Profile

austin_dern: Inspired by Krazy Kat, of kourse. (Default)
austin_dern

September 2017

S M T W T F S
      1 2
3 4 5 6 7 8 9
10 11 12 13 14 15 16
17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 252627282930

Custom Text

We walked to the Seaside Heights boardwalk. It was changed from our last visit, and changed almost unrecognizably from our first. FunTown Pier, destroyed by Sandy and by the fire a year later, still wasn't there. But something was being built around its location. Maybe all the talk from the owners about how sure, they were going to put up something eventually turned into positive action. Last I had heard (from [profile] bunny_hugger, who checks the news more rigorously than I do) they had applied for permission to build a Ludicrously Huge Something Or Other that nobody in their right mind thinks they would ever build, which I'd taken as an attempt to look busy rather that writing the place off. But now there were new boards being laid down, construction vehicles moving sand around, the suggestion that maybe something was, five years on, being built.

Casino Pier, our pier, was different. It was open, and running. It was shorter, no longer going out over the (normal-level) water. It was wider, taking up more of the beachfront, part of a trade with Seaside Heights to swap land for the historic carousel. The carousel is still where it was when we first saw it, that magical night. Seaside Heights hopes to put build a new housing for it, and there's moving of it to be done, and none of that's ready yet. For this visit the carousel was, anticlimactically, exactly where it had been when we took our Casino Pier Farewell Tour several years ago.

The pier was changed, besides being shorter. Many of the rides were gone: Stillwalk Manor, its great dark-house ride, was dropped into the Atlantic by Sandy. Star Jet was iconically dropped into the ocean. The Wild Mouse that was our first roller coaster has gone to what we'd like to think is a better place. (It's Sacramento.) The only roller coasters left from our first visit are the Hot Tamales kiddie coaster that I guess isn't a copyright violation and the Pirates Hideaway miniature ride.

They have new rides. A giant Ferris wheel. The new Hydrus roller coaster, which loomed over the pier --- while huddling up as far from the water as it could get --- and looked fantastic. A pendulum claw ride called Superstorm that had been running when we last visited. The rooftop minigolf had been renovated, and the statues looked new and fresh. There was also a new pirate-themed miniature golf opposite the Casino, toward the water park area of the pier. (Yeah, the water park area isn't on the beach, because ... just ... you know. Things and stuff.) Also we knew that the Berkeley Sweet Shop, closed after the fire destroyed its antique taffy-pulling machine, had somehow found the ability to reopen. It would be north of the old location, somewhere in Seaside Heights, but it was somewhere there.

We were changed too. The most important change was something we didn't consciously notice at the time. When we first visited, someone noticed us and asked if we'd want a picture taken. It's one of the best pictures of us. This time, we weren't approached by anyone. I suppose it's impossible to radiate new-relationship energy forever and to seem always open to strangers asking if we wanted photographs. I suppose also nine years ago selfies weren't a thing we just assumed people would take, though. Maybe folks of today were just respecting our privacy.

Trivia: Johns Hopkins died in 1873, with a trust of $3.5 million bequeathed to found a university and hospital. The university opened in 1876; the medical school in 1893. Source: The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History, John M Barry.

Currently Reading: Creditworthy: A History of Consumer Surveillance and Financial Identity in America, Josh Lauer.


PS: Halloween came to the pinball league ... uh ... right before Halloween last year. Let's watch.

IMG_0668.jpg

Getting ready for Halloween! I paint the lily by putting on a raccoon mask.


SAM_7523.jpg

Trophies that [profile] bunny_hugger bought for the Lansing Pinball League costume contest last year.


Besides the Crazy Mouse, Playland has a must-ride roller coaster. And besides that it has two other roller coasters, although those aren't anything terribly special. It also has a kiddy coaster that's of actual historical interest; it dates to 1928 and is one of the oldest wooden coasters out there. But that's not open to adults, which, based on what similar sized rides are, is probably a mercy to our knees. Certainly my knees.

But the must-ride adult coaster is the Dragon Coaster, which is what you'll see in any of the movies to have been filmed at Playland. (This includes Big and Fatal Attraction in case you need an 80s Amusement Park Movie Night.) Dragon Coaster is, remarkably, not the oldest ride in the park. It opened in 1929, two years after the park opened and a year after the Kiddy Coaster did. Anyway, it's a great roller coaster, complete with several things of particular delight to me: manual, lever-operated brakes, for example, and a curved loading platform, and a queue that doesn't let you pick your seats; you just get in line and hope you get to the seat you want first. Also a surprisingly recent addition of a big dragon facade to its tunnel, so that your train leaps into a dragon's mouth and twists around and comes out let's not think too hard about that because there's no really tasteful answers there. (You can get some glimpses of it, as well as some ride video and general pictures of the park, in the official video for Mariah Carey's ``Fantasy'' by the way.)

