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

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Thursday, September 20th, 2018
12:10 am
Try and do what you can

I don't make playoffs. MWS doesn't either. They worked this out while we were walking back to our hotel for the night, and I think MWS even got the news on his phone to report to us that way. Even if we had one more win, it would have been marginal. Eleven players are tied with 64-56 records for the eight remaining playoff spots. The tiebreaker is record at the end of the 9th round, and if that's not decisive, eighth round, seventh, and so on. So even if I had that one more win, I'd still have been behind Michigan pinball expert PH, who's the highest-placed player in C Division not to make playoffs. Well, we could sleep in, at least.

Also for Saturday we could play in the Intergalactic side tournament. This is a charity tournament, played Herb style. For your $20 donation we try to remember whether it was $10 or $20 last year. I didn't play last year, as I was worn out from D Division finals. My memory of two years earlier is too vague to say anything. But we do know you used to pick which of five charities your donation went to; now, no, it's just donated somewhere. They do have a better system of monitors telling you what the queues are like, though, and their app is pretty good at telling you when you're due at a table. Anyway, there's twelve tables, from electromechanicals through modern games. You buy ten tickets and can put in games on any of them. Your four best games count towards getting you in playoffs.

I have one exceptional game. On Bally's 1971 Four Million B.C. I just have a golden game. I find the skill shot plunge early on. I find how to lock balls in scoops. I find how to release balls from scoops. I find how to get the zipper-flippers to zip together, making losing the ball down the center impossible unless you screw up. I have a game that keeps going on and on. I start to think I might roll it. I don't, but I do finish the game eventually with 61,310 points and a smattering of applause. It's the highest score anyone records on Four Million B.C. through the tournament, something I keep on not believing because it's not at all believable. I don't have any nearly so good games, relatively, on anything else, and I'm not in danger of being among the top forty people who'll be invited to a four-strikes tournament Sunday morning. But I do have that one outstanding game to remember.

None of our group makes the Intergalactic playoffs, or comes close. I don't understand how anyone does. We spend the day enjoying things at the convention. Cosplayers. Arcade games. The tech guy who's wearing his furry-convention-casual skunk tail. Some pinball games outside the tournament area. At least the ones close to the Intergalactic bank; there's queues of like twenty minutes to a half-hour so you can wander away, but not too far away. We almost get in trouble with this. We go out for dinner at this complicated-custom-order taco place, and as we pay at the end of the meal we add ourselves to queues that turn out to evaporate as we walk back to the convention center. Run back, in my case, to put up a game that helps me a tiny bit but doesn't get me near qualifying for anything.

We do get to the Bit Brigade concert. This is a band that plays the background music to a classic old-style video game while one of their number plays the game. This time around, it's the classic Nintendo game I Think Legend Of Zelda? I Don't Know, I Don't Know Video Games. It all seems well done, and bunny_hugger is thrilled when they work in some background music from Zelda sequels where repeating the limited original-game music would be a bit much. bunny_hugger and MWS are shocked, and look a little offended, at a point where the player skipped a (videogame something) to pick up a (videogame something else) instead; she'd been just about to tell me how nobody ever picked up the (videogame something else) when the (videogame something) was an option. They interrogate the player about his choice later on. He explains it was insurance; while he's quite good at the game --- and he's used what sure look like some kind of speedrun-inspired glitches to avoid battles in rooms that always bogged down bunny_hugger and her brother back in the day --- there's the chance of dying in the final battle. And picking up (videogame something else) makes it easier to recover from that. MWS and bunny_hugger are satisfied with this not being the completely insane whack-job of a choice they had taken it for, but still feel they can't be seen with the player in decent company.

