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August 2017

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Saturday we had to get up and to the convention center early, because if you weren't there to check in by 9:30 you lost your spot. And I have to reiterate this very slight inconvenience wore us all the further down, because it was another day we couldn't sleep in, after a long and exhausting week. We'd had a whole day at Kings Island amusement park, a drive and evening pinball tournament (more anon), two full-day tournaments and now another early morning day ... eesh.

9:30. The tournament official, someone named something or other that I missed, and who had a cowboy hat so I could have some chance finding him again, checked that we were all in. And then he gave us, per tournament-finals custom, 30 seconds on each table. Literally each: he set up his ``assembly line'', with all forty finalists taking their turns on each of the machines and, theoretically, moving to the next when he ordered time. As this is a very simple thing to do, it didn't go smoothly, but that's all right. Everyone got their chance to at least touch the tables, and many people got to try out important things. Like, where the skill shot might be. How scoops are kicking out. How touchy the tilts are. The things you might be able to work out if you have thirty seconds and know what you figure are the things you have to know about the tables.

After all that ... [profile] bunny_hugger and I were at liberty. We had a bye for the first round. That would be six groups of four people each, all playing the four tables in three banks of machines. So we had maybe an hour or so before [profile] bunny_hugger would be needed, and two or more before I'd have anything to do. So we went for breakfast, to the coffee shop that isn't Starbucks that's in the Westin. And that felt weirdly transgressive. The previous day, with my perfect round, I spent over thirteen hours within the single cavernous room of the main tournament floor (and the bathrooms attached to it). It was jolting when I left the room the previous night, as if I had forgotten there was other space, or things that receded into the distance, like the hills of Pittsburgh or the rivers across the way. Now, we had just been there maybe an hour total and we were leaving again.

They had three sets of tables. I knew a stunning number of the twelve. The first set was made of Cirqus Voltaire --- the same one I'd played on Thursday --- as the modern game and Mars Trek, Genesis as the late-solid-state and Stars as the earl-solid-state. I've only played Mars Trek at Pinburgh 2016, but it's the electromechanical. The others I know well; Cirqus Voltaire used to be everywhere. Genesis haunts west-side tournaments. Stars haunts the Flint-area tournaments.

The second set has Avatar as the modern game, Argosy as the electromechanical, Mousin' Around as the late-solid-state, and Big Game as the early-solid-state. I've never touched Avatar before. Mousin' Around I have, and I like, but I've never played it much and it's got that late-solid-state set of cramped playfield and obscure ruleset.

The third set was Godzilla as the modern game, Jungle Queen as the electromechanical, Creature from The Black Lagoon as the late-solid-state (it's really an early-modern game, but its gameplay is very late-solid-state in tone), and Cyclopes as the early-solid-state. The amazing thing is every one of these is in MJS's famed pole barn. Cyclopes is a particularly weird, obscure game with hideous artwork and yeah, try to work out that captured woman's hip structure.

The top-seed person in each group will get to pick which of the sets to play, subject to the reservation that only two groups can be on one set in any round. I expect to have my pick of the games. The third set is tempting since, hey, I've got experience on all of these. And Cyclopes is a game there's an excellent chance nobody knows how to play. But I'm not that good at it myself. And everybody who'd be at Pinburgh knows Creature inside and out. So I'd feel good playing that, but not like I have any edge. The second bank with Avatar I dread: there's nothing I feel strong on there.

Ah, but that first set ... I feel really good there. The table I'm weakest on is the electromechanical. And I know from experience how tight the Cirqus Voltaire tilt is. Someone's bound to learn that to their surprise. So I have my pick: stick to the first set as much as I possibly can.

Trivia: A summer 1800 British diplomatic mission led by Captain John Malcolm arrived in Teheran with a retinue of 500 men, including a hundred Indian cavalry and infantry and three hundred servants and attendants. Malcom had been originally commissioned at the age of 13. Source: The Great Game: The Struggle For Empire In Central Asia, Peter Hopkirk.

Currently Reading: A Gambling Man: Charles II's Restoration Game, Jenny Uglow.

PS: The Summer 2017 Mathematics A To Z: Integration, another omnipresent and powerful tool.

Wrapped up another week on my humor blog. Here's what ran, in case you missed it at the time:

So Cedar Point has announced what they're doing with the former Mean Streak, and what the new ride's name will be, and it defied my expectations by not being Vicious Streak or what it should have been, Winning Streak. Instead it's completely non-streaky. The name is Steel Vengeance, and the ride comes with a backstory about it being the personification of JRPG lawmakers come to seek revenge on Maverick, the next-nearest roller coaster, that's a representation of a horse. Unanswered: wait, vengeance on a horse?


And the entrance to Mean Streak's queue for our second and last ride on it that day. I notice with sadness that the approximate wait time for this, the last chance anyone would have to ride this, was still only 45 minutes.


Green train returning towards the entry queue. Please admire what I did with light and color there.


From the vast infield of Mean Streak. Again, please admire what I did with light and color there.


Yellow train climbing the second major hill of Mean Streak.


Footers for the roller coaster with suspicious-looking pink dots of spray paint. Note the other footers that don't have dots on them. This means something.


Mysterious wooden post marked RMC 118 stuck into the ground near one of the footers. This means something. Well, specifically, the RMC all but surely means Rocky Mountain Construction, since RMC is the outfit that turns wooden roller coasters into steel coasters. I'm not sure if Cedar Point had announced RMC was doing the conversion at the time, but it's kind of like guessing that maybe the voice actor doing that wacky-sounding cartoon animal was Frank Welker? The 118, who knows what that could mean?

Trivia: New York City adopted the orange, white, and blue of the 17th Century Dutch Flag for its own city flag in 1915. Source: The Island At The Centre Of The World, Russell Shorto.

Currently Reading: A Gambling Man: Charles II's Restoration Game, Jenny Uglow.

The first four rounds of the day, as the first four rounds of Thursday were, groups were arranged by ``slaughter seeding''. A group of four players had one high-seeded, one low-seeded, and two medium-seeded players. The gap between the high and low seeds decreases until near the end everybody is playing people of roughly equal standings. The last rounds of the day weren't; their seedings were spread out more. This is new; previous years the fifth round had people all but tied playing one another. The change is because it transpired there were groups of players agreeing to take ties on the round, in order that they all get moved into the higher group (for Thursday) or all get into tiebreaker games (for Friday). The new system is meant to provide no incentive for anyone to collude, at least not without cash actually changing hands. I'm still shocked that such a thing would happen, or that I could be that naive.

But it does mean that I'm facing weaker competition than I might otherwise have. Not very much: the difference between the number two seed and the number 32 (whom I play) is six wins out of (so far) 72 possible. But I am aware I'm going in as the number-one seed, and defending that position. But there's liberation in this: even if I go 0-12 I'm all but sure to be in the finals.

The round starts late. There's two groups from the previous round that haven't turned in their results. There's rumor that one of the score sheets might be lost, at least, nobody's turned in the group's sheets and nobody can find the players from the group. That gets resolved though. The other group is just taking forever to finish. Those pesky A Division ringers. But they finally finish and turn over results and the world can move on.

The modern game: Stern's 2008 Shrek. It's spent months haunting the Blind Squirrel League. It's a re-theming of the Family Guy game, just changing out the art and what modes are called and such. Somehow, that change makes the game ten times more enjoyable. I could never stand Family Guy, but Shrek? Yeah, I kinda like it. I start out trying to play the long game, starting several modes and the Donkey Mini-Pinball and all, and then remember that's stupid. There's a center post which, if hit a couple times, will start a designated mode. Is that mode Dragon Multiball? ... Why, yes, it is! So I stop trying to play clever, and go for the simple cheap point grab, and come out just edging out player one for a first-place finish. And now I'm willing to grant that I might have secured being in the finals.

The electromechanical: Gottleib's 1967 King of Diamonds. It's a single-player game, and I have to play my five balls before anyone else plays theirs. I can't learn anything from what other people do, but they learn from me. Go ahead and guess what the theme is. I have two really solid balls, ones that keep getting the pinball back into the bumpers and letting it hit the targets to collect cards. I even get away with shots on the spinning roto-wheel target at the center, a dangerous shot but one that lets me get cards, and thus ten or even fifty points at once. I get 940 points, coming close to rolling. Player four has a fantastic last ball, and does roll it. Second place for me; five wins, one loss so far.

The late-solid-state game: Williams's 1988 Swords of Fury. It's a crowded playfield, nice and busy. There's a horseshoe, all set to take a ball and rocket it back towards the center. There's a ramp behind some obstructed targets. There some kind of rule about multiballs. The game likes me: I find the ramp for locking balls, and keep on locking them, and starting multiball play. If there's a jackpot I never find it, but a multiball on this era game typically doubles or triples the playfield scores, so, that's good enough. I get another first-place finish. Eight wins, one loss so far; even if I bomb on the early-solid-state game, I have had a great round.

