Nestled somewhere in the consciousness of a middle-aged Ohio man lives the memory of a young boy playing his first pinball machine. Thirty years later, that boy became the 10th greatest player in the world.
His name is Trent Augenstein and he is a competitive pinballer.
It is sometime in the late ’70s and the game is Knockout—a 1975 flagship boxing-themed machine made by the pinball developer giant, Bally. Neon pink and blue-colored fighters sporting long sideburns and striped booty shorts ornament the sides of the white, wooden cabinet. A concerto of dings, rings, whistles, and bells are paired with the clatter of a whizzing steel ball haphazardly darting along a vibrantly painted course.
The boy is in his friend’s parents’ basement in Delaware, Ohio, and much like the time Michael Jordan picked up his first basketball or Paula Deen tasted her first lick of butter, it was a moment of divine purpose.
Ever since I was a young boy, I’ve played the silver ball…
Since 1993, Augenstein has competed in over 500 events, taking home 104 first-place finishes. In addition to competing, he owns and operates Tilt Amusements, a pinball retail and service shop in Delaware.
Augenstein believes we are living in a new golden era of pinball, a renaissance that’s a result of our recent addiction to crushing pixilated candy and cultivating farms on Facebook, which has actually spawned a demand for tangible entertainment.
“We want to get back to something that is real, that we can touch and play, and that’s not just a screen in front of us,” he said. “It is one of the only interactive games left. And unlike video games, it is totally random; with video games you can usually dissect some sort of pattern, but in pinball you can’t control where the ball is going at anytime. It could literally go anywhere.”
And pinball isn’t just a parlor game for Augenstein—it’s his life. If he’s not buying, selling, repairing, or installing, he is on an airplane prepping his thumbs for the Swedish Pinball Open or the Toronto Pinball Championships. This year alone, he has competed in over 35 cities worldwide.
“None of the Americans had gone overseas to play pinball. So in 2012, me and three other guys decided to go over to the Dutch Open, and I ended up winning the thing,” he said.
In addition, he is a founding member of COPA, the Columbus Ohio Pinball Association. (Yeah, that’s real.) The next event is a tournament November 7 at Level One Bar and Arcade in celebration of a spiffy new Game of Thrones machine. Registration is $10 and the proceeds benefit the Epilepsy Foundation of Central Ohio in conjunction with Epilepsy Awareness Month. Another event series on the COPA radar is Flipoff Hunger Columbus 2015, a pinball tournament series benefitting the Mid-Ohio Foodbank. The dates are November 14 at Arcade Super Awesome, November 22 at Level One, and November 29 at 16-Bit Bar and Arcade.
Augestein’s first tournament was in Columbus in 1993 at the old Olentangy Inn. Now, 23 years and 500 tournaments later, he hasn’t lost that fundamental pinball momentum and has yet to plummet past the flippers and into pinball retirement.
In honor of this month’s gamer issue, and our barcade boom, Augenstein offers up his secret spots to find some pinball action in non-arcade settings.
Top 1O Best Non-Arcade Pinball Spots
2177 Hilliard-Rome Rd., Hilliard
(X-Men, Pirates of the Caribbean)
The Library Bar
2169 N High St.
(Kiss, Walking Dead)
4511 N High St.
36O6 Lockbourne Rd.
Mulligan’s Sports Pub
8743 Smoky Row Rd., Powell
Top Notch Vapor
3496 W Dublin Granville Rd.
3O55 Indianola Ave.
(Walking Dead, Ice Cold Beer)
4O S Sandusky St., Delaware
(WWE, Kiss, Star Trek)
116 E Long St.
6O12 E Livingston Ave.