Hi, I'm Bowen Kerins. Last month, I won PAPA's World Pinball Championship for the third time. The championship comes with a $10,000 prize, a sweet trophy, and my name in the rafters at PAPA Headquarters. (Proof here, and here.)

Competitive pinball is taking off, with live broadcasts, a tournament circuit, and world rankings. I help run the largest pinball tournament in the world, Pinburgh, which last year had nearly 400 players and $60,000 in cash prizes.

I have filmed multiple game tutorials and talked at PAX East and PAX Prime about pinball, and am part of the PAPA TV broadcasting team. The next live broadcast will be October 16-20 from the Pinball Expo near Chicago.

There's a lot more skill in pinball than you might think: I've been playing in tournaments for 20 years now and still have more to learn.

In my real life I work on mathematics textbooks, have an amazingly patient wife, and a 5-year-old son whose favorite pinball machine says BAO.


Comments: 583 • Responses: 102  • Date: 

cswarrior1196 karma

would you call yourself a pinball wizard?

bkerins83192 karma

Is there a twist?

sternje59 karma

...got such a supple wriiiiist.

bkerins83195 karma

Sadly, I was born with full capacity to hear, think, and see.

sternje24 karma

So you're not perfect, big deal. They can't take away your title, though. Unless you were using performance enhancing drugs.

bkerins83142 karma

Do Slurpees count as PEDs?

zsabarab15 karma

Depends on the flavor.

bkerins83138 karma

Dr Pepper slurpee = go go juice

TheReverendBill23 karma

"Dumb" means unable to speak, not stupid.

bkerins83154 karma

Crap. I guess I'm not dumb, then, just stupid.

s_mcc14 karma

But you still play a mean pinball

bkerins83113 karma

After PAPA 17, I get to say "I just handed my pinball crown to him." (Or her!)

grambo198041 karma

What is a theme or license that you think should be made that hasn't been done yet.

bkerins83198 karma

I am amazed that there hasn't been a "Price Is Right" pinball machine. Everybody knows the game, knows the music. And Plinko is an instant winner for mechanical action.

I know I can't be the only one who would want this game.

blackcircleradiodj11 karma

Good choice! Did you happen to see that 2 guys in Michigan are building the first Predator machine!? Link here --> http://blip.tv/arcade-hunters/skit-b-pinball-s-predator-pinball-machine-6589059

bkerins83117 karma

Yes, the game looks very impressive and I've had a chance to flip around on the prototype playfield. The blacklight effects are awesome.

I wonder how they're going to make 250 of them, but it's solid and they actually have a license to make them.

cbh52329 karma

Any tips a basic pinballer should know?

bkerins83144 karma

1) Keep your flippers down if possible. Easy mistakes are flipping both flippers at the same time, and failing to release the button after flipping.

2) Timing = aim. If a ball is coming toward a flipper, you can wait until it reaches a specific point on the flipper to aim for a shot. Improved timing and you can hit shots with consistency.

3) Go for traps. Try to "trap" the ball on a raised flipper, then when it comes to a complete stop, release the flipper then time a shot. This is really important to getting good scores.

4) Stuff scores points. That's true in general, but some stuff scores more than other stuff, so go for that stuff, except at this one time where this stuff... anyway. Games have strategy and progression.

5) Have fun and play with friends!

K3V220 karma

Many think pinball is currently experiencing a resurgence in popularity. Do you think that's true? If so, what do you attribute its renewed popularity to, and what do you think the next step is to get more people involved with the game?

bkerins83122 karma

There is definitely a resurgence. Some of it is the surge in "barcade" style locations in cities, and some of it is the increased visibility of tournaments and leagues. One major goal of PAPA TV is to put big-time pinball competition into the mainstream -- the PAPA Circuit tournaments will have $150,000 in prize money this year. As competition grows, it can lead to major sponsorship, viewers, and new players.

The biggest factor is new players: we have to expose people to pinball, because people don't have easy access to arcades anymore. It's pretty easy to get someone hooked on pinball, it's finding the games that is the problem right now. But it's getting better.

butlertd16 karma

Are your initials BEK or AJK? What's AJK stand for?

bkerins83125 karma

AJK are my son's initials. I'll keep using them until he gets his first high score, then he's on his own!

My initials are BEK. In high school and college, I tended to use B K (with a space), not sure why.

dakkeh40 karma

Because when it comes to pinball, you have it your way.

bkerins83125 karma

Help help 30 years of being called Burger King and/or British Knights are all flooding back

dyopp2114 karma

The documentary "Special When Lit" is what got me interested in the PAPA world championships (I attended last year). I've heard that several pinball players and people associated with PAPA did NOT like that documentary. How did you feel about it overall?

bkerins83117 karma

It's a mixed bag to me, and I felt it was a missed opportunity. They definitely highlighted some "personalities" that don't make pinball players look good. More than that, I felt the movie lacked focus: there wasn't really a story to tell except "hey it's a pinball movie". I think that naturally limits the audience to people who already know about and like pinball -- who else would go see it??

brosenfeld14 karma

How do you prefer your toilet paper be oriented, dispense over or dispense under?

bkerins83150 karma

OVER! Anything else would be uncivilized.

butlertd13 karma

What are your favorite games from each era of pinball, and what do you like about them?

bkerins83124 karma

From the 60s, I've become a fan of Target Pool, a simple game with short flippers. It forces you to learn nudging in a hurry.

