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Vermont's Own Pinball Wizard Heads To Nationals

Ric Cengeri
Steve Daniels is Vermont's first State Pinball Champion and is competing in the U.S. National Pinball Championship.

“I play pinball a lot,” says Steve Daniels. He stands in front of a row of loud, flashing machines at the Pinball Coop in South Burlington.

His playing has paid off – Daniels is the first Vermont State Pinball Champion and is ranked 297 out of 20,000 pinball players in the world.

When Daniels first started playing pinball in college it wasn’t such a passion, but more of a distraction. After taking a long break from the game, he got back into pinball around 10 years ago.

“I like the real physics of it,” he says. “Interaction with a steel ball and flippers … It includes a lot of the same strategy as video games, but on top of that there’s a ball that bounces and spins and jumps over the flipper occasionally, doing things that can’t possibly be programmed.”

He says becoming Vermont State Champion took a little bit of luck, a good amount of skill and some strategy. And “maybe a little more luck than I’m acknowledging,” he says, laughing.

This is the first year that Vermont has had a State Championship in pinball. As the winner, Daniels will travel to Las Vegas to compete in the National Championship at the Pinball Hall of Fame, which he highly recommends people check out.

"I'm not expecting really great things but on the other hand, even if I get destroyed in my first round [I hope] I'll play my best." - Steve Daniels, Vermont State Pinball Champion

“I’m really looking forward to it,” he says. “I’m not expecting really great things but on the other hand, even if I get destroyed in my first round [I hope] I’ll play my best.” Daniels says he’s already looked at the potential brackets for the tournament and that he may be matched up against one of the top 50 players in the world.

Credit Ric Cengeri / VPR
Attack from Mars is Daniels' favorite pinball machine. He says it represents everything that pinball should be.

His machine of choice? “Attack from Mars,” he says, quickly. “It’s just excellent. It has a great light show, it has great sound and I really like the art. There are many games that have deeper rules and things that are more complicated to understand … to me, this represents exactly what pinball should be.”

Daniels will compete in the U.S. National Pinball Championship on March 26. You can view the results here.

Update 3/27/15 2:10 p.m. Daniels came in fifth place at the U.S. National Pinball Championship. "I beat the number 93 player in the world in an upset in the first round. Then I beat the Ontario champion. Then I lost to the number six player in the world, but not before I handed him his first two losses of the day. I ended up tied for fifth overall, which was far beyond my expectations," he says.

Ric was a producer for Vermont Edition and host of the VPR Cafe.
Amanda Shepard was a digital producer for VPR.
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