For the most part, a pinball machine is just a pinball machine. To some folks, though, it's a kinetic monument to a simpler time when mindless entertainment didn't necessarily involve sex, hyper-violence or the pixelated undead, a perfectly designed blend of challenge, workmanship and skill. In Tim Arnold's world, it's all these things and more besides. How else to explain his Pinball Hall of Fame, a functioning museum of sorts where more than 100 operational pinball machines spanning seven decades are on show? The Pinball Hall of Fame (or PHoF, as it is awkwardly described on its MySpace page) is a true mecca in a city of replicated ones.
Over the years, Arnold has assembled a vast array of machines from Gottlieb, Bally, Williams and other oddball manufacturers, from gear-and-magnet models to modern digital wonders. Descriptions of each machine's attributed and historic values have been attached to them, most handwritten on index cards. And then, best of all, Arnold invites all-comers to play his machines. All you need is quarters; and if you don't have them, he can change your bills into them.
Arnold has re-cast some of these machines so visitors can best appreciate their inherent beauty. Take, for example, his painstaking public refurbishment of a 1978 Bally machine devoted to the band Kiss. Paying attention to the smallest detail (excepting, perhaps, an actual drop of Ace Frehley's blood in the back glass), Arnold is like an Italian restoration specialist working on the Sistine Chapel. But while both share a certain reverence in their respective circles, only at the PHoF can you both touch the art and shake it around.
In possession of all 384 Gottlieb pinball machines, Arnold claims to have the only complete set of one manufacturer in the world. Sadly, not all of them are on display, thanks to lack of cash, staff and, right now, visitors. When asked to name his favourite machine, he deadpans, 'the one with the box full of coins.' It's a straight response from somebody who owned his first pinball machine at age 14 but who always seemed more interested in the collecting and tinkering than the playing. 'It's all I've ever done. It's all I know,' says the man who refers to himself as the simple ringmaster of this peculiar and beautiful show. 'Someone's got to wear the top hat.'