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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in austin_dern's LiveJournal:

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Thursday, August 25th, 2016
12:10 am
I don't think it's good for a team's morale to see their manager cry

Also at the start of July, before our first big summer event, was the new Grand Rapids Pinball League season. The league has over a couple years grown so big as to be unmanageable: put seventy or so people into one hipster bar with two aisles of pinball machines, plus often the crowds there for a Wednesday show, and you have an unmanageable mess. The attempted fix was a couple bold format changes. For one, you could play on Mondays or Wednesdays, instead of necessarily Wednesday. For another, instead of head-to-head play you'd play one (1) game of each of a designated set of six. League standings would be based on what your score was compared to everyone else's. You'd play with other people, picking up groups as you liked or by whoever was there by the deadline to start play your night. (This for the sake of honest score reporting, although if we were going to lie, we wouldn't say we put up a two million point game of Medieval Madness. A skilled player can expect to break 50 million points on that game, and a hundred million is plausible.)

This made the league much more like our home and favorite league, Lansing, in its organization. Since nature abhors an ironic vacuum then you know already we didn't really like the change. I'm not sure precisely why. I think part of it is in diffusing the league across two nights, and across many hours --- you could start play anytime you liked as long as it was between when organizer RLM got there and maybe 8 pm or so --- the sense of being part of a group was lost. And maybe organizing your own groups is part of the problem; while it's fun to play with your friends, there's also a certain sameness to doing too much of it. Especially when our best pinball friends are CST, who can pretty reliably clean our clocks, and MWS, who will generally but not invariably beat us. Lansing league organizes groups by random draw. Former Grand Rapids seasons tried to position people with roughly their skill equals. It makes for more unpredictable nights. It's hard to say.

The experiment was worth trying, but they're not sticking with it. League attendance was way down, possibly a summer effect but still noticeable. And the bar's owner was apparently not very happy about it, possibly because of the diffusion of the crowd. It was nice being able to play in a less packed venue, one where you didn't have to retreat from the pinball machines to wait your turn. (It's natural to watch, from behind, a competitor; you can learn a lot about how the game is playing that way.) Rumor is they're going back to something closer to the old format for the coming season. No idea how they'll handle the too-large-crowds problem.

I finished the season --- it only had three meetings --- in ninth place of about fifty people, and sank in the finals. I do better over league seasons than in match play, generally, although there'll be some follow-up on that to come.

Trivia: Astronomer John E Mellish observed craters on Mars in November 1915, but his drawings were unpublished and were lost in a fire the year before Mariner 4 flew by Mars. Source: Planets and Perception, William Sheehan.

Currently Reading: Two Americans: Truman, Eisenhower, and a Dangerous World, William Lee Miller.

Wednesday, August 24th, 2016
12:10 am
Stand up and give three cheers to that country to whom the bad guys all lose

For the 4th Proper, we spent the day in Lansing. The evening, too. We met up with one of bunny_hugger's grad school friends for a Lansing Lugnuts game. We bought tickets earlier this time than last year, and would get seats promising a better view of the team's fireworks and, shortly after the game, the city's fireworks.

If the game would end. It was not clear it would. After a couple innings of the normal, suspenseful, back-and-forth and runners stranded on base, the Lugnuts started to run away with things. They put up one of those innings that goes on forever, putting people on base and furthering them and scoring quite a lot. And that's great for the Lugnuts, who haven't got a very good record for games that we attend. They'd go on to win this one handily. But it did threaten to push the city's fireworks back ridiculously late into the night.

Then in the bottom of the 8th inning, after a piddling little hit that put someone on first base, the sky exploded. It seemed an overreaction for such an ordinary play. But the city's fireworks started and went on for a solid twenty minutes or so, dazzling things that banished night as the teams went on their business. Apparently the city didn't schedule its fireworks for ``just after the Lugnuts game'' in past years; it just always worked out that way. Or maybe they held out as long as they reasonably could. That show was launched from a public park near the stadium and was only conveniently near the ballpark.

The fireworks show went on twenty minutes and the Lugnuts hadn't quite gotten their third out yet by its finish. They'd have quite a good game. Shame they couldn't bank some runs for later games when they might be more needed.

After the game and well after the city's fireworks the Lugnuts rolled out the team's fireworks show. With the conversion of the grass lot outside center field into condos they can't se up the fireworks during the last innings there anymore. They have to fit the show into a couple of trucks and roll them out while the stadium announcer coaxes people into sticking around. Last year's show was a bit anemic; I suspected they could only bring so many explosives through the construction site before fire marshals got anxious.

This year they had a much bigger show, a more satisfying one once it got started. It was anticlimactic, compared to the city's show. The fireworks were fewer and smaller. But they were also closer, since launching from deep center field is naturally more present than launching from ... somewhere ... past the buildings downtown past the condos. It was all a bit strange, and so to me delightful.

The people in the upper-floor condos must be able to look out and down on the ballpark fireworks. That's got to be great, if you don't get tired of ball games and fireworks outside your patio.

Trivia: The National League's Detroit team earned between $7,000 and $12,000 profit in 1881. Source: Labor and Capital In 19th Century Baseball, Robert P Gelzheiser.

Currently Reading: Two Americans: Truman, Eisenhower, and a Dangerous World, William Lee Miller.

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2016
12:10 am
What is the place where all the good guys live? Why that's America, America

Lurching forward in time. The 3rd of July we went to a 4th of July celebration, this one down in bunny_hugger's parents' town. The town holds its fireworks show a day early for some reason, and consistently; possibly it's cheaper. Possibly they're giving folks chances to go to more fireworks shows. We went to the same city park we visited last year, and even ended up near the same spot by a little canoe/rowboat dock onto which kids would venture and then run off, squealing. We didn't find any evidence of the frogs that were making some funny noises last year.

bunny_hugger brought sparklers we'd had somehow and she and her father waved them around. Her father would also set off some astoundingly big, high-shooting ones back in the driveway when the show was over. bunny_hugger is fearless around home fireworks in a way that doesn't come naturally to me, what with growing up in a state where they're illegal and having worked several summers in the quality control lab of a gunpowder plant. But she was nervous around some of this stuff that I believe threatened low-flying aircraft and was visible over the horizon.

Also she got to testing the limits of New Jersey's ban on personal fireworks. Are sparklers illegal? Yes. Are (something or other) illegal? yes. Are snakes illegal? I didn't know snakes in this context. ``Are they fireworks?'' ``Yes.'' ``Then they're illegal''. State regulations are often confusing things but on the fireworks issue New Jersey is really admirably clear.

It happens this summer I knew why fireworks are illegal in New Jersey. It was the 80th year since the ban was enacted and the local papers --- I read their front pages through Newseum.org --- had articles on it. Apparently the summer of 1936 saw a really striking cluster of people, often kids, in the Garden State being maimed or killed by fireworks. And while extreme cases rarely make good policy, anti-fireworks advocacy groups like the Boy Scouts pointed out that in the first third of the 20th century more Americans had died celebrating independence than died in the 18th century winning independence. You can quibble with that. Historians now figure the Revolutionary War bloodier than their 1930s counterparts did; and Americans really didn't learn how to count stuff like accident victims until the 1970s. But it does contextualize personal fireworks as ridiculously trivial things.

(Also helping the ban, I suppose, is that if you're in New Jersey you're less than forty miles from Pennsylvania. So if you really want to shoot something off and have a car it isn't like there's inspection stations on the Delaware River.)

Anyway, nobody ended sadly and I have to say the professional and the personal shows were awesome things.

Trivia: An 1818 fireworks manual suggested a pinch of silver fulminate on the end of a cigar had the potential to be a fine joke. Source: Gunpowder: Alchemy, Bombards, and Pyrotechnics: The History Of The Explosive That Changed The World, Jack Kelly.

