Life of a PINhead

By Suzannah Peckham
Spring 2016

Header image: Zlomek keeps a machine in his classroom, Sky Kings, which he worked with several MPH students to repair. Zlomek hopes to put the machine to good use at school. (Photo by Sam Goldman)

For Ryan Zlomek, becoming an adult – going out on his own, getting a job and buying a house – was inevitable. But he was determined to stay best friends with his inner child.

When Zlomek bought his first house in 2013, in addition to considering the quality of the heating system, the age of the roof, and the size of the bedrooms, he made sure his dream house had enough room for the pinball machines he planned to collect.

“I had all of those things,” said Zlomek, MPH’s tech teacher. “And then there was a little footnote on every one that was, “Where on Earth would I put the pinball machine?”

During a trip to a family friend’s house when he was 10, Zlomek discovered pinball – which became his secret to never having to truly grow up.

“I was like, ‘This is awesome. Adults can have toys, cool toys – not like bank accounts – but pinball machines,'” said Zlomek, 29.

From there, Zlomek’s exposure to pinball continued to grow. Some of his most vivid memories are of going to arcades with his dad. His favorite place to play was Button’s Arcade in Eastwood. Shortly after he purchased his first home, Zlomek bought his first two pinball machines from Craigslist and set them up in his living room. Soon after, he started playing after coming home from work to decompress. He now owns 11 machines.

Eventually, he started competing in weekly tournaments at Trapper’s Pizza Pub in East Syracuse and Al’s Wine & Whiskey Lounge downtown. Based on these tournament performances, Zlomek is ranked among the top 3,000 (out of 40,000 players) in the world.

His highest score is 980 million points on his own machine, Judge Dredd, which is based on a British comic book. But a great score involves more than pushing buttons. Zlomek said that playing pinball requires interacting with the machine – bumping, nudging and adjusting it throughout play.

“If I have a really good run on a machine,” Zlomek said, “I am physically tired afterwards.”

Now, Zlomek’s goal is to help to bring pinball, which had its heyday in the 1960s and 1970s, back to life around Central New York with his new venture called Syracuse PINheads.

With PINheads, he hopes to grow interest in the game locally through tournaments, events and seminars. Four of his machines are currently on loan at Cloud city Comics and Toys in ShoppingTown Mall for customers to enjoy.

“My ultimate goal,” Zlomek said, “is to build a pinball arcade.”