A longstanding pinball superstition has it that your first game on an unfamiliar table will be your best game on that table for a long, long while. It's easy to understand why. The first time on a new table you just try to keep the ball alive. The second time you think you've worked out some strategy, and try for that, and maybe it's not right and maybe you're focused so hard on one shot that you miss everything else that makes points and so on. Eventually you recover, but there does sure seem to be a nasty dip after a good first game.
bunny_hugger put up a great game on Hi-Score Pool, the strange pinball machine with a nearly-concealed playfield which was the side tournament's game. There'd be open qualifying, playing as much as you had time for, until about 6 pm, with the highest eight scores going on to finals. Her first score started out as maybe the second-highest recorded. It would drift down a little bit, here and there, but never so much. It would always stay much higher than my highest score, even after I started to work out some of the ways to play this strange game. She even mastered advanced skills like bounce-passing on the large circular disc that catches and launches the ball and takes up the space between the flippers. I don't think anyone else managed that.
I would never be on the leader board. I got to like the game, and worked out what I thought a winning strategy for playing it. It's an electromechanical game, which rewards slow playing and letting the ball roll itself out. But the flippers also don't allow for trapping the ball, bringing it to a stop and aiming it. Also there's no clear direction to shoot the ball; you have to infer where the targets might be. Some people tried to overcome this by squatting low as possible to peer under the board covering the playfield. I realized the guidelines on the playfield were basically right. But I didn't get the chance to play my way back into competence.
bunny_hugger watched the spreadsheet with the top eight scores, with increasing misery, as the cutoff hour approached. One person and then another recorded a slightly higher score and pushed her down. At the deadline she was sitting there on row number nine.
The thing about spreadsheets is that if you use them like a normal person, Row 1 will have headers. Like, this spreadsheet was headlined 'Name' and 'Score'. So bunny_hugger was the 8th-highest scorer in qualifiers. She was in for the side tournament.
Finals for this took the 5th through 8th place finishers and had them each play a game of Hi-Score Pool. The lowest would be eliminated. The fourth seed would join the survivors, and they'd play again. The lowest would be eliminated, and the third seed join, and so on. This scheme's designed to generate the greatest number of meaningful games the winner may have to play --- the metric that the Professional and Amateur Pinball Association uses to judge a tournament's point value --- without taking forever to play. If bunny_hugger could just beat anyone, consistently, she could become one of the final four. And an electromechanical game is a coin toss to start. A bizarre electromechanical like this even more so.
She got eliminated the second round, and came in number 7 in the tournament. She'd be beaten by some great people, including the people who came in #1 and #2 in the State Championship the weekend before. And she beat a lot of great players, including CST, MJS, Bill, me, and both that father and son pair mentioned in the State Championship report. But still, there's always the hope of doing just that little bit better still.
Trivia: New York City banned tetraethyl lead in 1925 following the research of Alexander Gettler into the new fuel additive already dubbed ``looney gas'' and suspected in the deaths of five Standard Oil workers and hospitalization of dozens more. New Jersey and Philadelphia followed soon. Source: The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York, Deborah Blum.
Currently Reading: Deep-Space Probes, Gregory Matloff. This really does read like something james_nicoll would keep on hand for when he needs the equations for, say, the heat induced on a laser-propelled solar sail.
PS: Reading the Comics, March 19, 2016: I Do Some Calculus Edition, to show off that I can too still do mathematics, not just exposit about the stuff.