Bally Scared Stiff Pinball

Repairs, Restorations, Tweaks and Insights.


May 22, 2024

I had no plans to get a Scared Stiff pinball machine. I had never even played one. Yet a situation arose that made getting a nice Scared Stiff possible and I decided to make it happen.

I was attempting to sell my Theatre of Magic because I'd recently acquired Foo Fighters. While I received many trade offers, I found none interesting. Plus I was focusing on downsizing by one pin.

Then the trade offer for a Scared Stiff came in. I initially thought "no thanks, I'm trying to downsize." After some more though, even though I'd never played Scared Stiff, I decided it would be a fun pin to have. Worst case I'd try selling it and perhaps get more than trade offers.

The other guy was several hundred miles away so we decided to split the difference and meet in the middle. We exchanged some gameplay videos and had a video call showing the pins and formalizing the transaction. It worked out great! When we meet, we each setup our pins on saw horses and did basic inspection. We were both happy and loaded the swapped pins into each other's car. Transaction complete!

Here's a picture of Scared Stiff traveling home with me.

Great Aspects of Scared Stiff

May 22, 2024 (Updated June 6, 2024)

What are some great aspects of Scared Stiff?

Scared Stiff is just charming and leaves a smile on my face after each game.

Shop Strategy

June 6, 2024

I've been executing to a simple plan, but I never wrote it down. Now that I've finished some key phases, it seems appropriate to share.

As I said, my Scared Stiff was very nice although it had several modest issues. My plan:

  1. Phase One: Lighting
    1. Replace non-ghosting LEDs with Comet 2 SMD or Comet 4 SMD sunlights
    2. Replace any incandescent bulbs with Comet LEDs
    3. Installed LEDOCD board
  2. Phase Two: Quick Cleaning
    1. Clean the subway
    2. Quick Novus Cleaning
    3. Clean rubbers with Pinball Life's PinGuard rubber cleaner
  3. Phase Three: Gameplay
    1. Play game
    2. Identify issue impacting gameplay
    3. Fix issues
    4. Iterate until many games are played consecutively with no misbehavior
  4. Phase Four: Deeper Clean
    1. Replace all rubbers
    2. Consider flame polish ramp with exit above SPELL targets

As June 6, 2024, I'm happy to say phases 1, 2 and 3 are complete!

Here's a picture of how it's looking.

Spider VUK Activating Randomly

June 20, 2024

My Scared Stiff had been in the middle of the room while I was working on it. I decided the major work was done and I'ld more it into a more appropriate location. It was a short move, perhaps about 10 feet. But tht short distance didn't prevent the Spider VUK from breaking.

After the short move, I played a game. During the game I would randomly heard a "thump" or "wack". The first couple times I thought it was just normal pinball sounds, but then I realized something was not right. I took off the playfield glass and (gently) banged on the playfield with my fist. This is an approved diagnostic, if you didn't know. WHen my fist hit the playfield, there was a "wack" sound. I tracked it down to the Spider VUK activating.

I opened up the playfield and checked out the Spider VUK opto. Sure enough, it was hanging on by a thread. If I wiggled it, the VUK was activate. After just a couple wiggles, it completely broke off. See the picture below.

The opto logic for WPC pins is reversed from the mechanical switches. If an opto loses power, such as a wire breaking off, it registers are being active. As a result, when the wire wobbled from connected to disconnected, the game would think a ball was in the VUK and try to eject it.

Luckily it was a simple fix. I stripped the wire and soldered it back. Spider VUK no longer activating randomly.

Multi-Layer Backbox

May 22, 2024

The backbox on Scared Stiff looks incredible in person. It looks great in pictures too, but from pictures you cannot easily tell that it's 3-dimensional! Because the Scared Stiff backbox is unique with a spinning 3D spider, a traditional backbox with protruding bulbs would not work.

The dimensionality of the backbox exists because of the following.

  1. Backmost layer with art and lights
  2. The spider is 3D and in front of the backmost layer
  3. The TV with the Elvira text is another layer
  4. The front most layer has the Elvira image along with the hat-guy and other art

The pictures below attempt to show the multiple layers by having the images taken at an angle.

Here's a picture of the backbox from the front.

Here's a picture with the backglass removed, showing the layer behind.

