Flash Pinball Machine (Williams, 1979)

Location: Erie, CO
Symptoms: Pinball machine “goes crazy” during play.

I played the machine and the “goes crazy” aspect seemed to be something related to the switch matrix.  I put the machine in Diagnostic Mode and checked the switch status. It seemed to be a row of switches was grounding out intermittently.  The switches would work fine then suddenly there were 4 or 5 stuck switches.

I found the problem at the coin door, with one of the coin switches shorting out against the coin mechanism.  The coin switch was looking pretty beat-up because the owner, or the previous owners, didn’t know how to put Flash into freeplay mode.

With these early solid state machines from Williams, you can put the game into freeplay mode by following these steps:

  1. In game over mode, open the coin door and switch the Up/Down switch to UP.
  2. Press the Advance button.  The Credit/Ball display should show “04 00”.
  3. Keep pressing Advance until the display shows “04 18”. This is the Maximum Credits setting.
  4. In the player 1 display you should see a current value of 20 (default).
  5. Switch the Up/Down switch to Down.
  6. Press the Game Start button (not the Advance button) until the number in the player 1 display is “00”
  7. Press the Advance button, then turn off the power.  When you switch the power back on, it will be in Freeplay mode.

After fixing the short, a few switches needed cleaning and adjusting.  The machine was working fine at this point.

About 2 weeks later, I was called back because the machine was skipping balls, for example going from Ball 1 to Ball 3.  I determined that there was a really sensitive switch on the playfield causing scoring without even shooting the ball.  That, combined with a mis-adjusted ball trough switch, was causing the problem.  The trough solenoid would fire the ball to the shooter lane, and the vibration would cause the sensitive playfield switch to close causing it to score, and the ball trough switch would still be closed because the ball hadn’t left the trough yet.  The machine “thought” the ball had been shot, scored and drained all in a split second, giving the appearance that the ball was skipped.

Once the switches were adjusted, the game was working fine again.

Superman Pinball Machine (Atari, 1979)

Location: Westminster, CO
Symptoms: Wouldn’t boot, flipper not working, drop target reset short, + more

Atari made a hand full of pinball machines before they closed that division to focus solely on video games. Superman is one of two games made with the 2nd generation pinball system.

This machine had not worked for a long while while it sat in a basement.  The RAM batteries had leaked. The owner thought they probably hadn’t been replaced since the 1980’s. So the first task was to get that cleaned up and locate a remote battery pack off of the board.  (Unfortunately, the AnyPin NVRAM module will not work with Atari machines.)

Once I got it to boot, I discovered the left flipper didn’t work.  The flipper coil was badly damaged by something hitting it. A new coil was ordered.

The Atari system has a coil protection circuit that is supposed to shut down the coil power if it detects a shorted coil, in order to protect the drive transistors.  In this case there was a shorted transistor driving the drop target reset coil.  So basically every time another playfield coil was activated, the center drop targets would reset. I replaced the transistor it the coils started acting normally.  It was a bit confusing at first because unlike other pinball machines which use NPN transistors to drive the solenoids, these drive transistors are PNP.

Needless to say, with the lack of service on this machine, all of the rubber pieces were dry, cracking and brittle.  So I replaced all of the rubbers, about 20 burned out lamps, and cleaned the playfield.  The ball was also rusting, so I replaced that, too.

The target switches are hexagonal white, which nobody sells anymore. One of them is broken (and remains that way for now).  Perhaps I’ll run across one at some point, or maybe I’ll take a rectangular target and cut the corners off.

Aside from the target switch, it’s working great.  It’s the first time I played Superman and it seems like a fun game.

The owner let me borrow the complete set of schematics of this machine for scanning and will be available on the Internet Pinball Database (has not been approved as of this date).