Why can't I understand what the Pinball World is talking about? It's because you don't understand the lingo...so, to sound a little cooler, and understand what the hell's going on, try to pick up on some of the Pinball terminology below...enjoy!



A machine is a true AAB if you can earn more than one extra ball per ball in play. Usually the backglass says Balls to Play instead of Ball in Play. Most machines are a replay-type where specials score a credit and if you can earn an extra ball, you can only earn one extra ball per ball in play.

          Alphanumeric Display
LED segment display that can display only letters and numbers. This type of display has been replaced by the more modern dot-matrix displays which can also display graphics.

          Alvin G. & Co.
Pinball manufacturer whose first machine, A.G. Soccer-Ball was released in 1992. Other games include USA Football and Al's Garage Band Goes on World Tour.

On dot-matrix displays, any animated graphics sequence. Animations are commonly used as introductions to modes, Multiball and at the start of the game.

Some machines, particularly before the LED era used other means of animation, such as moving parts behind the backglass or lights that illuminate different colored masks to produce the illusion of movement.

Many newer games feature an automatic plunger that launches the ball at the touch of a button. Autoplungers started to appear on Data East games in 1990, with Checkpoint. The other manufacturers followed suite in 1992.


The upright part of a pinball machine that holds the backglass and display. The backbox is also known as the head.

The glass on the backbox. The backglass often features spectacular artwork since it is one of the most visible parts of the game, and as such, has to attract players.

          Ball saver
A game that will return a ball that is drained withing the first few seconds of play is said to be equipped with a ball saver. Many games also activate this feature at the start of multiball. Ball savers are a recent feature, introduced around 1990.

          Ball search
When a machine thinks a ball may be stuck, it will activate each solenoid in the machine in turn, to help a ball become unstuck. This procedure is called a ball search.

One of the most successful manufacturers of pinball machines, Bally/Williams is the result of a Williams buying Bally.

          Bang back
A Bang Back is a method of saving a ball that has fallen down an outlane. By holding up the flipper on the side the ball is coming down, and hitting the front of the cabinet when the ball reaches the base of the flipper, the ball can be made to bounce on to the opposite flipper. With the trend toward heavy widebodies, this skill may become less valuable.

          Beta test
Before a game is produced for the open market, a number of prototypes are produced, and these are sent to selected sites for testing, so the manufacturer can find out how well the game performs in real arcades. The beta test usually leads to minor changes in the playfield and changes to the software.

See cabinet

Bumpers are round, mushroom-shaped targets set into the playfield of most pinball machines. They fall into two categories, active and passive.

Active bumpers, the most common, are round mushroom-shaped targets set in the playfield that forcefully kick the ball away when struck. Passive bumpers look similar to active bumpers, but do not kick the ball. Bally once made a unique type of passive bumper, called a Mushroom Bumper which is a post with a disk on top. When the ball approaches the bumper, it lifts the disk as it strikes the post. The disk is attached to a shaft down the middle of the post, which rises when the disk is lifted, closing the switch that registers a hit.

Active bumpers are called Pop Bumpers by Williams, Thumper Bumpers by Bally and Pop Bumpers by Gottlieb.


The large box that holds the playfield, coin box, flipper buttons. Not to be confused with the backbox. The cabinet is also known as the body.

          Captive Ball
A captive ball is a special kind of target that consists of a pinball held captive at the end of a lane or ramp with a switch at the far end. A captive ball is also known as a messenger mall.

          Cellar Hole
A ramp below the playfield, entered through a hole in the playfield.

          Center Post
A post set between and in line with the bottom pair of flippers. Gottlieb/Premier use a center post on most of their games, while the other manufacturers usually do without, although there are exceptions, such as Terminator 2 from Bally/Williams.

A defined sequence of shots that need to made in rapid successions without missing are called combos.


          Data East
One of the major pinball manufacturers today. Data East only makes games that are based on a licensed theme, such as a TV show or movie, but have used unlicensed themes in the past. Data East is now Sega Pinball, Inc.

          Death Save
A method of saving a ball that has fallen down an outlane. By moving the cabinet forward and to the right as the ball hits a plate near the drain, tha ball can be made to bounce back into play.

The person who designs the playfield and game rules.

A playfield object that can swing to divert the ball in to one of several paths. Diverters are commonly used on ramps and on lanes to divert the ball to a special target during certain phases of the game. For instance, Demolition Man uses a diverter on the ramp that can lead to the cryo-claw to divert the ball onto a habitrail when the cryo-claw is not activated.

          Dot-matrix Display
A type of display consisting of a large number of light-emitting diodes arranged in a rectangle. This type of display has succeeded the alphanumeric displays in pinball games. Some displays may use gas plasma elements rather than LEDs.

Where lost balls go and the act of losing a ball. Also known as the outhole.

A pinball game where balls drain too easily. Derogatory.

          Drop Target
A type of standup target that is pulled down below the playfield when hit.


