Rulings: Official drains stuck ball when trying to free it

On Ghostbusters a player got a ball stuck on the left bottom side of the playfield. The ball was stuck right above the left outlane. The officials of the tournament did not have keys so they would have to free the ball. I know if an official tilts the game when trying to free a stuck ball that is ruled as a major malfunction but I feel the IFPA rules are a bit ambiguous when it comes to freeing a ball that instantly drains.

A tournament official may initially choose to try to free the stuck ball through judicious nudging, tapping, etc. The player must remain ready to resume play at the machine during this attempt. If actions by the official result in a Tilt, this will be treated as a major malfunction (not the fault of the player). If the official frees the ball but the player does not successfully continue play, this is normal play (the fault of the player). Loss of Tilt warnings due to tournament official nudging is considered normal play.

Basically what happened is the official freed the ball which hit the top of the slingshot and drained out the left outlane. There was nothing the player could do to save the ball. Would this be considered the fault of the player or would this be considered a major malfunction since the player could not successfully continue play? I feel that the player couldn’t continue play since the ball drained due to the official freeing the ball so it should be ruled as a major malfunction and award a compensation ball.

FYI. The only switch triggered when this occurred was the left outlane switch. No other switch was activated.

That would be normal play, no compensation. Unless somehow the official freeing the ball interfered with the player (knocking the player’s hand off the button for example).

So let’s say a ball is stuck right above an outlane (not stuck on the inlane/outlane divider). The official freeing the ball sends it straight to the outlane. That shouldn’t award a compensation ball? I feel that this isn’t fair to the player because if we had the keys then they would get the ball on a flipper or in the shooter lane. The player could not “successfully continue play” based on the IFPA ruleset but due to the official and not due to the fault of the player.

Right above the outlane is a situation where if the official had keys the player would have the option of trying to free it themselves or the official could drain it for them.


What is the ball stuck on?

If it is stuck on a playfield divot or insert above the outlane, the official should just drain the ball anyway.

If the player is in control of the machine there is no compensation.

But the IFPAPA rules are meant for controlled tournament enviroments where the officials have access to the machines. If your location does not, there are ‘house rules’ that could be put into place where necessary.

So the red designates a post that isn’t stock on Ghostbusters. Weird that it is installed in that spot, but the ball was stuck behind that post on top of that plastic piece.

Brian, I might be mis-remembering it now, but I thought that the ball was stuck further up the playfield – on that screw on the left side about 1" due West of the bottom captive ball.

At any rate, when the issue occurred, the TD called me over to help with the ruling. (I was assisting him as an official.) The player didn’t want to nudge the ball out.

Yes, as stated there were no keys, it was on-location. (Had we had keys, we would have opened the machine and put the ball somewhere safe.) The TD and I decided he would try to bang the side of the machine to dislodge the ball.

A key additional piece of information was that the machines at the venue were quite close together. My concern was that the TD wouldn’t be able to get out of the way quick enough. So I told the affected player that she had to be ready to play the ball, but if the game tilted or immediately drained from the TD’s action there would be a compensation ball on a new game.

As stated above, the TD then got his hand between the games, banged the machine and the ball hit the top left corner of the left slingshot and went out the outlane.

Another player in the group questioned my ruling. (That player was a a judge in our league, too, so she knows her stuff.) We went back and forth with it a bit. (Nothing acrimonious – we were just trying to think through the broader theory of the ruling.) In the end I stuck by my decision, but I certainly saw the other person’s point, so we decided to solicit some other opinions. (Thanks for posting, Brian.)

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if the ball was stuck in the position mentioned above, I don’t see that being any different than getting stuck on the inlane/outlane divider. Since no keys I would tell the player they are welcome to try and free themselves. If they couldn’t or wouldn’t, I would help to free it but the drain would be on them.

In my opinion there is little to no chance of saving a ball that flew over there and didn’t get stuck.


I feel people often skip over the first paragraph in the stuck ball rules, jumping straight to the “open the machine” part.

A tournament official may initially choose to try to free the stuck ball through judicious nudging, tapping, etc. The player must remain ready to resume play at the machine during this attempt. If actions by the official result in a Tilt, this will be treated as a major malfunction (not the fault of the player). If the official frees the ball but the player does not successfully continue play, this is normal play (the fault of the player). Loss of Tilt warnings due to tournament official nudging is considered normal play.

