Dark Arts of Pinball: Deathsaves

So we covered bang backs back on Saturday. Let’s look at another tournament-illegal pinball maneuver, the deathsave. Here’s video from PAPA showing a couple being successfully performed (1 minute):

It’s another trick that involves the machine being bumped forcefully from the front in a specific way, this time to save balls going down the right outlane. I’ve never done one myself (even if I could muster the force, I don’t really want to). There are tables, including Rocky & Bullwinkle and The Last Action Hero, that are even set up to recognize when they’ve happened and reward it, or at least inform the player: I saw what you did there.

It prioritizes players with sufficient strength to shove the machine hard enough, and risks damaging it, so it’s illegal in tournament play. Due to the nature of tilt sensors, which are typically plum bobs with a conductive ring around them, depending on the details of the table it need not even incur a tilt warning, although it could run afoul of the slam tilt sensor, a separate device. Tilt sensors exist to allow some nudging but punish excessive use, and tilting results in the loss of a ball and any bonus. Slam tilt sensors are designed to protect the hardware itself, and immediately end the current game, which forfeits even the chance to enter initials. Essentially it resets the game’s computer. So, be careful with that.

Dark Arts of Pinball: Bang Backs

An unalterable law of pinball is, when the ball slips between the flippers, or goes down an outlane, it is lost, too bad so sad, cue the bonus count, unless you tilted when you tried to save it, that is.

But this is not actually true.

There are a small number of what we might call “dark arts” in pinball, techniques to save balls that otherwise would not be saveable. This is one of the things that’s interesting about pinball. It’s not like video games where everything that happens is the result of processors moving bits around. There is room for things to happen on a pinball table that the game software has no control over.

One might even make a case, if they were feeling argumentative, that the scoring and the rules have an at-best incidental influence over the real game, which takes place purely in the physical realm. This isn’t completely true: the software awards extra balls, controls playfield toys, enforces tilts, and otherwise manipulates the game’s Newtonian world, but it is true that, if the machine is in working order, and the player never misses their shots, that they can play indefinitely, and even score popcorn points for hitting low-value targets. Pull that off long enough and you can earn arbitrarily high scores, but I hope you’re good enough to hit the same shot over and over thousands of times, though, not to mention have the spare time to do it in.

A consequence of this is, lost balls can be rescued, in a number of ways. One of them is the bang back.

When the ball goes down the left outlane, along the side and bottom of the playfield, if the left flipper is raised and the right flipper left down, a sudden forceful blow by the player’s hand against the lockdown bar at the right spot can impart enough force to the ball to cause it to leap up onto the right flipper, and back into play. Even though the machine “knows” the ball went down the outlane, due to triggering its switch, it generally won’t penalize the player for doing this. The ball-ending event is it coming to rest in the trough, the receptacle for out-of-play pinballs beneath the playfield. Until the ball reaches it, it’s live.

Bang backs are a dark art because they enable extra-long turns, and also the force required to execute them risks damaging both the machine and the player’s hand, and so are illegal in tournament play. But they can be pulled off pretty consistently, as this video from the PAPApinball channel (1 minute) demonstrates:

Another dark art of pinball is the deathsave, but let’s save that for later….