Thursday, May 26, 2011


Oh my GAWD, you guys!  Alec and I had the most amazing pinball vacation last Tuesday!  I'm sorry I haven't gotten around until now to talk about it, but we've both been out of town this weekend with our own little vay-cays (Alec already reported on the pinball-barren Montreal, but I'll report more about mine later!)

Sooo, in this post, Alec talked about the amazing time that he has at the Pinball Wizard Arcade in Pelham, NH.  This relatively new pinball / video game arcade is expertly run and maintained by Sarah St. John.  Let me preface this whole story by saying that she knows EVERYTHING about pinball machines and pinball repair.  Alec and I were exhausted from a busy week of doing thesis reviews and commencement activities at the Center for Cartoon Studies, and decided that a pinball break was just the thing we needed. 

In addition to running the Pinball Wizard Arcade, Sarah also does house calls to fix pinball machines, and does repairs during all hours to the machines in-house.  Since I've gotten my JP machine, the left pop bumper and left slingshot have NEVER worked.  I replaced the coil and he transistor, and TRIED to replace the damage to the burned traces on the CPU board, but so far, no luck!  I was afraid that the burn damage was too deep, or that I had botched it up.  I decided to bring my CPU board into Sarah and see if she could fix the traces.  We were pinbrawlers with a MISSION!

When we got to the arcade, we had about 2 hours before Sarah showed up, so we occupied ourselves with PINBALL!  Oh my god!  I was blown away by the a) quantity of games b) the quality of games, and c) the variety of games.  There were so many of my old favorites there, as well as machines that I have always wanted to sink my teeth in to!  I could go on and on about all the amazing games I played, but I'll mercifully condense it down to a list that got my pinball blood burning:

-Tales of the Arabian Nights
-Banzai Run
-Party Zone
-Doctor Dude
-Strange Science
-Lord of the Rings (which, believe it or not, I had never played until then)
-No Good Gophers
-Blackwater 100 (This game is BONKERS)

And that's just the tip of the ice burg.  After a while, Sarah St. John arrived at the arcade and we met up and talked pinball for a little bit before I went out to the car to bring in my CPU board.

Sarah promptly went to work and whipped out the digital multi-meter (a device used to gauge current / resistance / connectivity / etc) and checked the troubled components.  I was surprised to learn that I had actually done a fine job repairing the traces and replacing the transistor (good job me).  After running some tests, Sarah figured out that it was the PRE-driver to the transistor that was also shot, as well as a malfunctioning 7402 chip.  Holy Multiballs, Batman, she's a real wizard, and I would have never figured that out.  I'll take this opportunity to remind our readers at home that when I figured out how to replace the transistor and fix the power supply problems on the power board it took EVERY ounce of my cunning and smarts.  (I refer you to this picture).  For Sarah, this sort of stuff was like water off a duck's back.

When she suspected that the 7402 chip (which runs the pop bumpers and one of the slingshots) wasn't working, she took us up to one of her workshops that overlooks the arcade to test it.  The machine that she plugged the chip into to test it was one of the coolest things I'd ever seen (so far [that day]), and one of my only regrets about the trip was that we didn't get a picture of it.  It sort of looked like a computer tower laid on its side, with a whole ton of tiny holes punched in the top so that you could plug in a myriad of chips into it.

After confirming a bad 7402 chip, Sarah asked me if I wanted to see her workshop and the CPU board testing device.  Did I ever!  To my horror, though, I suddenly couldn't find Alec.  I was going bonkers trying to find him, but we must have been just missing each other.   I assumed we were just going to go around to the back of the building, or next door, or something, so I finally gave up and went with Sarah.

I'm going to take a break from my thrilling pinball repair tale to recount other awesome pinball tales that were happening concurrently.  While I was heading off to Sarah's workshop, Alec was having some quality time with an old friend.  Oh, you know, just a little darling named STAR WARS EPISODE ONE!!  If you're a regular reader of this zine / blog, you'll know that SWE1 is the wet nurse that weened us onto the wild world of pinball.  In true Alec fashion, he totally rocked that machine, and by the time I had gotten back, had secured a place on the High Score Board!

Way to go, Alec!

Meanwhile, I had arrived at Sarah's workshop, which was on her property.  Every room made me squeal with delight, every desk a pinball nerd's dream come true.  Every sort of machine, part, and tool were at her disposal, and that's not even mentioning the vast amounts of games just sitting around.  With every new room, I would say something like, "Wow, what a workshop!  This is bonkers!"  (I said bonkers a LOT that day.  Sorry Sarah!)  Sarah would reply with, "this isn't the workshop" or something like that.  I was completely blown away by the the sheer quanity of parts that were carefully organized and filed away.  I had been to houses of pinball collectors before, but this was the first time that I had seen such a complete and thorough workshop.

We finally ended up on the top floor in a huge room filled with these wild, huge machines.  There must have been 30, at least.  These, Sarah explained, were CPU testing devices that she had acquired through her years as an operator/collector.  With these, you can plug in your CPU board to test all of the features without having to plug it into a game.  Using a series of buttons, you can trick the board into thinking that you are rolling over switches, activating lamps, launching balls, WHATEVER, and then see how the board reacts.  You can fix / test a board for someone whose game you might not have, and is 1000 miles away!

Each of these machines correlated with a different era of machine from different manufacturers.  Sarah found the one for Data East machines.  With the new 7402 chip installed, the board tested out A OK!!!

(Here's the one for my board!)

However, Sarah is super-duper thorough, and offered to take the CPU board back to the arcade and plug it into the Jurassic Park machine that she had on the floor of the arcade and test it there.  What a class act!  I was really touched by her thoroughness and her enthusiasm.  Once we got back to the arcade, we popped in the board and started up the game.  There was something charming, but also a little nerve-wracking about plugging in my CPU board into someone else's game.  It's not like the board carried anything malignant, or anything like that.  It just goes to show Sarah's confidence in the repair.  Everything, naturally, worked like a charm.

High-fives were had, pizza was shared, and Alec and I played out the rest of our tokens.  We had some awesome games (including this crazy 2-player game on Rescue 911 where we both replayed on the same game!)  All-in-all, there aren't enough good things I can say about Sarah, her staff, her know-how, her collection, or her arcade.  I know that Alec already reviewed the arcade, and I had sort of meant for this to be my take on it, but I realize that this has just materialized into a love letter to the Pinball Wizard Arcade.  I'm not sorry, though, I can't recommend this place highly enough!  One of my favorite arcades of all time!!  Thank you Sarah for your hospitality!


  1. Wow! What an amazing tale. If I ever tour again in NH, I'll have to make it a point to stop by. Thanks for posting all these photographs!

    Ryan Claytor
    Elephant Eater Comics

  2. Definitely do Ryan. It's the best pinball arcade in the New England for sure! Great post, Jon. We'll have to head back again soon!

  3. Thanks for a very interesting write-up!