If the tournament official is unable to free the stuck ball, the machine will be opened, and the stuck ball freed and placed either in the plunger lane, or on the upraised flipper of the tournament directors choosing, with the flipper button held by the player.

I’m all about judicious nudging and don’t think a machine should be opened without trying that first. If the ball is stuck in a place where nudging is possible but will likely end in a drain, that ball was lost in the first place. No compensation ball.


Not having the keys and ability to get the glass off trumps everything else here. If no keys, then it’s more of an “in the wild” tourney rules: players are responsible for freeing their own stuck balls. If they tilt – too bad. But since you’re in the wild, I could see two more options other than attempting to free it themselves and risk a tilt:
(1) Player lets machine settings do the ruling on a modern: leave the flippers down, and allow ball searches to proceed. After certain # of ball searches, the pin is either going to consider the ball over or launch a compensation ball out, and proceed with one fewer balls expected in the trough.

(2) Player doesn’t want to risk losing their bonus due to tilting, and asks TD to record their current score and current bonus (from instant info, or from PF lights on a classic). TD vigorously shakes machine to free the stuck ball, and the players ball is over, and gets the pre-shake recorded score + bonus, regardless of whether the TD tilts their ball.


I don’t think this situation warrants any score adjustments. It’s a really slippery slope to start on. If a TD tilts out a ball, a compensation ball is awarded. That’s it. Otherwise you get into territory where you have to decide when a TD tilt-out should award bonus and when it shouldn’t. It’s best to always stay away from any kind of score adjustments.


Andreas brings up a good point.

If we had the keys, the machine would have been opened and the ball would have been placed safely on a flipper or shooter lane.

I guess what I’m saying is, even if you have the keys should an attempt be made by an official to free the ball without opening the game? I do not see this happening at any tournament I’ve been to around the country. When a ball is stuck at a place where the ball search can’t get it, the machine is opened and the ball is placed in a safe spot. I feel that I’ve even seen this even at Pinburgh.

Its depends, that is up to the TD.

For Pinburgh, all TDs need to follow a standard and its a perfect environment to be able to free stuck balls with the keys. There is no reason to risk giving a player tilt warnings etc.

I also assume at pinburgh all the machines have interlock removed so they can free up stuck balls in multiball without player losing a ball if they cradle up.

I’m not above hitting the side of a machine to free a stuck ball, even at Pinburgh or PAPA.


As a TD who often deals with this situation, I never let this happen. I go two ball searches then hold the flippers and we shake it loose, including inducing a tilt if we have to. The problem with the chase ball coming out is that if it knocks the stuck ball loose, in my experience the game never recovers properly. The two balls drain and then typically what happens is that on the next ball it will kick two the plunger lane. The game gets completely confused about how many balls are in it until the next game. I’d rather induce a tilt and give the player a compensation ball on a new game than let that happen. Then again, that’s why house rules exist. Do as you feel is best!


It’s a good thing we have explicit rules in place for what happens if you do :slight_smile:


That’s true. Good point. Don’t do option #1. :slight_smile:

I agree that score adjustments are to be avoided. But to me, as either a TD or as a player, I’d care more about giving the player the fairest outcome possible on the “You’re $#@!ed” scale of the TD ruling spectrum, and also, giving the player options. All of this is due to not having the keys. And I deem it in the same spirit as the player’s option to have the TD (w/ keys available) drain her/his ball when stuck on out/inlane post vs the player risking a tilt to nudge it into play. In this case, you’re asking the TD to intentionally drain your ball, but with no access, the only way to do that is through shaking that will very likely tilt the ball. The ruling is still partially Josh Sharpe approved – since the player is still getting $#@!ed by losing their ball in play :), but in this case, because the player is electing to have the TD intentionally tilt the ball to free it, they at least get to keep their bonus that they rightfully earned.

I dunno. I’ve never had to do this before (always had keys), but the concept feels right. YMMV.

All of MY rulings are approved, it says so in the rules :slight_smile:

“Final authority for any ruling, including rulings that contradict or vacate anything written in this document or in other IFPA materials, rests with the President of the International Flipper Pinball Association, Josh Sharpe.”

I’ve yet to just pull the “I WIN” rule, but now being 0 for 30 in winning a Major (that was painful to look up), that ruling may be coming sooner than I thought!


For clarification, if you’re in multiball and a ball comes to rest on an inland/outlane divider, with one or more other balls still in play, is the perched ball considered “live” or “stuck”?