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September 2017

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We would take pictures, first, of ourselves in the scenic foregrounds. They had a couple, one of a gargoyle setting, one of some kind of monkey that if you squinted hard enough you could buy as a coati's figure. [profile] bunny_hugger took the gargoyle figure herself. We spent time looking over the map of the park, figuring out whether we wanted to get the wristband admission or whether it made sense to no of course it made sense to get the wristband admission. Buying individual tickets makes sense if you're there to get on two rides and leave, which we might if we know the place to be boring and to just want to get a roller coaster credit. This was different. We wanted to experience the place.

The most noteworthy thing about the pier is that it's not a pier. Nor is it a boardwalk. It's a long stretch that runs parallel to the beach, but it's your standard asphalt grounds, like many small amusement parks we've been to. Since there's dunes lining the edge of the park, or parking lot, there's even much of the park from which you'd have no idea you were at the sea, if not for the gulls.

We explored the lay of the land first; we had something like five or six hours before things should start closing down. The park had a carousel, a modern Chance fiberglass one rather than an antique, but still something. But not a something that was running, not at any time we checked, and we passed by its building several times over. The park did have a Roll-O-Plane, a tiny metal cabin that would arc one up in the air and upside-down a lot. [profile] bunny_hugger remembered them well from childhood fairs when she would refuse to ride them. You never see them anymore. Given the chance now, she refused to ride them. I don't blame her and I didn't want to ride it either. Even the Roller Coaster Tycoon version of that looks terrifying.

The terrifying that that we would absolutely have ridden if we could: Chaos. Chaos was this thrilling-looking ride that popped up everywhere in the late 90s, a circular ride with seats that themselves would extend and flip over and it looks perfectly mad. But the ride was prone to corrosion and after the one at Michigan's Adventure collapsed one day in 2001, parks stopped running them and quietly replaced them. More slowly than [profile] bunny_hugger realized; we found a Cedar Point park map from 2008 that still showed their Chaos. It's possible the ride was there the first time I visited Cedar Point, but we paid no attention to it. We never imagined we'd see one now. ... But, it wasn't running, and showed no signs of being likely to run that day or maybe that month; it had the air of extensive maintenance being done.

We checked the arcades for signs of pinball. In one I had to report good and bad news. They had a pinball table. It was South Park. A South Park with suspiciously low replay values, possibly because the game automatically launches the ball instead of letting the player choose when to start. (This might be a way the venue handles people not knowing how to make pinball games start playing, at the cost of infuriating the experienced player.) Well, I had a good game, if you can have a good game on South Park. (I don't care much for the theme, especially since the game was made when the show was like a year old, so it hasn't got much stuff to call upon. If they made a South Park game today it would at least be less repetitive. But I understand at the time nobody in the late 90s imagining how long this cartoon with, as one MiSTing of the time put it so well, the obscene Colorforms would linger.)

Then there's the most interesting thing that we couldn't do: that was the Haunted Manor haunted house. Seven tickets was the price. It looked great. It wasn't running, and we're sad for that. There's also a dark ride, the Spook House, that dates back to the 1930s. It was whalloped by Sandy, and hasn't run since then, and I don't know when it will run again. They still list it on park maps, at least speaking to intention.

So that's everything that disappointed. Let me turn next to the good stuff.

Trivia: By 1970 New Jersey piers carried 63 percent of the Port of New York and New Jersey's general cargo. Source: The Box: How the Shipping Container Made The World Smaller And The World Economy Bigger, Marc Levinson.

Currently Reading: Sail and Rail: A Narrative History of Transportation in Western Michigan, Lawrence Wakefield, Lucille Wakefield.

PS: Some more of Earlham College on a Friday night in October last year.


And, you know, as a small Quaker college in the midwest naturally you're going to have a certain number of moose heads growing out of the brick walls. It's a science building, how are you doing to do without that stuff?


The new science building, a year or two old, and grown out of the old science buildings so as to look fairly natural, really. I took it for a 60s-era building freshly renovated rather than a 2010s bit of construction.

PPS: The Summer 2017 Mathematics A To Z: Prime Number, which I really liked writing.

And how's my mathematics blog looking? Here's some of its content, in aggregate. Or you might look at the next-to-the-last link there.

Also, What's Going On In Mary Worth? June - September 2017 Now you know.

So what did it look like last year when we went to [profile] bunny_hugger's reunion weekend at Earlham College? Here's a glimpse at Friday.


Earlham's Class of 1996 reunion table: we missed the other person who was there. The dining hall was a center of many recollections of the eating process at the school, though, and we were visiting ahead of a renovation that would probably just ruin everything. Not ruined: they had more vegetarian options than back in the day.


More of the dining hall, and the balcony from which were always hung banners advertising whatever activity or protest the Earlham students were on about. [profile] bunny_hugger was disturbed to see no banners hung, and would be more distressed to learn that after the renovations due to start the next week, there wouldn't be any more balcony banners. Students would just send their images to be shown, in rotation, on the TV screens instead.


Hanging out in the student center: a bunch of people with board games (do you see Betrayal at the House on the Hill there?) and playing what looked like some video game version of Apples To Apples.


The Heart, center of the Earlham campus, behind the main student center/building. Note the students vanishing to warp speed by the sign there.


Scary steps to one of the computer labs that had, back in the day, been where you could go do Internet stuff all night long if you wanted. There was still evidence of the card reader that [profile] bunny_hugger used back in the day, but it had been replaced by a new card reader.


Stencil graffiti in the scary steps to the former(?) computer lab.

Trivia: There were five thousand liquor stores licensed on the 5th of December 1933, when Utah ratified the repeal of prohibition. (At 5:33 pm, Eastern Time, so most stores could not get now-legal stock in that day.) Source: The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York, Deborah Blum.

Currently Reading: Sail and Rail: A Narrative History of Transportation in Western Michigan, Lawrence Wakefield, Lucille Wakefield.

It's a dangerous thing to try going to two amusement parks in a day. Even if they're small parks. It's hard to give enough time to both. On our fantastic Pennsylvania Parks Tour we cheated Idlewild by just poking in to Knoebels for lunch, and we cheated Waldameer by our discovery of Conneaut Lake Park. On the New England Parks Tour we tried to see both Funtown Splashtown in Saco, Maine, and Santa's Village in Jefferson, New Hampshire, and we didn't have nearly enough time in either.

But when we have only a specific window of time to tour places, and many spots that can be visited? Maybe sometimes the decision to split the day is the best one available. Bowcraft was a small park, and if we had left after three hours we could have fairly said we'd experienced it. There was another park, an hour farther into the Jersey Highlands, the Land Of Make-Believe, that we found tempting but ultimately rejected. Maybe next time. What we wanted to make our Tuesday evening was a place on the shore: Keansburg Amusement Park.

It's, as the name suggests, in Keansburg, New Jersey. I knew the place name tolerably well, as one of those shore towns that I would hear about, the more when my grandparents were alive and in nearby South Amboy. And I knew dimly there was an amusement park there. And that as one that opened on Newark Bay, you could see from it New York City. Indeed, its nearest neighbor amusement park is Coney Island, and on a clear night you can see one from the other. I was never perfectly sure I was looking at Coney Island, but I made my best guess, and told it to [profile] bunny_hugger, and she accepted my reasoning. She didn't know anything about Keansburg until our last trip, when I picked up a flyer for it at a Turnpike rest stop and she realized she had heard the park was smashed by Sandy, not so photogenically as Seaside Heights, but still ---

And that's why this became one of the parks we most wanted to visit. We weren't caught in any too-bad rush hour traffic, but I say that from the perspective of someone who grew up with the escaping-New-York flow of cars. I did overshoot the $10-paid-parking lot briefly, and [profile] bunny_hugger had to guide me to the parking lot with the big KEANSBURG AMUSEMENT PARK PARKING sign over it, which really ought to put an end to the idea that I'm somehow better at navigating than she is. Parking came with a bunch of tickets, offering everything from discounts on books of tickets to discounts on fries or pizza to a free gift with any play at Machine Gun Alley. It also promised that this was part of their Best Day Ever! plans. Between this and the Best Day Ever! poster in the gift shop at Six Flags Over Texas it's clear that someone at Cedar Fair is dropping the ball on their trademark protection.

