No wizardry, just practice
Microsoft shipped Maxis and Cinematronix's 3D Pinball - Space Cadet with the Windows 95 Plus! Pack, and with every subsequent Windows version. While there are plenty of Web sites out there that offer cheats for the game, I haven't found any that discuss playing strategy. After playing a particularly good game, I decided to create such a page based on my experience.
The building blocks of a high-scoring strategy are several shots you must master. (I assume the reader is familiar with the table and its components; if you're not, consult the game's help.)
#1: Launch Ramp Shot
Send the ball up Launch Ramp from the middle of the right flipper. Aside from its obvious uses, this is also a safe way to transfer the ball from the right flipper to the left (a nice setup for a Hyperspace Chute shot).
#2: Hyperspace Chute Shot
Send the ball up the Hyperspace Chute from the middle of the left flipper. With practice, you'll be able to do this as a reflex shot, putting the ball up the hyperspace chute several times in a row.
#3: Left Medal Target Shot
The key to a high-scoring game is the ability to hit the medal targets consistently. The left medal target is the hardest of the three to hit, so practice this shot. Flip the ball off the right flipper near the flipper's midpoint, a little above where you launch a Launch Ramp shot.
#4: Yellow Wormhole Shot
Useful for getting replays. Flip the ball off the left flipper as it reaches the flipper's tip.
#5: Fuel Chute Shot
Extends the time available to complete a mission, and gives you a chance of putting the ball into the green wormhole. Flip the ball off the right flipper near the flipper's tip.
Get multiple extra balls from the medal targets. The secret to a high-scoring game is the ability to consistently drop all three medal targets within a short time, lighting the purple medal light and earning an extra ball. While that light is lit, each time you drop all three medal targets you're awarded another extra ball. If you can drop these targets consistently, you can rack up several extra balls in short order. Whenever you notice the red medal light is on (or even the blue medal light, if you're good at hitting the medal targets), start shooting for the medal targets. Practice the left medal target shot and hitting the medal targets in general.
Play defensively. Try to always play from a position which minimizes the chance of ball drain and the penalty thereof: get a replay, raise the center post, and light the extra ball lights in the out lanes. Use the yellow wormhole shot to get a replay as soon as you can. Use the hyperspace chute shot to light four hyperspace lights, which raises the center post and lights the extra ball light in the out lanes. (Of course, you want to pass a ball through an out lane only when the lane's triangular yellow kicker light is lit.)
Always keep lit three or four (but not five) hyperspace lights. The third (center post) and fourth (extra ball) lights improve play, but the fifth (gravity) works against you by screwing with the ball's path. When you've lit three or four lights, whichever you prefer, avoid the hyperspace chute until your chosen light goes out, then send the ball up the hyperspace shoot to relight it. Alternative strategy: If you've mastered the hyperspace chute shot, light the fifth hyperspace light, then continue putting the ball up the hyperspace chute with reflex shots until you've once again lit four hyperspace lights. This difficult strategy is worth mastering, as it simultaneously keeps the center post raised and the out lanes' extra ball lights lit.
Go for replays. A replay is better than an extra ball, so prefer a replay. If you've mastered the yellow wormhole shot, you should be able get replays consistently. Put the ball into the yellow wormhole when the light above that wormhole is lit.
Don't waste time on unprofitable missions. Some missions don't pay off as well or are harder than others (e.g., the Secret mission). If you're on an unprofitable mission, abort it by letting the fuel run out, then try for a better one.
When the ball lands in the black hole kickout while both the right medal target and bottom booster target are down, the ball usually drains when it's kicked out. To avoid this, flip the right flipper as the ejected ball hits the booster target bank. If you time it right, the tip of the flipper will deflect the ball from draining.
Don't be afraid to let the ball bounce off your flipper. This often bounces the ball to the other flipper.
Practice and someday you'll see something like this:
(Unretouched, after ending a two-hour-plus game with the rank of Fleet Admiral.)
The best game is one you can walk away from at any moment.
In the original release of Space Cadet Pinball, the included help was two files: an image of the table, and a Word document describing the table and game play. Somewhere between Windows 95 & Windows 2000 Microsoft integrated help into the program. Unfortunately, the integrated help contains less information than the original standalone file. For example, the details of the different missions have disappeared. If you want the full scoop, Google "pinball.doc maelstrom".
The cheats can be useful if you want to practice particular shots or completing particular missions.
There's a known bug in Space Cadet Pinball that you can use to your advantage. When you go up in rank, all the progress lights will flash for a few moments, then reset. The bug: if the ball drains or you start a new mission while all the progress lights are on, the next level begins with all progress lights on. After completing another mission you'll progress immediately to the next rank. If your timing is perfect (and you have a lot of luck), you could in theory attain the highest rank after only eleven missions (three to attain the second rank, and one per rank thereafter). This suggests a counterintuitive challenge: attaining the highest rank with the lowest possible score. Any extreme Space Cadet wizards out there?