Pinball Wizard

Pinball Wizard is a game invented by Margaret Hendershot, played for the first time at a TDAA trial in Washingtonville, OH in July, 2009. The game seems a bit like Dare to Double, but with some important differences that the canny competitor should appreciate.



The goal is to accumulate as many points as possible within course time: 50 seconds for big dogs and 55 seconds for small dogs.

The start obstacle is the dogwalk; in either direction. After successfully completing the start obstacle, the team continues to accumulate points by completing obstacles of the handler’s/dog’s choosing.

  • Jumps – 1 point
  • Tire, tunnels (other than the bonus), and weaves – 3 points
  • Contacts (other than the start) – 5 points

All scoring obstacles may be completed twice for points; triggers and bonuses can be taken many times. No obstacle may be taken back-to-back. The table is always live. If the dog touches the table it is a tilt and play ends.

Once the start obstacle has been completed, the triggers become active. Triggers open the bonus obstacles allowing the dog to triple all points earned. The bonus is the two tunnels marked bonus, in any order and any direction.

The bonus may be earned three times during play. The successful completion of the bonus triples all points accumulated each time it is completed.

To reactivate the triggers after completing the bonus, at least one point must be earned. A whistle sounds at the end of point accumulation. The dog should be directed to the table to stop time.

If a fault is called, point accumulation continues, but the triggers becomes dormant. The dog must do the dogwalk/start again to reactivate the triggers. Faults include the usual performance faults like: knocked bar, missed contact, starting the weave poles without completing. These special faults also apply:

  • taking a bonus tunnel without taking one of the triggers first;
  • taking an obstacle between the trigger obstacle and the bonus obstacle (including back-jumping the trigger);
  • jumping the trigger when it is not active.

Knocking a trigger bar means that trigger is out of play for the rest of the game. The remaining trigger may still be used.


Pinball Wizard is scored Points, Then Time.


Games 1: 50 points
Games 2: 100 points
Games 3: 150 points


It’s true that this game feels a lot like Dare-to-Double as the dog gets to multiply points previously earned multiple times. An important difference between the two games is that the dog is penalized for any fault in Pinball Wizard by having to repeat the time-consuming/zero value start obstacle (the dogwalk).

The Mental Game

It would be fairly easy to lose heart on any fault, knowing that your strategy has unraveled and your dog probably won’t be able to earn the points to qualify.

Your dog will not be the only dog to fault in Pinball Wizard. There will be a bunch of faults out there. What differentiates the field of players at the Petit Prix is the ability of the handler to pick himself up and go on. The fault wasn’t crushing. Melting down on a fault is crushing.

Simple Math Strategy

The key to a dog’s choice game is that it should be resolved to a plan as clear and precise as any numbered course. Plan to run without fault.

Two Bonus Strategy

The game might be approached with the simple math to achieve a qualifying score:

17 * 3 = 51; + 1 = 52 * 3 = 156

This strategy requires the dog to do trigger and bonus only twice. The dog needs to begin with a minimum of 17 points to get to a GIII qualifying score.

15 * 3 = 45 + 5 =50 * 3 = 150

Three Bonus Strategy

Three bonuses will surely yield more points than only two. The burning question shall be… how many points should be scored before engaging in the bonus strategy.

6 * 3 = 18; + 1 = 19; * 3 = 57 + 1 =58 * 3 = 174

In this strategy the dog begins with only six points, and picks off a single point before returning to the trigger and bonus. Note that this can be done with a fairly economical 12 obstacles, raising the possibility that the trigger and bonus might be approached a fourth time.

12 * 3 = 36+ 5 = 41+ 3 = 123+ 3 = 126 * 3 = 378

This strategy is a bit more ambitious. Not only does the dog begin with 12 points, but gets more transitional points between trigger and bonus performances.

The Finish

There is no good reason to run for the table as soon as your strategy is exhausted. There is no real downside to getting to the table after the whistle has blown to end point accumulation. You might take another shot at trigger and bonus. Or, at the very least, continue accumulating points for the simple performance of obstacles until the whistle blows.


I wrote the following bit way back in July of 2009. Apparently we played the game in League to give it a workout:

* * *

It’s a funny thing. I went into this pretty much imagining that I had figured out the killer strategy before the first dog had run. Here’s my logic… since it takes 150 points to qualify at the GIII level… then it makes sense to collect pretty much precisely just enough in the opening salvo so that it would add up to a qualifying score if tripled only twice. That would be I figure 16 or 17 points.

And then, as we diligently pursued this line of reasoning… all of our dogs timed out smack in the middle of the third tripler.

We sat and pondered this for awhile and arrived at an interesting conclusion… It would be considerably better points-wise to go into the bonus period with a more modest accumulation of points, say 10 or 12. That will allow time to get the third tripler. That means instead of having a score hovering just above 150 points… the dog would have a score more in the range of 350 +.

Now, what you have to take into consideration is that we were not running on a TDAA course. We were running on a big dog course. So had we all scored our third tripler using the initial logic… then our scores would have been more in the vicinity of 450+ points.

We learned some other interesting things as well… like why it doesn’t pay to melt down when the judge calls a fault.

This was a very cool game and likely a keeper in the TDAA.


  • Pinball Wizard is often confused by judges/course designers with Wild West Pinball. So it will appear in the world with elements of the latter game utterly distorting and obscuring the original Margaret Hendershot game.
  • Timing Variation ~ time begins when the dog dismounts the dogwalk… rather than when the dog commits to the dogwalk.

Premium Blurb

Pinball Wizard a dog’s choice point accumulation game with on-the-field bonuses that triple all of the dog’s points. The game starts with a performance of the dogwalk; rather like pulling back the plunger on a pinball table before releasing the pinball onto the table and racking up points.

Homegrown Tomatoes

Courtesy of Kory Kruckmeyer: “Guy Clark on an old old Austin City Limits, with “Home Grown Tomatoes”, his 2nd most famous song.”

Do tell… what’s Guy Clark’s most famous song?

Homegrown Garlic

This is heirloom garlic given to me by Cookie Nee.


She gave me something else that I’ll always remember. She says, “In the ground on Columbus Day, and harvest on the Fourth of July!” This is like old farmer timing wisdom… and is easy to remember. The timing has always been a complete mystery to me.


Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston The web store is up and running. I have five volumes (over 100 pp each) of The Joker’s Notebook available on my web-store at an inexpensive price. These are lesson plans suitable for individual or group classes for teaching dog to work at a distance.

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