I bomb on the early-solid-state game. It's Williams's 1984 Space Shuttle, the game that saved pinball in the 80s. The game that introduced playfield toys, in this case a tail-bobbed space shuttle, to modern pinball. There's a couple things to do, like locking balls and shooting up the center to release them. You can steal locked balls that other players have left behind. I am a courteous player, stealing nobody's locks. I have one house ball and another that might as well have been. Despite a third-ball rally I end up at about one-third everybody else's score. It's a soggy end to what has been my best day of competitive pinball play ever.

Because I have had a fantastic day. The record for the whole day was 44 wins, 16 losses. This puts me in undisputed first place (by one game, mind). I'm in the finals. I get two rounds of byes for the five-round finals. I'm staggered.

[profile] bunny_hugger's final round is bank 42, Lepus, which you'd figure would be a good omen. But she has the same result on it as she had her first round Thursday, with the similarly well-named Procyon. She goes 6-6 in a group where some points-hog went 8-4. She drops from 9th seed to the five-way tie for 13th seed.

We have to wait. I still don't believe that I have first-round byes; after all, I haven't seen the results any. And [profile] bunny_hugger knows if she gets ranked in the top 16 she gets a first-round bye, but there's no way to be sure she has that. Or if she needs to stick around for tiebreakers. This round, too, is taking forever. Someone comes on stage to say that if we would like to see the thrilling final game of Pinburgh's qualifying rounds, he's sorry, but the last group is playing World Cup. (It's a 1978 Williams table that competent players can win, slowly but surely, by repeating this shot into one scoop. When I played it last year I drained the ball rapidly, three times over.) We see who knows the game by who chuckles knowingly.

That finally ends, and the tiebreakers are somehow decided without [profile] bunny_hugger needing to play, to her relief. At 38 wins, 22 losses, she's got a single bye. At 44 wins, 16 losses, I have two byes.

We've had outstanding days. Over the two days I've had 70 wins. [profile] bunny_hugger has had 64. These are as many wins as some of the finalists in the B Division has had. But, of course, had there not been the division breaks we'd have probably not had perfect rounds.

We do collect our medals, and are just giddy about this. Also dreading the implication: we can't sleep in Saturday.

Trivia: Railroad car wheels in 1860 Virginia cost about fifteen dollars per wheel. By 1864 they were thirty times that. Source: The Railroads Of The Confederacy, Robert C Black III.

PS: The Summer 2017 Mathematics A To Z: Height Function (elliptic curves) which has maybe a 50 percent chance of being the thing I was asked to write about!

The lunch-or-dinner break came to a halt sometime around 6:15. The round was supposed to start then, it's just that for some reason they don't make announcements about the start of the game then. You just have to notice that people are moving to the tables and go along. It's sloppy stuff; [profile] bunny_hugger has been groused at by group-mates who don't see why she was two minutes late. Could be worse; I understand one of the top players bombed out of his position when he thought the lunch break ended at 6:30 and was ruled absent.

My bank is number 35, Eridanus. One of the women from my last round is in this one. We start with the modern game, Stern's 2005 Sopranos. Is the Jersey connection a good omen? Eh, who knows? I never saw the table much; for years it was one of only two Stern games at the Silverball Museum. But I never got into it and I don't even recognize the table. It has a local quirk. It's possible on the game to plunge the ball into play softly enough that the table doesn't know you've done it. You can start one multiball mode without the game ever ``validating the playfield'', starting the timer after which the ball-saver expires. Pinburgh has disqualified this by rigging up an automatic trigger; everybody shoots the ball in with the same force, hard enough the game knows you've done it. I fall back on my standard old-fashioned approach, trying to start modes and multiball together. It's good for second place. The woman I'd played with before marvels that I, too, am mortal.

The electromechanical game is Williams's 1975 Pat Hand, another card-themed game with Christian Marche artwork. It's a game of hitting the standing targets and hitting some rollover targets. And it's got a pair of bumpers just over the left flipper, where a kicker should be. I have a lot of fun on it, but get second place again.

The late-solid-state game is Gottleib's 1991 Surf 'N Safari, which I know from how it haunts eastside tournaments. We'd played it at Rollapalooza just a few weeks before. The frustrating thing is there's an obscured skill shot on the waterpark-themed game that awards a random prize. These prizes can be incredibly valuable, including fine things like multiball or completing the board that puts you in what passes for wizard mode. Is that disabled? We have such a hard time shooting it that maybe it was. I'm not sure any of us got that award. The goal of the table is repeat any of the major shots and then collect a big prize. I find where one of the ramps is and repeat that until I get multiball and even get a jackpot. I feel pretty good about this, but someone else has been watching me and is able to repeat my strategy. Another second place. Still: I already have six wins this match. No matter what happens I'm not having a bad round.

The early-solid-state game is Bally's 1981 Medusa. I know it a bit. It's one of those slightly over-complicated games of the era; you could suddenly do anything back then so designers did. There's an inner playfield with a small set of bumpers, there's zipper-flippres that slide in and out, there's a movable center post, a lot. And I have it. I have a good first ball. And a great second ball. I'm running away with the game and ... did my left flipper drop?

It's a curious thing. One of the common failures of pinball machines: a flipper sticks up. Often, hitting the button for the opposite flipper will make it drop again. This doesn't mean the flipper doesn't stick, but it does mean you can make it drop again. But it is an important malfunction. Did it happen? Or was I just not noticing my hand on the flipper button, a thing that's easy to do in the heat of the game when you aren't thinking anymore, just playing? ...

So I watch the flippers closely as other people play. If it isn't happening for them, then it's a fluke and I can take what's looking like a sure win with a clear conscience. It doesn't seem to be happening, but they're not doing well keeping the ball in play either. It ... and then the ball comes around to someone who is sure it's sticking, and calls over a tournament official for it.

The official asks whether this was happening for other people. It could make the difference whether the game gets stricken. A fluke affecting one player is minor; something hitting several people is major. I say what I knew: I thought it stuck at the end of my ball, but I wasn't sure. The woman I'd been with before said she thought I'd been keeping the left flipper up a lot but she hadn't been sure I wasn't just trapping a lot. The official talks about whether this might be worth striking the game after this. He's testing, it seems to me, whether the four of us think the malfunction deserves an extra ball as compensation for the obviously affected player or whether it should invalidate the game.

I swallow maybe three points and say, I'm comfortable moving to another table. I hope we don't. But with the flipper obviously sticking, and the evidence it has been, there's not a real choice. We're off to the bank of substitute tables and, per the judge's random number generator ... Clown, a 1985 table from Italian maker Zaccaria. I've played it some in simulation. On the real thing, at the VFW two months earlier, I'd rolled the table. We're seated behind a group that's playing its own substitute round. ... And waiting. And waiting. Clown breaks down. They can't fix it speedily. We get moved to another substitute table.

The replacement replacement table is Old Stern's 1979 Meteor. I know it. It's at MJS's pole barn. It used to be a mainstay at the Brighton Arcade. There's two paths for success, knocking down sets of drop targets or shooting the spinner. I can manage neither of these feats. I share the delightful trivia about the game being based on the Robert McCall advertising poster for the movie Meteor (which gets reviewed in Roger Ebert's I Hated Hated HATED This Movie). But I go to a pretty sad last-place finish.

I finish the round with 6 wins, 6 losses. I nurse my wounds, thinking of how it could have been 9-3, and feel greedy for that. It's not as though I could be more in first place (although, at that point, I didn't realize I had been in first place going into the round). I'm sitting at 36-12, two wins ahead of the three players tied for second.

[profile] bunny_hugger, on set 4, Sextans, has had a strong round, going 8-4. She moves from 12th place up to 9th. The weird game there is the late-solid-state Blackwater 100, a freak of a game where you have to launch three balls into play to start the game. Someone wins that table just by hitting the flippers wildly; trying to aim or something just brings ruin.

Trivia: Besides commanding the United States South Seas Exploring Expedition, Lieutenant Charles Wilkes chose to take over the physical sciences in the field: surveying, astronomy, meteorology, and natural science. Source: Sea of Glory: The Epic South Seas Exploring Expedition, Nathaniel Philbrick.

Currently Reading: Under A Flaming Sky: The Great Hinckley Firestorm of 1894, Daniel James Brown.

PS: Reading the Comics, August 12, 2017: August 10 and 12 Edition, wrapping up last week's stuff.

Somebody I never played with my first day at Pinburgh? Someone who brought a pen. I always carry a pen and relinquished it to the round scorekeeper reluctantly. Not because of my not-actually-crippling germ phobia, but just because I know lending pens is the first step to losing pens, and to do without a pen would be horrible. I didn't lose my pen. I would get a cold. This changed the second day; people brought pens, this after I grabbed a pen from the free supply offered by the scorekeepers. But I had a pen I could sacrifice in case someone lost one.