A hole where the ball can be kicked out. Also called kickout.

          Electro-Mechanical Game
Early games, mostly pre-1978, that rely on electromechanical components, such as relays, stepping units, motors and scoring wheels rather that solid-state electronics. Also calles EMs.

See Electro-mechanical games.

          End-of-ball Bonus
Points added to the score when the ball drains. On some games, bonus is such a large portion of the score that tilting the game results in a major loss of points.

          End-of-stroke Switch
On Bally/Williams flippers, a switch that is hit when the flipper reaches the end of its stroke. The switch is used to switch to a lower current through the flipper coil to prevent it from burning out. Abbreviated EOSS.

In EMs, EOSS are used in several places. For instance, a slingshot score is not activated by the standup switches, but the standup switches activate the kicking coil, which when fully pulled, hits the EOSS which pulses he score relay. This is also used on pop bumpers and some stepping units.

See End-of-stroke Switch

          Extra Ball Buy-in
Many newer games allow the player to purchase an extra ball after the last ball of a game has drained. This is called an extra ball buy-in.


          Flip Card
A domino-sized and shaped device that is hinged on one side and flips back and forth to show status, much the same as a drop target or a light shows status. Only three machines use this feature, all of them manufactured by Bally.

Those thingies that move when you hit the flipper buttons. Some people use these to propel the pinball. The Addams Family pinball uses these to make a point.

A special mode where everything on the playfield scores a lot of points.


A device the pinball can go through in one direction but not the other. You can often find gates at the end of the plunger lane.

A feature of the game that is put in there to attract attention and make the game unique in some way. A gimmick can also be a decoration on the cabinet or backbox.

          Gobble Hole
A hole in the playfield through which the ball in play may fall, ending that ball. Falling into this hole usually scores a large value or a special. This was a common feature in the woodrail era, and rarely seen after that.

Also a hole in the playfield that gobbles the ball, causing it to drain. See also Sinkhole.

One of the major pinball manufacturers. Gottlieb, before it was bought by premier, is one of the oldest pinball manufacturers around, with three generations of the Gottlieb family in the business.


The paths made from pieces of steel wire set above the playfield. Also called wireforms.

See backbox.


The path feeding a falling ball from the playfield, usually behind a slingshot to the flippers.


          Jet Bumper
The name used by Williams Electronics to describe active bumpers. See Bumper for a description.


Usually located at the left outlane, the kickback, when activated, kicks the ball back into play instead of allowing the ball to pass to the drain.

The solenoid that bangs the side of the cabinet or backbox to produce the loud cracking noise that signals a free game.


          Lane Change
Games featuring lane change allow the player to shift the lit lights in a set of lights on the playfield, such as a set of lights on the outlanes and inlanes.

          Leaf Switch
A type of switch the consists of two tongues of metal that come into contact when pressed together. Leaf switches are used to detect a ball coming through a gate or going up a ramp. In older games leaf switches are used throughout most of the game.


Data East's name for multiball before they licensed the word multiball from Williams.

A player-activated magnet above an inlane that will catch a ball headed for the outlane. Magnasave has appeared on some Williams games and is a trademark of Williams Electronics.

There have been several pinball manufacturers through the years, Bally/Williams, Gottlieb/Premier, Sega Pinball, Inc., Alvin G. & Co., Astro Games, Atari, Chicago Coin, Fascination Games, Game Plan, Grand Product, Midway, Micro Industries, Pinball Vision, Pinstar, Wico, and Zaccaria to name a few. Currently there is only one major manufacturer still producing Pinball machines, Stern Pinball, Inc.

A free game given away by the machine to one of the players for no apparent reason at the end of the game. There appears to be a 10% chance of receiving a match, but newer solid-state machines allow this to be set as low as 1%, with the factory setting at 7%.

          Messenger Ball
See Captive Ball.

A type of switch used under rollovers and in some other parts of a game. Microswitches are small switches that have a button that, when pressed, closes the switch. Many microswitches can be fitted with a lever that will press the button.

Most modern games contain modes, periods where the rules change, and sometimes special shots are made available. Common types of modes are where one target scores a value that counts down from its highest value to nothing or when repeated ramp shots score an increasing number of millions.

When several balls are in play at one time. During multiball, there is often some sort of objective, most commonly a jackpot target that scores an obscene amount of points. Multiball is trademarked by Williams Electronics.

          Multi-Level Machine
A multi-level machine has at least two distinct playfields at different elevations, each of which contains at least one player controlled device.

          Mushroom Bumper
Mushroom bumpers are a type of passive bumpers made by Bally. See Bumper for a description.


A method of controlling the ball by moving the machine itself.


A person who owns or runs a pinball game.

A type of switch that detects the ball using light.

See Drain.

The lanes that usually are placed to the far sides at the bottom of the platfield and lead to a drain.


Moving the pinball from one flipper to another.

