What’s the first thing that pops into your head when you hear the word “flipper”? The young whippersnappers among you might need a quick reminder. Wasn’t there a friendly dolphin by that name way back when? You’re not wrong there, but the flippers we mean are the ones you operate in pinball machines. You know, those flashing, jangling boxes you really only find in the dingy corners of even dingier dives these days, or in the old-school section of your local arcade. The precursors of this game of skill can be traced all the way back to the 18th century. Back then, the basic idea was to balance a small metal ball on a sloped surface for as long as you could and rack up points in the process. It wasn’t until after World War II that Harry Mabs invented the two levers that gave players the chance to “flip” the ball back up into the fray. The designs and rules of the game continued to evolve over the years: Machines for four or six players were considered modern for a time; psychedelic creations took the place of traditional formats, and game manufacturers came up with new elements on a regular basis.
One key invention, however, had already proven necessary all the way back in the 1920s due to the urge many players felt to make up for their lack of finesse with brute force. The “tilt” mechanism punishes those who lift or otherwise abuse the machine by shutting down all of its components, leaving hot-tempered players with no way to stop the ball going down the drain. It’s hard to believe today, but pinball was so popular in the early 1970s that it gave rise to turns of phrase that are still used today. The game had them flipping out, man!