When Pinball Was Deemed Immoral & Outlawed in Major American Cities

I remember the early days of the video arcade, where my friends and I went to have fun and spent our parents’ cash on Galaga, Robotron 2084, or--if you were a really big spender--Dragon’s Lair. Then, when we’d get home, and we would see scare pieces on the national news about the evils of the very arcades we had just visited, dens of drugs and depravity! Where were *those* arcades, we wondered.

Nothing has changed, it seems. Let’s go back nearly 80 years to another moral panic: pinball.
As these two mini docs show, in the 1930s and ‘40s pinball was banned in cities like New York (by mayor and future airport Fiorello LaGuardia) and Chicago because of its association with organized crime, but also the appeal it had to the children of the working class.

They kind of had a point: early pinball machine were purely games of chance, which put it very close to gambling. (A modern pachinko machine is closer to these early versions.) Like a carny game, you paid your money, and you watched as the ball careened down the table, out of your control.




But with the invention of user-controlled flippers that sent the ball back in play, these games of chance became games of skill. But that didn’t stop some moral crusaders.

And, as several pinball fans have found out--like the gentleman in the VICE doc below who wanted to open a pinball museum--antiquated laws remained on the books from those early years and had never been changed for modern times.

Roger Sharpe, known as “The Man Who Saved Pinball,” even went to a Chicago court in 1976 to prove that pinball was a game of skill. In a scene that sounds perfect for a final act in a movie, Sharpe, with his barbershop quartet mustache and groovy outfit, played pinball in front of legislators. Calling shots like a pool player might, he soon convinced the court that skill was everything. Sharpe would go on to become a star witness in similar hearings in Ohio, West Virginia, and Texas over their pinball laws.

Ironically, while video games replaced pinball in most arcades, home systems and computers replaced the need for arcades. It’s now a perfect time for these purely analog and tactile machines to make a comeback. Hell, a rock band might even make a musical about it one day.

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Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the artist interview-based FunkZone Podcast and is the producer of KCRW's Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.

Chess Grandmaster Garry Kasparov Relives His Four Most Memorable Games

FYI: If you sign up for a MasterClass course by clicking on the affiliate links in this post, Open Culture will receive a small fee that helps support our operation.

Many consider Garry Kasparov one of the greatest chess players of all time. And for good reason. In 1985, at the age of 22, Kasparov defeated the reigning champion Anatoly Karpov. From that moment, until his retirement in 2005, he dominated. For the next 225 out of 228 months, he was the #1 ranked player in the game. Above, in a video created by The New Yorker, Kasparov "replays some of his most unforgettable games," and "relives the happiest and the most painful moments of his career," including:

  • Garry Kasparov vs. Anatoly Karpov: World Championship Match 1985
  • Garry Kasparov vs. Anatoly Karpov: World Championship Match 1987
  • Garry Kasparov vs. Viswanathan Anand: PCA-GP Credit Suisse Rapid Final Blitz Playoff 1996
  • Garry Kasparov vs. Deep Blue: I.B.M. Man vs. Machine 1997

In recent months, Kasparov has also created an online course for Masterclass, Garry Kasparov Teaches Chess, which--in 29 video lessons--offers a deeper exploration of his chess theory, tactics, and strategy.

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Professional Scrabble Players Replay Their Greatest Moves: Their Most Improbable, Patient & Strategic Moves of All Time

If ever the creators of the musical The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee are casting about for sequel-worthy source material, we suggest they look no further than The New Yorker’s video above, in which professional Scrabble players replay their greatest moves.

The bingo—a move in which a player uses all seven tiles on their rack, earning a bonus 50 points—figures prominently.

It seems that top ranked players not only eye their racks for potential bingos, they’re constantly calculating the odds of drawing a next-turn bingo by getting rid of existing tiles on a three or four letter word.




And what words!

The desire to win at all costs leads top seated players to throw down such ignoble words as “barf” and “mayo” in an arena where rarified vocabulary is the norm.

How many of us can define “stopbanks," 2017 North American champion Will Anderson’s winning word?

For the record, they're continuous mounds of earth built near rivers to stop water from the river flooding nearby land….

The pros’ game boards yield a vocabulary lesson that is perhaps more useful in Scrabble (or Banangrams) than in life. Look ‘em up!

aerugo

capeskin

celom

enginous

gox

horal

jupon

kex

mura

oxeye

pya

uredele

varve

zincate

Don’t neglect the two-letter words. They can make a one-point difference between a major win and total and unmitigated defeat.

ag

al

da

ef

mo

od

oe

qi

xi

yo

Careful, though—“ir” is  not a word, as Top 40 player Jesse Day discovered when attempting to rack up multiple horizontal and vertical points.

