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A glossary of terms commonly used in discussing pinball machines.

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Allows to add additional balls by achieving a specific task f.e. during an active Multiball. A feature especially popular on the latest generations of Stern machines. Earlier in pinball history, Add-A-Ball was actually used to describe that a player can earn Extra Balls.
For a limited time, every ball that goes down the drain will be returned to the plunger. Usually only available when starting with a new ball (to compensate for "unfair" very fast drains), it will also be available during the start of multiballs on later machines.


The vertical "head" of the pinball machine, where the score is always displayed.
See drop target.
An upright, typically cylindrical or rectangular area that applies force to the ball when hit. The cylindrical variety is referred to as a mushroom bumper when capped with a circular top (which usually lights up to show the points scored when the bumper is hit).

When flippers where introduced on Humpty Dumpty, they were referred to as "flipper bumpers"; this use is no longer live, and "bumpers" never refers to "flippers".

Active bumpers are referred to as "Jet Bumpers" by Williams and Midway (Bally) (after the 1988 Williams-Midway merger), "Pop Bumpers" by Gottlieb, "Thumper Bumpers" by Bally (before the 1988 Williams-Midway merger), and "Turbo Bumpers" by Data East.


Captive Ball
A pinball trapped within a small area of the playfield. The captive ball never leaves this area, and the free ball can never enter it. However, the free ball can knock into the captive ball, which in turn can knock into targets in its area. Some tables even feature multiple stacked captive balls (f.e. Judge Dredd, Theatre of Magic).
As known from fighting video games like Street Fighter II, the term Combo (or Combo-Shot) refers to an immediate combination of different moves, in the case of pinball machines often continuous ramp and/or orbit shots. Some machines (like Theatre of Magic, Demolition Man, Attack From Mars or ST:TNG (featuring the famous Picard Maneuver)) reward combo shots by an increasing number of points, depending on the number of successful continuous shots made.


Stands for Dot-Matrix Display. A pixel-addressable display used to display the score and other status during the game. Almost always placed in the backbox (exception: Cirqus Voltaire). Every machine released from 1992 (starting with Data East's Checkpoint, released in 1991) features this display, only exceptions being the two VGA driven Pinball 2000 machines.
Drop target
An upright, pressure-sensitive rectangle that drops below the playfield when hit by the ball. Drop targets are often arranged in so-called banks, and may require being hit in combination or in sequence to score or light special features.
The common term used to refer to the area beneath the flippers. If the ball rolls into the drain, it will be lost. The game ends when all of your balls are lost.


Electro-Mechanical (EM)
A pinball machine design that relies on relays, motors and switches to run. This design was phased out in the late 1970s. EM machines are easily recognized by their scoring displays that have mechanical score reels that spin to show the score. Newer machines are referred to as Solid State (SS).
Extra Ball
An additional bonus ball that can be earned by achieving a specific task.


A tapered bat, typically found in pairs at the bottom of the table, that is the player's primary means of controlling the ball. Normally a downward slope extending the bottom structure of the table, one end is moved upward in an arc when the player taps the appropriate button.


An acronym of General Illumination, this refers to the lights on the playfield used simply to make the playfield visible in a dark room.


A wireform path for the ball that surrounds it on all sides, preventing the ball from escaping.


See lane.


A specially designated point bonus; typically among the highest amounts that can be scored with one shot. Jackpots are only available when certain actions are completed, often only during a mode.


A lane is in general any area of the table just wide enough to let the ball pass through. Special kinds of lanes are inlanes and outlanes; both types are situated at the bottom of the playing field. The outlanes are at the far ends and connect to the bottom (causing loss of the ball), the inlanes are next to them and connect to the flipper area.


