Yesterday, a few of the Yinzterns took a trek out to Carnegie, PA to check out the World Pinball Championships. With no idea what to expect, it is no exaggeration to say we were floored by the experience.
In Carnegie, a large white nondescript warehouse holds hundreds of pinball machines. Opened to the public only four days a year, people come from all over the world to participate in the 16th Professional & Amateur Pinball Association’s (PAPA) World Pinball Championship. From the outside, I didn’t expect much of the space, but the moment I opened the door, my jaw dropped.
As you step inside the warehouse, you are immediately overwhelmed by the electronic sound of 100s of machines playing pinball at once. It’s all at once alarming and comforting to hear the tap-tap-tap of the flippers returning the metal balls back into play. There are pinball machines as far as the eye can see, each flashing its own high score and challenging passersby to beat it.
Competitors hug and riff on each other, creating an immediate sense of a close-knit community. They line up to register, wishing each other luck while simultaneously swearing they’ll outdo their score from last year. Perhaps the most startling observation was the wide range of ages that participate in the competition. Kids, sometimes dragged unwillingly by parents, stand patiently waiting their turn. 20-somethings, clearly there by their own accord, watch the floor with anticipation, unsure of what game to tackle first.
As you make your way onto the floor, the atmosphere quiets. Competitors are sequestered into divisions: A,B,C, or Classic Pinball–and wait their turn to play. They watch as players before them concentrate solely on the game. Almost painfully committed to each game, it’s a wonder players can last 4 days. They stand in front of the machines, muscles tense and eyes trained on the microcosm under the glass–legs kick back almost involuntarily as a finger snaps the flipper up to return a ball into play.
The A Division area is quiet, except for the machines announcing bonuses and extra balls. Cameras positioned above the machines record a live feed of the games below so spectators can marvel at the skill. This year the PAPA added real-time online electronic scorekeeping, so players from across the world can see the scores immediately. Real-time TV monitors announce high-scores.
The outskirts of the warehouse are filled with pinballs machines–rows and rows of graphics and flashing lights. Anyone is welcome to play these machines with tokens purchased at the front. The proceeds of these games go straight to charity.
The Pinball World Championships are a truly unique event that we’re lucky enough to host in Pittsburgh. The still fervent pinball community lives on here. If you don’t get a chance to check out the championship this weekend, take a look at Special When Lit, a documentary about pinball. A great deal of the film was shot in Carnegie. You can check it out on Hulu.
PAPA WORLD PINBALL CHAMPIONSHIP
WHEN: August 8-11
WHERE: 100 Keystone Dr, Carnegie, PA (Note: According to the PAPA this is an arbitrary address, keep your eyes peeled for a white warehouse and a bunch of people).
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HOW MUCH: Free to watch, tokens can be purchased to machines, all proceeds go to charity.