Currently Reading: Two Americans: Truman, Eisenhower, and a Dangerous World, William Lee Miller.

Monday, August 22nd, 2016
12:10 am
Wipe off that full-of-doubt look, slap on a happy grin

It's been a slow week on my mathematics blog. One of the slowest in ages. Stuff kept pulling me away. But if you missed it or its RSS incarnation, here's the articles:

And now back to Kentucky Kingdom, and the start of summer, amazingly enough:


Lightning Run, and several of the rides past it, as seen from the pedestrian bridge connecting the two sections of Kentucky Kingdom.


This is a surprisingly lushly landscaped restaurant at Kentucky Kingdom. It's going for a bayou-or-at-least-swampy motif and it does work. If you look at it from an angle where the water park isn't visible the place looks like it's deep in the midst of nowhere, and then you turn along the well-lit, wide-open walkways.


Walkway near Storm Chaser. It had been raining off and on the whole morning and first half of the afternoon, and the sky was grey, and tree blossoms were knocked down by it all, and the place seemed deserted. Nb.


Storm Chaser, the new roller coaster at Kentucky Kingdom and the newest roller coaster we'd ridden. We were there just a few weeks after it opened for the first time. The line was long, but part of that was the ride stopping because of weather. Later it would stop again because the seat restraints got stuck, just like in Roller Coaster Tycoon.


Underneath the Storm Chaser platform. Just above the major horizontal red beam is this thin strip of iron with a couple of L-bracketed pieces stuck on it. This is the mechanism that opens and closes the queue gates in the station and keep people from crowding too near the track. If you're willing to wait around instead of going on to Storm Chaser, you can watch how things work from the underside.

Trivia: The running track at Wembley Stadium was laid down only two weeks before the start of the 1948 London Games, so as to minimize the disruption to the (moneymaking) greyhound and motorcycle-racing seasons. Source: Encyclopedia of the Modern Olympic Movement, Editors John E Findling, Kimberly D Pelle.

Currently Reading: Two Americans: Truman, Eisenhower, and a Dangerous World, William Lee Miller.

Sunday, August 21st, 2016
12:10 am
Let's all warble like nightingales, give your throat a treat

The park was closed and we observed this in our traditional way, walking back through it the long way while rides turned their lights off. Parks are always interesting at transitional times like that, and Indiana Beach no less so. More, perhaps, because of its jumble of older rides and features and stuff which had made it through a half-decade of pretty severe neglect.

We poked into the gift shop, which hadn't closed with the closing hour after all. (Some parks do close their gift shops when they want people to go home.) They had some of the things we really look for, like brass Christmas tree ornaments, triangular pennants, and some that surprised us, like ashtrays. If bunny_hugger's mother didn't have her ashtray needs already satisfied we'd probably have got one. As it is who knew amusement parks still dealt in things as unseemly as ashtrays?

They had some small dolls of mascot I B Crow. bunny_hugger mentioned sadness that they didn't have a bigger one to more impressively fit our collection of amusement park mascot plush. One of the staff knew where to find what we wanted; they had much larger dolls in some boxes not yet fully unpacked. And cheaper than we figured on, too; I think they were about $15. She got one for us. I got one to send to some niece of mine. I like giving my nieces plush dolls that are clearly licensed but to stuff nobody they know would ever hear of. It's a little mystery to plant in their childhood memories. (I'm being facetious, but I do like giving them toys that will be just that little bit weird.)

We realized this late we hadn't got any maps of the park. The gift shop didn't have any out left. One of the cashiers had one, from her purse, and gave us that. It's better than nothing but it is a slightly folded map. Well, some of the fun in keeping maps like that is their history as artefacts.

By then we had really outlasted the park. There were a couple of lingering lights to guide us back to our car and that was it.

I wanted to fuel the car up in town, in Monticello. My car, like most gas-engine cars, has a range of about 400 miles. That's enough to get from Lansing to Cedar Point and back to Michigan before the low-fuel light goes on. Indiana Beach is about a half-hour farther, and on slower roads, than Cedar Point. And it's in a much more rural area. I know where I can safely refuel on the Cedar Point route. Indiana Beach? I didn't want to be driving along county roads hoping for an open gas station somewhere in nowhere. The gas station I did find turned out its lights and shut up for the night just after I was done.

While fueling up a couple of emergency vehicles rushed along the road past us. More drove on after we got on the road. And then the surprising lot of traffic came to a stop. Someone was having a really bad day. Ours ended with the slightly worrying but not remotely bad problem of improvising a way around a closed road of unknown extent in a small, remote farm country far away.

We made it, of course, and got home to find the house, our pet rabbit, and our lives in general in good order as we started our fifth year of marriage.

Trivia: Budapest and Detroit were among the candidate cities for the 1944 Olympics. Source: Encyclopedia of the Modern Olympic Movement, Editors John E Findling, Kimberly D Pelle.

Currently Reading: The Stone of Heaven: Unearthing the Secret History of Imperial Green Jade, Adrian Levy, Cathy Scott-Clark.

Saturday, August 20th, 2016
12:10 am
Take your time from the birds, now you all know the words, tweet tweet tweet, tweet tweet

The evening made good on its threat and came. We started to look for the things we wanted to do again or to make sure we didn't miss. The Den of Lost Thieves was closed and would stay closed through the day, as best we could tell. The Shafer Queen, ``Indiana's largest regularly scheduled paddle wheel driven sightseeing vessel'' according to their web site (look under ``Family'') wasn't running and we knew not to keep checking back. It had been announced on the sign up front that the boat wouldn't be running that day.

I believe we got a ride on the Grand Carousel, the larger one that bunny_hugger didn't know or remember was there, although the more I think about it the less confident I am. You know how memory works. We did get a few lovely strolls along the boardwalk out of checking it, at least. And we certainly took a ride on the Scrambler, which like the swings is built out over the river. But it doesn't take you out past the fencing, so it hasn't got the same inherent thrill of the swings over the water. Scramblers are always good rides, though. My understanding from bunny_hugger is that they're pretty much money factories for carnivals; everyone will ride them and enjoy them. Indiana Beach's Scrambler had near it flower planters that were also clearly the front of old Scrambler cars. Since their Scrambler wasn't missing any cars it did bring up the question where they came from and how long it'd been since they were put there.

We'd stop in on Fascination again, putting in a few more dollars without winning anything too grand. And back to roller coasters. This is when we did several Lost Coaster of Superstition Mountain rides in a row, until we finally had both front- and back-facing rides down. Back is the more intense. It's a perpetually surprising ride to start with, and not seeing what's coming makes it rather frightening and a good chance to get knocked about, if that's what you're looking for.

On the other end of the park Steel Hawg was no less exciting or fun for doing it again. Maybe more fun since this time I knew to put my camera in the cubby-hole instead of my pocket, and I could sit in a less cramped way. They were having some slack times on the ride, fair enough considering the lateness of the hour and how far it is from the rest of the park. They let us just stay on and go for a reride, and offered again after that, but I'm not sure our legs would have held up to that. Plus we'd rather have finished the night on a wooden roller coaster, if we could.

We hadn't gone on Tig'rr Coaster again since the morning, and it didn't have any line. They warned us that we wouldn't be able to ride alone; we just didn't weigh enough. We'd need more people in the car. And I think this was the time when the car already on the track got stuck and had to wait for rescue from a maintenance guy giving the thing a push. bunny_hugger could take a hint, although I would take it imperfectly. After we went on to Cornball Express --- where the front seat was closed off for some reason, so we made do in the second car --- I wanted to give it another try.

In my defense, there were a couple people near the front of the queue. I figured they were waiting for someone else to ride with them, that the ride could go forward. They weren't, or at least they were of mixed opinions about riding. Between my enthusiasm, though, and the ride operators saying sure we could all go if we all went, they came up the gangplank to the ride. We also picked up a kid who certainly couldn't have ridden if we all hadn't been there. The Tig'rr Coaster has bobsled-style seating, or seats like you get in log flumes, so the five of us were able to squeeze in after all and we didn't come near getting stuck. bunny_hugger and I enjoyed ourselves. The other couple seemed content with it. The kid was happy.