From the 70s, I hated and now love Paragon, an absolutely brutal game that punishes bad shots, and usually punishes good shots. When you finally get a good game on it, it feels awesome.

From the 80s, I love High Speed, the first game to really have a story line (run the red light and escape!). The flow and ramp on that game influenced games for the next 25 years.

From the 90s, I love Twilight Zone, a game with skill and depth, and I own World Cup Soccer, a much simpler game with fun shots.

From the 2000s, I pick Simpsons Pinball Party -- big Simpsons fan service in that game, and the deepest goals of any machine ever made.

From the 2010s (ugh, the 2010s are a thing now), definitely AC/DC, awesome game with strategic decisions and great flow.

johnnyfiv35 karma

Proud to say I own two of your favorites, TZ and TSPP!

bkerins8317 karma

I owned a TZ for many years, and only recently sold it. Then, the price went up like $2000... doh.

johnnyfiv36 karma

Ha, I was scared mine was overpriced at 4k when I got it, and could probably sell for 5.5k now. Love this hobby :)

Honest question, do you think we're in a bubble for older 'A' games, is there risk in 80s and 90s games currently over 4k in price are going to drop back below anytime soon?

bkerins8317 karma

I have no idea, but these games are still popular and becoming scarcer, which usually means...

ChiIIout12 karma

awesome! Did you ever "tilt" a machine?

bkerins83129 karma

I played for years without tilting, thinking that moving the machine was a no-no. It turns out to be a requirement for playing well in competition.

Nudging (moving, shaking) the machine is the only way to save the ball from going down the sides, and from saving a center drain. It takes a long time to get good at nudging.

rcrracer5 karma

Are the machines placed on floors other than carpet, where you can slide the machine side to side to prevent drains?

bkerins83115 karma

They can be, but not usually for competition. In big tournaments, moving the game 1/4 of an inch can cause a tilt. You have to really know exactly when and how to move the machine, and when it's worth the risk of a tilt to make a big save.

Fattrain10 karma

Bowen. You're a pinball tutorials are absolutely fantastic and you clearly know the games inside and out. What is your favorite pinball machine from each era and why? (EM, SS, DMD)

bkerins83114 karma

EM: I'm a fan of Jungle Queen ("Kill All Monkeys"). Great layout, fun shots, four flippers.

SS: Funhouse is amazing. This is a game I poured many hours into, and it helped me understand multiball control and shotmaking.

DMD: Medieval Madness is a great theme, well executed. It offers goals for all levels of play that are clear and attainable, which is a rare feat.

butlertd8 karma

What's your favorite Simpsons quote?

bkerins8317 karma

From the game... I don't know why, but a friend and I got hooked on the "Simpso?" quote. One task in the game is spelling out SIMPSONS in letters and Homer responds to each one... you get to SIMPSO and it sounds like he still has no idea what you're spelling. "Simpso??"

My son's favorite is "Oh, thunderpants!" on an outlane drain. Anything involving underpants is funny...

butlertd6 karma

I just meant from the show. I heard you walking around at PAPA saying "We like Roy!" and my buddy and I got the reference.

bkerins8316 karma

Well, when there's a guy named Roy in the finals, you've got to say "We Like Roy".

I'm big on saying "It doesn't take a whiz to see you're looking out for #1" when my son is showing that he needs to go.

zasdcxzasdcx8 karma


bkerins83110 karma

One quality is balanced play: the game should reward playing the entire field, or have multiple strategies that can achieve high scores. Addams Family is a great example of a game where multiple strategies can be used to earn points, and Star Wars (Data East) is a great example where one strategy dominates.

"One-shot" games can be maddening: at PAPA 6, Junkyard was used in qualifying and players figured out that the video mode was worth more than the rest of the game. Players shot for video mode over and over and over and ... ugh. Nobody wants to watch that, nobody even wants to play that.

I think that high-quality game selection is important, especially now if games will be broadcast. Strategies should be simple / explainable, while at the same time not being boring. That's a tough balance but it's the same balance that drives excellent game design. We're lucky that there are competition-level players helping to design the games at Stern and Jersey Jack, so that this balance is addressed in design and software.

zasdcxzasdcx3 karma


bkerins8315 karma

Just go to the PAPA Youtube page. You'll also see some other videos on the PAPA Blog.

EighttrainNHF7 karma

When did you begin practicing pinball?

bkerins83112 karma

My father got me into pinball when I was young (6 maybe) but I didn't get deeply into it until high school. I was the best at my local arcade until I got to college and found out about leagues and tournaments. I was hooked. I improved the most in college by learning from players with strong nudging and ball control skills such as Neil Shatz and Rick Stetta.

butlertd7 karma

How did you treat yourself after winning PAPA? Buy anything nice?

bkerins83114 karma

Pretty much all of it went to the day care center! We did spend the day after PAPA at Kennywood, celebrating with some bacon fries from Potato Patch. Since I usually lose, that day was planned in advance to heal the wounds from PAPA finals...

jar1557 karma

How many hours a day to play pinball? Do you generally play for points or for mode completion?

bkerins8318 karma

Actually, I don't play much right now, I play once a week in the New England Pinball League, and the tournaments I travel to. At home I probably play my own machines less than both my wife and son.