As we walked into the park I was haunted again by that thought that I should remember this. As with Bowcraft I realized: this is exactly the sort of place that my father would take us to. Maybe more than Bowcraft, since this was so much closer to his parents' home. My recollections centered on this kids' miniature train ride, one of those little loops. Its train was a series of cars with that worn-down streamlined-car design that could be 30s, could be 60s, without any clear change of style. They're red cars with a bright yellow central stripe and labelled the Keansburg Coast Line N.J., the periods a testament to the ride existing before zip codes. This felt extremely familiar, though I never quite rose to saying so to [profile] bunny_hugger.

My father later confirmed that he took us to Keansburg. Before I could describe the miniature train ride he said there was this miniature railroad ride that I could never get enough of as a kid. This isn't something I have to convince myself to accept. This is certainly somewhere I had been as a kid.

Now I know what you all wonder. Given that I have recollections, and my father's testimony, could I add to my roller coaster count? Could I log having been on some kiddie coaster at Bowcraft or Keansburg in 1979 or whatever and close the gap between me and [profile] bunny_hugger with now-gone rides? No, alas. Not out of a ruthless self-skepticism that wouldn't let me log a ride I didn't specifically remember being on. In the circumstance I'd accept as probably-fair-enough my father's claim I had been on one. But the Roller Coaster Database doesn't report Bowcraft ever having a roller coaster before --- well, 2006 is the earliest date. It doesn't know when the Dragon arrived, but [profile] bunny_hugger had ridden that. Similarly the Roller Coaster Database has no records of a roller coaster at Keansburg between 1947 and 1984. The 1984 roller coaster, Wild Cat, I'm very sure I had never ridden, based on its pictures. It's plausible they're overlooking something. Small amusement parks in an era barely Internet-searchable are great places to misplace rides. But I can hardly claim to have ridden something nobody knows exists, not fairly.

Trivia: There were 154 attempted hijackings of American planes to Cuba from 1968 to 1972. Source: Naked Airport: A Cultural History of the World's Most Revolutionary Structure, Alastair Gordon.

Currently Reading: Sail and Rail: A Narrative History of Transportation in Western Michigan, Lawrence Wakefield, Lucille Wakefield.

PS: And a couple more Kokomo's pictures:


A little something for [personal profile] c_eagle: their coin-op fortune-telling toucan, and some of their art with their mascot selling gift cards.


What we're really at Kokomo's for: the Serpent roller coaster, a ride in two cars of two seats each. Ride operator returning the swipe card to [profile] bunny_hugger, in her bunny hoodie, while I mess around instead of sitting.

PPS: How August 2017 Treated My Mathematics Blog, and how I broke above the 1,000 mark again! ... OK, now you know how the thing turned out.

What I saw from atop the Crossbow roller coaster was school buses. Four of them. Their loads of Yeshiva students were at Bowcraft's back gate. While we were riding, they had gotten whatever level of organization they needed, and they were allowed in. We were at the far end of the park, and up a hill, so we could watch hundreds of kids racing into the park, a flood of people.

This is not to complain about them. Not at all. School groups like this are what keep amusement parks, especially small ones, alive. And low-key family parks like this are exactly right for kids of their age, which were ... uhm ... I dunno. I'm going to guess like fifth- and sixth-graders. Many were converging on the roller coaster, and we figured to go right back around for another ride since, wow, with a mob like this who knows if we'd get on anything much again? Maybe it wasn't a capacity crowd, but it looked like enough people to overwhelm the staffing they had.

The Crossbow operator would tell us, while we waited in a busy queue, that yeah, there was always one person among the kids who'd try to get off the roller coaster in the wrong direction. Never a train without anyone, never a couple kids, but just one who'd not heed the instruction to exit to the left. Also in the crowding the operator ended up just trusting us that we were fastening our own seat belts properly; he was too busy trying to check the whole train on his own. Some of the kids asked us if the roller coaster was scary. That's a hard question to answer, not without knowing their baseline. We answered honestly, though: we didn't think it scary, but we've ridden a lot of things. We did think it was fun, though, with some great moments that made you feel as if you could be tossed out of your seat. Nobody seemed to think we had misled them, or at least didn't say so.

You might have had a thought nag your mind: how do a bunch of Yeshiva students keep their yarmulkes on their head throughout a roller coaster ride? And the answer is: imperfectly. Most of the time they managed it; the ride isn't that intense and you can put your hand on your head just fine, of course. But sometimes the caps went flying off anyway, and we saw several kids in the aftermath of a ride walking around, their hands on their heads as temporary cover, trying to find their yarmulkes if they flew off out of the fenced-off area, or finding a spare from somewhere. Not always, though. Several times the ride operator had to go into the roller coaster's infield to retrieve a lost yarmulke. At least one time when we were watching we saw him just hop down from the station, run across, and then climb back up the ride's supports, rather than go the long way around the queues or the proper screen gate. I suppose after enough of this you get casual. We were awestruck at someone just scaling the supports into the launch station. You don't see that sort of thing happening at Cedar Point. It made the park feel more personal to us.

And the flood of kids made the park more alive. The place was pleasant but sleepy before they came in. After, well, there were groups of kids everywhere, running around, gathering, dispersing, filling rides. Also being glared at sternly by their chaperones, tall, black-dressed men carrying megaphones that were only sometimes used. It added some chaos to the proceedings. At the bathroom sink one time --- well, look, I splash around a lot when I wash my hands. Have for a long time. It's part of good scrubbing. The kid who was there before me, though? I don't know what he did but it looked like the sink had exploded, scattering water as much as fifty feet into the air. I've been in oceans that were less wet. But, you know, semi-supervised kids in a fun place.

We stayed at the park, of course, and while we did more walking around and taking in scenery we also managed some rides. Which were more fun for being among crowds; waiting one or two ride cycles to have the experience with dozens of squealing, happy patrons is usually worth it. And then, after two hours ---

Well, they were gone. The chaperones walked around, glaring sternly, and kids went from their final rides to gather again at the back gate. Their whole day at the amusement park was two hours, which in hindsight, made their first mad dash for the roller coaster much more understandable. And the park was quiet again, sleepy, and all to ourselves.

We stayed another hour and change after the students vanished. It was enough time to take last rides on all the other things we cared to, and to photograph everything we could, and to see the first people getting the evening-admission specials coming in. We exited, back to the arcade building, to make sure we hadn't overlooked any pinball machines or otherwise interesting games there, and confirmed that we hadn't. And then, aware that we had evening plans, and would in 45 minutes be at the height of rush hour, we needed to head out.

The highway's divided in the area along Bowcraft, so we had to drive down a mile or so, take a jughandle-assisted U-turn, and head back. So that gave us one last look at Bowcraft, for the day, possibly forever.

Trivia: General Douglas MacArthur arrived in Yokohama he 28th of August, 1945, in preparation for the formal surrender of Japan. Source: The Second World War, John Keegan.

Currently Reading: Sail and Rail: A Narrative History of Transportation in Western Michigan, Lawrence Wakefield, Lucille Wakefield.

