Air Hockey Terminology: What You Need to Know

Tim head image

Tim McPherson, Air Hockey Head Honcho

An air hockey player and all-around arcade game enthusiast, Tim knows what he’s doing when he is called to give expert game advice

When it comes to joining any new community, one of the most frustrating things about it is learning all the new lingo. It can often feel impenetrable and discouraging, because you start hearing a ton of terms you’re unfamiliar with that makes things seem way more complicated than they actually are. Especially if you’re just looking for a quick explanation on how to play or get better at a new game. But one of the amazing benefits of air hockey is that it’s fun to play that is new players are able to learn quickly.

Hopefully this quick list of air hockey terms will help clear up some of the confusion.

friendly air hockey competition
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Basic Terminology:

Puck: You know this one, most likely, but just in case you don’t, the puck is the little black disc you smack around and try to score with.

Mallet: this is the official term for the little thing you use to smack the puck around in the first place. Also known as a paddle, striker, or pusher.

Hathaway Puck and Saddle Set

Knob: the actual handle part of the mallet that comes up from the middle.

Turnover: shared between many similar games, this is when the players trade initial control of the puck; from offense (getting to hit first) and defense (reacting).

Shot, Slice, or Cut: the act of hitting the puck to try and score. A basic shot would be a “straight” shot which is exactly what it sounds like.

Bank: to bounce the puck off the side of the table to try and angle it into the goal. A “double” bank shot impacts both walls.

Drift: to let the puck slowly move toward the center without touching it, before quickly (and hopefully, unexpectedly) spike the puck for a cheesy point.


Cast: This is the air hockey term for setting the puck into play initially.

Block: to move the mallet to intercept a puck shot by the other player.

Attacker: the player that is currently controlling the puck (they get to place the puck and hit first).

Defender: the player not currently controlling the puck.

Possession: the “side neutral” term for controlling the puck; the attacker “possesses” the puck, while the defender does not.

Charge: to send your mallet aggressively straight toward a puck while on defense; essentially the air hockey term for a “counterattack”.

Chase Shot: to follow or “chase” a puck even as it approaches the centerline to make a shot.

Table Layout Terminology:

The air hockey table is setup to be similar in layout to that of a ice hockey rink


Rails: the raised edges of the table.

Centerline: the dividing line of the table, unsurprisingly located dead center of it.

Goal box: the place at either end of the table you’re going to try and smack the puck into.

The layout is fairly simple to understand. Players can maneuver their pucks on their lane as long as they don’t go over or touch the center lines.

Depending on the quality of the air table the table markers might fade over time or puck marks might even show on the tabletop. To mitigate this issue maintenance and air table cleaning should be done regularly. But the best solution is only buying superior air hockey tables in the market.

Types of Foul:

Like any game, air hockey has guidelines that should be adhered to and fouls that should be avoided.

Palming: placing your hand directly on the puck itself. A common foul in casual games, and often seen as a “legitimate strategy” by children. It also counts as “palming” if you place another object onto the puck as well, not counting the mallet itself. Essentially, the mallet is the only legal object that you can use to interact with the puck.

Goal Tending: palming the puck to prevent the other player’s shot from going in. This always results in the other player getting a free, undefended shot on you, so almost always results in a point loss.

Topping: the act of placing your mallet on top of the puck. Basically, you can’t just stamp your mallet down on top of the puck to stop it and regain control of the puck.

Over Centerline: this is when a player strikes the puck when it is completely on their opponent’s side of the field; this can sometimes be hard to gauge as the puck is still legal to hit even if most of the puck is over the line. This can make the area near the center a “contested zone” where it’s anyone’s puck, essentially.

Out of Play: this describes the times when the puck is considered “dead” and can’t be scored. This is usually as a result of a penalty or foul being called, though sometimes is just when a timeout is called.

Advanced Terminology:

This section mostly deals with more air hockey granular terms for shots and defense terms that may have been mentioned above.


Over the Mallet: a bank shot that passes in front (or on extremely rare occasions actually over the top) of the opponent’s mallet before scoring.

Under the Mallet: a bank shot that passes behind the opponent’s mallet (or literally underneath it, if the mallet is raised off the table) before scoring.

Left Wall Shot: a bank shot that strikes the left wall before scoring; this term is combined with being an Over or Under the Mallet shot, for an LWO (Left Wall Over the Mallet) or LWU (Left Wall Under the Mallet) shot.

Right Wall Shot: similarly, a bank shot that strikes the right wall, and is also combined with the Under and Over terminology for an RWO (Right Wall Over the Mallet) or RWU (Right Wall Under the Mallet) shot.

Triangle Defense: a standard, tried and true defensive technique. The mallet starts at one end of the goal (left or right side) and proceeds clockwise or counterclockwise to a mid point about one foot from the center of the goal, then to the opposite side, across the goal, and then repeats infinitely while on defense.

Pump Fake: essentially the air hockey term for a feint; you fake a shot (often by winding up as if to hit in one direction) then abort or rapidly reverse to suddenly hit in another direction.

Trick Shot: a subset of deceptive, often complex shots that aren’t usually doable for beginners. Only when players had enhanced their air hockey skills, will they be able to perform trick shots. The referee monitors the players making sure that their shots are still within the game rules. These trick shots usually involve some sort of pump fake.

Tom Erickson