Saturday, August 14, 2010

From around the world, pinball wizards come to amateur championship in Scott

Saturday, August 14, 2010
By Anthony Fenech, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

There they stood, side-by-side, two pinball players, flipping away.

One was a man, the other a woman, and their approach to the game was as starkly different as the white exterior and colorful interior of the Scott building that is housing the 13th annual Professional Amateur Pinball Association World Championships.

Friday, on the second qualifying day of the this year's tourney, Julie Gray and Paul Jongma had one thing in common: Both were human pinballs.

"This is a great release," said Ms. Gray, after stepping away from the Wheel of Fortune machine. "To come here and see the friends I've met, it's ..."

She was cut off before she could finish.

"Julie. Iron Man!," said a worker, before Ms. Gray replied with, "Gotta go," and scurried off to the Iron Man machine.

Before they started bouncing from machine-to-machine on the red carpet that signifies the 50 tournament machines from the other 375, the two began a series of five games -- at the same time, right next to each other.

She walked up and placed her diet soda at the side. He did the same with a water. She held an upright position and he was crouched. She wore headphones, listening to 1980's hits as she flipped, with a brace on each wrist for her carpal tunnel. He was bobbed and weaved so much his sunglasses fell off.

"There's so many pins, so little time," said Mr. Jongma, a 31-year-old from Groningen, Netherlands. He could only speak for a second, between games of Indianapolis 500 and the more recent Twilight.

The two are among 300 to 400 players from around the world who will be competing for a top prize of $10,000.

The differences between the two speak to the two mindsets that attend the championships each year.

"It's not so much competing as it is the love of playing," said Ms. Gray, 47, of Seattle.

That view contrasts with Mr. Jongma's, who said that after coming across the game in a coffee shop years ago, "I wanted to be the best in the world, no matter what it takes."

He is ranked 13th in the world. To claim the No. 1 spot, he'll have to qualify with enough points for Sunday's final round at 11 a.m. and dethrone two-time defending champion Keith Elwin.

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