We then rushed to the Hoosier Hurricane for what we expected would be our last ride of the night. And were a bit disappointed there were people in line ahead of us. We'd hoped for a front-seat ride. We got it anyway: they rushed for the backseat and we wondered if they knew something we didn't. Some roller coasters are markedly better front seat, some are better back seat, and often there's a difference in feel. We'd been near the front before. We took the front seat, though, and weren't disappointed. The park's beautiful from atop a roller coaster, and the moreso in the night with all the lights on. Or most of the lights on, with a few twinkling off already.

It was the last ride of the night, and the park got busy closing up as we left the ride.

Trivia: During site selection for the 1940 Olympics Japan and Italy brokered a deal in which Rome would withdraw its bid for the games in exchange for Tokyo's support for Rome in 1944. Source: Encyclopedia of the Modern Olympic Movement, Editors John E Findling, Kimberly D Pelle.

Currently Reading: The Stone of Heaven: Unearthing the Secret History of Imperial Green Jade, Adrian Levy, Cathy Scott-Clark.

Friday, August 19th, 2016
12:10 am
Put on a pleasant outlook, stick out that noble chin

That's my humor blog the past week. After the mention of its RSS feed let me start with the photographs of our day at Kentucky Kingdom:


Kentucky Kingdom opened in 1987. A decade later it was bought by Six Flags, which owned it for just over a decade before shuttering the park. The original owners bought it back in 2014. The park still looks uncannily like Six Flags Great Adventure and I suppose probably much like any Six Flags park. Likely it'll mutate away some as the park builds and renovates and replaces more things, but it's quite reasonable they had other things to deal with before replacing perfectly functional buildings with their own style.


King Louie's Playland! (Photograph from later in the day than the ones right after this because I didn't get a good picture of it in the morning.) We didn't see King Louie out and about, but it had been a rainy day through to about 3 pm, and we didn't spend much time in the kiddieland section. I'm not positive we saw any kids in there either, though.


Musical carousel! Located within King Louie's Playland in Kentucky Kingdom. We didn't see it in motion. I have to figure this lasts a long time in kids' memories, though.


King Louie's Playland throne. Dare you sit in it and be the lion overseeing the amusement park who am I kidding half of you are there already.


Lightning Run roller coaster being put to bed for the rain. You can see the last riders leaving the platform as we were so close to getting on the thing.

Trivia: The only other candidate city for the 1936 Olympic Games, by the time of the 29th International Olympic Committee Organizational Session in 1931, was Barcelona. Berlin would win the (postal) ballot 43 votes to 16. Source: Encyclopedia of the Modern Olympic Movement, Editors John E Findling, Kimberly D Pelle.

Currently Reading: The Stone of Heaven: Unearthing the Secret History of Imperial Green Jade, Adrian Levy, Cathy Scott-Clark.

Thursday, August 18th, 2016
12:10 am
Let's all warble like nightingales, ah, Mimi, c'est magnifique

Nestled up against Lost Coaster of Superstition Mountain is the Antique Autos ride. It seems to project over the water too, as much of Indiana Beach must. We'd be game for it anyway and with the loss of one of the antique car rides at Cedar Point we were sure to ride it. It hasn't got much space, as nothing in the park does. St can't wend its way along much scenery besides what's already at the park, and Lost Coaster --- there's parts where it's hard to tell from afar which is the car ride and which the roller coaster --- and the Hoosier Hurricane off to its side. Also the ride rises and falls which does much to add to the appeal of the thing. Simple rides don't need to be boring ones, not with a little effort put into making them unique.

The signs by the ride list Antique Autos as a ``Mild Thrill'' ride. I offer no theories to how this can be.

Also in the loading station under the rules I noticed a bagged sheet listing the height requirements for everything at the park.

One of the few upcharge attractions at the park is Dr Frankenstein's Haunted Castle. (It's also the only one we would go on, as the other upcharge attractions were a zip line and that ``Skycoaster'' thing where you swing by a cable between two towers. It would take more coaxing than they can do to get the two of us onto either.) Dr Frankenstein's Haunted Castle won Amusement Today's Golden Ticket awards for the World's Best Funhouse/Walkthrough Attraction in 2008 and 2009, something we didn't realize at the time. I didn't, anyway. bunny_hugger had ben on it before and knew some things to anticipate and try to watch my reactions to.

It's a good one, no question. It's got a nice bunch of props and stunts and doesn't lean on any one gag too often. And it was just busy enough we could hear muffled bits of other people going through the attraction while still feeling alone in the place, a good haunted vibe. There's chances to climb all around the place, including a brief patio walk, though not near the animatronic Dr Frankenstein who takes his hat and head off to the passers-by. And there's a grand view, several storeys tall, at the climax of the stunts. At this point we almost got stuck as we couldn't find the door hidden into the wall for the walk down. And at the end of the walk down you go through that several-storey room, giving something to look at, including the chance to wait for other parties and see their reactions. We didn't catch anyone at that. Great walkthrough, though it's going to have a hard time taking back the Best Funhouse/Walkthrough Attraction from Kennywood's Noah's Ark, which got a major renovation and huge improvement this year.

In the 19th century fishing and game enthusiasts arranged for Asian carp to be brought over to the United States and stocked in major rivers, there to give anglers something new to catch and eat. A little after this they discovered that nothing eats carp, including fishermen. And now we can benefit from major rivers being nearly 85 percent Asian carp by volume. The Tippecanoe River/Lake Shafer is so afflicted. Indiana Beach makes something of this by selling ice cream cones full of carp food for a dollar each and we joined in.

We speak of the goldfish making our backyard pond boil by their enthusiastic bobbling around the surface at feeding time. There's only 56 (we believe) of them. Carp are nowhere near so limited. And they know the meaning of the feed stand. At the first pellet a mass of roughly 800 billion of them come scrabbling up, rising out of the sea and forming a gigantic carp-hand to grasp at you and drag you down to the sedimentary base of the reservoir. And I'm only exaggerating a little bit. What you do get is a field of enormous carp gaping their jaws wide open and glaring at you in a vision that will haunt your nightmares for years to come. We got to trying to drop a pellet directly into one's mouth, but we never quite made it. The fish kept knocking each other around. We got a few on the rebound, though. If you ever need to feel like a magician, then I recommend getting a cone full of carp food and choosing where you wish the water to erupt. It does make you feel needed.

We'd spend some time exploring the arcades, finding they had a card-based payment scheme instead of just putting money into things. We did play a round of the shooting gallery, tucked beside Dr Frankenstein's Haunted Castle because something had to go there. And we went to one of the indoor game centers to play Fascination.

Fascination's a ball-rolling game, with the objective being to complete a Bingo-style line before anyone else. It's got a game-runner and you are competing against everyone else in the room. There aren't many Fascination parlors left; the electronics is a terrifically complicated gizmo that I heard somewhere was based on telephone relay systems. And the game's at its best when you're playing against many other people, in order that each roll is all that much important and infuriating when it goes awry. There were only a couple people playing beside us when we bought five-dollar cards and joined in, too bad. bunny_hugger would win a couple rounds, and I would win one, and we got a good haul of redemption tickets I'm not sure we turned into any actual prize.

During some slow time the person running the Fascination parlor chatted about how we liked the place and if we'd been here before and congratulations on our anniversary. She also mentioned that they hadn't had any of the redemption games open last year. Indiana Beach, allegedly, hadn't had enough prizes to give away. It's hard to believe --- even Conneaut Lake Park is able to support a couple redemption game booths --- but it does fit with tales of how badly off the park was before the buyout. Now, everything's changed and the Fascination runner thought the park looked better than it had in ages. bunny_hugger thought it looked about as good as it had last time she visited. 2015 must have been a heck of a year.

