Every May, there is an annual 32-player pinball tournament held in Somers Point, New Jersey, just a stone’s throw away from the home of wrestler King Kong Bundy: Atlantic City. The tournament was dreamt up by one man, Ken Rossi, and he has been hosting the tournament in his well-stocked gameroom for the past three years. The tournament attracts some of the best players in the Northeast, but more popular than the tournament itself are the posters that Mr. Rossi has created that promotes not only the tournament, but the pinball hobby as well. Mr. Rossi has sold his posters across the US, and internationally for that matter, for his small basement tournament. Never has a tournament, from Pinburgh on down to local league tournaments, had such a unified vision and integrated theme. Because of demand, Mr. Rossi has had to up the limited production run of this year’s posters, and also consider re-running past posters that sold out quickly. I had the chance to ask Ken Rossi about the challenges of running a tournament out of his home and pick his brain about the artistry associated with the Pinsanity project.
Credit Dot: This past May, you hosted the third yearly incarnation of the Pinsanity tournament. Can you give us some info about the tournament and its history?
Ken Rossi: After buying my first pinball machine in around 2009, I became quickly addicted as many of us do. I started to look for tournaments and shows locally or within a few hours drive to dive deeper into the hobby. I was told to go to a tournament at a guys home in Broomall, PA–his name was Rick Prince. After seeing Rick’s collection and having a ton of fun, I knew I had to eventually host my own tournament and invite him and the rest of those folks to my house. It took me a few years to build my collection to where I felt it was tournament worthy. While building, I would attend other tournaments and get ideas of how to run things: formats, game settings, etc. My collection quickly grew from 1 game to 3 games to 16 games. I had to finish off the garage, build the gameroom, restore the games, and learn to do board work–that’s how Pinsanity v1.0 was born. The Tournament is an all day event. The first half of the tournament is generally match play format similar to Pinburgh. I use Brian Smith’s software for that which is called Monthly Masters Tournament–you can buy it on iTunes for the iPad. This seeds the players for the second half of the day, which is some sort of elimination style format. Next year will be a new format I’m working on: survivor style with a double elimination twist. We also do a side tournament usually with 2 or 3 classic games which is played like a PAPA style Bank, and it has its own payout and is usually $3 or $5 per entry.
CD: Can you highlight some of the games that appeared at this year’s tournament?
KR: This year we had World Cup Soccer, Theatre of Magic, Creature from the Black Lagoon, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Judge Dredd, Demolition Man, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, AC/DC, Jurassic Park, Ripley’s Believe It or Not, Lord of the Rings, The Machine: Bride of Pinbot, High Speed, King Pin, Airborne Avenger, Conquest 200, Centaur…that’s most of them, but I might be missing some!
CD: The tournament is limited to 32 players…why the cap?
KR: Really, the cap is limited for two reasons. First, I just don’t have the space for more people to be comfortable, especially if the weather is bad. Luckily every year the weather has cooperated–we like to move games outside under tents for the side tournament, and put ping pong and foosball outside so people can unwind between rounds, I like to make it feel a little like a mini-festival. The other reason is the amount of games to people ratio. I like to have plenty of games in case something breaks, which something always does. And for the finals, the one thing you don’t want is people waiting around for games to end late into the night.
CD: How stressful is it running AND playing in your own tournament?
KR: It can be extremely stressful, especially if you are the one fixing the games, designing the posters and shirts, ordering the food and preparing your home for 30-40+ people to invade, all while doing your normal day to day stuff, like running a company. The stressful part for me is probably doing all the artwork for the posters and T-shirts, getting everything printed and coordinated, and building the trophy each year… but it is also the part I most love to do. As far as playing in the tournament, I’ve played terrible at Pinsanity every year so far. You’re always getting pulled in different directions, so I really do it for the folks that come…I can play well at THEIR tournaments when I’m not feeling so pressured.
CD: What are some of the highlights from the first three years of Pinsanity?
KR: Well, there are always some incredible players that come from the Northeast…lots of guys in the Top 100 play at this tournament so some unbelievable scores get put up and matches get played. How fast the registration fills up is also amazing. I’m glad people enjoy the tournament that much! A non-pinball related highlight for me was during Pinsanity v1.0–my friend Ewan Dobson played guitar during the dinner break. He’s pretty unbelievable on guitar. Do yourself a favor and check out some of his YouTube videos here.
CD: The main reason this tournament is so widely known across North America is because of the fantastic posters you make to promote the event. Why did you decide to make posters for an event with such a limited number of attendees?
KR: I started making the artwork and posters because I wanted Pinsanity to feel more like an special event or festival about pinball then just a tournament on a Saturday at some guys house in Jersey. I live five minutes from the beach so some of the artwork, like the roller coaster and Ferris Wheel in Pinsanity v2.0, are sort of attributed to the location I’m from. There is a theme throughout, and each year I try and decorate the gameroom or trophy with bits of those elements. Last year when you registered, the day of the tournament, everyone was given a small toy alien, some of them are marked with prizes like a free t-shirt or free poster, this year everyone got small astronauts. Next year everyone will get dinosaurs…I hope I’m not giving to much away! The theme of the tournament is just something I really like to play off of creatively, and it helps me procrastinate from doing my real job!