When playing in competition, score is all that matters. When playing casually I often will go for a goal. When a new Stern comes in we try to reach the final goals as fast as possible, such as Encore on AC/DC or Battle for Earth on Avengers. Playing for points often isn't as fun.

InfamousBLT2 karma

I know nothing about pinball and am awful at it except the following:

  • Ball comes out

  • Ball bounces around for a few seconds and makes lots of lights and noises and is a lot of fun

  • Ball goes in hole and I have to put more money in if I want it to make more light and noises

Can you explain to someone like me the difference between going for points and going for objectives? Maybe pick your favorite pinball machine and explain how you would go for each on that machine.

bkerins8317 karma

I'd encourage you to watch a tutorial video. An "objective" might be something like "make 10 right ramps" (on Simpsons). And it may look impressive to shoot the ramp over and over, but it turns out each shot was only 50,000 points. Meanwhile "lock a ball" is a much simpler objective that is worth more points.

Games often have "wizard goals" that are far-away objectives, but worth a ton. Then, risk-reward can dictate whether these are worth going for.

butlertd7 karma

What are your favorite shots in all of pinball? Where does the jump shot on "No Fear" rank on your list?

bkerins83112 karma

My #1 favorite shot is the Hole-In-One on "No Good Gofers". The ball flies off a ramp, into the air, onto a second playfield area, into a hole all the way in the back right corner. You make that shot and you feel like it's a huge accomplishment.

The "No Fear" jump ramp is fun, it gets a little repetitive because that shot is worth more than almost anything else in the game. I heard that Keith Elwin made 50+ consecutive shots to the Jump in a recent event. Shots like those that show off the mechanical nature of pinball are really awesome and are one reason I think pinball will always be around.

PinballViking5 karma

If you are referring to Pinbrawl, the day before PAPA, we were playing against him. He got 38 billion on that game, and I have a shaky, 7 minute video of him on youtube. I didn't want to get too close though, and a crowd did form...lol

bkerins8312 karma

Ha ha! 7 minutes of that! See, this is exactly what we should not do if pinball ever gets on TV.

WeaponizedPanda6 karma


Thanks for doing an AMA and congrats on your win at PAPA16 - it was awesome to watch your fantastic qualifying run in person! Your tutorial videos have helped get me and many of my friends into pinball through their informative and entertaining nature. Will we be seeing any more of those soon? Any chance those might be worked in to PAPA TV?

Thank you for all of the work you do for the pinball community; from the tutorials, to the commentary, to the Pinburgh tournaments! Looking forward to seeing you there!


bkerins8313 karma


Thanks for the kind words. We've been shooting more tutorials in order to build a regular schedule: one tutorial per month will be released starting in October, through PAPA TV. All future tutorials will go through the PAPA TV gateway.

As the Kickstarter dictates, six of the tutorials will be livestreamed, so people can participate and ask questions live.

lolzergrush6 karma

I really, really miss the golden age of arcades, especially awesome pinball machines.

Dave & Buster's is nowhere near me, any tips on what kind of places to go to experience that coin-op greatness?

bkerins8319 karma

Definitely agree with the suggestion on pinballmap.com. If you're not in one of those areas, the Pinside board includes a worldwide database of machine locations.

Jorion5 karma

Is it easy to type when you're deaf, dumb, and blind?

bkerins8318 karma


Jorion5 karma

Pinball Wizard. The Who.

bkerins8317 karma

Sorry, I couldn't hear you, I'm deaf.

mcpenisnutsauce5 karma

What's after pinball? Donkey Kong? Asteroids? PAC MAN ?

bkerins83113 karma

One thing I love about pinball is there is good skill transfer: if you're good at Addams Family you're already going to be pretty good at Attack From Mars. I got good at a few video games but didn't like the repetitive nature of play and didn't like that my skills didn't transfer well to other games.

Pinball is the real thing...

HughRistik5 karma

What do you think of Pokemon Pinball?

bkerins8317 karma

Never played it. It sounds like "not pinball".

GuruOfReason5 karma

What is your favorite pinball video game?

bkerins8316 karma

I've been impressed with Pinball Arcade's commitment to real games and accuracy. I don't play it well because of timing: the timing I expect on a flip is faster than any electronic device can deliver.

Zen Pinball goes the other way with the fantasy stuff, and it's very cool. Their new Star Wars stuff is fun.

Still, playing either makes me want to play the real game. There are many skills, especially nudging, that can't be duplicated well.

zikmon5 karma

You mentioned your longest game lasted 4+ hours!? Was that when you reached the TSPP wizard mode? Can you describe the experience?

bkerins8315 karma

It was on Twilight Zone in an arcade, with extra balls. Basically I wanted to see how long I could go and what happens when you reach the edge of what the machine keeps track of. The robot ramps stop at 99, with 5 million per robot after that. The hitchhikers stop at 100, with nothing special after that. The door panels never stop. I managed a Hitchhiker award at 81, but couldn't get it again for 100.

