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This Father-Son Duo Are Among Colorado's Pinball Best, Just Don't Mention That Song

Stacy Nick
Among the 30 pinball machines Adam Lefkoff owns is the 1975 Wizard, based on The Who's pinball-themed rock opera 'Tommy.'

Adam Lefkoff still remembers as a child going with his father, an attorney, to visit a client at home.

"He had three pinball machines in his house," Adam said. "And that - as a 5-year-old living in Atlanta - that just blew my mind. 'Oh my goodness, you can have pinball machines in your house?'"

The obsession had begun.

The Longmont computer programmer always said someday he'd have pinball machines in his house. Now, he owns about 30.

They're even separated out into specific rooms based on style. Classic pinball machines from the 1970s in one room. Bally-Williams machines – most based off movies and TV shows such as The Addams Family and Dirty Harry – in another. In a third, you'll find the more high-tech toys that look like a cross between a video game and a pinball machine.

It’s clear Adam loves the machines and the game.

“You know, for me it’s the entire package,” he said. “It’s the sound. It’s the lights. It’s solid state. It’s actual, real physics occurring on the fly… Pinball – it’s real. It’s happening right there.”

He's also passed on the pinball bug to his son Escher, 12.

"I have been playing pinball since I was 2 years old," Escher said. "We actually have old stools that I used to help me reach the flippers."

Even before that, Escher was around the games, hanging in a Baby Bjorn on Adam while he played.

"He was a bit of a drooler as a baby, and so all of our pinball machines had this just caked-on drool from Escher," Adam said.

The younger Lefkoff is ranked number 1 in the world among youth players, according to the International Flipper Pinball Association. Overall – for the moment - he's 143rd in the world; a ranking and reputation that he's been building since he first began competing at the age of 3.

The elder Lefkoff is currently ranked 43rd in the world.

Credit Stacy Nick / KUNC
The Lefkoff's machines don't need quarters. They're all set on free play.

Father and son are hoping to climb higher in the world rankings during both the Professional and Amateur Pinball Association World Championships and the International Flipper Pinball Association World Tournament.

At each, pinballers from around the globe will gather in Carnegie, Pennsylvania to duke it out to see who has what it takes.

"Pinball machines have wizard modes, is what they call them," Adam explained. "Which is when you finish enough things you get to – it's sort of the end of the game or a reward for getting to the end."

In other words, beating every challenge the machine throws at you. For instance, on the family's Star Wars Episode I game, getting to wizard mode means the chance to do battle with the evil Darth Maul.

Escher has gotten there twice. Adam has gotten to it once.

"And you got destroyed," Escher teased his dad.

Credit Stacy Nick / KUNC
Adam Lefkoff and his son, Escher, practice for their next pinball tournaments. Both are ranked in the top 150 players in the world.

It's good natured though. Pinball is something fun that he gets to share with his dad. His mom, Sandra, and sister, Ainsley, aren't big fans.

The ribbing does make you wonder, who is the better player?

"I'm better than he is and it's only because of that experience," Adam said. "But so many things come natural to him, he's fearless… There is no doubt, he will be better than me when he gets older."

Of course, the rankings ultimately decide who the best player is.

So… if either one of them wins, will they be playing THAT song? You know the one…

Standing in front of his own Tommy-inspired pinball machine, Adam bristles at the mere mention of The Who's classic, "Pinball Wizard."

"Imagine if football or basketball or baseball only had a single song that represented it," he said. "And you would hear that song, any time anybody had anything to say about football or baseball or basketball. It would be – it would drive you insane. Well, welcome to pinball because I think other people have tried, but there is basically a single song and a single anthem, which is 'Pinball Wizard' and it's a great song, really it is. But it gets a little old. Well actually, it gets a lot old."

Stacy was KUNC's arts and culture reporter from 2015 to 2021.
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