Bear in mind that challenging a word can also bite you in the butt. Busting an opponent’s fake word play costs them a turn. If the word in question turns out to be valid, you sacrifice a turn, as top 100 player, Princeton University’s Director of Health Professions Advising, Kate Fukawa-Connelly, found out in a match against David Gibson, a previous North American champ. Had she let it go, she would’ve bested him by one point.

Appear even more in the know by boning up on a glossary of Scrabble terms, though you’ll have to look far and wide for such deep cuts as youngest North American champion and food truck manager, Conrad Bassett-Bouchard’s “forking the board,” i.e. opening two separate quadrants, thus preventing the opposing player from blocking.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on March 20 for the second installment of Necromancers of the Public Domain at The Tank. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

David Lynch Teaches Typing: A New Interactive Comedy Game

Typing programs demand some patience on the part of the student, and David Lynch Teaches Typing is no exception.

You’ve got 90 seconds to get acclimated to the cruddy floppy disc-era graphics and the cacophonous voice of your instructor, a dead ringer for FBI Deputy Director Gordon Cole, the hard-of-hearing character director David Lynch played on his seminal early 90s series, Twin Peaks.

Things perk up about a minute and a half in, when students are instructed to place their left ring fingers in an undulating bug to the left of their keyboards.

That second "in"? Not a typo (though you'll notice plenty of no doubt intentional boo-boos in the teacher's pre-programmed responses...)




The bug in question may well put you in mind of the mysterious baby in Lynch’s first feature length film, 1977’s Eraserhead.

On the other hand, it might not.

David Lynch Teaches Typing is actually a short interactive comedy game, and many of the millennial reviewers covering that beat have had to play catch-up in order to catch the many nods to the director’s work contained therein.

One of our favorites is the Apple-esque name of the program’s retro computer, and we'll wager that frequent Lynch collaborator, actor Kyle MacLachlan, would agree.

Another reference that has thus far eluded online gaming enthusiasts in their 20s is Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing. Take a peek below at what the virtual typing tutor’s graphics looked like around the time the original Twin Peaks aired to discover the creators of David Lynch Teaches Typing’s other inspiration.

David Lynch Teaches Typing is available for free download here. If you’re anxious that doing so might open you up to a technical bug of nightmarish proportions, stick with watching the play through at the top of the page.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her March 20 in New York City for the second edition of Necromancers of the Public Domain, a low budget variety show born of a 1920 manual for Girl Scout Camp Directors. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Cult Director John Waters Hosts a Summer Camp for Naughty Adult Campers: Enrollment for the 2018 Edition Opens Today

I hated sports at camp, so at this camp I think we should reward every team that loses. This would be the camp where the fat people get picked first in dodge ball. 

- Filmmaker-cum-Camp Director John Waters

I can think of many children who would scramble toward the refuge of the compassionate statement above, but Camp John Waters is a decidedly adult activity.

The Pope of Trash shares actor Bill Murray’s relish for oddball settings in which he can meet the public as something close to a peer. But whereas Murray specializes in surprise drop-in appearances—reciting poetry to construction workers, crashing parties—Waters favors more immersive experiences, such as hitchhiking coast to coast.

His latest stunt brought him and 300 fellow travelers to a rustic Connecticut facility (from Sept 22-24) that normally hosts corporate team building events, family camps, and weekend getaways for playful 20-to-30-somethings keen to make new friends while zip lining, playing pingpong, and partying in the main lodge.

ARTnews pegged the inaugural session thusly:

 The Waters camp combines two of the more absurd developments in contemporary leisure: the celebrity-based getaway (see also: the Gronk Cruise) and a certain recreational aesthetic that seems to advocate for a sort of developmental purgatory.

Here,  there were no reluctant, homesick campers, weeping into their Sloppy Joes. This was a self-selecting bunch, eager to break out their wigs and leopard print, weave enemy bracelets at the arts and crafts station, and bypass anything smacking of official outdoor recreation, save the lake, where inflatable pink flamingos were available for aquatic lollygagging.

“Who really wants to go wall climbing?” the founder himself snorted in his welcoming speech, adding that he would if Joe Dallesandro, the Warhol superstar who according to Waters "forever changed male sexuality in cinema," waited up top.

Naughty references to water sports aside, certain aspects of the camp were downright wholesome. Pine trees and s’mores. Canoes and cabins. Presumably there was a camp nurse. (In Waters' ideal world, this position would be filled by Cry Baby's Traci Lords.)

Waters’ recollections of his own stint at Maryland’s Camp Happy Hollow seem primarily fond. It makes sense. Anyone who truly loathed summer camp would be unlikely to recreate the experience for themselves and their fellow adults.

