficult task) to be completed in order to win it.
In September of 1938 Exhibit Supply introduced a game called
REVIEW. That game had a sailing theme and had 15 numbered flags
on the backglass, each corresponding to a numbered bumper on the
playfield. Lighting flags '1' thru '5' resulted in a "small
award" of replays, '1' thru '10' a larger award, and if all
fifteen flags were lit the largest award ("the Big Bank Nite
Award" as it was called) was made. The number of replays for
each of these awards was adjustable by the operator. From the
advertising for this game it appears that there was no other form
of scoring, which was fairly unusual for pingames of this period.
Then, in March of 1939, Bally came out with SPOTTEM, the
direct forebearer of VARIETY, the featured game in this article.
SPOTTEM had twelve numbered bumpers, a 'score build up' feature,
and an 'out-ball return' (see the detailed description of VARIETY
later in this article). The name SPOTTEM referred to a feature
of the game in which 'free' numbers were lit ('spotted') by the
machine after the coin was inserted, another feature later to be
found on VARIETY.
Other similar games by Bally were PICK-EM, in which the
player could select a 'free' number by means of a knob on the
front of the cabinet, and VOGUE with a 15 number sequence and two
'spotted' numbers at the start of each game. Both of these
Ballygames were issued around August of 1939
Starting in May of 1939 Gottlieb also began a series of
'number sequence' games which had sort of a 'bingo card' motif.
The first of these games was LOT-O-SMOKE which had 13 numbered
bumpers, each corresponding to a popular brand of cigarettes of
the time. The backglass had four groups of eight numbers each,
each containing a different set of the thirteen 'cigarette
packs'. Obviously lighting all of the eight numbers in any one or
more of these groups would award replays. At this same time
Gottlieb introduced a similar game called LOT-O-FUN. This game
also had 13 numbered bumpers, but instead of cigarettes it had
four 'cards' on the glass, each containing 10 of the 13 numbers
(1-10, 2-11, 3-12, and 4-13). It can easily be seen that
lighting the numbers 4 through 10 was necessary to have a chance
of lighting all the numbers on any of the four cards.
In October of 1939 Gottlieb came out with KEEN-A-BALL.
This game had 10 numbered bumpers and two cards on the backglass,
one containing the numbers 1 through 7, and the other 4 through
10. In addition to this 'number sequence' this game had a very
interesting feature. The player, as in many other sequence
games, could also win replays by scoring points, but this game
went one step further. Your point score would be accumulated for
three games in a row and you could win replays by making 30
points in the three games combined, as well as for making 12
points in the first game. This was a feature that I don't think
was used by any other pingame producer.
In December of 1939 Gottlieb released two number sequence
games. LITE-O-CARD, which was similar to KEEN-A-BALL but had
thirteen numbers and four backglass cards of 10 numbers each, and
bowling alley with ten numbered bumpers which lighted bowling
pins on the backglass.
In that same month Exhibit Supply came out with CONQUEST
which had an interesting feature in connection with its number
sequence scoring scheme. CONQUEST had 11 numbered bumpers with
corresponding numbers on the backglass. When a player hit a
numbered bumper that bumper's light would go out and the same
number on the backglass would light. If a player succeeded in
hitting all eleven bumpers, the bumpers would relight and each
time any of these was struck after that it would award one
Another interesting feature of CONQUEST was its "Lost
Horizon" feature. A number showing in a window on the backglass
(called the "Lost Horizon window") would indicate the number of
games played on the machine in a row without the scoring of any
replays. When this number reached 30 (ie 30 non replay scoring
games had been played) all bumpers would automatically light and
award a replay when struck during that game, a reward for player
persistence I guess.
The feature of CONQUEST, in which all bumpers would award
replays once a number sequence was completed, was used on other
'sequence games' of the period. For example, Stoner's DAVY
JONES, also appearing in 1939, had a sequence of numbers which
when completed caused all bumpers to award replays.