Top 3 Spider Lights not Working

June 5, 2024

The top three lights on the spinning spider backbox would occasionally stop working. I'd reseat the connecter and they'd work for a while, but eventually stop again. Sometimes they'd start working again on their own. I'd run across this type of problem in the past with many WPC games, such as WhiteWater. The cause is that, often, the solder is slightly cracked on the male connector of a light board.

Below is the art for the 3 lights I'm referring.

Below are pictures of the front and back of the light board.

I looked closely at the pins and one of them was cracked. Below is a close up.

This is a quick fix, simply reflow and add a little solder. I did it to all the male leads on this board. Problem solved.

Leapers Leaping Away!

May 29, 2024

The leapers on Scared Stiff take a cue from WhiteWater. Just like how the ball will hit the playfield glass when going over the waterfall ramp, the leapers will fly up and hit the glass. It's a really cool effect.

While debugging some problem with the glass off, the pinball hit a leaper target. The leaper flied up as usual. With no playfield glass to stop it, it kept going! It shot right out of it's holder and landed on the playfield. It looked like the picture below.

I wondered whether this was just the game's design and you were expected to remove leapers if playing with the glass off. Some quick research showed that's not the case. Rather, there should be a stopped on the bottom of the leaper's rod to keep it from flying away should the playfield glass not stop it. Luckily these stoppers are easy to find. While waiting for them to arrive, I simply put a couple windings of electrical tape on the rod.

Here's what the leaper's rod looks like below the playfield.

And here's what the rod looks like with the cap installed.

Leaper Mechanism

May 29, 2024

As mentioned elsewhere, the leapers are cool. When the ball hits a leaper target, the leaper jumps up and hits the playfield glass. I looked into how this mechanism works and was surprised to see it's purely mechanical driven by force of the ball! There's no powered solenoid pushing the leaper upward.

The mechanism simply is a lever that, when hit by the ball, pushes upward on the leaper. Since the ball has a lot of force, this level pushes the leaper with a lot of force. You can see the mechanism in the 2 pictures below. The first is the mechanism in a stationary view while the second shows what happens when a ball hits the mechanism.

And here's what the rod looks like with the cap installed.

Yes, I know the rubbers are gross. I have not replaced them yet since getting the machine.

Inconsistent Kick-out from Crate VUK

June 1, 2024

I'm not sure what the exact name of this mechanism is. The manual calls it the left popper, but that's just kind of boring. Regardless, I'm referring to the hole in the playfield that is used for the skill shot. It's to the left of the crate, which is why I'm informally calling it the crate vertical up-kicker.

When operating properly, this VUK should toss the ball straight to the right and into the pop pumper. While mine would do that 80% or so of the time, the other 20% of the time the ball would hit the rubber post right next to the VUK. This would cause the ball to bounce around in an unappealing manner. Below is a picture of this VUK and the post.

I removed the VUK / Popper mechanism. I noticed the end of the bell armature was beat up and mushroomed. Since this is actually a plastic piece, I smoothed and rounded it out with some fine sandpaper. Looks great, picture below.

While that was a good fix, I don't believe it was the root problem. When looking at the VUK / Popper mechanism (A-20788), I noticed the plate that holds the ball had become bent. You can see this in the image below (slightly right of center). This would cause the armature to hit the pinball slightly off center, causing the ball to exit inconsistently.

I was able to bend this piece back easily. After straightening, it looks as pictured below.

Below is a picture of the entire A-20788 "Popper Assembly (Left)" mechanism from right before I reinstalled it. BTW, the mechanism is easy to remove or install, requiring only working with 3 screws.

Ball Escaped Boney Beast Ramp from Spider VUK

June 2, 2024

About 80% of the time the Spider VUK worked perfectly. This is technically the A-20716 "Popper Assembly - Jet Exit". The ball would fly upwards, pass through the boney beast via A-21032 "Gate & Trap Door Assembly" and roll down the remainder of the boney beast ramp. Occasionally, however, the ball would end up on the playfield in the general areas of the A-21032 assembly.