The part of the pinball machine where you actually move the ball around.

          Playfield Insert
Translucent plastic pieces sunk into the playfield with a light beneath. Usually these are lit for showing a bonus count, target hit or even a mode.

          Playfield Magnets
Magnets set under the playfield. Very few machines have magnets, and when they do the magnets are either under player control (magna-save, magna-flip) or an integral part of game.

The object that is used to launch a new ball onto the playfield.

          Plunger Lane
The lane that leads from the plunger and onto the playfield.

          Pop Bumper
The name use by Gottlieb to describe active bumpers. See Bumper for a description.

Before a game or its software is released, it goes through a number of prototype stages. Each prototype is tested and it is determined which changes are necessary for the next prototype or release version.

          Proximity Sensor
A sensor that can be mounted under the playfield, but can detect a metal ball rolling above it.


Taking advantage of design flaws in a game to score obscene amounts of points.

Read Only Memory. Pinball software is stored in ROMs.

An inclined surface, set at an angle steeper than the playfield that usually leads either to a habitrail or to a raised playfield.

          Reflexing Feature
A feature that in some way changes depending on how the game is being played over time. For instance, the number of ramp shots needed for an extra ball may increase if the game is being played extremely well several times in succession. The most common reflexing feature is the replay score, which increases each time a replay is won, and decreases is no replays have been awarded in a long time.

A free game won by scoring more than the current replay score.

          Replay Score
The number of points required to win a replay.

A target scored by rolling over it. The most common places for rollovers are in the inlanes, outlanes, and in special banks of two or more lanes.

          Roulette Wheel
A spinning wheel with several slots set around the perimeter, into which the ball can fall.

Rubber fitted along the edge of playfield parts.


A target that consists of a shallow depression in the playfield and a solenoid that can kick the ball out of the saucer.

The act of preventing a ball from draining.

A curved piece of metal, usually mounted above a hole that catches and directs the ball into a specific target.

Acronym for "Straight Down The Middle", a description of the path the ball occasionally takes before draining.

          Sega Pinball Inc.
See Data East.

          Service Credit
A credit gained by pressing a button inside the cabinet.

A hole in the playfield used as a target. See also Gobble hole and Cellar Hole.

          Skill Shot
At the beginning of a ball, a designated shot that can be made for a special award. Usually involves launching the ball directly at a lit target.

          Slam Tilt
Tilting the game so violently it immediately aborts all games in progress and reboots (EMs only go into game-over mode).

Easily achieved by kicking the coin box or lifting the machine past horizontal. This type of behavior will also achieve getting you thrown out of an arcade and is considered very bad manners.

          Slap Save
A save accomplished by slapping the side of the machine and the flipper button so a ball headed SDTM hits the tip of the flipper.

The (roughly) triangular objects above the flippers that kick the ball in the general direction of each other and the outlanes.

A coil, with another coil or magnet inside, used in flippers and kickers. When the coils are energized, the opposing magnetic fields cause the inner piece to move.

          Solid-state Flipper
Flipper mechanism used by Data East and as a backup mechanism in newer Bally/Williams games.

          Solid State Game
A pinball machine that uses solid-state electronics (transistors, integrated circuits, printed circuit boards, microcontrollers etc) rather than the earlier elecro-mechanical components. Modern solid-state games are quite sophisticated with generic CPU and audio boards controlled entirely by computer software.

A special is usually a free game, but can be set to some other award, such as an extra ball or a number of points.

A metal plate, usually about 1"x1.5" which spins about its center along a horizontal axix. The ball passes underneath striking the lower half of the spiller, causing it to spin several revolutions.

Acronym for Solid State.

          Standup Target
A target that is in a vertical position, such as a round plastic "spot letter" target.

          Stern Pinball Inc.
Currently the last manufacturer in America producing Pinball machines.

          Swinging Target
A moving target that moves constantly due to a motor, or intermittently due to a solenoid.


          Thumper Bumpers
The name used by Bally to describe active bumpers. See Bumpers for a description.

See Knocker.

A pinball machine will tilt, aborting the current ball and discarding End-of-ball bonus if the player moves the cabinet too violently.

          Tilt Warning
Most games will issue one or more tilt warnings before actually tilting, so a player has a chance at one or two powerful shoves before losing the ball.

Some arcades use tokens in place of coins.

Catching the ball to it comes to rest in the angle formed by a raised flipper.

One name Data East used for multiball before licensing the use of the word multiball from Williams.


Acronym for Vertical Upright Kicker. A VUK is a device that kicks the ball straight up, usually onto a habitrail.

          Video Mode
A mini video game used as a mode on a pinball machine, displayed on a dot-matrix display.


A funnel-shaped device where the ball enters at the top and spins to the bottom.

A pinball machine wider than the standard 22" width.

Another name for habitrails.

An extremely skilled pinball player.

          Wizard Bonus
A reward that is so difficult to achieve, only pinball wizards ever find it.


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