PS: More Kokomo's pictures:


Golf club tossed into the scenery around the notorious, and impossible, 13th hole. We've all been there. It's a hole with three separate greens, separated by connecting tunnels, and can't even in theory be done in fewer than two strokes. It's kinda crazy.


The Serpent, in sunset. Also bench seating that we guess was always there but had, until last year, been hidden behind what looked like the sort of giant inflatable structure the YMCA I went to as a kid kept their swimming pool in. That was gone now and some kind of sports field was now exposed.

PPS: The Summer 2017 Mathematics A To Z: Open Set, which takes about 1300 words for me to get around to explaining. I'm getting more terse.

And my humor blog? It got through the week, the way most of us did. As your RSS feed had it:

So what did we do for my birthday last year? We spent it ...


At Kokomo's: the bumper boats ride, on the left, and in the distance, their roller coaster, the Serpent. The family entertainment center gives off every sign of having been ready to become a minor amusement park before the 2008 fiscal crisis reminded us what happens when we let Republicans run things. Notably, there's a lot of space between most of the amusements and the roller coaster, enough space for a Ferris wheel, a Musik Express, a Scrambler or other attractions. Maybe someday ...


Me getting arty: since those low-angle shots on golf balls worked so well at the Lugnuts ballpark, why not try it at a proper miniature golf course?


[profile] bunny_hugger on the Kokomo's miniature golf course, which we visit one or two times every year and never tire of because it is so weird and challenging and bizarre. I mean, the thing has water hazards you're supposed to drop your ball into. What's with that?


Breezy day at the miniature golf course: tall grass at Kokomo's, with ripply water hazards behind, and even the roller coaster in the extreme distance.


Once again, I get arty. The view from the ground of what had clearly once been part of the water hazards of Kokomo's miniature golf course, but that was channeled off and made dry. The golf course shows many signs of alteration over its history, not all of which can be put into an obviously logical narrative.


The last thing your miniature golf ball sees before becoming a one-stroke penalty.

Trivia: The Latin zodiac sign Sagittarius, the Archer, was in Sanskrit `Dhanus', and in the Babylonian scheme `Name of God'. Source: Mapping Time: The Calendar and its History, EG Richards.

Currently Reading: Sail and Rail: A Narrative History of Transportation in Western Michigan, Lawrence Wakefield, Lucille Wakefield.


We had, by any standard, the park to ourselves. There was a slight crowd, and the whole day ahead of us. We ate, first. We'd headed out with only a quick snack from Wawa and that was already two years in the past. We got pizza (``Uncle Sam's Pizza'') and that brought to mind how the Brooklyn-influenced pizza of New Jersey is just different from mid-Michigan's, even if it isn't explicitly a different style. Also I soaked my slice in pepper for the first time in forever.

We went to the roller coaster for our first ride. It was the highest-priority thing, of course; if it went down later we'd not forgive ourselves for missing it. In 2006 the park installed Crossbow, a compact but perfectly respectable roller coaster. It's on a hill, looking down on the park and dominating its view, remarkable, considering there's even greater hills beyond it. This just makes it look larger, somehow. The ride's only 55 feet tall, but it's a good-looking ride and evokes Kennywood's Sky Rocket, possibly because of its colors and prominence. We walked on, naturally. The ride operator noticed my Cedar Point shirt --- I think I was wearing the Corkscrew ride shirt --- and he was interested to hear word of this distant park. I forget if he said he had been there, or whether he just hoped to get there. It struck me also that ride operators interested in other amusement parks is one of those signifiers of a good park. One with people who want to do good amusement park work.

And then we went to the carousel. It's not a golden-age-of-carousels antique, but it is an old Chance Carousel. Old enough that its maker's plate has been rusted and painted over and there's no making out its serial number any longer. It's worth some attention.

And we took in the setting, the atmosphere. Even though the park was not closed it had some things no longer there, such as the Speedway. This is the antique-cars ride, the one where a car rattles around a track that goes past scenery. There was no sign that cars were ever there, apart from the gas pump, and the track that the course had followed, and the queue gates that open on to nothing anymore. And the statues: decorations meant to be driven past. Some of them were the heads of garbage bins, the ones that look like ducks or lions or whatnot, taken off and set on the ground where the car might see it. It gave us thoughts of Conneaut Lake Park-style amusement-park scrappiness, of making do with what they had.

The former antique-cars ride wouldn't be the only way to see those statues, though, or the other decorations and open space and that whole odd side of the park. There was also a miniature train ride. At least, there were miniature train tracks, and what turned out to be the station that we approached from the wrong side, stepping over the tracks where objectively speaking we had no place being. We waited a while, without seeing the train, and we never would; if it ran at all that day, we never saw it. Maybe it was the fault of our being there on a Tuesday, and that ride would go on the weekend or a July or August day instead.

We did take, for the heck of it, a ride on the Dragon kiddie coaster. One might ask why a couple of childless adults would ride a tiny ride the duplicate of zillions of others in kiddielands. And might accuse us of doing it to get the credit for riding as many roller coasters as possible. But what was on our minds was, you know, why not? When are we going to be back? What are we saving by not riding? Plus, of course, we like dragons. The ride operator for this was less interested in tales of exotic amusement parks than the one at Crossbow was. So?

We kept circling around the Musik Express, finding it closed each time we approached, although it showed signs of maybe getting staff and going through test runs? We had hours left before we planned to leave, and had got to the most important things at the park anyway. So we went back to Crossbow for another ride on the roller coaster. And there, on the lift hill, looking down onto the parking lot that's off the main road --- behind the strip-mall portion where we had left our car --- I saw the enormity approaching.

Trivia: Egypt's King Ptolemy VIII was known as Physcon, or ``potbelly'', for his girth. Source: An Edible History of Humanity, Tom Standage.

Currently Reading: Time Travel: A History, James Gleick.

PS: And the last of my good pictures from the ballpark minigolf from when they replaced the outfield grass last year. I've got way more, which is why I can't fit all my pictures on my laptop anymore.


Another panoramic view, this one from home plate, showing what a wonder a panoramic view can do to angles because look at that baseball diamond, huh?


Spoiling the magic: the bulletin boards inside the Lugnuts dugout. Yeah, they're illegible. On the left side is the roster and current statistics and stuff. On the right is a printout of an e-mail with rules for the home run derby against Michigan State and the schedule for when the home run derby's to be and when the ceremonial first pitches are out and all that. (``For post-game, we are planning on a dinner for both teams in the Chevrolet Terance (right field concourse). Will be nice to have both teams mingle together and enjoy a meal.'')

PPS: The Summer 2017 Mathematics A To Z: N-Sphere/N-Ball, one of those simple things that turns into my longest of these essays yet.

Bowcraft Amusement Park in Scotch Plains, New Jersey, is probably closing for good this weekend. You might want to get there, if you can. But it's admittedly been probably closing for good before, most notably at the end of 2016. My father says it's been probably closing for good for as long as he can remember. But they had an all-but-settled agreement with developers last year, and only the reluctance of the city to agree to the plan delayed things. Who knows how long the delay will last?

[profile] bunny_hugger just assumed the park had closed last year, and was delighted to know it hadn't. When we learned it had at least one more year of life it became one of our priorities for this trip. Scotch Plains isn't actually near Toms River, except insofar as nothing in New Jersey is that far from anything else because, you know, land grants circa 1667. We decided to make the day, in part, going to this.

The park, by the way, Wikipedia says is featured in two movies from the 90s that you haven't seen: the Demi Moore/Glenne Headley/Bruce Willis murder mystery-thriller Mortal Thoughts, and North, which Roger Ebert hated Hated HATED so.