Somebody else I never played with my first day at Pinburgh? Women. None in the five groups I played with. Also none I played with the first two rounds of the second day. The third round that finally broke; there were two women in my group, on Bank 43, Cassiopeia. I look the games up early and feel good. NBA Fastbreak I slightly know; it's a late-90s basketball-themed game. It comes in a variant to allow for head-to-head play, duplicate tables next to one another. I go in feeling good about this. I'm wrong to. It wasn't NBA Fastbreak. It was Stern's 2009 NBA, which I never knew existed. And I can't get back on PinTips to get advice. It doesn't have anything, anyway; if it had I might have realized there were two different similarly-named, similarly-themed games.

Well, there's always something to fall back on. Read the instruction card. Try shooting all the ramps and whatever the obvious gimmick on the playfield is. Watch other players. I'm player two, so there's not much I can learn from the first ball before I'm up, but I can pick up some things. Like what seems to build multiball, and what the basketball points seem to offer. I do get multiballs going on, I believe, balls one and three. I end up winning, 5.1 million to 5.0 million to a couple people around half our score. It's a good start.

It's almost a stop. Next to us is a group of Division A ringers, including AJG again. They're playing the electromechanical, Bally's 1975 Captain Fantastic. It's themed to the Pinball Wizard sequence in the movie Tommy. AJG is in a quartet that threatens to recreate the scene. Among those in the group: Lyman Sheats, whose name means nothing to you. He's the programmer whose game logic is behind many of the murderer's row of 90s Williams tables, and many of the better modern Stern tables. He literally wrote the code for the NBA game in that group. We can't play until they finish playing. They have multiple people who roll the table.

We play a lot quicker. I have the best game of the set, coming in at 64,000 points. It's not best by a lot; the second-place finisher had 63,830 points. One good spinner shot and the round would have been lesser for me. Third place ended up at 60,510. It really could have been anybody's game.

It's our game for a while, though, as AJG and his group continue on the late-solid-state game, Williams's 1990 Diner. I keep looking over their shoulders, trying to get some idea of how the game works for experts. There's not much I gain that I didn't already know; I played the game some in the 90s and it's got a rule set that isn't deep but that is fussy. I do get to see Lyman Sheats fumble the ball trying to post-pass. It's a trick where you tap a flipper quickly to send a ball rebounding to the other flipper. [profile] bunny_hugger berates herself whenever she fumbles this and the ball drains. I can attest, now, that even Lyman Sheats will sometimes fumble the post-pass.

Finally they finish, and move on to the next game, Gottleib's 1983 Ready ... Aim ... Fire!, which they promptly break. Techs rush over to open it up and try doing something, and I ponder how long we're going to be stuck waiting after the end of Diner. They eventually move AJG's group to a substitute early-solid-state game, and the techs keep working.

I knew two things from playing Diner on location in the 90s: the skill shot is an easy one, all timing, and the multiball isn't worth going for. The skill shot still serves me well, though I have to study other players closely to pick up the timing. And multiball ... is surprisingly easy to get. Maybe the table's being nice to me. Maybe I'm better at this than I thought. I get a speedy little two-ball multiball going, and leave a ball locked when my turn ends, and then think: there's surely locked-ball stealing in a game of this era.

I get away with it, though, ending up just short of three million points. Second-place is around two and a quarter million. I've already got on the record nine wins, zero losses, and we haven't played the early-solid-state game. And I'm liberated: no matter what happens, I have had a great round.

What I try very hard not to think of: I could have a perfect round.

I know nothing of Ready ... Aim ... Fire!. PinTips's whole advice is ``keep toward the top and complete the standups for bonus x''. OK. The game is carnival or amusement-park themed, with the whole game accompanied by lovely early-digital circus music. It's a wide-open playfield, bumpers each protecting a set of standing targets. Hit all the targets of a single color and you collect a prize. Collect more prizes for more points. I'm enchanted by the theme right away. The gameplay is just as good, for me. More, it's fun. I think I would have liked the game anyway, but a long first ball, and an even longer second ball, wins it a grand place in my heart.

I'm the third player. When the third ball is over, I have 615,690 points, more than double what the first two have. They clap. I shake it off: there's still another player with the last ball. I'm not trying to be self-effacing. I point out, I got three hundred thousand points (or something) on one ball, there's no reason the guy couldn't.

He doesn't. I come in first again. I have a perfect round.

They clap. I stagger over against the table and giggle. I can't believe it.

They congratulate me and talk about how just great it was to see, and we all reflect on what a close thing it was. And they sign the score sheet. I take a photo and swear I'm not doing it for pride. I've been photographing the score sheets in case one gets misplaced. They say they understand; many people do that. I still worry I'm coming off as boastful. But still, a perfect round.

I walk with the score sheet in a daze. Before I get to the scorekeepers PH spots me and asks how I'm doing. I can't help it and show the sheet. He's congratulatory. I don't think he's ever done this. His son, AJH, never has. It fuels my giddiness.

Finally, finally, after the many delays from being behind AJG's group and from the length of our own games and from the daze with which I took the score sheet up, I find [profile] bunny_hugger. She's eager to tell me about her morning, and her own perfect round at the start of the day. I deliver the news of my own perfect round. She accuses me of upstaging her.

A half-hour or so before this Michigan Pinball had been gathering to go out and eat somewhere. The chance for that is long since past. My group was just too slow, exciting as it was for me. I get a black bean burger from the refreshments kiosk inside the conference hall; [profile] bunny_hugger passes. We have something under an hour before the fourth round of the day.

My perfect round has launched me from 10th place to 1st, sitting with 30 wins and 6 losses just barely ahead of second place. [profile] bunny_hugger talks about how I might go on to win the division. I answer, ``chickens and eggs''. There's two rounds to go even before the finals lines are drawn. And finals themselves would have ... who knows how many rounds? (Five rounds, but some would get byes.)

[profile] bunny_hugger's third round of the day, on bank 40, Libra, wasn't a bad one for her. It includes Williams's 1989 Zootopia table. She went 7-5, putting her record for the day at 24 wins, 12 losses, and setting her in a four-way tie for 12th place. Quite good, by any measure; it only looks relatively bad to the extent it does because I got lucky on Captain Fantastic and NBA. And because Ready ... Aim ... Fire was fixed in time.

Trivia: A 1236 statute of English King Henry III, De Anno Bissextili, states that leap day and the day before are to be considered a single day, implying an English leap year would be legally 365 days. Source: Marking Time: The Epic Quest To Invent The Perfect Calendar, Duncan Steel.

Currently Reading: Under A Flaming Sky: The Great Hinckley Firestorm of 1894, Daniel James Brown.

PS: The Summer 2017 Mathematics A To Z: Gaussian Primes, which don't include things like '2' or '5' but do include '3' and some crazy numbers like '1 - i'.

It's been a second week of this summer's A To Z on my mathematics blog. Bit closer to an ordinary publishing schedule, too. Here's what you were missing:

And on the comic strip side of thing, have you wondered What's Going On In Dick Tracy? June - August 2017 is at your easy read now. It's got more Chumbawamba than you would have guessed if you haven't been paying attention. Meanwhile eleven months ago in Mean Streak's last day of operations:


I told you Mean Streak Henry was in high demand. We never rode with him, what with not being single riders.


Mean Streak's ride photo booth, which I never saw in operation all the time I've been going to Cedar Point. It still wasn't operating. When we visited Cedar Point in June we saw the photo booth was still apparently untouched. Underneath the overhang on the left is a table set up; this is where they were giving away souvenirs to the riders for the last day: pins commemorating our presence there and Mean Streak keychains, one of which I'd already had.


The exit queue for the Mean Streak, and some of its massive structure. You can spot the green train partway through the loop there.


Now there's a line. Queue spilling out of the Mean Streak queue --- none of the switchbacks that hide the queue length were open --- and onto the midway.


I told you there was a line. People waiting on line extended past the train that separates Mean Streak from the rest of that region of the park, and threatens to reach towards Maverick (the red loop in the distance, center right). We rejoined the queue, supposing that if we were on line we wouldn't get kicked off before a second ride.


It's Alkali! Well, no. But it is ... I'm guessing some high-level park official, dressed up as U.R.Dade and ready for Mean Streak's eulogy.

Trivia: Syncom III, which transmitted television from the 1964 Tokyo Olympics to the United States, carried only solar cells, with no batteries. It could not transmit while in shadow. Source: How The World Was One: Beyond The Global Village, Arthur C Clarke.

Currently Reading: Under A Flaming Sky: The Great Hinckley Firestorm of 1894, Daniel James Brown.

Second round of the day. For me, Draco. Also playing on this bank, but in the lofty heights of A Division, AJG. (Not the person who'd played with [profile] bunny_hugger Thursday; her husband, whom we only now realize has the same pinball initials.) Each bank has two or three groups of people playing, starting on different tables, the better to let eight hundred people play the finite number of tables possible, with as little wait as possible. AJG is one of the top players in the state, although he doesn't make it to the variety of tournaments needed to get him as high a world ranking as he should have. This year he's been playing the local points-mines hard; it's possible he won't be top-seed for Michigan's finals, but I wouldn't bet that way. He's been getting into squabbles with some of the people organizing the International Flipper Pinball Association about how they rank skilled players who don't get to many different things. He's gotten the challenge: win a major tournament, not these piddling little things in your backyard, and then you'll be listed as a top hundred player. He's answered: fine, I'll win Pinburgh. He doesn't win Pinburgh. At this point, I certainly think, oh, gosh, I hope he won't be crushed by not winning Pinburgh. Also: oh, gosh, it's going to be impossible being around him if he does win Pinburgh.