The ball flies REALLY FAST when ejected from the Spider VUK. It was hard to tell what was happening. Normally when this happens, the ball isn't launching from the VUK aligned correctly and doesn't pass through the A-21032 assembly. I videoed the failure at 240 FPS and was able to see the root cause. The ball was passing through the A-21032 assembly just fine. However, it would start rolling down the boney beast ramp (VERY QUICKLY) and jump right of!

Below is a picture of the Spider VUK which launches the ball through the A-21032 "Gate & Trap Door Assembly" assembly.

After some investigation, such as verifying the correct strength coil is being used, I determined there wasn't anything problematic with the Spider VUK. While sharing the steps I was performing to investigate this issue, a friendly Pinsider pointed out that my Boney Beast ramp appeared to be missing a ball guide (part 12-7364). This missing piece goes exactly where the ball was jumping out of my Boney Beast ramp! Surely this was the problem.

Based on some pictures, I made a similar version and installed it. It wasn't a perfect match but it got the job done! In 20 out of 20 tests, the ball flied up from the Spider VUK, through the A-21032 assembly, and stayed on the Boney Beast all the way to the end. Problem solved!

Here's a picture of my homemade guide installed. I'll likely purchase the less than $3 one from Marco in the future.

Cleaning the Subway

May 29, 2024

Subways, which are basically ramps under the playfield, get dirty quickly. The subway in my Scared Stiff is no different.

Below is a picture of the dirty subway.

It's fairly simple to remove. There are 4 screws holding the subway in place. I also removed the lamp holder in the upper right of the above picture because its wires were in the way. Finally, there's an opto switch attached to the subway. The associated connector needs to be disconnected. Once those are moved, you need to shimmy it out from under a bunch of other wires.

Below is a picture of the isolated dirty subway followed by the cleaned up version. Looks good!

The last picture, below, shows the clean subway installed back into Scared Stiff.

When reinstalling the subway, pay attention to ensure you place the subway above or below the metal pieces. Specifically, for the entry, the subway should go below the metal tab as pictured below.

The subway should go above the metal tab where it leads to the vertical up kicker (VUK), as pictured below.

Dead Heads LED Eyes and Flashers

May 29, 2024

I've read that the original design for Scared Stiff called for the Dead Heads to have illuminated eyes. This was, however, removed as part of cost cutting. Many people over the years have added back the illuminated eyes. Some past owner of my Scared Stiff did it too!

Here's a picture of the Dead Heads and their LED eyes.

The eyes light up corresponding to the active mode (or tale), such as "The Stiff in the Coffin" or "Night of the Leapers".

Here's a modest quality GIF I made of the Dead Head eyes.

The Dead Head sculpture also has room for two 906 flashers. I didn't realize this at first because someone had removed the 906 bulbs! I added them back and really like the effect. When the game energizes these flashers, the Dead Head sculpture gets a reddish glow as shown below.

I've included this boring picture of the Dead Head flasher assembly only because it has an odd look to it. It's not the typical color and it has solder pads instead of a typical connector.

LEDOCD and Replacing Bulbs

May 30, 2024

I'm not a fan of just adding LED bulbs to a pin. If you simply swap an incandescent bulb for an LED, you'll lose all fading. The new LED will either be 100% on or completely off, and that's ignoring the potential for ghosting (where the bulb flickers on and off when it should be off). In my opinion, any conversion to LEDs needs to also use the LEDOCD product. It solves all the problems mentioned.

I've written about LEDOCD before, so I'll not add anything more about it. I installed the LEDOCD board on my Scared Stiff. See the picture below.

A past owner of my Scared Stiff had mostly converted it to LEDs (without LEDOCD). They used 1 SMD No Ghosting Comet LEDs. I'm a big fan of Comet LED bulbs, but these are a good choice with LEDOCD. The No Ghosting feature works against the LEDOCD board, preventing some dimming. Also, the 1 SMD is too dim for my taste. I removed every matrix bulb. Here's a picture of the bag of old bulbs I created.

When converting Bally/Williams games to LEDs, I use Comet Sunlight as by "go-to" bulb. These are 2 SMD, providing good light for many inserts. The "sunlight" is pretty close to regular incandescent bulbs. I've given up on any "color matching to inserts." I've found it's not worth the effort and often ends up looking "too much".

I tried something new with Scarred Stiff, I used some of Comets 4 SMD bulbs. These are great! They are absolutely perfect for larger inserts, of which Scared Stiff has many. I'm very pleased with the results.

