Flying High: The Most Detailed Guide to Genco’s 1935 Flying Colors You’ll Ever See

Flying High: The Most Detailed Guide to Genco’s 1935 Flying Colors You’ll Ever See
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Flying High: The Most Detailed Guide to Genco’s 1935 Flying Colors You’ll Ever See
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Flying High: The Most Detailed Guide to Genco’s 1935 Flying Colors You’ll Ever See
Published on
April 1, 2024
Updated on
May 2, 2024
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Pinball is such an interesting hobby in that there are so many machines widely used in tournaments today which can be many decades old. I mean, think about it - you're playing a game for fame and fortune....on an antique! In an era where e-sports have been widely adopted, there's something really fascinating about competing on a machine that's significantly older than video games.

So today, I'm treating you all to a true classic, Genco's 1935 legend, Flying Colors. I remember seeing this in a major competition somewhere a while back, although it hasn’t made an appearance in quite a bit. It’s always best to be prepared for whatever sort of challenge you run into, so I went over and figured out these rules for when it makes its inevitable comeback. I mean, the machine costs a remarkable $39.50 - what a steal for a tournament game!

Flying Colors Playfield Overview

First, let's address the elephant in the room. While this is technically a five-ball game, you're usually only going to get to plunge once, as you launch all five balls at the same time. This might've been the inspiration behind Bally's Blackwater 100 - which has you start every ball as a three-ball multiball - but you're going to shoot all five balls right away.

Okay. The first thing you're likely going to notice about the playfield is that there's a black track that runs around the outside of the machine. When you launch the balls, they'll orbit the playfield before entering play. Old games like this often had a similar effect, which no doubt was the inspiration behind Stern's Nascar, which hit the scenes 70 years down the line. While Nascar admittedly perfected the art of having balls speed around the playfield, Flying Colors is impressive in that it has no motors whatsoever.

Which reminds me - this is a purely mechanical machine! You put your coin in and push a lever to release all of the balls. You'll then have to press a second plunger - located just below the usual plunger - to elevate all of the balls into the shooter lane. Again, this was pretty common for the time! It's a bit weird, but it's fun to do! Elevate those balls!

Okay, back to the loop around the playfield. You might also notice that there's a hole in the center of the playfield - again, Nascar vibes - and this is our main drain. Fortunately, balls rarely ever end up in the drain on Flying Colors. You'll notice a trough right above it - that's where most of the balls will end up. And it's also where we will score all of our points, as this is the most lucrative - and really, the only lucrative - shot at the table.

You also might've noticed an unusual-looking contraption directly above the drain, which appears to be a little cup with a metal ball in it. This is actually an old-school tilt mechanism known as the "pedestal tilt." When the game starts, a pedestal in the center of the cup will lower down so the ball can roll on top of the pedestal before popping back up. If the machine is shaken too hard, the ball will come off of the pedestal, and the score is considered invalid. Personally, I don't know why we ever gave up on these in favor of the automatic pendulum tilts in use today. Pedestal tilts require discipline, as players need to notice when they've tilted, but moreover, it makes it so that I don't have to wait a minute after a tilt so the bob can stop moving - after all, I can see it just fine! Anyway, don't worry too much about nudging on Flying Colors. Nudging doesn't really come into play too much here.

You might be thinking, "How is that the case? There aren't any flippers, so I need to nudge the game!" And you'd be kind of right, except for the fact that there aren't any bumpers, kickers, or anything rubbery or electric whatsoever. Every feature in this game is a metal rail. And as long as the balls end up in the central area of play, there's not really any reason to nudge since you're going to score some points by getting the balls there.

Speaking of there not being any flippers, there aren't any flippers! You can put your hands on the side of the game if you'd like, but there's no need! Just plunge and watch - give those hands a rest. Plus, it spares you from needing to retreat to the hand sanitizer station before going to get a snack - at least, so long as you aren't playing anything else in the meantime.

Finally, we should probably address the fact that all five balls are colored differently. There's a red ball, a yellow ball, a white ball, a black ball, and a green ball. While the colors might just seem purely aesthetic, they play a significant role in the scoring scheme. The good news is that you don't have to memorize the colors - if you're familiar with Magic: The Gathering, the balls are colored the same as the colors of mana in that game, except substituting yellow for blue. You can also look at the art on the playfield - the colors are represented there, just above the trough - but I'm a big fan of Magic, so I'd suggest you stick to what I'm suggesting.