We hang around late enough to see the A Division Finals, on-stage and with color commentary and with play shown on monitors we can kind of make out from where we are. We don't know anyone playing, but we don't have to to be awestruck by how the ultimate winner, Keith Elwin, works bizarre supernatural magic on games like Harlem Globetrotters. He also comes pretty near cradling the ball on Doodle Bug, a game on which cradling --- holding a ball in the corner between the inlane return and the raised flipper --- is literally a physical impossibility. There's no inlane return on this game. Elwin's technique is an amazing bit of gently tapping the flipper to drain energy from the ball --- which you almost always want to do --- enough that he can send it where he wants. If mortal pinball players learn how to do this there'll be a revolution in gameplay.

Shortly after the A Division finals wrap up and trophies get awarded, at about 10 pm, we see something curious. People gathering around a tournament-looking person. Receiving sheets. Going out to games. Apparently there's yet another side tournament; this one, if I remember right, is a mass tournament among all the pinball podcasters out there.

I have no idea how it goes. We're heading back to our hotel. bunny_hugger's side tournament, the Women's International Pinball Tournament, starts at maybe 9 am. We need a full night's sleep. We miss a couple hours of hanging around the venue with all(?) the games available to play. Also, it turns out, an epic game of this new comedy format called stall-ball. Everyone puts in a dollar ante. Everyone takes turns at the machine, playing until they do something that stalls out the ball, like shooting it into a scoop or an up-kicker or magnet that freezes the action. Anything that stops the ball. If you stop it by draining, you're knocked out. Last player standing wins the pot. (If there's more than four players, you start enough games to be decisive.) The only thing that could make this format more hilariously fun is some of the players being a bit drunk for it. Well, you can't do everything, and we get to try out stall-ball later on in side tournaments at Grand Rapids Pinball League and the like.

For now, a bit of hanging out in MWS's room and talk about the weekend and trying to understand what the heck movie they have on the TV (they don't know either, and the cable-box guide has no idea). It's a good way to unwind into the last night of ReplayFX/Pinburgh.

Trivia: In the 1830s the Faber company began manufacturing seven kinds of pencil leads, labelled, in order of decreasing blackness and increasing hardness, BB, B, HB, F, H, HH, and HHH. It's unclear where the lettering scheme comes from. Source: The Pencil: A History of Design and Circumstance, Henry Petroski.

Currently Reading: Spaceships: An Illustrated History of the Real and the Imagined, Ron Miller. So I know from experience that you finish writing a book one or two years before it's published, and I'm reading the book a couple years after it was printed. But, especially in a book that's just had several chapters about spaceships planned and sometimes even begun but never actually launched, how could you --- in a book published 2016 and so getting its final edit probably in 2015 --- allow the text about how NASA will land astronauts on the moon in 2018? ... Also, yeah, I understand feeling thrilled by ``what if the EmDrive could possibly work'' but, c'mon. The only way in 2015 you could have guessed that EmDrive would not work is if you had heard and understood clearly what it was supposed to do if it worked. Miller also writes as though the Alcubierre warp drive could somehow work, too.

PS: Reading the Comics, September 14, 2018: I Already Forgot What I Said About Randolph Itch Edition, like it says on the tin.

PPS: And here, let's close out Saturday at our rented house in Omena.


The local rabbit going about bunny business in the backyard.


Did the rabbit notice me, even though I was photographing from inside the house?


The wild rabbit gives this some serious consideration (and, ultimately, leaves before bunny_hugger can get her good camera ready; I thought she'd seen the rabbit sooner than she did, cheating her of valuable prep time).

Wednesday, September 19th, 2018
12:10 am
And you can't win

I remembered that one day we went out to lunch and the other we stayed in the convention center to get not-hot-enough ramen. Didn't remember which day. Thinking over carefully and considering how there was only an hour for lunch on Friday, we must have eaten in that day. Well, the other time we ate outside was with a group including MWS and MSS and RLM and all. This started out as an attempt to get to a Thai place that turned out to be closed, and then we went around to a bar that MSS et al were excited by and which turned out to have as the vegetarian option ``I dunno, maybe the small tuna fish?'' (They had an egg salad, but restaurant egg salad has even more failure modes than restaurant potato salad and we weren't looking for that kind of risk.) bunny_hugger and JTK and I detached from the group and looked for something else, and ended up at a great little Korean place that started out impossibly packed and gradually uncrowded enough that we could appreciate being there.