Another must-ride, at least by my lights, is underneath the Dragon Coaster. That's the Old Mill ride, another 1920s-vintage ride and one of the last tunnel-of-love style rides in North America that isn't in an old Popeye cartoon or something. It's one of only two in North America that I've ridden, and the other is in Kennywood where it's been re-themed to Garfield and left terribly boring. Playland's Old Mill was renovated in the 80s and yet looks strikingly modern. It's got a theme of gnomes mining, not necessarily safely, and has a number of really good pranks threatening riders with getting soaked or stuff tossed into them or the like. Also at least one quick shot of a dragon getting ready to eat you, so, great work all around.

By now we were getting starved, so [profile] bunny_hugger's brother asked what we wanted: pizza or French fries? Parks have generally gotten pretty good for vegetarian options, but one of the less-charming ways Playland has stayed retro is it really hasn't got, like, red bean burgers or something. We went with pizza, and lemonade, and walked over to one of the arcades. There had been pinball here before. There might be now.

There was! In the arcade next to the (non-racing) antique carousel was a Whirlwind that played much less brutally than the one at the National Championship/Women's World Championship. Of course, everything would. It also played less brutally than the one at the State Championship in MJS's pole barn although there, again, naturally.

They also had a Twilight Zone with the volume set to ``shake New York City to its foundations''. I am sometimes accused of exaggerating because I turn anything moderately outside average into the biggest or the tiniest thing that has ever existed. But when I say this pinball game was the loudest thing humanity has ever done that did not involve a ship full of picric acid catching on fire, I am understating. But the game absolutely thundered, especially when I managed (by luck) to score the Powerball Jackpot. Jackpots are already the loudest thing in the game, and here it was on a volume level designed to rattle our teeth out of place.

The game was also loud enough, and challenged by few enough other sounds, that [profile] bunny_hugger could for the first time recognize its background music. If there's no particular special mode going --- and the game has like fourteen modes, so there's often something else happening --- it plays an early-90s synthesizer rendition of Golden Earring's ``Bullet Hits The Bone'', one of the Dutch band's two songs to have been allowed into American pop culture. (The other is ``Radar Love'', which doesn't sound anything like ``Bullet Hits The Bone''. But they came out like ten years apart, and before 1993 ten years was long enough for popular music to change in sound.) But why ``Bullet Hits The Bone''? Because the lyrics include the words ``Twilight Zone'' is why. See my subject line today. Watch the video for it sometime; it exemplifies that early-80s video aesthetic of ``crazypants yet extremely literal to the verse''.

Also beside these two pinball machines --- and we were disappointed, kind of, that Bugs Bunny's Birthday Bash was no longer there (but wait!) --- was a little baseball game. The sort where you swing at a half-size pinball and try to reach hits and home runs and the like. The Silverball Museum has a couple of them. They hover around the edges of pinball (and probably, historically, gave the idea of the flipper to pinball), but when do we see them in playable shape on location? So it turns out that [profile] bunny_hugger's brother is a savant for this sort of thing, and I am not.

This little arcade is next to Playland's antique carousel, and we went there for the next ride. Fortunately, too; a couple weeks after our visit they would have a fire in the cupola of the building. The carousel, last I heard, was not believed to be significantly damaged and they plan to reopen the ride for next season. We were scared when we heard about the fire, though, and glad that we had visited earlier in the summer.

Trivia: Wednesday was attributed, in Rome, to Mercurius, the God of communication (hence its French name of 'mercedi' or Spanish of 'miércoles); in the Babylonian system it was named for Nabu, the god of scribes. Source: The Calendar: The 5000-Year Struggle To Align The Clock and the Heavens --- And What Happened To The Missing Ten Days, David Ewing Duncan.

Currently Reading: Acceptance, Jeff Vandermeer.


SAM_7466.jpg

Not much of interest was happening at Earlham's reunion on Sunday, so we went looking for a letterbox instead. This is not the letterbox. This is some weird fungus-y mushroom? maybe? thing that we found on the way and that probably isn't an alien pod creature absorbing all of southern Indiana into its botanical biomass, but maybe someone should check on that while wearing an environmental suit and wielding a flamethrower? Hm?


SAM_7471.jpg

Richmond (Indiana)'s rose garden, near where we found the letterbox and a site of apparently some prominence and historic importance in the rose-cultivating industry. The fountain's charming enough. The two women sitting on its rim were reading some book, possibly books, to each other.


PPS: Reading the Comics, September 9, 2017: First Split Week Edition, Part 2, plus some hard truths about the ÷ sign that I've seen going around Normal Twitter this past week.

We were going to Asbury Park, for the obvious reason. If I go twelve months without laying eyes on the Stone Pony catastrophe might overtake me. And yeah, we would see the Stone Pony, although once again we weren't really going there. We were going to the Silverball Museum.