Camp Waters harkens back to the 1950s transgressions its director merrily fesses up to having participated in: unfiltered cigarettes and short sheeted beds, circle jerks and panty raids. From here on out the subversion will be taking place in the sunlight.

Another special camp memory for Waters is regaling his cabin mates with an original, serialized horror story. He retells it on Celebrity Ghost Stories, above:

At the end there was this hideous gory thing and then all the kids had nightmares and their parents called the camp and complained — and I’m still doing that! It was the beginning of my career…. It was a wonderful lesson for me as a 10-year-old kid that I think helped me become whatever I am today. It gave me the confidence to go ahead, to believe in things, to believe in behavior I couldn’t understand, to be drawn to subject matter I couldn’t understand.

Registration for Camp John Waters 2018 opens today at noon, so grab the bug spray and get ready to sing along:

There is a camp in a place called Kent

It’s name is Camp John Waters

For here we come to spend the night

For we all love to fuck and fight

Camp John Waters - rah rah rah!

Camp John Waters - sisboombah!

Camp John Waters - rah rah rah!

Three cheers for Camp John Waters!

Could Waters’ own contribution to such camp classics as Meatballs, Little Darlings and Wet Hot American Summer be far behind?

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. She attended Gnawbone Camp in Gnawbone, Indiana, recapturing that happy experience three decades later as the Mail Lady of Beam Camp.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Neil deGrasse Tyson is Creating a New Space Exploration Video Game with the Help of George R.R. Martin & Neil Gaiman

Although Neil deGrasse Tyson is somewhat hesitant to go in on plans to terraform and colonize Mars, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t like a good ol’--yet science-based--video game. Several outlets announced recently that the videogame Space Odyssey, spearheaded by deGrasse Tyson--one of America’s main defenders of logic and Enlightenment--has surpassed its Kickstarter funding goal. The game promises to send players on “real science-based missions to explore space, colonize planets, create and mod in real time."

In the game, according to deGrasse Tyson, “you control the formation of planets, of comets, of life, civilization. You could maybe tweak the force of gravity and see what effect that might have.” It will be, he says, “an exploration into the laws of physics and how they shape the world in which we live.”

The game has been forming for several years now, and most importantly to our readers, has called in several sci-fi and fantasy writers to help create the various worlds in the game, as they have aptly demonstrated their skills in doing so on the printed page. That includes George R.R. Martin, currently ignoring whatever HBO is doing to his creation Game of Thrones; Neil Gaiman, who creates a new universe every time he drops a new novel; and Len Wein, who has had a hand in creating both DC’s Swamp Thing and Marvel’s Wolverine. Also on board: deGrasse Tyson’s buddy Bill Nye, former NASA astronaut Mike Massimino, and astrophysicist Charles Liu.

The idea of world/galaxy-building is not new in video games, especially recently. No Man’s Sky (2015) features “eighteen quintillion full-featured planets” and Minecraft seems limitless. But Space Odyssey (still a temporary title!) is the first to have deGrasse Tyson and friends working the controls in the background. And a game is as good as the visionaries behind it.

 

According to the Kickstarter page, the raised funds will go into “the ability to have this community play the game and engage with it while the final build is underway. As the Kickstarter gaming community begins to beta test game-play and provide feedback, we can begin to use the funds raised via Kickstarter to incorporate your modding, mapping and building suggestions, together building the awesome gaming experience you helped to create.”

DeGrasse Tyson will be in the game himself, urging players onward. There’s no indication whether Mr. Martin will be popping up, though.

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Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the artist interview-based FunkZone Podcast and is the producer of KCRW's Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.

How to Win at Texas Hold ‘Em: A Free MIT Course

In 2015, we featured a short MIT course called Poker Theory and Analytics, which introduced students to poker strategy, psychology, and decision-making in eleven lectures. Now comes a new course, this one more squarely focused on Texas Hold 'Em. Taught by MIT grad student Will Ma, the course "covers the poker concepts, math concepts, and general concepts needed to play the game of Texas Hold'em on a professional level." Here's a quick overview of the topics the course delves into in the 7 lectures above (or find them here on YouTube).

  • Poker Concepts: preflop ranges, 3-betting, continuation betting, check-raising, floating, bet sizing, implied odds, polarization, ICM theory, data mining in poker
  • Math Concepts: probability and expectation, variance and the Law of Large Numbers, Nash Equilibrium
  • General Concepts: decisions vs. results, exploitative play vs. balanced play, risk management

You can find the syllabus, lecture slides and assignments on this MIT website.  How to Win at Texas Hold 'Em will be added to our collection, 1,300 Free Online Courses from Top Universities.

Follow Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet, sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

If you'd like to support Open Culture and our mission, please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us provide the best free cultural and educational materials.

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