austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,
austin_dern
austin_dern

Live how they wanna live, play how they wanna play

Our Charleston visit meant we missed the last regular meeting of Marvin's Marvellous Mechanical Museum's pinball league for the season. (Also the last meeting it had before Marvin Yagoda died.) bunny_hugger and I dropped in the standings, penalty for missing the night. We would play finals in the B Division. bunny_hugger joked that at least, with me down amongst the B Division players, I'd be sure to bring home a trophy.

I didn't think so. I normally flop in tournaments. Also, GRV was there. He hadn't played much, so he was at the bottom of the league, but he's a great player. He didn't make state finals this year just by not playing so much as he might have; he could have taken one of the top sixteen spots easily had he wanted. And I drew him in the first round of the double-elimination tournament.

My pick, as the higher seed. Wizard. It's Marvin's only electromechanical game. These games lower the gap between player skills if you're not playing a specialist in electromechanical games. No matter; he wins. His pick, and The Addams Family. It's a magnanimous pick: it's the prototype to the modern pinball game, and it's still got some of the wild unpredictability of earlier models. I can plausibly beat him on this in a way I couldn't on, say, Star Trek 2013. I can't do anything with the gift, and put up two rotten balls to his good ones. I'm left pondering how far I'll get in the double-elimination tournament and the nuisance of trying to win from the loser's brackets already. And then --- the game suddenly resets. No obvious cause, no reason. But neither of us finished the game.

There's nothing to do but replay the game. And this time I have a great game, including (I think I remember) relighting the jackpot, which just never happens. GRV puts up another good game, but it's not as good. Thanks to the freak event I'm still alive.

Still: what game do I pick? I can't pick Wizard a second time in the best-of-three match. I'm not crazy about doing a third start on The Addams Family. My least bad idea: Whoa Nellie!. The breast-themed pinball game is not my or anyone's favorite (it's since been taken out). But it has the layout and rules set of an electromechanical. It's my best bet. It pays off: I win, and GRV goes into the losers bracket, from which he doesn't emerge.

Neither does bunny_hugger, who loses to (I think I have this right) GRV and someone else I beat in the first couple rounds, so as to create the impression I'm sending the people to take her down. It's never easy convincing her that she's getting better when a tournament goes badly, but the thing is, tournaments like this by construction go badly for about half the players.

Things went well in later rounds: I kept the games to Wizard when I could, and progressed pretty well through to the last undefeated person, KG. She's been in the Lansing and Marvin's leagues, off and on, and has been getting back into competitive pinball as her work allows. She's also started dating, off and on, CST, the eternal champion of Lansing League and always a finalist in whatever league he chooses to play in. So he was giving her moral support and strategic advice. (Even by the strictest competitive pinball guidelines giving strategic advice, between balls or games, is allowed; it's only active coaching that's disallowed. A player is even allowed to ask her competitors for advice, while neither is at the table, although there isn't any requirement that the competitor answer at all, or honestly. Just magnanimity.)

I forget just how our round went except that one of the games was Tron Legacy, her pick. I have a good-for-me ball one; she has a decent one. I put up my best ball ever on the second ball, launching I think three of the game's four(?) multiballs. bunny_hugger tells me that KG looked back at CST for advice and he just shrugged.

KG would come back, winning the losers bracket and so challenging me for the B Division title. So I would play her for a second best-of-three round in a row. I went for The Hobbit, based on exactly what you think. It's a Jersey Jack game, so the score is in low numbers, but I can usually tear it up for a quarter-million points or more reliably. Not this time; I don't manage to start any multiballs --- which is almost literally ``shoot the right ramp over and over again'' --- but neither does she. I stumble out, winning with something like 50,000 points to her 45,000.

Her pick. She chooses Whoa Nellie. Good grief. We're fairly well-matched early on, but around the third ball (of five) I have one of those balls that just doesn't end. The objective of Whoa Nellie has the classic simplicity of early-60s games: roll the ball through all four lanes, lighting the respective pop bumpers, shoot this one scoop to boost the bumpers' value, and then shoot into the bumpers over and over and over again. It's surprisingly hard to do, but I get closer to it when I remember: this game has no bonus. The only thing you lose from a tilt is ball time, and if the ball is out of control then you aren't risking anything. I get more active and just run away from KG on the ball. CST and bunny_hugger sit nearby, staring at our progress. KG can't come near my score.

And so --- I win! I take home the B Division trophy. If you can call it winning when two games of Whoa Nellie are what did it. I'm not sure myself. Still, it's a great moment. And we owe it to the Charleston trip; if I'd been in A Division there's no way I'd have finished first, and even the top three would have been unlikely. Stuff came together just right.

Only ---

One little doubt. That spontaneous reset of The Addams Family. I'd have been knocked into the losers bracket without that, and while I might have made my way out, it'd have been harder. Not because I needed to win more games, but because I'd have to play without losing any two-out-of-three match, and that's an awful pressure to play under. It was lucky for me that the game had this freak event exactly when it helped.

So was it a freak event?

There are two things about GRV. One is that he is happy to take a dive for his friends. He's the one who ``happened'' to be late for the February 2016 State Championship Series, giving bunny_hugger the chance to play among the finalists. When he's sure he's lost his mojo for the day he will just plunge balls and walk away, on the grounds that this hurts no one and they might as well get some easy wins. (This is not always so: in four-player matches someone taking a dive can screw up unrelated people's standings.) The other thing is that he knows everything, everything, about every pinball machine ever made. If there is anything that a human being can do to force a spontaneous reset on a game, especially one as ubiquitous and often-played as The Addams Family, he knows it.

Did he?

I have no reason to think he did, except that it explains the freak event. But a freak event lacks explanation, by definition. Why do I look for one?

Trivia: The last referenced speaker of Akkadian comes from Iamblikhos, a Syrian novelist writing in Greek in the second century AD, who claimed to have learned ``Babylonian'' from his tutor, a man ``learned in the wisdom of the barbarians''. Source: Empires of the World: A Language History of the World, Nicholas Ostler.

Currently Reading: Astounding Stories of Super-Science, January 1930. Harry Bates. Turns out archive.org has what I'm sure is a legitimate copy and you can read it on the iPod in a form that's nearly kind-of copy edited-ish. The lead story (The Beetle Horde Part 1) features a heck of a lot of arguing amongst your super-scientist adventurer types about prehistoric monotremes, causing me to wonder if Victor Rousseau meant something completely different by ``monotreme'' than we do.

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