Tim's Turn: Ace in the Hole
During his preteen years, Eric Anderson was mesmerized by the game of “Skee-Ball.” He would walk to the nearby Lake Quassapaug Park in Middlebury, Connecticut, and play the game over and over again. Sometimes, he would crawl along the floor under the game to retrieve wayward balls. He would then use those “extra” balls in addition to his allotted nine to increase his score to get more tickets to use at the redemption counter.
That was 45 years ago, and he never left or lost his love for the game. Today, Eric is president and part owner of the park, now known as Quassy Amusement & Waterpark. “I finally got a job here, and they put me on the ‘Skee-Ball’ machines. The early ones often stuck open and provided extra balls to the player. We had 20 machines in the row, and I would walk from one end to the other, kicking the levers to make sure they weren’t stuck.”
“Skee-Ball” was huge in the pre-video game arcade and many parks, including Quassy, which had separate “Skee-Ball” parlors. Today, after many generations of upgrades and electronic advances, “Skee-Ball,” now owned by Bay Tek Entertainment, is still an important mix in any arcade, according to Eric. “It’s a nostalgic family game that has passed the test of time,” he says. “A game of ‘Skee-Ball’ usually lasts longer than a video game. And, redemption is still a great element that adds a fun dimension to an arcade.” The park has 12 games now, and they remain busy.
The first game I ever played in an arcade was “Skee-Ball.” The first game my two daughters ever played in an arcade was “Skee-Ball.” Today, the three of us still love playing the game. It was and is a family game that you grow into but never grow out of.
The price was a dime when I started playing, and yes, I enjoyed the times when the lever would stick and I got extra balls. I also remember sometimes my dime wouldn’t work, and I had to call over the attendant. I loved the little “tool” he always carried. It was a dime with a skinny wire soldered onto it. He would put the dime in, get the machine working again, and pull out the dime using the wire. Pretty neat.
Eric recalls thinking it was pretty cool as well, but it also provided another challenge for those working the game. “People would see us use that simple dime on a wire, and they would go home and try to make one. We had to keep our eyes open for that,” he said. “When we saw a kid with a huge bunch of tickets heading to the redemption counter, we knew something was probably amiss. Chances were that he either had a dime on a wire or the ball return was stuck open.”
What’s Eric’s secret for rolling a good game? “I’m a banker. Once you find the sweet spot on the side rail where you can bank it, you will usually roll a pretty good game,” he says.
Me? For the number of games I’ve played over the years, I should be much better. But I usually did win enough tickets for my favorite item. I always went for the Chinese finger traps.
Tim O’Brien is a veteran outdoor entertainment journalist and is a longtime Funworld contributor. He has authored many books chronicling the industry’s attractions and personalities and is the only journalist in the IAAPA Hall of Fame.