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austin_dern

September 2017

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Feb. 5th, 2017

So a while back I mentioned that a Blind Squirrel event inspired me to learn a new pinball skill. This is as good as any time to describe it. The technique is called alley passing.

Here's why I wanted to learn it: Blind Squirrel's Tri Zone is hard. Really hard. The big challenge is getting things up the left orbit, the one leading to the 'T' rollover. The most reliable way to score is to get the 'T', 'R', and 'I' rollovers rolled over, and boy is the 'T' a hard shot. The 'R' isn't easy either, but it's not so much harder than it is on our game at home.

But there's an alternative. If you can shoot the inlanes, the channels that bring the ball down to the left and right flippers, you can build the bonus up to its maximum (19,000 points), and the bonus multiplier up to its maximum (5x). That's a solid 95,000 points, which over three balls is pretty nearly a sure win. Trouble is getting the balls down the inlanes. There's alterante lanes, at the top of the playfield, but shooting 'T' is one of the two easy ways to get to the top of the playfield.

And this leads to alley passing. Start from a ball trapped on the flipper. Lower the flipper and let the ball roll down almost to the end of the flipper. Then flip up. Do it at the right time and the ball goes almost horizontally and zooms up the inlane. Builds the bonus base, has a 50-50 shot of building the bonus multiplier. Trap the ball again and repeat and, in principle, you get this really nice, sure minimum score.

I practiced this at home because, of course. The big thing I've learned: wow does this take nerve. If your timing is a little off the ball dribbles down the drain and you can't blame it on anything but you chose to screw up. And when the ball rockets up the inlane it might go back in crazy weird directions. Might not be easy to trap again. That's unnerving too. But I kept at it and got to my goal of three balls with the bonus base and multiplier built up to their maximums. Well, I got that once.

And in practice, in actual play, I have used this newfound skill. Not much, but a couple times. Last night, for example, at the finals for Marvin's Marvellous Mechanical Museum League I had several games on Wizard. It's a 1975 electromechanical game in slightly mopey shape. If the ball's on the right flipper all is great. (Especially for us, since the valuable shot on Wizard is the same as the 'T' shot on Tri Zone.) On the left flipper you want to get it over to the right flipper. And it turns out an alley pass is a great way to get the ball from the left flipper over to the right, and, by way of the inlane, score 500 points (not much, but about what you could expect from getting things into the bumpers) and ratchet up the bonus. I spent a lot of the night on Wizard and it mostly treated me well, not least because I had this odd little skill to deploy.

Trivia: The United States Naval Computing Machinery Laboratory began (at National Cash Register's plant in Dayton, Ohio) with a staff of 20. It ended the war with a staff of 1,100, and used 1,2000 computing machines of 140 varieties. (Their work was primarily cryptanalysis.) Source: Before The Computer: IBM, NCR, Burroughs, and Remington Rand and the Industry They Created, 1865 - 1956, James W Cortada.

Currently Reading: The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, The Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made, Greg Sestero, Tom Bissell.

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