It’s a flip­per frenzy at The Gar­cade and other spots get­ting in on the rise in retro gam­ing.

Milwaukee Magazine - - DEPARTMENTS - By MATT HRODEY

Think you’ve got what it takes to earn a high score on one of The Gar­cade’s pin­ball ma­chines?

The monthly pin­ball tour­na­ment at The Gar­cade has all come down to this. Af­ter an hour and a half of swear­ing, con­cen­tra­tion, in­tim­i­dat­ing stares and laugh­ter. Af­ter more fren­zied flip­per play than the show pool at Sea World. Af­ter more than a few vet­er­ans have fallen.

That morn­ing, Gar Nel­son – an elec­tri­cal en­gi­neer who left a job at We En­er­gies to open the ar­cade in a Menomonee Falls strip mall in 2017 – turned up early to wax the ta­bles, mak­ing them as “fast” and pun­ish­ing as pos­si­ble. Sure enough, play­ers fell by the way­side, shak­ing their heads, sil­ver ball af­ter sil­ver ball slip­ping through their flip­pers. This was real, old-school pin­ball.

The fi­nal match went down on the robot-themed Pin-Bot ta­ble first re­leased in 1986. Jonathan Maske, a lean man with a thick goa­tee and Converse ten­nis shoes, shook hands with and squared off against An­ton Wy­ck­lendt, whose Pac-Man shirt left his tat­tooed arms mostly bare. The Pin-Bot swat­ted down both men on the first ball, and they tried to re­gain their foot­ing on the sec­ond. Maske opened the robot’s mouth and rolled in a shot, rack­ing up points. Wy­ck­lendt lost con­trol at the last mo­ment and shook the ma­chine vi­o­lently with his hands, risk­ing a tilt penalty in a fi­nal at­tempt to avoid the cer­tain drop. In the end, Maske took home the (real) tro­phy.

Lo­cal pin­ball gu­rus say in­ter­est in the pas­time’s com­pet­i­tive side has taken off in the past five years, ris­ing along­side re­newed in­ter­est in retro video games. The Gar­cade has one of the few large col­lec­tions in the state that’s playable by the pub­lic; most are held pri­vately or loaned out in small num­bers. A cer­tain Tom in Ap­ple­ton is said to have more than 40 ma­chines, and an Eric in Neenah more than 30. Milwaukee res­i­dent Jim Radovich hosts an of­fi­cially sanc­tioned league at his house once a month. In­side, he’s col­lected more than two dozen well-main­tained pin­ball ma­chines, from In­di­ana Jones and X-Men ta­bles in his base­ment to the high-tech Hou­dini in his liv­ing room. “I like the games that are more dif­fi­cult to get to the end of,” he says.

Player oneready at The Gar­cade

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