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The True Story Of Banana Flippers (and other Ritchie Ramblings)

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Duncan Brown

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Apr 24, 2001, 7:31:36 AM4/24/01
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The recent thread about Time Warp, and whether it played better with
straight flippers or banana flippers, got me wondering "you know, what
the *heck* was up with those banana flippers??" Here's what I came up
with...

Duncan

*********************************************************************

This thing has become a frikkin book in just 2 hours-Damn! It's OK to
post the following. Remember--different people remember different
things and some others of us might recollect other details. This is
what I remember:

Curved Flippers

Here's what I *remember*, and that means there will be certain
approximations in this note about Curved Flippers--and that's what we
called them. "Banana" was a term some outsiders applied, and it
certainly fits. We're talking 23 years ago. Why...it seems just
like yesterday......

Some facts need to be sorted. First, Tony Kraemer, (NOT Barry) was
the "Dad" of curved flippers, and they may actually have been
conceived by Mike Stroll, the Prez. My brother Mark recalls that a
mechanical engineer, Johnny Jung, may have actually drawn and spec'd
the first set. I don't remember much because I was preoccupied with
Stellar Wars and maybe Firepower.

Mike certainly was eager to see them work. Disco Fever was actually
the first playable game with curved flippers. Tony had them made in
the model shop out of Nylon, a nearly frictionless material that went
"click" whenever the ball hit them, or they struck a ball. Stroll
played the Disco Fever with curved flippers more than anyone else. I
don't remember Roger's reaction, but Roger can always find something
to like in every game. He has his favorites, but he always looks for
the most fun feature and plays it as though it might be the last time
he ever gets to play pinball. He is usually able to overlook the bad
things and enjoy the good things. I don't think Roger ended up
liking curved flippers, but you'll have to ask him.

The flippers were shaped like a Jai alai cesta, (that's the curved
wicker basket that players wear, about 2 feet long and curved with a
built-in glove on the end to put your hand into), the ball in the
pinball machine did exactly what cestas do--- accelerate the ball at a
fierce rate and shoot the ball out on a very straight course into the
wall (or targets, on a pinball playfield). "Straight" means that the
Jai alai ball (called a pelota) stays about the same height from the
ground on its trajectory to the court (cancha) wall 176 feet away.
Why? The pelota is slightly smaller than a baseball, very hard, and
is caused to spin with great speed and momentum. Gyroscopic forces
keep trajectory steady. The ball WHIPS out, and people have been
very badly injured, even killed, by the 150 MPH(!!!) ball. But we're
talking pinball here. The engineers made this silly looking thin
rubber "glove" to fit over the hard plastic flipper. The gloves
fell off often and "clogged the drain" rendering the game unplayable.
I think we may have offered glove adhesive to operators, but I'm not
sure.

Since the curved flippers were fixed horizontally, the physics are
applied at 90 degrees to Jai alai, which meant that the targets in
the center 6-8" were battered, and it was very difficult to hit
outside loop shots, or anything else along the outer perimeter of the
playfield. They did nothing to enhance the game, in my opinion. In
fact, most of us simply stated "SUX" to ourselves, and waited to see
what happened next. Stroll was not easily convinced that they
weren't fun. Tony was confused and some Disco Fevers were shipped
with them.

Then Tony (NOT Barry) designed Time Warp and a lot of them were
shipped with curved flippers. Time Warp (and Disco Fever) made more
money with straight flippers than with curved ones, that much I can
ascertain through my stack of old Mother's reports compiled by Bill
Herman. There are notes that state with/without curved flippers.

I remember that we also made retrofit kits so that the operators could
use normal flippers on their games with mini-posts, as Duncan states.
I seem to remember that both Disco Fever and Time Warp were produced
in our factory with and without curved flippers. There is definitely
no "correct" version of either game. Both games were made, played and
sold with and without curved flippers.

Some Interesting Notes:

Tony Kraemer was nicknamed "Colonel Nutzy" after his wristwatch had
stopped working intermittently for the last time. He screamed some
profanity and threw the watch as hard as he could at a plaster wall
in engineering. The watch flew apart in a hundred pieces and we all
laughed so hard, Tony included. He WAS nuts. He could create
pinball designs faster than anyone else at Williams. Tony was a great
guy who made the best of life through a tough childhood and a love
for Steve Kordek who mentored him as a game designer and treated him
like a son. I miss Tony and think of him often. He was hit by a car
in front of Oinkers, a bar where we hung out in 92-93??.

