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“Greatest waiting room in Short North,” Pinball league gets new, cheesy home

J.R. McMillan

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There’s still something rebellious about that little silver ball.

Just ask John Geiger, founder of Arcade Super Awesome, whose pinball obsession heralded a local revival of the once-contraband contraptions. Historically maligned by moral crusaders as another form of gambling, even outlawed in some cities during the Prohibition Era, the recent rise of so-called “barcades” is an apropos postscript for the birthplace of the temperance movement.

“I grew up in the arcades in Cleveland playing video games, but pinball was spotty. In the small towns outside of Cleveland, pinball was still illegal into the 90s,” Geiger recalled. “So I never really played pinball as a kid. But when I came to OSU, it was all over campus. That’s when I got the bug.”

An avid collector of classic and contemporary arcade games, the pivot to pinball inspired League Super Awesome, a weekly competition attracting world-class talent, now celebrating its 15th season and a new home at Melt Bar & Grilled in the Short North.

“Even going back to the early 90s, there were a lot of tournaments in Columbus. There’s an organization called the IFPA, the International Flipper Pinball Association, which is our governing body. If you look at the player numbers in Columbus, which indicate when you joined, you’ll find player numbers in the teens and 20s,” he explained. “My number is more than 20,000. That’s how long and how popular competitive pinball has been here.”

Much as disco begat breakdancing and video games supplanted pinball, console games nearly killed coin-ops altogether. But the social component they never replaced has been recently rediscovered by players looking for something Sony and Microsoft don’t sell.

“Pinball is more fascinating to me as a machine. The play is more complex and there’s that factor of randomness,” he revealed. “With arcade games there are patterns that repeat, but pinball has elements of skill and chance. It’s never the same game twice.”

Rube Goldberg would revel in the modern pinball movement, the clever combination of lights and kinetics elevated into a performance art exhibition open to anyone with a spare quarter.

“I’m very particular about curating games together by depth, style, theme, or era. There’s an order everyone doesn’t always see. It’s like a gallery and the placement of the paintings that only makes sense when you see them all together,” he explained. “You can have a collection of things, or you can have a gallery. But it wasn’t an arcade until I opened up my warehouse and people came to play.”

Photo by Hillary Jones

Geiger has been colonizing ever since with enclaves of pinball machines and arcade games throughout Columbus. But, the decision to wind down his space above Yellow Brick Pizza in Olde Towne East, followed days later by the surprise closure of Four String’s westside brewery and Grandview taproom left casual patrons and competitive players nervous about what was next.

“People contacted me worried about where we’d land. It was entirely unexpected, hearing how much they appreciated this community we built,” Geiger recalled. “But I also got a call from Don Johnson, who is kind of my counterpart in Cleveland, organizing league play and the pinball and arcade convention up there. He connected me with Matt Fish, the owner of Melt, and it was a perfect fit.”

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There are lots of stories about how surprisingly small Columbus can be, and this is one of them. Geiger and Fish quickly figured out they both used to be in bands together in Cleveland decades ago. Never the same band, but definitely the same scene. And over the course of my own conversation with Geiger, we discovered the offices of our respective tech startups were right across the hall from each other nearly as long ago in the old Weisheimer Mill that was the birthplace of Arcade Super Awesome.

“Pinball really fit our punk rock brand,” explained Fish, whose burgeoning Ohio-born empire of grilled cheese eateries first expanded into the Columbus market in 2013. “Last year, Don approached us about putting pinball in a couple of locations in Cleveland in some of our unused space and hosting league play. Now we’re part of that community in Columbus.”

The ample waiting area created for Melt’s robust opening crowds received a retrofit. New electrical lines were required to provide sufficient power for more than a dozen games, with plenty of room left for league nights that often attract enough players from around the state to rival the number of restaurant patrons.

“League Super Awesome brings in players from all over Ohio. I’ve seen the same players from Columbus competing in Cleveland the following week,” Fish noted. “Between Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati, we have one of the largest pinball communities in the country. Most people don’t know Ohio has the highest number of ranked pinball players in the world.”

League play at the Short North location is every Thursday with monthly tournaments. Like any league sport, the minutiae of matches and eliminations may be intimidating to the uninitiated, but the play itself shouldn’t be.

“With pinball, gender doesn’t matter. Skill level does,” explained Fish. “The women’s tournament creates an opportunity for new players to learn from more experienced players in a comfortable environment that encourages entry into a male-dominated sport. But everyone is welcome for league nights and all-player tournaments.”

Though only a month in, the partnership already shows signs of cross-pollination—with more pinball players introduced to Melt, and restaurant-goers equally intrigued by the arcade. (It also doesn’t hurt to have Killer Queen, the beloved 10-player platform game, attracting its own cult following back to the hive.)

“When you walk by Melt and see these glowing pinball machines in there—not just one or two, but a whole room of pinball—you want to come in and check it out,” noted Fish. “It’s the greatest waiting room in the Short North.”

For details on League Super Awesome, visit arcadesuperawesome.com. For more on Melt Bar & Grilled, visit meltbarandgrilled.com.

