Pinball has become a passion for North Stonington woman

Pinball has become a passion for North Stonington woman


NORTH STONINGTON — A plunger is pulled, a ball is released, and a machine comes to life. The objective: to score as many points as possible.

Welcome to the game of pinball.

Pinball may be remembered by most as the coin-operated arcade staple of the 1970s or ’80s, but for Dana Carvey and others like her, the game’s popularity lives on.

Carvey is a 36-year-old saleswoman from North Stonington and the co-owner of the Carvey Group, which sells decorative and LED lighting throughout New England and upstate New York. Before meeting her husband, Mark, an experienced pinball player, she had never played the game.

But after playing her first game at the Willimantic Brewing Co. nearly five years ago, her life was changed forever.

“Once we started playing at Willibrew, we realized we were driving there at least twice a week to play pinball,” Carvey said.

After her first outing, the couple began playing competitively, and one of Carvey’s first competitions was at PinMaine-ia in Maine. Since then, she has also competed in annual tournaments, such as Pinburgh in Pittsburgh and Pintastic in Sturbridge, Mass.

A couple of years ago the Carveys, along with several friends, opened The Sanctum, a pinball co-op located in Meriden, Conn. Carvey said one of the main reasons for opening the arcade was for the New England Pinball League to have a place to play. Pinball leagues exist throughout the United States, and members meet quarterly and play competitively. At the end of each three-month quarter, the highest-ranked players play for the league championship.

“Two years ago, whenever the ... league wanted to get together and play, we didn’t have a home,” Carvey said.

The Sanctum contains over 40 pinball machines, is eco-friendly, and has a cable system with cameras running throughout the building so events can be livestreamed to such websites as Twitch and YouTube. The arcade is open every Monday night for league and social play. Each machine is free to use, but the owners ask for a $10 donation to assist with the maintenance and upkeep of the building.

The Sanctum is known for hosting an annual 24-hour tournament called the “Final Battle,” and the arcade was recently voted by the pinball community to host one of the Professional and Amateur Pinball Association, or PAPA, circuit events later this year.

“It’s fun, it’s social,” Carvey said.

Carvey is a world-ranked pinball player. Players earn points through the International Flipper Pinball Association, or IFPA, for playing in leagues and tournaments. Although there are approximately 30,000 ranked pinball players in the world, Carvey is ranked in the top 2,000 overall and in the top 100 female players.

Carvey said her most memorable experience was competing against Anna Wolk, who is currently ranked ninth in the world for female players. Carvey faced Wolk at last year’s Pinfest tournament in Allentown, Pa., where she finished in second place.

“Shot after shot I crushed that game of Paragon,” Carvey said. “The only problem was that I thought I just had to win that one game, but we had one more game left to play. I can’t tell you my disappointment.”

Carvey said she understands pinball is a competitive game, but she just tries to play for fun. She also urges everybody to remember that it’s only a game, because there are countless things that could happen out of a player’s control that could jeopardize the game.

“What if the machine malfunctions?” Carvey said. “What if [the ball] hops over the flipper or what if somebody bumps into you?”

When she’s not traveling for work or playing pinball, Carvey enjoys spending time with Mark and her pitbull, Gary. She also enjoys snorkeling and hiking. During the winter, though, Carvey said there is a lot of pinball playing.

“What else is there to do?” Carvey asked. “It’s New England during the winter.”

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