Trivia: Enraged crowds charged at water polo referee Bela Komjadi in the 1932 Los Angeles Games, after he called forty fouls on Brazil compared to Germany's four. Germany won the water polo match 7-3. Source: Encyclopedia of the Modern Olympic Movement, Editors John E Findling, Kimberly D Pelle.

Currently Reading: The Stone of Heaven: Unearthing the Secret History of Imperial Green Jade, Adrian Levy, Cathy Scott-Clark.

PS: Some Mathematical Tweets To Read, none of which I wrote, but if I gather enough of them together it's almost like I wrote something, right?

Wednesday, August 17th, 2016
12:10 am
Let's all sing like the birdies sing, tweet tweet tweet, my that bird sings sweetly

We wanted to eat, which shouldn't be such a surprise. The question was to eat before or after Lost Coaster of Superstition Mountain, which had spent most, possibly all, of 2015 nonfunctional. There was a big line for it. We were hungry. We ate. We passed up their taco place; we couldn't find evidence that they had vegetarian choices. We walked along the ``boardwalk'' picking out spots and finally settled on their indoor restaurant. It's up a flight of stairs, enclosed and air-conditioned, with a view of one of the sky chair stations. It's got a small but apparently functional dance floor. In a visit years in the past bunny_hugger's starter husband had tried to register snarky disapproval of the steak he'd gotten by asking the server if she thought it would offend the chef if he got steak sauce. She didn't think the chef would mind, which is about the only way to handle really passive-aggressive snarking.

It was a good restaurant for sitting a while in relative calm and dark and cool, and for pondering the workings of chair lift rides, particularly how the arm holding the chair on the cable avoids getting stuck when it goes over the driving wheels. (Nothing special, just, the whole armature doesn't get caught on a wheel at once.) It's not so good a restaurant for eating vegetarian or trying to; their best offerings are a serving of Boring Pasta, good enough but unremarkable, and an Adult Grilled Cheese sandwich which it turns out is made adult by adding bacon to it. (We ate it. We might not want animals killed for something as frivolous as an amusement-park lunch, but worse is if they're killed and go to complete waste.)

Also in the restaurant were a couple small signs giving highlights of the park's history. It opened ninety years ago as Ideal Beach, a shorefront attraction. They still have Ideal Beach, as their water park/beach area. We had a pleasant view of it from our table. In 1944 they added a Water Merry-Go-Round, an intriguing thing they don't explain further. In 1947 they started adding permanent rides. In the 1950s they changed the name to Indiana Beach and build the boardwalk and all that, so the ``4-28 1955'' makes sense here. It also mentioned how in 2005 the park had its 80th Anniversary, the most recent event listed on the signs. Here in 2006 they're advertising the park's 90th Anniversary. To live is to live with fencepost errors.

We walked back towards Lost Coaster. Along the way we stopped at the Den of Lost Souls, one of their dark rides. It's got a nice-looking entrance and we could see the spot on the second floor where cars temporarily careen out of the dark and people wave at whoever happens to be below. But the dark ride wasn't working. We would see what looked like people working around the ride, but it never opened to the best of our knowledge during the day. Something to go back for.

Lost Coaster of Superstition Mountain has that name as reflection of a complicated history. For decades it was another dark ride, Superstition Mountain. In 2002 it got renovated by Custom Coasters Inc, the group that built every roller coaster in the 90s. The result is another wooden coaster, one that goes in and out among the former dark-ride house. If you think of haunted-house type rides you might think there's not a lot of space there; how can you fit a wooden roller coaster in? How can you even fit the lift hill that gives the ride the gravitational potential energy it needs to run?

The hill is the easy part. They use an elevator to bring a two-car train --- seats facing forward and back --- up about three storeys. The other part, how you fit a ride into the confines of a former dark ride? You do it by making a lot of really sharp turns and sudden drops and charging back up hills and twisting around again and plummeting and turning around again and it is intense. It might be the most intense roller coaster I've been on, which is amazing considering the Roller Coaster Database gives its height as 35 feet and top speed of 20 miles per hour. And there's still props in it, still pieces left over from the dark ride days like skeletons guarding treasure chests and the like. The clearances are tight. The cars are enclosed with a mesh, not because it's quite shaky enough to make the seat belts inadequate protection, but because even a normal-sized person would be at risk of smashing a hand against props given a moment to be careless.

We would go on to it several times, hoping to get both a front- and a back-facing ride. The time we did get a back-facing ride, which is even wilder a ride than front-facing, we were with a pair who wanted to tell us stories of how bad the park had gotten. And how LoCoSuMo hadn't opened at all in 2015, or only a few furtive days, maybe for test runs. How lucky we were to have got here after it was running again. I can easily accept this is a difficult ride to test out --- even inspecting the tracks must be time-consuming in a way that they can't be for Tig'rr Coaster --- and the elevator is probably maintenance-demanding in a way that a chain on a hill isn't. There was something about the way the guy talked of how bad things had gotten in 2015 that we weren't quite buying, but I've forgotten it by now. No matter. It's part of the legends of the park now and grand for that.

Trivia: The French team boycotted the opening ceremonies of the 1928 Amsterdam Games in retaliation for a stadium gatekeeper's refusing to allow the track-and-field athletes into the main stadium for practice the day before, and the team threatened to withdraw from the games entirely. The Dutch tendered an official apology, with a bottle of champagne included as peace offering, and the French team remained in the games. Source: Encyclopedia of the Modern Olympic Movement, Editors John E Findling, Kimberly D Pelle.

Currently Reading: The Stone of Heaven: Unearthing the Secret History of Imperial Green Jade, Adrian Levy, Cathy Scott-Clark.

Tuesday, August 16th, 2016
12:10 am
Let's all sing like the birdies sing, bubbaboo ba-bubbaboo ba-boo

Near the Kiddieland, and the Dragon Wagon, and the miniature locomotive they had the Indiana Beach carousel. It's an antique, although not of the hand-carved kind that attract carousel enthusiasts. It's a small 1940s/1950s model, cast in metal, from when the remaining ride-makers were trying to find much cheaper ways to build carousels. We wondered a lot about its provenance and I noticed a manufacturer's plate where we couldn't quite see it. We resolved to go back on the ride and sneak around to get a good photograph of it and never did. Maybe next visit. The carousel has the name Horse Around, which is a surprisingly imaginative name for an amusement park carousel. They're almost all called Carousel or Grand Carousel, possibly with a strange spelling of carousel.

The line for their other wooden roller coaster seemed a bit long, so we went off to the far edge of the park and Steel Hawg. This is a small, tiny-footprint coaster that feels more like a European than a United States ride. Most of the curves in it are vertical, twisting around and dropping straight down or rising instead. It includes a part in which you do drop upside-down, the closest we've come to riding a ``Screaming Squirrel'' roller coaster and one of the few kinds of coasters still able to inspire terror in us. (Screaming Squirrels include long stretches of riding upside-down at low speed.) Fine ride and one I learned not to do with my camera in my pocket, because the bucket seats are too tight for that.

Now to the other wooden roller coaster! It's got a station paired with their log flume ride, which we passed up as being a bit too log flume-y for our tastes and the weather. Their other wooden roller coaster is the Cornball Express, from 2001. It's not as long or quite as fast as the Hoosier Hurricane, but it's got a more compact footprint. It does much more curling around and twisting about on itself than the Hoosier Hurricane. I'm not sure which is the better ride. I think I'd go for Hoosier Hurricane, for having a more interesting path, but it's a tough call.

