Competitors flipping over Pinball Association Championships in Scott


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Cayle George, a 30-year-old video game designer from Seattle, chugged tea from a large plastic jug and snacked on raspberry Fig Newtons Wednesday afternoon after finishing his first three entries in the Professional and Amateur Pinball Association Championships in Scott.

"It's easy to lose track of time and not remember when to eat," he said, gesturing at a styrofoam cooler packed with string cheese and pepperoni on the table beside him.

Mr. George was one of more than 400 competitors in the 14th annual pinball championships. This is the eighth time it has been held at the PAPA World Headquarters, which is housed in a warehouse-style building on Keystone Drive and resembles a large pinball arcade.

A competitor advances based on his best entry. Each entry consists of five games played on five machines of the player's choosing from a field of 10. Though Mr. George had barely made a dent in the number of entries he planned to complete before the qualifying rounds were over, he had already selected the five machines he would use all weekend.

"World Cup Soccer, White Water, Medieval Madness, TX-Sector and Pirates of the Caribbean," he said.

Those are just five of the nearly 450 machines open for play during the competition which runs through Sunday.

With more than $40,000 in prizes at stake, between 450 and 500 people will compete in three difficulty levels. A is the hardest, C is the easiest, and there are extra fields for kids, seniors and fans of classic machines this weekend.

Of the five A division games Mr. George was planning to play, the 1988 TX-Sector was among the most buzzed-about at the tournament.

From its design -- two space-suited men hovering above a neon orange landscape -- to its theme of teleportation, the TX-Sector stood out from the many machines promoting rock bands (the Rolling Stones and KISS), television shows ("CSI") and films ("The Dark Knight," "Johnny Mnemonic" and, of course, "Tommy").

It also has a wicked amount of "tilt," Mr. George said.

"Anybody can learn it, but not too many will play it," he said.

Molly Atkinson, a 32-year-old seamstress and costume designer from Los Angeles, said she has been itching to add a TX-Sector to the collection of pinball machines she keeps at her costume shop.

She said the TX-Sector machine immediately caught her eye. But then again, so did almost everything else on display at the tournament.

"You can't walk into a room full of pinball machines and not say, 'This is awesome,' " said Ms. Atkinson, fiddling with her horn-rimmed glasses. "If you can, there is something wrong with you."

Her fiance, three-time PAPA champion Keith Elwin, 40, of Carlsbad, Calif., took time off from his job repairing pinball machines to accompany Ms. Atkinson to the tournament and defend his title.

Given his track record, Mr. Elwin had no choice but to compete in the A division. But despite his track record, he might not have been the most intimidating player at the tournament.

When standing over a pinball machine, Todd MacCulloch, who is 7 feet tall, cuts a striking figure. As he approached the 10 machines in the B division bank Wednesday afternoon, several of his fellow competitors did double-takes.

Mr. MacCulloch, 35, retired from the Philadelphia 76ers of the National Basketball Association eight years ago for medical reasons and resettled in Bainbridge Island, Wash. He's now a full-time father to his two children and a part-time competitor on the professional pinball circuit.

"I always loved pinball growing up," he said as he sat near the front entrance, collecting nods and greetings from competitors he has encountered on the circuit before. "Now that I can't compete [in the NBA], pinball has filled that void of camaraderie."


Lauren Rosenthal: lrosenthal@post-gazette.com .


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