Alright, now let's take a look at the playfield itself. There are five metal rails - six if you consider the angled rail to be two rails - but I'm just going to say five. The first rail is in the top right corner, and it funnels balls from the entry in the top left corner back over to the left side. While it might seem like you want to avoid this sort of angle, you should still plunge firmly to avoid losing balls to the center drain. I know I mentioned it already, but seriously - you need to avoid that center drain, so make sure you plunge all of the way around.

Anyway, back up to the top-right rail. While this might look like an oversized flipper, it's not - remember, this game has no flippers or flipper buttons! If you look at the side of the game, you'll see these five large discs, but these are not flipper buttons, they're merely artwork meant to represent the five colored balls you're plunging. But don't get confused! These five circles are NOT the same colors as the balls. After all, there are two red circles, but there's only one color red, both in Flying Colors and in Magic.

What was I talking about? Oh, right, the top rail. Anyway, it might seem scary to plunge into that, but any balls that touch the top rail here are guaranteed to end in the trough and may or may not score you some points. We'll get to scoring points later. There's also a gate at the top of this shooter lane area, so it might seem like balls will roll back down the right side of the shooter track and end up in the drain, but thanks to the gate there, they won't! Lots of games have gates - such as AC/DC - but unlike AC/DC, this gate is fixed and won't ever open - it's always a one-way path at all times. No electricity, remember? How would you flip a gate without power? There's probably a way to do so, actually - but I don't know why you would want to do that, considering that the gate is here to prevent balls from rolling back down to the drain.

Anyway, the second highest rail is angled. This angled rail can feed balls either to the left side - the smallest rail in the game - or the right side, which has the second-longest rail in the game. Either way, balls will go to the scoring trough one way or another, it depends on how they bounce around. You can shake the game, I guess, to coax the balls to bounce around in a certain way, but be careful you don't shake the game too much! I mentioned the Pedestal Tilt earlier but didn't mention how sensitive they are. The answer is: very. They're very sensitive! Be careful!

The next two rails serve as a funnel for the angled rail and are pretty indistinguishable from one another, save for the left one being significantly larger than the right. The final rail at the bottom will funnel everything to the trough where all of the balls will be scored. The bottom right area is a curved metal rail which induces a little bit more chaos considering that it's not a straight line, but not too much for it to get too crazy! Again, as long as the balls don't end up in the drain - and they won't, so long as you plunge hard enough.

At this point, you might be thinking, "Hey, this kinda resembles Level 3 of the classic Amiga game Lemmings," and you'd be very right! More on that later, but you might just be imposing flavor onto the game which doesn't otherwise exist. I've researched the artwork on this game for hours, and I'm convinced that it has some significance, but from what I can tell, none of the flags painted onto the playfield - save for the white "Genco" flag - mean anything. Perhaps the game was trying to stake its claim in the pinball market - after all, you can’t establish an empire without a flag.

Shoot, I just realized that a couple of paragraphs back, I mentioned that the left rail was the biggest one at the table, but that was wrong - I swapped the sides. Oops. I think I got a little bit too distracted with the flags. Anyway, as far as scores are concerned, there's no automatic score tally. Instead, you show this game to a bartender (or, in modern times, the scorekeeper/TD) and show them how well you did. We'll talk about scoring in a second since that makes up the entirety of this game's ruleset.

Scoring in Flying Colors

Flying Colors has one of the lowest-scoring schemes in all of pinball. Move over, Fastbreak - the highest score you can possibly get on this machine is 20 points. Yes, that’s a low score, I know! But it’s tough to score highly at all on this machine. Scoring in Flying Colors is entirely dependent on how the balls that land in the trough line up with the colors painted above it. For instance, black is in the middle on the playfield art, so if you land a black ball in the third spot, you’d get some points for that.

Getting one ball in its correct spot is worth two points. So, getting the red ball first is worth two points. Getting the white ball second is worth two points. Getting the black ball third is worth two points. Getting the green ball fourth is worth two points. And getting the yellow ball fifth - or last, depending on how you view it - is worth two points.