I drove, partly because I always feel more confident in rental cars. Partly because Scotch Plains is in the relatively mountainous, densely-packed part of the state. Even with our satellite navigator the path wasn't easy, and it included a lot of narrow, obscure roads with sharp turns to navigate. But then, finally, there we were, pulling up to ... a strip mall? It sure looked like a strip mall. What's an amusement park doing huddled up against the edge of Route 22 West where, like, karate schools and a Subway shop ought to be? (Those were across the road.)

Well, it's not the park's fault the area turned into that sprawling strip mall that is North Jersey around it. The park opened in 1946 as an archery and ski equipment store, thus the name. And then somehow it transmogrified into a small, family-friendly amusement park, complete with roller coasters and a carousel and redemption games and quite a bit of parking, and an arcade hall up front with a sign warning the downstairs bathroom did not work and you had to go into the park to find a bathroom. The woman working the arcade counter explained that ever since the flooding a couple years back they just haven't used the bathrooms down there. The stairs, and what we could see of the basement, looked like every early-70s suburban furnished basement. I don't know how far back the flooding goes.

We bought all-day wristband passes. We didn't expect to be there all day; the park has only 21 rides, per Wikipedia, and in any case we had evening plans. But we had got there early, on a pleasant, warm, early summer day, and we could almost believe the park was opened for us alone. Some of it looked fine and respectable, like the sharp and quite well-decorated brick patio and central fountain. Some of it looked a little old but normal enough, like the Castle reserved for children's parties that weren't going to happen that day or, from how a look inside the window suggested, this week. Some looked like the park in recessional, cutting out things it wouldn't need given its anticipated doom, like a snack stand that still had the menu boards but no sign that any food had touched the place all year, and maybe not for years past.

And then the question came to me: had I been here before?

It all seemed --- not familiar, exactly. But nagging close to familiar. The setting, most of all, of a tiny amusement park tucked inside the foothills of the Appalachians. But that's not distinctive. Much of North Jersey is inside small mountains that seem more imposing when you've gotten used to the flatness of Michigan's Adventure and of Cedar Point. The rides? --- Mostly the same ones you might find in any amusement park. The statues? The decor? I spent part of the day distracted, watching. I spent hours ready for a madeline which never came.

My father, later, said that yes, he took us to this park ``all the time''. I have doubts about some of my father's recollections of things he did with us; he is certain, most notably, that he took me to the famous Action Park, while I am as certain he did not. I am agnostic on whether he took my siblings. But this --- this park, its location so close to South Amboy and his parents' house, that it is inexpensive and manageable for one parent with four children to guard --- this makes sense. Combined with my anticipation of a clear childhood memory? I accept that I was here before, most likely in the 70s, when the park was, everyone knew, doomed to close anytime.

Trivia: Excise brought in about a third of England's state revenues in the 1690s; customs another fifth. Source: To Rule The Waves: How The British Navy Shaped The Modern World, Arthur Herman.

Currently Reading: Time Travel: A History, James Gleick.

Since I don't learn easily, here's some more pictures from the ballpark minigolf from when they replaced the outfield grass last year.


The penultimate hole, in the infield between first and second base. After all that time on real grass you don't realize how friction-free the packed clay is. With just the twisty hose serving as the bounds, my hit caused the ball to leap out of bounds and roll over to the Fort Wayne Wayne Newton Forts ballpark, in Indiana.


The final hole: putting from second base up to the pitcher's mound. Also a chance to stand on an actual pitcher's mound like you belong there and everything. Notice me taking the chance to photograph [profile] bunny_hugger taking the chance to photograph me taking a photograph.

Last year we never had a major amusement-park tour. Our dear lost pet rabbit Stephen's health wouldn't allow it, we supposed, and we don't begrudge him that. But it did mean we wanted to do something great this summer. The obvious candidate: a driving tour of the smaller parks in upstate New York. There's places like Rochester's Seabreeze that we'd so love to see. And [profile] bunny_hugger was well on the way to planning a tour, taking us to Canada's Wonderland and Niagara Falls and Seabreeze and Darien Lake when we realized: it was our fifth anniversary's summer. What should we do for that? We've fallen into the tradition of going to parks, often new ones, that day. We should do something special, something for that. And ... you know, she hadn't been back to New Jersey since the end of our New England Parks Tour. I hadn't been back since the work trip that ended with the death of Stephen. And it was such an important place, to me, to us, to all that we were before our marriage, and was where we spent our first anniversary. Shouldn't we go there?

So that's why we dumped the Rochester plan. [profile] bunny_hugger put together a new one. We'd get a hotel somewhere in New Jersey and take in Seaside Heights and visit Rye Playland and go to some of our old haunts, and after that ... who knows? New Jersey has a good number of small amusement parks. We could go to whatever ones interested us, and looked to have good weather. The only flaw: we would have to travel later in June, to match with our actual anniversary. This would put us into an exhausting schedule, with three week-plus trips, separated by a week or less, occupying all of July and spilling out before and after the month. I know, yes, such a shame to spend basically a month on holiday or in the preparation or recovery from a trip. But it is a lot of disrupted schedule, and please show some sympathy for that.

[profile] bunny_hugger booked our flight on Frontier, into Trenton, something she had sworn to never do again after Flightmare in early 2014. But the price was so good, until we remembered that Frontier charges for your carry-ons. Still, getting there was easy enough and not at all a fiasco and it wasn't until we tried to get out again that it turned into a mess that's got us sworn off flying Frontier to or from Trenton. She also booked the rental car, using not the agency that has a desk inside the Trenton-Mercer Airport terminal, which is about the size of a struggling Wendy's. Its desk is gotten to by shuttle, in part of the Aviation Warehouse District that surrounds the airport, in the part that by its layout just sends the warning that we, as civilians, should not be there.

[profile] bunny_hugger drove us from the airport to our hotel, which she realized was the first time she's driven in New Jersey. It wasn't the last time, but it threatened to be. What we overlooked was this took us through that part of I-95 that isn't the Turnpike, and then a bunch of the other busiest east-west roads right at rush hour. Some of the path took us very close to my workplace, who didn't know I was there; for a rare change I didn't piggyback a New Jersey visit onto a work trip. So they wouldn't pay for my airfare or car rental, but then, I didn't have to spend a week sitting in the office after all the fun was done either. Wouldn't have had time for that anyway; even if I'd stayed, it would have been for the week of the 4th of July, not a productive time.

The drive would take us through Cream Ridge, an area whose name had attracted [profile] bunny_hugger's curiosity a week or two before. (The soil's particularly rich in that part of Upper Freehold, good for the gentleman-farmers that settled it, tolerable for the tenant-farmers who actually worked it.) Also close to where my parents had lived before they retired to Charleston, South Carolina. I always thought of my parents as living in a strangely remote area in the center of the state, but visits back always send me within a mile of the place. And it took [profile] bunny_hugger on her first experience of making a jughandle left, the traffic-flow pattern that comes so naturally to New Jersey residents I could not understand her frustration about being told to get into the right lane so we could make the left turn to get to our hotel. She decided to let me drive the next couple days.

Our hotel was one in Toms River. It was the spot most central to what we really wanted to get to, and surprisingly affordable considering it's a short trip from the shore. And it's an area we know tolerably well. We could get dinner at the Toms River Diner, which we'd visited at the end of that first, serious date, that perfect day at Seaside Heights on the 23rd of July, 2008. ... Or we could if it weren't closed. Not just the night, either; it didn't look open the other two(?) times we drove past. Unhappy thought.

So we drove back the other way, to the Crystal Diner, a spot I would swear I'd have been with [profile] bunny_hugger before and that she didn't remember at all. It had the air of being recently renovated, which always complicates recollections. It had been a half-decade at least. The important thing is, we were in New Jersey. We had our home for the week. We'd gotten to a diner, and we knew where the nearest Wawa was. We could plan for the next day.

