An article in The New Yorker published on August 9 beautifully laments the decreasing popularity of air hockey, the “delightful amalgamation of billiards and ice hockey.” The author, Amanda Petrusich, dives into the history, the competitive side and the fun of the game in her 1,000+ word memorandum, in which Mark Robbins (Gold Standard Games/Shelti supremo and two-time USAA world champion) is mentioned. Robbins (who’s known for reinvigorating the sport with a competitive focus) had a response to the piece that lauded it for its effort, but pointed out a few misconceptions. And if anyone knows air hockey, it’s Mark. In his letter to the “New Yawkuh,” Robbins wrote:
“Amanda Petrusich’s musing on The Forgotten Greatness of Air Hockey starts off beautifully, with a vivid description of the sensory delights of the game. But it’s when she begins to speculate on causes for the sport’s marginalization that her account begins to diverge from the actuality of what’s happening today.
“Ms. Petrusich speculates that at the professional level, the game is largely an uncontrolled affair, with much scoring being inadvertent, and that this contributes to the sport’s struggles in the public’s mind. Ironically, those of us on the front lines of promoting air hockey know that the exact opposite is true. The perception of many viewing competitive air hockey for the first time is that the game is too controlled, too precise, too demanding of discipline and skill… the exact opposite of the slam-bang wild play of beginners in the arcade, where indeed most scores are the result of luck.
“Pull up on YouTube any footage of actual play in USAA World Championships (shot from fixed tripod cameras, not “furtively on cell phones”)… or “Pucklife” and “Rise of the Young Wolf” on YouTube… or Eric Anderson’s documentary “Way of the Puck”… and you will see a game of puck possession where turnovers are the exception not the rule. A high-speed chess game between offenses with great puck control, accuracy, and deceptive drifts and releases… vs. defenses which indeed attempts to use the ideal Triangle Defense in the way that Ms. Petrusich describes. At this level of play, inadvertent scores are few and far between, and this does discourage some beginners from making the transition to competitive play.
“Another factor not mentioned by Ms. Petrusich is that while the GAME of air hockey is more popular than ever… the SPORT is struggling, mostly due to a lack of competitive-quality tables in public venues. Over the past decade, the USAA-sanctioned tables have increasingly been replaced by novelty tables which are long on bling, color, lights, sound, and pizazz… but are woefully short on play quality. What the avid players call “toy tables” have increasingly replaced the tournament-sanctioned tables, which include the original Brunswicks, many of the Dynamo tables, and my own Gold Standard tables. This means fewer people are exposed to the experience of “real air hockey” that so many of us fell in love with. Because of this, my company Gold Standard Games has experienced increasing demand from home buyers for tournament quality tables, even while the coin market has headed in the opposite direction.
“One correction to add: Bob Lemieux is indeed on the air hockey patents received by Brunswick Corporation, but Brad Baldwin is not. Lemieux is generally credited as the one most responsible for taking a rough concept and refining it into the game which came to be loved by so many.”
Thanks, Mark, for sharing the article and setting the record straight on competitive air hockey so eloquently.
Robbins (right) meets with Gabe Garboden, Oregon’s top-rated air hockey player.