Well, that may be a bit misleading. The points you score are based on the number of balls you’ve lined up in total, with the more balls you line up being worth more and more points. So, for what’s above, assume that there are no other balls lined up correctly. If you get two balls lined up right, that’s worth four points: 

  • Getting the red ball first and the white ball second is worth four points. 
  • Getting the red ball first and the black ball third is worth four points. 
  • Getting the red ball first and the green ball fourth is worth four points. 
  • Getting the red ball first and the yellow ball fifth - or last, depending on how you view it - is worth four points. 
  • Getting the white ball second and the red ball first is worth four points. 
  • Getting the white ball second and the black ball third is worth four points. 
  • Getting the white ball second and the green ball fourth is worth four points. 
  • Getting the white ball second and the yellow ball fifth - or last, depending on how you view it - is worth four points. 
  • Getting the black ball third and the red ball first is worth four points. 
  • Getting the black ball third and the white ball second is worth four points. 
  • Getting the black ball third and the green ball fourth is worth four points. 
  • Getting the black ball third and the yellow ball fifth - or last, depending on how you view it - is worth four points. 
  • Getting the green ball fourth and the red ball first is worth four points. 
  • Getting the green ball fourth and the white ball second is worth four points. 
  • Getting the green ball fourth and the black ball third is worth four points. 
  • Getting the green ball fourth and the yellow ball fifth - or last, depending on how you view it - is worth four points. 
  • Getting the yellow ball fifth - or last, depending on how you view it - and the red ball first is worth four points. 
  • Getting the yellow ball fifth - or last, depending on how you view it - and the white ball second is worth four points. 
  • Getting the yellow ball fifth - or last, depending on how you view it - and the black ball third is worth four points. 
  • Getting the yellow ball fifth - or last, depending on how you view it - and the green ball fourth is worth four points.

Okay, I realize that if one ball is worth two points, than two balls being worth four points follows that rule. But what about three balls correctly? If you line up three balls, the game is usually set to award ten points, but it can be set to only be worth six. I prefer ten points because it’s only fair to get bonus points for lining more stuff up.

Getting four balls lined up sounds impossible because how can you line four up without lining the fifth up? Don’t forget that you can drain a ball and only put four into the scoring trough! Of course, that only applies to the yellow ball - if you drain any other ball, that means that not only is that ball impossible to score, but you’ve also rendered the yellow ball completely pointless. If you drain two balls, that also renders the green ball completely pointless unless that happens to be one of the two balls you drain. In any case, if you somehow manage to drain nothing but the yellow ball and line everything else up perfectly, that’s worth fifteen points.

But if you line everything up correctly, then you’ve put up the maximum possible score of twenty points. Well done! Again, like the three-ball score, this might be adjusted based on operator preference and continue to follow the two-points-per-ball rule, but I think most locations would rather give you the bonus points instead. (I also realize that I forgot to mention that the four-ball score might also only award eight points, but again, operators usually prefer to give out more points.) If this is a machine on location, you get a replay for every point you score, which will be paid to you by the game’s operator. Neat!

Even though I’ve been calling them “points,” in reality, you’ve been earning “replays” this whole time. Again, I can’t say I’ve seen this game actually played at a major tournament—now that I think about it, I think I’ve only seen photos—but I would assume that if this were used in a tournament, you’d be getting points instead.

“But James,” you ask, “how can I control which ball lands where?” Well, for that, we need to understand the playfield a little bit further. So, let’s go over...

Lemmings Level 3 Solution

This level is titled “Tailor-made for blockers,” and as the name implies, this introduces us to the concept of blockers. Obviously, there are tons of deadly drops and pits around, so we have to stop the lemmings from walking off of them. This is a job for blockers. When you make a lemming a blocker, they will stand still and become a wall. Lemmings cannot walk through blockers and will instead just turn around. So, for this level, at every turn that would be dangerous, just put down a blocker and have the lemmings navigate their way down to the exit.

So, as the lemmings come out, I like to put a blocker immediately to the right, then let them walk all the way down to the small path on the left side. Block again there, then let them walk over to the bottom platform, putting a third and final blocker next to the hole in the ground to send everyone to the exit.

The biggest caveat with blockers is that you can't stop a lemming from being a blocker. The only easy way to remove a blocker is to kill it. If there are only blockers left on the screen, you have to click that "nuke" button on your control panel, which will blow up all lemmings on-screen. That way, you don't have to wait five minutes or so for the clock to run out. You can also speed up the entrance of the lemmings by increasing the Release Rate (RR) to 99.

In case you’re confused as to what this has to do with pinball, just trust me on this. There’s a method to my madness. Right?

The Red Ball

I realize that I messed up one part of the scoring metric that I went over before, and that is that the balls all have to be scored in order in order for them to count. In other words, it doesn’t work if you just get the white ball second. From bottom to top, you only score balls that are correctly lined up until you get one wrong. You have to get the red ball first in order to score any points at all.

Oof. That makes this game tougher. You can only get two points by getting the red ball first; four by getting the red first and the white second; ten from getting the red first, white second, and black third; fifteen from getting the red first, white second, black third, and yellow fourth, and twenty from getting all balls lined up in the right order.

