Pinball Wizards compete in Chicago

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Pinball machines are lighting up more than ever and many of them come from Chicagoland's Stern Pinball. (WLS)

Pinball machines are lighting up more than ever and many of them come from Chicagoland's Stern Pinball. The 32-year-old company dreams up, designs and hand-makes these colorful, immersive games in Elk Grove Village.

Company president and CEO, Gary Stern, isn't surprised by the year-over-year growth in sales.

"We're not making heart and lung machines, it's just fun," he said.

These machines are still complicated to build. Beyond the classic plungers and flippers, Stern's games involve more than 3,000 parts and a quarter mile of wire.

"Motors, you have coils, you have magnets, all kinds of stuff driving the actual machine," explained Stern software engineer Tim Sexton.

The games also involve video screens and moving characters. The finished products cost thousands of dollars, but endlessly entertain with unpredictable outcomes.

"The games are different and the ball is wild," Stern explained.

This makes for great competition and has given birth to international rankings-50,000 players on the International Flipper Pinball Association's list, according to Stern's director of marketing, Zach Sharpe.

"Not to brag, I am currently ranked number one," Sharpe added.

This weekend, he takes on the 40 best in the Stern Pro Circuit Finals at Chicago's Bottom Lounge. His competitors, some of whom are also co-workers, have their own strategies to win.

"Reading the geometry, reading how the ball is going to react with that geometry and learning that rule set," explained Stern game designer Keith Elwin of the games which can involve anything from hitting the Bat Phone to flipping the ball toward one of Danerys Targaryen's dragons.

Whatever your taste, Stern Pinball probably has a pinball machine for you.
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entertainmentgamesElk Grove VillageChicago
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