ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Pinball wizardry is alive and well in West Side Albuquerque.
Once banned in major U.S. cities, then eclipsed by video games, the flashing lights and cacophonous sounds of the pinball machine have a global following that is snapping up custom products made in the Mezel family living room.
“He loves to make stuff,” said Kristin Browning-Mezel as her husband, Tim Mezel, demonstrates the plastic fangs he makes for a snake feature in the Metallica pinball machine game.
Tim Mezel, an Intel engineer, became interested in pinball a few years ago when a colleague sold him a machine.
“Then I bought another and another,” he said.
Now, one side of their garage is lined with machines, including the Johnny Mnemonic, Arabian Nights and Revenge from Mars games. Several more sit in the living room, along with racks of parts and finished products.
Tim Mezel began creating fun modifications for pinball machines using materials from a hobby shop. His wife then bought a 3-D printer that produces the pieces he designs on his computer.
Since last fall, what was a hobby has become a business, Mezel Mods.
The couple has developed a line of 33 custom add-on modifications that pinball machine owners can install to make their games look distinctive.
Browning-Mezel, also a former Intel employee with experience in transportation and logistics, does custom painting on finished parts, tracks inventory, orders and markets their business.
They’ve sold to customers in Australia, Finland, Denmark, Singapore, Canada and throughout the U.S. Most are collectors who follow an online forum for pinball enthusiasts, Browning-Mezel said.
Originating in the 1930s, pinball games were banned in many cities until the 1970s because some city leaders believed they were linked to organized crime.
Popular for a while, the advent of video games forced many manufacturers to cease operations.
Now there are two manufacturers, Stern Pinball in a Chicago suburb and Jersey Jack Pinball, based in Lakewood, N.J.
There are signs of rebounding interest in pinball games, with small arcades opening in some large cities, and the market for pinball machines is enthusiastic, Tim Mezel said.