Alex Harmon, the owner and operator of Special When Lit Amusements, sure plays a mean pinball.
It all started in 2006, decades after pinball's heyday, when the Harmons installed a pinball machine into their home. The retro Photo provided by: Heather Kendrick machine was an unusual addition to modern décor, but 12 year old Alex dedicated hours to playing with his family and perfecting his craft. Nine years later, Harmon decided to get involved with competitive pinball. He started winning major tournaments like the Michigan Pinball Expo Professional and Amateur Pinball Association (PAPA) Circuit event. Harmon then went on to become one of 40 to qualify for the PAPA Pinball Circuit Championships and one of 64 to qualify for the International Flipper Pinball (IFPA) World Championships. According to the IFPA, Alex is currently ranked as the #1 pinball player in Michigan.
While this is the first year the Meijer State Games of Michigan has hosted pinball as an official event, Harmon, who directs seven other tournaments in Michigan, predicts this event will become one of the biggest pinball destinations in the state. As a previous Meijer State Games of Michigan intern, Harmon was excited to get involved as he was familiar with the State Games philosophy of inclusive participation.
"We have always tried to incorporate the motto of "any age, any ability" into pinball as we are always trying to grow and expand the sport," explained Harmon. "It is essential that we include everyone and the Meijer State Games was a natural fit to accomplish this."
Photo provided by: Heather Kendrick
The 2016 Meijer State Games of Michigan Pinball Tournament will be hosted at One East Main Resturant in Fremont, Michigan. In the past, the event has been held at the same time as a nearby carnvial, attracting curious players to come in and check out the tournament.
If you are interested in learning about pinball, check out Alex Harmon's five things you need to know to become a pinball wizard:
1. Study The Rules
While it takes countless hours cultivate the hand eye coordination required to master the art of pinball, it is also important a player dedicate time to understand the many rules of the game. These rules can be accessed on official website such as PAPA.org, and people also post demonstrations on YouTube.
"It is a game that requires great physical and mental skill. It's always working your mind, so you need to know the rules and what to do next," said Harmon. "If you know the game, you will be ready for wherever that little metal ball decides to go."
2. Play As Much As Possible
Many players that are new to pinball like to blame the outcomes of their games on luck. Alex however wants to abolish that assumption, as he insists practice is what separates the pros from the novice.
"Just like any game, it has luck elements, but once you watch the top players you realize it’s a whole different game," said Harmon. "Whether it is nudging, trapping, or catching the ball, there are so many fun and unique skills to it. I practice every day for about an hour. It is essential to make sure to play as much as possible to stay comfortable at the machine."
While practice makes perfect, the feeling of competition experience is indispensable because while you may practice like a pro, you may play different under the pressure of an audience when the adrenaline kicks in.
"Almost no one succeeds in their first competitive experiment, so it’s important to get out and play in as many competitive situations as possible," said Harmon. "Whether that’s IFPA sanctioned tournaments, leagues or competitive games with your friends, it’s just important to practice playing in that sort of atmosphere."
4. Learn To Nudge The Machine
Harmon's favorite trick of the trade is one of the most beneficial yet uncommon strategies in the pinball community. It's called nudging, and many new players don't use it because they are often unsure of it's validity in the rules of pinball. Harmon however assures it's not only helpful but practically essential to nudge the machine in order to direct the ball to where you want it to go.
"The game has a mechanism to tell you when you are pushing it too hard, but it is essential to test those limits," said Harmon. "The best players all nudge to extend the length of ball times. You get two dangers and then a TILT. The tilt will typically only end your ball, so many people say if you aren’t tilting, you aren’t trying!"
5. Introduce Yourself And Ask Questions
Like many other sports, one of the best parts of the game is the people you meet. Once you've made your way into the pinball community, Harmon encourages all new players to reach out and ask for help whenever they can.
"It's one of the most friendly forms I've ever experienced. Everyone is friendly and willing to help each other out," said Harmon. There isn't anyone in competitive pinball that is there without the help of others. We will always help you in any way possible, so come on out and give it a try!"
Interested in pinball?
Check out our Summer Games Pinball page for more information.
Interested in joining a pinball league?
Contact Alex Harmon to get involved.
The Meijer State Games of Michigan is a multi-sport, Olympic-style event(s) that welcome athletes regardless of age or ability level. The Games embody the values of participation, sportsmanship and healthy living.
Interested in our Summer Games?
Interested in our Winter Games?