Over 8 billion, I think. It was a long game, way too long. Competitions usually play with extra balls shut off, and that's a big reason why.

cyan1015 karma

What are your thoughts on Stern, the only company who are making pinball machines in bulk today?

bkerins8316 karma

First, both Stern and Jersey Jack are making pinball machines -- it's bizarre to me that Stern still calls itself the only maker of real pinball games on the planet.

I'm very impressed with what Stern has produced lately. AC/DC and Metallica are terrific, and I expect the same from Star Trek. I like the playfield on Avengers and the concept of having shots related to each hero. Great sound too, but it ended up feeling a little same-y.

All in all, they've been keeping pinball alive since 1999, and we owe them a huge thanks for doing so while still maintaining innovation. I'm excited for what the next few years will bring.

heddhunter3 karma

Their website still says "only" but the YouTube video for Star Trek now says "The leading maker of...". I assume they will be rolling that out everywhere else eventually.

bkerins8316 karma

Well, in that case, yes, they are the leading maker! People like to bag on Stern for some reason, but frankly, without them we'd be pining for an industry that died in the 90s.

dcoleyoung5 karma

Do you press both flippers at the same time or wait a split second for a 1-2?

bkerins8318 karma

There is never a reason to flip both flippers at the same time. The ball should always be closer to one side or the other; just flip that one.

The "1-2" some players use for a "slap save" actually sends the ball back out of control, so I prefer not to do that, either. It's a skill I had to unlearn after using it for a long time.

packos1305 karma

What is the most unconventional or unusual pinball machine you have ever played?

bkerins8316 karma

1 is Orbitor, the crazy-ass game with the plexiglas playfield. That game's nutballed, as seen in this Classic Game Room video.

Other weirdos... the two-player games (Joust, Challenger, AG Soccer). The games with tiny cabinets (Safecracker, Mario Mushroom World, Punchy the Clown). The games with time limits (Operation Thunder). The games that weren't pinball (Hyperball).

Pinball's definitely innovative, and people are always trying new ideas to see what will hit. Sometimes... not so much.

Edge2k135 karma

I'm an intermediate player who just joined his first pin league this year and managed to place in the middle of the field. What tips could you give someone like me to make my scores more consistent and to help take my game to the next level?

bkerins8315 karma

For intermediate players one big advice is "have a plan". I see a lot of intermediate players just shooting whatever seems right, and then they don't achieve any game goal. Or, they set a goal that doesn't make sense, scoring-wise.

Watching others play is critical to seeing what scores well, and also if there are any quirks to the machine you are playing. In bigger tournaments there is rarely any warm-up time, compared to how much time a player might get to know the shots and bounces of their favorite location machine.

On the skills side, dead bounces are very important, post transfers as well, and if you don't know live catching it might be worth trying. Good luck!

dupontcircle5 karma

Do you hang out with Billy Mitchell?

bkerins8316 karma

I don't wear ties, so I'm not welcome.

TheGREATCorweenee5 karma

Has this title or skill ever gotten you laid? I can see you at a bar sipping a classy drink saying, "Hey Baby, wanna be with a world champion?"

bkerins8313 karma

I've always been in long-term relationships at the times I've won these events, so...

It's definitely one of those "stealth celebrity" things you can just spring on someone. Somehow I doubt it would be effective if I were single.

hosalabad5 karma

What's the best strategy to prevent the ball from dropping straight down the middle where you can't hit it?

bkerins8316 karma

1) Don't shoot the thing that made the ball go down the middle. Many shots on games are built specifically to make this happen. Look at the geometry of the game and figure out what shots are "death shots".

2) Shove the machine left or right! You can't move the ball while it's dropping but you can move the game. It's amazing that this works at all, and awesome when it does.

tomdotcom5 karma

Hey Bowen, big fan. I've watched all your tutorials/video/live etc. I also supported the kickstarter you guys did :) I am going to a tourney at the end of the month and was wondering if you could provide any tournament tips for these particular games? Like where are the easy points? Anything to focus on in particular?

Rolling Stones (79) Captain Fantastic Nugent Space Invaders

bkerins8314 karma

Thanks for supporting the Kickstarter! PAPA TV is building and will be broadcasting tournaments starting next month in Chicago.

On Cap'n Fantastic, shoot the lanes back to the top. Drop targets are death, and the side flipper is also death.

On Space Invaders, shoot the horseshoe for big multipliers and then big points (typically, extra balls and specials earn points in tournament play). If horseshoe isn't giving points, shoot the captive ball on the left.

I don't know Rolling Stones or Nugent.

ntstell5 karma

Hey Bowen. Are you currently subscribed to r/pinball? Also, what was it like to witness the Reddit pinball championships this year at PAPA?

bkerins8312 karma

Yes, I'm on r/pinball. My son witnessed your epic game of Banzai Run then wanted to play several games on it.

Banzai Run, another amazing example of the mechanics that are possible with pinball.

poptopper4 karma

This AMA is timing out strangely well for me. Yesterday, with no pinball experience, I was trying to kill some time in an airport and found the LotR machine. I had way more fun than expected. When I got home, I was looking online for a place in my city that would have the same machine and stumbled across the PAPA site. From there, I watched the final that you won and saw on the blog that you were doing this AMA. I hope pinball blows up like you predict, and I plan to be on that new wave of fresh players.

bkerins8314 karma

Woo hoo, thanks! LOTR is pretty fun. I'm going to guess the airport... MSP?

blackcircleradiodj4 karma

I have seen little love from pinball.org or the PAPA site regarding the new Wizard of Oz table by Jersey Jack. I am yet to see one in person. Have you played it? What did you think? Also, what is your favorite Nicholas Cage film?

bkerins8315 karma

PAPA made this video for Wizard of Oz and it was featured in the C Division final at PAPA 16.