Meanwhile, though, I'm looking over at his group, to see what the A Division players are doing, and whether they have any strategies I can use to my advantage. It's of limited value. Top players have things that are easy to imitate, like, knowledge of rules and the ability to pick strategies that compound scoring chances. And the ability to shift if a strategy isn't working on this table. But they have things that are harder to imitate, like the ability to dial in a shot on an unfamiliar table with only a few attempts, and without fumbling the ball trying to learn where the left orbit is.

Our modern game is Williams's 1995 No Fear, based on the aggressive T-shirts. It's a bike-racing and stunts themed game. What I actually know about it is: shoot the skull for multiball. Shoot ramps for modes. And there's this combination thing, shooting into a ramp and then hitting a side ramp from an upper-flipper that's on the ramp, that pays off that nobody knows how to do. For that day, though, that game, I have it. It's my whole game, yes, but particularly the second and third balls: I just keep finding where to start modes, and where to bring multiball into it, and any time you can bring a mode --- which gives major points for some objective --- into multiball --- which gives you three or more balls moving --- you're doing well. When it's over AJG leans over asking my advice what to do. It's a flustering moment.

The electromechanical game is another old friend: Williams's 1976 Space Mission, perhaps the most prominent of the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project-themed pinball machines out there. I know it from the Silverball Museum. Like many electromechanical games, the real objective is to light the spinner, then shoot the spinner. Also like many electromechanical games, you can almost let it play itself. Not just in the ``send it to the bumpers and wait'' mode. There are little scoops to either side of the flippers. The scoops will shoot the ball at a moving center target. If you can resist the urge to flip yourself, you can just hold the ball up, let the machine shoot it at the center target, and maybe collect a big points award, or maybe get a minor one. Keep the ball in control and repeat. It's the sort of boring but steady game that AJG has mastered. I break 100,000 --- not quite rolling; the machine has a light for people who do that, and the fourth player gets that too --- and get another first-place finish.

The late-solid-state game is FunHouse Bwah ha ha ha ha ha ha which everybody knows and loves well. If you have any pinball memories at all it's probably this table. It's the one that dominates so many people's memories of playing pinball that it might as well be The First Table. The game is set hard, surely compensation. I notice that Quick Multiball is the mirror award at the start of the game, so I skip trying to make the skill shot and soft-plunge instead, collecting that. The goal there is to hit Rudy's face, a tricky but always satisfying target. I don't manage at all. I end up with about two and a half million points, which is good enough for a second-place finish and relieves me of worrying about a perfect round again. One person finished under a million points. The table is playing hard.

The early-solid-state game is Bally's 1978 Six Million Dollar Man, one of the handful of attempts at a six-player game. There's no objective reason pinball tables settled on four-players as the ideal; they just did, and attempts to try out six players at a time somehow never take. The best strategy, per PinTips and what I get peeking over AJG's shoulder, is shoot up into the center scoop up top. Maybe hit banks of drop targets. You know, like every early-solid-state game. I can't find any of the shots, and go to a third-place finish.

So round two of the day: I get nine wins, three losses. Brings my record to a pretty good 18-6, and the four-way tie for ninth place. I've jumped from 19th-seeded to 10th-seeded for the next round.

[profile] bunny_hugger has not repeated her perfect round. (A few people had two perfect rounds, but it's hard to imagine.) On set 10, Tucana, she's gone 5-7. Someone in her group sucked up nearly all the points by going 10-2. She drops from third seed to 16th, her record of 17-7 part of a four-way tie for 15th.

Trivia: 22 million cubic yards of excavations from the Culebra Cut were deposited at Balboa, Panama, reclaiming 676 acres from the Pacific Ocean. Source: The Path Between The Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal, 1870 - 1914, David McCullough.

Currently Reading: The Money Men: Capitalism, Democracy, and the Hundred Years' War Over The American Dollar, H W Brands.

My first round for Friday would be on bank 60, Triangulum. I knew this from late Thursday, but somehow didn't work up the energy to look up the games and get any hint what to do. For half of them I didn't need help anyway. The modern game was Metallica, which is just everywhere in about twenty different editions. Roughly speaking, hit anything on the playfield repeatedly and you get a multiball started. In my home venues I try shooting for the Snake and trust that I'll by accident hit the captive ball for an extra ball (2,500,000 points in tournament play) or Electric Chair Multiball. I figured to go just for Electric Chair Multiball, since the Snake can be trickier, and remembered: I don't have to play something smart. I just have to not lose the ball. It's easy on home, familiar tables to go for the long game, stuff that'll eventually pay off big. In this venue, just get the easy point grab. There aren't long games. I'm the only one to break ten million points, ordinarily the threshold of ``game that isn't embarrassing to do''. Their table plays hard.

The electromechanical game is Gottleib's 1969 Target Pool, one of the eighty billion pool-theme tables. It's a vast arc of standing targets, with the clear objective being to keep the ball on the upper playfield, where the bumper can make it hit targets. I have astoundingly good luck in this, just crushing it. Another first-place finish and with a 6-0 record so far I start entertaining fantasies of having a perfect round.

Before I could really get nervous at that thought, the next game spoils it all. The late-solid-state game is Gottleib Premier's 1991 Hoops. It's from their obscurant era, with the highest-point things not fitting the usual patterns. I remember MWS talking with us about the game last year, and what he had discovered as the one valuable thing to shoot for. I do not remember what the valuable thing is. I have fun, mind you, and I play technically well in every regard except for getting points. Last place, and I'm left at 6-3. Who wants a perfect-round medal anyway?

The early-solid-state game is an old friend. Bally's 1980 prog-rock album Embryon. I don't just have a strategy (shoot the left orbit) but I have one of those embarrassingly good games. I roll the table, beating a million points for only the second time ever. More, I end up lapping everybody else's score. But I can't just kneel. I'm only player two and there's two people who could beat me on the last ball. My group-mates applaud the end of my game and I try not to be a jerk about it.

So that's my round: 9 wins, 3 losses. Thoroughly happy. I move from my (meaningless) 67th seed up to 19th. This is part of a 13-way tie for 17th.

[profile] bunny_hugger, meanwhile, was on bank 23, Aquarias. It has games she absolutely hated last year: Starship Troopers, and Argosy (nicknamed ``Agony'' by everyone); Bram Stoker's Dracula and Algar. It's a tough quartet of games. She won them all, taking a perfect round.

She's quick to dismiss how good this is. Someone failed to show up for the group, so she played in a round of three people. (Pinburgh scoring holds that in a three-player group your score is the number of people you beat on a match, times 1.5. So if you come in first, beating two people, you get three points; if you come in second, beating one, you get 1.5 points. Come in last, you get 0 points.) And she gets a confused message about that perfect-round medal award. We had thought it was something you got at presenting the score sheets; they said no, come back at the end of the day. She worries they'll rule she doesn't get a true perfect-round medal.

She gets the true perfect-round medal she earned. She moves from the (meaningless) 30th seed up to 3rd, one of the three people in our division with perfect records.

Trivia: Gadolinium inhibits the proteins which repair DNA. Source: The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World From The Periodic Table of the Elements, Sam Kean.

Currently Reading: The Money Men: Capitalism, Democracy, and the Hundred Years' War Over The American Dollar, H W Brands.

PS: The Summer 2017 Mathematics A To Z: Functor, another touch of category theory in my life.

Another successful week of humor blogging! I mean that it was done at all, not necessarily that what happened was what I might have wanted to have happen. Anyway, if you didn't catch it on your RSS reader device of choice, you can still see what I had, here:

Now back to our penultimate ride on Mean Streak, last year:


Part of the return leg of Mean Streak, as seen from the queue within. Good chance most of this structure is still there, but it'll look different.


Looking more directly up at the launch station and part of the return leg of Mean Streak.


Underside of Mean Streak's launch platform. I can make out the mechanism for the gates guarding the entry queues, but don't blame you if you can't. They're a series of slight metal pipes about one-third from the top, all laying horizontally and joined by vertically aligned bolts. This lets them all open and close simultaneously.


The end of the queue, which wasn't all that long. Notice the alarming sign all ready for use on top of the trash bin.


Anticipation. Mean Streak's trains would descend into the station, a sign that the ride really was built higher than it needs to be. All that potential energy of an extra ten-foot-or-so drop was used for nothing except rattling the superstructure.


Mean Streak Henry, who'd ridden this roller coaster more than 16,000 times according to the sign in the station and his T-shirt. He was there, far as we can tell, all day, filling in a second seat for lone passengers. He was in high demand that day.