I used the Comet 4 SMDs on all the spider spinner matrix lights in the backbox as well as all the mode/tale lights on the playfield, among other locations. These are pictured below.

I'd like to show a picture of the illuminated LEDs, but unless you are the type of person that likes half their playfield neon blue and the other half neon red, it's not possible to photograph the impact of a nice LED conversion. You need to see it in person.

Shooter Lane Wire Gate

May 23, 2024 (Updated May 30, 2024)

After playing a few games of Scared Stiff, I noticed that the ball would occasionally end up back in the shooter lane. The game would realize this and auto-plunge the ball, but most pins do not let the ball back into the shooter lane. I started a little investigation.

Over the exist of the shooter lane is a long metallic piece. These usually have a wire gate attached, which only moves in one direction. This allows a ball to exist but not enter. On my Scared Stiff, there was no wire gate! I looked at the manual and quickly saw part number 33 on the upper playfield was "Ball Gate & Wire Assembly" (part A-21339). It appeared I had the assembly without the ball gate.

Here's a picture of the A-21339 from above (it's under the boney beast). You can see there's no wire gate.

While I could guess, a little, what the wire gate should look like, I decided it would be best to ask on Pinside if someone had a picture. Very quickly a great guy provided some pictures and I was off to make a bunch of bends in a wire to match.

Over the years many people have said the best "wire" to use it "Piano Wire." People have also suggested bicycle spokes. Stainless steel welding rods (1/16") are also recommended. I went with the welding rods because Amazon could deliver them next day.

Below is the top view and side view of the A-21339 part without the gate wire.

Following the model provided by the friendly pinsider, I made several bends to the welding rod and it turned out great! Below is the wire gate I made below the original piece.

Here it is connected together followed by installed into the pin.

After making my own wire gate, I was placing an order from Marco and they have an official wire gate for this location. It was only a few dollars so I added it to my order. When it arrived, I compared it to the one I built and it was very similar. However, I have to admit, the Marco one performs better.

Below is a picture of mine on the left and the Marco one on the right. Marco's has slightly different bends, lengths and is thicker gauge.

Inconsistent Roll Over Lanes

June 6, 2024

Several of the roll over lane switches were inconsistent. They'd work sometimes, always working when tested with my finger, yet occasionally not registering when a ball rolled over. The problematic switches were for:

This is a pretty common problem with older games. Sometimes the wire actuators on the switch needs adjusting, other times the switch itself is just gunked up and needs to be replaced.

After several iterations, more than I care to share, all are working well. I adjusted the wire actuators, which were bent all sorts of weird, as well as adding some cleaner to the switches.

Increased Sensitivity of Pop Bumpers

June 6, 2024

Scared Stiff makes excellent use of the pop bumpers. They are the main part of the tale "The Monsters Lab". When I first got Scared Stiff, the ball would enter the lab area (aka Pop Bumpers) and sometimes never active any of the pops! That's not ok.

Pop bumpers ultimately are just fancy leaf switches and, like all leaf switches, sometimes they need adjustment. I adjusted the 3 leaf switches to be sensitive yet not activate for arbitrary bangs or other playfield movement.

Now when the ball enters the Monsters Lab, there's a lot of pop bumper action.

ColorDMD Firmware Upgrade

May 22, 2024

It's easy to forget the ColorDMD occasionally (but not often) improves the colorization through new firmware. My Scared Stiff came with Scared Stiff firmware 4.1 yet 4.2 is the latest (as of this writing).

The 4.2 firmware was released November 5th, 2020. The following improvements are made per ColorDMD's site.

Upgrading the ColorDMD firmware is easy. Just place the new firmware on a USB stick, insert the USB stick to the ColorDMD board, and hold down the left button for 5 seconds. The display goes blank for a bit while the new firmware is read from the USB stick and restarts when done.

Here's a picture of the ColorDMD board with a USB stick inserted.

Playfield Pictures

May 22, 2024

While this Scared Stiff is nice, it needs a solid cleaning. I haven't done that yet. However, it seems appropriate to still include some pictures, right?

WPC95 Boards in Backbox

June 3, 2024

Here's a picture of the boards in Scared Stiff's WPC95 backbox.

