Monday, April 25, 2011

Pinball Wizards

Now, everyone knows that's not what you go to Wellesley for. Wellesley is the place to go for one of the finest liberal arts educations you can get outside the Ivy League (in fact, Wellesley is one of the Seven Sisters, so it is no slouch). MIT had a co-op arrangement with Wellesley in which students from either campus could cross-register for certain courses, and many students from one campus availed themselves of the offerings on the other campus - including those offerings of the opposite sex. In addition, the Wellesley parties also had Tuborg Gold on tap, so it was just like home. I never did take any courses at Wellesley, but I did find myself out there at a few of their mixers (there was a shuttle bus between the two campuses that trundled students back and forth during school hours - and fairly late into the evening for the party-goers). I also took advantage of the opportunity to put up flyers announcing our dorm's parties to the Wellesley co-eds. Some even showed up for a few minutes.

But why pinball? Well, it was a popular sport among the college crowd in Cambridge, and it wasn't because the Who's "Tommy" (the first rock opera!) had been made into a movie in 1975 with Elton John as the Pinball Wizard in huge, towering platform shoes. No, for some of the thursday staff, pinball had the same allure as Howard the Duck and Kiss. It was Old School and countercultural, all at the same time. In fact, the runs to the printer on Wednesday nights were all characterized by the same routine - a trip in our managing editor's car to the Harvard Square offices of the Crimson, where Louie, our printer, would take the negatives and hand us his customary request for a "Sprite, no ice", which we would dutifully fulfill at one of the pubs nearby. Then we'd order a midnight snack and play pinball for an hour while we waited for the issue to be printed. Gottlieb always seemed to have the hottest games, though maybe it was Stern that had the Reggie Jackson (did I mention that most of the thursday senior staff hailed from New York City?).

Pinball would remain king until sometime around the height of the disco era, in 1979, when the first video games started infiltrating the arcades (actually, Pong had been around since my high school days, and a home version showed up in my freshman year, but it wasn't until Space Invaders that the video games started muscling out the pinball machines). By 1981, Pac-Man arrived on the scene, and that was the end of the pinball era. Today, if you are in a fit of retro nostalgia, you can find all kinds of pinball games online, but it's not the same thing as feeling the flippers in your fingers and learning how to impart an English on the ball by banging the table just firmly enough to alter the ball's course, but not so firmly that you cause a "tilt".

1 comment:

  1. Ah, midnight at the pinball room. So many memories with Andre, Betty and Bruce.