Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

World Pinball Wizards Tilt to Pittsburgh

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

World Pinball Wizards Tilt to Pittsburgh

Article excerpt

Helena Walter liked noise around her when she studied, and at 14 she started heading to a local bar after school in her Swedish hometown to hit the books and, soon enough, the pinball machines.

She drank tea and played Black Knight 2000. "I was kind of good right away, good enough to get hooked on the lights and the sounds." Pretty soon her tag "YOO" was appearing atop the leader boards of every machine she could find in the seaside city of Gavle.

Fast forward 28 years to 2017 and she's in Pittsburgh for maybe the 15th time to play pinball. The Pinburgh Match-Play Championship, billed as the largest pinball tournament in the world, kicks off at 10 a.m. Thursday at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center. Some 800 players - who each paid $120 and sold out the tournament in 90 minutes last December - will play on up to 328 machines from about every era in pinball history.

The $100,000 prize pool tops out at 15 grand for the big winner, but each player will have to bang through 40 games across a 12-hour stretch on Thursday, and do the same Friday, before the competition is whittled down to the finalists Saturday.

Helena Walter Higgins and her husband, Adam Higgins, both aim to be there. Yeah, she married another pinball wizard. They met at an international tournament in Sweden in 2011. He's a letter carrier in Denver, and they married last year at the 1up-LoDo pinball arcade there. Living in the Denver suburb of Thornton, their home is something of an arcade, too, with 20 machines.

This is a game that's long tilted toward men, with the graphics of many games featuring busty women out of teenage boys' dreams (where they generally stay). Ms. Higgins always has bucked that mindset.

"I was always a tough girl. I didn't give a darn what guys thought," she said, using a word very much stronger than "darn." A favorite pastime over the years has been challenging any man foolish enough to offer her tips while she's playing. "I crush them." She boycotted the women's championship a few years ago because she didn't think play should be segregated.

But she allows that women's pinball leagues around the country have brought fresh talent to big tournaments such as Pinburgh. …

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