Free lunch and as many soft drinks/day as you could drink were
available in the cafeteria for engineers and managers when I first
arrived at Williams. Two very nice ladies cooked for us and the meals
were very good very often. It was a smart move, because we would only
stop working long enough to eat and play a few games of pinball.
Before my time, there was an open bar in the cafeteria with alcohol
and a barber shop right in the factory at 3401 N. California Ave. I
wonder how much work got done when the bar existed?

It was fun to eat with everyone in the same room, and Mike Stroll
would work the room like a proud host at a dinner party or a standup
comedian. It made us all feel wanted and powerful. Everyone who
reads this knows that in that era, we WERE powerful. We kicked ass
and took names because we were a TEAM held together by bonds bigger
than our own projects. It was a heady time, and Mike Stroll was the
charismatic leader that steered us carefully and respectfully.
Several teams were making hit games simultaneously, and we ruled the
pinball world until it died, under many leaders. The main group of
contributors stayed and worked together (even from different
departments) for many years.

Mike Stroll may have pressed for curved flippers, but I doubt it; it
was not like him to force a feature, especially if it was
controversial. He gave us max freedom to do what we thought would
get the most play. Mike could actually play pretty well and was
deeply involved in the engineering aspect at Williams back in the
day.

I adopted a philosophy about flipper placement after first observing
pinball play in the early 70's at Atari. Games that had odd flipper
placements GENERALLY did not make as much money as games that had more
normal arrangements. There are Great Exceptions, including Capt.
Fantastic, but even there, the basic 2 lowest flippers are in a very
normal position.

"Standard" placement gives the player comfort in that recognizable and
predictable play can be had on a given playfield, and flipper
placement always has a huge impact on drain schedules and feeds to the
flippers. Designers can never leave well enough alone, and when they
don't, they end up with something like ST:TNG which I will always wish
was not so brutal with side drains. Oh well.

In reference to "Dad" above, all games have a Dad. The Game Dad is
the guy with the vision of a given game, and is not always the
designer. The Game Dad can be an artist, a programmer, a mechanical
engineer, or a game designer. Games with no Dad (and they happened)
were doomed to failure. Someone must always carry the torch for every
game as it's developed. The Game Dad reference was probably first
coined by George Gomez. It seems real chauvinist. But I only knew
one Game Mom. Pinball Mary at Atari. Her game wasn't fun and it
died. I think it was because there was no Game Dad!

This is all the time I have at the moment. It's interesting to note
that thoughts about Curved Flippers brought about the memories of so
much more, just like it was yesterday.....

Regards,

Steve Ritchie

Marcos Hedges

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Apr 24, 2001, 5:50:24 AM4/24/01
to
Very interesting piece of history! I would like to see, if possible, more
of these little essays in the future from others in the industry, past
and/or present.

Going back to the banana flippers, I've never seen or played one of these
so-equipped games. Do the "Jai-Alai" physics actually apply on such a
smaller scale? For example, I've seen ads for R/C cars that claim "Scale
speeds of up to 180 MPH!", yet in real life, the actual car would never go
past, say 140MPH. Would the "Jai-Alai pins" distort the "physics
properties" as well?


Pinball News

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Apr 24, 2001, 9:37:25 AM4/24/01
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Duncan and Steve,

Many thanks for posting this - it's priceless stuff.
Please make sure this historical information is placed on the web somewhere,
it's too valuable to be left here, in the hope that Google will archive it.

Steve's thoughts and rememberances are greatly vauled hereabouts and I'm
sure we'd all love to hear as much as possible from the both of you.

Cheers,

Martin Ayub.
Editor, Pinball News.
www.pinballnews.com


"Duncan Brown" <brow...@eisner.decus.org> wrote in message
news:3AE56418...@eisner.decus.org...


> The recent thread about Time Warp, and whether it >

<SNIP - sorry, just saving bandwidth>

> Steve Ritchie


skozzy

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Apr 24, 2001, 10:02:23 AM4/24/01
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GOD !

Jody McCullough

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Apr 24, 2001, 11:53:49 AM4/24/01
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Wow,

What a great post! Nice break from all the flames and bitches.

-Jody-

Jody McCullough

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Apr 24, 2001, 12:01:29 PM4/24/01
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Not exactly. For one thing, the jai-alai ball has a leather cover like a
baseball. When the ball comes out of the racket thing with spin, it
tends to stay up like a well-pitched fastball. The spin won't affect a
pinball similarly; it's just rolling on a flat smooth surface.

The curved flippers did have the effects described by SR though. Fast
shots to the middle were fairly easy, and the targets in the middle took
a pounding. Shots to the sides were pretty difficult though. Personally,
I didn't like the curved flippers much either. An interesting novelty
for a game or two, but after the novelty wears off not that great.