Trivia: The word ``resolve'' meant, by 1398, ``to dissolve, to break up''. By 1571 it had extended to include ``break up, dispel, or remove'' as an a doubt or difficulty, which leads to its current meaning. Source: Semantic Antics: How And Why Words Change Meaning, Sol Steinmetz.

Currently Reading: The Money Men: Capitalism, Democracy, and the Hundred Years' War Over The American Dollar, H W Brands.

Fifth round. Set 66, Pavo. Our first table is the modern one, Gottleib/Premier's 1995 Big Hurt. If this sounds like a weird name for a game know that its full title is Frank Thomas's Big Hurt. If this sounds like a weird name for a game know that Frank Thomas was a professional baseball player nicknamed ``The Big Hurt'' and that the game is one of the last baseball-themed pinball games. I know nothing about the game. (It transpires that the game was released on Pinball Arcade last year, but my ancient iPad can't play the newest Pinball Arcade tables.) But the first player puts up a nice easy ball, hits it at the most distant target on the playfield, and soon has like 80 million points. I can do that.

No I can't. I launch the ball softly and it goes out the left inlane and there's no ball save. Fine, my own fault. I can rescue this. Only I can't. I do the best I can to shoot at anything, really. But the game, like most Gottlieb/Premier tables of the era, has a weird set of rules. I don't know what's best to shoot for, or likely to shoot for, and I only break past ten million points on some five million point baseball-card bonus awarded the last ball. Player four, meanwhile, gets ninety million points on the baseball-card bonus the final ball. Why? An excellent question. I join the legion who name Big Hurt the worst table they encountered at Pinburgh.

The electromechanical is Williams's 1967 Magic City. I know it from the Silverball Museum. It's basically an bunch of pop bumpers and just try to keep the ball at or near them. It has flippers far apart, separated by a pop bumper. It's a layout that's easy for modern players to do badly on, so I feel good about this. I come in second place.

The late-solid-state game is Bally's 1987 City Slicker, another game I never heard of before. It's ... got ... uhm. It's something about gangster and cowgirls and all I really work out is that shooting some part starts this fun little side ``Go Downtown'' table thing where you just hit a partly captive pair of balls at a target and run up points. It looks like fun. Everybody else runs them up. Not me. There's a bunch of nice, interesting shots. I just can't make any of them, and go down to last place again.

And the early-solid-state game is Stern's 1979 Dracula, which has no relation to the Bram Stoker's Dracula game I actually know anything about. (It turns out PinTips did have a page on it, but I was in a part of the convention hall from which I couldn't get Wi-Fi.) The instruction card gives me some hope, but I know the game from the era: banks of drop targets! Shoot spinner when lit! And with one pretty solid ball I have ... a third-place finish.

I have three wins, nine losses in the round. This makes my record for the first day 24 wins, 36 losses. [profile] bunny_hugger, in set 55, Electra, has a slightly less dismal record and goes 4-8. Her record for the first day is 26-34.

We are consigned to the D Division. [profile] bunny_hugger is part of a many-way tie for 601st. I'm somewhere in the 670s. It's heartbreaking, particularly for [profile] bunny_hugger, who'd made the B Division last year and hoped to repeat. At least to get C.

It's a night spent trying to console each other. There's not a lot to say; we're feeling dismal after performing worse than we thought we should. There are two slivers of hope. The first is that the second day is the one that decides whether we go to finals. In the A, B, and C Divisions your record for the first two days is counted. In the D Division only your second day's performance counts. One or two good rounds could launch us into finals, something a low seeding in one of the other divisions would make impossible. (On the other hand, a high seeding in another division would count. [profile] bunny_hugger starts the second day officially seeded 30th of the 190 players, but that doesn't give her an actual advantage.) And, you know, if we're currently under-ranked, and most of the people in D aren't, then we might have a good day Friday.

Trivia: By 1895, the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad had a daily train on the Morris and Essex line, carrying roses from Madison, New Jersey, into Manhattan. Source: Railroads of New Jersey: Fragments of the Past in the Garden State Landscape, Lorett Treese.

Currently Reading: The Money Men: Capitalism, Democracy, and the Hundred Years' War Over The American Dollar, H W Brands.

PS: The Summer 2017 Mathematics A To Z: Elliptic Curves, and I hold off as long as possible saying how they're useful but boy are they ever useful.

The lunch/dinner break at Pinburgh qualifying matches happens between rounds 3 and 4, sometime in the gap between a match that starts at 2:30 and a match that starts at 6:15. The games take something like an hour to play, so, eight hundred pinball players stagger out of the David L Lawrence Convention Center somewhere around 3:30 to find things in downtown Pittsburgh they can consume. In 2016 we had joined Michigan Pinball folks in swarms to a Qdoba and to this hipster meatball place. In 2017, Thursday, we followed a different path. This took us on a long hike to this hipster Argentinian restaurant. It was nice and all, just, they listed potatoes on their menu as ``pot''. You have to roll with this. Not joining us: DAD and his son, who started to follow us, looked up just how many blocks away and uphill the place would be, and then ducked into a comic book shop with a promise they'd join us later. I have no evidence that they ever got to the restaurant, though to be fair, don't know that they didn't, either.

Round four. I'm on set 13, Tatooine. [profile] bunny_hugger had played it the second round of the day. Its modern game: Cirqus Voltaire, a grand late-90s game. There's special warnings on it, that the Ringmaster shot is good for only 10,000 points per hit. The game has a basic sure-fire strategy: hit the Ringmaster, then keep hitting it. Each time you hit a Ringmaster enough you defeat him, and that gives you a big prize and, after the second and third and fourth Ringmasters, a multiball. But nobody in my group hits the Ringmaster hard enough to defeat him and I take this to mean, you need to score a certain number of points to beat the Ringmaster and at 10,000 points per hit that's just not going to happen. I switch to an alternate strategy: shooting the ramp until it starts multiball. (Anything you hit often enough on Cirqus Voltaire eventually starts multiball. Ringmaster just the safest.) And I do very well, starting the Arc Light Multiball and going on to win the table. This despite tilting two balls, something that reveals to me how frightfully touchy the tilt bob is.

This would give me two critical pieces of information. The first is that yes, the tilt bob is that incredibly sensitive on it. The second is that I was wrong: you can defeat the Ringmaster. Just hit it enough. I guess none of us hit the Ringmaster enough, despite our skills. Both would be essential.

The electromechanical game is Bally's 1966 Safari, with a backglass that's just oh, just go look at that tiger. It should be fun; just hit drop targets. I don't do well on it, though, and eh, it's just one game. The late-solid-state game is Williams's 1990 Rollergames, a roller-skating-themed game that endlessly repeats a musical sting to go rock, rock, rock and rollergames. It's the one that got replaced out from under [profile] bunny_hugger. That goes far better than the game ever did when it was in the Brunswick Square Mall in the early 90s, or when it was at the Brighton Arcade a couple years back, and I think I get second on the table. The early-solid-state game is Bally's 1985 Eight Ball Champ, one of an estimated kajillion pool-themed pinball games. I learn a good point from PinTips, shoot up the left orbit and build bonus multipliers. I get one good ball, two mediocre balls, and end up second again.

The round gives me seven wins and five losses. Not an outstanding round, but anything above .500 is good. It moves my record up to 21-27, and into the tie for 551st. Low C Division. Respectable enough. [profile] bunny_hugger, on set 69, Andromeda, has a great round, going 9-3 and winning her bunch. She jumps up to 515th, middle C Division were this the end of the day.

I have one more round. It's on set 66, Pavo. It's against the far wall, a place that the previous year held no pinball machines. There's one game I know, the electromechanical, an ancient one that I've played at the Silverball museum and that promises to be a struggle. It's not listed on PinTips. Neither are any of the other three tables. I face a mystery round.

Trivia: Henry Martyn Robert, author of Robert's Rules of Order, also chaired the board of engineers that oversaw building the seawall protecting Galveston, Texas, after the Hurricane of 1900. Source: Remaking The World: Adventures In Engineering, Henry Petroski.

Currently Reading: Luna: Pittsburgh's Original Lost Kennywood, Brian Butko.

Round two. 12:15. I'm on bank 59, Pyxis. The modern game is Batman: The Dark Knight, one of the little-loved mainstays of Grand Rapids Pinball League. I know what to do: collect the Batmobile ramp, get Joker Multiball ready to go, get Scarecrow Multiball ready to go, start Joker Multiball, and keep the ball in play. Trouble is finding these shots, particularly Joker, on an unfamiliar table without practice. Everyone else has trouble doing that too, but as I remember, I come out in third place. That's all right; I started the first round the same way. The electromechanical game is Freedom, a 1976 Williams that's all about shooting the ball up into the scoop at center. It's got Christan Marche art, but the Bicentennial theme means it doesn't get as extreme as his styling might get. Doesn't help; if I remember right, I come in last, but not by far.