I've played it in person many times as the software continues to improve. There's a wide variety of shots on the game, and the goals are interesting. Some of the goals aren't programmed yet and the balance in scoring isn't quite there.

For the first game from a brand new manufacturer, it is amazing.

Who's Nicholas Cage? Oh, Nicolas Cage... it's either Face/Off or The Rock. God, Knowing was so terrible.

hool1002 karma

There was a launch party for a prototype in Salem, NH at the "Pinball Wizard Arcade". I did not see him play it but he was handing out mini-trophies. Oh and WOZ is really amazing. When you drain, it isn't over as you start a mini-game to save your ball and it depends on how you drain. The LCD screen is really great as is the lighting. It's more of a wide body too and sturdy. It isn't cheap ABS plastic or some powder coated STERN, it's more of a "Funhouse" older style feel to the machine.

bkerins8313 karma

That was the league finals for the New England Pinball League (Season 2 last spring). That's probably the best place to play WoO (Wizard of Oz's acronym) in the area.

pinsandvids4 karma

I now belong to two leagues in the Atlanta area, and we now have IFPA sanctioned tournaments in the area. What else can we do to help spread competitive pinball?

bkerins8314 karma

More players! Seriously, that'll do it. It's hard to know whether someone will be hooked by artwork, by sound, by competition, by mechanics, but there's a lot to like in pinball. See who you can round up to try it at least once.

The Southern-Fried Gameroom Expo will be held in Atlanta in June 2014. That looks like a great opportunity to bring more players and get local media attention.

pinsandvids2 karma

I hear Bryan will be running the SFGE tourney so I'm looking forward to it. He ran the Georgia Open tourney back in June or July and did a great job. This is our second year of league play around Atlanta and it seems to have interest. Just sometimes difficult to find willing hosts as location play around here sucks.

bkerins8312 karma

Mark Steinman of PAPA will also be there, and SFGE will be part of the 2014 PAPA Circuit.

yakuchombo4 karma

How many attempts does it usually take to record your tutorials? Do you usually get a good tutorial video within 2 or 3 recordings or can it take many more than that?

bkerins8314 karma

A surprising number of the tutorials are first take.

The Batman, Simpsons Pinball Party, Transformers, and Dracula tutorials were all the first attempted game. There are others, but those are the ones I can remember right away. For Transformers we played 1 game each as Decepticon and Autobot, and each was the first game played.

We try to be fair with the video, if there's a game that took many tries (Eight Ball Deluxe, Stars) the video will reflect that.

I'm worried what will happen when we go to "live" tutorials, since there won't be that "stop... start over" option anymore. There will hopefully be less swearing, too.

zonathefree4 karma

What's the most overrated pin out there?

bkerins8313 karma

(opinion) Cactus Canyon. It's a big deal because it's the last Bally-Williams DMD game. And it's just okay. But it sells for $10k+...

traditionneverdies4 karma

How many pinball machines do you personally own, and if you had to tally up their value, what would the number come to?

bkerins8316 karma

Not impressed: I own 2, World Cup Soccer and Simpsons Pinball Party. Combined value about $6,000. I have won 9 pinball machines in competition, and sold the other 7.

Kingofallpenguins4 karma

Do you ever get really tired of hearing pinball wizard or does it pump you up?

bkerins8312 karma

I don't really listen to it much, and prefer the rock opera (1994) version over the original. Right now the Red Sox run out in the 1st inning to it ... at that point it pumps me up, because I know people will continue to know and enjoy pinball for a long time.

bkerins8315 karma

I love the jump on Gofers... the "power" on Addams Family (later duplicated by other games)... the magnet-tossing effect on Shadow. Things that are truly mechanical with the ball make pinball special to me.

Hockshank2 karma

I forgot about the jump rope on Champion Pub! That machine is great and underrated.

bkerins8315 karma

Yeah, Champion Pub had a ton of great mechanical gimmicks. The jump rope is a real feat. There was a similar trick in "Pinball Magic" called the Levitating Ball ... turns out that's a fake, and the real ball is just sitting in a kicker.

Frajer3 karma

Does your wrist ever hurt from playing all that pinball?

bkerins8315 karma

Some other players wear wrist protection, I've never needed it. At PAPA 16 I got a big welt on my left hand from nudging a game (other players who had similar issues said it was Algar). I've cut my hands multiple times, torn off a fingernail once. Most of this happens on the "lockdown bar", if that bar isn't set up right it can be a nice cutting piece of metal right near your hand.

I've never broken a pinball glass, but I've seen it happen several times. Oof.

hool1003 karma

He has hurt his wrist from doing "bang backs". There was this tutorial video, I forget the specific one but it was a newer STERN, that he did it. When the ball is draining he did some sort of kung-fu punch to the machine and it banged the ball from draining and went up to the flipper. Ouch.

bkerins8314 karma

Ugh yeah, that was a lousy couple of weeks recovering from the bang backs on Twilight Zone. Don't do that.

