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Exclusive Q&A With Dentistry’s Pinball Wizard

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A few months ago, one of my best friends wanted to celebrate his birthday in Asbury Park, NJ. At the time, I didn’t know what “Silverball” was and assumed it was just another bar near the boardwalk. I was in for quite a surprise. Actually, there were 2 surprises that evening.  

First, as the website advertises, Silverball Museum Arcade is a “living, breathing, and blinking tribute to our pinball and video gaming past.” Wall to wall, the arcade is filled with pinball machines, classic arcade games, air hockey tables, skee ball, and more. Above each pinball machine, some dating back to the 1940s, is a detailed history of the game. Through writing, the historian’s passion for these games is evident.

Dr. Rick LubitzSecond, and here’s the other kicker (or flipper), the historian of the museum is a dentist!

Dr. Richard “Rick” Lubitz was instrumental in bringing Silverball to fruition, and he even gives a shout-out to his dental practice, Jersey Shore Smiles, near the restrooms. Play pinball at night, make a dental appointment the next morning—I like his style!

I reached out to Dr. Lubitz to find out more about the history of Silverball and to see if his passion for pinball has, in any way, translated to his passion for dentistry.

 

DPS: When did your interest in pinball begin?

RL: I've always been a player of the machines. My first experience with these electromechanical wonders was when I was 5 at a beach club in the Long Branch area called the Beachcomber. They had four Gottlieb games next to their snack bar. Since I've always had an affinity for lights and special effects, I was magically drawn to these machines. I could barely reach the flipper buttons back then, but this deterrent didn't stop me.

A 1954 Gottlieb "Lovely Lucy" woodrail nickel game was my favorite. I would have backyard fairs (before Jerry Lewis and his M.S. charity fairs were created) the object of which were to create my own games, have the neighborhood kids over to play for change, and this would by my seed money to win prizes at the boardwalk for prizes for my fairs and, of course, let me feed the nickel coin slots in the number of arcades dotting the Jersey Shore back then.

My 12th birthday found me the proud owner of my first pin. My Dad paid $50 for a Williams Times Square machine. After spending hours playing the game, dissecting the machine to figure out how it worked, and learning what not to touch by trial and shock, I finally sold the machine to my neighbor and picked up a 1962 Williams Three Coins game I played at a Two Guys From Harrison in Ocean Township, NJ. This game was my test lab! I changed the playfield, added features to the game, modified the rule set of the game, and learned a lot about the innards of these mechanical marvels.

Years later, I have a collection of games in my house and practice. The number of machines I've had and restored adds up to about 175 machines of all makes and formats. I've had many parties over time, have had quarter-size tokens made up for the games at my office so patients felt they were playing the games for money (more exciting), and had a huge Halloween party a couple of years back complete with a haunted house filled with gadgets I built from pinball parts and mechanisms.

DPS: How did you get involved in Silverball Museum, and what is your role?

RL: It was 2010, and my neighbor across from my house in Oceanport, NJ, knew I was into arcades. He caught me on the street one day and mentioned to me that his brother, Robert Ilvento, just bought $35,000 worth of pinball machines and was thinking of opening a pinball museum. I had to have his number! This led to lunch, the planning of the museum, and voila! The first museum was screwed together in the cellar of a clothes store on Cookman Ave. in Asbury Park.

Rob always had a vision that seemed to come to fruition. He founded Cluck-U chicken in New Brunswick, a chain that at its peak had over 55 stores. His partner is Steve Zuckerman, founder of Clipper magazine, which pretty much comes to every household in NJ and nationally.

My role in the establishment is multifold. I'm part of the team at the Silverball and have not only repaired and restored games for the fun of it, but manned the fort, made pizzas, greeted patients who come down if they know I'm there, and acted as the historian of the museum by writing all the descriptions above the games to give a nutshell account of the features and history of each machine.

Working at the museum, I've found people really appreciate the detail and history of the games, the quality of maintenance of the games (as they are mechanical and do require a lot of TLC), and just the aura the place has.

DPS: When did Silverball open?

