BREMERTON — As Eric Csakany contemplated names for his unborn daughter, he couldn't help but wonder: how would her initials look on the top scores screen of a pinball machine?
"That's when you know it has a grip on your life," said Csakany, who's worked — and played — at gaming bar Another Castle in downtown Bremerton since it opened early last year.
The 39-year-old plays every day. Sometimes all night. It might be a tournament in the newly formed Bremerton pinball league or just by himself in an attempt to put his own initials into the top scores.
"It's like, I just want to do it until my eyes fall out," he said.
Csakany's not the only one. Pinball is prospering across the peninsula, boosted by a revival in popularity around the country and supported by a handful of local collectors' inventories that have found their way into an increasing number of bars and establishments.
A tournament can be found somewhere in Kitsap most every night of the week. On Monday and Wednesday, the competition comes to two downtown Bremerton breweries. On Thursdays, there's a "split flipper" tournament (think tennis' doubles, only with pinball) at Another Castle. There are two more on Friday night before league matches at nine different locales, from Poulsbo to Port Orchard, on Sunday afternoons.
Even a monthly clinic, hosted by some of the savviest players, rotates between pinball spots, teaching everything from general techniques to "skill shots," which can rack up points on specific machines.
The games, new and old, are attracting a confluence of generations, Csakany believes. Classic brands are simple and nostalgic; recent releases possess over-the-top bells and whistles that include games-within-games and myriad challenges that keep players hunting for more.
"Older people, who remember the arcades when they were younger, they're excited to see them coming back," he said. "Those younger are discovering the complexity of the games, the candy coating they put on the outside."
All the while, the competitive draw has been the same: score as many points as possible by using a pair of flippers to hit targets on a glass-covered board. Once the steel ball drains, you're done. But it's different than other video or arcade games because it's real, according to Neal Joslyn, another player from the Bremerton Pinball League.
"The fact that you have a physical ball bouncing around, there's something about that that is charming," he said.
Tabletop games go back hundreds of years, but pinball as we know it today — the inserting of coins, the lights that came with electrification, the flippers that bat the ball — started to develop in the early 20th Century. In the time since the game has endured several highs and lows with technological advances and waves of retro popularity.
What's changed in the last decade is a rise in competition, to include world rankings and international tournaments through an organization called the International Flipper Pinball Association.
"It's always been a roller coaster," according to Todd MacCulloch, a retired NBA center who lives on Bainbridge Island with an extensive collection of machines in his basement. "We're on an upswing right now. It's hard to know where it will end."
MacCulloch had played pinball as a boy growing up in Winnipeg, Manitoba. But it wasn't until 2001 when, after signing with the New Jersey Nets, he met a collector with games from his childhood — and more.
"I had enjoyed these games for years," he said. "But I didn't know how addicting it could be."
MacCulloch, always on the hunt for the latest titles — his limited edition "Batman 66" even came with a recorded message from Adam West he uses as his voicemail — is one of those owners who has been willing to part with some of his collection for Kitsap's bars and locales.
Here's how it usually works: pinball owners, called "routers" or "operators," agree to place a machine within a business, whose owner agrees on a revenue split on the "coin drop." An avid collector like MacCulloch might be OK with a 50/50 split but more recently, routers have pushed for base minimums and a higher percentage than a split to greater acknowledge the value they're bringing to a local establishment.
"There's a level of trust there," MacCulloch said. "My agreements are a handshake."
The blossoming number of machines made the Bremerton Pinball League possible. Its birth, however, was a bit of an accident.
Another Castle Bremerton opened in 2016. Jason Greye, a South Kitsap High School graduate who started at the company's flagship arcade in Edmonds, saw promise in the downtown of Kitsap's biggest city, recommending to owners to take a chance on it.
It was a success from the get-go. But its limited size and 49-person capacity meant Greye had to ensure every game inside was popular and well-used for the bar to do well. Bottom line: the less popular ones had to go, and he had to confront MacCulloch and other machine owners with the news.
There was a silver lining: Greye thought of Jesse and Tasha Wilson, owners of the LoveCraft Brewery on Fifth Street. He wondered if the brewery might want to host a few pinball machines. Jesse Wilson, a self-styled "crypto-pinball aficionado," embraced the idea.
"We bonded over a mutual love of the silver ball and he told me he could get some of my favorite machines at LoveCraft," Wilson said. "It started as a selfish endeavor for me, but eventually a scene built up around it."
Soon, with Greye's help, other establishments began linking up with pinball machine owners. The infectious trend may soon spread to Tacoma and other Kitsap-area establishments.
"It sucked at the time," Greye said of the rejigging of machines at the Castle. "But it worked out well in the end."
Story walk: Pinball wizardry
Join reporter Josh Farley for an inside look at the growing pinball scene in Kitsap County. Guests will include Todd MacCulloch, a retired NBA basketball center and champion pinball player, and Richard “Oz” Godwin, a pinball aficionado and repairman who’ll show the innards of a machine. Plus, you’ll have a chance to try your hand at the newest (and oldest games)
When: 2 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 2
Where: Another Castle Arcade (21 and up only), 305 Pacific Ave., Bremerton