1990s Skee Ball Lightning N1C

I parted ways with my Williams Scorpion and Big Guns in December, and as part of the deal on those took a pretty beat up but complete 1990s Skee Ball Lightning in trade. I thought it would need a lot of work but it was actually a pretty simple thing to revive.

The main issue with it was a bad power supply, which I received separated from the machine, heavily corroded, and caked with dust. I didn’t even bother testing it and just ordered a fresh Happ Power Pro 200W supply and threw that in. It connected right up, but on powering the cabinet only the red LED came on and stayed steady.

I’d done my homework and knew these machines need a higher +5V input voltage than most equipment. The Happ unit was set for 5.25 volts out of the box, and I had to crank it up to 5.6 volts to get the controller to boot (the test point on the board is in fact labeled 5.6V!). Once I did that it cycled through all of the LEDs, settled on green, and after a few moments greeted me with a “Have a nice day” clip that sounds suspiciously like one of the callouts from the Addams Family pinball machine.

Now it would play but I still had no output on the dot matrix display… This ended up being dumb simple. The cable coming out of the display is actually two sections, joined with a male-male bridge connector inside the display housing. The bridge piece in my cable was broken in half, and missing four pins. I tracked down a replacement and reconnected everything and the display came right up. Very lucky, as replacements are pretty hard to find and can cost a few hundred bucks when they do turn up.

This machine is an ‘N1C’ serial number prefix variant. There are also ‘N1E’ prefix machines with a different controller board, and an early production block that uses Skee-Ball model ‘S’ controller hardware. I’ve seen posts that indicate shared hardware between the post-S Lightning machines, and other contemporaneous titles from Skee Ball including Skee Ball Too, Tower of Power, and Yoo Yoo Punch.

I also saw a NOS ‘N1H’ board for sale that is labeled “Lightning Logic Board” and shares the connector layout of the other board types, so I’m guessing there are other compatible boards out there too, if one could find appropriate ROM images.

One of the optical sensors for scoring is flaky, registering only about 30% of the time. Fortunately these Omron EE-SPY415 modules are still readily available through Mouser and various other parts suppliers’ sites for a little over $20 each.

By far the worst thing about this machine is the metal guard cage. It’s clearly endured a ton of abuse, and has a lot of popped welds and tears due to metal fatigue to show for it. I’m going to crib from modern skee ball variants and fabricate some plexiglass guards to replace the tired metal design.

All told, pretty nice score. Any alley roller game like this will still readily make money in a bar, so used machines still command a lot of cash, and I’m fortunate to have been able to pick up a project machine relatively inexpensively as part of a package deal.

Cheap cuts – Another example of fake goods on Amazon

I’ve eschewed Amazon for many reasons, among them their lax policing of counterfeit goods, and practice of comingling stock from different sellers. Most of my online shopping happens on eBay, where I can typically evade the grifters by avoiding listings with stock photos and canned descriptions. But, occasionally I still fall victim to a drop shipper operating there and receive goods from Amazon’s tainted pool. In this case, I was attempting to find legitimate Philips Norelco HQ8 replacement shaver heads for my old AT880 electric razor, and instead ended up with junk…

I ordered a set off eBay from a seller that seemed above board, but shortly received a parcel from Amazon. I opened it and found a reasonable facsimile of the Philips retail packaging. Inside that, a set of superficially legitimate looking replacement heads. Unfortunately I quickly found the resemblance to the real thing was only skin deep.

I didn’t keep the external packaging from the knockoff set, but the impostor box didn’t set off a ton of alarm bells. The only apparent red flag I recall was a dubious looking ‘PHILIPS’ sticker seal on one end whose muddied font compared to the real trademark aroused suspicion.

As for the blades, in side by side comparison some key differences make themselves apparent. At left, we have a brand new replacement set of Philips Norelco SH50 heads, the successor part number replacing the discontinued HQ8. Middle is a set of well used original HQ8 heads. Lastly at right is the counterfeit set.

