So I was in the finals! Me versus CST, for a best-of-three match to determine who'd win the championship. Sort of; were I to win, we'd have to do a second best-of-three match. That's because it's a double-elimination tournament and he couldn't be knocked out on his first win.
We started. World Cup Soccer. His choice. Game I like. I bricked my first ball and never recovered. He had an easy win. Second game. Tales of the Arabian Nights. My pick. It'd be a game he could dominate on, easily, but you know what? It's fun. I wanted that while on the brink of elimination. And then ...
They call it getting into the zone. I guess they call it that in every competition. The term has an extra connotation in pinball since The Twilight Zone was one of the murderer's row of all-time great 90s pinballs and its wizard mode was, naturally, called Lost In The Zone and you did have to be in it to be lost in it. It's that state where you suddenly feel complete master even of the things that aren't in your control. When it's suddenly obvious and easy how to do everything. When you're confident you can make the tough shots, and you try them, and you make them easily. And somehow, I was in that.
You can do well in Arabian Nights simply enough: hit the genie lamp in the low-center of the playfield and keep doing that. This builds your bonus and gives points right away. At your leisure, hit the captive balls that build the bonus multipiers. Sounds simple, but the spinning lamp can send the ball in crazy directions and you have to be really sharp and a bit lucky to keep its control. And somehow I was. In a ball that somehow just kept on going I kept hitting the lamp, and the bonus multipliers, and the Genie target for multiball. I put up something like 25 million points --- a score that will win just about every game --- in my first ball. CST smiled and feigned kowtowing to me.
Now, I'm one of I estimate two people in Lansing league that CST could emotionally accept losing the league championship to. MWS is the other. Last year when MWS looked plausibly like he was going to beat CST, CST put up a billion-point game on Getaway. Check that; it was a billion-point ball, or near enough. This on a game for which 100 million is an excellent score and 200 million routinely is best of the league for the whole night. Putting up a score like that, I knew, was just daring him to crush me, and he was able to do it.
Only, he didn't. He put up a solid game and maybe if he hadn't tilted the second ball would have beat me, but it didn't work out that way. We were tied 1-1. If I managed one more win, I would ... have to do this again, because it would be CST's first lost match. Still: one good game away from winning the match. Three good games away from winning the league. It was almost enough to keep people away from the miserable news of states with races too close to call, or being called for the Future Disgraced Former President.
CST's pick of game. He said he was going to have to do to me what I'd done to WVL. On to Austin Powers. I said there were only two people in league who ever played that voluntarily. I'm one, in order to be competent even on the games I don't like. CST is the other. He wants to stay good on everything. He doesn't like the game either. When he gets on the high score table he puts in bunny_hugger's initials. It's part of how the Michigan pinball community has turned high score tables into affectionate trolling. It's also part of his nudging bunny_hugger to better her skills: if she doesn't want her initials on this awful game, take his forgery down. WVL cackled at the Lansing League championship being determined by the least-loved game of the twenty-plus there.
CST could clean my clock on this game too; his best scores on it are like six times mine. But, if I had a good game I could plausibly put up 200 million points. If he had a bad game, I could plausibly beat him. My turn to go first. I put up a brick. He had a fair first ball. That's all right. New ball, new chance. There's one good shot which if you can make it repeatedly starts Fat Bastard Multiball and from there you can pretty much flail around and break a hundred million points. I don't make the shot at all. CST does. My chances are really slender now. I take this seriously, although not despairingly. I never expected to be this far along, and figured beating CST even one game was the best I could hope for. Two games would be well beyond expectations. It's easy to relax when you've already done better than you thought you might.
So I relaxed, planned, thought it out. Brought the ball to a complete stop to line up the Fat Bastard Multiball shot, and got it back to a stop to repeat the shot. It's surprisingly tough to bring a pinball to a stop. Not mechanically, psychologically. You want to keep the thing in motion. A skilled player brings it to a stop. But this was exactly what I needed to do, to get the game back, to have that fantastic ball, to make my rally, and I didn't make it. I was on the way, but didn't get to CST's score. If I hadn't bricked two balls I would have had a fighting chance, at least if he hadn't fought harder. And that was it.
But! I had won second place. That's my best finish in a league, and a rare instance of bettering what I'd done during the season with the league's finale. My best double-elimination match performance. And my first hardware, my first trophy, from Lansing League proper, something outside Zen Tournament nights.
And CST mentioned, I was the only person to take him to a third game in any of the night's matches. Likely nobody could have beat him, not after WVL and I had knocked out J M and ADM anyway. But that night, that evening, for those games, I came closer than anyone else did.
And then had that weird state, as Von Clownstick was declared all-but-certainly the electoral college ``winner''. (Remember several states were properly too close to call even the next morning.) There I was having this moment of fantastic success, even glory. Meanwhile the world was hurtling into this dark and deadly valley. I still feel that weird collision of feelings, joy and despair mixed together, when I think of the night. When I look at the trophy, this lovely curved glass plaque I feel the joyful moments again. It's something to hold on to.
I've decided this season to start calling Austin Powers ``the game of champions''. That's got the right sort of ironical disdain and warding-of-evil to catch on, given a chance.
Trivia: The Latin zodiac sign Taurus, the Bull, was in Sanskrit `Vrishabha', and in the Babylonian scheme the `Star'. Source: Mapping Time: The Calendar and its History, EG Richards.
Currently Reading: Barnaby, Volume Two, 1944-45, Crockett Johnson. Editors Philip Nel and Eric Reynolds.