Anyway. Around 6 on Friday everyone who could was huddled together near the main stage to take the big group photo. They even had one of those extending platform dollies so a photographer could wave at people who were taking photos right back at him. And then a dramatically smaller group, of just the women, gathered, mostly on stage, for some more pictures. Among the Pinburgh events was the first Women's International Pinball Tournament, something for Sunday morning and maybe a consolation tournament considering how bunny_hugger's main was going.

Round nine. MWS has Set 15, Super Cue and Twilight Too. Its modern game is Capcom's Breakshot, a pool-themed game that did a great job trying to make a modern pinball with the sort of old-fashioned, accessible, ramp- and tunnel-less game that's probably easier for newcomers to play. We used to play it at the Brighton Arcade. It's also got Twilight Zone as the late-solid-state; it's no more a solid-state game than is Indiana Jones. Still, it's a game everyone knows and loves even though the pop bumpers are a death field. He goes only 5-7, dropping his record to 56-52, and his standing to 60th in the division. He'll need a great round ten to make playoffs. JTK is on Set 63, We Need A Hero. Its early-solid-state game is Flash Gordon. He goes 5-7 on it, record dropping to 47-61.

bunny_hugger is on set 53, Men Without Necks. The modern game is Stern's Monopoly, which she finally learned how to play at the Logan's Alley tournaments in time for it to be retired from Logan's Alley. The electromechanical is Captain Fantastic, based on exactly what you think. The late-solid-state is Road Kings, which she got to know and weirdly like at the Women's World Championship in 2017. The early-solid-state is Paragon, on which you either have a great time or you lose the ball three times fast. She goes 6-6, bringing her record to 46-62. For the day, so far, she's 23-25, which is not bad. But starting from the hole she was in? Even a perfect round won't bring her up to .500 for the tournament.

I'm on Set 19, One Cactus Per Seashell, which MWS played five rounds ago and bunny_hugger two rounds before that. I'm feeling good after the first game, the early-solid-state Barracora. I've got a good feel for a set of bank targets worth a good bit and while other folks catch up some, they don't reach me. First first-place of the round. Also the last. bunny_hugger warned me that Demolition Man felt weird. It's a game about making combos, taking the ball as it's finished one ramp and shooting right away to another. I keep threatening to find my timing, and never do. I try switching to just shooting up the center, because this is safe and can slowly build up combos and bonus multiplier. But I miss out entirely on one ball because I don't get the thing under control, and take a last place.

The electromechanical is Safari. I choose to go fourth. Usually when I have the chance I pick to go second, but here, I want as much time to watch other players work the game as I can get. It doesn't help me; my score is decent enough, but only good for third place. Ah, but the late solid state is Cactus Jack's. I know the game well; it was at the RPI student union for years. I turned my friends on to it last year. There's lots of multiballs to be had. Lots of million-point shots to be had. Lots of polka to be started. I get absolutely none of them, and finish in last place with 1,009,300 points, which is pretty near what you get for just starting a game. Later in the weekend I come back for revenge games, and never get it; I don't ever have a good game, and just watch everyone else enjoy multiballs and jackpots and polkas passed out like cheap candies. I go 4-8. I drop to 56-52, the closest to .500 I've been since the day started, and fall from a nice cozy 28th seed to 59th. I can still get into finals, but if I have an 8-4 round to close the day.

