Original image

11 Playful Pieces of Pinball Slang

Original image

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.

Original image
Habibou Kouyate, Stringer, Getty Images
Play a Game to Help Scientists Defeat a Cancer-Causing Toxin
Original image
Habibou Kouyate, Stringer, Getty Images

If you're used to fighting virtual zombies or flying spaceships on your computer, a new series of games available on Foldit may sound a little unconventional. The object of the Aflatoxin Challenge is to rearrange protein structures and create new enzymes. But its impact on the real world could make it the most important game you've ever played: The scientists behind it hope it will lead to a new way to fight one of the most ruthless causes of liver cancer.

As Fast Company reports, the citizen science project is a collaboration between Mars, Inc. and U.C. Davis, the University of Washington, the Partnership for Aflatoxin Control in Africa, and Thermo Fisher Scientific. The team's online puzzles, which debuted on Foldit earlier this month, invite the public to create a new enzyme capable of finding and destroying carcinogens known as aflatoxins.

Aflatoxins form when certain fungi grow on crops like corn, nuts, and grains. Developing countries often don't have the resources to detect it in food, leaving around 4.5 billion people vulnerable to it. When people do eat food with high aflatoxin levels unknowingly, they can contract liver cancer. Roughly a quarter of all liver cancer cases around the world can be traced back to aflatoxin exposure.

The toxin's connection to agriculture is why the food giant Mars is so interested in fighting it. By working on a way to stop aflatoxins on a molecular level, the company could prevent its spread more efficiently than they would with less direct methods like planting drought-resistant crops or removing mold by hand.

The easiest way for scientists to eradicate an aflatoxin before it causes real harm is by making an enzyme that does the work for them. With the Aflatoxin Challenge, the hope is that by manipulating protein structures, online players will come up with an enzyme that attacks aflatoxins at a susceptible portion of their molecular structure called a lactone ring. Destroying the lactone ring makes aflatoxin much less toxic and essentially safe to eat.

The University of Washington launched Foldit in 2008. Since then, the online puzzle platform has been used to study a wide range of diseases including AIDS and Chikungunya. Everyone is welcome to contribute to the Foldit's new aflatoxin project for the next several weeks or so, after which scientists will synthesize genes based on the most impressive results to be used in future studies.

[h/t Fast Company]

Original image
Nervous System
Every Laser-Cut 'Geode' Jigsaw Puzzle is One of a Kind
Original image
Nervous System

If you haven’t picked up a boxed jigsaw puzzle in a while, trust that they’ve undergone a serious transformation since your childhood. One of the most innovative companies in the category is Nervous System, a self-described “generative design studio” that composes computer programs to create puzzles based on patterns found in nature.

Their latest project, Geode, is a line of jigsaw puzzles modeled after agate stone. Like the rest of Nervous System’s puzzle inventory, it has an unusual and dynamic design; it's meant to mimic the band pattern of actual agate created by trapped gas in volcanic stone.

Several geode puzzles are shown
Nervous System

According to Nervous System’s site: “To create the organic shape of the pieces, we designed a system based the simulation of dendritic solidification, a crystal growth process similar to the formation of snowflakes that occurs in supercooled solutions of certain metallic alloys. By varying the parameter space, the system can produce a variety of cut styles. Each puzzle produced features its own unique landscape of interlocking shapes. No two are alike.”

Though lovely to look at, the puzzles utilize Nervous System's "Maze" piece-cutting method, which results in irregular and distorted shapes that may prove "fiendishly difficult" for some.

The 8.5-inch puzzles are made from plywood and feature 180 pieces. You can grab one for $60 at Nervous System’s online shop.

[h/t MyModernMet]


More from mental floss studios