Greatness is often found in simplicity. And when it comes to arcade games, there is no greater embodiment of simplicity than Air Hockey, a game that can be learned in less than a minute and is still played, over 40 years since its inception, all around the world. It came upon the scene in the early 70s, and soon after, the distinctive click-clack sounds of two players battling it out could be heard in every arcade across the country.
There is a little bit of disagreement over who invented the Air Hockey game. One story suggests that it was the sole creation of Bob Lemieux, an ice hockey enthusiast who dreamed up the game and sold it to the well-known billiard table manufacturer, Brunswick. Records paint a slightly different story, however, as the patent lists three Brunswick employees – Phil Crossman, Bob Kenrick and Brad Baldwin, who in 1969, invented the frictionless surface the game is played upon. Regardless, Bob Lemieux is credited with resurrecting their shelved invention and refining the idea into the classic arcade game known today.
Air Hockey consists of a table slightly smaller than your average billiards table. The real magic lies in the surface, which contains thousands of tiny holes that release a steady stream of air for the plastic puck to travel across. Each side of the table contains a slot in the center, serving as the goal net. Each player is armed with a circular plastic mallet that they use to slam the puck towards their opponents goal, either directly across the surface or by banking it off of the sides of the table.
The lightening speed of game play, along with the rugged and physically-challenging aspect made the game an overnight success in arcades all across the country and beyond. Soon, tournaments were held, many with cash prizes, and professional air hockey organizations were created, such as the United States Air-Table-Hockey Association. The game remained popular throughout the 70s, although eventually arcade owners would start removing the tables once it was realized that they took up the same space that three lucrative video games could occupy.
And so, Air Hockey briefly took a back burner to the onslaught of newer video games being introduced. But you can’t keep a classic down forever, and within a few years, the game enjoyed a resurgence of sorts. Video games come and go, and their popularity is generally pretty short lived. By comparison, people never seem to tire of a rousing game of Air Hockey. And the game continues to evolve to this day. In fact, later table designs in the late 90s were engineered to achieve puck speeds of nearly 80 miles-per-hour! As a result, the game remains popular around the globe, with professional Air Hockey tournaments still held in countries as far away as Russia and Europe. This simple, fast-paced game has a proven longevity that would make any video game more than a little jealous. And it’s click-clacking future seems assured.
If you challenged more than a few friends and siblings to a rousing game of Air Hockey back in the day, maybe even bloodied up a few knuckles along the way, we welcome your memories in our comments section.