Pinburgh's been using what I guess is termed ``slaughter seeding''. You start the day with the top of the division playing the bottom player and the two middle-most players. Second-highest in the division plays second-lowest, plus the two just above and just below the median players. Third-highest plays third-lowest plus the two that are two spots above and below the median players, et cetera. Over the rounds this divides up, so the top player plays the middle, and the two players closest to the first quartile (and so on). And then top versus first-quartile versus first-octile players. The point is, as the day goes on you play people closer and closer to your own skill level. The tenth round is an exception. If you're in striking range of making finals, they just put you in random groups. The reason, believe it or not, is to avoid collusion, players agreeing that oh, we all happened to go 6-6 so we all go into playoffs together. So I won't even have the consolation in round ten of going in, I hope, undervalued and playing against weaker players. At least not that I can count on. It turns out in my Round 10 group I'll be the lowest-ranked player, with the sixth-seed in my group.

Round ten. The end of the day of playoff-qualifying. MWS, 60th-seed for the C Division finals, needs a strong round He's on Set 52, Welcome To Hell. Modern game Stern's AC/DC, recently installed at the Lansing Pinball League venue, with a surprisingly belated code update, that he's still learning to work. Electromechanical Aquarius, one of those occasional Zodiac-themed games. Look at the lion and the goat cuddling in that backglass art. Late-solid-state Mousin Around, one of a small run of late-80s games with a cartoon-mayhem theme. I love the game myself. Early-solid-state Ready Aim Fire, which I played in that perfect round in 2017 I'll apparently never stop talking about. MWS goes 7-5, bringing his record to 63-57. Good enough for playoffs? Maybe. It's going to depend on the entire rest of the C Division. (MWS also watches E- K-, who'd gone into this round as 5th seed in the division, have a disastrous 1-11 round. He does make it into playoffs, one of eight people with 64-56 records who get tiebroken into the playoffs. The drop did cost E- K- a first-round bye, possibly also a second-round bye, in the playoffs.)

JTK is on Set 14, Redock BAO. The set's name comes from the endlessly repeated sounds of the late-solid-state Space Station where every freaking thing you do inspires the game to tell you to redock. And Interflip's 1977 electromechanical Dragon, which is more of a hydra and which every hydra-head target makes the game growl a ``bao'' at you. Everyone who has ever played the game loves it, for the chance to repeat its bao barks. JTK goes 6-6, rising again to 53-67. He's nowhere near playoffs, and fine with that. He'll sleep in late Saturday, consolation for finishing the division in the seven-way tie for 122nd.

bunny_hugger's heart sinks at her last set. She's on Set 48, Do I Make You Shimmy, Baby? Its modern game is the infinitely annoying Stern Austin Powers. She complains fairly, it's bad enough she's doing lousy but now she has to close Pinburgh on Austin Freaking Powers. The electromechanical is an improvement, anyway, Old Chicago. Like the one they have at Cedar Point, except this one works. The late-solid-state is the actually-modern game Shaq Attack. But it's a 1995 game from Premier so no one knows the rules, if there even are any. The game has many points where play stops so the game asks the player to pick one of two options. With no idea what any of them signify the value of the choice is obscure at best. The early-solid-state, at least, is the 1978 World Cup, which bunny_hugger and I both played at Pinburgh 2016. She knows an easy strategy that's supposed to be incredibly boring but reliable. I don't know; I couldn't get it to work myself.

She has a lousy round, going 3-9, and finishes Pinburgh at 49-71. Much of the night, and of Saturday, will be spent in the argument about her pinball abilities. I argue the case that she has them, and quite good ones. I do not convince her.

And me? I'm on Set 15, Super Cue and Twilight Too, just like MWS was two one round ago. I want to play calm, because, I usually play better calm. It's part of why my preferred stance has one leg reached back and resting on its toes; that's how I stand when I'm relaxed, so by standing that way, I make my body think it's relaxed. Call this stupid if you want. It works, and sports psychologists would agree with me that this is right to do. And I need calm. Eight wins, I figure, will get me into playoffs. Seven or six wins might do it. The eight can come from anywhere. Two first-place and two third-place finishes. Four second-place finishes. Two first-place and a second-place finish. Lot of options. I don't have to be perfect. I can just play for good enough.