Trivia: On the 29th of October, 1787, the New Jersey legislature called an election for the delegates who would choose whether to ratify the proposed Constitution for the United States. On the 1st of November, it passed a bill authorizing the Legislature to call an election for delegates to ratify the Constitution. Source: Fighting To Be Heard: New Jersey in History, Thomas P Farner. (Someone had raised the question of how the Legislature had the right to call this election; the latter bill, to me, doesn't seem to quite answer it.)

Currently Reading: Time Travel: A History, James Gleick.

PS: Also meanwhile? I'm like a year behind in posting pictures. I'm going to try tossing some more in and see if that leaves me with an impossibly confusing narrative here. Some more pictures from the ballpark minigolf from when they replaced the outfield grass last year.


Baseception! One of the many amusing holes was this miniature baseball diamond. Your choice which path to take.


The hungry golf ball stalks its prey, carefully choosing the one least likely to make an escape once it pounces. Me being arty while waiting for the group ahead of us.

PPS: The Summer 2017 Mathematics A To Z: Morse Theory, because my mathematics blog demands it!

One more busy week in my mathematics blog. What was there, waiting to be on your RSS feed? Some, frankly, great writing on my part, including:

Meanwhile over in the story strips, do you know What's Going On In Mark Trail? Thanks to me, yes, you do now!

Now let me give you pictures from last year when they made a miniature golf course out of the local ballpark.


The ball field! A rare chance to see the Lugnuts stadium almost completely shut down, except for the miniature golf course carved out of the right outfield and a little bit of the infield. Note the apartment buildings past center field; they're built on the edge of the park, for everyone who wants home living to come with the threat of being beaned by a long fly ball, in case someone hits one. (It is lower-level A baseball.)


And here's the main action, a couple rows of golf holes carved into the to-be-replaced grass of the outfield. There were way more people than we expected, although after the initial line to start everything moved at a pretty good clip.


The grab-bag of golf balls available for the course. Where did they come from? I'm guessing someone asked everybody they knew to bring in all the spare golf balls they had, and then someone went to Goodwill with like twenty bucks and directions to scour the sports section.


Panoramic view from on the actual outfield grass, where we were allowed to walk like that was a normal sort of thing. This was also when I decided I was going to master my camera's panoramic options even if it killed me.


Look, it's people having fun! Me being arty and photographing through the wrong side of one of the scenic foregrounds set up as a minigolf prop.


This should give you a good idea what the holes really looked like. The greens were carved out of the actual grass, which plays way slower than the artificial stuff on every miniature golf course ever. And sports equipment was used for most of the obstacles or features of the course; see the base on the left side of the picture, not pressed into the ground and used as something to bounce the ball against.

Trivia: The 1924 filibuster of a new state constitutional convention was broken after six months when Republicans hired a thug to set off a stink bomb behind the Senate rostrum. After the evacuation the Republican legislators fled to a hotel in Rutland, Massachusetts, preventing a quorum from assembling. Source: Rhode Island: A History, William G McLoughlin.

Currently Reading: The Improper Bohemians: Greenwich Village In Its Heyday, Allen Churchill.

Since that's wrapped up the Pinburgh Tournament part of the event, I'll return to my loosely chronological sequence of reports. Since that's going to be our anniversary trip to New Jersey, I'll start that on Monday. Tonight, I'll close out the Mean Streak Retirement Ceremony trip with some pictures taken of what we did after Mean Streak's funeral.


Laughing Sal. It's a marionette that shakes around while a never-ending recording of laughs goes off. Kennywood's had one forever and has had it on display. Cedar Point ... not so much. This was new when we visited for Mean Streak's retirement and we have no idea where they got it from. The park's old Laughing Sal? A newly-acquired or newly-made one? No hint.


Skeptical onlooker not Laughing at Sal.


Close up of the ValRavn logo, on the giant throne that sits outside the ride's queue. Because, wow, it's a great-looking logo and lit up like this in the dark it's even more so.


View of ValRavn's lift hill and some of its track as seen from the queue underneath. It's a beautiful roller coaster, and in the dark, it's only moreso.


The deeply green lighting of the Raptor roller coaster's launch station (see the crowds waiting to leave on the left). I'm not quite sure how I got this picture; I think it must be a tight zoom from the ValRavn station.


Blue Streak, the remaining wooden roller coaster at Cedar Point, as seen from the Raptor station. In the background are ValRavn, Top Thrill Dragster, Millennium Force, and, somewhere deep in the distance, the unlit husk of Mean Streak.

Trivia: A report on the building of the hedge lining the India Customs Line estimated that over 1876-77 some 115 workers died, 276 were dismissed, 30 deserted while on duty, 360 failed to return after leave, and 23 were ``removed as unfit''. Source: The Great Hedge of India: The Search For The Living Barrier That Divided A People, Roy Moxham.

Currently Reading: The Improper Bohemians: Greenwich Village In Its Heyday, Allen Churchill.

Tiebreaker with LEF. I'm already done so much better than I could have imagined. The tournament official declares the tiebreaking will be on a randomly drawn game from the two banks we hadn't just played. He picks number six. It's the Gottleib 1977 Jungle Queen. It's an electromechanical table. Good for me. It's one of the tables that MJS has in his pole barn, so I know the table. Also good. (Properly, MJS has Jungle Princess, the two-player version of the table. But the only difference Jungle Queen has is that it's got four rather than two score reels.) I choose to go second.

First ball. LEF has a great ball, scoring over 50,000 points. That alone would normally be a good score. That alone would have got him third or second place on any of the rounds leading up to that. I have a good, solid plunge, getting the central lane of 'B'. I get to roll over the 'A' and 'C' lanes, too, giving me double bonus, the sort of thing you have to do to win an electromechanical. Now to hit drop targets and lots of them, to build the bonus's base value. I come up short of this, around 40,000 points, but it's still doing well. At that pace either of us would roll the table; it shows a maximum 199,990.

Second ball. LEF doesn't have as good a ball, but he's still got around 70,000. When I plunge I miss the 'B' lane on top, which is trouble. 'A' and 'C' have lanes at the top of the playfield, but also on the left and right inlanes; they're easy to get. 'B' is hard. If you don't get it on the plunge, you have to shoot the ball to the upper playfield and hope. I can shoot for the upper playfield, but I don't get lucky. I'm falling behind.

Third ball. LEF has another good ball and beats the 100,000 mark. That's already better than my typical game on Jungle Princess. But if LEF has a bad ball --- very easy on electromechanical games --- I can still take the lead. I once more fail to shoot the 'B' lane on the plunge, and I get only up to about 80,000 or so before losing the ball.

Fourth ball. LEF has a relatively weak ball, but 'relative' is the key word there. He's sitting at something like 130,000 before he loses the ball. I plunge, and I hit the 'B' lane at last! Just where I want to be. And the ball races down the outlane. I've now had not just bad balls, but a house ball.

What could I do? I shrug, laugh, turn around, and bow to the audience and the cameras.

The last ball. All I can do is hope that LEF has a house ball, and that I have the ball of my life. He doesn't have a great ball, considering the last ball starts with double bonus and lanes don't matter anymore. But he gets to something like 160,000. I have beaten that score on Jungle Princess. Once. I will have to have the ball of my life.

But I know what to do. I can knock down drop targets, assuming I don't lose control along the way. Or I can shoot for the scoops, good for 5,000 points each, at the far top of the tables. Shots that far and distant away are hard, yes, but it's a fairly safe shot too. If I miss, the ball bounces off the pop bumper and maybe it even hits the lanes for sake of pride. I just have to shoot it ... twelve times? Sheesh, that's a lot. But ...

After maybe six times, I bobble the ball between the flippers. I've got something like 140,000. It's one of my best games ever, but it's far short. I've got second place.

