Courtesy of Adam McKinnie
By Ashley Szatala
Mid-Missouri has its own pinball wizard, and his name isn’t Tommy. Columbia’s own kid who plays a mean pinball is known simply as ZED, a set of initials you can find as the high score at most of the city’s machines and many across the state.
Adam McKinnie, the man behind ZED, has been enamored with pinball since his youth. In a time when his quarters were scare, the allure of winning a free game prompted him to perfect the craft of flipping silver balls in themed machines rather than improving his video game technique.
Ten hours spent practicing each week has yielded professional results for Adam. In 2004, he was ranked 25th out of more than twenty thousand people in the world for pinball. Now, he holds the 131st spot for an overall pinball high score. Adam practices on his iPad, computer, and on location at pinball machines to keep his skills sharp. It can take him anywhere from twenty minutes to an hour to beat a game.
Adam uses ZED as a way to stand out among others who use his same initials. The initials come from a poem Adam wrote for a high school English class. ZED was a tennis god in the poem, and Adam realized very few people had those initials. Now, his initials easily stand out on the leaderboard, and he has a strategy for getting the top spot.
“It’s finding the lowest-risk strategy with the highest score,” he says. “I think the hardest thing about playing pinball is knowing when not to flip. You want to make an error of commission and not an error of omission.”
Earning a high score can also mean bending the rules sometimes. Avid players look for any flaw in the machine or program code. The serious player needs to know basic computer skills or soldering to rewrite the rules programmed in the machine. Changing the programmed rules means giving players a more reasonable amount of points for a certain play or extending the amount of play time.
“Pinballers are like bank robbers,” Adam.
Adam is active in the Columbia Pinball League. The group meets at Gunther’s Games in Downtown Columbia to practice and compete. The group recently finished its second ten-week season and is looking to start the third season this summer or fall.
“They drink beer and play pinball,” Adam says. “What’s not to like?”