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Things To Do

Where to get your Red, White & BOOM on this July 4th

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It was a bummer to hear that Red, White & BOOM would be canceled and changed to a virtual format for 2020. However, that shouldn’t stop you from celebrating in a somewhat traditional sense. Even with one of the biggest fireworks celebrations put on hold, there’s still plenty to do around Columbus, fireworks or no fireworks.

We here at (614) know that given the modern-day circumstances, people have the choice to celebrate in whatever way they feel most comfortable. Below you can find three ways to celebrate–Local 4th of July events; Red, White & BOOM alternatives; and places where you can legally celebrate yourself.

THINGS TO DO ON JULY 4TH

Fourth of July Fireworks

West Jefferson July 4th Streetfest

When: July 4 at 10 p.m.

Where: Watch from home

Obetz Fireworks

When: July 4

Where: Watch from home

Fourth of July Activities

Neighborhood Bike Brigade

When: Various start times

Where: Dublin neighborhoods

Sherm Sheldon Fishing Derby

When: June 26 through July 4

Where: Any Dublin pond

Fourth of July Parades

Front Yard Parade in the Round

When: July 4 at 6 until 9 p.m.

Where: Your front yard

2020 Cruisin’ On The 4th of July

When: July 4 at noon

Where: Northbridge Ln., Columbus, OH 43235

New Albany 4th of July Parade & Festival

When: July 4 at 10 a.m. until 12:30 p.m.

Where: Church of the Resurrection, 6300 E Dublin Granville Rd., New Albany, OH 43054

Other Fourth of July Events

Zoombezi Bay Family Movie Night featuring The Goonies

When: July 3 from 6 until 11 p.m.

Where: Zoombezi Bay, 10101 Riverside Dr., Powell, OH 43065

HOW TO CELEBRATE WITH RED, WHITE & BOOM

Red, White & BOOM was gearing up for its 40th anniversary before COVID-19 shut the mass gathering down. However, the beloved Columbus fireworks show will be hosting a virtual event over the first four days of July. The virtual campaign will air on NBC4.

Here are some of the events that will take place:

  • Highlighting the best Red, White & BOOM stories
  • Stories from local veterans inducted into the Ford Oval of Honor
  • Broadcasting the best Red, White & BOOM fireworks over the show’s 39-year history
  • Looking back on the tradition of parades honoring veterans

HOW TO TAKE CELEBRATING INTO YOUR OWN HANDS

We here at (614) also know that setting off fireworks yourself is illegal. We also know that buying them within the state is legal (OK?).

So here is a list of places around Columbus you can buy fireworks from. What you do from there is up to you, but we advise you to stay within the law:

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Community

Zoo Babies! We’ve got the photo cuteness

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Start the ooo-ing and ahhh-ing, Columbus, because we’ve got Zoo baby pics!

A Masai giraffe calf, a sea lion pup, two red panda cubs, and a siamang (gibbon) baby—all recent births at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium for these endangered species. It’s a show of commitment from the organization how they were able to nurture these species populations at-risk for extinction and bring new generations of them into the world. 

“We are extremely proud to welcome these babies as they all represent hope for the future of species that are increasingly facing challenges in their native ranges,” said Columbus Zoo and Aquarium President/CEO, Tom Stalf. In the press release, Stalf detailed how special these births are as the threatened species received around-the-clock, top-quality care by the Animal Care staff over the three-month-closure of the Zoo, due to COVID-19. 

OK, no more waiting—get your fill of cuteness below with these Zoo baby pics!

Masai Giraffe Calf

“A Masai giraffe calf was born on June 28, 2020, at 2:29 p.m. to mother, Zuri, in a behind-the-scenes barn of the Zoo’s Heart of Africa region.”

Sea lion Pup

“During the early morning hours of June 25, the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium welcomed the first sea lion pup ever to be born at the facility!”

Two Red Panda Cubs

“Two healthy red panda cubs were born at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, a welcomed addition to this endangered species.”

Siamang (Gibbon) baby

“On the morning of May 29, 2020, the Australia and Islands region welcomed a baby siamang. Mom, Olga, is being very attentive to her little one, whose sex and name have not yet been determined.”

Get information about conservation at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium here.

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Kids

City council aims to give youth opportunities this summer

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Walking down Weber Rd. toward I-71 this week, something was happening that most probably thought wouldn’t for at least another year: a group of kids playing basketball and being mentored by adults.

With the 2019-20 school year canceled, children have been confined to home, with most basketball hoops being boarded up. Summer camps were postponed and parents were starting to wonder, “What am I going to do with all of this bottled-up, youthful energy that’s been bouncing against my walls for the past few months?”

That answer was partially given on June 15, when Council President Pro Tem Elizabeth Brown and Mayor Andrew J. Ginther announced legislation to provide funds to programs for Columbus youth. The $2 million in grants was supported by Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds. 

“Providing a safe place for our kids to learn and grow during the summer is vital for them and for working parents everywhere, and Columbus children deserve every opportunity to access enriching services that connect them to nature, wellness, and creativity,” Brown said in a press release.

In mid-June, the Columbus Recreation and Parks opened a select number of programming and camps with adjusted group sizes and increased safety protocols. With funds from the CARES Act, Columbus can expect to see more opportunities arise over the next couple of months.

To find a full updated list of programs that the Columbus Recreation and Parks Department will be offering this summer, click here.

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