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Flipping out over pinball

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Pinball isn't really considered a competitive sport, but that's exactly what it is for Woodbury resident John Jundt.

"Everyone looks at pinball and thinks 'I gotta keep the ball in play', and that's absolutely part of it, but the thing that a lot of people don't realize is that there are rules to all games," he said. "You can keep the ball in play for five minutes, but if you don't know what you're doing and you don't do anything valuable, it's not going to help you a lot in getting points."

Jundt, 39, proved his pinball skill during the Minnesota state pinball tournament, which was held Feb. 13 at Sun Ray Lanes in St. Paul.

"I hoped to win. I wouldn't say I ever expected to win," he said, "but I thought I had a decent shot because I play these games a lot."

In winning the tournament, which is sponsored by the International Flipper Pinball Association, Jundt received a trophy, a cash prize and a ticket to the national tournament, held March 17 in Las Vegas.

However, Jundt did not attend the tournament.

"I was busy job hunting and couldn't justify the cost of going when I didn't have a job," said Jundt, who works as an IT contractor. "Real life priorities have to come first a little bit."

A passion for pinball

Jundt was first introduced to pinball as a child when he frequented the arcades.

"I loved arcades as a kid," he said, "ever since I can remember, really."

It wasn't until he began at Woodbury High School that Jundt really got into the game though.

Jundt would frequent a pool hall, that featured pinball games, in Oakdale

"We would play because it was just a fun thing to do and it was cheap and you could win free games," he said, "which was good for a bunch of high school kids who had no money."

The basic concept of pinball is that players try to earn point by manipulating one or more steel balls on a play field inside a glass-covered cabinet. Points are earned when the ball strikes different targets on the play field. The game ends when the balls are lost down the "drain."

"It's a lot of control," Jundt said. "The more you control the ball, the better and more accurately you can make a shot, which of course helps you do better in the game."

Jundt said he was drawn to pinball, as opposed to other arcade games, because of the reliance on physics and gravity.

"I love other games, but a lot of it is patterns, memorization, so once you know how to do it and you know what's going to happen, that's how you do well," he said. "With pinball, it's physics, it's gravity."

Additionally, Jundt said, no two pinball games will ever play the same.

"If you take two Pacman games and put them side by side, they're going to play the same," he said, "but if you take two of the exact same pinball machines and put them side by side they're going to play differently, which is weird; they both have the same rules, same shots, but depending on whether they're level, if they're clean or dirty, how long they've been used, they're always a little different.

"That was always the real appeal to me is that it's physical interaction with a game and it's a challenge no matter how good you are —the game is always going to win in the end, you're always going to lose that ball eventually."

One of Jundt's favorite pinball games is "Star Trek Next Generation."

"It's challenging, it's immersive," he said. "You kind of felt like part of the experience."

Jundt continued playing pinball through college, but he eventually drifted away from the game after a while.

"I just fell off a little bit," he said. "Plus, they became harder to find too. Back in the day every corner store, every mall had an arcade, but now you have to actively seek them out."

Jundt eventually found his way back to pinball in 2009, but this time it was with tournaments.

Taking on tournaments

In 2009 Jundt heard of a pool hall in Hopkins that offered weekly pinball events which consisted of paying a flat fee of $20 for the entire weekend.

Eventually Jundt learned that the pool hall offered pinball tournaments, which he entered and won.

"I thought i'd give it a shot and I had some success with it," he said.

From there Jundt joined a pinball league and started competing in more pinball tournaments.

This is the third year in a row that Jundt competed in the state tournament, which features the top 16 pinball players in the state.

In order to qualify for the state tournament, pinball players are ranked based on how well they did at IFPA sanctioned tournaments.

Jundt was ranked third out of several hundred people. He competed in around 25, out of 45, IFPA tournaments.

During the state tournament at Sun Ray Lanes, the top 16 players went head-to-head in single elimination rounds, which are the best of seven games.

"It's not easy," Jundt said, "because the ball rolls funny for everybody."

The top seeded player has the choice of picking the game or picking the order of play.

"Its an advantage to go second so you know what you're shooting for," he said, "but it's also an advantage to pick your game too if you're good at a certain game."

The game that led Jundt to victory was "South Park" with 536 million points.

The tournament kicked off at noon and lasted until nearly 1 a.m.

Since Jundt opted not to travel to Las Vegas for the national tournament, the second top scorer, Luke Nahorniak, went in his place.

Giving pinball a try

Jundt said he will continue playing pinball, and hopefully he can one day make it to a national or international stage.

"I think I can hold my own," he said. "I think that would be great to see how I can stack up."

In addition to continuing to play pinball, Jundt said he hopes to inspire more people to play pinball through various events.

"I want to get people to take a chance, come out and have a good time," he said.

It can be difficult to get people to try pinball, Jundt said, either because they had a bad experience or don't know how to play.

Which is why, Jundt said, he likes to take the time to teach people how to play.

Jundt said he is excited for the future of pinball because it's finally starting to make a comeback after fizzling out in the 1990s.

"I think the sky's the limit for pinball because it's finally coming back into its own — it's kind of in a renaissance," he said. "If you can have darts on TV, there is no reason why you can't have pinball on TV — there's a place out there for it — I think people really just need to get exposed to it."

If you are interested in learning more about pinball and the state tournaments, visit

www.facebook.com/groups/minnesotapinball. A map of places with pinball machines can be found at

Visit" target="_blank">pinballmap.com/twincities.

Visit woodburybulletin.com for a video of John Jundt playing pinball.

Amber Kispert-Smith

Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.

(651) 702-0976
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