Revealed: the most significant pinball machine ever

It's Amazing! Startling! Shocking!

Here’s a question: what is the most culturally, historically or aesthetically significant pinball machine of all time?

Humpty Dumpty? Nip It? Gorgar? The Addams Family, perhaps?


Bally’s Nip-It, from 1972, featured in Happy Days, set in the ’60s. Go figure.

In the world of film, the most culturally, historically or aesthetically significant movies are added to the US Library of  Congress’s National Film Registry

A  team of researchers at Northwestern University recently decided to try to figure out what criterion best predicted a film’s inclusion in the Registry.

These guys headed over to the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) (which apparently is a film version of our own very wonderful Internet Pinball Database (IPDb)) and carried out some hard-core Big Data analysis on the fifteen thousand odd films there, taking into account subjective metrics like critical review and awards as well as objective ones like box office sales.

What these boffins discovered is that none of this was good at predicting if a movie made it to the National Film Registry. The thing they found that was correlated most closely with making it onto the Registry was how many times a film was referenced in later movies.

That’s not so surprising. After all, Google uses the number of links to a site as an indication of its importance, and in academia the number of citations a paper receives is used as a guide to its importance.

Addams pinball photo

The Addams Family enjoyed significant sales

Now we haven’t (yet) got a National Pinball Registry in the pinball world, but here’s the thing: What if we take a look at which pinball machines have been referenced most frequently by later machines?

References could be sound clips, phrases or graphics from previous machines, artwork that echoes an earlier title’s art – anything, in fact, that gives a nod to a title from the past.

By doing that we can come up with an objective measure of the most culturally, historically or aesthetically significant pinball machine of all time.

OK, so there’s a few limitations to this. Pinball machines aren’t movies, so maybe this exercise is bogus and shouldn’t be taken too seriously

And since older games lack DMD graphics or sophisticated sounds, it is harder to reference them than newer games.  So the result may be skewed towards DMD-era machines

But anyway, here goes. Following some research by Pavlov Pinball, with plenty of help from Pinsiders and Jonathan Joosten at Pinball Magazine, here it is:

The  Most Culturally, Historically or Aesthetically Significant Pinball Machines Of All Time (using a methodology designed for movies.)

In Fourth place with three references:

  • Earthshaker – referenced by Whirlwind, Twilight Zone, No Good Gofers
  • Pin·bot – referenced by Taxi, The Machine – Bride of Pin·bot, Jack·bot
  • The Addams Family referenced by Twilight Zone, Junkyard, Ripley’s Believe It Or Not
  • Twilight Zone referenced by Red and Ted’s Roadshow, Jack·bot, RBION
pinbot photo

Pinbot was referenced by his charming wife

In Third place, with four references:

  • Whirlwind referenced by Funhouse, Twilight Zone, Red and Ted’s Roadshow, No Good Gofers
  • Mousin’ Around referenced by Red and Ted’s Roadshow, Johnny Mnemonic, NBA Fastbreak, Junkyard (via Crazy Bob)
mousin around photo

Crazy Bob, like Jonathan Joosten, pops up everywhere

In Second place, with five references:

  • Attack From Mars referenced by Scared Stiff, Junkyard, Medieval Madness, Revenge From Mars, Mustang
  • Funhouse referenced by Twilight Zone, Red and Ted’s Roadshow, Johnny Mnemonic, Jack·bot, Safe Cracker

Pat Lawlor‘s games seem to have done particularly well. But then he does seem fond of self-referentialism, if that’s a thing. And with the quality of his games, why not?

But in First place, with at least ten machines referencing it and therefore according to our methodology the  most culturally, historically or aesthetically significant pinball machine of all time (kinda, anyway,) is none other than…

the John Trudeau’s 1992 Bally masterpiece :

Creature From The Black Lagoon

creature from the black lagoon photo

Creech: A very significant figure

referenced by Congo, Judge Dredd, Word Cup Soccer ’94, Theatre of Magic, and Bride of Pinbot 2.0, Junkyard, Scared Stiff, Revenge From Mars, Monster Bash and Flintstones. Maybe even TOTAN too.

That’s good news for Creech owners – until we find some more references to other machines. And unexpected perhaps, considering that the movie of the same name has never made it to the  National Film Registry.

creature from the black lagoon photo


If you think we have missed any obvious references, particularly to the titles mentioned, do please get in contact and let us know.

And which movie was calculated by the boffins at Northwestern to be the most culturally, historically or aesthetically significant movie of all time (despite the pinball machine of the same name having no references to it yet)?

The answer is The Wizard of Oz.

Someone better go and tell Jack…

Special thanks to Jonathan Joosten and Pinside members ALY, jackofdiamonds, DugFreez, Rum-Z, supermatt, loneacer, Taygeta, beaglePuss, HOOKED, Newsom, rai, rollitover, Axl, EchoicStriker, mwong168, EchoVictor, MonkeyGrass, Starscream, calvin12, Kineticross, supercombo, GoodToBeDad, jathomp22, 27dnast, Jojo1111, Miguel351, balzofsteel, mjenison, Robotoes, Hi-Fi, mmr61184, Jgaltr56, kosmo, Thor-NL and any others we have missed out.

Feature photo by MelkiaD
The Addams Familly photo by Stéfan
The Bride photo by BruceTurner
Mousin’ Around photo by PhotoFox5000
CFTBL backglass photo by Florence Ivy
Lego CFTBL photo by Bricks of Horrors

5 Comments on Revealed: the most significant pinball machine ever

  1. Actually, Creature has even more references than those listed. *Tales of the Arabian Nights* has a “Move your car(pet)!” joke, several of the drive-in characters have cameos in *Judge Dredd,* and *The Flintstones* has the same angry guy trying to order a bronto rib as well.

  2. Would Doctor Who not be a reference to Pinbot in the core multiball mechanic?

  3. Creature is also in Monster Bash, right? Wow, lots of refs.

  4. david roberts // 26th January 2015 at 11:36 am // Reply


    I don’t suppose it’ll affect the published findings, but is Taxi a record-holder for having the most references to earlier games (six, on the translite ‘Play Now’ poster)?

    Of course, Twilight Zone has the sounds of Pat Lawlors’ five previous games, and there’s that button-code routine on Star Trek Next Gen that dislays the emblems of Steve Ritchie’s previous designs. I was shown it once, but can’t recall how many games are in it.

    Yours, david (aka Jay Walker).

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