Honey, I Shrunk the Centipede
Updated: Mar 22, 2018
Full disclosure, I don't much care for cocktail cabinets for arcade games, despite pleasant memories of playing the cocktail version of Ms.Pac-Man at Pizza Hut with my childhood friends Michelle and Cheryl. Cocktails are somewhat unattractive, take up a lot of space, and often (such as the layout of Nintendo style cocktail machines) are uncomfortable for the player. I have owned several cocktail arcade cabinets over the years but they have never stayed very long in the collection. Once you put stools to sit down next to them they become mega space hogs. But what I do love are mini or cabaret style cabinets. These 65%-75% sized cabinets are both adorable and great for collectors with limited space. Plus they are so darn cute, like little baby arcade games.
Our story begins like most of these stories do, with a Craigslist ad and some cash. This cabaret Centipede was home owned for over 20 years, and despite the owner having a pretty boss collection of pinball machines, once the Centipede stopped working he decided to give it up. He told me it only displayed garbage now, and they simply had no desire to fix it. 250 bucks exchanged hands and I shoved the game in the old Transit and we were off.
Dirty like most, but not nearly as filthy as many of the games I pick up, this little Centipede was in surprisingly good and original condition. The CPU did not match the rest of the serial numbers, and someone had replaced the white trackball ball with an 8 ball from a pool set, but everything else was original. And as a huge positive from most games down here in southern Texas, there was no water damage apparent to the game at all.
I'm always happy when a game will power up from dead, however the above screen isn't ideal. Lucky for me, I actually had both a working Centipede CPU and a parts CPU to try to get this one working. All it would display was garbage and I didn't get the normal "beeps" that sometimes accompany Atari self-test systems. So I felt the processor was probably at fault and switched out the processors with known good ones from my back up parts board. The cover shroud to the florescent light was so yellowed it made the bottom marquee glow yellow like a thousand cigarette smokers all cried out at once from the past. I'm sorry, where was I...
Oh right, I pulied the non-working processors and put in some known good ones. Hey that did the trick! Well kind of anyway. It is kind of working now and the logic of the game is functioning properly. However the game starts out with a solid strip of mushrooms on the left side at all times. Also instead of the flea having free rein all over the board he will only come down the right side of the board... and some color issues on the sprites also appear to be an issue. I track the problem down to some chips I don't have and decide to clean out the rest of the game.
I recap the monitor which is the trusty old G07 Wells Gardner with some of the worst burn in I have ever seen. Recapping it doesn't seem to help too much as it is in need of a new flyback more than anything. I cut my losses and decide this will be come my new shop monitor for the test bench. I will install a minty newer CRT monitor I have from a water damaged cabinet with zero burn and a fantastic picture.
We scrub out the cabinet inside and out, but it's actually pretty clean compared to the last few games we have brought home. I replace the trackball with a better one, get rid of some ancient gum on the top of the machine, and start getting those old broken locks off the front. The previous owner told me he had never opened the coin door on the bottom.
In the coin door we find this neat log of how many plays this game had on its original location. We also found about 4 bucks in quarters.... BONUS! The coin counter on this machine is a very low 24K. After 30 + years that is a crazy low amount for such an iconic game like Centipede. However these cabaret cabinets were not found in typical arcades or convenience stores like most machines in the 80's. These fancy baby woodgrain versions were designed to blend in to places that wouldn't normally house large arcade cabinets. Think hotel lobbies, nicer restaurants, or even movie theaters. Centipede was one of Atari's best selling games; they made over 44,000 full sized arcade cabinets, but under 4,000 of the cabaret style like this one. Not all games got a cabaret style release but many of the more popular titles from several manufacturers did. These cabinets were also popular for conversions over the years leading me to wonder how many are out left the wild unaltered.
The only slight mystery I have with this game is according to the serial number it's the 4064th Centipede cabaret to run off the assembly line at Atari. However, according to Atari's own documentation they only made 3924 cabaret cabinets for this model. So either Atari didn't produce games in sequence (some have suggested they would skip serial numbers to fake out the competition to make it look like they had made more games), or they made more than the internal documentation suggests. Either way I would bet dollars to donuts (mmmmm... donuts...) this was indeed one of the last ones to go down the assembly line.
With its working CPU and crisp monitor installed the baby Centipede joins the rest of the games in the den. Check out that clean and classy woodgrain! Man it's like having a steak restaurant inside your own house... or something. Atari did sell side art for these games but the operator would have to order it special and install it themselves. I think it looks better without the side art personally, and most of these Atari cabaret cabinets never had the side art. Most operators probably were too cheap to order the extra sticker or bother putting it on. With such a small footprint compared to the other arcade games in the room it makes me wonder how many tiny cabaret cabinets I could fit in one room. But with the rarity of these cabinets, I will have to be on a sharp lookout for any future tiny baby cabinets. And I doubt I will find many as clean or unmolested as this example.