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Flippin’ Great

pinball-ballPinball games peaked in the ’70s but are now adapting to the Internet age, reports John W. Miller in The Wall Street Journal (9/11/14). Pinball actually "grew out of an 18th-century French variation of billiards known as bagatelle." Forty years ago it was "a fixture in arcades and malls. Players controlled flippers to whack around steel balls, racking up points by hitting targets. But with the emergence of videogames in the 1980s, pinball faded in popularity, kept alive by a cult following of fans."

To some degree, pinball kept its ball rolling by borrowing ideas from videogames, "adding LED displays, intricate music tracks and features … They also designed games with more flexibility, allowing tournament organizers to set up tougher competitions. They waxed the playing surface and raised the machine’s back legs to steepen the incline," along with other modifications to make the games more challenging. They developed software to let players shake the machines a bit without ending the game — issuing warnings instead.

The Internet provided perhaps the most important new wrinkle, as it enabled groups like the International Flipper Pinball Association (IFPA) to begin "ranking players online … based on their placements in leagues and tournaments." "Suddenly, thanks to the Internet, we could compare players in Chicago with players in Denmark," says IFPA president Josh Sharpe. This fed interest in tournaments.Today’s hi-tech pinball machines "retail for $5,000 to $10,000," but one thing hasn’t changed: "the ball is still 2.8 ounces of steel and 1-1/16 inches in diameter."

Escape Games

parapark2Being locked in a room with no clear means of escape is becoming a popular pastime in Budapest, reports Lisa Abend in The New York Times (7/6/14). Currently, there are about "50 room-escape games scattered throughout the Hungarian capital," and small groups of people pay about $40 each to play. The room is "filled with clues and obstacles," and players must apply "deductive logic, teamwork and a bit of luck" to find their way out in less than an hour. Attila Gyurkovics came up with the idea about three years ago.

At the time, he was looking for a game that would help build teamwork among businesspeople and students. "At first, people looked at me like I was crazy: ‘You want to open a place where you lock people inside?’" But his enterprise ParaPark, now has "four games in two locations in Budapest" and is franchising "elsewhere in Hungary and abroad … Within months of opening, versions of ParaPark were popping up all over the city. With its post-Communist feel, Budapest is well suited for room escape games."

Attila says the appeal is grounded in flow theory. "You lose yourself," he says. "You’re not standing outside yourself saying, ‘Oh, I have to call my mom’ or ‘My boss is watching over me.’ You become completely absorbed by the game." Janka Csoti, who recently played at ParaPark, concurs. "What I liked about it," she says, "is that I was fully present : no checking my mobile, not thinking about what I was doing later. I felt like I was really giving my time to my friends."