The two genuine sets are similar, with nine blades, while the fake has fifteen. Looking at the way the metal halves are joined, we can see that the real blades are secured with a small rivet, while the fake has metal tabs that are bent over to hold the halves together. The plastic drive shafts are also different, with the real ones having three protrusions along their circumference that lock into notches in the metal blade carrier plate (the notches are missing on the fakes as well). We also see the shape of the plastic drive shafts is different, with the counterfeits having a lobed shape where the real ones are round.

Finally, looking at the blade assemblies from the side, we see another significant difference. The genuine blades are actually three pieces, with a copper colored thin metal piece sandwiched between the two outer halves that curves up and presents an additional edge. The counterfeits lack this entirely, and simply have the tines coming off of the one half ground to a comparatively crude finish. This difference probably explains the bulk of the performance gap between the real and counterfeit items.

Poking around sites dealing in bulk direct from China products like Aliexpress I found a host of similar knock off blades being sold under a variety of brand names and with varying center logo stickers. Common to most is the count of blades, and the missing middle layer of the blade assembly that should provide the additional finer edge. Construction varies otherwise from offering to offering, with none of them providing anything that matches the real deal.

Unfortunately, there’s little recourse here given the time that has passed since the transaction, and not much of a way to avoid this kind of counterfeit good on many online shopping platforms. For this sort of heavily counterfeited item the best bet is probably to go with a reputable brick and mortar retailer whose supply chain can be trusted to a greater degree, and where in person inspection of the product is possible prior to purchase.

Hopefully this will help people stay alert to the fakes on the market, and if not avoid them, at least know when they’ve been had.

Walk Like An Egyptian – Takasago “Egyptian Madness” slot machine

Grabbed a slice of Las Vegas’ past today. One Takasago, AKA TDC, model PSL-005 stepper driven computerised slot machine. I’ve read these were common in the airport and certain casinos at one time before the rise of IGT and Bally/Williams in the market. It showed up on Craigslist, described as non-working, and cheap enough to be worth the gamble to me…

The seller saw a lot of interest, but was honest enough to run their sale first come first served without striking up a bidding war, and I happened to have been the first person to respond the night the ad went up. I picked it up the next day (paid a bit more than asking since I appreciate a straight shooter on Craigslist…). After wrangling the beast out of the van and onto a cart (I forgot how big these things are… They look pretty small in their normal casino context, but they’re actually pretty big, use a lot of metal parts, and weigh a few hundred pounds) I set to work diagnosing what was going on.

Applying power, I saw cabinet fluorescent lamps come on, but no sign of life from any of the computer controlled modules. The reel assembly was loose and the main board was floating on its mounting rails, so someone had opened this thing up before. I reseated everything and tried again, with the same result…

Unfortunately, there is precious little information on these machines on the Internet, so I started digging in. Pulling out the module with the credit meters and and reset switches presented me with a tray with a switching power supply and some bridge rectifiers attached. Tracing out the outputs from the switcher let me know which of the front panel connections provided logic power to the rest of the machine, and gave me points to test with a multimeter to verify voltages. When I put the probes to the logic power pins, I got a big zero… So, that was the first issue uncovered.

The power supply installed in the machine is similar to what’s used in a lot of arcade games, but provides -12V which is a bit unusual. The only new power supply I had on hand only output +5V, -5V, and +12V, but I traced things out and to me it looked like the -12V output was only used by the electromechanical counting units. So I installed my new power supply, left the -12V lead off, and powered things up… And the machine came up and worked just fine!

The sound track is pretty minimal, just some beeps and boops typical of the era. The onboard diagnostics are pretty robust, with a lot of self test routines and audit value recording that are very reminiscent of the arcade stuff of the same vintage. There are some notes about networking machines for progressive jackpot payouts in the manuals I’ve found, and I believe I have the extra board installed required for this but I haven’t investigated yet.

After getting the new power supply installed I messed around with it for a while and it promptly stopped being able to count coin hopper output, so I’m not out of the woods yet! Need to order some new locks, too, but even after spending a little money on parts it’ll end up being a solid deal on a rather rare machine.