I smile, and step toward LEF to shake his hand. MWS is there. He'd planned to grab and lift me into the air if I won, and now he's there to console me. I'm baffled that he's there already, but hug him, and go on to congratulate LEF and thank the official. And then hug [profile] bunny_hugger, also trying to console me.

I'm honestly not crushed. I'd wanted to win, of course, and did my best. I had some bad luck; most people have one or two house balls on an electromechanical game, and LEF had none. I played my second-best game ever on that table, and boy, there's nothing to be embarrassed by there. I have honestly been more upset by lousy games I've played in the Lansing Pinball League, as non-competitive a league and a format as it's possible to get and not just be playing Pinball Arcade, than by this.

The tournament official gathers together all the finalists, including the long-waiting MAL, and BEN who could've won first place for me. He gives us each one of the ReplayFX medals. He announces our names and league affiliations. He mispronounces my name, in the same way that RLM --- whose Genesis gave me the experience to get to finals --- does at Grand Rapids league. Perhaps thrown by getting my name wrong, he forgets to announce my league affiliation.

[profile] bunny_hugger is offended on my behalf. I find it deeply funny. I could not have written something to better tickle me.

The A Division finals are still going on. Most people were watching that. PH and AJH, sitting where they can look up on stage or over at my group, congratulate me, and I'm busy shaking hands and hugging people and thanking them for their enthusiasm.

And then the sordid business of money. As finalists in the division both [profile] bunny_hugger and I win part of the cash payout. There's no cash. There's not even checks; this year, they've set up an electronic-wallet thing that is supposed to make it better, somehow, for distributing money to winners. It's probably better for them, and maybe for people who expect to win money from multiple tournaments. For us, it's a form to fill out, and an account to be created sometime later (it came through this week, in fact), and a promise that we would get money shortly after that. [profile] bunny_hugger and many people are offended that, as we read the format, it appears impossible to get our prize money without paying something to the electronic-wallet people. This seems to have been a misunderstanding of the rules, but I don't know what the correct understanding is.

No matter. This has been an expensive summer for me, between the computer disaster and my car's reaching 100,000 miles. This does a lot to make things better. It's almost as good a result as I could have hoped for.

I wear my medal, without quite believing it, for hours. We watch some of the A Division finals, but not for long. We're hungry.

Trivia: The average sale price for lots in section 16 of every township --- set aside for the support of education by the Northwest Ordinance of 1785 --- in Michigan was $4.58 per acre, about a dollar more than Indiana and Illinois' averages and about three dollars more than Wisconsin's. Source: Michigan: A History of the Great Lakes State, Bruce A Rubenstein, Lawrence E Ziewacz.

Currently Reading: The Improper Bohemians: Greenwich Village In Its Heyday, Allen Churchill.

PS: The Summer 2017 Mathematics A To Z: L-function, which you never heard of before either but gets to something you grew up hearing about.

And how's my humor blog going? It's been like this:

And now let us lay Mean Streak to rest, last month.


The start of the funeral procession, moving from the now-closed Mean Streak to the rides graveyard at the front of the park. The blurry figure on the track is one of the trains on a return leg, going on even after the eulogy for the ride has been completed.


The mob: all these many people moving with the pallbearers, putting Mean Streak to its official rest.


And yet another train still running on Mean Streak, as we hung back towards the end of the pack.


Last view of Mean Streak, as we decided we didn't want to wait for the final train of all to run, and we also didn't want to miss the official burial at the front of the park. Yes, there's another train still running on the track (look at the center-left).


Construction people hustling the ride's entrance sign through the pack of funeral onlookers. They didn't actually knock anyone over, but came near enough, and my attempt at warning [profile] bunny_hugger they were coming didn't help her prepare in the slightest.


Mean Streak's main entrance sign, set in front of its ceremonial pillar in the rides graveyard, and in front of an open grave. Something or other was put in during the ceremony; we couldn't hear a thing anyone was saying, and the crowd was too big for us to actually see what was being put in.

Trivia: Ancient rock and meteorite evidence suggests Earth's original atmosphere had about as much neon as nitrogen. Today there is about 60,000 times as much nitrogen as neon. Source: Oxygen: The Molecule That Made The World, Nick Lane.

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

The finals! D Division, but still, finals. And the only finals still going, other than those of the A Division, on stage and just next to us and drawing a big crowd. We drew a modest crowd. The tournament official went around, asking each of us if we had a home pinball league. I answered Lansing Pinball League, naturally. Anything to get the local people in. Most of the Michigan Pinball competitors listed themselves for other, bigger leagues. But I know where my home is.

He also asked us if it was okay to stream the play. He pointed to two people who had cell phones and said that if we didn't want to be sent out over the Internet that was fine, they wouldn't do it. I have doubts that this polling method produces anything but the socially desirable response. But we all agreed that streaming was fine, not to worry. I do not know where this was streamed, or whether the video has been stored anywhere. I can only hope that the people recording were legitimately supposed to be there. Maybe it was all a hoax or prank.

My pick for the bank again. I'd be a fool to pick anything but the Cirqus Voltaire bank again, and I say so. So after a few moments wait while one of the competitors comes back from the bathroom, we're off and running to ... a dead stop as there's something wrong with Cirqus Voltaire. I miss what it was. Techs come rushing over. With the B and C Divisions finished already they aren't so over-worked now. They have to open the game up to do something to the something. The guys with cell phones stop recording every moment of this. I go to the bathroom, out of nervousness and a sense that I have to do something. If the table gets scratched I suppose we'll just play the modern-era game from one of the other two banks. Avatar would be a complete mystery to me, maybe not to my competitors. Godzilla I at least have a strategy for, but who knows how the table would compare to the two that I have ever touched? Plus I'd lose the edge of knowing how easily the machine tilts.

Needn't worry. Whatever the problem was clears up and we get to play. I fall back on the same old dumb strategy as before, and don't have any freak events of getting the ball stuck. I come in first place, not by as overwhelming a score as before, but still. BEN barely squeaks out ahead of MAL, and this guy from Sweden, LEF, comes in last. I forget whether he got surprised by a tilt.

Now I'm starting to believe I might win the division. This sort of group play works well for getting me into finals, because you never really need to win, just, play well enough not to be eliminated. But these are the last four --- last three, now --- games. It's possible to win coming in second place on every game, if other people rotate who gets first place. Starting with a first-place finish takes pressure off the rest of the round.

Mars Trek once again. I put up another mediocre game, slightly better than on my previous round. But still never getting a real good ball together. I come in last place. LEF comes in first, with 557,000, a score still below [profile] bunny_hugger's in the round that knocked her out. MAL takes second place, handily beating BEN. The tournament official looks at the state of things after two games. And looks again, and re-counts. With two games to go we are all four of us perfectly tied at three wins each.

On to Genesis. My secret is still safe and oh phoo I accidentally finished one of the body parts before hitting drop targets. I learn that my hypothesis, that I got progress on all the body parts because I hadn't started any, was mistaken; the game is just set, relatively easily, to make progress on all the parts. I feel like a bandit that I'm getting away with this. Unfortunately, what I fail to do is the ramp shot that starts multiball. It's still worth doing. BEN comes in last at 208,240 points, and MAL in third at 213,102. I get 723,800 points, not a patch on my last round but normally plenty for this table. Except that LEF got 799,260. He has six points, me five, MAL four, and BEN three. As the official notes, anyone could still win this. Heck, we could end up with a four-way tie.

