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Ask the (Pinball) Expert

Tap into summertime nostalgia with tips from a pinball wizard Pitt alum.
Photography by
Alex Mowrey

Inside Tiki Lounge on Pittsburgh’s South Side, the lights are dim, and the news is dire.

“He’s getting ready to use his heat ray,” a stern, disembodied voice warns. “Stand back!”

Steve Zumoff, Tiki’s soft-spoken, bespectacled owner, barely blinks. Instead, he hardens his already stoic mask of concentration, aims and fires. A silver ball shoots up a ramp toward a ring of flashing lights.

“Quadruple jackpot!”

It’s 2 p.m. on a Monday and Zumoff is — at Pitt Magazine’s request — playing Godzilla and showing off some seriously impressive pinball skills. You see, Zumoff (A&S ’88) isn’t just the proprietor of beloved Pittsburgh hangouts (including Tiki, Double Wide Grill and the now-closed but still-iconic Beehive Coffeehouse), he’s also a ringer. He started playing pinball in his cousin’s basement when he was a kid growing up in Lemoyne, Pennsylvania, and sharpened his skills at Thirsty’s in North Oakland during his Pitt days. By the time he opened the first Beehive location in 1991, he was completely in love with the game. He bought several machines to entertain his well-caffeinated patrons and, along with friends, started a pinball league. Eventually, he helped a friend run the Professional and Amateur Pinball Association (PAPA) tournament to Pittsburgh.



Today, his three-letter handle — ZUM — still sits atop the leaderboard of many a Pittsburgh pinball machine, so we’ve asked him to give pinball novices a few tricks to get their games going.  

  1. Aim for the flashing lights: “If it’s flashing, that’s a pretty good indication you should try and hit it,” Zumoff says. The more lights you hit, the more points you get and the more free games or modes you unlock.
  2. Shake the machine: Sometimes, the game needs a good rattle to change the ball’s direction. But be sure to shake responsibly. Most machines have a mechanism that will end the ball if you shake it too much.
  3. Know the game: Just like their video game counterparts, pinball machines have evolved over the years. Each one has its own set of tricks and eccentricities to master. You can read the instruction sticker or, as Zumoff did, peer over the shoulder of a really good gamer to see how they do it.


This story was published on June 8, 2023.