Remembering PAPA 4

With PAPA Headquarters currently housing over 450 pinball machines in its 30,000 square foot dedicated pinball arcade, it’s sometimes difficult to remember how things used to be. PAPA 4 was held February 8, 1994 at the Omni Park Central Hotel in New York City and won by Bowen Kerins. Special thanks to Steve Epstein and Josh Sharpe of the IFPA for preserving the 35mm slides and saving this piece of PAPA’s legacy. We have recently converted these 35mm slides into digital format for everyone to enjoy. If any of our readers has any photographs or slides from older pinball events that they would like to share, please email us. We have also included a recent interview with PAPA 4 champion, Bowen Kerins.

What do you remember most about PAPA 4?

Bowen: I remember thinking I was eliminated. I finished the quarterfinal
round and was so sure I was out that I went back to my hotel room to
change into nice clothes for the party / final that was going to
happen. I came back down and they were yelling at me to come play
already. I had qualified through on a massive tiebreaker — at PAPA 4
the total score on all games was the tiebreak — and suddenly found
myself wearing my nicest clothes in the PAPA semifinal, and all the
pressure was off.

How long had you been playing pinball at that point?

Bowen: Competitively, only about 18 months. PAPA 4 was my first championship
tournament, but I had attended the Pinball Expo the previous autumn.
I learned a lot from playing local events and league in the San
Francisco Bay Area, and figured I would learn more from the pros at
PAPA. I wasn’t even too sure I wanted to enter A Division, but went
for it anyway. Then I won.

Did you know who Lyman Sheats was at the time? (Lyman won PAPA 3.)

Bowen: Absolutely, I knew him by name and by reputation. PAPA 4 was the
first time I met Lyman in person. I was pretty intimidated, since he
is and was such a terrific player. Lyman was very approachable and
helped explain some of the games I hadn’t played. Lyman also had a
presence on the Internet’s so I knew of his opinions
and his high-quality play. I was very lucky to get past him in the
final four.

What has changed most about competitive pinball since PAPA 4?

Bowen: The number of top players has increased dramatically. The number of
top events has increased dramatically. Players are smarter and
better, and know the games very well. The only thing that might be
“worse” is that there are fewer brand-new games in use. Players don’t
have to develop new strategies for new games as much. But they still
do: with tournaments using a wider breadth of games, players still
compete on games that they don’t know. I love that side of pinball,
it’s very strategic, and keeps you thinking at all times whether on or
off the machine.

Bowen: A more recent change is the ability for players to learn and share
game strategies and information through videos. I think that is a
major shift that will make a lot more players a lot better.

How do you feel you would do if you went back in time and competed now?

Bowen: I think I’d do well, though I might not get as lucky as I did at PAPA
4. Advancing past the first round took all the pressure off, and that
change in mindset means a lot. I played the semis and finals very
loose, and got to play my best pinball when it mattered. The mental
game is very important, and I wish I knew how to make it easy to play
as loose as I did that day.

What did it feel like to win your first PAPA World Championship?

Bowen: Beats me, I was 18. They quoted me as saying “Holy cow, did I win?”
when it was over. It was a total blast. My biggest regret is that it
happened at like midnight on Sunday, so my family had already left for
home. It was also a media circus, with local and national interest.
Idiotically, I turned down an appearance on The Tonight Show so that I
could avoid failing a college class. Clearly I did not make the right
decision there. I was on SportsCenter, and my answering machine
message was played live on the radio in Nagoya, Japan. I got to meet
the Bally/Williams pinball team, wore a helmet cam, and I was
interviewed and photographed for Bikini Magazine.

Who were you playing in the final round, and what do you remember about it?

Bowen: The opponents were Lyman Sheats, Dave Stewart, and Hal Erickson. They
wanted to give everyone nicknames: Lyman “Silk” Sheats, Hal “Tower of
Power” Erickson, Dave “Eurhythmics” Stewart. Dave hated that nickname
so they changed it to “Pinball Doctor” or something. I can’t remember
mine but it was probably “The Kid” or something. The finals were held
during some kind of closing party so there was music and dancing, and
it loosened me up a lot. Hal got really tense and rage-tilted, then
tilted Lyman’s ball when he tried to move the machine back. In the
last game I needed at least a second place on Tommy while avoiding a
Dave victory — Dave had won with a double super jackpot on Tommy in
the semifinals. I couldn’t look, and then it was over.

Do you stay in touch with any of the other competitors from PAPA 4?

Bowen: Nah, screw all them. I’m the world champ! (Alright, maybe I still
say hi.) I have made a large number of lifelong friendships through
PAPA and competitive pinball, and I have people like Steve Epstein to
thank for making it all happen. It’s a joy to see how many players
are passing on that gift to others today, whether it’s through quality
pinball events or even making the games that keep new interest in
pinball moving.

What are you doing to prepare for PAPA 15?

Bowen: Just last weekend, I practiced the 600-mile drive from Boston to
Pittsburgh. I think the best preparation is playing in other quality
events. I played pretty well at the NW Pinball Championship / IFPA
week in June and will be at Cal Extreme in July. In the end, your
preparation can only get you so far, you’ve got to execute and get a
little lucky to win a PAPA championship.

What are your thoughts on Street Fighter 2?

Bowen: BEST. GAME. EVER… to feature a car being crushed by a flipper. It’s
actually not that bad!


  1. Alexandru
    June 27, 2012 at 4:03 pm

    Very nice pictures! Man, it’s really hard to beat film. The flash is unintrusive, people don’t look like sweaty pigs… Expressive, soulful and I like the funky attires (why aren’t Bowens’ best clothes immortalized?). 🙂
    Picture 11 is a beautiful family portrait!

  2. June 28, 2012 at 1:54 pm

    These are awesome. I love arcade pics of yesteryear. The early to mid 90s were a great time to be in arcades.

    Who’s the honey pie in the acid wash?

  3. MHS
    June 28, 2012 at 1:59 pm

    Elle Macpherson?

  4. June 28, 2012 at 3:56 pm

    Unquestionably, it’s Elle Macpherson.

  5. Hal Erickson
    June 30, 2012 at 4:21 am

    Just wanted to clarify, I didn’t exactly “rage-tilt” (I’ve never heard that exact expression). In a climactic moment of measured frustration, I very slowly and un-violently moved the machine to the right along the carpet, about a foot. I was kind of in a daze, heard someone in the audience say “move it back” and calmly and deliberately slid it back to its proper position, not thinking in the moment that the delay might give a carryover tilt to Lyman’s ball, which I very much regret. Sorry Lyman, and thanks again to Steve Epstein, Joe Schick and others for my good memories of this event, at which I was another then-unknown (like Bowen)and top qualifier. Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson were in attendance also, as well as the redoubtable Ms. Macpherson.

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