The tutorial vid is Simpsons, but we really didn't capture the move well on camera, it looks like the ball just flies back out on its own. Look for a detailed version of this "never do this but..." move in a future tutorial video.

Nuclear_Waste3 karma

What is the single most important thing we can do as pinball players to help fuel the resurgence of the game?

bkerins8314 karma

More players! If demand for pinball increases, locations will want the games. Getting more people hooked is critical. PAPA TV is hoping to build an audience for the game, then those people will want to go play some games!

PinballViking3 karma

What is your favorite flavor of Pop Rocks?

bkerins8312 karma


Crunchewy3 karma

What do you consider to be the most important skill to master in pinball?

bkerins8313 karma

For me, it was aiming. At a young age I was very accurate with my aim.

For others, it is control: flipper skills to stop the ball and get a clean shot.

I'd pick either of this to get good at first, then you can concentrate on the other. Nudging skills need a lot more time to develop, so don't worry about those at first.


Twilight Zone or Medieval Madness?

bkerins8313 karma


fspnj3 karma


bkerins8313 karma

No, everything's pretty great. My diet and exercise routines are terrible / nonexistent. My family is willing to put up with me, and I'm not sure why.

Say hi at an event! It's all good. I'm not a real celebrity or anything.

CSStrikerrock3 karma

Congrats Bowen!

My Q is are there any new players that you enjoy playing with/against? Any you feel are starting their upcoming after practicing?

bkerins8313 karma

I mostly play locally with the New England Pinball League, and it's been great working with them to help us all improve.

ruxxell3 karma

met you in boston once at lanes and games. you were thrashing the twilight zone there.

bkerins8313 karma

Thanks! Come out for league!

atom_atom_atom3 karma

The Twilight Zone has been my favorite machine since I was a kid. Please tell me I'm justified in my choice. Also, Addams Family was awesome too.

bkerins8315 karma

When TZ came out I was sure it was the greatest pinball machine ever made. I've backed away from that a little, because greatness takes many forms, but it was and will always be awesome.

Twilight Zone was the follow-up from the team that did Addams Family, so it carries over a lot of its quality and excellence.

herpberp2 karma

Where are the pinball high scores kept?

bkerins8313 karma

Pretty much, nowhere. Different models of the same machine can play so differently that the only way to truly compare scores is on the same physical machine. Pinball tournaments are live for this reason. Compare that to Donkey Kong where people across the country can compete on equal footing.

I think this keeps the pinball community more open and friendly, because there's no hiding of strategies, no secrets. Anyone can watch an opponent play, so most of the top players are very willing to share their strategies and techniques. It's very different from video games or eSports in that regard.

david-me2 karma

How many Quarters have you spent in your 20 years?

bkerins8312 karma

Less and less! Get good at pinball and win free games... get better at pinball and win tournaments. I've made up for my "investment" of quarters...

PinballPete2 karma

When you practice, do you target certain skills such as drop catches or loop passes, etc - or do you just play games and the skill accumulates naturally?

bkerins8311 karma

I have never "practiced" skills, although I do that in warmups before finals to see if a skill is achievable.

In gameplay, the closest thing is setting a goal like "How many Dead Ends can I make in one game of Twilight Zone?" Then that goal encourages specific skills -- in that case, alley passing -- and you end up using the skills. I've never felt like pinball playing is work, but I know it's something other players have used effectively.

Sir_Fappleton2 karma

Was there ever a pinball game against someone, where you were sure you were going to lose, but actually won?

bkerins8317 karma

Definitely happened more than once, but the best example is at IFPA 6 in London. It's the round of 16 and my opponent is playing well; we're playing Judge Dredd in Game 5 of a 7-game series, tied 2-2.

I play poorly: I have a lead 105 million to his 80 million going into his final turn. He starts a round called "Battle Tank" and completes it immediately, which awards 33 million ... in bonus. Bonus in pinball is awarded at the end of your turn, but only if you don't tilt.

My opponent doesn't know this, and continues to play the game even though he could win by walking away. He gets to 105-102 million, the ball goes toward the middle -- and he tilts trying to save it.

So instead of being down 3-2, I'm ahead 3-2, and I won the next game to win the series.

velveeta142 karma

Congratulations! What's the ONE technique a player needs to perfect in order to be more competitive?

bkerins8312 karma

Thanks. Something to get "perfect" is one way, any way, to get the ball under control.

Pinball to me has two aspects: shotmaking and recovery. Recovery is inevitable: you're going to miss, or you're going to shoot something that sends the ball out of control. When the ball is out of control, the goal is recovery, not shotmaking. A lot of players "flail" in hopes of making another shot that puts the ball back under control, but that usually doesn't work. Drop catch, live catch, dead bounce -- any of these can be used, but at least one really should be used anytime the ball is wild.

Dilligaf352 karma

What age did you start playing pinball? And when did you realize you were going to try and be the best in the world?

bkerins8312 karma

I didn't know there was such a thing as "the best in the world" until I heard about the PAPA World Championship while in college. Lyman Sheats won the first one I knew about with fantastic play on Doctor Who (in 1993, there were only seven doctors...)

