Multiball Cradling and Other Skills Overused by Amateurs?

Are we amateurs overusing the cradle during multiball in competitive play? It’s so sexy to see a pro cradle up and just start nailing jackpots, but it’s so easy to screw up when you’ve got one flipper raised up and you miss a shot. And unless you know the rolls of the game intimately, those attempts at cradle separations seem to go awry quickly.

In a competitive setting, are we better off just flailing and keeping the multiball alive as long as possible until we can really master the necessary multiball/cradle skills? Or do you think it’s worth attempting to get control and getting one or two good shots on a jackpot before inevitably draining one, or both balls?

Are there other pro skills that you see amateurs trying to emulate that tend to be more harmful than helpful?

I’ll say for me, I tend to try to cradle up during multiball, but my experience is that it almost never goes as well as I was hoping. I feel like I’m pretty good at flailing during multiball and keeping balls alive for a good amount of time and can usually get in some good jackpot shots, but it seems like you never see pros doing this. Is on-the-fly multiballing an acceptable skill to master? Or should we all be working on our cradling skills??

I’ll also add that I think it may be game-specific. Some jackpots (i.e. side ramps) are really difficult to achieve unless you’ve got the balls under control, but some games lend themselves better to on the fly jackpot shots.

Any other thoughts?

I would say that cradling up during multiball is an even better skill for amateurs, so long as they have decent aim. When you cradle up you slow down the game as well as removing obstacles from the playfield. Multiball is one of the most overwhelming parts of pinball to a new player, and their object tracking skills are probably not there yet. I remember when I first started playing that I felt like I had lost complete control of the game when I was in multiball.

If you are in a 3-ball multiball and you get to the Elwin pose, losing one ball is not a big deal most of the time. Playing on the fly, you were likely to lose that ball anyhow down an outlane rather than your new, wider center gap.


Always cradle!

In addition to what’s written above, the other benefit is that you will avoid ball-ending drains when the multiball ends, and you’ll have a smoother transition back to 1-ball play.


As someone known for cradling up less than many others, I’ll note that it’s a trade-off. How many high-value shots will you make, once cradled, before missing and draining back to one ball? If it’s “not many,” you probably shouldn’t cradle yet under competitive conditions. You have to gauge that against how many you’ll make during “controlled flailing,” adding in the “random” points you score during the flail plus any improvements in your bonus gained by having the balls in play then. Sometimes pros cradle up, brick early, and don’t make much hay of a multiball [plenty of videos of that online]. Sometimes they cradle and blow games up rather nicely [plenty of those videos, too!]. And yes, it is machine- and situation-dependent. On many games, like Fish Tales, the shot to light the jackpot is very tight, and you’re unlikely to hit it unless cradled. On AFM, both orbits are always lit for jackpots during Total Annihilation, so cradle-rinse-repeat is almost always the better play. But in Martian Multiball with the shield down and with little progress towards TA, randomly wailing on the city targets and the martians is just fine; unless you’re extremely proficient with your shots to make a whole lot of TA progress during it, cradling won’t be worth as much for you. But … as I say, things are situational: once you finish the city and the shield closes, you should switch to cradle mode and work on TA progress.

Also note that when cradling up, you’ll often want to have the 2+ balls on a specific flipper. On Addams, it’s the left so you can shoot the ramp jackpot with the right flipper. On Funhouse, it’s the right so you can shoot the hole with the left one. On AC/DC, it’s the left so you can shoot the bell for your 2X and 3X with the right. Look over the playfield to see where the majority of high-value multiball shots are, then try to cradle up on the opposite flipper.

You can also experiment: wail while the ball saver is lit, cradle up when it goes out, see how well you do during each phase. I’m sure others here are more pro-cradle than I am. Long-term, you’ll want to cradle most of the time and do need to learn that skill, but as you’re learning, experiment and have fun!

One more thing. If you work the game a lot [much nudging], you should probably lean more towards cradling even if your shot-making percentage is low. Why? You’ll tend to get carried away and are far more likely to tilt. Really. Slow the game down, let it settle.


I always flail while there is a ball-saver active and cradle up when it goes away, unless a really controlled opportunity to trap comes up while the saver is still on. Try and keep 3 balls (or more) in play while cradled, but it’s not a big deal if it goes down to 2 - much easier to manage.

I agree that it’s game and situation dependent. Flailing on a game where an upper flipper is important in multiball is a bad idea. But there are some games where I say flail away.

For example on LotR, in TTT multiball if you’re getting double or triple jackpot 4 and 5s, you’re going to advance through a lot faster than cradling up and hitting single jackpots. Although once you’re down to 2 balls it’s probably a good idea to trap, but that’s a multiball that kind of encourages controlled flailing. On the other hand if you’re flailing through fellowship you’re gonna have a bad time.

Similarly on spiderman, unless you need a specific villain or are trying to bring in another multiball you can do decently hitting green goblin and sandman with the flail. Again when I get down to 2 I try to trap up and shoot venom shots or lock targets or whatever. But if you try to flail through battle royale it isn’t going to last very long.