Genco's METRO of 1940, described by me in a past COIN SLOT
article, had only five numbered bumpers which, after all five had
been lit, would each score a replay. Now completing a sequence
of only five numbers may appear to be easy compared to ten or
more numbers, however, there was one 'catch'. The five bumpers
had to be lit "in rotation" (ie number '1' first, then '2' next,
etc), a much more difficult feat. This "rotation sequence" idea
was found on a few games but was never very popular due to its
By the way, just as a piece of 'pinball trivia', a
rotational sequence of numbers, with the additional 'catch' that
if any target (in this case) was hit out of sequence the sequence
would have to be started all over again, was used in the
fictional pingame Koala's COSMIC VENUS. For those of you
unfamiliar with that little game, it was the machine played in
the epic pinball contest between the teenage girl wizard "Tilt"
and her opponent "the whale" in the ill fated Brooke Shields film
Another Bally 'sequence' game was TRIUMPH released in March
of 1940. That game had a 15 number sequence and rather
attractive "Art Deco" artwork on the playfield and backglass. It
also had a unique feature which Bally called the "buy back"
feature. If a player had shot his 5 allotted balls and still had
not completed the sequence, he could 'buy' additional balls at
five cents each, which was of course the price of the original 5
During the period from late 1940 through 1941 Gottlieb, as
well as most of the pingame manufacturers, continued to produce
games using number sequences. Among the Gottlieb games were GOLD
STAR and PARADISE, both with two 6 number sequences; BELLE HOP
with an 8 number sequence; HOROSCOPE with a 14 number sequence;
and NEW CHAMP and TEXAS MUSTANG, each with 15 number sequences.
Also, late in 1941, they released FIVE & TEN, which had 'letter'
rather than 'number' sequences. This game had bumpers with the
letters of the words Five, Ten, and Twenty on them, with the 'E'
in Five and the 'T' in Ten being part of the word Twenty. The
player, by lighting any or all of those three words, would
presumably be awarded some game 'advantage', probably replays.
Anyway, by the start of World War II number sequences pingames
were almost everywhere!
Now for our featured game, Bally's VARIETY, which was
released around June of 1939 and is certainly a typical 'number
sequence' pingame of the period. I personally feel a special
affection for VARIETY as not only is it now in my personal
collection, but it is identical to one of the first two pingames
I ever owned when I was about twelve years old.
VARIETY has 12 numbered bumpers of the 'spiral spring' type
plus two additional smaller unnumbered bumpers at the bottom of
the playfield. Bumper #7 is near the center of the playfield and
has an added special significance which will be discussed
shortly. The artwork on both the backglass and playfield is of a
striking "Art Deco" design making VARIETY an Art Deco pingame
When a new game is started the 12 numbered bumpers are all
lit, the lights being contained in the circular plastic 'posts'
which make up the center of each bumper. When a lit bumper is
struck by a ball its light goes out and the corresponding number
on the backglass is lit. The object of the game (the only way to
win replays) is to light all twelve numbers on the backglass, a
feat I might ad, which is very difficult to accomplish.
The game has two additional features which can aid a player
in accomplishing his goal. First, is the so-called "spottem"
feature, first introduced by Bally on SPOTTEM as previously
mentioned. Every so often, upon the deposit of a coin, the
player receives two 'free' numbers which are lit ("spotted") by
the machine at the start of a game. These number pairs on
VARIETY are 4,10 and 5,6. The 4,10 pair is especially nice since
these bumpers are both normally hard to hit being somewhat well
'guarded' by playfield obstructions.
The second special feature is the "extra ball" feature. Any
time during play if a ball hits bumper #7, one ball (if there are
any) from the out-hole at the bottom of the playfield is returned
to be played again. This means it is possible for the player to
have more than the usual 5 balls (in fact there is no limit if
the player is extremely skillful) to use to try to light the 12
numbers. Needless to say, however, it is fairly difficult to hit
the #7 bumper.
As I said earlier, whenever a lit bumper is hit its light
goes out. Any ball hitting an unlit bumper, including the two
small unnumbered bumpers near the bottom of the playfield, causes
a 'point' to be added to a tally projected in a circular area
near the bottom of the backglass. These 'points' are actually
'potential replays' which can be collected only if the player
succeeds in lighting all 12 numbers on the backglass, and this,
as I said earlier, is a very difficult task.
If however the player does light all twelve numbers things
begin to happen! First, a beautifully colored 'rainbow' lights
up on the backglass signifying the player has "beaten the
machine" and can now collect his "pot of gold", replays in this
case. At this point the 'points' indicated in the lower
projector window on the backglass begin to count down and, as
each point is subtracted, a replay is added to a replay projector
showing in another circular window near the center of the
backglass. This 'payoff' process is indeed striking, what with
the glowing 'rainbow' accompanied by the 'clack', 'clack',
'clack' of the two projector units "doing their thing."