-Jody-

Dave Stambaugh

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Apr 24, 2001, 12:06:13 PM4/24/01
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Thanks for sharing that piece with us. And someone needs to make sure it
gets a permanent home somewhere.

-dave

"Duncan Brown" <brow...@eisner.decus.org> wrote in message
news:3AE56418...@eisner.decus.org...

Ken Williams

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Apr 24, 2001, 12:30:53 PM4/24/01
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Thanks Duncan......nice, we appreciate it. Hey, I never asked, does a
pinball machine fit in the Rover??

Ken Williams


"Duncan Brown" <brow...@eisner.decus.org> wrote in message
news:3AE56418...@eisner.decus.org...

Bob E.

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Apr 24, 2001, 12:36:39 PM4/24/01
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My only experience with banana flippers was an unusual one. Does anybody
else remember Herb's Orbitor 1 that was fitted with banana flippers and
T-2 Gun handle controls at Pinball Fantasy? It was odd, to say the least!
It would be tough to separate out the physics induced by the flippers from
the physics induced by the playfield! --Bob

================================================================================
Bob Ellingson bob...@halted.com
Halted Specialties Co., Inc. http://www.halted.com
3500 Ryder St. (408) 732-1573
Santa Clara, Calif. 95051 USA (408) 732-6428 (FAX)

Duncan Brown

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Apr 24, 2001, 1:16:03 PM4/24/01
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Ken Williams wrote:
>
> Thanks Duncan......nice, we appreciate it. Hey, I never asked, does a
> pinball machine fit in the Rover??

Sure, I've hauled pins with it numerous times! With the tailgate down,
a pin doesn't even come to the end of the tailgate, so I can just lash
it in. For older games, I put the head up on top of the glass (as if it
were a fold-down head) with lots of moving blankets. Limit one pin per
trip though! Oh, and only in good weather, since it's hanging out the
back of the truck.

Duncan

Alpineclub

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Apr 24, 2001, 1:14:55 PM4/24/01
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Yes, I remember this machine (PF '98 I think). This was the
first Orbitor 1 I'd ever played and I don't think I fully realized
that this machine was a one-off.

I remember having fun with it, but it was pretty haphazard! I
kind of liked the fact that a drained ball would sometimes spin
back up to the flippers.

-- Doug

Duncan Brown

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Apr 24, 2001, 1:17:08 PM4/24/01
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"Bob E." wrote:
>
> Marcos Hedges wrote:
> >
> > Very interesting piece of history! I would like to see, if possible, more
> > of these little essays in the future from others in the industry, past
> > and/or present.
> >
> > Going back to the banana flippers, I've never seen or played one of these
> > so-equipped games. Do the "Jai-Alai" physics actually apply on such a
> > smaller scale? For example, I've seen ads for R/C cars that claim "Scale
> > speeds of up to 180 MPH!", yet in real life, the actual car would never go
> > past, say 140MPH. Would the "Jai-Alai pins" distort the "physics
> > properties" as well?
>
> My only experience with banana flippers was an unusual one. Does anybody
> else remember Herb's Orbitor 1 that was fitted with banana flippers and
> T-2 Gun handle controls at Pinball Fantasy? It was odd, to say the least!
> It would be tough to separate out the physics induced by the flippers from
> the physics induced by the playfield! --Bob

Wow, did it come with free Advil?! That just sounds freaky. (Actually,
it sounds like the kind of thing Dangerous Dann would put together.)

Duncan

Jeremy Wilson

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Apr 24, 2001, 3:36:31 PM4/24/01
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In article <3AE5B514...@eisner.decus.org>, brow...@eisner.decus.org
says...

>> My only experience with banana flippers was an unusual one. Does anybody
>> else remember Herb's Orbitor 1 that was fitted with banana flippers and
>> T-2 Gun handle controls at Pinball Fantasy?

Minor technical errata: It had Demolition Man gun handles.

And, having never seen one before, I had no idea it wasn't supposed to have
both the handles and the banana flippers.

--
xe...@inforamp.net - Jeremy Wilson - Classic Video and Pinball Game Collector
The Toronto Coin-Op Swap -- Coming in May, 2001 -- http://www.coinopswap.com

Coins2play

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Apr 24, 2001, 5:37:10 PM4/24/01
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>I miss Tony and think of him often. He was hit by a car
>in front of Oinkers, a bar where we hung out in 92-93??

I think Tony passed away during the testing of Pool Sharks, IIRC. I remember
this, because I read about it in Replay back in the day, and had heard about
the game and eagerly anticipated its widespread release. I finally ended up
with a Pool Sharks for my personal collection back in 1994, which I later had
to sell during hard times.