We were on the lookout for pinball, of course. We look for it at every park now. And Indiana Beach, as an older park --- in its 90th year, though not as an amusement park --- that had several years of a capital squeeze seemed like a prime candidate for having some. Plus their Attractions page says you can ``take a spin on pinball''. We wouldn't find any. But we would find some Whac-a-Mole games with some spectacular early-80s style lettering and that was almost worth the price of mole-whacing by itself.

On one of the first rides we got on, I think maybe even the Tig'rr Coaster, a ride operator asked what we had been on, and we explained we had just got here. He nodded and said how he hoped we'd be enjoying the place since it was so much better than it had been last year. For example they were getting what had been Splash Battle, a water ride where you putter along a track and shoot water at other riders, into shape although it wasn't there yet. We did find the Splash Battle spot, hidden behind canvases, and I poked my camera in to see what was there. Cleared-out flat cement with some decorations advertising other rides at the park. It didn't look close to being anything, but then, it's a space that could easily become something fresh in the near future.

Part of Indiana Beach's style is that it's a boardwalk park. Well, not properly a boardwalk, as the river's edge is lined with smooth cement (with 4-28 1955 carved into one spot), but that style. As a desperately land-starved park it does poke out into the water in a few spots. One of them is a chair swing ride that's really thrilling. It's a Yo-Yo style ride, with chairs that don't just swing and rise and fall, but also tip forward and back. With each rocking I worried about my car keys dropping out and falling into the river. This did not happen, but you would be surprised how much the simple act of putting it partly above water makes a chair swing about twice as thrilling. Roller Coaster Tycoon players be advised.

Around this end of the park we found a little garden where a couple employees were smoking (it was designated so), near a decorative water fountain of no particular beauty. We also found a second carousel, one bunny_hugger didn't know anything about and that apparently nobody was tending. We would come back to investigate this later.

Trivia: The United States's delegation to the 1924 Paris Games insisted all Parisian saloons be closed and all liquor advertisements be removed from the housing areas for American athletes. French officials refused. Source: Encyclopedia of the Modern Olympic Movement, Editors John E Findling, Kimberly D Pelle. (The book does not actually say they laughed, but I like to imagine they did.)

Currently Reading: Servants: A Downstairs History of Britain from the Nineteenth Century to Modern Times, Lucy Lethbridge.

Monday, August 15th, 2016
12:10 am
Next weekend on The Price Is Right

If you've read all this on your Friends page already thank you for subscribing and reading. If you've read all this on your RSS feed, again, thank you. But there's people who missed both and for them let me summarize the past week on my mathematics blog:

And now to close out the visit to the VFW Ann Arbor Pinball Museum Hall of Fame whatever its exact title is:


When you plunge the ball and don't get to touch it before it drains that's called a ``house ball''. On this game of Fireball, I got 80 points my first ball. I got 40 more points my second ball. I was honestly kind of hoping to get 20 points my third ball and complete the sequence but no, look at what did happen to me there as player two. I believe I got a flip in, last ball, so it wasn't technically three house balls in a row, but that doesn't really make a difference.


Greetings! I am here from Bally and happy to see you enjoy your video game machine play! But were you children of 1981 aware that pinball machines are not merely cool but also cyber-cool? Thank you for considering this exciting coin-operated amusement game option! Do not wager on this attraction!


Gamatron! Optimus Prime will defeat you yet! ... Apparently the table was a conversion kit which turned the 1980 game Flight 2000 into a game that was hopelessly out of date for 1986.


bunny_hugger tearing it up at closing time on Bally's Game Show with your host Keith McTeeth, one of those fun games that came in right before The Addams Family and dot-matrix displays made a generation of solid-state tables obsolete.


Row of tables at the VFW being put to bed for the night. Also yeah, that's a Wheel of Fortune game from the early 2000s when Stern was apparently buying licenses to stuff at random and hoping something would stick. The game is weird --- it's got an extra-wide space, with two lanes, between the center flippers, making slap-saves impossible in a way not seen since the 60s --- but I like that.

Trivia: The rowing contests for the 1920 Antwerp Games were held on the Willebroek Canal, near Brussels, amid reservoirs, oil storage tanks, and walls of factories. The setting was ugly enough that Baron Pierre de Coubertin described it as an ``anti-Olympic setting''. Source: Encyclopedia of the Modern Olympic Movement, Editors John E Findling, Kimberly D Pelle.

Currently Reading: Servants: A Downstairs History of Britain from the Nineteenth Century to Modern Times, Lucy Lethbridge.

Sunday, August 14th, 2016
12:10 am
Take your time from the birds, now you all know the words, tweet, tweet tweet, tweet tweet

Next to Tig'rr Coaster, and the second ride we went on, was Indiana Beach's oldest wooden roller coaster. It's the Hoosier Hurricane and if that name seems like one you might make up in order to mock the idea of an Indiana amusement park just wait until you hear about their other wooden coaster. The part of the name that bugs me is 'hurricane'; I mean, it's in Indiana. (Well, I guess there was the 1996 Lake Huron Cyclone.) It's of a classic style, a coaster that goes mostly out and back, along the length of the boardwalk. From it you get a good view of a lot of the park, and the river/lake it's nestled against.

It's up fairly high. A lot of Indiana Beach is. The park is almost desperately land-poor. It resorts to the same stunt Blackpool Pleasure Beach and frustrated Roller Coaster Tycoon players do, and that's build upward. There are many spots where a ride is above another ride, especially stuff like roller coaster that take up a lot of space but maybe don't exactly need it, or at least can make allowances for other rides to go beneath it. I think there are spots where a ride is vertically stacked with as many as three other rides. It makes the park seem bigger, not just because there's more to do but because there are no long sight lines besides the main boardwalk. And you keep finding stuff you didn't notice was there before.

For example, while on the Hoosier Hurricane I noticed what looked like a small roller coaster, somewhere down on the ground. A little one, the sort of Dragon Wagon that's good for travelling fairs and carnivals and for kids who want a roller coaster experience without something terrifying. This would inspire a brief search and a moral crisis for bunny_hugger.

She's started keeping count of the roller coasters she knows she has been on. (I have, too.) And earlier this summer she realized she was getting into the 190s. With the trips to Kentucky Kingdom and Holiday World she got up to number 198. Valravn at Cedar Point gave her number 199. What to ride for roller coaster number 200?

200 used to be a magical, almost inaccessible number for roller coaster enthusiasts. If you could get to two hundred different rides you were a serious enthusiast, awe-inspiring in your devotion to the hobby. Today it's less awesome a number. There's more big regional parks that stuff in eight roller coasters. With the Internet making it so much easier to network there's more tours that take people to many parks and many roller coasters in convenient vacations. With it so much easier to compare coaster counts there's encouragement to boost your records. 200 is still a great milestone, but it's more the point at which you are becoming an elite rather than one who's already made it.

Still, it's something to note. Something to take a picture of yourself holding up the coaster count at, and to send in to the American Coaster Enthusiasts for their milestone-photos roundup. bunny_hugger knew we would likely reach her 200th this summer. Reaching coaster number 200 on our anniversary would be sweet. But ... on a dinky little children's coaster?

And on the other hand, why not? There is snobbery in roller coaster fandom, as with everything. ``Roller coaster'' defies a perfect definition; some people will include entirely or partly powered ones, some will omit them. Some will include water coasters or coasters with a lot of water elements, some will omit them. Some will include bobsled coasters (which haven't got a fixed track), some will omit them. bunny_hugger has decided to include just about everything in her count. The main restriction is that if there isn't a part of the ride where the train is rolling under gravity's influence then it can't really be a coaster. Also she doesn't count Cedar Point's Pipe Scream, but nobody counts that except when Cedar Point is trying to boost their roller coaster count. (At that, I can see a defensible argument for it. I just don't buy it.)

So ... make this number 200? It's a hard decision.

