Sunday, August 21, 2005

Confessions of a Lousy Solderer

Another photo of Captain Fantastic? Big deal, right?

Big deal indeed! Shooting down the playfield is the chrome pinball of progress! The trashcan Captain Fantastic pinball machine works! There are still a few minor issues, like four-player games are mandatory and the playfield needs to be cleaned then waxed, but the big game stopping issues are resolved and it plays great.

As soon as I fixed one problem, there were six others waiting for me. After working on the machine for about 12 hours and fighting previous repair attempts, I was about to throw my hands up in resignation, but I took the night off and asked a few questions on pinball usenet group. With some invaluable advice, I hit the machine the next day and got it working. A manual or schematic would have helped.

Although the electro-mechanical pins are extremely complex machines, they can be deciphered with patience. Without the benefit of digital electronics, the old pinball machines are able to keep track of score by player, number of balls per player, very complicated scoring rules and all sorts of special game conditions - like, score 300 points if your ball rolls down this alley, unless that gate is open, then it is only 100 points and the gate only opens if you hit those five targets. And it does all of this 'visibly', as you can see the playfield switch trigger cause a blue spark at the relay, which advances a solenoid that moves the selector to the next position. Once you learn how each components works, you can follow problems backward to the source. Sounds easy.

I am a lousy welder, a terrible solderer, a barely passable shadetree mechanic, perhaps the worst body and fender man ever, an awful electronics technician, a notoriously bad wood worker, a crummy seamtress, a brown thumb, a kitchen hack and my VCR blinks 12:00. While working on Captian Fantastic, I was shocked once, burned the hell out of my finger with a soldering iron and disassembled the 1-4 Player Selector four times before I got it working correctly.

Despite all that, today when I installed the correct fuses and played a game, I was the incredible edible egg! King Tubby! I was Prince Albert IN THE CAN! Perfecto Garcia!

Of all the excellent internet pinball advice, ignore this tip.