As you can see from the above description, VARIETY is indeed
an interesting example of the many "sequence games" which were so
popular before World War II, only a few of which have been
mentioned in this article. We shall now describe the continued
use of the "sequence" in pingames during the war, and into the
period following the war.
DURING THE WAR
During the war, as most of you should know, there were no
new pingames made due to a wartime ban on the production of "non-
essential" items. During that period, however, many pre-war
machines were 'converted' into 'new' machines using the old parts
with new artwork (backglasses, and sometimes new playfields).
Most of these "wartime conversions" used the features of the
games they were converted from (primarily Exhibit, Gottlieb, and
Bally) most of which used number sequences, so "sequence games"
were very prevalent during the war.
"Spell Name" GAMES
One variation of the "sequence game", which started
appearing after the war, was the so-called "Spell Name" feature.
This feature was found on both amusement pins and the "one-ball
horserace" gambling type machines as well. In games with this
feature the player would try to light the letters in the name of
the game on the backglass, either by hitting lettered bumpers or
by some other means.
On "one-balls" the next letter was usually lit by the player
performing some fairly difficult feat during one play of the
game. The lighted letters were then "held-over" for subsequent
games until the player succeeded in lighting all the letters in
the name, at which time he would generally receive a large award
of replays (or coins if it was a direct payout machine).
The "Spell Name" feature in amusement pinballs was somewhat
different. In these games the player generally tried to light up
the entire name in one game, the letters being 'reset' at the
start of each new game. This was generally done by hitting
bumpers which indicated the appropriate letters on their caps.
Starting in 1947, United came out with a series of games
which had a "Spell Name" feature. Most of these games had six or
nine letter names which were broken down into 3 groups of two or
three letters each. Examples were: HA-VA-NA, HA-WA-II, NE-VA-DA,
SIN-GAP-ORE, MAN-HAT-TAN, and TRO-PIC-ANA. These games had
bumpers corresponding to each letter in their names. As the
bumpers were hit their lights would go out, but it wasn't until
all letters in any one group (of two or three letters) were made
that the corresponding part of the name on the backglass would
light. In addition to the bumpers, these games had 'rollover
channels' which would light a group of two or three letters at
once. Completing each group enabled some scoring feature of the
game, and completing the entire name gave the player a much
greater additional advantage, such as doubling the game's "bonus"
Other "Spell Name" games were also produced in the late
forties. On many of these machines completing the entire name
would award the player one or more replays.
As was mentioned earlier, some "one-balls" had Spell Name
features which were "held-over" from game to game. Other
sequence features on some games also employed the "hold-over"
idea. Many post-war "one-balls" had what was known as the "A-B-
C-D" feature in which four bumpers, labeled 'A', 'B', 'C', and
'D', appeared on the playfield. The player would have to hit
them 'in rotation' (ie 'A' first, then 'B', etc) in order to
light them, but once lit they would remain lit until all four had
been lighted. Completing this sequence would give the player
some special 'advantage' during the next game he played, such as
lighting all of the "Horse Selections".
An example of a pingame using a "hold-over" sequence feature
many years after the "one-ball era" was Gottlieb's TROPIC ISLE in
1962. This game had a backglass with 'light animation' of three
monkeys climbing coconut trees. During play of a game it was
possible to cause the monkeys to climb higher, one step at a
time. The monkey's position was not 'reset' at the beginning of a
new game until he finally reached the top of the tree, at which
time "Specials" on the playfield were lit. While this was not
exactly a "number" sequence it was a "sequential event" and an
example of a "hold-over" feature on a later model pingame.
The main purpose of these "hold-over" features was to keep
players playing the game, trying to finally achieve this goal.
These features would also attract new players to play the game
since they would realize that part of the task had already been
performed for them by previous players of the machine. So indeed
these were generally excellent "come-on" features used by pingame
designers to stimulate play.
The use of number sequences on pingames continued into the
fifties. Games employing the idea in that era often used
numbered kickout holes, rollovers, and other 'targets', as well
as bumpers, on the playfield to light the sequence numbers on the
backglass. A typical example of such a game was Williams' SHOO
SHOO from 1951 which resides in my personal collection.
