Around the Playfield with Gary Stern

Around the Playfield with Gary Stern
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Around the Playfield with Gary Stern
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Around the Playfield with Gary Stern
Published on
January 11, 2018
Updated on
January 11, 2018
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Gary Stern is the head of Stern Pinball.  You can find out more about Stern Pinball at the Stern website, Facebook page, and Twitter account.

The Start Button: How did you first get into pinball?

My father (Sam Stern) bought half of Williams from Harry Williams in 1947.  In 1947 my father was 35 years old, a young man.  He had been an operator and then was a game distributor in Philadelphia.  He came to Chicago to see his supplier, Harry Williams, also a young man at the time.  Kidding around, he sat behind Harry’s desk, put his feet on the desk, and said “Why don’t you sell me the company?” and Harry said he’d have to think about that.  He went up in his airplane, flew around Chicago for three hours and sold Sam half of Williams.  I was two at the time, so I’ve been in pinball since I was two.

The Plunge: What was the first pinball machine you bought?

I’ve never bought a pinball machine.  (laughs)  I’ve bought some pinball companies, but I’ve never bought a pinball machine – true answer!

The Skill Shot: What is your best pinball achievement or favorite pinball moment?

This is not quite the answer you’re going to expect.  My best pinball achievement is manufacturing pinball machines through the ups and downs for 70 years, since I was two.

Good Shots, Bad Bounces: What is your favorite and least favorite pinball machine?

My least favorite is probably nothing I’ve ever made, because I wouldn’t make a game if I didn’t like it.  My favorite pinball machine – I was just out on the production line, and I saw we were making Guardians of the Galaxy – that’s my favorite machine.  If you had asked me a few months ago I would’ve gone out on the assembly line and saw we were making Star Wars, which would’ve been favorite machine.  I like what we make.  And if I didn’t like it, we wouldn’t make it.  If you go back in the day – which is probably more of what you’d like to hear – some of the old Stern games.  I love Flight 2000, Harry William’s games like that.  I love some of Steve Kirk’s games like Meteor and Stars and Nine Ball, a lot of our old games back in the day.  But today, my favorite games are the games we’re making.

The Wizard Mode: What is your dream theme you’d like to see made into a pinball machine?

Oh, I couldn’t tell you that!

The Tilt: What is the dumbest mistake you’ve made in pinball (mishap moving a machine, messing up trying to fix a machine, etc.)?

They don’t let me fix machines.  (laughs)

[Zach Sharpe who is with Gary says “That’s not true, you fixed a game at the Heads-Up Championship!]

Oh I did, I fixed a game there – what was wrong?  The left flipper – oh yeah, the switch was misadjusted and the switch was closed.  Probably the worst mishap…I must’ve broken a playfield glass at one time.

The High Score: Describe the pinball hobby in one word.


Match – Next Game: Where do you see the pinball hobby in 5-10 years?

Bigger and better.  We’re making more machines, more titles, more variations on those games.  There are some technological improvements that will help both game operation and games in the home.  So I see a lot of growth and a lot of changes.  We do everything pinball – games, accessories, digital, tournaments, tours.  Everything pinball.