11 Playful Pieces of Pinball Slang


You might not know it, but it’s pinball season right now. Forty-one years ago this month, The Who's pinball rock-opera Tommy was released in the U.S., and in just a few weeks, the Professional & Amateur Pinball Association World Championships will be taking place in Carnegie, Pennsylvania.

Pinball in one variation or another has existed since at least the 19th century, with spring-loaded bagatelle devices. (Bagatelle is a billiard-like table game where players try to maneuver balls around wooden pegs.) In the early 1930s, the first coin-operated pinball machines were invented, and after the introduction of flippers in the late 1940s, the popularity of the game soared. But because pinball was viewed by some to be a game of chance (like gambling), it was banned in many cities. In fact New York didn’t lift its ban until 1976.

Get into the game with these 11 pieces of pinball slang.


A pinball enthusiast. Not to be confused with a certain, hell-raising pinhead. Similar is a plungeroo, a pinball-playing addict.


The flashy back panel of a pinball machine is known as the backbox (or "back box"). According to the Internet Pinball Machine Glossary, it is also known as the lightbox. In British English, it is referred to as the backflash. The display section of the backbox is known as the backglass, and often features some amazing art.


According to The New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English, a biff is an extra vigorous hit with a flipper. Some machines have what are called biff bars or anti-biff bars, metal bars placed behind the flippers with the purpose, presumably, of hindering biffing. The word biff has meant to hit or strike since the late 1800s.


A panic flip involves flipping before the ball has a chance to reach the flippers.


A Lazarus ball is a ball that’s come back to life. It’s passed between the flippers but by some bit of extreme chance gets flipped back into play. Named for the Biblical character who was brought back from the dead.


Nudging is cheating, or an expert move, depending on who you’re talking to. Nudging and shaking involves moving the machine just enough to influence the ball, but not enough to result in a tilt, or shutdown of the game. Some pinball video games also feature a nudge or shake feature.


You’ve got flippers and the ball—now how about those bumpers? Bumpers come in two varieties: passive and active. Passive bumpers just sit there while active ones bounce the ball back into play. Mushroom and dead bumpers are types of passive bumpers, while some active bumpers include the thumper, the jet, and the pop.


Also known as a zip ball, a house ball is one that has scored no points. The name may have come from the idea of the ball going back to the house, similar to a hand in a casino card game that the player loses.


Landing your ball in a kick-out hole will score you a certain number of points, depending on the game, before the hole kicks the ball back into play.


Getting your ball in the gobble hole will end the game but also give you bonus points. (According to the Internet Pinball Machine Glossary, this feature is no longer common).


Once your ball enters the drain, that area below the flippers, you can kiss it goodbye. Losing a ball like this is known as draining. The Internet Pinball Machine Glossary lists machines that drain too easily as drain-o-matics.

This Augmented-Reality App Makes the Hospital Experience Less Scary for Kids

Staying in a hospital can be a scary experience for kids, but a little distraction can make it less stressful. According to studies conducted by Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool, UK, distracted patients have an easier time with their appointments and require less pain medication. Now, Co.Design reports that the hospital is releasing its own app designed to keep children entertained—and calm—from the moment they check in.

The Android and iOS app, called Alder Play, was designed by ustwo, the makers of the wildly popular smartphone game Monument Valley and the stress relief tool Pause. Patients can download the app before they arrive at the hospital, choosing a virtual animal buddy to guide them through their stay. Then, once they check into the hospital, their furry companion shows them around the facility using augmented-reality technology.

The app features plenty of fun scavenger hunts and other games for kids to play during their downtime, but its most important features are designed to coach young patients through treatments. Short videos walk them through procedures like blood tests so that when the time comes, the situation will feel less intimidating. And for each step in the hospitalization process, from body scans to gown changes, doctors can give kids virtual stickers to reward them for following directions or just being brave. There’s also an AI chatbot (powered by IBM’s Watson) available to answer any questions kids or their parents might have about the hospital.

The app is very new, and Alder Hey is still assessing whether or not it's changing their young hospital guests’ experiences for the better. If the game is successful, children's hospitals around the world may consider developing exclusive apps of their own.

[h/t Co.Design]

Cell Free Technology
This Pixel Kit Will Let You Play Tetris With Jellyfish DNA
Cell Free Technology
Cell Free Technology

Forget playing Tetris on your phone. Now you can play it with jellyfish DNA. Bixels is a DIY game kit that lets you code your own games using synthetic biology, lighting up a digital display with the help of DNA.

Its 8-by-8 pixel grid is programmed to turn on with the help of the same protein that makes jellyfish glow, called green fluorescent protein (GFP). But you can program it to do more than just passively shine. You can use your phone and the associated app to excite Bixels' fluorescent proteins and make them glow at different frequencies, producing red, blue, and green colors. Essentially, you can program it like you would any computer, but instead of electronics powering the system, it's DNA.

Two blue boxes hold Bixel pixel grids.

Researchers use green fluorescent protein all the time in lab experiments as an imaging agent to illuminate biological processes for study. With Bixels, all you need is a little programming to turn the colorful lights (tubes filled with GFP) into custom images or interactive games like Tetris or Snake. You can also use it to develop your own scientific experiments. (For experiment ideas, Bixels' creator, the Irish company Cell-Free Technology, suggests the curricula from BioBuilder.)

A screenshot shows a user assembling a Bixel kit on video.

A pixel kit is housed in a cardboard box that looks like a Game Boy.

Bixels is designed to be used by people with all levels of scientific knowledge, helping make the world of biotechnology more accessible to the public. Eventually, Cell-Free Technology wants to create a bio-computer even more advanced than Bixels. "Our ultimate goal is to build a personal bio-computer which, unlike current wearable devices, truly interacts with our bodies," co-founder Helene Steiner said in a press release.

Bixels - Play tetris with DNA from Cell-Free Technology on Vimeo.

You can buy your own Bixel kit on Kickstarter for roughly $118. It's expected to ship in May 2018.

All images courtesy Cell-Free Technology


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