Bottom of Playfield

May 22, 2024

Here's a picture of the bottom of Scared Stiff's playfield.

Classic Playfield Reproductions' Mirrored Backglass

May 29, 2024

Scared Stiff has a translite opposed to a backglass. A backglass has art screened (or whatever appropriate technology) directly onto glass. A translite is a plastic-like sheet with the art that is placed behind a piece of glass. This results in the appearance of a traditional backglass. Translites were introduced to keep costs down.

While my Scared Stiff translite is in pretty good shape (not perfect), I decided to try out Classic Playfield Reproductions version of an actual Scared Stiff backglass. CPR added mirroring while converting from translite to backglass.

If you need a replacement Scared Stiff translite and cannot find a "new old stock" (NOS) one, CPR's product is a option to seriously consider. It's great it is available as a choice.

With that said, having an original translite, I'm disappointed with Classic Reproduction Playfields' Scared Stiff product. In my view it has excessive blacks, lack of detail and different coloring. Some examples:

  1. With CPR, Elvira's outfit and hair has little dimension and looks more like a black blob. This is a substantial part of the artwork and these concerns are noticeable when installed in the backbox
  2. With CPR, the cat has significantly less detail and excessive amounts of black
  3. With CPR, the color used for the text "Scared" is noticeably different as well as some other colors

Below are some images, in pairs, of the original translite and the CPR backglass. The first is always the original. The second is the CPR version.

Note: I did my best to take pictures under the same lighting. Original and CPR were next to the other when the pictures were taken. I feel the pictures strongly reflect the reality of viewing in person.

You can see yourself the differences in the above, but I'll point out one: the CPR backglass starts turning blue in shadow areas where the original becomes more gray.

The original Scared Stiff translite is amazing. The Classic Playfield Reproductions version loses that "I'm incredible" feel.

Game Adjustment You Should Know! A.2 31 Family Mode

June 6 22, 2024

Let's explain the numbering. The "A.2" means adjustment menu 2, which is called "Feature Adjustments". The number after that, as well as the name, is the specific adjustment number and name.

Now back to adjustment A.2 31 Family Mode. As you undoubtedly know, Elvira's callouts tend toward humorous sexual innuendo. If that's not your thing, or you are having people over and you don't think it's their thing, then turn on Family Mode. I played around with it for a game or two and it appears to simply not play certain callouts or, perhaps, replace them with ones you've already heard. I do not believe there are any unique callouts for this mode. If I'm wrong here, let me know!

Here's a picture of the adjustment screen.

Game Adjustment You Should Know! A.2 32 Boogie Dancers

June 6 22, 2024

A.2 32 Boogie Dancers is important but requires a little bit of history. When Scared Stiff was designed, it had dancing Boogie Men on the slingshots. Apparently these were removed at the last minute. The Scared Stiff manual include information about them, such as A-20910 "Boogie Man-Kicker Assembly". This supports the belief that the decision to remove them was last minute.

I wrote Dennis Nordman, Scared Stiff's designer, a note about this and he graciously responded that the change occurred because of

  1. Cost Reasons
  2. Concern Boogie Men body parts would break off and cause problems for operators

Good news is that neither of those is a concern for home use games almost 30 years later!

Knowing how the Boogie Men were original designed, many people have modded the Boogie Men back into the game. My game came with this mod already. I didn't realize it was a mod at first because it's referenced in the manual. If you aren't sure what I'm talking about, see the two pictures below. Yeah, I haven't replaced the rubbers yet.

Now back to adjustment A.2 32 Boogie Dancers. By default this is OFF! But when it is on, and you start the disco boogie man mode, the game will trigger the slings to the beat, which causes the Boogie Men to move back and forth and their arms wiggle all around! It's really cool and has so much charm.

Here's the thing. If you factory reset your game, A.2 32 Boogie Dancers switches to OFF. You may not know they even dance, if you (like me) acquired a game with the mod already installed but did a factory reset to clear the old high scores or whatever.

Here's a picture of the adjustment screen.

Happy Birthday Damien!

May 22, 2024

Scared Stiff has lots of easter eggs which include several happy birthday messages! I was not aware of this until, the day after a acquired Scared Stiff, I turned on the machine and was greeted with the following.