Silver Spring pinball museum shows off its stuff

THE DISTRICT — (UPDATE) The domed courtyard of the Smithsonian American Art Museum is usually a quiet, contemplative place, a welcome respite from the traffic-choked clamor that is Chinatown.

But on one rainy Saturday in late October, the place was a racket. Tin bells and electronic beeps bounced off the gray granite floors. Muted thumps offered a syncopated rhythm for excited “oohs” and disappointed “awws”.

Photo: This kid had never played pinball before, yet it took her only 15 minutes to dominate the game. Credit: J. Deseo/SSP.

Photo: This kid had never played pinball before, yet it took her only 15 minutes to dominate the game. Credit: J. Deseo/SSP.

The unusual noise sprang from an unusual source: an exhibit of pinball machines trucked in from Silver Spring’s National Pinball Museum. Some of the dozen machines on display were wooden games of chance (there were no flippers to knock balls back into the field of play) dating to the early 20th century, while a few more dated to the mid 1990s and incorporated electronic sound effects and animated displays.

All of them were available to museum visitors for play. No quarter (or nickel, in the case of older machines) necessary.

And the machines got some serious play. Little kids, some of whom didn’t get the concept, gravitated towards a “Stargate”-themed machine that played dialog from the 1994 sci-fi movie each time the silver ball hit a particular bumper. It took the kids about 20 minutes to dominate the game. (more…)

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