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How I fell in love with pinball


It's a big day for us here at NPR because as you've probably heard over the last few months, we've had a lot of guest hosts rotating through the studio anchoring ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. And today, we officially get to welcome you, Juana, as our new permanent full-time host of the show. So on behalf of Ailsa Chang, Mary Louise Kelly and all of the editors, producers, directors and other good folks who make up this team, let me just say how excited we are to have you join us for good.


Thank you so much. I'm so happy to be here, and I'm really excited to actually be in studio with you today.

SHAPIRO: It's the first time in more than two years that I have physically shared the studio with another host. Listen. Our audience has gotten to know you over the years as a journalist who covers stories about politics and demographics. This is a side of you that they are familiar with.

SUMMERS: At a church in northwest Philly, people trickled through the courtyard, eager to hear from the House...

MARY LOUISE KELLY, BYLINE: NPR's Juana Summers reports.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Chanting) Ketanji Brown Jackson.

SUMMERS: A group of seven Black women posed for a photo on the steps in front of the Supreme Court...

Mark Meadows in 2011. A western North Carolina congressional district held by a Democrat was redrawn to become deeply red.

SHAPIRO: So, Juana, that is a side of you that people know well. And we're looking forward to more great political reporting from you on our air. But the thing about hosting ALL THINGS CONSIDERED is you get to consider all the things. So we're going to take a few minutes now to learn more about what you get excited about apart from politics. And am I right that right up at the top of the list is pinball?

SUMMERS: That is right. It is very high at the top of the list. I fell in love with pinball six or seven years ago in the back of a Mexican restaurant in Baltimore. It's a place where the walls are painted these bright orange and deep teal colors. And on any given day, you can probably hear music playing faintly overhead, though some late nights, metal and punk bands take center stage. At the back of the restaurant, I'm surrounded by a dozen pinball machines, and each is from a different time period and each tells a different story.


SUMMERS: And for the price of a few quarters, you get to unlock them.

COMPUTER-GENERATED VOICE #2: Get in here, Player One.

SUMMERS: Now, I did not grow up begging my mom to head to the local arcade. I got into pinball in my early 20s with my now-husband. When we first started playing, it was just a casual game or two. We'd see machines crowded into the corner of dive bars and badly play them while we talked about all kinds of stuff. But it didn't take long before the bells and chimes and the rhythmic flapping of plastic flippers drew me in, and it made it more than just a way to kill some time.

Soon, I was regularly trading dollar bills for pockets full of quarters and studying complex playfields, learning how to sequence shots to get the results I wanted. These games span decades, and a lot of them are older than me. In my opinion, some of the earlier eras of games have the most satisfying sounds in gameplay. Take a listen to Jungle Queen. It came out in 1977.


SUMMERS: Now, if you listen closely, you can hear the whir of the scoring wheels advancing as we play and the thuds as the metal ball collides with drop targets. You can hear the chimes when a ball hits a pop bumper.


SUMMERS: Now, one thing people ask me a lot is how anyone can ever get good at pinball. For people that I've introduced to playing casually or that I've played with for the first time in competitions, a frequent complaint is that the games can move fast and everything just feels really random.

COMPUTER-GENERATED VOICE #3: Stay cool, Daddy-O (ph).

SUMMERS: Well, for me at least, it has taken a lot of practice and also a lot of patience, especially with some of the newer games that have deep rule sets and complex objectives. Lately, I've been spending a lot of my time playing Godzilla...

COMPUTER-GENERATED VOICE #4: Those tanks are closing in on Godzilla.

SUMMERS: ...Which was released by Stern last year. I love that you can hear call-outs that throwback to the franchise the game's based on. There is even the song "Godzilla" by Blue Oyster Cult.


BLUE OYSTER CULT: (Singing) Go go, Godzilla.

