The design of Crosstown Concourse — with its nooks and crannies and maze of hallways — lends itself to “investigation and surprise,” says Eric Stenberg, elementary school science teacher and owner of the one-man company, Bluff City Pinball.
Spend enough time exploring its one million square feet and you’ll certainly run into a number of surprises — a ping-pong table, a display of Sears artifacts recovered from the building’s past life, a cornhole set-up, plenty of art, and even four pinball machines tucked away in unexpected locations. Those machines are on loan from Stenberg, who has a total of 13 machines in his personal collection, including a few on loan to Memphis Made Brewing Co. and Lucchesi’s Beer Garden.
Perhaps the most visible pinball machine in Concourse is Hook, just outside Next Door. There’s also NBA Fastbreak next to the red spiral staircase in the East Atrium, Star Trek: The Next Generation near Tech901, and Road Show outside City Leadership’s fourth floor office.
The machine near City Leadership was the first pinball addition to the building. Stenberg, who teaches science to fourth, fifth, and sixth graders at New Hope Christian Academy, loaned a machine (first it was Funhouse, then Fish Tales, and finally Road Show) to City Leadership as a way to say thanks after they published a short video about his unusual teaching method. Stenberg isn’t just a pinball collector; he actually uses the machines to teach science in the classroom.
“The machines have levers and inclined planes and ramps. I’ve got a couple of old play fields that aren’t in machines, and I use those to point out real-life examples of this and that,” Stenberg said. “We talk about Laws in Motion, and ‘For every action, there’s an equal and opposite reaction’.”
Stenberg even hauls machines into the classroom so students can get hands-on experience. Most of the kids, he says, have never seen a pinball machine.
“The kid who is playing their turn is just playing the game, and everyone else is watching and observing. They’re asked to identify where they see the first Law of Motion at play or to identify three simple machines,” Stenberg says.
Stenberg fell in love with pinball playing with his dad in the mall arcade as a kid. Later, in college, he’d play in the student union.
“After college, I moved back to Memphis and worked at a nonprofit. While working for this nonprofit, I discovered a broken down pinball machine in the neighborhood where I was working. The machine’s owners had no plans to fix the game and called me and said that if I wanted it, then I could have it. That’s when I realized I could own these things,” Stenberg says. “When I switched from the nonprofit world to teaching via Memphis Teacher Residency, I used pinball as a motivation. I said once I get my master’s, I can buy a pinball machine.”
Visitors, residents, and employees of Concourse may just catch Stenberg’s pinball bug. At 50 cents a play, the machines offer an affordable afternoon escape. Want to learn more? Check out bluffcitypinball.com for more information concerning playing tips, locations, contact information, and events.