The early-solid-state game is Gottleib's 1981 Force II, a game I like without ever really getting traction on. It's a big mass of drop targets to hit by way of side flippers. My recollection is I end up in second place. The late-solid-state game is Gottlieb's 1990 Vegas, which nobody knows anything about and that just plays weird all over. It hasn't got ramps, which is weird for the era. Different areas of the playfield are tied to different games, but what to do to get anywhere on anything? Nobody's quite sure. I come out in third place, if I have it right, on a lot of balls well-controlled as they come out of the pop bumpers.

It's a disappointing round for me. I have four wins, eight losses, bringing my total to 10-14. It drops me to a many-way tie for 534th place. If they drew the division lines in now I'd be in low C, but it's early. One good round and I could vault safely into B. Could easily happen: part of why I got so few wins was someone in our group went 11-1, barely missing out on one of the precious medals given out to the people who have a perfect round.

[profile] bunny_hugger, on set 13, Tatooine, has had a slightly better round, going 5-7 despite what really seems like a bad call by the referees. (A game's kickback doesn't fire strongly enough to send the ball back into play. She's certain this is rated as a ``yeah, sucks when the machine doesn't work right'' judgement call. The tournament official, pressed by fellow Michigan player AJG, rules it ``yeah, the game's hopeless, play a replacement''.) She drops to 471st. High C.

Round three. 2:30 pm and the last before lunch/dinner. I have set 39, Auriga. The modern game is Stern's 2011 Transformers, for which I have no love but for which I have a strategy. Hit the center target and start Optimus Prime Multiball. Along the way I find the super-skill-shot, which won't win the game but is nice to have. The electromechanical is Gottleib's 1973 High Hand, with nice familiar Gordon Morison art of some card-decorated superhero fighting a spiral vortex of playing cards. I dunno. Most of the banks in Pinburgh have some kind of running theme --- games about fast cars, games about spaceships, games about monsters --- but this one and the previous one are a mystery to me. Sometimes you just have scraps.

The late-solid-state is Bally's 1986 Motordome and may I ask you to go look at its backglass art? Thank you. If you were a teenage boy in 1986, wouldn't you have wanted to see the stupid movie that had that VHS cover? Yeah, kinda. Like a lot of games of that era it's got some weird transparent ramps over the playfield and about seven jillion fiddly little targets to hit. I remember this as the most fun of the set. The early-solid-state game is Bally's 1980 Skateball, with an athletics theme (maybe the bank was trying to be about recreational sports and Transformers just couldn't fit in?) but that's smashed by the backglass art having a bad case of Late 70s Pornstache. But I like the layout and do very well finding some valuable drop targets I can keep bonking.

I believe I won that table. It's not much of a win. I come out of the round with another 4-8 record. My cumulative is a meager 14-22, leaving me tied for 620th. Draw the dividing lines now and I'm in high D.

Where I had a bad round, [profile] bunny_hugger's had a catastrophic one. On bank 1, Canis Major, she's gone 2-10 and plummeted into 700th place. Middle D, were the divisions drawn now. It's disheartening stuff to go to lunch on.

Still, it could be worse. In the third round of the first day in 2016, I had a perfect failure round, going 0-12, and plummeting to 617th place. I came back after lunch with one great and one good session to land safely in the middle of C Division. And the way later rounds are assigned we're going to be placed against more people with similar seedings. If we face people who're worse players, as opposed to people who just had one or two unlucky rounds, we can jump right back up again.

Trivia: 17th Century Astronomer Royale John Flamsteed's star charts and lunar tables were originally planed to be issued by the end of 1675. They would not be printed until 1725, published by his widow and two assistants, and then in incomplete form. Source: Ingenious Pursuits: Building the Scientific Revolution, Lisa Jardine. (Flamsteed fell into a bit of a perfectionist work-spiral.)

Currently Reading: Luna: Pittsburgh's Original Lost Kennywood, Brian Butko.

PS: The Summer 2017 Mathematics A To Z: Diophantine Equations, which turned out to be more fun writing than I figured on it being. Go figure.

My mathematics blog, as seen on your Reading page or on your RSS feed (I know, it's not either) had a busy week as the A To Z got started! Here's what's run since last Sunday:

And let me answer this question: What's Going On In Prince Valiant? May - August 2017 It includes a deep dive into the Prince Valiant archives.

Now let's draw visually closer to the closing of Mean Streak at Cedar Point last year.


The other running train climbing Mean Streak's lift hill on its final day of operations. This time, I believe, we noticed the people on the ride and figured it was our big chance to get one more ride in for the last few hours of the roller coaster's operation.


Funeral stand set up outside Mean Streak's entrance. U.R.Dade was the name given to one of the undertakers for the park's Halloweekend events, and some park official dressed as the undertaker would give the ride's eulogy.


Some of the flowers set out around U.R.Dade's podium. Among the cards: 'It's going to be a lot quieter around here - Lusty Lil's Cast'. Lusty Lil's is one of the theaters in the area by the park. 'Whelp, See Ya Later! - Maintenance'. 'Don't Get Well. - The Carpenters'.


'So sad to see my friend go away - The Beast'. The Beast is the big wooden roller coaster and beloved star of Kings Island, now a sister park to Cedar Point. Other cards, in pictures not included: 'It's been a great streak! We'll miss pushing your buttons! - Ride Operations' 'Your apparel was nice while it lasted. RIP - Merchandise' 'Please accept our condolences. We will miss him very much - Sam Seagull' (along with some doodles of m-birds.) 'We will miss the way you made our jobs easy by not having to do any work around you or in your infield. Never change ... with love, Landscaping'.


And around back of the podium, with a couple bouquets that I suppose must have been intended for the ceremony which we couldn't hear very well, it would turn out. One of Mean Streak's return legs is visible on the left there.


Someone kindly took a photo of us together outside Mean Streak's entrance. We wore the shirts we had gotten in August, when we learned of the ride's closure and that Cedar Point had t-shirts for all their roller coasters. Note that the approximate wait time was still listed as five minutes, here, for the last hours of the ride's existence. It was a bit longer than five minutes then, but still, wasn't very long considering.

Trivia: On 15 April 1805 Napoleon decreed the Jacquard loom public property, and compensated Jacquard with an annual pension of 3000 francs plus royalty of 50 francs for every loom brought into use in France over the coming six years. Source: Jacquard's Web: How A Hand-Loom Led To The Birth Of The Information Age, James Essinger.

Currently Reading: Luna: Pittsburgh's Original Lost Kennywood, Brian Butko.

My first bank was on Set 71, named Lyra. Most of the banks are named for real stars. Some are named more fancifully: Tatooine, or Xyzzy, for example. Each bank holds one modern game, roughly the ones from 1991 to the present day; one electromechanical, roughly anything from before 1975; one early solid-state, a machine from about 1975 to 1984; one late solid-state, a machine from 1985 to 1991. To excel at Pinburgh you have to do well, or at least avoid doing badly, on all the kinds of pinball since we got out of the pure mechanical era.

Lyra is one of the three banks on stage, in the location for the A Division Finals set for Saturday. There's no actual prestige in playing on them outside the finals. But it feels like there should be. You're more visible than anyone else, and they already have the cameras set up and monitors showing the screens to anyone looking casually on. It's also more dangerous. The stage is less wobbly than it was the previous year. But it's still less stable than the cement floor of the convention center. There would be spurious tilt warnings, and even tilts, through the day until organizers add a strip of tape and prohibit anyone not playing from walking too close to the machines.

My first game for the first bank of the first day of the convention: The Hobbit. A Jersey Jack game. I'll take the hometown pride of it. It's a good omen. I do well on The Hobbit most anytime it comes up in leagues. I don't know this specific table, but that's all right. There's a lot of reasonably safe shots that would let me get a feel for what I need to do. The table has Lightning Flippers, shorter than the standard ones for the game, something a warning sign informs us about. The effect is to make the game a bit quicker, a bit tougher, certainly necessary things for a game that the best of the A Division would be playing in two days. I ... don't reach the blow-up moment I hope for, but I also don't do badly. I get a third-place finish, earning 1 win and 2 losses in my group of four.

The electromechanical game: Doodle Bug. It was the novelty delight of the last year's finals. Its gimmick is a captive ball, inset in the playfield; certain shots trigger a motor that sends the captive ball bouncing up and down for ten, or a hundred, or a thousand points each bounce. It's also a game for which it's impossible to hold the ball on the flippers, a mistake that dooms many players. Not me. I find the feel of the five-ball game, and come out of it the champion, earning three wins and zero losses for the round.

The early solid-state game is El Dorado: City of Gold, one of many remakes of the durable electromechanical El Dorado. It's a drop targets game: there's a bank of ten drop targets and a bank of five drop targets and just keep completing them. I never get traction on it, and go down to the lowest score possible. Zero wins, three losses. My total for the round so far: 4-5.

The late solid-state game is Phantom Of The Opera, which I don't remember ever playing before. There's some things it's obvious I can do, like, shoot the organ that eventually starts multiball. And, playing easily, not trying to move too fast, trapping and aiming, I come to a second-place finish. Someone on the last ball sneaks out from under me. I complete the cycle, racking up a first, a second, a third, and a fourth-place finish. My score for the round: 6 wins, 6 losses.

