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Pinball's PAPA

Get ready for PAPA 13 on August 12-15 by reading this exciting account of last year's event!

by Mish Paull

(photos courtesy Chris Warren unless otherwise noted)

The Professional Amateur Pinball Association (PAPA) hosted its largest World Pinball Championship yet on August 13-16, 2009 in Scott Township, Pennsylvania, with 389 registered players and at least 2000 spectators! Pittsburgh Pennsylvania prides itself on being “The City of Champions” and a record number of pinball players from across the globe welcomed the Black & Gold Mojo as they competed in PAPA 12.
As in any true quest for a championship, each division was full of nail biting drama as players pulled out all the stops to first qualify and then win in their selected division. Competing against 73 other Division A players, Keith Elwin achieved a PAPA first after defeating Jorian Engelbrektsson, Paul Madison and Sean Grant on Dirty Harry, Taxi and The Shadow.

His repeat victory did not come easily since a 4 way tiebreaker between Elwin, Eden Stamm, Martin Hotze and Bowen Kerins was needed to determine which one of them would advance to the finals. After a resounding victory on Dirty Harry, Elwin found his groove and found his way to a $10,000 check, a six foot 100lb. trophy and the bragging rights as back-to-back World Pinball Champion.The heart pounding was not quite over in Division A as Jorian Engelbrektsson and Paul Madison played a tie breaker on Corvette to determine the second place winner. Englebrektsson took second and $3,500, Madison placed third winning $2,000 and Sean Grant rounded out the winner board with a 4th place win and $1,000.

Action was also hot and heavy in Division B with 67 players present to duke it out until late Saturday evening in their attempts to snag a qualifying spot in the top 12. Tense moments of machine malfunction and human error were quickly resolved by PAPA officials. Competing on Tommy, Bram Stoker's Dracula and Fish Tales, Ed Zeltmann became $3,500 richer and the proud owner of one of the largest pinball trophies in the world for his first place win. Sean O'Neill, Sanjay Shah and Brian Shepard took second, third and fourth places respectively.

Division C may have been overlooked by some because of the 167 “novice” competitors, but the final results gave the locals a hometown pride boost. Nearly half of the C Division qualifiers were members affiliated with The Pittsburgh Pinball League and one player, in particular, came to represent what Pittsburghers love most; a long-shot underdog making a run for the top.

Playing until 2:30 a.m. Sunday morning, Blair Love rode the entry madness rising as high as 10th in the standings but more often hit the bubble either coming right below the cutoff or landing in two or three-way ties for the last qualifying spot. Novices began to take eye-opening notice of the scoring system used in PAPA and how much strategy comes into play on the entry tickets. Love left the tournament content in his mind that he would not make the cutoff and decided instead that he would join his team and play in a previously scheduled local baseball game.

Daybreak on Sunday morning found Love on a baseball field, not the multicolored carpet of the PAPA facility. However, after hitting two doubles in four innings of baseball, he left the diamond to the sound of heckling from his own team and their opponents because he was leaving to compete in a pinball tournament.
Of course, he wasn't actually competing yet, but upon checking the final standings at 3:30 that morning, he discovered that he and David Reil were to play a tie breaker to determine which one of them would advance to the finals. A tap on Love's shoulder during his game on Spiderman indicated that he had made the cut to qualify and put him on the road to sweeping every grouping he was in down to the final four. The novice foursome squared off on Attack From Mars, Spiderman and NBA.

Although Love has been a casual player since childhood and had played in the Spring season with the Pittsburgh Pinball League, he volunteered several times that the only game he really knew in the tournament bank was AFM. Even with hours spent playing many of the 400 machines on site, he had never laid hands or eyes on NBA.

Nonetheless, by the time scoring was done on the second game, he had a lock on first place. Mark Steinmann, Love's fellow pinball league member was right behind him in the second place spot. Dan Gutchess and Chuck Czygryn played yet another tie-breaker on Spiderman to determine Gutchess as the third place finalist.
Love, who had played close to 60 hours of pinball and slept about 10 hours total in the last four days before finals found himself holding a gigantic metal trophy and a check for $1,000. Perhaps the adrenaline high coupled with exhaustion caused him to remark dreamily, “None of this seems real.”

But, the solid heft of the four foot trophy was real indeed and was one of several unique artist’s commissions that the PAPA organizers integrated into PAPA 12. Pittsburgh is not just the home of well known sports teams, but also a vibrant art scene. PAPA paired up with artists of the Unicorn Mountain Collective to seamlessly meld art with pinball at the tournament.

The trophies were conceived at Red Star Iron Works in Millvalle. Ranging in size from three to six feet, these heavy twisting blades of metal were awarded to the First Place winner in each division.

Peter Lambert of Red Star explained their desire to capture the playful motion and energy of a pinball. Take a time lapse photo of a multiball as someone is blowing up a game and a new appreciation will be found in the loops and lanes that started out as hot metal.
Aficionados have long appreciated backglass and playfield designs believing the kitchier the better, but this year's PAPA unveiled new functional pinball art. The general public got its first taste of this artistic endeavor at an event held at The Andy Warhol Museum in late July last year. Kevin Martin, PAPA organizer, loaned 10 music themed pins for a month-long exhibit and two custom designed EMs were unveiled.

Mike Budai's Freak Out is a merry pink and orange psychedelic sunrise built from the components of a '68 Williams Doozie while Brian Holderman's Luther's Vendetta veers to a darker edge of pulp comic fiction. Using a Gottleib Dodge City as the building block for his pin, Holderman's black and red design features guns, skulls, half naked women and a spooky clown. Since both pins were completely shopped out before the first designs were painted, it truly was like two new machines had arrived from pinball heaven.

The “new” games inspired other art on the PAPA 12 scene as advertising flyers and a T-shirt designed by Holdermann caused a lot of buzz. But, it was Budai's and Holderman's token designs that became the functional collectable art of the masses. All non-tournament machines were converted to token play and six tokens designed by the two artists caused a minor frenzy when it was discovered that one design, that same creepy clown, had only been pressed 750 times.
By Saturday afternoon word had spread about the ultra rare token and very few of the remainders ended up in machines.It was no surprise that for a good part of the weekend PAPA became the coolest arcade on the planet. The silverball curious mixed with the silverball obsessed in one of the greatest pinball venues in the world.

Crowds milled around every part of the facility creating a happy mix of small kids needing step stools to reach the flippers, pinball legends who remembered when machines from the Classics Division were actually the newest release and folks from all walks of life in-between.

Congratulations to Bowen Kerins, Keith Johnson, Justin Ortscheid and Rick Prince for winning first place in The Classics I, Classics II, Juniors and Seniors Divisions. Congratulations to all the players who entered in the mini tournaments for charity raising over $1,800 for The Bow Wow Buddies.

Kudos to the entire staff for infusing PAPA 12 with so much originality and vitality. It was a pleasure to have enjoyed such a vast, well maintained collection while watching the best pinball players in the world compete.

Each PAPA tournament tops the last so if you haven’t made plans to attend PAPA 13 on August 12-15, 2010, you should. Head on down and see for yourself at least one reason why Pittsburgh is called The City of Champions!

Check out more at the PAPA web site at http://www.papa.org

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