Stars. The last game, maybe. If I can win the game outright I can secure at least a tie for the championship. I have to beat LEF to have my chance at it. I keep trying to make myself calm down and remember: play the simple, stupid, easy strategy. Trap the ball, shoot at the drop targets, trap again. But it's so hard not to keep the ball moving. That's so much fun. So much ... I relax a lot at the last ball, as I pass LEF's 53,270. I'm player two; I finish at 64,180. MAL does nothing at all, coming in at 32,660. And BEN ...

BEN can't win. What he can do is decide whether he gets third or fourth place. If he finishes between 53,270 and 64,180, then I take first place and LEF second. He finishes at 77,600. He takes third place, with six wins for the round.

LEF and I, each with seven wins for the round, must play a tiebreaker.

Trivia: In 1914 Poles were the largest single population (around four million) of Central-European immigrants in the United States. Source: Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed The World, Margaret MacMillan.

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

PS: The Summer 2017 Mathematics A To Z: Klien Bottle, with a bonus of the Möbius Strip and some science fiction writers.

The semi-finals. Only two groups of people playing now. My pick for the first set, so we go back to Cirqus Voltaire's bank. The official asks what position I want. I say juggler. ``All right, and where does the juggler go?'' I play third.

Cirqus Voltaire is the first table. And now, my third game ever on this particular machine, I am ready. And warmed up. I plunge what I figure is sure to hit the skill shot, one thing I hadn't got the hang of before. It rebounds softly onto the rim of the Ringmaster target. The Ringmaster is this toy that pops up out of the playfield, and there's a little seam between that and the main playfield and I didn't even know it was possible to get a ball stuck there. But it's either I try slapping the side of the machine to nudge it loose, or wait for the ball search. But I didn't hit the skill shot, or any target. The game doesn't know that I've plunged the ball, so it isn't going to do a ball search. It's a freak event, one that requires the intervention of tech people. Ominous start.

Omens aren't everything. I put up something like ten million points on the first ball, which is already getting into what would be a decent score on a table that wasn't on tournament-hard settings. A good long ball like that has many rewards, not just in points. Pinball players speak of freezing other players out, making them wait around, nervously, not playing and losing their memories of just how the table plays. And seeing someone run up the score when you aren't near those scores yet has further psychological effects. You can play nervous. You can take bigger chances than you should. You can nudge, and discover the machine is very touchy and that the tilt is incredibly sensitive. I knew someone would. The player complains that a tap like that shouldn't tilt the game. But it's not something that can be appealed. I end up with 28 million points, dominating the field. Three wins and we're done with just one game.

Mars Trek. I start off with a bad ball, but that's why electromechanical games give you five balls to play. I have one really good ball that gets me back into range of the rest of the players. But I'm still short. With effort and luck I get a narrow lead for the last ball. If two other players tilt quickly I might yet get first place. They don't tilt quickly, or at all. I'm beaten by two players, and myself beat one. Four wins total. If I can get a first place, or two second places, I should be in the finals. Yes, all our scores are below [profile] bunny_hugger's good-for-second-place finish.

Genesis. Now. I'm the second player. On the first ball I test what I had seen. I remember, from RLM's explanation of the table he brings to West Michigan tournaments, that the center drop targets are a valuable little piece. Hit them in order and you make progress on one of the body parts. He doesn't recommend playing that way, because the center drop targets are a dangerous shot on his machine, and you get progress on only one body part, and the ramps are easier to shoot. But here? How bad a shot is it?

I experiment. And when I hit the drop targets --- it takes some time --- I find, first, that I can hit the drop targets in order without the ball feeling out of control. And second, that it gives me progress on all four body parts. RLM, and the instruction card, say you only get progress on the body part you've already gotten closest to completing. I hypothesize that since I hadn't make progress on anything, the game awarded me everything as its best bet what to do.

But this --- this changes everything.

First thing: I start shooting the drop targets. It's tough going; while the targets are safer than they are on RLM's more familiar machine, it's not like shooting at stuff dead-center, close to the flippers, is ever completely safe. And if I hit the wrong target I have to clear the rest without getting a letter. And then, also, I have an advantage. Nobody else is shooting for the center targets. Can I avoid my competitors copying me?

Well, they don't catch on to what I'm doing, not after the first two balls. It probably helps that the ramps flank the center targets, and everybody's having trouble with the ramps: it may look like I'm just trying to hit the ramps and failing a lot without losing control. But, finally, I have done enough banks to get three of the four body parts lit and ready to go. One ramp shot and I start multiball. Ramp shots have been hard. But I only need one.

I get it.

The multiball starts. Since I have three body parts completed, it's scoring at six times the normal playfield value. Everyone else got one, maybe two parts started and so was at two or four times playfield value. Too bad there's not a jackpot ... oh, wait. There kinda is. At least, if I shoot the swinging lever that's called a vari-target, and if I hit it hard, something will ---


That sound is me hitting the vari-target, and hard, at six-times playfield multiplier, rocketing from around third place to way out ahead in first place and going past the replay score. (The games are on free play, but some tables keep track of credits anyway.) [profile] bunny_hugger and MWS say they don't even know what happened. They just know that in like ten seconds my score quintupled. So it does. I have another first-place finish, and three more wins, in what's got to have been a shockingly sudden fashion.

[profile] bunny_hugger asks what I was doing that I scored like that. I have a rare moment of actual cut-throat competition. I turn away and tell her softly that I'll tell her what I'm doing when we're done playing Genesis. I mean, after the finals, if it comes to that. Melodramatic? Maybe. But an edge like that I don't want to let go of easily.

I've got seven wins so far; there's an excellent chance that even if I finish last next game I'll be into the finals. (As it transpires, yes, I would have.) It's a relaxing place to go into the last game from.

I don't finish the last body part, and so I don't get the wizard-mode revelation of the Maria android, which is the only thing missing from this performance.

Last game: Stars again. I don't start out well. But nobody does. One poor fellow has two house balls. I finish the third ball hanging on, improbably, to first place with a meager 58,100. Anybody ought to be able to beat that. Somehow, only one person does. Once again, [profile] bunny_hugger's second-place score would beat any of us. Indeed, her score would have beaten all of ours added together.

But this has given me another two wins, for nine total. I am in the finals, and the top seed.

Trivia: In 1345 the Count of Holland prepared for his campaign agains the Frisians, in part, by ordering the preparation of 7,342 cod caught off the coast. Source: Salt: A World History, Mark Kurlansky.

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

PS: Reading the Comics, August 17, 2017: Professor Edition, closing out last week's mathematically-themed comic strips. Next week: this week!

Finally, the quarterfinals, and my first round to play. It's been several hours. I spent some of it walking around the con. Some of it watching other tournaments. Some of it watching [profile] bunny_hugger. Some of it putting up my best game ever on Lethal Weapon 3, a game I despised back in the 90s and which now I ... yeah, I guess I see what to do so now it's just boring with a lot of repetitive callouts.

I'm high seed. I get to pick what bank we play. I go with my scouting data and choose the Cirqus Voltaire bank. The tournament official asks what position I want. I say third, and then think of the joke: ``juggler''. He doesn't hear it, so I save the joke for the next round, when it gets as much appreciation as it deserves. Normally when people pick position they choose either the last spot available --- so they can better judge how risky they have to play --- or first --- so they can get it over with and not worry. I've been settling on second or third, partly because it's just felt good. Partly, it throws other people off. [profile] bunny_hugger has to explain, during the round, how it is I ended up playing third if I had my free pick. There was one moment during the rounds that someone went up during what was my odd-choice turn. Had he plunged, that would've been a disqualification for him and a compensation ball for me. I don't go looking for that, but I am aware doing slightly trivially odd stuff can put people off their game. And, goodness, I'm in the finals of Pinburgh. I need all the edge I can get.

