Letter from Gonzalo (frasca.at.dragonbox.com) - October 2020

Dear Ed,

We briefly emailed me about a decade ago about my Indiana Jones flipper. You were incredibly kind with your help and advice and that kindness stuck with me during all these years. I'm a videogame designer (I'm based in Uruguay but I work at a Norwegian company, DragonBox, making games and books to learn math - we're also part of Kahoot!, the game quiz company).  Anyway, as I said, I always remembered your kindness and your super interesting job at NASA. As a writer, I sometimes collaborate with Revista Late, which is a magazine written by Latin American journalists. A few weeks ago, as part of their newsletter, I wrote this text about the importance of playfulness and yourself.  I'm including a link to the Spanish version, as well as an automated English translation. I wrote it as a fan of your work (and pinball expertise).

I hope this finds you well.

With admiration,

 Gonzalo Frasca


Hello, my name is Gonzalo Frasca. Next week I will be 48 years old. I play. Since always. With stones. With sticks. With words. Dancing. Scribbling. Alone or accompanied. Since ever. I also play with screens. I played making television programs. I played on online news sites. Now I play making video games.  It is easy to assume that making video games and playing them are two similar activities. They are not. Eating and cooking are radically different, although you have to know how to eat to cook.  People think I spend my time playing video games. I don't. I try less and less but I look for those that change my way of seeing the world.  

In the living room of my house, it is true, there is a video game console. But there is also a flipper (or pinball, as the gringos call it). I bought it many years ago when my cousin Pablo died. I don't play much but when I play I think about him.  I bought the pinball machine with money I made making video games from Uruguay. A couple of decades ago very few people created video games in Latin America. Today, fortunately, there are many more. The pinball machine in question is from Indiana Jones. My partner says that it takes up space to put a decent dining table. When we moved in together I made it a condition to keep the pinball machine and a moose head that I inherited from my grandfather. When my daughter was born, the (scary) moose head went into exile in my studio. The pinball machine still holds.

It shows Indiana and his father. Harrison Ford and Sean Connery. Indiana Jones and the last crusader. One of my favorite movies. When I saw it in the cinema I liked it so much that I sat down and watched it again. When I was a kid I played archeologist like Indiana; I was looking for dinosaur bones at the bottom of the house (I found a chicken bone). When I was a kid, the Uruguayan military played at being Nazis. Always Indiana, never Indian.

The pinball machine was old when I bought it. Many parts didn't work. I had no idea how to fix flippers. But I did know that things can be fixed. I learned that as a kid, watching my dad put together and take apart, change wires and plugs. When I bought the flipper there were no YouTube tutorials on how to fix them. But I did find a page devoted exclusively to the Indiana pinball machine. Ed Cheung's page. From Dr. Ed Cheung. I sent him an email explaining what was broken. He responded right away with a list of parts he needed to buy. He offered to help me by video conference if needed.

I'm tempted to write that there were more friendly strangers on the Internet before, but I realize that's an old-fashioned comment. Part of the daily exercise to keep the place child resistant is to play every day and have an internal alarm against old fart comments. The alarm is failing me more and more, but I don't give up. Other than that one time, I never contacted Ed Cheung, the friendly doctor who helps strangers repair their Indiana Jones flippers. Everything I know about him I learned from his website, which maintains some of the delicious aesthetics of the Internet from the mid-1990s, when I first went online.

Ed Cheung is from Aruba. He lives in the United States. Besides repairing flippers he works at NASA. Among other things, he worked on the Hubble Telescope and the Space Station.  The population of Aruba is 100,000 people. I want to believe that Ed Cheung is a semi-god in Aruba. One of the photos on his site seems to confirm this. He appears on the front page of a newspaper, along with his wife and two children, sitting next to the Governor. The children are small. They look like they are wondering why they are not on the beach in Aruba instead of being locked up with a man wearing a tie.  The answer, kids, is that your dad is an Aruban Grande. Even without knowing him, I bet he's a Grande among Grandes, a Grande from Space. Big because as a child he probably played with rockets, big because he is passionate about flippers. Big because he helps strangers on the Internet.

I don't know Dr. Ed Cheung. I only wrote to him once. But I bet he plays. I know he's played since forever. And I'm betting my moose head that he's going to keep playing until the end of his days.

Link to the article in Spanish:


Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version)