The Hippo


May 30, 2020








 Where to play

• Pinball Wizard Arcade, 150 Bridge St., Pelham, 635-1677,
• Jim’s Wheelhouse, 3431 Province Lake Road, East Wakefield, 871-8382,
• Southern New Hampshire Pinball Club, 134 Haines St., Nashua, 765-387-6472 (membership required to play here, about $30 per month at the moment)
Funspot, 579 Endicott St., N. Laconia, 366-4377,
Funworld, 200 DW Highway, Nashua, 888-1940,
Upcoming events
Most events require RSVP and admission to play; contact the respective organizations for more information. There’s no admission to watch.
New England Pinball League Final: Saturday, Nov. 19, at the Pinball Wizard Arcade; Guay said the first round typically starts around 11 a.m.
Quest for the Anchor Pinball Tournament: Sunday, Nov. 13, at Jim’s Wheelhouse, at 11 a.m.
Pinball organizations: Southern New Hampshire Pinball Club,; New England Pinball League,; Professional & Amateur Pinball Association,; International Flipper Pinball Association,

Pinball resurgence
Retro arcade game finds new popularity

By Kelly Sennott

 After years of dormancy, pinball is back and bigger than ever.

Surprised? You’re not alone. Many players — especially those who’ve been at it for years — can’t believe it.
“I had no thoughts it would ever come back like it did,” Chuck Webster, a member of the Southern New Hampshire Pinball Club, said via phone. “Now it’s bigger than it’s ever been, which is really saying something, since it was virtually dead about six years ago. It’s been an amazing ride to see how fast it’s grown and continues to grow.” 
Webster’s been collecting pinball machines for 25 years, with an emphasis on rock bands like Metallica and AC/DC. The game was big, he said, in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s but was on its last breath as people turned primarily to video games moving into the 21st century. Many arcades and restaurants weeded their places of pinball machines, but the games didn’t disappear entirely; most of the time, they relocated to people’s homes.
Then, about six years ago, something happened. Pinball came back. Why, players can only guess. Webster suspects gamers were looking for ways to get out of the house and meet people.
“This is a way you can get outside and … interact with people instead of talk to them on the computer. And it’s a really competitive environment,” Webster said. “I don’t want to call it a sport, but it is kind of like a sport. … There’s physics to the ball, which makes every game unique. Each game has a different set of rules, and there’s a lot to it.”
In 2011, Sarah St. John started the Pinball Wizard Arcade in Pelham, which really put it back on the map. According to its Facebook page, it’s one of the world’s largest arcades with more than 300 games — a third of which are pinball.
“Millennials discovered it. Old-timers like myself never left the scene, but now we had a place to play. Now there are tournaments all over New Hampshire, all over New England,” Webster said.
About four years ago, a group of enthusiasts started the New England Pinball League, which now has 225 members and is run by Matt Guay, who lives in Lawrence, Mass. The Pinball Wizard Arcade acts as headquarters, with league meetings every Monday night and major tournaments three times a year. Competitors range in age from 8 to 70. Guay said many members have enormous personal collections, with as many as 40 machines.
“If you were to go back a couple years ago, there was one company left making pinball machines. Now, there are four or five. And there are a bunch of manufacturers making new games,” Guay said. “Leagues are popping up all over the country.”
Every New England state has at least one league affiliate, but in New Hampshire, there are two other major places to play besides Pelham.
One is at Jim’s Wheelhouse in Wakefield, not far from Lake Winnipesaukee, which merges pizza, craft beer and pinball. Jim Farris started the business about a year and a half ago after retiring from the military, and here, visitors will find more than 20 machines. Themes include Avatar, Pirates of the Caribbean, The Lord of the Rings, The Addams Family and, the newest, KISS and Ghostbusters
During the off season of the New England Pinball League, he holds regular tournaments, for which his youngest competitors are in their 20s, his oldest in their 70s. Farris said via phone that some regulars drive almost two hours just to play there. 
“For being out in the middle of nowhere, we’re doing pretty well. We do lots of different tournaments,” Farris said.
Austin Chenelle started the Southern New Hampshire Pinball Club in early 2016, which people access like a gym — members can come in and use the 30-plus machines at the Nashua venue 24/7. Webster said there are open houses two Tuesdays a month. On the third Friday of the month, the group hosts a tournament.
These venues are great places to play if you’re a beginner, but they also see regulars who do very well in national and international competitions.
“My attraction is, it’s never the same game twice, whereas I could play PacMan two times in a row, and it will be the same patterns every time,” Guay said. “It’s a very physical game. Anything can happen.” 

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