We wandered around the base of the park, pausing by the miniature train which runs at grade and is mostly unfenced, to our delight. And past the kiddieland area that clearly used to be something else. My best guess was it used to be a bumper car area that got subdivided into Junior Whips and the like. And past all that we found the Dragon Wagon, installed last year, and thus a new roller coaster to her.

It wasn't running. It looked a bit like it might never have run; it looked like it was stil being installed. I guess if it did open in 2015 it must have run and was just down now for major maintenance, but in any case it wasn't a risk of running on our anniversary. We could put off the 200th roller coaster decision. We still have. There's two roller coasters bunny_hugger has picked out for the honor, if all goes unchanged. One is at a family entertainment center maybe ninety minutes from here. Another is at the Camden Park amusement park in West Virginia. If not for our pet rabbit's shaky health we'd probably have made a weekend trip there already, but some things are more important.

For the record I, with many fewer years riding roller coasters, have only 170 to my count. (167 if you only count the stuff nobody disputes would be a roller coaster.) I am amazed I've gotten up that high with so little time put into it.

Trivia: After the outbreak of the Great War, Newark, New Jersey, offered to take over hosting the games. (It wasn't alone in United States cities to make the offer.) Source: Encyclopedia of the Modern Olympic Movement, Editors John E Findling, Kimberly D Pelle.

Currently Reading: Servants: A Downstairs History of Britain from the Nineteenth Century to Modern Times, Lucy Lethbridge.

Saturday, August 13th, 2016
12:10 am
Let's all warble like nightingales, give your throats a treat

So we parked and bought the day pass wristbands. Like Waldameer and Morey's Piers they have the thing where you can buy individual ride tickets or, if you have any economic sense whatsoever, a wristband, and scan it as you enter each ride. The main reason not to would be if you had someone who didn't want to ride but still was brought along as part of the party. Grandparents, in the stereotype. Non-rider admissions are almost gone from parks. I imagine it's only parks that used to have per-ride admissions that even could support them anymore.

Right away on the inside we saw the gift shop, inside a wonderful 1950s-styled building with old-fashioned hand-painted letters. Right away my good feelings were being reinforced. Hand-painted signs evoke the sort of home-grown touch that suggests a park is also an event created by people. All parks are, of course. But a park with things like that evoke our sense of touch. It mediates between the forces that made a thing exist and ourselves, the way feeling the grooves on a vinyl record makes it feel more intimately your experience than listening to a perfect string of bytes will.

And then next to the gift shop --- Fascination! We're new converts to this rolling-balls game but now that we know how fun it is we're looking for it everywhere. The game's in a dwindling few places (Conneaut Lake Park lost its Fascination machines, not in use, to a fire). Now we know of three, and this is the one nearest us to offer it. Our pinball friend MWS would be swiftly informed of this. He's still got a bunch of useless Fascination redemption tickets from when its parlor was taken out of Cedar Point.

And all this I'd experienced without actually doing anything at the park. It sets the day up for success, or for terribly high expectations.

I won't drag this point out. We had a fantastic day. There were some things we failed to get to, or to do enough, or that weren't running. These were minor things. In the main, it was a fantastic day, everything we could've hoped for from the park or for our anniversary. There's nothing to be upset about. Even the threat of rain avoided doing anything that would inconvenience us.

when bunny_hugger was last at Indiana Beach they had six roller coasters. One's been lost to time: Galaxi, an early-70s steel Zyklon, was taken out of commission in 2013. From the photographs it looks like it was kin to the Serpent, at Kokomo's. A modest roller coaster, one that used to be everywhere and is just fading away. Given what Indiana Beach went through it's probably a stroke of luck they only lost the one roller coaster. I'm sorry to have missed it.

We broke in the day and started increasing my roller coaster credits with Tig'rr Coaster. It's a pleasant ride with bobsled-style seating that we would find out could fit five people at once. It's the oldest roller coaster they still have, and an oddly cute name. Somehow it's that much friendlier for not being Tiger Coaster. The ride isn't immune to the increasingly macho, aggressive atmosphere of roller coasters. It's got a new logo from when bunny_hugger was around last. Instead of a cutely coiled-up tiger tail it shows claws grasping the word Tig'rr. It seems a bit much for a 40-foot-tall Jet Star model roller coaster, full of slow and swoopy curves, that's prone to getting stopped on its last hill if it hasn't quite got enough weight in the sluggish car, requiring a maintenance guy to climb the ladder and give it a shove.

Trivia: Stockholm's proposals to host the 1912 Olympics included dropping boxing from the schedule, as the sport was illegal in Sweden. As compromise, while boxing was left off the schedule, soccer was included. Source: Encyclopedia of the Modern Olympic Movement, Editors John E Findling, Kimberly D Pelle.

Currently Reading: Servants: A Downstairs History of Britain from the Nineteenth Century to Modern Times, Lucy Lethbridge.

Friday, August 12th, 2016
12:10 am
Well I sure hope I do better

Some more VFW pinball pictures below which I hope you enjoy. Meanwhile my humor blog, on your Friends page or RSS reader, has served up this the past week:


Space Pilot, a non-pinball coin-op game about making contact between the rotating spaceship probe and the appropriate contact post.


Time Warp, a 1979 game with the rare banana flippers that I like but which most players hate. It makes gameplay more jai alai-like, in the way you cradle and aim the balls, and I like that style of things.


In the early 80s pinball started to really experiment with licensed themes, although nothing like what it would be today, when every game is based on a comic book or an 80s band. However, as you see to the right of Buck Rogers, the industry didn't lose its classic themes of ``pool'' (Pinball Pool) and ``cards'' (Joker Poker) and its standby secondary things of ``future-y stuff I guess wait why are you playing pool with robots'' and ``fantasy''.


Meanwhile in Europe, Zaccaria was busy at work on games that, yes, were about classic themes such as Robots, Castles, and Pool, but were still a little strange and exotic and European-y. There's a Zaccaria pinball simulator app that carries all their tables and I strongly recommend it; the play is great.


Ball caught in a freak position on the Zaccaria table Robot and also there's a game element that's a translucent pink Robot Bridge. You know, the way early-80s robots will just build translucent pink bridges.

Trivia: On the 1st of July, 1908, organizers for the London Olympic Games appealed to the public for additional funds, as they had gathered only about £ 15,000 of the £ 65,000 budget before the games were to start the 13th of July. Several activities would be cancelled. Source: Encyclopedia of the Modern Olympic Movement, Editors John E Findling, Kimberly D Pelle.

Currently Reading: Fastpitch: The Untold History of Softball and the Women Who Made The Game, Erica Westly.

PS: Finally, What I Learned Doing Theorem Thursdays besides that any themed project will give me two extra free essays as I gather together all the theme and then write about my writing about stuff a while.

Thursday, August 11th, 2016
12:10 am
Let's all sing like the birdies sing, sweet, sweet sweet, sweet sweet

Indiana Beach's motto of ``There's More Than Corn in Indiana!'' warns you right up that the park isn't a major metropolitan hub. It's in the outskirts of nowhere, far even from the middle part. It may be only a half-hour farther from us than Cedar Point is, but driving it felt longer. Partly that's unfamiliarity; a drive you don't know well always feels longer. (On the bright side, this meant I was primed to notice things like the Fort Wayne Fundome, which is not in any fashion a dome.) The start is your normal modern progression of Interstates, but after going past Fort Wayne we get onto a string of ever-smaller, ever-narrower, ever-more-dinky roads.

And cornfields. Lots of them. It's not just a motto. It's that curious bit of aggressive defensiveness that warns you there's soooo much corn to see. That's all right. We had podcasts. We had the fun of spotting the occasional non-corn roadside feature. We had the heck is that thing even, it looks like a giant staple only it spans the whole half of the road and there's a guy riding the cabin on top. Well, farm country. I'm from New Jersey, from the urban corridor. I don't know this stuff.