SUMMERS: In the game, the player is Godzilla, and the goal is to fight back the invasion of Earth by the zillions. And one of my favorite parts of that game is the motor-activated skyscraper in the center of the playfield. You can shoot balls into the center of it, locking the balls on the skyscraper's top floor. When three balls are locked, the skyscraper lowers, releasing the balls onto the playfield simultaneously for a multiball. There's also a silver Mechagodzilla figure that looms over the lower part of the playfield, and that unlocks a different multiball. Now, the gameplay is what got me hooked. But the other thing that keeps bringing me back to pinball, of course, is playing with other people.

COMPUTER-GENERATED VOICE #5: Are you ready to play?

SUMMERS: Pinball has unlocked a ton of friendships with other players that I never would have discovered had I not flipped that first game and stuck with it for all these years.

SHAPIRO: Juana, it is so considerate of you to pick up a hobby that makes for such good radio.

SUMMERS: Right? It's kind of perfect for this job.

SHAPIRO: We should say this is part of an NPR series called I'm Really Into, which is a celebration of unique hobbies. It is at npr.org. OK. So beyond pinball, beyond politics, now that you're freed from the handcuffs of beat reporting and you can consider all the things, tell us about some of the things you're especially looking forward to tackling as an ALL THINGS CONSIDERED host.

SUMMERS: There are so many things I'm looking forward to jumping into covering, and a big one of those is what we're seeing as a growing mental health crisis among young people in this country. And another topic that I know I have been thinking a lot about over recent weeks is the issue of gun violence.

SHAPIRO: Which you've reported on before.

SUMMERS: That's right. I've spent a lot of time over the years covering activists and community organizers who are seeking ways to curb gun violence in their own communities, as well as politicians who are looking for ways to address that issue. And earlier this year, I shadowed violence interrupters in Baltimore.

Safe Streets leaders identified Albert Williams as a possible violence interrupter because of his reputation.

ALBERT WILLIAMS: I got involved because a close friend, Dante Barksdale - he's seen the influence that I had on my little area. So he, like, really drove me. And he passed away. So it's like I got to do it now.

SHAPIRO: Another aspect of this job that I love is that we get to talk to authors, musicians, filmmakers, the people who reflect the world back to us through their art. And one of those interviews you did as a guest host on It's Been A Minute which really stood out to me was with Danyel Smith about her book "Shine Bright: A Very Personal History Of Black Women In Pop."

SUMMERS: How did you start thinking about music in that way? It's just so nuanced and layered.

DANYEL SMITH: Well, one, I appreciate that. Two, I just - I've always loved music. I've always been nosy. And so I guess it makes sense that - I guess it makes sense that I would become, you know, a culture writer or music critic. But it really started for me reading the liner notes of albums. We used to have albums in our house. My mother was very big with the Columbia Club, where you would, like...

SHAPIRO: But, Juana, I got to warn you, you are never again going to be able to read books for fun because the reading list you're going to have for this job is endless (laughter).

SUMMERS: But this was a book that while it was work, it was also a lot of fun. One of the things I love about the way that Danyel wrote about these stories of these women, who are household names but are also women I grew up in my mom's kitchen listening to, is the fact that she tells stories of these really intimate parts of their lives that many of us have never heard of before. And I have to say, that's one of the things I'm hoping to do in this role is to help people amplify their own voices and to tell their own stories and to take our audience to perhaps some unexpected places, even about people they've probably grown up hearing of, just like I did with these musicians.

SHAPIRO: Well, we are thrilled to have your voice and perspective on the show. So I want to leave you with a nugget of advice that was first given to me by your predecessor, Audie Cornish, on my first day as a host in 2015. This is lovingly passed down through the ages, generation to generation. Are you ready?

SUMMERS: Yeah. Let's do it.

SHAPIRO: Don't skip lunch.

SUMMERS: Oh, boy. I don't think I'm going to be very good at that one, but I'm going to try my best.

SHAPIRO: Juana Summers, our newest ALL THINGS CONSIDERED host, why don't you take us out with the line at the end of the segment?

SUMMERS: All right. Here we go. You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.