I committed to learning as much as I could and attending the next championship... then got lucky and won it!

YakumoFuji2 karma

will pinburgh 2014 increase player capacity?

are you as good at pool as pinball?

greatest non dmd gottlieb solid state? (because williams + bally have too many choices) (bonus points if its Spirit).

any more gameplay vids coming to pinball.org ? its been quit over there for a while.

whats your relationship to papa? you do pinburgh and vids but your not employed like mhs?

do you have a gold key to just rock up to papa whenever you escape your family?

does your wife understand (mine does not. any tips appreciated!)

has the pax panels audience been mostly non pin or are they mostly pinheads?

does the powerball throw off your sense of ball physics much?

would you ever put an atari hercules in your house?

Do you think design moved away from creating deep (LOTR/TSPP) style games? It seems most machines dont go on route anymore but design ideas are still rooted in player turnover and short games designed for profit.

my 6yo says starship troopers cheats when he gets DFB'd by the third flipper. Best kid friendly pins?

how do we get espn to cover pinburgh2014?

bkerins8314 karma

Holy questions, Batman!

Still deciding about Pinburgh 2014. Getting over 400 players is tough on the septic and parking systems! We'll try.

Gameplay videos are being recorded for PAPA TV, which will start broadcasting weekly in October.

I have never been paid a dime for my volunteer work at PAPA. I happen to work in Pittsburgh roughly once every two months, and the videos are filmed during the evenings of those trips.

I apologize for teaching your 6-year-old the phrase "double flipper bitched". My son loves World Cup Soccer, it's simple and deep, like the best games. Attack From Mars is another great one.

bkerins8311 karma

Oh, I suck at pool, and I am very lucky that my wife has a high tolerance for weird.

noodlehoodlum2 karma

Tommy was better

bkerins8311 karma

Fortunately, he retired in 1976.

mycatisadick2 karma

Can you confirm that Medieval Madness is the greatest pinball game ever made?

bkerins8313 karma

It's pretty awesome, definitely near the top for me. That game is hard to find these days, and very expensive!

yanktoast2 karma

Have there been any rumblings about proper TV coverage for pinball tournaments? It really is exciting, and with the right video and graphics package, with proper commentary, it could be a hit!

bkerins8314 karma

Check out some of the work PAPA TV has been doing, they covered the PAPA 16 championship. The right video package is a must, but so is the audio -- I can barely watch the top-down camera without some voiceover. I think the work in this direction is just getting started, and it could bring a whole new audience to the game. Already, the home audience watching the PAPA 16 finals was about 4-5 times the live audience, with people setting up viewing parties around the country. It was wild and I'm very lucky to have made and won that final.

joesaid1 karma

Other than the drop catch .. what flipper skills do you think differentiate the top players from the rest?

bkerins8312 karma

The primary differentiator, in my opinion, is game strategy. You never see Keith Elwin doing something that isn't productive. He's efficient. The fact is that everyone loses their ball, so you've got to make everything count while you can.

The other major differentiator is a desire to regain ball control. Many players fly out of control and are willing to continue playing that way at the expense of their shot accuracy or strategy. This leads to death or low scores. Some players (Acciari, Henderson, Massenkoff) play in control while appearing to be out of control; this is really rare but can succeed. I can't play that way!

altrefrain1 karma

Do you stand like a statue and become part of the machine when you play?

bkerins8311 karma

Only when I need to be feelin' all the bumpers.

Hockshank1 karma

I am new to watching PAPA Tourney play but by the final round I noticed you had them all beat in points so the last game was just played for fun and had no baring on the outcome (although it turned out to be a fun game to watch!). Is the PAPA Tournament format working the way it is or could it use some tweaking? How do you feel about different tourney formats in general? Also: CONGRATULATIONS. :)

bkerins8312 karma

The scoring system (4-2-1-0, 4 points for first, 3 games) can lead to that. After 2 games it was 8-2-2-2, so the victory was locked up. I probably should have played better on Batman to go for 12, but it didn't really matter.

I like the format very well, because it usually leads to many possible outcomes toward the end. The one change I would make, and was able to make for Pinburgh, is to play 4 games per round instead of 3. The reality is that players are strong enough that 3 games takes a very long time, so changing PAPA to that format might not be for the best.

I'm definitely a nerd for tournament formats. There are so many. I think some sort of standardization would really help pinball; there are many people looking to start leagues or events who don't know what to do and no clear advice is available. That should change soon, I know it's a goal of PAPA TV.

HeyitsFlu1 karma

do you have a highest of all high scores ?

bkerins8313 karma

Scores vary game to game, so there's no real way to compare.

I have scored over 150 billion points on "Johnny Mnemonic", generally regarded as the highest scoring game of all time. The 150 billion isn't the best among all players, I've heard of a trillion.

Of the games I'm proudest of in competition, over 600 million on No Good Gofers, 1.7 billion on Tommy, and 100 million on Whirlwind are some of my personal bests. Those were all set in tournament play, no extra balls, on difficult machines.

Bowll1 karma

How much playing time in total do you estimate you have?

bkerins8312 karma

Malcolm Gladwell says it's 10,000 hours.