SHOO SHOO had a ten number sequence on the backglass.
These numbers were lighted by numbered kickout holes, rollovers,
and bumpers on the playfield. If a player succeeded in lighting
'1' through '5' certain playfield rollovers would light as
'Specials'. If, however, the player succeeded in lighting all ten
numbers an 'Extra Special' kickout hole in the center of the
playfield would light. This hole would award from one to ten
replays, as displayed by lighted numbers next to the hole. These
numbers could be advanced by other playfield achievements, a sort
of 'mini sequence' feature which was a "hold-over" feature as
THE 'QUEENS' GAMES
Early in 1960, Bally, who had primarily been making the
gambling type "bingo pinballs" during most of the fifties, came
out with a series of unique pingames which employed 'number
sequences' as a major game objective. Like the "bingos", these
machines had no flippers, but in all other respects resembled an
amusement pinball. With one exception, BEAUTY CONTEST, the names
of all these games contained the word "queens", and for this
reason I refer to them as the "Queens Games". The other games in
this series were: BEACH QUEENS, BEAUTY QUEENS, TROPIC QUEENS, and
All of these games had number sequences (11 numbers), each
number being represented by a picture of a beautiful girl on the
backglass. These numbers were lit by hitting bumpers, etc, on
the playfield. Lighting various amounts of these 'girls' (it was
how many numbers, not which ones that counted) would result in
different amounts of replays being awarded to the skillful
player. Some of these games allowed the player only 1 ball and
others two or five.
As an interesting sidelight to the "Queens Games", they used
many internal parts that also had been used on Bally "bingo"
machines. I have heard it rumored that one of the reasons Bally
came out with these games was to enable them to legally ship
"bingo" parts, since the Korpran Decision in 1957 had declared
"bingo pinballs" to be gambling devices subject to the Johnson
Act. Whether or not this is true I can not say, but at any rate,
the Bally "Queens Games" were an interesting addition to the
parade of "sequence pingames" over the years.
In 1966, several years after Bally resumed production of
flipper pinballs, they came out with a flipperless machine in the
"Queens Game" tradition. This game was called FUN CRUISE and
Bally's brochure for it stated "by popular demand! Old
favorite, 'lights out' scoring." This game had 15 numbered flags
on the backglass which could be made by hitting bumpers, targets,
or a "mystery spotting" kickout hole. In addition to the numbers
it also had the standard point scoring typical of the flipper
games of the period.
The game gave the player only 3 balls. The ad further
boasted of the game having no flippers by stating "no
flippers....restoring the happy arts of nudging, tapping, and
body English....speedy action of 3 sling-shot activated balls
which deliver twice the excitement, suspense and satisfaction of
5 'flipper flapped' balls." And, a few months later, Bally
introduced a similar machine called DELUXE FUN CRUISE with many
of the same features, plus a "mystery spotting" thumper bumper.
So even in the mid-sixties pinball players could still play a
real old-fashioned "number sequence" flipperless pingames.
Many flipper games of the sixties utilized forms of the
"sequence" in their play. An example of another sequence was a
"playing card sequence" such as was used on Gottlieb's KING OF
DIAMONDS in 1967. This game had a sequence of 13 representing
the playing cards '2' through '10' and 'Jack' through 'Ace'.
These 'cards' were made by rollovers and targets on the
playfield. In addition, there was a "roto-target" unit in the
center of the playfield containing thirteen targets '2' through
'Ace' which could be hit by skillful flipper shots.
On the backglass was an elongated window behind which was a
bank of thirteen 'drop flags' displaying which of the thirteen
'cards' had been made. If a player succeeded in getting all the
cards from '2' through '10' special lights, which alternated from
one side of the playfield to the other, would be lit on two
rollovers on the playfield. If the player was skillful enough to
get all thirteen cards ('2' through 'Ace') a 'rotating Special'
was enabled. The targets 'Jack' through 'Ace' would each light
in rotation as Specials awarding replays when the lit target was
That was just one example of "sequences" used on pingames
from the sixties. As you can see, number, letter, and other
"sequences" have been an important part of pingame design since
the advent of electric pingames in the mid 1930's. This idea was
found on a majority of the games in the late 30's and throughout
the 40's, and still continued, in one form or another, in later
pingames as well.