That being said, if I had the accuracy, recovery, and separation skills of a pro I would probably trap up every time without question. I’m going to bet on those skills all day if I have them. For average players like myself I think flailing is ok sometimes, but you definitely need to think about what you’re trying to accomplish in the multiball.

1 Like

If you want to play at the highest levels of competitive pinball you need to be able to learn and execute the same skills used by other top level players. Practicing things like MB cradling outside of a competition is crucial but, so is using them during a competition. In the long run, you will benefit from failing to execute the skill moves more than not using them at all.


Always Be Cradling


Good comments so far. My take away is that I obviously need to keep working on cradling skills in practice situations and to be more conscious/intentional with games/multiballs where controlled flailing will work more to my advantage over mediocre cradling in a competitive setting.

I also agree with flailing during ballsave and even afterwards while 3+ balls are going and trapping when down to 2.

A skill that I think is actually on the opposite end of this conversation - meaning a skill that is underutilized by amateurs - is intentional draining while ball save is on during multiball to get obstacles out of the way. Not to mention the games where the auto launch during multiball actually scores jackpots or other valuable shots! What game was I just watching that does that?..

1 Like

In Johnny Mnemonic, if you lock balls in certain grid locations the jackpots will be the jet lanes. The auto plunge will feed the jet lanes if you let balls drain during the ball saver.

1 Like

One thing to keep in mind is that once you start practicing cradling, your scores will drop and you’ll likely get frustrated at first. Perfectly normal. Keep practicing and your scores will eventually get better.

Cradling is mandatory on modern Stern’s. Post passes and cradle separations are usually doable from both flippers. Also, because many shots are backhandable, cradling during single ball play can often be beneficial. Doubling the next shot by backhanding the left ramp first on ST is an easy and safe shot. Having 2 balls on one flipper is also huge on a number of Stern’s. Bonus multiplier on AVE and the left saucer on ST come to mind. Both are simple and safe backhand shots with 2 balls on 1 flipper.

I’ve learned virtually everything I know by playing with (watching) better players. If you can’t play with them, watch videos.


This is an ongoing debate for me. One of my strengths is that I am really good at juggling during a multiball, and I really don’t want to give it up. It is SO much fun. That said, there are some games that I definitely like to trap up on because otherwise the multiball ends too quickly. Tron is a good example.

I prefer to practice control on single ball play, and let the balls fly during multiball. But I am definitely an amateur. :slight_smile:

1 Like

I suck at slowing things down and almost all my friends are like “if you trap you’ll get a lot better” and yet I still don’t really do it enough. I probably lost a point at Pinburgh b/c of this. Was playing NASCAR and in multiball and like 1M behind. I was having fun playing on the fly and then suddenly a triple drain and that was that. doh! So yeah, what I love about big tourneys like Pinburgh is you can identify situations like that where your play cost you and then it makes it easier to focus on those skills since if I just play for fun, cradling isn’t that fun to me :slight_smile:

1 Like

I’ll echo the sentiment of others: the only way to learn a skill is to practice it. If, as an Amateur, you do not practice the skills that will move you beyond being an amateur, you will forever remain an amateur.

1 Like

All skills that pros do that you can emulate will make you better as opposed to being harmful. Just do whatever Elwin does and you’ll get better.

1 Like

I’m with Bob. And I think one should know when to cradle. I don’t think you should cradle during every multiball. Sure, it looks cool, but chances are it’s not going to pan out as you expected. Call me pessimistic, but I’ve witnessed so so many unfulfilling multiballs brought on by cradling that I hardly value them anymore. I basically only cradle if I need to push up my glasses or if the multiball is exceptionally chaotic. Otherwise, I manage the pace with lots of drop catches.

So yes, I do think it’s overused by amateurs.

In general, you need some way of controlling the chaos of multiball, because it’s very difficult to successfully make controlled shots when a random missile might fly across the path of your shot at any moment. Cradling is one great technique for controlling the chaos, but it’s not the only technique. Another great skill for multiball is knowing how to get some balls out of the way for awhile. For example, on many games, you can throw a ball up an orbit where it’ll get diverted into a pop bumper cluster… so from the time you shoot it (assuming you didn’t miss), you probably have several seconds before it’ll be back demanding your attention. Same thing applies to, say, the “victory” shot of the saucer (AFM) or Sandman (SM)… it takes a few seconds for that ball to get back to you. Use that time wisely.

Another skill related to cradling that is often unrecognized by newer players: although cradling does leave a larger center drain, it also gives you your own missile that you can fire at an errant ball, particularly one that is heading SDTM. Yeah, doing that puts both balls out of control, but that may be better than “definitely” losing the one that was heading for the drain, especially if that one would end the multiball.

Learning and using lots of skills is never a bad thing, although in the short term they may not pan out for you. Longer term, you’ll learn which skill to use when, and that’s part of the path to being a better player.


This is my answer to: “what’s your favorite shot in pinball?”

That’s something I wasn’t too sure about. I’ve tried looking for opportunities to cradle during multiball and I can usually get the balls on the flippers I want–but when I do, and I keep playing with one ball, that ball always, ALWAYS winds up in the gap between the flippers within five seconds. It drives me nuts, enough for me to have stopped trying it. But thanks for letting me know that this phase is pretty normal and that I can expect to get better if I persevere.