Introduction: Space Pinball Machine (cardboard)

I made a (rough and ready) prototype for a cardboard pinball machine a while ago, but put it under my bed and promptly forgot about it for a few years. Fast forward to now, I went to a planetarium for the first time in ages and was inspired by the film shown about the space race to make a 2.0 version of my pinball machine, with a space theme. (If you've never been to a planetarium or haven't been recently, I would highly recommend it - even in a foreign city and with a headset to hear the English translation, it was a lovely experience. One of the songs played was Coldplay's 'Fix You', which is an appropriate song to listen to when grappling with a dodgy flipper on the pinball machine!)

You don't need any complicated stuff for this project - everything I used was stuff from around the house. Obviously you'll need cardboard, and lots of it. I also used a cylindrical pencil, wooden kebab skewers, elastic bands and paint. A hot glue gun will certainly make your life easier, but you could do this with pva glue if you were very patient and had lots of time free.

Step 1: The Frame

The frame is made up of the side pieces, front and back pieces and the main piece which is the surface the game is played on. I used a nice big box, trying the make the surface as large as possible. The sides need to be higher at the back than at the front - I think mine were 7 cm tall on one end and 12 cm on the other. I then hot glued the pieces together, with the main piece a few cm down from the top of the sides - otherwise your ball will just fall off the edges, and you'll be left using you phone as a torch to try and find it under the sofa.

Step 2: Flippers (part 1)

The flippers are the things you move to make the ball ping around. I started out by drawing a shape I thought was right, and replicating this on about 4 pieces of cardboard until it was the right thickness. I then hole punched all but one of the pieces and glued them all together with hot glue, with the hole-free one on the top. Then repeat this with the flipper flipped - if that makes sense - so you have two flippers, one for the left and one for the right. Next I used a craft knife to cut a pencil - it has to be cylindrical or the flippers won't pivot properly.

Step 3: Flippers (part 2)

Poke a hole in your main piece for the pencil to go in. Then cut out 3 rectangles of cardboard and poke a hole in them. Add a small piece of wooden skewer on to one side, and for the second one add the skewer on the opposite side. Then glue the pencil to this little block, making sure the flipper is in the starting position when it is straight.

Next create the pushers that you push on the side of the fram to make the lfippers move. Attach a large square of cardboard to one end of a skewer, poke it throught the side of the box and glue a small box on the other end of the skewer. I also added a small rectangle glued to the main piece for the skewer to go through, this stopped the pusher wiggling around too much. I then glued a small piece of skewer to the side of this rectangle, and finally hooked an elastic band around it, to the other skewer. This all sounds quite confusing written down, but if you look at the picture it should make a lot more sense.

Step 4: Launcher

I used an elastic band and a skewer - I cut the elastic band and tied it to a long piece of skewer, Then I tied smaller pieces of wood to the ends of the elastic band - these provide a larger surface to glue on to the box. On the side of your frame, poke the skewer through and glue down the smaller skewers. Then add a bit of cardboard to the top end and glue it down - this will be used to push the ball at the start of a game.

For this space themed machine, I enclosed the launcher within a rocket. I also glued a small piece of paper at the top of the rocket to stop the ball falling back in after it's initial release. It has to be weak enough that the ball can get out, but strong enough to block it from falling in - I used normal printer paper.

Step 5: Guiders

I added a guider at the bottom - with a slant so that the ball would always fall to the same place. I also put in two curved guiders at the top to make the ball move more smoothly around.

Step 6: Boing-ers and Spinners

I have come up with some super technical names for things that go on the surface of the machine that the ball interacts with:

- boing-ers are made of elastic bands stretched around upright skewers and they make the ball 'boing' when it bounces off them

- spinners have a single point of attachment in the centre and spin when the ball hits them

- holes are holes- the ball falls in them and you lose the game

- ramps and slides allow the ball to go up and down

I made 1 spinner in the shape of a sun - I used a skewer and poked it through the main piece, gluing a small piece of cardboard on the back to stop it from moving out of place.

I made 3 boing-ers - you can either leave them as they are, or make a decoration to go on top - I did one plain, one shooting star, and one planet with rings. You just poke skewers through, hot glue them securely in place, and then wrap elastic bands around them, making sure they are fairly tight.

Step 7: Decorations

I added some detail to my rocket - I just cut out some circles and rectangles and triangles and glued them on. This bit is fun because you can do whatever you want - keep it simple or go bananas with details!

Step 8: Painting

I painted the main piece black - the colour of space. I also painted and earth on the bottom guider. I went with red for the flippers and top guiders, partly because I was inspired by Soviet era posters for the space race.

Whilst painting this I also learnt a not-so-fun fact - paint can go mouldy! When I tried to squeeze out some yellow paint, this horrible smelling, lumpy, black liquid came out. This meant I couldn't paint my stars or the sun - I had to use yellow paper instead and glue it on.

I also added the words 'game over' - which I painted using the wrong end of the paintbrush as I didn't have any that were fine enough.

Step 9: Finishing Touches

After the painting was complete, I cut out some paper stars and glued them to the top of one of the boing-ers so it looked a little like a constellation.

Bonus picture - all the mess I made!

Step 10: Finished!

After one tube of mouldy paint, two paper cuts and about a bazillion bits of cardboard, I was finally finished! I'm very pleased with how it turned out, although if I was to do it again I would consider adding a taller back piece so it looks more like other pinball tables.

To play, insert a small marble at the end of the rocket, release the launcher and hit the flippers.

Cardboard Speed Challenge

Participated in the
Cardboard Speed Challenge