Custom 'As seen on TV' pinball machine by Jeri Ellsworth

Making custom pinball machines is addictive ! When Ben Heck appeared on Jeri Ellsworth show, he was able to convince her to also start working on her own custom pinball machine.
Jeri posts movies about the progress on her custom pinball machine on her site:, and there is even a live stream where you can see her work in her lab.
Also check out the movies she posted on her site as she has her own laser cutter to make plastics, she explains how to bend plexiglass in a toaster oven to make ramps, and much more..

This article is a work in progress at the moment.. will be updated when her machine is ready !

We've interviewed her to learn the background on her custom pinball machine.

So for the people who've never heard of you or your website, can you explain who you are and what you do ?
I'm probably best known for my strange path in life. When I was a teenager I dropped out of school, learned how to build racecars and raced them. Several years later I sold my cars and started a computer retail business that grew into five stores. In 2000 I sold the remaining stores and learned chip design with the help of mentors and in 2004 design the C-64 Direct to TV game toy that sold very well.

You have an impressive collection of pinball machines. How did you get into pinball ? When did you start buying games ?
I started playing pinball when I worked at a bowling alley as a kid. The owner had an 8-ball Deluxe machine that was separate from the arcade room. He spent a lot of time playing this machine and I'd sit there and watch. Eventually he started giving me his extra credits and I was immediately hooked.
When I had my stores I picked up a few arcade and pinball machines to place in the store on free play. During this time the machines had very little value, so I got them for virtually nothing. After I sold my stores I gave away all the machines.
In 2004 I started looking for places to play pinball in the Portland Oregon area and immediately got frustrated with the poor maintenance, so I picked up my first pinball machine in many years. Pretty soon my collection started growing out of control to the point of having over 60 machines.

How did you get the idea of making a custom pinball machine ?
I built a very simple pinball machine when I was a kid. It had working slingshots, sound and score keeping (a modified calculator). I'm sad that nothing exists from this game, but being a kid you don't think about your future much.
When I had my computer stores I started a side project that used a C64 and a home brew driver board to control the lamps and solenoids in a severely damaged Black Belt pinball machine. I wanted to rework the game to be loosely based on the old BBS game that you had to hack into computers, but the computer store market collapse ended this project.
The current custom pins I'm working on are strongly driven by my desire to try improving flaws I see in the current offerings, such as huge wiring harnesses and failure prone components.

Do you work on the games by yourself or do you get help ? Do you work alone or it is a team of people ?
There are two projects in flight now. One is mostly my doing and it's theme is 'As Seen on TV' and it's about infomercials selling junk that doesn't really work well. It's mostly designed by me at the moment, but the visitors on the live video chat that we've set up in the shop space give a lot of great suggestions.
The other project is with Tanio and I. We came up with the concept of 'Pin Hack' where groups would get together for a week and try to build a machine. We spent one week at the lab and put together a simple two player game. We plan on refining the Pin Hack process by making generic controller boards, playfield blanks and having assemblies pre-made, so it's more about the creative process and less about trying to get the ball flipping around.

You're not only making 1 but 2 custom machines at the same time. Why ?
'As Seen On TV' was started as warm up to Pin Hack. I wanted to go into the week long pinball build off knowing some of the issues that might prevent us from making a working machine. It was very useful.

Do you have already an idea of how the finished game will look like, or do you just try every day something new and see if it works ?
I have no clue what the final game will look like. 'As Seen On TV' is a playground for me and I use it to experiment. It's very easy to get paralyzed worrying about all the things that wont work in project, so I always blaze forward and let the designs change direction when needed.

Now we only see the bare whitewood, is the goal to have a complete finished game (with artwork, complex rules, sounds, ..) ? or more to try and see where you end up ? Will you also do the artwork, sounds, .. by yourself ?
I'll need help in many of these areas, but I'd like to exclusively do the game play aspect.

Do you already have any idea what technology you'll use to control the game ? How to read switches, drive solenoids and lamps, .. ? What are the technical specifications and limitations ?
This is the area where I shine, since I do this type of electronics on a daily basis. Again this will be a playground to figure out what works and doesn't. We have a Pin Hack board in progress which is very conventional as far as the switch, lamp and solenoids. The As Seen on TV board will be a test bed for the reduced wiring scheme.

What are your favorite pinball machines and designers ? Is the layout of your custom games influenced by a certain designer or games, or do you go for a more original approach ?
I enjoy games from many designers. My top games at the moment would be Black Knight 2000, Jack*bot, Fish Tales and El Dorado.
I'm trying to keep some aspects of 'flow' games and 'stop and go'.