CD: Can you describe the printing process? Each poster is hand-printed and signed by you?
KR: The printing process is basically two color silk screen printed on a nice heavy paper. I get my posters printed at Enemy Ink in Florida, these guys do really great work. I sign and number each one and ship them to pinball enthusiasts all over the world…it is really an honor to see pictures of the posters I designed hanging in other peoples gamerooms. The pinball community is a tight knit group of amazing, kind and friendly people…it is a special hobby that deserves a little artwork.
CD: Are you a graphic artist by trade?
KR: Yes, I went to school for fine art and graphic design near Philadelphia. I now own a small design company called Evolve Studios, and we mostly focus on print and web design and development.
CD: How did you arrive at the original “Mortal Man vs. Machine” theme?
KR: I’m not really sure how that came about, but pinball is really a physical battle between you and the machine. For Pinsanity v1.0, I came up with that when I was designing the robot made of pinball parts–I wanted something that felt like the winner was not only battling all the other players at the tournament but in the end had to defeat the machines to take home the trophy. I’ve always been into mechanical things and robots and space aliens and time travel…so I just kind of ran with it.
CD: Each poster seems to add to an overall story. Can you elaborate on that? At what point did you decide to approach the posters in that way?
KR: Yes there is a story or theme…sort of. Pinsanity v1.0 was about man fighting an evil robot constructed of pinball parts. He got defeated by Chris Newsome (winner of Pinsanity v1.0.) People wanted the robot to be integrated into the following year’s theme, but that wouldn’t totally make sense, so I decided from that point forward I would put parts of every past poster into the current one. So I turned the robot into scraps and made him a pinball machine as you can see in v2.0.
In Pinsanity v2.0, the aliens steal that pinball machine in hopes to resurrect their original evil robot. The aliens succeed in stealing the machine but not before Koi Morris (winner of Pinsanity v2.0) battles them into outerspace.
In Pinsanity v3.0 is about retrieving the Machine from the aliens and bringing it back to Earth to keep Humanity safe from the most evil pinball machine ever made.
For Pinsanity v4.0, well …. lets just say they make it back to earth, but they’re a few million years in the past!
CD: Even though they are limited to fifty per run, are you thinking of reprinting prior posters collectors may have missed?
KR: The first two years were limited to fifty. This year’s was limited to 90 because of demand. I have thought about re-running the older posters, if I did I would probably make them a limited version–maybe different colors or just something different so the original short run keeps its integrity and collectability. Not that they will be worth anything…but you never know…
CD: How humbling is it to know that your art is hanging in game rooms across North America?
KR: Its extremely humbling to know not only is my artwork in some incredible game rooms in America, but I have sent posters all over the world: Canada, New Zealand, Australia, France, The Netherlands and more! I love that people around the globe like the work and enjoy playing pinball as much as the rest of us do.
CD:With the word spreading about Pinsanity through the popularity of the posters, is there any chance that you will expand the tournament next year to include more players?
KR: I would like to expand the tournament, but right now its just not possible, unless I move or decide to get a bigger location it will probably just stay the size it is. I’m good friends with another collector about fifteen minutes away, so this year we had a tournament the night before at his house from 9pm to 2am called Pinsomnia – these two tournaments may piggy back again or could turn into a full weekend event with Saturday and Sunday tournaments! [Ed. note: Pinsanity? Pinsomnia? C’mon! Ken comes up with the coolest tournament names, doesn’t he! Please make Pinsomnia posters!]
CD: This project seems like a labour of love. At $25 per poster, shipping included. There doesn’t seem to be much money to be made here. Am I correct?
KR: Yep totally a labor of love, I make a few bucks on each poster but in reality the time invested and spent doing everything actually costs me money, its about making something people can enjoy and helping the pinball community and pinball in general grow and survive.
CD: T-shirts with the same design as the poster are also available. Is this the first year for them?
KR: Nope I’ve done T-shirts for all three years. They are just very limited because of the sizes and cost. I dont want to have 20 xxl shirts sitting here that I can’t get rid of, so I do a small run mainly for the guys that show up at the tournament.
CD: A question unrelated to the Pinsanity project. What are your absolute keeper games in your collection that you never get tired of playing? Any games currently on your radar you’d like to add?
KR: I like games that are good tournament playing games, so games like Bram Stokers Dracula will probably never leave, and others like Centaur, High Speed, Lord of the Rings, too. I would like to get another Funhouse, and maybe add a game like White Water or an older Solid State game like Harlem Globetrotters On Tour to the collection.
CD: I’d like to close with a philosophical question…who IS winning in the battle in the recent resurgence of pinball? Man OR machine?
KR: I would have to say the Machines are still winning, men come and go but I have machines that are 40 years old and play like the day they came out of the box, not to many men can say that!
Ken Rossi’s Pinsanity posters are available directly by contacting Mr. Rossi at firstname.lastname@example.org. As of writing, only the 2014 edition, V3.0, are available, but are extremely limited. Best to buy them ASAP if you want one. Pricing is set at $25USD including shipping within the USA, $30USD including shipping to Canada, and $35USD including shipping to Australia. T-shirts from the 2014 tournament are also available for $25USD, but sizing is limited. Check the below Pinside link for sizes. Look for V4.0 of the poster (and the tournament) in May of 2015.