A passion for pinball
David Silverman's pinball museum is a labor of love.
December 10th, 2011
09:27 AM ET

A passion for pinball

Baltimore (CNN) - It’s a long way and more than three centuries from Château de Bagatelle in France to an entertainment district in Baltimore. That’s how far David Silverman’s passion has come.

An improvised billiards game at the chateau evolved into modern pinball. And if it’s pinball, David Silverman is bound to have it.

Silverman is set to open his National Pinball Museum in Baltimore in the New Year. Visitors will get to play all they want of 65 or so games, with another 90 on display. That’s just a fraction of Silverman’s collection, which is mostly stored in warehouses and buildings on his property in Silver Spring, Maryland.

The museum opened last year in a Washington shopping mall, but Silverman had to find new digs when the mall operators decided to gut the place.

(Click the audio player to hear CNN Radio's Bob Costantini report on Silverman and the silver ball)

Thanks to a thriving landscape business, Silverman has been able to engage in his hobby of collecting pinball games. The museum is a labor of love.

“Without question, the artwork,” Silverman quickly replies when asked what makes a good “table” as pinball aficionados sometimes call the sport. “I think the artwork to me is critical. Good shots, good ramp shots, good knockdowns (targets). The rules [should be] complex enough that I really want to dig into trying to find out how to get a higher score.”

The museum will display pinball games from the 20th and 21st centuries. One section will include pinball games that do not have flippers, often found in bars and often used for gambling in the last century. They were considered games of luck rather than skill. The balls would wind up in numbered holes and getting them in a certain order racked up free games. Bars would often pay money for so many games won, and then delete them with an illegal “knock-off” switch. Many towns banned them.

Getting the museum space ready has taken up a lot of Silverman’s time. He relishes the moment he gets to play.

“I play the game as long as it takes me to get to the end. Some games I have, I still have never reached the end. They call it the ‘Wizard Mode,’ where you’ve done everything possible. You’ve got the highest score, and the game goes completely nuts.”

That’s how the more electronically elaborate games of recent decades operate. Pinball has managed to stay alive, despite video games taking over much of the space in arcades. Addams Family, Twilight Zone and Avatar are hard to figure out, part of the challenge Silverman loves.

For me, the visit is a chance to play a game from my long summer vacations in Ocean City, Maryland. Gottlieb’s Slick Chick gives one point at a time, and has nothing but a simple bell as sound effect.

Two women in tight clothing sport bunny ears on the backglass, though apparently to avoid a Playboy lawsuit, there’s a barbershop quartet between them.

The object is to hit all the bumpers that spell out Slick Chick, in a cross pattern with the common letter “i” in the middle of the playing field.

The thing of beauty about the older games, for me, is their simplicity. It didn’t take long to figure out how to win a replay — just get something like a thousand points or get the ball to roll over a sensor with a red light, called the “special.”

The museum won’t be just for playing and looking. Silverman is installing windows so visitors can look at restoration work. He’s expecting to hold classes on the game he loves.

“And the excitement of a new game is like the excitement of reading a book or experiencing something that you’ve never experienced before,” he says.

The old and new games on display have placards above them telling its time period and designer. The legendary pinball makers from Chicago - Gottlieb, Bally and Williams - no longer make the silver ball devices. But their memory is kept alive in a three-story building with giant flippers at the entrance.

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  1. Mike

    The big one is in Las Vegas. the pinball musuem.

    December 11, 2011 at 8:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • JDevil1735

      The SilverBall Museum on the Asbury Park Boardwalk has over 220 pinball machines – everything from the 1930's on up. Free to play with paid admission as well.

      December 12, 2011 at 12:18 am | Report abuse |
  2. Danny

    Yeah I live in Vegas, I'm not sure how big it is compared to the one in Baltimore, but there's at least 100 machines at this one. And it's called the Pinball Hall of Fame.

    December 11, 2011 at 8:39 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Ron

    Wow...the machine directly behind him is called "Sittin' Pretty". My dad got it for me and my bros. when we were young. I'm now 54. Like an idiot, I sold it 7 or 8 years ago or so on eBay. The buyer was in Italy and had it shipped there so this one is likely not it....but who knows? Pretty cool to see it in this pic!

    December 11, 2011 at 8:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • JoeyATL

      That's very cool. When I was a kid, we had a Gorgar, which was the first talking pinball game. It didn't say much, but at the time it seemed pretty cool.

      December 12, 2011 at 2:01 am | Report abuse |
  4. Armando

    I frequent the Pacific Pinball Museum in Alameda, Ca. I have been able to play machines from the 50's, 60s, 70s and more current. I like them all but my favorite machines are from the late 60s to early 70s. I would estimate they have about 90 machines for play at this museum.

    December 11, 2011 at 9:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • flipperguy

      Same here. I have three machines from 1974, the same ones I played as a kid. The last of the electro-mechanicals; what I consider to be the golden age of pinball.

      December 30, 2011 at 9:33 am | Report abuse |
  5. JDevil1735

    The SilverBall Museum on Asbury Park Boardwalk has over 220 pinball games – everything from the 1930's on up. Free to play with paid admission as well.

    December 12, 2011 at 12:16 am | Report abuse |
    • DDM

      With a very poor reputation for customer service and machine maintenance. They are notorious for having some of the most poorly maintained machines.

      December 13, 2011 at 9:20 am | Report abuse |
  6. Susan

    I used to travel exclusively out of my way to this one arcade that had a pinball machine with two war tanks in it. The ball shot out of the gun across the board! I never saw it anywhere but at that arcade. I'm curious if he has one. Don't know the name of it, but it was a lot of fun.

    December 12, 2011 at 2:12 am | Report abuse |
  7. Fotina

    Question: if Ed Schultz fell on the set at BSNBC studios would a mrtjaioy of Americans see it?Answer: Maybe not...but a mrtjaioy of Americans might feel it

    March 12, 2012 at 12:07 pm | Report abuse |
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