Appendix:Glossary of pinball

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A glossary of terms commonly used in discussing pinball.


The vertical "head" of the pinball machine, where the score is always displayed.
This is the decorative glass located in the backbox. Also see "Translite".
See drop target.
blade switch
See leaf switch.
An upright, typically cylindrical or rectangular area that applies force to the ball when hit. The cylindrical variety is referred to as a mushroom bumper when capped with a circular top (which usually lights up to show the points scored when the bumper is hit). When flippers where introduced on Humpty Dumpty, they were referred to as "flipper bumpers"; this use is no longer live, and "bumpers" never refers to "flippers".

Active bumpers are referred to as "Jet Bumpers" by Williams and Midway (Bally) (after the 1988 Williams-Midway merger), "Pop Bumpers" by Gottlieb, "Thumper Bumpers" by Bally (before the 1988 Williams-Midway merger), and "Turbo Bumpers" by Data East.


captive ball
A pinball trapped within a small area of the playfield. The captive ball never leaves this area, and the free ball can never enter it. However, the free ball can knock into the captive ball, which in turn can knock into targets in its area.


Stands for Dot-Matrix Display. A pixel-addressable display used to display the score and other status during the game. Almost always placed in the backbox.
drop target
An upright, pressure-sensitive rectangle that drops below the playfield when hit by the ball. Drop targets are often arranged in so-called banks, and may require being hit in combination or in sequence to score or light special features.


electro-mechanical (EM)
A pinball machine design that relies on relays, motors and switches to run. This design was phased out in the late 1970's. EM machines are easily recognized by their scoring displays that have mechanical score reels that spin to show the score. Newer machines are referred to as solid state (SS).
end of stroke (EOS) switches
These are switches located under the playfield on the flipper solenoid mechanism. They allow the use of high power for the solenoid initially, but lower power to hold the fipper open.


A tapered bat, typically found in pairs at the bottom of the table, that is the player's primary means of controlling the ball. Normally a downward slope extending the bottom structure of the table, one end is moved upward in an arc when the player taps the appropriate button.


An acronym of General Illumination, this refers to the lights on the playfield used simply to make the playfield visible in a dark room.


A wireform path for the ball that surrounds it on all sides, preventing the ball from escaping.


See lane.


A specially designated point bonus; typically among the highest amounts that can be scored with one shot. Jackpots are only available when certain actions are completed, often only during a mode, such as multiball.


A lane is in general any area of the table just wide enough to let the ball pass through. Special kinds of lanes are inlanes and outlanes; both types are situated at the bottom of the playing field. The outlanes are at the far ends and connect to the bottom (causing loss of the ball), the inlanes are next to them and connect to the flipper area.
leaf switch
Also referred to as a Blade Switch. Recognizable as two metallic contacts that look like leafs or blades, with a contact point in between. These switches are located below the playfield and on the main box for flipper switches. On EM games, these can also be located in the back box.


A feature that allows the player to activate a magnet located just below the entrance to an outlane. A ball headed for the outlane will be held by the magnet and diverted to the corresponding inlane instead. Williams Electronics pioneered this feature on the Black Knight game.
magnetic switches
Switches that detect the movement of a pinball. Usually located under the playfield.
Sealed switches that are used in more modern pinball machines and frequently replace leaf switches.
A configuration of the table where specific goals must be met in a limited time to score points, hitting specific lanes or dropping specific targets, often combined with multiball. Some tables have multiple modes that must be activated in order, usually building up to an "ultimate" mode where the most points can be scored.
multiball (multi-ball)
A situation where multiple balls are on the playing field, as opposed to the single ball the player usually has to contend with. Multiball can be part of a mode, as well as a goal in its own right. Generally, multiball consists of two or three balls, but many more have been used on some machines, such as Apollo 13, which uses 13 for multiball.


normally closed switches (NC)
Switches that are making contact. These switches open or stop making contact when an action occurs. Commonly used on end of stroke (EOS) situations such as flipper coils.
normally open switches (NO)
Switches that are not making contact until some action (such as a pinball rolling over a switch) occurs.


opto Switches
Switches that use a LED (transmitter) and a receiver to detect the movement of a pinball or a motor. These switches are normally closed (NC).
See lane.
A path for the ball that hugs the outer rim of the game. Orbits generally have a slingshot effect; sending the ball into an orbit generally means it returns immediately from another. Orbits are usually referred to by their entry point, for instance, the left orbit shot on Whitewater is called "The Boulder Garden".


Abbreviation for the printed circuit board. Circuit boards are used in solid state machines. Most are located in the back box. Others circuit boards can be located under the playfield or in the main cabinet.
A device that launches the ball vertically, often to a raised playfield.


A section of the playfield with a raised gradient. Ramps generally lead either to raised playfields or to inlanes.
A flat switch residing in the playfield itself. A rollover is activated when the ball rolls over it.


It's a bonus that is rewarded in several pinball games. It is earned by performing some particular task when releasing the ball. It always requires releasing the ball with a particular strength. Some games have various levels of skillshots.
solid state (SS)
A pinball machine design that relies on computers and printed circuit boards to run. This design was introduced in the late 1970's. SS machines are easily recognizable by their scoring displays, which are powered by electricity. Older machines are referred to as electro-mechanical (EM) and have mechanical score reels that spin to display the score.
standup targets (stand-up targets)
A standing target on a playfield, similar to a drop target, but which does not drop into the playfield when struck.
A small metal post, often with a rubber ring, typically found between and slightly below the bottom flippers. If the ball hits the post, it will bounce up and away, saving it from draining. Skilled players can use the stopper to make trick shots. On some tables, the stopper is made available only as a reward.
switch matrix
Solid state (SS) pinball machines use a matrix where the switches are wired in series and connected in rows and columns to a circuit board. Malfunction of a several switches located in the same row or column indicates that the problem is likely due to the circuit board or wiring to the board.


The tilt mechanism registers motion applied to a machine; if too much motion is applied this way, the game is said to "tilt" and the player is penalized (losing the ball in play, the bonus points or a combination of both are the most common penalties).
The plastic or glass sheet in the backbox, generally displaying a large colorful illustration. So-called because it is often designed to allow light through in some areas.


Short for Vertical Up-Kicker. Synonym for popper.


An exceptionally skilled player. This term comes from the 1969 rock opera Tommy, where the likewise named protagonist becomes famous when he masters pinball. The title of the song "Pinball Wizard" quickly gained acceptance among pinball enthusiasts as an honorific.
wizard mode / wizard bonus
A special mode or bonus, started only after completing a long and difficult series of tasks in a pinball machine. The first "wizard bonus" was The King's Ransom in 1989's Black Knight 2000.