Mapping pinball trends for the casual enthusiast…

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NEWS: Python Anghelo’s Pinball Circus to be produced!

News broke at the Southern Fried Gameroom Expo on Sunday that a company called Circus Maximus Games will be producing a version of Python Anghelo’s prototype masterpiece Pinball Circus. Southern Fried’s Twitter feed broke the story giving just a few details: Circus Maximus is building two whitewood test tables, twelve prototype models, followed by a regular run of games with a production number yet to be determined. They also provided the picture to left of one of the Pinball Circus playfields, which is signed by the pinball vampire himself.

You had the feeling some sort of Python Anghelo project was on the horizon. From his final interview with Spooky Pinball, his last show appearance at the Louisville Arcade Expo and the final video released to his fans on Kickstarter and Pinside, you could tell something was bubbling just beneath the surface that Mr. Anghelo was excited to talk about. There was lots of speculation that he spent the final months before his death doing what he loved: designing pinball machines. This is probably one of the fruits of his final hours labour. How fitting that Mr. Anghelo’s legacy will be carried on by producing his controversial Williams design, a design that turned out to be his last for the company.

I had the pleasure of playing this rare game at the Pinball Hall of Fame in Las Vegas. The production run of the game sits at just two prototype units. The Hall of Fame machine was donated to operator Tim Arnold by longtime Williams honcho Steve Kordek, and each play on the machine will run you one dollar. Much has been said about its unique four level vertical design, and most of it has to do with its novelty and rarity. There is not much to the gameplay–it is very simple and quite repetitive. The game sits inside of a modified upright arcade cabinet, and a DMD is located in the play area itself, a la Cirqus Voltaire. Gameplay focuses on progressing through the three rings of a circus represented by three different playfields. The fourth, and last, playfield represents a final battle with a circus clown. The game has odd flipper configurations throughout: the main playfield has off-set pair of primary flippers, while the third has only one right flipper with a kicker in place of left. After three or four games on the Pinball Circus, I had done all that there was to do in the game.

The main tagline associated with Pinball Circus from those who have played it is: “You’ve gotta play it, at least once.” The translation being: there ain’t that much to it, but it is unique enough to hold your attention for a game or two. Nate Shivers, Coast 2 Coast Pinball host and Southern Fried attendee, stated on Facebook that the Circus Maximus folks would be introduing features that Python Anghelo originally planned to have in the game. We can only hope that these changes will make the game a little more deep than the original prototype. Otherwise, Circus Maximus is going to have a hard time finding average customers who are willing to spend thousands of dollars on a one trick pony with so many other viable options in the market today. Nostalgia for Mr. Angelo alone will not sell the game, unfortunately. There will be some collectors who will buy this game in a heartbeat on reputation alone, but folks tight on money and space will probably have a hard time justifying the purchase.

As of press time I couldn’t find any information about Circus Maximus games or who they have on board as “talent”. Hopefully more details will roll out from the attending parties at the Expo once the excitement dies down. Wonder if this means a Zingy Bingy is on the horizon, too?

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PEOPLE: Python’s Sausage Party

While sitting around in a hotel room full of fifteen pinball collectors, drinking beer and watching a pin-tech fix an old EM, I was privy to a story about the late, great Python Anghelo. The story sounds more like folklore than fact, with details added and details taken away in its retelling. I’m not sure if this was a commonly told tale at Pinball Expo over the years, but I had never heard it before. As Jimmy Stewart says, in the film The Man Who Shot the Liberty Valance, “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” Fitting, since Python is a true legend in the industry.

So the story goes, Python Anghelo had a favourite Polish delicatessen in Chicago that he frequented on a regular basis. Ever the lover of smoked and encased meats, this deli was his local source for some of the best Polish kielbasa and sausage in the entire city. This was not Python’s little secret, the deli was known as the go-to meat spot in the Chicagoland area. One day in late 1987, Python stopped in to load up on some of his favourite meaty treats. It was only after the butcher filled the order, that Python noticed the enormously long line to pay the cashier. He was late as it was. Waiting in that cash line would make him much, much later. So, he decided to do what any reasonable artist and pinball designer would: stuff the sausage into his coat and walk out the front door without paying for it. But the owner of the store caught him red handed. He called the cops and imposed a lifetime ban on Python, barring him from ever stepping foot inside his deli again. Python may have lost a little bit of pride that day, but more devastating was the fact that he had lost the privilege of shopping in his favourite Chicago delicatessen.

Was Python ashamed? Probably not. He seemed like a guy that wasn’t ashamed of much. In fact, to celebrate this indiscretion, he created a promotional plastic piece for the game Cyclone that depicted a clown with a trench coat full of sausages, forever venerating the time he got caught stuffing sausages into his own coat. I’m sure you thought those hanging sausages in the clown’s coat were a reference to something phallic!


PEOPLE: My tribute to a Living Vampire

Rest in Peace Python Anghelo

Python was the first larger than life personality I first came across when exploring and researching the people charged with making these silly amusement machines. He was an outspoken genius–a “living vampire”–who could to give two s*its about the financial business end of pinball but rather focussed on the end user’s ultimate experience with the machinery (and the art that encapsulated it). He was almost an anachronism, a complete enigma, and a departure from the more even keel pinball personalities like Pat Lawlor or John Trudeau. Colleagues and contemporaries didn’t know exactly what to say about him or how to describe their experiences with him in interviews, other than “Yeah, that Python…he was something else!” I imagine Python feeling right at home in the “excess” of the 1980s.

After doing some preliminary research, I came across Python’s TopCast interview with Clay Harrell (here) from July 2007. Released during a dark period for pinball, Python was on his game–spewing venom, calling people out and rattling off quotable one-liners (one resides in my signature below) as Harrell sat on the other end of the line at some points in stunned silence and other times in complete disbelief of the audio gold his recorder was capturing. Interwoven between the jabs and putdowns, were brilliant insights, clever comparisons and an almost blind faith in the future of pinball. Knowing Python’s reputation for consuming foreign substances, one can almost conclude he was feeling no pain the evening the interview was recorded, but it allowed the man, who normally went bloody bareknuckle anyhow, to absolutely positively pull no punches and give the listener insight and “truth” into an industry which is normally closely guarded by others who have worked within it. The interview, however, incorrectly paints the man as a bitter, sour, angry old coot, when all reports (and other interviews) depict him as fun-loving, jolly and downright friendly. Looking back now, I can see that some of what was said to Clay may stretch the truth, but that TopCast interview helped create (and maintain) the legend of Python Anghelo, especially for someone like me who only got to play his games and never had the chance to meet him in person. It also helped solidify Mr. Anghelo’s place in the pantheon of pinball geniuses. A place where he rightly belongs. Thank you, Python.