Same as everyone else did. Not all by getting a cycle. Someone got it with three second-place finishes (two wins each) and one fourth-place. Someone got one first-place and three third-place finishes. I forget what the last person got, but it's surely deducible from this information. We all are 6-6 after the first round, and joke that we could have just pretended to have played and saved ourselves all this time.

It's a joke and we all chuckle about this. It transpires, though, that there have been credible reports of players agreeing to declare they had a 6-6 round. At the end of the first day of play, when Pinburgh divides its players into the A, B, C, and D divisions, people with scores tied on the dividing line get put into the higher division. On the end of the second day people tied for the last playoff spots go to tiebreakers together. There is motivation, in these final rounds of the day, to negotiate a face-saving tie rather than play a game that might send one to oblivion right away. I had no idea and am shocked to learn this, and to learn of my naivete.

But nobody would throw the first round of the first day this way. And it's a good start. If I can keep on this pace I should end the day at 30 wins and 30 losses total, on the border between B Division and C Division. Good place to be.

[profile] bunny_hugger plays the first round on Set 41, Procyon. Surely a good omen there. The modern game is Theatre of Magic, an old familiar game she knows every rule to. The electromechanical is Hokus Pokus which who knows. The early solid-state is Genie, which she's played some but doesn't know well. The late solid-state is Sorcerer which she knows from the Wii Pinball Hall of Fame. She too emerges from the first round with a 6-6 record, although her group is not so perfectly balanced.

My perfectly mediocre play drops me from 255th seed to 398th, about where the dividing line between B and C division should be drawn. Hers drops her to only 354th. We're both really in this massive tie for 337th place, but they have to set seeding somehow and I don't know how they do it. We have about an hour free to wander around and try to catch friends and hear how they're doing before the second round starts.

Trivia: Three signers of the Declaration of Indepence lived to be over ninety years old. (John Adams, Charles Carroll, and William Ellery.) Source: Signing Their Lives Away: The Fame and Misfortune Of The Men Who Signed The Declaration of Independence, Denise Kiernan, Joseph D'Agnese.

Currently Reading: Luna: Pittsburgh's Original Lost Kennywood, Brian Butko.

OK, all this was a bit more giddy fun before the terrible news about [profile] rapidtrabbit's death. I'm shocked and saddened. We'd not seen him enough at conventions, and had held out hopes of sometime getting to a New York City-area amusement park with him. Part of our anniversary trip (story to follow) was guided by his experiences, and his advice was part of what made that wonderful.

OK, so, Pinburgh. I'm excerpting just that part because it was so exciting to end up highly placed in one division of the biggest competitive pinball event held to date. There was more on the trip, before and after, and I'll get to that in time and I hope remember to weave references to this back in.

It began early Thursday, in Pittsburgh, with the long walk from our hotel to the David L Lawrence Convention Center. This was where Pinburgh was held last year, and also where Anthrocon's been years in a row. Earlier than we might have liked, because Michigan Pinball wanted to take a group photo. The group consensus was that it would be taken at 9:15 am, and we had less ambiguous information about where to gather than we had last year.

So it got started late, and we could have probably left ten minutes later and not be missed, and so we could have slept in another ten minutes, which would have been great. We had started the expedition to Pinburgh with an all-day drive down to Cincinnati, and then a full day at the Kings Island amusement park, and then another day of driving, and a small side tournament, and we had already, before the first plunge of a tournament that has you going for twelve not-quite-straight hours of competitive play against a selection of the world's most eager competitors, going in fatigued and with sore feet. Ten more minutes off them would have been nice.

[profile] bunny_hugger was not the designated group photo taker, despite her clear expertise in taking a lot of really good photos, what with how she uses an actual camera and stuff. Someone had brought in a 360-degree panoramic camera. We were to gather in a circle around a golf-ball-sized orb mounted atop a tripod that looked like a misfired attempt at being Doctor Who future-alien technology. Still, all we had to do was stand in a circle. No, a circle. No, nobody should stand behind anybody else ... right, in a circle. No, come closer and ... well, we got that done in time for the official Michigan Pinball group portrait and I think only a couple people who should've been there missed out entirely.

The area was set up a little differently from last year's. Mostly the main stage was farther back from the free-play and other public areas of the convention. This let them fit, it seemed, more and more comfortable chairs in for the audience. It also let them fit in some big circular tables that would be great for snacking when one was eating between-rounds. And we could all gather together and listen in reasonable comfort to the welcoming and inspirational words of whoever was the master of ceremonies: or we would if we could hear them. I'm pretty sure all I could make out was that there were the full complement of 800 attendees, fifty more than last year's total and the greatest number ever to attend a Pinburgh or, as far as anyone knows, a competitive pinball event. Also, we should remember (something) and (something else) and I'm not sure but it did seem inspirational and that's as much as we needed.

And then --- 10 am, and the start of the first round. I was the 255th seed of the 800 players, based (I suppose) on my International Flipper Pinball Association ranking. That ranking recorded me as something like the 600th-highest-ranked player in the world. [profile] bunny_hugger was seeded 287th, I suppose on the strength of her roughly-700th-place world ranking. The contest was under way.

Trivia: ``Singing In The Rain'' had its film debut in M-G-M's The Hollywood Revue of 1929, performed there by the Brox Sisters, Dagmar, Loraine, and Kathlyn. Source: The Encyclopedia of Vaudeville, Anthony Slide.

Currently Reading: Luna: Pittsburgh's Original Lost Kennywood, Brian Butko.

PS: The Summer 2017 Mathematics A To Z: Cohomology and the first of this A To Z sequence I'm not positive I'm actually competent to write! Does it show?

Want to know how my humor blog kept up its regular postings despite my cutting corners to make time for that Pinburgh event? I'm not going to own up to it but maybe you'll work things out if you study what I did post. Since last Thursday it's been:

And now in photos back to Cedar Point, in September, and the last day of Mean Streak as an operating roller coaster. Cedar Point still hasn't announced what exactly they're doing with its skeleton. We know the rough plan, but not all the details.


Our best parking spot ever at Cedar Point! We got there early to make sure we'd get in on time for the Mean Streak Farewell ceremony, and this got us to the park more time before opening (in the evening, as it was a Friday in September) than we'd ever done before. So we got in the first row, behind only the Preferred, the bus, and the handicapped-access parking.


Cedar Point's main entrance, decorated for Halloween (above) and with the display sign telling everyone of how Mean Streak was closing for good. They're almost ready to start letting people swarm into the park here.


Guy in the center wearing the black t-shirt issued to commemorate the closing of Disaster Transport, back in 2012. Going to go ahead and guess he's a roller coaster enthusiast and that he got one or more rides on Mean Streak that final day it had.


[profile] bunny_hugger stopping off in the Rides Graveyard, part of the park with monuments to park rides that have since been taken out. There would be one for Mean Streak added to the graveyard that day. Note the ``fallen'' Sky Ride car number 13 in the background. The graveyard is underneath the path of the Sky Ride.


Oh, yeah, we did wander past the petting zoo/historical farm and they had the turkeys milling about.


What I had assumed at the time was merely a test run of Mean Streak, but which I now see carried people! Don't know if they were park employees or VIPs who were getting special access to the not-yet-open ride, or if the ride were actually open that much sooner than its scheduled opening time for the night. I think the official announcement was that it would only run from the park opening time of 6 pm to its funeral service at 7 pm, but it was open to us before 6 pm and maybe it was open even sooner?

Trivia: The American War for Independence resulted in a desperate shortage of alkali in Great Britain, as imports from North America and Spain stopped. Source: The Lunar Men: The Friends Who Made The Future, Jenny Uglow.

Currently Reading: Sabrina The Teenage Witch: Complete Collection, Volume 1, Editor Victor Gorelick. (I haven't had much reading time this past week.)

PS: How July 2017 Treated My Mathematics Blog, my regular statistics check.

So, last week, [profile] bunny_hugger and I went to Pinburgh, the biggest competitive pinball event of the year. And this happened.

Me and [profile] bunny_hugger showing off our medallions, prizes for having perfect rounds at Pinburgh. She got hers first. This smiling face is the same look I have in every photograph, which inspired one of our friends this weekend to say he hopes to someday enjoy something as much as I enjoy everything. The odd glossy squares around them are the plastic baggies they were somehow stapled into and that we've since ripped off them.

In the first round of the second day of competition, [profile] bunny_hugger had a perfect round. Four games, one from each major era of pinball, in which she beat all the competitors. She'll try to disparage her achievement, as she had a three-person group rather than the full four-person group. But she shouldn't. A perfect round in Pinburgh is a fantastic event, something not everyone can do. AJH, one of Michigan's top people, envied her; he's never gotten a perfect round and ends up quivering with nerves when he realizes he's near one.

And then two rounds after that, I had a perfect round too.

If that weren't amazing enough, then, this also happened.