So, there’s some stuff above that you can disregard, such as draining anything but the yellow ball and voiding the yellow ball cause it’s much worse. If you drain any ball, you void any ball which should be scored above it - draining the black ball means you can’t score the yellow or green ball, since now it’s impossible for every ball to be lined up properly up to that point. (The fact that you can only score fifteen points by draining the yellow ball still stands.)

In other words, this makes the red ball the most important ball at the table. If it’s not first, you lose out on all of your points. I’m not really sure why the designer opted to make red the most significant color, but lo and behold, it is. My guess is that the designers of this table were referencing the forthcoming film Minority Report which would release in just under 70 years. It’s fitting, seeing as the entire premise of the movie is about seeing into the future, so they probably had some way of doing that back in 1935 and realized the significance of red balls, which are prominent throughout that film.

You see, in the movie, all crime is predicted by a trio of clairvoyant humans called “precogs,” enabling a “precrime” police force to intervene and prevent crimes before they happen. Because the precogs are able to predict everything, nobody premeditates murders anymore, meaning that all murders become crimes of passion. The precogs relay this information to the precrime division by engraving the names of the murderer and the intended victim onto wooden balls, and when the warning is with short notice, the ball is red, and the precrime team has to rush out to action.

In the movie, Tom Cruise plays a precrime officer who believes in the system until the precogs indicate he’ll murder a man who he has never met. So, he has to go on the run from his coworkers, all while trying to figure out who he’s supposed to murder and why he’s planning on murdering him. Despite being a bit of a high-concept film, it has a lot of deep philosophical questions about fate and whether or not one can be guilty of intent without action. But at the same time, it’s full of thrilling action sequences, solid performances, and fantastic plot twists, which manage to keep you captivated for its entire 150-minute runtime. Very much deserving of the 5 stars I gave it on Letterboxd.

Anyway, it’s possible they’re referencing a film about seeing into the future by seeing into the future. And yes, I’m aware that the book the movie is based on only came out, like, 20 years after Flying Colors did, but I’ve never read the book, and I don’t think that it’s really relevant to the machine. 

My point is that, as far as Flying Colors is concerned, the red ball is the most important in the game, likely referencing the significance of the red ball motif throughout Minority Report. Without scoring it, you can’t score anything at all. So, in order to give you a chance, Genco was sure to include two red balls in the machine. This makes sense, considering that there are two red balls painted on the side.

Wait a minute, that’s not right. I swear I said something contrary earlier. Okay, let’s review the colors really quickly.

Magic: The Gathering Mana Colors

In the trading card game Magic: The Gathering, (simply “Magic” or “MTG” for short), players represent “Planeswalkers” who are wizards that are so powerful they can “walk” (teleport) between the various “planes” (dimensions/worlds) across the multiverse. They utilize a library (deck) of cards, representing spells that they use to defeat other planeswalkers (other players) for fame and glory.

One of the game's fundamental aspects is the concept of color. In order to play a card in Magic, you need to spend mana—magical energy—to cast it. Mana comes in five distinct colors, each one corresponding to a different playstyle and theme. Understanding the difference between all of the colors of MTG is crucial to understanding the strategy of Flying Colors.


Starting off with White, which is the color representing peace, order, and justice. White spells are often about teamwork, leveraging the strengths of the cards you already have in play to bolster one another, keeping yourself alive by increasing your life total, and restricting opposing threats without outright destroying them. Personally, I’m not a big fan of playing white since I’d argue it’s more about “not losing” than it is about winning, but I understand the appeal of a united front working together and unleashing brute force.

Blue is the color of logic, intellect, and perfection. Often considered to be the meanest color to play, blue spells are usually about redefining the rules of the game to make the play experience miserable for your opponents. Blue spells are often slippery and evasive, are often played at unusual times to catch opponents off-guard, and usually establish oppressive game states where your opponents have very little they’re capable of doing.

Black is the color of ambition, desire, and ruthlessness. Contrary to white, which will do anything and everything to keep itself alive, black cards don’t care who or what you have to sacrifice in order to win. The costs to play black spells are usually steep, the cards you play are brutal and destructive, and you’ll find yourself risking large chunks of your presence in the game to win it faster. While many newer players often think that “white is good and black is evil,” that’s not really the case. Story-wise, there have been cruel dictators represented in white and noble rogues represented in black. While black usually represents amorality and white represents morality, morality, and goodness are merely tangentially related.

