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—Photograph by Jon Rose

Pinball Reincarnated

Two Colorado artists bring the handmade movement to pinball.

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A few years ago, pinball looked poised for extinction: In 1999, the nation had just one electronic pinball machine maker left (in Chicago). Enter the craft movement in all its bearded and tattooed glory. In Colorado, that’s William Manke (left) and Travis Hetman, the duo behind Lakewood-based Boxwood Pinballs’ painted wooden games. Each handcrafted, portable oak-veneered plywood, maple, and cherry wood machine offers all the excitement of pinball—with none of the whirling and pinging. The motions are the same: Using metal balls and wooden flippers, you try to hit each target. But the scorekeeping is different. Players use pegboards instead of glowing numbers to track their points. “Boxwood Pinball is made to be socially immersive,” Manke says. “People can gather around and watch. When every single point counts, it’s more exciting than getting millions of points.” Manke, a sculptor, and Hetman, a painter, built their first prototype in 2013, after meeting at Hetman’s Denver Art Society gallery and discovering a shared love of pinball. Today they’re showcasing their work on the inaugural Bootleg Pinball Tour, which consists of weekly competitions at local craft breweries. The 12-stop circuit culminates with the Boxwood Pinball Championship on April 24 at Indyink. But you can take your own game home thanks to the release of 12 Bearclaw machines ($695)—a limited run of Boxwood gems featuring grizzly bears that put the “fun” in functional art.

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