The medals I took home from Pinburgh for 2017. The larger, Division D medallion, shows the reverse because that's the one that says which event and division it was. The obverse reads ``ReplayFX 2017'' --- the convention the contest was held under --- with a spiral pattern behind.

With an hilarious postscript. After the Pinburgh results were out, a debate thread burst out on pinball discussion center TiltForums. The argument: there were too many ringers in the D division, people who'd deliberately played below their ability the first day (when sorting was done) to outclass people in the playoffs. [profile] bunny_hugger worried that someone might be thinking of me as, not to brag, I dominated the bottommost division. I think that's unlikely. Nobody outside Michigan Pinball has the faintest idea who I am or what my playing level could plausibly be. And everyone inside Michigan Pinball knows of the New Year's Eve 2015/2016 tournament --- many of them where there --- and that I couldn't possibly sandbag. But it's flattering to imagine people on the Internet saying I'm obviously better than what I showed.

So my achievement in being second-best among the lowest division at Pinburgh is why I'm about to jump out of chronological sequence and postpone recounting our anniversary holiday, fantastic as that was. Something really big has come up.

Trivia: A Chinese scholar in 1637 wrote that coal was an unsurpassed fuel for cooking all dishes except bean curds, which would become bitter over a coal fire. Source: Coal: A Human History, Barbara Freese.

Currently Reading: Sabrina The Teenage Witch: Complete Collection, Volume 1, Editor Victor Gorelick.

PS: The Summer 2017 Mathematics A To Z: Benford's Law, which might help you commit the white-collar crime spree of your dreams!

OK, this may descend to the level of being gossip. But it's interesting stuff. Of course it always is.

So among the local institutions is Theio's, a diner. Its main blessing is that it's open 24 hours and not far from home and the hipster bar where Lansing Pinball League meets. Also right across the street from Mac's Bar, which helps the place stay hopping at 2 am. That said, it's always had quirks. One is that for some reason it isn't a Coney Island, the Michigan-area mutation of diners. It doesn't do coney dogs, which are a mutation of chili dogs endemic to the lower peninsula.

Also it doesn't carry waffles. It used to, or at least, its menus used to list them. Last year we noticed the menus had waffles crossed out, and then new menus came up which didn't list waffles at all. According to the pinball league's regular waitress, the owners sold the waffle iron. It didn't take in enough money to support the expense. I am willing to listen to [profile] chefmongoose explaining why this really makes a good deal of sense, but I have to say, it doesn't really sound like something that makes sense.

We got from the waitress occasional bits of news, mostly about what always seemed to be the place being sold to a new owner. And after the Rocket Robin tournament we heard how even she had been fired, and then asked to come back in what has to be the sort of gratifying moment everybody wishes would happen to them. This seemed alarming, but since the person we figured should be there was back, that seemed like the storm had passed.

Then this month, while we were up north for a restful and tiring vacation --- it's been a heck of a month --- a big storm came. The new owners --- I don't know if they're the ones from June --- fired the whole staff.

Now, what is the most important thing to do when you fire the entire staff of a place? Yes, that's right: get, and change, the social media passwords. The diner's Facebook became a blizzard of protests. Whatever now-ex-staffer had the password pinned a particularly vehement complaint about the new management to the front of the page. This lasted a couple days, in that wonderful little riot of a company's public face getting out of its hands and into those of angry customers.

The biggest disturbance to the well-ordered universe, though, is that it's no longer open 24 hours a day. We went to it after a night making up a missed pinball league, at not quite midnight, and it had already closed. Incredibly. I can understand figuring that it's not worth having staff on at 4 am, but when the bar across the street is still going on? When it isn't even midnight yet? The neon sign promising Open 24 Hours was on yet, and has been when we've examined since. Possibly they don't have the ability to turn that off.

(And the alt-weekly had some more information about this but I don't have time to incorporate it. News to follow.)

Trivia: Manchester, England, had seven confectioners in 1800, 41 in 1830, 57 by 1840, and 119 by 1850. Source: Sweets: A History of Temptation, Tim Richardson.

Currently Reading: Sabrina The Teenage Witch: Complete Collection, Volume 1, Editor Victor Gorelick.

PS: Reading the Comics, July 29, 2017: Not Really Mathematics Concluded Edition, cleaning up some loose ends.

If this year has had a theme, it's been ``stuff breaking''. The TV broke in March. My laptop broke in May. In June my car took some permanent damage to some kind of cover from being driven through flooded streets. Last month I was trying to turn the ceiling fan on in the breakfast nook, and instead the glass lamp cover dropped and hit [profile] bunny_hugger on the head, spoiling her Tri-Zone game. And the fan didn't work, either. So here's some more of that.

Our bathroom sink has been in the process of draining ever-more-slowly for years now. We would try, sometimes, to snake it, without success. And we'd try pouring drain cleaner, sometimes, with little success. Finally we reached the point where this brought no relief. I tried taking the trap out underneath, to snake from a better angle, and didn't get anything done and couldn't get the trap on either.

On to a call from Michigan's Plumbing, who advertise with the logic-defying motto ``We'll exceed your expectations''. They were able to see us in a few hours but had dire news: our galvanized pipes had rusted to the point they couldn't be snaked anymore. The best they could advise was to arrange for replacing all the old pipes at a cost of something like $1500. [profile] bunny_hugger had been warned, when she bought the house decades ago, that they would need replacing sometime, but supposed she could take the risk because it wasn't like she would be here for decades, right? Mm.

Still, we didn't want to undertake that without a second opinion and made an appointment with Hedlund Plumbing for the first day after we were back from another weeklong vacation (more on this anon). That guy ... came after the two-hour window we were expecting him, which, hrm. But he also investigated, and thought, and went upstairs with tools, and before we quite knew what was going on there was the sound of saws and banging around and stuff that didn't sound the least bit good.

There was a good bit of good here, though. He installed some kind of trap in there, and replaced some pipe, and fixed some other pipe which had come dangerously loose. We have wild thoughts this might do something about the occasional, transient, worrisome bits of water we see in the kitchen ceiling that we try not to think about. But he was able to snake the drain with that bit done, and while there is drywall cut open it's underneath the sink, hidden by a cabinet, where it's not really important. Total cost: under $300. And the sink drains nice and quick.

Not addressed: oh yeah, the pipes. They'll need replacement with something not so rust-worthy sometime. But now we can schedule it, rather than get taken by surprise, at least as far as we know.

Also my car's axle boots are leaking, and shall need replacement before something truly awful happens to my CV joints. I do not know what CV joints are, but will discard my first guess that it's a place where academics send their résumés to hang out and get drink.

Trivia: The Latin zodiac sign Scorpio, the Scorpion, was in Sanskrit `Vrischika', and in the Babylonian scheme `Scorpion'. Source: Mapping Time: The Calendar and its History, EG Richards.

Currently Reading: Sabrina The Teenage Witch: Complete Collection, Volume 1, Editor Victor Gorelick.

PS: The Summer 2017 Mathematics A To Z: Arithmetic as a new A To Z sequence gets under way! Featuring art from [personal profile] thomaskdye!

My mathematics blog is getting ready to launch its new A To Z project. Are you? Meanwhile, here's what it's run the past week.

Were you wondering what's going on in The Phantom? In its weekday edition? I've got your back. Here, enjoy! And now to the closing day of Michigan's Adventure, just under eleven months ago. I need to do more all-photo weeks and catch up.


You know it's late in the season when people are just giving up on their socks near the Tilt-a-Whirl.


Pumpkins! For at least the second year running they were growing pumpkins just off of Shivering Timbers. Why? Hard to guess. Michigan's Adventure does nothing for Halloween. Other Cedar Fair parks do, but surely they could grow their own pumpkins or get from local providers if they need fresh pumpkins for something or other.


Sea Dragon, the swinging ship ride, put to bed for the season: the crowds are gone and there's just the crew securing it for a long winter's nap.


Main midway of Michigan's Adventure, put to bed for the season: the Corkscrew, its first roller coaster, is on the left, and the Lakeside Gliders, the flying turns ride that replaced a go-cart upcharge attraction (!) a couple years ago is in the center of the picture.


Cedar Fair has the Peanuts license and that's fine. The core problem is that the Peanuts characters don't really have anything to do with amusement parks. I'm aware of only, like, one time they even mentioned going to anything with rides, which is kind of a surprising thing for the gang never to have done. Anyway, this results in some weird contorted efforts to drag the characters into something salable. Peppermint Patty's Candy Shop at least passes the ``Yeah, I guess Peppermint Patty likes candy'' test. But as it was the end of season, discipline had clearly broken down as the shop in this photo mostly has silly hats.

Trivia: In October 1772 the Royal Navy performed an experiment for Benjamin Franklin, pouring oil on the water from a longboat at Portsmouth. Observers agreed this did appear to diminish the waves around the vessel. Source: The First American: The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin, H W Brands.

Currently Reading: Sabrina The Teenage Witch: Complete Collection, Volume 1, Editor Victor Gorelick.