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The Professional & Amateur Pinball Association

Player Guide

"An introductory guide for competitive pinball players."

PAPA recognizes there is more than one way to teach players how to prepare for competition. If the advice offered in this guide does not work for you, we encourage you to keep trying until you discover a more effective method.

Above all, we encourage players to look within themselves as often as possible for answers. A key moment in a player's development is when he or she begins to think about the game of pinball with a competitive mindset. Every flip you make will lead you closer to more points or the final drain. The outcome is entirely up to you!

The following guide is intended to challenge players to learn about both pinball and themselves as competitors. Discussion and feedback are encouraged! We intend this guide to be a community resource that grows and becomes more refined over time. If you feel we are missing something important, or feel you can contribute to this guide in a meaningful way, please don't hesitate to contact us.


Improving your pinball techniques, or flipper skills as we like to call them, will help you score loads of points and enjoy pinball even more than you otherwise would have. At one point in time, every world champion had to learn the basics, just like you. So whether all you want to do is have a little bit of extra fun and reach that next mode, or whether you go to sleep every night dreaming of taking home the World Championships Martian Trophy, learning new flippers skills will help you become more popular, lose weight, and achieve your wildest desires.

Getting Started:

Every player starts with the basics! The more you practice, the more you will learn to aim your shots and utilize flipper skills. The more you utilize flipper skills, the higher your scores will rise. Don’t be afraid to try new techniques and improve! And trust us… it’s not random. You can make the game do what you want!

Dead Bounce:

The dead bounce is the easiest flipper skill to learn… Do Nothing! Often times, the key to gaining control of a moving pinball is to not flip. Mastery of this technique lies in knowing when to use it and when not to use it. If you’re new to pinball, force yourself to hold back on some occasions and gain a feel for where a ball goes when it hits a lowered flipper.

  • How does the angle change?
  • Is the ball safer after the dead bounce than before it?
  • Does the ball bounce the same when it hits different parts of the flipper?
  • Is the dead bounce consistent every time the ball leaves a certain playfield features?

If you’re struggling to learn this technique, play a few games one-handed and see how it forces you to gain control of the ball by dead bouncing. Challenge yourself to learn this technique, and once you feel you have a handle on it, pat yourself on the back; You’ve graduated to Intermediate Techniques.


After you have improved your aim and learned to use both the cradle and dead bounce, it’s time to start challenging yourself with intermediate-level skills. Most of these techniques are designed to bring the ball under control, but some skills, such as the post pass, are designed to move the ball from one flipper to the other for setting up a desirable shot. The more you play pinball, the more you will learn which shots are valuable and worth setting up.

Drop Catch:

The drop catch is a beneficial technique for gaining control of the pinball anytime the ball is angling toward the flipper. The key to a successful drop catch is releasing the flipper button just prior to contact. When the ball finally does contact the dropping flipper, it will lose momentum and move up the inlane, as opposed to bouncing back into the field of play.

It is important to note the drop catch can only be used when the ball is angling toward the flipper. If the ball is angling away from the flipper, or in other words, moving toward the center drain, lowering the flipper prior to contact will do nothing but guide the ball into the outhole and cause your friends to shake their heads at you.

Post Pass:

Pinball machines frequently put players into positions where specific shots on the playfield are worth a great deal of points while other shots are not nearly as valuable. In these moments, players find themselves wanting to transfer the ball to the flipper that has the best chance of making the most valuable shot, and when that happens, the most common technique to transfer the ball is post passing.

To complete a successful post pass, a player must shoot the ball off of the bottom portion of the slingshot directly above the cradled ball. The proper flipper-button timing to complete a successful post pass varies from game to game.

Live Catch:

While the drop catch works best when the ball is angled toward the flippers, the live catch works best when the ball is angled toward the center drain. A successful live catch is determined by how closely a player can match the end of the flipper stroke with the impact of the ball. Ideally, the flipper will reach its highest point at the exact moment it contacts the falling pinball. The better the player’s timing, the easier it will be to bring the ball under control.

Flick Pass:

If a ball is moving too quickly to cradle, briefly releasing the flipper button as the ball approaches the end of the flipper can cause a flicking motion, safely transferring the ball from one flipper to the other.

This technique, and many others, require the flipper mechanisms to be very responsive to quick button presses. It’s always in players’ best interest to flip a few times and get a feel for the flipper mechanisms prior to plunging the ball.


After you find yourself catching the ball successfully and implementing other intermediate-level skills, it’s time to kick things up a notch with advanced flipper techniques. The following tap pass, loop pass, and other techniques all require a high level of precision that can take thousands of attempts to master, but acquiring these techniques is often what separates the good players from the great ones. Also, you can admit it, they’re pretty cool to look at!

Tap Pass:

While tap passes will work on all eras of games, the technique is primarily used on older games from the Solid State era, such as Paragon or Future Spa. A successful tap pass requires a fast flick or tap on the flipper button, causing the flipper power to briefly engage, sending the ball only as far as the opposite flipper, rather than into the upper playfield.

Loop Pass:

The loop pass is an advanced technique used to transfer the ball from one flipper to the other by way of an orbit shot. This technique only works on games where an orbit shot feeds the opposite flipper.

To successfully complete a loop pass, a player must lower the flipper just prior to contact. As the pinball contacts the dropping flipper, its energy will be reduced enough for the player to gain control.

Cradle Separation – Traditional:

When a player needs to separate two balls that both reside on the same flipper, the most common way to do so is the traditional cradle separation. To separate the two balls, the player must gently flip the ball closest to the tip of the flipper up the slingshot and wait for it to return. If the moving ball contacts the cradled ball with enough force, it will bounce to the opposite flipper.

Cradle Separation – Over / Under:

The over / under cradle separation is a variation of the traditional cradle separation. In this version, instead of waiting for the first ball to contact the cradled ball, the player employs a post pass to transfer the second ball to the opposite flipper.


Several pinball techniques are banned from competition. Some of these techniques, such as the bang back, are banned because they risk player injury. Other techniques, such as the shooter-lane cradle and death save are banned because high-level players are capable of abusing these skills consistently enough to play single games lasting several hours. PAPA does recognize some of these techniques involve a high degree of skill, but this recognition alone does not outweigh the potential negative impacts of allowing these techniques to be used in competition.

Shooter-Lane Juggling:

Shooter-lane juggling occurs when players repeatedly tap the plunger rod on a machine to keep a second or third ball from being sent into the playfield by the auto-plunger. In a best case scenario for the player, enough balls will stack up in the shooter lane that the auto-plunger is not strong enough to remove them, allowing the competitor an opportunity to play a one-ball multiball for an extended period of time.

Shooter-Lane Cradle:

Shooter-lane cradles are a variation of the more common, shooter-lane juggle shown above. On some games, either the shooter rod is slightly too long, or the auto-plunger is slightly too weak, and when a player continually presses the shooter rod in as far as it will go, the game will not be capable of auto-plunging the appropriate number of balls into play.

Death Save:

The Death save is a technique players sometimes use in casual competition to send a ball draining down the right outlane back into the field of play. When the ball reach the outhole, the player raises the left flipper and pushes the game slightly forward and to the right. If the technique is performed correctly, the ball will rebound off of the metal guide leading to the center drain and rebound back into play.

Bang Back:

Bang Backs are the king of all illegal pinball techniques. Any players who attempt this maneuver are risking sprained or broken wrists and damage to the pinball machine. This demonstration is for informational purposes only.

Note: The video refers to a ball draining down the left outlane, but a bang back can be successfully employed from both sides.