Honestly I've never really thought about it, but my longest game has been 4+ hours and tournaments can be 30-40 hours of play in one weekend. It's probably way more than 10,000 hours total.

j_rech1 karma

What made you get into pinball?

bkerins8311 karma

I remember first being into the ball movement and the loudness of the overall arcade. At age 8 it felt like something really grown-up to be doing. Once I started to notice and learn game strategies I was pretty hooked, because I could analyze a game and talk my way through how I was going to play it.

Then, learning about competitions in college... that was 20 years ago and I haven't really stopped playing.

Hbdarkman1 karma

Do you have any techniques that you use that help your game immensely?

Are there any pinball games you play on your phone to practice and if so what are they?

bkerins8312 karma

I like a "live catch" (a flip that meets the ball just as it arrives, canceling the momentum). This technique instantly brings a ball under control, but it requires really tight timing.

I don't play pinball on the phone to practice; while this can be good for learning game strategies, it actually makes it more difficult to get used to the timing of shots.

uberlad1 karma

Thanks for doing this!

Given your unique life experiences - both personally and professionally - what would you say is your very best life advice?

bkerins8312 karma

Yikes, I don't feel like I'm one to give great advice, but one advice would be "Enjoy now". One thing that helps me relax while playing a pinball final is realizing that playing pinball for cash is a pretty sweet thing to be able to do, and I should be enjoying it. (That advice doesn't always help me.)

Hockshank1 karma

I love Banzai Run (and yes I have watched your tutorial. Keep the hill open for points!). Are there any other machines with an upper play field that use it as well as BR?

bkerins8312 karma

Not like that anyway. Simpsons Pinball Party packs a lot of punch into its tiny upper playfield, and the action on Haunted House's upper playfield is pretty great.

orangesteelibeams1 karma

Do you have a standing order at the bank for rolls of quarters?

(Also, thank you so much for being a part of Pinburgh — I participated for the first time this year, and the fun of competition combined with the social vibe is what made me fall back in love with pinball.)

bkerins8313 karma

Ha! One thing that drew me to pinball was the concept of the free game: pinball is actually one pastime that gets cheaper as you get better! (Until you learn about buying your own machines... then it gets a lot more expensive in a hurry...)

I'm very glad you had fun at Pinburgh, it's important for these events to be fun and social, that's the only way we can grow and include new players. Have fun!

CravenMerrill1 karma

I personally own the Goldeneye James Bond pinball machine. I was wondering if you have ever played it?

bkerins8313 karma

Yes! It was in the PAPA 15 qualifying bank. That's an underrated game. The drain save and satellite dish are awesome mechanical toys.

Baba0Wryly1 karma

Do you play by sense of smell?

bkerins8312 karma

Only when the coils are frying. "Baba O RLY" is a better username!

Thor171 karma

What are your feelings about video pinball and pinball emulation?

bkerins8312 karma

Zen and Farsight have been driving a lot of people to play pinball who wouldn't otherwise, especially Farsight with the emulation of real games. They get the details right. It's not something I play a lot of, because the timing isn't quite right. But people find out about real pinball this way, then want to seek out the actual machine -- it's great!

judochop11 karma

How close is the Window's space pinball to playing the real game?

bkerins8312 karma

It's disastrous. The only thing it simulates well is timing for aim. More people have played that game than any other pinball game!

Edge2k131 karma

Two more questions! I've played many pinball machines over the years but I've never really found one that I've hated, mostly I just prefer some over others. Has there ever been a table you absolutely hated the moment you played it?

Also, do themes matter much to you when you play a machine? Do you wish that Stern or Jersey Jack would come out with an original theme for a table like the days of pinball from the 60s and 70s instead of all their tables being movie and band licensed?

bkerins8312 karma

There have been a number of pins where I literally cannot complete a three-ball game of the machine, the most recent being Stern's Indiana Jones. I still have not played one complete game of it.

Stern and JJP are trying to sell games first and foremost, so it's understandable that licensed themes can help them sell. I've heard rumors that JJP may be doing an unlicensed theme eventually, but I have no inside info.

Gravy-Leg__1 karma

Have you competed against Robert Gagno, the high-functioning autistic who is one of Canada's top players? In his style of play, he doesn't move his head to track ball movement, but rather keeps his head still and takes in the whole view of the table. Does your style of play have any similarities with his?

bkerins8312 karma

I have; Robert was in my semifinal group at PAPA 16. I have won and lost against him many times, and got to see his first-ever tournament victory.

My style of play is pretty different from Robert's. His shotmaking accuracy is much higher than mine, and I have better ball recovery skills.

I highly recommend the episode of Ingenious Minds which profiles Robert. He is a terrific player and a great guy.

saggyness1 karma

THE world champion?

bkerins8313 karma

Well, as with all other world champions, I share the title with Judah Friedlander.

Professional-Genius0 karma

For those wondering about BAO: A bāozi or simply known as bao is a type of steamed, filled bun or bread-like (i.e. made with yeast) item in various Chinese cuisines, as there is much variation as to the fillings and the preparations. In its bun-like aspect it is very similar to the traditional Chinese mantou. It can be filled with meat and/or vegetarian fillings.

bkerins8312 karma

My son says: "That's what a dragon says. BAO! It says BAO when you hit it and knock it down."