February 26, 2010

Pinball wizardry

AVERY YALE

— By KAMILA

click image to enlarge

Photo by John Ewing/Staff Photographer... Tuesday, December 15, 2009...Pinball fans converge at the Skybox bar in Westbrook on Tuesday nights for a pinball tournement. Local pinball guru John Reuter gets in a practice game before the tournement on one of the bar's pinball games.

click image to enlarge

Photo by John Ewing/Staff Photographer... Tuesday, December 15, 2009...Pinball fans converge at the Skybox bar in Westbrook on Tuesday nights for a pinball tournement. Allen Moore, owner of the Skybox bar (left), Cynthia Charczenko (center) and Donna Shaw play some practice games on the bar's games before the start of the tournament.

Additional Photos Below

Staff Writer

Golf and pinball don't share much in common, but at the Skybox Bar & Grill in Westbrook the two have melded into a game at the center of a weekly tournament.

''It's almost like playing golf,'' said regular tournament participant Kevin McCrillis of Westbrook. ''It's pretty interesting and it really levels the playing field, the way we do it. It makes it unique in that the worst player can beat the best player.''

Inside what bar owner Allen Moore calls the Skybox Pinball Barcade there are five machines, including Tales from the Crypt, Space Jam and Elvis. Players are divided into teams of three or four, with the better players being paired with those new to the game. The result is that no team has a significant advantage over another.

''I grew up next to an arcade as a kid,'' Moore said when asked why he decided to make the bar a pinball destination. ''So I'm a pinball head. Then I met John.''

That would be John Reuter of Gorham, who is a well-known figure in the world of competitive pinball and one of the founders of the annual Pin Maine-ia tournament in Saco.

Reuter owns 106 pinball machines, which he's been collecting since 1988.

''At my house, I have about 55 set up and ready to play,'' Reuter said. ''And I have a few others stuffed in corners and at friends' houses.''

When Moore re-opened the bar this year (after it closed in 2008) he installed the Elvis pinball machine, which attracted a fair share of players.

''I said people like Elvis, I might as well get a couple more in there,'' Moore recalled.

So he got Reuter to install some of his machines, and that's when the two came up with the idea for the weekly tournaments.

Now every Tuesday night beginning at 7 p.m. a crowd gathers to be split into teams before lining up in hopes of becoming the next pinball wizard, or at least scoring a few points for their team.

The tournament works like this: Each machine is equivalent to a hole on a golf course and is assigned a score. Players who reach that score with three balls achieve par. If they do it with one ball it's a hole in one, and if they use four balls it's a bogey.

''You don't want to bore the better players or leave out the weaker players,'' Reuter said. ''The net effect is everybody's included and everybody's score can help the team.''

Moore pointed out that ''John can play a pinball game for 18 hours, so who wants to play with him?''

But with the golf scoring system, once Reuter reaches the desired score he relinquishes the machine to the next player.

On average, it costs players about $3 to participate in the weekly tournaments. Change is made and players feed quarters into each machine they play.

Reuter eventually hopes to get other bars and pubs involved in hosting tournaments, creating a circuit for local pinball enthusiasts.

When asked why he continues to play, Reuter said, ''No matter how good you are, there's still room to get better.''

At the Skybox on Tuesday nights there's plenty of room for experts to hone their skills and for newbies to learn the ropes.

And there's always space to kick back with a cold one and watch the locals take on the machines.

Staff Writer Avery Yale Kamila can be contacted at 791-6297 or at:

akamila@pressherald.com

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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

Photo by John Ewing/Staff Photographer... Tuesday, December 15, 2009...Pinball fans converge at the Skybox bar in Westbrook on Tuesday nights for a pinball tournement. Cynthia Charczenko and Donna Shaw (right) enjoy a few warm-up games before the start of the tournament.

click image to enlarge

Photo by John Ewing/Staff Photographer... Tuesday, December 15, 2009...Pinball fans converge at the Skybox bar in Westbrook on Tuesday nights for a pinball tournement. Cynthia Charczenko (left) and her boyfriend, Aaron Landry, react while playing a pinball game at the bar.

click image to enlarge

Photo by John Ewing/Staff Photographer... Tuesday, December 15, 2009...Pinball fans converge at the Skybox bar in Westbrook on Tuesday nights for a pinball tournement. Players hit the pinball games during the Tuesday night tournament.

click image to enlarge

Photo by John Ewing/Staff Photographer... Tuesday, December 15, 2009...Pinball fans converge at the Skybox bar in Westbrook on Tuesday nights for a pinball tournement. Cynthia Charczenko (left) and her boyfriend, Aaron Landry, react while playing a pinball game at the bar.

click image to enlarge

Photo by John Ewing/Staff Photographer... Tuesday, December 15, 2009...Pinball fans converge at the Skybox bar in Westbrook on Tuesday nights for a pinball tournement. Allen Moore, owner of the Skybox bar (left), Cynthia Charczenko (center) and Donna Shaw play some practice games on the bar's games before the start of the tournament.

click image to enlarge

Photo by John Ewing/Staff Photographer... Tuesday, December 15, 2009...Pinball fans converge at the Skybox bar in Westbrook on Tuesday nights for a pinball tournement. Local pinball guru John Reuter gets in a practice game before the tournement on one of the bar's pinball games.



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