No ice required: The long, strange history of air hockey

For those who weren't born strapped into skates, there's a less cold and wet alterative to ice hockey: air hockey.

For those who weren't born strapped into skates, there's a less cold and wet alterative to ice hockey: air hockey.

When it comes to hockey, not all of us can be Wayne Gretzky. Heck, most of us aren't even the Hanson Brothers. Luckily, for those who weren't born strapped into skates, there's a less cold and wet alterative: Air Hockey.
 
Air hockey is one of the featured table games at Kings and has had a long, strange history. Below are just some of the highlights of nearly 50 years of air hockey:
 
"The noble air hockey table had modest beginnings."
 
Air hockey and 'The Spiderman': A dramatic rise 
 
A staple of college game rooms, furnished basement bachelor pads and carnivals - as well as many Kings locations nationwide - the noble air hockey table had modest beginnings. Designed by a group of ice hockey fans working for Brunswick Billiards in 1969, the first air hockey table made its debut in 1972. Whether they were sick of the spills and brawls, or simply had a debilitating fear of Zambonis (don't we all?) remains lost to history.
 
What is known is that the game saw an immediate explosion in popularity - so much so that just two years later in 1974 Brunswick held the first ever world air hockey championship tournament. Over 31 regional champs competed in New York City for the coveted title of "The Best Air Hockey Player in The World" and the $5,000 prize. The event was a media sensation, with the legendary "voice of basketball" Marv Albert doing the play-by-play commentary and Las Vegas bookmaker Nick the Greek offering odds. NHL superstar Derek "The Turk" Sanderson (the '70s were an unfortunate time for nicknames ) was a featured guest, in part to legitimize the event and to indulge Sanderson's curiosity about what his sport might look like sans athleticism and playable with a beer in one hand. 
 
The thrilling final round of the 1974 championship took place between a player known only as "The Spiderman" and Centenary College student named Barnett (presumably a well-disguised Doctor Octopus). After a whopping 40 games, Barnett managed to defeat the Spiderman, who in the end was felled by "severe blistering" and his crippling sense of guilt over the death of his Uncle Ben
 
It's all about the friction... or lack thereof.
 
Air hockey goes 'underground'
 
After the '70s, the rise of coin-operated video games threatened to displace air hockey in the hearts and minds of Americans. Sales of the tables went into decline and many of the major manufacturers got out of the business. The legendary air hockey champion Phil Arnold spoke grimly of this apocalyptic future in 1982, cautioning the devoted to buy up supplies and prepare for a grim dystopia of life "underground" - where the few remaining true believers would be forced to lead a ragtag insurgency against the sinister forces of Pac-Man and Galaga or be hunted down like dogs. 
"We would be a dying breed isolated from the rest of mankind, growing older, wearing out both body and table in garages and houses -- like some despised cult," Arnold told Westworld, almost certainly understating the seriousness and global ramifications of air hockey's dip in popularity. 
 
"Just when things seemed at its darkest, a savior emerged."
 
'Johnny Air Hockeyseed'
 
Just when things seemed darkest for the sport, a savior emerged in the form of long time air hockey fanatic Mark Robbins. Like some kind of bizarro Johnny Air Hockeyseed, Robbins drove across the country in a 20-foot truck, collecting as many air hockey tables as he could across the country as an effort to preserve the game.
 
His efforts paid off as in 1985, he was able to convince Dynamo Corp., a successful producer of foosball tables, to offer a new and improved version of the air hockey table based on the original 1969 designs. After nearly 15 years working with Dynamo, Robbins retired from the air hockey hawking game - but not before bringing the tables roaring back from the brink of extinction. Take THAT, Frogger!
 
Celebrate nearly 50 years of air hockey at Kings
 
At Kings, we're big fans of air hockey. In addition to our trademark bowling lanes, we offer a diverse selection of table games at all our locations, including our unique four-person air hockey table at our Boston, Dedham, North Hills, Franklin and Lincoln Park location (think an almost life-sized version of 'Hungry Hungry Hippos"). With all this on top of our signature gourmet food and cocktails in an upscale, retro-chic environment, you'll have a night on the town - and the tables - you wont soon forget at Kings!
 
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