The rules read at the fifth annual Maryland Pinball Championship made it clear: Don’t rock the machines. That could cause a tilt, ending play on Doctor Dude or Terminator 3.
The state’s annual competition for top arcade honors drew 16 participants Saturday to a cinder-block game room alongside Crab Towne, a restaurant that began as a drive-in restaurant in the 1950s on Crain Highway in Glen Burnie.
The arcade, decorated with a stuffed blue marlin atop the machines made by Bally and other makers, appears little changed since 1971, when the restaurant adopted its current seafood format.
Joe P. Said, who ran the competition, said Crab Towne reminds him of the arcades of the 1990s, when games like Mortal Kombat were riding a wave of popularity.
“People appreciate the retro quality here. It’s real,” said Said, who operates a nonprofit arcade in Frederick that features games for special-needs children and adults. “This place is like a 1967 Ford Mustang versus a new electric car. The games are affordable, too.”
Among those vying for the top state honors bestowed by the International Flipper Pin Ball Association was Kevin Myers, a resident of Brooklyn Park.
“I first came in here when I got my driver’s license, and I’m 53 now,” he said. “Actually, not a whole lot is different. The biggest change is that you can actually breathe in here. There’s a way to tell the older games — cigarette burns on the control panel.”
Of the 16 players, Dana Ost, of Columbia, was the lone female contestant.
“When I found this place, I was happy,” she said. “My father grew up loving technology, and we always had a few machines in our basement. I just grew up with pinballs.”
Justin Day started playing pinball as an adult, after his daughter was born.
“I’ve seen this place go from what people called a pinball graveyard into what it is today,” said Day. “We gained the respect of the pinball community when we got better technicians here who keep the games in shape. Formerly, there was not enough demand for high-performance maintenance. Now, it’s a place where some people play four hours a day.”
Throughout the afternoon, pinball technicians Mike Frasca, who owns a vending company, and Shannon Schreier, who works on Baltimore’s Metro cars at the Rogers Avenue rail yard, kept a watchful eye over the machines.
Every so often, the 1970s-era machinery needed adjustment, and Frasca and Schreier had to delve into the electro-magnet innards and tinker with the clockwork-like gears and relays.
“The pinball community is close knit,” said Justin Bath, an electrician with the D.C. Metro system, who began playing games when he was 10 and was one of the top seeds in Saturday’s competition, which he won. “We like to play that silver ball and keep it alive. It’s just fun to see what you’ve got — the score — at the end of the game.”
He thought a minute and said, “Win or lose, it’s always a good time.”