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Pinball Feature Story

50th Anniversary of the Flipper - It Started With a Nudge Pinball Feature Story Number II

Part 1 of a 4 part series.

The game we know and love has been around for a long time, with the commercial pinball industry kicking into high gear in the 1931-32 time frame. With a low cost of entry, literally hundreds of manufacturers nailed together their small bagatelle games consisting of a plunger, a few nails and some scoring holes. As the decade progressed, competition became more fierce, the games became more complex, and the number of manufacturers declined to a small core of dedicated companies who were in it for the long haul.

Technical innovations abounded, the players loved it and the game had acceptence as a core coin-op mainstay. But for the most part, player input was limited to propelling the ball onto the playing surface via a spring loaded plunger, and then letting gravity perform its black magic to cause the ball to roll downward to a new transient home, translating into some scoring value for the player. Nudging or shaking the game within the boundaries defined by the "stool pigeon" or tilt device was the only other real weapon in the players arsenal.

The lack of player input meant that the vagaries of chance were pervasive in the game - a regular player's score was often times no better than an unskilled rookie's first efforts. This of course provided a medium for a wagering public. Could they attain a goal and possibly win a prize? Sure! But the odds were against them and the game owners profited. Many games even sported direct payout attachments to make absolutely clear what their purpose was.

Pinball was hence perceived as an evil habit by law enforcement agencies in many areas and raids and confiscations were many. Being somewhat a game of chance denied the players the opportunity to develop skills that could be used to imprive their game - you could only get so good at flicking a plunger with your fingers and nudging.

The problem was exacerbated following the end of World War 2. Engineering advancements for the war effort lead most probably to increased expectations by the public for incorporation into the devices and machines used every day at home. What was good in 1940 was average in 1946.

In 1947, the pin games turned out were essentially the same as had been made prior to the WW2 conflict. But in the fall of that year, new ideas were being tossed around, and implemented in some new games. During the week of October 4, 1947, Bally introduced their newest revolutionary game - Nudgy.

As the name implies, Nudgy accounted for some additional player input, by adding a lever on the side of the cabinet to allow players to "nudge" the playfield. Bally must have done a good job on selling the concept to the eager distributors and operators looking for fresh ideas. The October 11 issue of The Billboard contained over 20 different ads from these distributors, all with a picture of the game and supporting text. Page after page of Nudgy ads, all with the generic message "WE'VE GOT IT TOO!".

Bally Nudgy ad

From that issue of The Billboard:

Feature Nudge Lever in New Game By Bally

CHICAGO, Oct. 4. - Bally Manufacturing Company this - week announced its new five-ball game, featuring a unique departure in pin game play action. Called Nudgy, the game features "player controlled" action.

By the use of a "nudge lever" on the right hand side of the play field board, the player can control the action of the ball by pressing the lever with his thumb, Jenkins said. As the entire play field moves up and down on roller bearings and travels an inch either way, the skillful player can "wiggle the ball back up to the top of the board even after it has reached the bottom."

Every bumper scores 5,000 points; when a score of 300,000 is reached, a hit on either of the two diamond shaped bumpers on the play field brings on a red light at the bottom of the field and makes all subsequent bumper hits register 10,000 points. The four kick-out pockets also automatically give increased scoring from 25,000 to 50,000 points after 300,000 points are scored.

First distributor showing of the new game was held October 1-3 by Coven Distributing Company here, for Indiana, Wisconsin and Northern Illinois territory. Ben Coven, firm head, said the games on display drew over 100 operators and jobbers during the three-day showing.

But on page 126 of that same issue, buried in the corner of the page, was a small nondescript cryptic anonymous ad. It was easy to miss if you weren't looking closely. What was it all about?

Next: Something New on the Horizon

Pinball Feature Stories index.

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Last updated: May 6, 2005

© Terry Cumming, 2000-2005