Rulings: Official drains stuck ball when trying to free it


No, not really. I would keep those illegal just the same.


Isn’t that just an arbitary rule that tries to make pinball “more fair” and has nothing to do with the actual game state of the machine? The machine lets me deathsave so it should be okay. Seems a lot like the stuck ball rule to me.


If you think so. I don’t.


Yeah but you’re drawing a random line in the sand, just like the stuck ball rule you’re criticizing. I’m just trying to show you some of the hyocrisy in you calling out stuck balls as too nebulous and arbitrary and should be allowed, but saying deathsaves are too far. I don’t really see a difference in those rules I guess. I don’t think there is a perfect solution, but hewing towards “fairness” even if imperfect doesn’t seem like a bad idea to me.


Hmmm… Not sure about hypocrisy. I do think that a rule that requires the TD to make a decision based on player intent is problematic. Such a rule effectively requires the TD to take a player’s word for it or, alternatively, to read a player’s mind.

“Your Honor, I didn’t inhale, honestly!”


“I swear, it was a Lazarus, not a deathsave!” :wink:


Maybe pinball needs a rule like association football.

“There are different circumstances when a player must be cautioned for unsporting behaviour including if a player:
attempts to deceive the referee e.g. by feigning injury or pretending to have been fouled (simulation)”


As @pinwizj notes, FSPA rules differ from PAPA/IFPA rules about stuck balls during multiball. There’s no real magic to this; the FSPA ruleset just states that a stuck ball during multiball / “one ball multiball” situation is not considered exceptionally beneficial. Any event can make the same choice. I’ve written side notes discussing some of the rationale leading to this choice:

  • During multiball, many players – especially less-skilled players – are very intently focused on the playfield area right around the lower flippers. They are often unaware of where all the balls are, and therefore may not be able to identify that something is wrong with the game’s state. Even spectators may not realize that a ball is stuck somewhere. These factors make it difficult to fairly and consistently enforce a “stuck ball during multiball” rule.
  • In most league play situations, opening the coin door to release a stuck ball will disable playfield coils, probably causing the drain of the player’s remaining balls and the loss of their (legitimately earned) multiball mode. This seems like a rather harsh penalty for a player who did nothing wrong.
  • Many stuck balls are caused by airballs (a ball rising off the plane of the playfield while moving). An airball is never considered an exceptional (major) malfunction, even if it results in an unsaveable loss of ball that is not part of the game’s intended design (e.g. ball flying over the flippers into the drain). Symmetry suggests that an airball should not be considered an exceptional advantage, either.
  • Even when in “one ball multiball”, the player must still make skillful shots to earn points. This is not the same as a situation where the machine awards points for doing nothing at all or for unskilled actions like just hitting the flipper buttons repeatedly.
  • Having fewer balls in play during multiball is not necessarily an advantage: game modes (e.g. frenzies) may be less valuable with fewer balls in play. Certain multiball features (e.g. doubled or tripled jackpots) may be unavailable. In the most extreme cases, it may not be possible to make any progress at all in the multiball.

FSPA rules also say nothing about things like intentional tilting. If a player chooses to forgo their bonus to gain some advantage provided by the machine’s software (e.g. TAF, Radical), or even just to learn about the sensitivity of the tilt bob… sounds like a strategic choice to me.

An important thing to remember: There is no inherently “correct” solution to stuff like this. The PAPA/IFPA rules are not actually the gospel from on high; they’re just the rules used by IFPA-hosted events and Replay Foundation-hosted events. Same goes for FSPA rules. Most TD’s choose to derive from highly established rulesets such as these, because thousands of events over decades prove these rulesets work pretty well most of the time. But event officials should not be afraid to customize their chosen baseline ruleset for their event… just ensure that players are sufficiently informed of the rules of the event. And players should not be afraid to provide feedback to event officials about the rules of events they attend… after the event ends, and in a courteous and constructive manner, of course.


This is something the IFPA rules lack, and when asked, a response (tounge-in-cheek, of course) from @pinwizj tends to be along the lines of “Let me go up to the top of the mountain and talk to the pinball gods”

Thank you for introducing me to the FSPA rules, and for the logic outlining the positions. I’ll be using these rules from now on on all of my tournaments.


Dear Mr. Hartman,

With respect to the unified IFPA/PAPA ruleset there are many factors at play that determine what verbiage gets included in the rules. There are times when PAPA staff may disagree with the rationale behind included verbiage that IFPA staff strongly believes in, and vice versa.

The stuck ball in multiball rules has a long history starting with the old Pinburgh ruleset. Back in 2000 this was the verbiage regarding this rule:

“If a ball becomes stuck during a multiball mode, the player may attempt to trap the other ball(s) in play and request assistance. If the player does not do so within 30 seconds, the player assumes full responsibility for later freeing the stuck ball, and if the player tilts, there is no allowance. In some cases, a stuck ball during multiball presents an advantageous opportunity. However, this is not considered a malfunction.”

PAPA7 back in 2004 shifted the verbiage to no longer give an opportunity for the player to choose to continue playing with the stuck ball in place, while enjoying multiball rules with their single ball in play.

“If a ball becomes stuck during a multiball mode, the player should attempt to trap the other ball(s) in play and request assistance. A stuck ball during multiball often represents a significant beneficial malfunction, and intentionally taking advantage may result in a penalty. Please note specifically that a ball ending up in the plunger lane during multiball on a machine where there is no autoplunger counts as a stuck ball. See “Beneficial Malfunctions” for further details.”

You would have to ask Kevin Martin for the thought process back then on what caused him to change this verbiage. I do believe the current verbiage is a better rule specifically for IFPA/PAPA. With both organizations often dealing with the highest level of events with respect to the players participating, the benefit of allowing an elite player to play a single ball multiball can easily be the determining factor in whether someone wins or loses a match.

I do agree that most events don’t need to worry about that level of exploitation regarding single ball multiball play, so YMMV as a TD to determine the best way to move forward.

There is a method to the madness for every piece of verbiage written in the IFPAPA rules. I’m more than happy to share the logic behind any of the paragraphs, or defer to the PAPA folks if that particular paragraph was something they felt strongly was to be included.

Josh Sharpe
IFPA President


The only person allowed to catch the ball in FOOTBALL is the goalkeeper. :grinning:



My view on this, and the way I’ve dealt with it in the past, is that if there are 3 balls on the playfield and 1 is stuck - play on. If there are 2 balls on the playfield and 1 is stuck - trap up and call for assistance.

My thinking is that there is not a significant advantage in playing a 2 ball mb over a 3 ball mb, and thus play on. Often the 3rd ball becomes free anyway. If the player was in a ‘standard’ 2 ball mb the pts scoring would be the same anyway (bar a few exceptions).

However if a player is playing a single ball and getting pts rewards for playing in mb, that is an obvious advantage and should be addressed immediately.


Or perhaps not so obvious, since the well-seasoned FSPA rules have considered this and concluded it’s not an unfair advantage.