In time. We first walked along the boardwalk, particularly to the building that used to house the city's carousel. The antique carousel was sold off decades ago, and the building sat idle for ages. This time, there were ... signs warning about signing liability wavers around it. Turns out that the interior's been built into a skateboarding park, with half-pipes and ramps and other stuff to go have fun and/or get yourself killed on. Far better than the building going to waste, of course, or being demolished or something, but it is a shame the city can't get an antique carousel or get a modern-carved wooden one. It would be a nice addition to the boardwalk.

... Which was a busy place. [profile] bunny_hugger said it seemed to her that the boardwalk was much busier than it was when she used to visit. I agreed that my understanding was that Asbury Park's been doing better. And we found in a local free weekly an article about Just Why Asbury Park is doing better. The essayist credited the long-running drawn-out failure to complete this massive apartment building supercomplex, which the city's been trying to build for decades and can't get to quite work. The essayist argued the never-quite-progressing project ate up the attention of city officials and Big Money projects, so that they couldn't launch this white elephant on the city, and instead a variety of smaller projects, ones that could succeed or fail unaided, could grow instead and create a better balance of shops and stores and small businesses and residences. Seems plausible enough. [profile] bunny_hugger also asked me why Asbury Park got to be as run-down as she had seen, and understood, and could see evidence of when you got away from the boardwalk. (It's always had a significant black population. So it's easy for county and state officials to starve the city and let it crash.)

Anyway, our real goal was the Silverball Museum, with the plan being to spend as long as we felt like at the place. We got there just early enough that we didn't quite qualify for the evening half-day fare. They gave it to us anyway. We'd end up spending the rest of the night there, all the way to the museum's closing and the turning-off of tables.

The museum had much of the same collection as last time. Some things had moved in, including Jersey Jack's new Dialed In! table. Some had drifted out or been rearranged. Most fascinating to me: an elder couple, man and woman, setting up their camera on a tripod to take close, careful photographs of the early 60s tables, the oldest ones they have in playable shape. We remarked: hey, it's us in thirty years.

Some of the tables were games we had played in Dallas, and which we played seeking revenge or vindication or at least proof we could so play the game. We also wanted to get in some quality time on Dialed In!, since the game was just starting to appear in our pinball league venues and nobody had the chance to play it. We were both able to get onto the daily high score table, in time, although I'll admit the time I did I have no idea what happened. I just had this long-running multiball sequence. Since then I've got a slightly better idea how to start modes, and finish them for high values, but that's not to say I've got the hang of it.

And on Road Show --- which had spent half a year at the Blind Squirrel League, but had just left --- I managed, for the first time since the glory days of the 90s, through to the wizard mode, doing the road tour across the whole country. I was able to get [profile] bunny_hugger's attention for this, happily, since she'd have hated to have missed that. (The mode involves the bulldozer-driving pair Red and Ted reaching the west coast and accidentally breaking the planet.) It's quite silly.

And, eventually, we reached the end of the night, when the museum would close. It was a low-key day, but that's what we needed. We'd drive home, and stop at Wawa to get hoagies (Hoagiefest was on) and take that back to the hotel room to eat. We'd have Rye Playland for Thursday.

Trivia: J C Penny's stores extended no credit to customers before 1958; the operation was cash-only. Source: The Grand Emporiums: The Illustrated History of America's Great Department Stores, Robert Hendrickson. (Hendrickson does not specify whether the stores took checks.)

Currently Reading: Acceptance, Jeff Vandermeer.


PS: exploring the museum at Earlham.

SAM_7398.jpg

Peering down the stairs to the museum's basement, showing off where the mummy is and then all the nature exhibits off to the right.


SAM_7385.jpg

The Mummy. Earlham College's museum has a real actual mummy brought back from Egypt back in 1889, when college presidents could just go over and buy a mummy and bring it back without anyone asking questions. The mummy was believed for decades to have been that of an ancient Egyptian king, until x-rays revealed it was a five-foot-tall woman about 20-22 years old. Also the hieroglyphs said who it was.


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.

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 ---

Snap!

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.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SAM_8483.jpg
Me and [profile] bunny_hugger showing off our medallions, prizes for having perfect rounds at Pinburgh. She got hers first. This smiling face is the same look I have in every photograph, which inspired one of our friends this weekend to say he hopes to someday enjoy something as much as I enjoy everything. The odd glossy squares around them are the plastic baggies they were somehow stapled into and that we've since ripped off them.

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

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

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

SAM_8614.jpg
The medals I took home from Pinburgh for 2017. The larger, Division D medallion, shows the reverse because that's the one that says which event and division it was. The obverse reads ``ReplayFX 2017'' --- the convention the contest was held under --- with a spiral pattern behind.

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

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

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

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

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