Magic Post
A risable post between the flipper fingers that completely blocks the middle drain. Sometimes also called Recovery Post.
A feature that allows the player to activate a magnet located just below the entrance to an outlane. A ball headed for the outlane will be held by the magnet and diverted to the corresponding inlane instead. Williams Electronics pioneered this feature on the Black Knight game.
The chance to win a free game after the last ball has drained. On most machines the free game is received when the last two digits of the score match a pseudo randomly picked two digit number. The winning chance can be altered by the operator.
A configuration of the table where specific goals must be met in a limited time to score points, hitting specific lanes or dropping specific targets, sometimes combined with multiball. Some tables have multiple modes that must be activated in order, usually building up to an "ultimate" last mode or the wizard mode where the most points can be scored.
Multiball (Multi-ball)
A situation where multiple balls are on the playing field, as opposed to the single ball the player usually has to contend with. Multiball can be part of a mode, as well as a goal in its own right. Generally, multiball consists of two or three balls, but many more have been used on some machines, such as Apollo 13, which uses 13 for multiball.


See lane.
A path for the ball that hugs the outer rim of the game. Orbits generally have a slingshot effect; sending the ball into an orbit generally means it returns immediately from another. Orbits are usually referred to by their entry point, for instance, the left orbit shot on White Water is called "The Boulder Garden".


Abbreviation for the printed circuit board. Circuit boards are used in solid state machines. Most are located in the back box. Others circuit boards can be located under the playfield or in the main cabinet.
Unlike its original meaning, this player controlled device kicks the ball from the ball lane into the game. The amount of force to pull the plunger is directly proportional to the force the ball receives. Some newer machines just feature buttons that automatically put the ball into play with a rather constant force applied. This was introduced either to reduce game costs or to allow for exotic devices like the Gear Shifter in The Getaway: High Speed II or the Gun in Indiana Jones: The Pinball Adventure.
A device that launches the ball vertically, often to a raised playfield.


A section of the playfield with a raised gradient. Ramps generally lead either to raised playfields or to inlanes.
A free game received after a certain score is reached.
A flat switch residing in the playfield itself. A rollover is activated when the ball rolls over it.


Solid State
A pinball machine design that relies on computers and printed circuit boards to run. This design was introduced in the late 1970s. SS machines are easily recognizable by their scoring displays, which are powered by electricity. Older machines are referred to as Electro-Mechanical (EM) and have mechanical score reels that spin to display the score.
Some machines allow to earn a free game (called special in that context) by achieving a specific task (f.e. lighting all monsters and their instruments in Monster Bash).
A rotating target, mostly placed at the entrance to a loop/orbit or ramp.
Standup targets (Stand-up targets)
A standing target on a playfield, similar to a Drop Target, but which does not drop into the playfield when struck.
A small metal post, often with a rubber ring, typically found between and slightly below the bottom flippers. If the ball hits the post, it will bounce up and away, saving it from draining. Skilled players can use the stopper to make trick shots. On some tables, the stopper is made available only as a reward.
It's a bonus that is rewarded in several pinball games. It is earned by performing some particular task when releasing the ball. It requires releasing the ball with a particular strength or shooting a specific target, ramp or loop immediately after releasing the ball. Some games have various levels of skillshots.


The tilt mechanism registers motion applied to a machine; if too much motion is applied this way, the game is said to "tilt" and the player is penalized (losing the ball in play, the bonus points or a combination of both are the most common penalties).
The plastic or glass sheet in the backbox, generally displaying a large colorful illustration. So-called because it is often designed to allow light through in some areas.


A Target that can be moved by the ball by a varying amount. Normally this directly corresponds to the amount of points received, as it is usually risky trying to shoot the narrow target with full force.
Short for Vertical Up-Kicker. Synonym for popper.


An exceptionally skilled player. This term comes from the 1969 rock opera Tommy, where the likewise named protagonist becomes famous when he masters pinball. The title of the song "Pinball Wizard" quickly gained acceptance among pinball enthusiasts as an honorific.
Wizard Mode / Wizard Bonus
A special mode or bonus, started only after completing a long and difficult series of tasks in a pinball machine. The first "wizard bonus" was The King's Ransom in 1989's Black Knight 2000.



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Published - January 2009

This glossary is available under the terms
of the GNU Free Documentation

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