Funny how Tony's name comes up; I just re-obtained that EXACT same Pool Sharks
machine that I owned back then as of last week. What a great game, and I'm
sure, a great guy!

-Mike Frasca
-MD's Pinball Palace

David Clark

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Apr 24, 2001, 6:29:15 PM4/24/01
to
Marcos Hedges wrote:

> Would the "Jai-Alai pins" distort the "physics properties" as
> well?

That depends on the reynolds number! (for all you mechanical engineers out
there)
--
Dave Clark self-appointed politenessman
un-munge my address

The Pinmeister

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Apr 25, 2001, 4:54:19 AM4/25/01
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Hey Duncan,

Many thanks for passing along that "nugget"! Steve is one of the most interesting guys in pinball, to say the least. So much talent out there being pissed away on freaking kiddie redemption games and slot machines. ( I know, everyone has to make a living but still a waste.....)

Well wishes to all of the pinball Gods past, present, AND FUTURE!

Pete in Seattle
_______________________________________________
Submitted via WebNewsReader of http://www.interbulletin.com

Michelle & Boyd Bottorff

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Apr 25, 2001, 7:32:39 AM4/25/01
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Duncan Brown <brow...@eisner.decus.org> wrote:

> > My only experience with banana flippers was an unusual one. Does
> > anybody else remember Herb's Orbitor 1 that was fitted with banana
> > flippers and T-2 Gun handle controls at Pinball Fantasy? It was odd, to
> > say the least! It would be tough to separate out the physics induced by
> > the flippers from the physics induced by the playfield!
> > --Bob
>
> Wow, did it come with free Advil?! That just sounds freaky. (Actually,
> it sounds like the kind of thing Dangerous Dann would put together.)

Yeah, but it may actually have made the game interesting. The biggest
problem I had with Orbitor-1 was the difficulty in calling your shots:
most shots, no matter how well placed, ended up missing the stuff on the
sides of the game and bouncing around on the rotating-magnet-bumper
thingies. For an extended period of time, it seemed. Banana flippers
may have made it easier to do the backhanded shots that were needed so
much.

Russel Willoughby

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Apr 25, 2001, 11:28:21 AM4/25/01
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On Wed, 25 Apr 2001 11:32:39 GMT, mbot...@sprintmail.com (Michelle &
Boyd Bottorff) wrote:

>Yeah, but it may actually have made the game interesting. The biggest
>problem I had with Orbitor-1 was the difficulty in calling your shots:
>most shots, no matter how well placed, ended up missing the stuff on the
>sides of the game and bouncing around on the rotating-magnet-bumper
>thingies. For an extended period of time, it seemed. Banana flippers
>may have made it easier to do the backhanded shots that were needed so
>much.

This game was really pretty fun. Putting the bananas on Orbitor 1 was
a stroke of brilliance -- they seem more appropriate on this game than
on any other. The Demo Man grips were also a nice touch.


Russel Willoughby
<< rus...@bellsouth.net >>

Terry Cumming

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Apr 25, 2001, 1:09:17 PM4/25/01
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Jeremy Wilson wrote:
> Minor technical errata: It had Demolition Man gun handles.
>
> And, having never seen one before, I had no idea it wasn't supposed to have
> both the handles and the banana flippers.

I played that game at a Pinball Expo. One of the banana flippers or the
cover came off and clogged the drain hole.

You need good flipper tip shots to hit the far right drop targets and
spinner, so I don't know if they would be in the "sweet spot" for the
banana flipper. Inverted hockey-stick flippers might be more well suited
for this game.

Terry Cumming
http://1930s.com

David Gersic

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Apr 25, 2001, 2:09:27 PM4/25/01
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In <3ae57...@news.siscom.net>, "Marcos Hedges" <hedg...@tld.net> writes:
>Very interesting piece of history!

Agreed, and thanks to Duncan and Steve for making this available.

>Going back to the banana flippers, I've never seen or played one of these
>so-equipped games.

I did at Expo last year (Time Warp) and it was kinda fun with the banana
flippers on it. I'd have to say, though, that they're kinda like hot pepper
sauce. A little bit, here and there, makes for more interesting meals. Lots
of it on everything turns boring fast.

If I had a Time Warp or a Disco Fever, along with a bunch of other pins,
I'd probably fit it with banana flippers just for the difference. But if it
was my only pin, I'd switch it to normal flippers.

I don't know if Williams ever sold glue to hold the rubber covers on these,
but I do recall reading posts from people that found them glued on, so it
must have been a pretty common field fix.


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