Our last couple miles there, on twisty windy roads often by the side of a river, we got stuck behind a tractor. I thought there'd be a passing lane sometime soon and there wasn't. Not for maybe five miles, even as passing lanes for the other side were granted. It's a silly thing to grumble about. But we were in need of the bathroom already. The tractor went off its own way about a quarter-mile before the park. In the very last bit we got into Monticello, Indiana, and some city streets that looked familiar. Not in detail, but in spirit. I knew the aesthetic here.

What I didn't know was that I drove right past the free parking lots and into the ones that were like seven dollars for the day. That's all right. Saved us a little hike and got us into the surprisingly tiny parking lot on the edge of the park. To one side was the Steel Hawg roller coaster, a tall and very narrow thing nearly separate from the park, as if the place had been trying to grow in that direction before the RV Dealership unpleasantness.

And I recognized the place. The spirit of the place, anyway. It had the feel of Jersey Shore cities, of small vacation homes and hotels huddled up tight against the waterfront. Attractions and games and noise and colors around them. A few blocks from the shore some places for people who want to have normal lives as far as you can while living in a tourist attraction. It felt like a good start to the day.

Trivia: Women competed only in singles and mixed doubles lawn tennis at the 1906 Athens Intercalated Olympic Games. Source: Encyclopedia of the Modern Olympic Movement, Editors John E Findling, Kimberly D Pelle.

Currently Reading: Fastpitch: The Untold History of Softball and the Women Who Made The Game, Erica Westly.

Wednesday, August 10th, 2016
12:10 am
Let's all sing like the birdies sing, tweet, tweet tweet, tweet tweet

As mentioned, we missed that huge flame war because it was our anniversary. We began the day with tender declarations of our love to each other and exchanging of a few little gifts. bunny_hugger gave me a new wallet, replacing one I'd had from time immemorial, and despite my fears about getting used to something new like that I got used to it in about two days. But it has got pockets in different places and I'm not perfectly satisfied that I have everything where it ought to be. We'll see.

Then, as is our custom, we went to find a roller coaster to ride.

Indiana Beach is an amusement park located exactly where you would think, if you think ``Indiana''. It's not on the Lake Michigan coast. It's on Lake Shafer, a reservoir created by the damming of the Tippecanoe River. Its slogan of ``There's More Than Corn In Indiana!'' may lead you to suspect that it's not near a major metropolitan area like Chicago, or Indianapolis, or Terra Haute, or Angola, or Elkhart. It's maybe an hour or so south-southeastern-ish of Chicago, which is as close as it gets to being quite near anything, although we would drive past Fort Wayne to get there. It surely doesn't draw people from Chicago; they have a Six Flags park that makes more sense to go to.

It's about four hours from us, marginally farther than Cedar Point. bunny_hugger had been to the park several times over and loved it too much to bring me there, until this year. The trouble is that in 2008 the park was sold to a local RV dealer that wasn't able to manage the boardwalk-style amusement park. Facilities decayed, stuff stopped working, the whole thing got more seedy and run-down than was healthy. bunny_hugger worried about going back and spoiling her good memories of the place, and worried about giving me a disastrous impression of the place. And yes, we know and understand and love Conneaut Lake Park, but that's a place that defies all logic. How could two places be like that?

Late last year the park was sold again, to Apex Parks Group, and for a wonder amusement park fans were happy to see the park lose its independent status. Things were, apparently, that bad during the RV dealer's management. The off-season saw rumors about money being put into the park, and, excitingly, all on boring stuff. That is, they weren't going in and shoving a major new thrill ride in. They were putting money into painting. Into replacing broken parts. Into repairing wood. Into all the boring little things that nobody goes to a park to see, but that drive people away from a park when they don't see it.

Early reviews of the park's new management were positive, and they got only better when Lost Coaster of Superstition Mountain --- and isn't that a fantastic name, in the original or in its abbreviated LoCoSuMo version? --- was reported up and running again. The coaster may have gone all 2015, and possibly earlier years, without running. If Lost Coaster was back the park could not be a disaster.

bunny_hugger was confident and so we made that our 4th anniversary event.

Trivia: The last event of the 1904 St Louis Olympic games was held the 26th of November, an Olympic College Football game in which Carlisle Indian Industrial School beat Haskell Institute (another Native American school) 34 to 4. Source: Encyclopedia of the Modern Olympic Movement, Editors John E Findling, Kimberly D Pelle.

Currently Reading: Fastpitch: The Untold History of Softball and the Women Who Made The Game, Erica Westly.

PS: Reading the Comics, August 5, 2016: Word Problems Edition, a small piece that catches me up to Saturday in this

Tuesday, August 9th, 2016
12:10 am
She said that she was sorry, that I was a little bit late

We would miss most of this flame war. We were busy celebrating our anniversary. Yes, there's a story about that too; it's coming. But first some backstory.

Rocket Robin was not the only pinball tournament in the latter half of June. One of the state's top players, who has tables in some Flint-area bowling alleys, held one too. That was the Saturday before bunny_hugger's tournament, when we needed time to prepare. It was also the day after our Cedar Point trip, so we needed time to rest also. Given all this we decided with regrets to skip the tournament. He'd expected we would be there; especially given how tight the state rankings look to be this year, how could we pass it up?

We weren't the only people to skip the tournament, though. Particularly, another of our Flint-area pinball friends had decided he was boycotting this guy's tournaments and league. This was the immediate consequence of some hard feelings regarding his launch party for the Ghostbusters pinball game. The tournament-organizer managed to snag for himself all the prize goodies, like translites (the print for modern backglasses) meant for the tournament winners. He won them honestly, mind, but already had some, and had plans to sell the excess. It's the longer-term consequence of a bunch of tournament and league rulings that could be read as seeking to maximize his personal earnings, a danger when you're the tournament organizer, and own the machines people are dropping coin into, and you're one of the sure bets to at least place if not win the tournament altogether. You can imagine being called, if quietly, on it can add to tension.

So as we got up for the day bunny_hugger's Facebook friends warned there was an awesome spectacle breaking out. And it was a flame war superficially about there being too many pinball tournaments, all draining the attendance from one another. That things were better off in the old days when there were a few tournaments a year that everybody got to. And it was terrible now that there was something every week and each drew only a couple people.

From this we infer that the Saturday tournament drew a smaller-than-expected crowd. And someone might infer that he was angry we didn't go to his tournament. But no, or at least not out loud. He was clear, repeatedly, that bunny_hugger's tournaments were great and deserved far more attendance than the Rocket Robin match got. It's hard to read the whole flame war, which I believe got mercifully deleted as we were driving home in the small hours of the morning, as a pure statement that competitive pinball in Michigan ought to favor a handful of major events rather than the small-stuff-every-weekend it's heading towards.

Since we happened to be away from home all day, without smart phones that would let us accidentally get involved, we were able to glide unscathed through this massive online pie fight. We got out of it with a bumper crop of gossip.

Trivia: The 1900 Paris Olympics drew thirty countries, 34 sports, and 58,731 participants, of whom 1,587 were foreigners. Source: Encyclopedia of the Modern Olympic Movement, Editors John E Findling, Kimberly D Pelle.

Currently Reading: Fastpitch: The Untold History of Softball and the Women Who Made The Game, Erica Westly.

Monday, August 8th, 2016
12:10 am
I guess I just wasn't too bright

Before I take you back to the VFW Pinball Hall Of Fame etc let me remind you of my mathematics blog which, if you've not seen it on your Friends page or RSS reader if you have one, featured this the past week:

Now to pinball machine pictures!


Barracora provided here as an example of the nightmare fuel that pinball got into in 1981. The story of the game's production is that it started out as Barracuda but someone in marketing said barracudas were right out as a salable theme and so they figured this would go better. Also the table had eight drop targets, meant to be one for each letter in the game's name. They doubled up the R's, something which the designers wished they had been told they could do because that would have solved so many spelling constraints.