2011 brought the move of the museum to where it currently is on the boardwalk. We've increased the size of the place threefold. Over 160 games are in residence with new machines being rotated on occasion between a warehouse in Pennsylvania Amish country and the second museum in Del Ray, Florida which opened in 2015. The Florida project is expansive in size with 2 bars, 8 skee ball games, and 3 times the floor space over 2 floors!

DPS: How do people react when they first visit Silverball?

RL: You've been there so you know the fun and flashback nostalgia the place exudes. I love the reactions people have when they walk into the place for the first time—instant awe! Accolades like "I remember this game when I was a kid!", "I want one of these!”, or just a bunch of selfies or panoramic picture-taking ensue.

People always ask me about certain games and fortunately, I can answer them. New Jersey in the 60s and 70s was the mecca of arcade locations and this nostalgia is missed by a lot of people. For kids, it’s a whole new experience beyond the joystick. It’s hand/eye coordination, no patterns to memorize a la video games, and if you win a game, you've conquered the machine! What a thrill!

DPS: What are your favorite games at Silverball? 

RL: They come and go. Once you own a bunch of games, you like to rotate the stock once in a while. My favorite game of the pre-electronic age (prior to 1976) would be Gottlieb Kings and Queens (I just sold one to a guy in Australia!) and the newer solid state games—Attack from Mars, Scared Stiff, Medieval Madness, and The Hobbit from Jersey Jack. These machines are the current epitome of involved rulesets, lightshows with audio clips, and mechanical toys.

I also have a Funhouse pinball that has Rudy the talking sideshow barker on the playfield. Rudy falls asleep and if you shoot the ball into his mouth, he spits the ball out and the verbiage flies! 

DPS: Do you have any plans to expand Silverball at the Jersey Shore?  

The plan in Asbury Park in 2019 is to put a second floor on the current location, add bars, and the sky is the limit. More and more museums are coming to fruition throughout the country. Most arcades you see today have minimal pingames and, in an effort to turn over a fast buck, mostly consist of ticket-winning games and crane machines. They thought the days of pinball were coming to an end once the video game craze started in the mid 70s, but they were wrong! New machines geared toward the arcade (stripped models) as well as games loaded with "toys" are being produced in limited editions for strictly the collector market.

In fact, one manufacturer, Jersey Jack Pinball, just started manufacturing his third game in Lakewood, NJ. He is now my patient through the Silverball!

DPS: Does pinball have a presence in your dental practice?

RL: Of course I have a game room in my practice. My game room used to be my movie theater operatory. It had a low light atmosphere, fiber light sources, and a front projection system. It was an experiment. My staff didn't like the concept so voila—now  it's my game room. The former game room is my 'pre-laxation' room complete with fountains, massage chair, foot massagers, and juice bar. I rotate my games once a year and have contests to win a machine on occasion. 

“We care for people, not just teeth” has always been my moniker. My practice has different themed rooms such as a general store from the 1920s, a Jersey Shore room complete with neon and hand-drawn artwork done by my hygienist daughter, Tori, a tropical room, and a spa-themed room (where we treat most of our sedation patients). Completing the theme is a boardwalk arcade wheel, which kids love to spin for a small, medium, large, or gigantic prize, plus a couple of tickets to the Silverball for new patients! 

DPS: Have you ever seen a pinball machine with a dental theme?

RL: I have the only medical-themed pinball ever made. It goes by the name of Dr. Dude and has a set of dentures in it. By completing the Gift of Gab, a Magnetic Personality, and the Heart of Rock and Roll, you move up a Dude thermometer to the Zillion shot!

I also have a dental shooting gallery I built in the 70s called "Fight the Cavity Creeps," and finally, I built a pinball machine, Dr. Rick's Mighty Molar Machine. It’s a dental-themed machine with a silver spitball, a cavity cove, and a plaque trap. 

DPS: We’re Dental Product Shopper, so I have to ask: what’s your favorite product?

RL: Hmm...We just started using the Venus beaching system (Kulzer, LLC). I also like air abrasion for small lesions in kids—no anesthesia! My brother, Dr. Mark Lubitz, is a dentist in Belle Meade, NJ, and places implants for me. He just got his surgical setup [local anesthesia reversal agent] OraVerse (Septodont) from an ad in your magazine.

To learn more about Silverball Museum Arcade, click here

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