By Russ Jensen
This is the third article of my series describing the pingames in my collection. Before describing the actual game I want to provide some historical background associated with the game.
The earliest pingames used one, and only one, scoring device, the hole, into which a ball would fall and be counted according to the score value with which it was marked. The only 'action' which these games possessed, other than the ball rolling down the playfield by gravity, was the balls hitting metal pins, with which early playfields were studded, and being deflected slightly by them.
A little later games employing various mechanical devices, such as Rockola's mechanical marvels WORLD SERIES and JIGSAW, added a little more action to the playfield, but not much to the ball itself. Then, late in 1933, Harry Williams revolutionized pingame design with the introduction of the electric ball kicker, the forerunner of the modern 'kickout hole'!
While the kickout hole itself did not achieve great popularity until the Forties, Harry's idea of using electric solenoids to provide playfield action did. Many games started to appear with various electric kickers, often referred to as 'cannons' or 'guns' on their playfields. By 1936 these electric action devices were all the rage in amusement pinball games.
All of a sudden, late in 1936, a second major revolution in pingame design occurred, which almost overnight made electric action games virtually obsolete for many years to come.
In December 1936 Bally first advertised their revolutionary new game called BUMPER, which included a new type of scoring device which was to become known 'generically' by the same name. Bally's advertisement for this game heralded it as a "novelty smash hit by Bally" and proclaimed in large letters "no pins, no pockets" which was to set it apart from all previous games which included holes ('pockets') as the primary scoring device, and a playfield studded with 'pins' as ball deflecting devices.
Advertising for the game dramatically described the new 'action' of BUMPER which was really what made this new concept so exciting to players. A ball traveling down a playfield could literally bounce off of a bumper spring with much more motion than if it were deflected by a simple pin.
A necessary adjunct to the bumper was another new device introduced by Bally on BUMPER. This was the projector "score totalizer" which indicated the player's score in the form of a number projected on a frosted area of the game's backglass. This became a fairly common method of pingame score indication for the next several years, and a method of free-game display for many more years.
This first form of bumper was very simple. It consisted of a coil spring, the top end of which was supported by a metal top mounted on a stud bolted to the playfield. The lower end of the spring was bent straight down and protruded through the center of a carbon ring embedded in the playfield. When the ball hit the spring body of the bumper two things would happen.
The springiness of the spring would cause the ball to bounce away from it providing the action, and the movement of the spring caused its lower end to make contact with the carbon ring surrounding it. This acted as an electrical switch, causing the score, indicated by the projection "score totalizer", to be incremented via electrical circuitry.
Bally had really 'scooped' the industry! They had brought out a new scoring device, the bumper, which was to literally change the face of pinball, and they also introduced a simple and reliable score totalizer which was to become one of the two major pinball score-keeping devices for the next several years.
Also, in 1933, Bally came out with a new type of pingame which was to have a major impact on the pinball industry and result in much legal controversy for many years to come. This game was called ROCKET and it used electricity (from "dry cell" batteries) to power a mechanism which paid out coins directly to the player if he shot a ball into the proper holes on the playfield.
At that point pingame design began to split in two directions, "payouts", and "novelty" games. Many manufacturers including Bally, Gottlieb, Western Equipment and Supply, Keeney, and the slot machine firms Mills and Jennings, began to put out a good many payout pinballs in the Thirties, in addition to their "novelty" games. Payout pinballs were indeed a big business in those years.
Another important event occurred early in 1935 with the introduction of "free games" to pinball design. In an effort to come up with a way to award pinball players for their skill, without direct payouts, a young man invented a new device whose concept was to have a lasting effect of the pinball industry, even today.
This man, as the story goes, was a young assistant to pinball pioneer Harry Williams named Bill Belluh. The device he invented and patented, and which Harry helped him perfect, was the "free-play coin mechanism" which allowed a player, making a certain high score in a game, to restart the game without inserting a coin; thus awarding him with a "free game". This idea was introduced in mid 1935 on Rockola's FLASH and then began to appear on pingames by most manufacturers. "Free-game pinballs" became the most common type of pingames from that time on and are the only type generally in use today.
These new "free-play" pingames became a third class of pinball game which could be operated legally in most territories where "payouts" were strictly forbidden. These games gave the players something to "shoot for", namely a "free game".
Now to SKIPPER. In early 1937 Bally came out with a game called SKIPPER which was a new version of BUMPER. This game combined the "bumper scoring" action of BUMPER with both a "free play" and "payout" capability.
SKIPPER had a free game register (using a second projector "totalizer") on the backboard which showed the player how many "free games" he had accumulated. The player could either play these games one by one as "replays" or, by pushing a button hidden underneath the game's cabinet, cause the machine to subtract his "free game" credits from the indicator and pay him one coin for each credit by means of a payout mechanism which would dispense coins into a "payout cup" located in a special added section underneath the cabinet.
SKIPPER could thus be operated as a "payout" in "payout territories" or as a "free play" machine (by disabling the payout mechanism) in "free game territories". I also imagine that SKIPPER was even occasionally operated in areas where payouts were illegal, by paying out secretly using it's hidden mechanism.
Even though few games (SKIPPER may even have been the only one) were made with both built-in payout and free game features, the idea of installing a button underneath the cabinet for subtracting free game credits became a standard feature on most "free play" pinballs until the early fifties.
The copy of the advertisement shown here for SKIPPER, from the February 20, 1937 issue of the trade publication "Automatic Age", not only pictures that game, but shows it's 'cousin' BUMPER. Another insert in the ad illustrates the fact that SKIPPER came with an under-the-cabinet attachment which could be removed when the game was used in territories where payouts were not allowed. (The SKIPPER I own is missing this attachment, but does have the internal payout mechanism.)
As to the play of the game, it was really quite simple - yet somewhat revolutionary like BUMPER as I previously mentioned. Any ball hitting one of it's many bumpers caused the score projector totalizer on the left side of the backboard to be incremented by 10 points.
If the player achieved a score of 300 points each additional bumper hit would also give him a 'replay' by incrementing the replay totalizer on the right-hand side of the backboard. After the game was over the player could either play off these "free games" one by one, or (if the game was so configured) opt to cash them in in the form of a payout as described earlier.
Well, there you have it - a description of a unique pingame of the mid 1930's. A game which not only included the revolutionary pinball scoring device - the "bumper", but also utilized the new idea of "free games" combined with an optional direct coin payout capability. An interesting little game indeed!
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