Red is the color of freedom, passion, and chaos. Red cards are often hyper-aggressive and fast, yet often lack the ability to punch hard. Red isn’t about “how hard,” it’s about “how fast.” The impulsivity of red cards also extends to non-damaging activities - red spells might have you discard cards to draw new ones, or maybe you’ll adopt a strategy that’s completely random and unpredictable - even to yourself.

Green is the color of growth, nature, and harmony. It’s kinda like the opposite of red in terms of playstyle - whereas red is “I’m gonna get you right away,” green takes its time, establishes a large board state, and then absolutely wallops their opponent in one fell swoop. Green cards are often big and “dumb,” as the special abilities of green cards primarily just boost the strength of the cards you already have out. It might play slow and just focus on getting to the endgame, but once you get there, it’s tough to stop the stomping.

Most players construct their decks restricted to a set group of colors, which is exciting as the different combinations of colors represent unique playstyles as well. A deck which only red cards might just try and zap their opponent to death before they get to do anything. A black/white deck might bolster the strength of the black cards through white’s synergies. A green/blue deck might capitalize on the nature-oriented green cards and alter them through the blue spells, creating unstoppable abominations. Of course, there are a lot of intricacies to the lore, too - there are known guilds and groups that stick to a specific color or group of colors, which thematically reflect their colors’ sensibilities.

You might be asking, “What does this have to do with pinball?” The answer is that we were trying to figure out what colors of balls are in the game. Since there’s only one color red in Magic, that means there’s only one red ball in Flying Colors. So, forget about Minority Report for the time being. (Actually, don’t. Go watch it if you haven’t already.)

So there’s only one red ball, and it remains the most important. It has to go first in order to score points. Okay. But how exactly can we get the red ball to land first? For that, we need to review the playfield some more. Specifically, we need to look at...

Lemmings Level 83 Solution

Titled “King of the Castle,” this level is probably the toughest of the Taxing difficulty. It’s a re-hash of Tricky Level 8 (or level 38 overall), except we have no blockers to work with this time around. I will say I do advise against jumping up to this point if the only level you’ve played this far is Level 3, but hey, if you only care about learning Flying Colors, I guess there’s no harm in skipping.

The most important thing we do here is sealing the initial gap to the left of the entrance. Do this by assigning builders as close to the gap as possible. Keep assigning builders until the gap is clear, keeping your lemmings alive by slowing them down as they build/by bonking their heads on the top of the tunnel. Once you’re across (you should only use, like, 5 builders or so), then you can stop building and let the lemmings cross the gap.

The second lemming across should start building the ladder up to the next platform. The first one should build a ladder to bridge the left-facing hole into the central pit, connecting as perfectly as possible. Some lemmings will fall into the hole, but that’s fine since we can spare five here and still win. Once we’re up on the next platform.....

Wait... up? Up? We don’t go up when we play Flying Colors. This doesn’t make any sense. Why are we talking about this? Disregard this section.

I Give Up

I’m lost. I don’t know what I’m thinking anymore. I’ve been staring at this game for so long, trying to figure out the right strategy, and yet it eludes me. Obviously, there’s a strategy. There has to be, right? If it’s appeared in competition....there has to be more to it. The flags must mean something, but I’m not sure what. There must be a strategy on how to get a red ball - I mean, the red ball - to land first. And even then, what about the white? What about everything after that??? How do I play this game?????

My head’s just fried at this point. I’m going to start over and just hope for the best. This is my new Flying Colors tutorial, with all the information that I know is accurate.

How to Play Genco’s Flying Colors - Second Attempt 

Genco’s Flying Colors is a pinball machine.

Playfield Overview

There is a playfield.


Shoot blinking lights

Pure Mechanical Game in a Competition?

I guess.

Hold on, if it’s purely mechanical, how can there be blinking.....

Problem Solved

I’ve figured it out. This is why I thought it was at a major tournament.

I’m not exactly sure where this picture came from or why I didn’t realize it was photoshopped. Lesson learned: don’t take what you see on the internet for granted, and try not to rush to conclusions on what you see. Probably would have spared myself quite a bit of effort on my end if I had done that.

Anyway, let’s go over the actual tutorial now since we might as well by this point

Flying Colors - Third Attempt

Genco’s Flying Colors is a 1935 pure mechanical game that was primarily intended to be a gambling machine. In the game, you plunge five colored balls down a board of angled railways and cross your fingers that they end up in the right order at the bottom. Doing so awards you replays, which would be paid out by the operator.

There’s no strategy. It’s all luck. Good luck, and I hope you have a good April.