Pinball Prominence

you might be playing next to a grand champion

Max Martinson, photos by Andrea Paulseth |

The next time you’re feeling overwhelmed at a crowded bar or restaurant, search the walls for a pinball machine. Walk over, figure out how to get multiball, extra ball, and the super jackpot, then play your heart out until that weird guy finds another person to talk to. While you’re at it, you might just find that you really enjoy it. All of those flashing lights, flippers, buttons, and switches can be intimidating, but it doesn’t take long before you’re playing every time you go out. A lot of people glance over pinball machines as things of the past, but there are a select few who still shred the flippers in hopes of becoming a grand champion.

In fact, pinball is alive and well in Eau Claire. While machines can be scarce from time to time, there are always people willing to hop on and flip an afternoon away. One champion around town, Adam Stephenson, live-streams his pinball games and has a pretty solid online following.

“Pinball is so analog,” says Stephenson, “there’s a real satisfaction that you can feel when you make a shot or get a combo that you can’t get with any other medium.” That satisfaction can be hard to find when you’re just starting out, though, because folks don’t want to drain quarters for frustratingly short games as they hone their skills. Adam suggests that you play with your friends and take advantage of the fact that you can typically get 3 credits for 2 dollars on any machine. Going head-to-head is a great way to increase your match replay and win a few games, especially if you’re playing with a friend who knows what they’re doing. 

Another encouraging fact is that most pinball veterans love to share their knowledge and give support where they can. “I love throwing money at new players,” Adam said, “if you see me playing, approach me. I think that goes for many more experienced players. Most of us love to answer questions, play a few rounds, or just geek out with other people who love pinball.”

Keep your eyes open for machines at bars, restaurants, movie theaters, bowling alleys, or arcades when you’re out. Tuck those quarters away and keep them on hand for an afternoon when you’re feeling adventurous and make some new connections. Don’t be surprised if you work yourself into simultaneous states extreme excitement and frustration – that’s just how it goes sometimes. 

Check out Stephenson's pinball live streams and more on his Twitch profile at