So, Cirqus Voltaire. With [profile] bunny_hugger's assurance that defeating the Ringmaster is indeed something you can do, I focus on doing that instead of the many, many other ways you can get multiball going. It pays off: I beat ten million points, double any other player's score. First game down and I have three wins. There's three games to go, and the top two finishers move on to the semifinals; I'm already in a good spot.

Next game: Mars Trek. As first-place finisher the first game, I'm the last person to pick order, which is how I ended up going first. It's an electromechanical game. It's five balls. I just have to have one good one; failing that, no bad ones. I have my good ball early on, I think my second ball. I'm edged out on the last ball, but it's good for second place: 451,000 to 548,900. Yes, [profile] bunny_hugger's second-place score (563,700) would have beaten this whole group. I have five wins, one loss, and I'm in the very slight lead. There's no assurance of how many wins will get me to the next round (other than twelve, of course), but if I get get above six I'm probably in.

The late-solid-state game: Genesis. It's a punishing one. You shoot the major shots to collect body parts for an android and start multiball; if you're a wizard, you collect all the body parts and activate the Maria-class android. The two easiest body parts to get, on the instance of this I'm familiar with, are the ramps. Neither is an easy shot. I will go down to third place in this. Six wins, three losses; if I can do anything on the last game I'm probably in, maybe at the cost of a tiebreaker.

Also, thinking over the game, I realize something. I check the instruction card, and know that I need to test something when I can, trusting that I get into the next round.

The last game is the early-solid-state, Stars. The goal is keep the ball alive, and hit banks of drop targets. Easier said than done, since, early-solid-state game. But there's some hope. The ball does bounce some off the center post, even though it hasn't got the rubber sleeve around it. This means if the ball is plunging down the center and you don't move to save it, especially not by hitting the flippers, it might bounce right back onto the flippers for you. It does this once for me. I have to come from behind on the last ball, but I get most of the way there, finishing at second place with 97,105 points. Yeah, nobody knows why there's a 5 points there. The third-place finisher got 69,908. First place got a clean 132,000 and as [profile] bunny_hugger will note, her score that was only good for second place (208,200) would have creamed all our scores.

The important thing: I have eight wins, the most of my group. I'm on to the semifinals. I'll have my pick of game bank again. And I can test what I think I've learned about Genesis.

Trivia: The size of Algeria's French-speaking population is uncertain; estimates range from as low as 110,000 (of thirty million, at the time of this source's 2005 publication) to a quarter of the population. Source: Empires Of The Word: A Language History of the World, Nicholas Ostler.

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

PS: The Summer 2017 Mathematics A To Z: Jordan Canonical Form, something really important that we never actually do.

And on to another busy week at my mathematics blog. What might you have had on your Reading Page if you added this to it?

Plus, What's Going On In Gasoline Alley? May - August 2017 So that should clear some things up. And now the big moment ... our last ride on Mean Streak!


Catching the sunset behind Mean Streak as the green train makes one of its last ascents.


Finally! We waited for a front-seat ride and here we are, ready to get it when the green train pulls out.


Ride operator taking a picture for the people in the front row.


Our chariot awaits! The gold train approaching the station for what would be our final ride on Mean Streak. Note the hill it drops down, a bunch of gravitational potential energy that couldn't be put to some entertaining use.


The pall-bearers gathered as nearly off-stage as possible. The eulogy for Mean Streak was being delivered here, even as the ride was still, you know, crowded and running two trains. (The third had already been taken off and set up as a prop in the ride graveyard.)


o/` People take pictures of the summer ... o/` The funeral ceremony for Mean Streak, guarded by people recording or photographing the whole thing. Behind it, Mean Streak rumbles on, heedless of the jokes about how rough it supposedly was

Trivia: Light bulbs became a comic strip standard for representing inspiration only in the 1930s. Source: American Cornball: A Laffopedic Guide to the Formerly Funny, Christopher Miller.

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

The first round ended. MWS, our most stalwart pinball friend, is already knocked out of his, C Division, finals. (This was separate from our action, but it took about the same time because it was the same format, groups of four people playing four tables.) [profile] bunny_hugger came up for her first turn in the D Finals. She was on the Cirqus Voltaire set, the one that would be so interesting to me. Her group started on Gottleib's ugly-themed 1986 Genesis. It's been at many westside pinball tournaments in Michigan and it always crushes people. The theme is you're collecting the body parts to build a robot, and the more parts, the more your score multiplier builds. So if you can't collect enough of the same kind of shot (to complete a body part) you have a lousy game. [profile] bunny_hugger has lousy shots and house balls. She comes in last, by far.

On to the early-solid-state game: Old Stern's 1978 Stars. She knows this one. Complete sets of drop targets. Repeat. There's a center post so that a ball heading down the middle might bounce back into play, but since the rubber washer around it has been taken off in the name of being harder, don't count on that. It's prone to house balls. One of her competitors puts up only 13,580 points total, almost what you would get by plunging the ball and walking away. One of her competitors puts up 213,490 points, and [profile] bunny_hugger's somewhere around 30,000 on the last ball. I hope she can last long enough to at least get into second place, eating 58,600. That would make the round salvageable; in a group-of-four game like this, you never actually have to win. You just can't always lose.

She has an epic ball. It keeps going on. She gets the ball bounced off the center post one, and I believe she even has a lazarus ball, one that falls out of play between the flippers but hits the trough so hard it bounces back up. This sometimes happens, and it's a testament to her skills that she responds right and gets the ball back into play. Her score ratchets up and up and ... she finally loses the ball. The bonus counts up. And up. It rolls up past 200,000. It rolls up to 208,200, and there it stops.

Her competitors applaud. It was an incredible ball and it's just heartbreaking that she fell short. For the rest of the day she torments herself with thoughts of, you know, one more spinner hit, or one more shot at the drop targets ... She also spends the rest of the day complaining that her second-place score beats all the scores that anyone in my group puts up on that game in the next several rounds. Which, fair enough. She had a magnificent game that got her only two points instead of three.

The modern game: Cirqus Voltaire, Bally, 1997. She loves the theme. She shoots the Ringmaster a lot. I've warned her about how easily it tilts. But she's not able to get enough shots on the Ringmaster, and she never starts a multiball. She finishes in third place with a sadly paltry score. In the round she has three points. If she wins the last game she'll have six points and probably have to play a tiebreaker to move on to the next round.

The next game is Mars Trek, a 1977 game by Spanish company Segasa, featuring on the backglass the last Battlestar, Galactica, thrown backwards in time from its 1978 origins. It's an electromechanical, which [profile] bunny_hugger feels naturally in tune with. It's got a lot of nice, fun shots, including this nice horseshoe guarded by two spinners.

She gets house balls. Everyone does, on electromechanicals. On the last ball she has to beat 617,600 points. She's somewhere in the 300,000's. (The minimum score on the game is 100 points, for what value that scaling is.) But she has a nice, steady, systematic game. She keeps returning the ball up top, where it can bounce around the bumpers and play itself. She has a good, long ball time. When she loses the last ball she's a bit under the second-place finish of 539,200, but it's obvious the bonus will beat that. It keeps ratcheting up, a thousand points at a time. The first-place person looks worried. [profile] bunny_hugger declares she's failed.

Her score tops out at 563,700. She's gotten second place, good for two points. She has five points on the round, good for third place. The top two people, with nine and with six points, move on. Her finals are over.

I barely have time to console her, not that I'm any good at it. Mine start.

Her Mars Trek score is better than anything I put up, and it's better than anything all but two people I play puts up, the rest of the day. Just observing, as she would.

Trivia: By 1768 five waterwheels powering sixteen engines were operating on the north end of the London Bridge. It is not clear when corn mills grinding on the south side were first installed. Source: Old London Bridge: The Story of the Longest Inhabited Bridge in Europe, Patricia Pierce.

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

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!