In this blog, we look at 99-year-old pinball game designer, Wayne Neyens and the now 14-year-old world pinball champion of 2017, Escher Lefkoff. Both are proof of pinball’s wide-reaching appeal and longevity.
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On July 29, 2017, long-time pinball designer and innovator, Wayne Neyens celebrated his 99th birthday. Neyens was born in Iowa in 1918 and began his path into pinball through a high school job at Western Equipment & Supply. Western, a coin-op company, came to the high school to hire a draftsman. Fortunately for pinball lovers, the company chose Neyens and then hired him after graduation. Neyens left his job at Western in 1939 to work at Gottlieb as a tester and began designing pinball games at Gottlieb. He became Gottlieb’s principle designer in 1951, only 2 years after designing his first game in 1949.
Neyens became an innovator for pinball. He was responsible for inventing:
- The first 4-player pinball machine
- The first 2-player pinball machine, Duette (much more successful than the 4-player games)
- Trap holes
Literally a hole that traps or keeps the ball in it for the remainder of the game. The trapped ball gives points and then is often also used used to reach other scoring holes.
- Gobble holes
A playfield hole through which the ball falls out of play. Usually getting the ball into the gobble hole scores a special or high points.
- Roto targets
Playfield targets that spin to reveal new targets facing the player. Can be either Disc Roto Targets or Carousel Roto Targets.
- Add-A-Ball games
Only a machine that allows the player to earn more than one extra ball per ball in play is considered a “true” Add-A-Ball game. This feature was added to reward players in areas where replays and free games were considered illegal as a form of gambling reward.
Neyens retired from Gottlieb in June 1980. His skillful innovations and pinball machines still challenge and entertain pinball lovers everywhere.
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On April 9, 2017 Escher Lefkoff won the A division of the PAPA 20 World Pinball Championships at the ripe old age of 13. That made Escher the youngest-ever world’s best pinball player.
How did this young teen win the championship? Family, practice, motivation focus and skill. Escher grew up and still lives with his family, including his father who is a nationally rated pinball player. Escher’s father has been taking him to PAPA since Escher was 7. The family also owns 30 pinball machines that Escher has been practicing on for years. Escher had already won Junior Division titles at PAPA in 2011 and 2013 and a world-class ranking with the International Flipper Pinball Association (IFPA) before PAPA 20.
His dad motivated Escher to win by use of a something they call the Ice Cream Challenge. If Escher would reach a pinball goal, his dad would buy him an ice cream cone. As extra inspiration to Escher, his father promised that a win at PAPA would earn Escher his very own ice cream truck…great motivation for an ice cream-loving teen! To help him focus, Escher wears noise-canceling headphones.
Finally, Escher is gifted with great pinball skill. Escher’s father was reported as saying that “Escher is phenomenal at doing something that’s one of the hardest things to do in pinball, which is called schatzing the in-lane,” The Denver Post reported. Neil Shatz is a grand master pinball player who “mastered the use of the alley pass – a dangerous move where you hit the ball at the absolute last second to send it up the opposite in-lane. It soon became known (and feared) in tournament circles as “Shatz’ing the inlane,” PINBALLNEWS.com reported. Ironically, Escher beat the former youngest-ever world pinball champion (now 41), Bowen Kerins, in the final game at PAPA.
Escher turned 14 on May 3, and plans to attend Universal High School, a gifted program, this fall.