The Quest For The Holy Grail

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Everyone in the arcade collecting hobby has a “grail”. While I’m not particularly fond of the term, it’s often used to describe the one game you must have in your collection. Rarely is a “grail” one of the more popular games like Donkey Kong or Galaga but rather a somewhat obscure game that you fondly recall playing over and over again.  There is one game I have been seeking for almost 15 years now. It’s not an arcade game…it’s a pinball machine. Stick with me, this will be one of the lengthiest posts I write….

In 1979, my sister and I received the best Christmas gift ever. Well, at least in my opinion. Her opinion is probably different. Santa brought us a slightly used Gottlieb Grand Slam pinball machine. Until I left for college some years later, the pinball machine probably saw more play than it would have on an operator’s route and more action than….well, nevermind. I absolutely loved the game and so did most of my friends.

When I got into the hobby, my first thought was back to that glorious pinball machine. I knew dad had given it away but I was certain he had given it to a family friend whose son with Down’s Syndrome was rather fond of playing it. I made some phone calls but the machine was nowhere to be found. Finally, dad recalled giving it away to some workers who were re-siding his house. Not only did he pay to have new siding on the house but he also gave them the machine for free as long as they hauled it out of the basement! Ever since, it’s has been my mission to find my own Gottlieb Grand Slam pinball machine.

Over the years, I have searched E-bay, Craigslist and Google repeatedly looking for one to call my own. I’ve located several but all were located too far away. Even most of those were not in a condition that would warrant the cost of shipping fees (these things are heavy!). I’ve placed my own ad on Craigslist, hoping whoever took the one out of dad’s basement would see the ad and return it. Hell, I would have paid them to return it.

I had pretty much given up hope. I regularly scour the craigslist ads of any city within a 200 mile radius of me for bargain arcade machines and pinball machines. That rarely works, as most are grossly overpriced or are old machines that someone cleaned up and dropped a xxx-1 board into.

And then it happened. I clicked on an ad for a reasonably priced Gottlieb World Series pinball. The machine I saw pictured was not a World Series pinball but rather that machine I so fondly recall from my youth, Grand Slam. I looked close. Yes, the backglass said “World Series” but that was the machine I was looking for. I knew every detail of the playfield. Knew the vertigo inducing background on the backglass. It wasn’t a World Series, it was a Grand Slam, damn it! So off to the Internet Pinball Database I went. Turns out, Grand Slam and World Series were clones of one another with one exception. Grand Slam rewarded free games if a certain score or run total was reached while World Series rewarded extra balls if a certain score or run total was reached. Why the difference you ask? Seems us pinball players and arcade addicts were “bad apples”.

Pinball machines were banned in numerous locations because they were seen as gambling devices. It started with what we call the “bingo” machines. Bingo machines offered free games as a reward for landing the ball in a certain pattern. Often, they rewarded multiple free games that could then be redeemed for cash. There were numerous laws written to ban these machines as gambling devices. In the early 70′s many of the mainstream pinball machines that didn’t award multiple free games but just a single free game still fell under the law as a gambling device. New York for example, would seize these machines and destroyed them. LA also had laws on the books. New York Mayor Fiorello La Guardia believed the machines robbed children of their hard earned money (source: Wikipedia). In an effort to combat this thinking and legitimize the machines, some games were reintroduced with a reward of an additional ball as opposed to a free game.

So there it was, right in front of me. The machine I had been searching for! Different name, same damn game! The pictures sent to me are appealing. The backglass appears to be in great shape. There is some wear on the playfield but hell, it’s a 40 year old pinball machine. What do you expect? The cabinet looks solid. Here’s the Internet Pinball Database entry on Gottlieb’s World Series pinball machine. To make a long story short, with any luck, I’ll be picking this up tomorrow! I have no idea if it works and don’t really care. Fixing is half the fun! Stay tuned….

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