The earlier you go in pinball the more freakish wrong things you find. Here's Daisy May, a 1954 table not ripping off Lil Abner in the slightest. It has doubled flippers: as you see on the left, pressing one button makes two flippers snap together. As gimmicks from that era before pinball controls were standardized go this isn't a bad one at all and I'd be willing to give it a fresh try.


Reminder on a 1960s table about just how respectable and mature pinball was in not corrupting the youth on purpose.


Me playing a game while using the magic of my camera's timer mode. I really wanted a shot with the ball up dead center but there's no way to arrange that except by taking no end of pictures and throwing away most of them. Sorry.


A 1954 table that wasn't ripping off some popular radio and TV drama starring Jack Webb in the slightest. The Internet Pinball Database says that David Gottlieb hired Jessica Dragonette, a singer, to perform at coin machine functions but that this wasn't related to the game. Also apparently there was a singer named Jessica Dragonette which you'd think furries would make more meaningless fuss over. (Turns out she went to my mother's alma mater, if Wikipedia is to be believed.)


From the 1953 game Nine Sisters: I'd got four balls locked into the not-quite-gobble-holes for a nice points payout. The game has only the one flipper and however easy you think it is to drop a ball into a hole that close to the flipper you are wrong.

Trivia: When the First (Modern) Olympic Games were held in Athens in 1896 they were held on the Julian Calendar. The opening ceremonies were dated the 25th of March in Athens, but the 6th of April in most of the western world. Source: Encyclopedia of the Modern Olympic Movement, Editors John E Findling, Kimberly D Pelle.

Currently Reading: Walt Kelly's Fables and Funnies, Editor David W Tosh.

Sunday, August 7th, 2016
12:10 am
Please won't you come over and talk to me, and be my girl

The tournament was intense. Some of that has to be because I was helping run it, sneaking away for moments to take the logged match results and add them to the scoreboard. (ProTip: make some mark on a match's result sheet so it's clear whether a score has been logged. bunny_hugger and I both hit on this quickly.) Some of it is that while everyone expected there'd be a wait in the queue between rounds, it turns out there's not so much as you think. If there's eight pinball games going on, then, two of them are going to finish up, getting you out of the queue, surprisingly quickly.

There were a few little glitches. At one point the queue somehow grew to three people, which one of the competitors viewed as some mortal sin. He got a little weirdly over-excited about directing people to knock off this three-person queue nonsense already. I think it might have been a problem of someone not realizing that while I was over at the scoreboard I was still in the queue. Not sure how to fix that problem but there's surely some method.

And then in almost no time at all tournament play was over. We had limited it to two hours. Three might have been a little better, although everybody got in about ten games. CST, who finished with the best win-loss record and who'd win the tournament, only played eight games. I don't think anyone played more than eleven games total. So my estimate that we'd need twelve spots on the scoreboard for a two-hour tournament was almost perfect. We've got information for the next tournament. Also it turns out I can screw up calculating the won-loss percentages of sixteen people when I really try. We need a spreadsheet.

I didn't come near playing in the finals. bunny_hugger didn't either. But we were steeled for that. We'd gotten to learn that running a tournament destroys your ability to play in it, and so we admire all the more how well CST does in the state finals considering he normally organizes them too. The most shocking result was ADM losing all but one game, his last. ADM is an extraordinarily good player, who plays with incredible control and precision. Between that and his troubles in the Lansing league we've realized the problem. He's very skilled but kind of fragile. Playing on the raggedy, partly maintained tables we have at our hipster bar ... well, he's in trouble. Considering that in previous matches I'd identified his primary weakness as ``he is mortal and so will someday die'' it's startling to realize there's venues where he's helpless.

Anyway, as ever, it was a great tournament and everyone agreed this one didn't last long enough. Maybe it could've been a three-hour qualifying period instead. The scheme is very flexible and will fit to whatever time and however many tables, and players, you have available. Works great.

Two days later the game was caught up in an actual flame war.

Trivia: A ``Grand Olympic Festival'' is recorded as having taken place in 1866 in Leicester, England, on the grounds of a lunatic asylum. Source: Encyclopedia of the Modern Olympic Movement, Editors John E Findling, Kimberly D Pelle.

Currently Reading: Walt Kelly's Fables and Funnies, Editor David W Tosh.

PS: How July 2016 Treated My Mathematics Blog, which since I beat a thousand page views over the month I'm not going to say anything bad about.

Saturday, August 6th, 2016
12:10 am
All at once it happened, well, the prettiest in this world

We scouted out the pinball tables at our hipster bar. There's a lot of machines there. There were, I think, eighteen there when the tournament was held and two more have been added in the month since. But they're not always in good repair, or repair at all. We had a list of games we figured would certainly be working, ones we figured would likely be working, and ones we figured would be called in to service only if there were no possible alternative. And some test play showed we were about right. We could stick to the always-working games, most of them the newer tables that just haven't had time to break down, and we didn't have to resort to any of the more marginal games. Nice thing about the Rocket Robin format is you only need half as many tables as there are people playing, and there's a built-in queue that can in principle hold as many people as you need. We would do with a two-person queue and would turn out not to need ten games. Even if something went down we'd have a margin for breakdowns.

The tournament did draw fewer people than past ones, only sixteen people if I remember it right. That's a bit disappointing since the Rocket Robin format was one that couldn't run absurdly long. Four-Strikes and Amazing Race tournaments naturally run longer the more participants are there. We had one that was population-independent and not as many people showed up as might have. But then this was a tournament in the middle of summer, so that most of the students and university-related crowds wouldn't be there. And it was a weekday as well, one not on a holiday weekend or in that slow week between Christmas and New Year's.

A slightly weird heated debate, possibly a flame war technically speaking, broke out ahead of the tournament. One of the leading Michigan pinball players raised the obvious objections to the Rocket Robin format. If your standing is based on your won-loss percentage, then, what's to stop you from taking the lead in one game and then sitting on that? Or if you have a slight edge, to play a game slowly so as to eat up time and not risk a loss? Well, nothing but the rules of good sportsmanship. Competitive pinball generally has a high level of sportsmanship, but after all, nothing is perfect. The only answer to that is that if you can hold a flipper up with the ball trapped on Austin Powers for forty minutes while your friends mock you and the game plays Austin Powers music, good luck to you.

The other obvious and unanswerable objection was what if you, a power player, get stuck against other power players over and over again? Someone might win because they got to play easier opponents while you got stuck in a forty-minute death-match against an equally unstoppable power player. Odds are that wouldn't happen, you should get a mix across all skill levels but yes, there's no reason that can't happen and no guarantee that won't. All I could say was that in that case it might be strategically advantageous to take a dive rather than spend twenty more minutes fighting for a fifty-fifty chance at a win, and hope you can make up the loss by playing someone easier. And yes, that challenges the high level of sportsmanship that I assert exists in pinball circles. But we know there are people and tables, some of which we have at the hipster bar, that could play for two hours without a clear decision. We live in an imperfect world and sometimes we have to accept the flaws.

What we did not realize is the person worried about this had, in a tournament earlier this year, quit a game midway through when it looked hopeless. We don't believe he suspected we were snarking about that, but it's a weird coincidence. Who knew there'd be such drama?

Trivia: The Evangelis Zappas-inspired Olympic Games of 1870, held in the Panathenian stadium in Greece, were officially opened the 1st of November. Bad weather forced the postponing of all athletic competitions until the 15th, and the cancellation of all nautical events, horse races, and shooting events. Source: Encyclopedia of the Modern Olympic Movement, Editors John E Findling, Kimberly D Pelle.

Currently Reading: Walt Kelly's Fables and Funnies, Editor David W Tosh.

(I realize it sounds like ``forty minutes'' is thrown around a lot here. But that is a realistic length for some of the most skill-only games being played by the most skilled players. We have data!)

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