The early-solid-state game is Bally's 1982 Eight Ball Deluxe. This is not the same early-solid-state Eight-Ball we were playing the previous weekend, at the Baby Food Festival. It's a completely different early-80s pool game. I know it, though; it's all about drop targets, and hitting an alley of bonus multiplier drop targets. I have a nice solid game. Player four has a more solid one. I take second, but that's all right. A string of second-place finishes is as good as a perfect round for me right now.

The modern game is Capcom's 1995 Breakshot. It's really a pretty fun game, marred only by a bunch of unneeded casual ``tee-hee lookit the breasts on those girls'' jokes. I've forgotten the deeper bits of strategy I'd picked up from when the game was at the Brighton Arcade. I fall back on what always makes sense for every pool-themed game ever: shoot the targets numbered for each of the balls. I skip going for multiball, because the game allows players to steal others' locked balls and I don't want to do the hard, dangerous work of locking a ball for someone else to get the points. I also miss my chance to steal someone else's locked balls, but, eh. I have a pretty solid second-place finish. And, again, that's just fine. I'd have liked a first place, but, you know? Four wins on the two remaining games is certainly attainable. Three wins would be marginal, but give me a chance.

I'm finally feeling optimistic as we start the electromechanical, Gottlieb's 1975 ``300''. It's bowling-themed. It's got a neat gimmick, too. When you hit a bonus-advance target, it shoots a small wooden ball up into a backglass alley decorated to look like a bowling ball return lane. The bonus maxes out at ten balls, for ten thousand points. But there's a shot on the playfield to collect your bonus, mid-ball. You can make a pretty good game out of building the bonus and collecting the bonus and repeating. I don't do well my first couple balls, but by the fourth ball (of five) I've dialed in a nice easy bonus-building shot, and am just nailing the collect-bonus shot. All goes well, I might --- wait did it just tilt?

It did.

There is nothing shameful or wrong in nudging a machine. Non-players and novice players see nudging the machine as some slightly underhanded thing even as they admire players who do it well. But nudging has always been part of pinball; indeed, it and plunging the ball were the only way to control the ball in the earliest games. It's a challenge to nudge the game without tilting. And there's no shame in tilting; every game through the early-solid-state era has on the instruction card, TILT DOES NOT DISQUALIFY PLAYER or that the only penalty for tilting is losing the ball (and any bonus built up). On some electromechanics, ending the game. This is not one of those harsher-rule electromechanicals, though. It's still not a fair tilt, though. I wasn't nudging, though. The ball was doing as I wanted. It just ... took normal play as a tilt. Sometimes games are too sensitive like this, and yeah, the player who went before me on the single-player game was hit by the same thing before. So it's not like I wouldn't take advantage of it. But it's unnerving, and I didn't know how sensitive he meant by saying it was that sensitive, my unfairly-tilted opponent agreed, unfair.

All right. Get my head together. One ball. About 25,000 points to get to a guaranteed third place. I can do that. I can't do that. I can't find the shots I just had. I finish at 40,220 to the first player's 60,350. I watch, closely, the third player work his way up to 54,980. The fourth player foils us all, scoring 86,760 and only disappointing us by not rolling the game. I have a last-place finish.

It's impossible to get four wins on a single game. One can't say what would have happened had my fourth ball not tilted, but from how I was playing? Beating the third player's 54,980? That's plausible. Beating the first player's 60,350? Also plausible. Later on in the weekend I go back to the game for some revenge matches and beat 60,000 on each of them. Beating 86,760? Maybe not, but at least thinkable. Boy, one point, that could have changed so much. Two points even better.

It was my only tilt of the whole tournament.

The ``late-solid-state'' game is the not-at-all-a-solid-state game, Williams's 1993 Twilight Zone. Seriously, this is one of the games that made dot-matrix-displays and wizard modes --- the iconic legs of modern games --- a proven thing rather than a promising possibility. Anyway. Everyone knows it, everyone loves it. There's a skill shot most tournament players skip. If you plunge just softly enough you can score ten million points right away, which is great. But it sends the ball into the pop bumpers, which often sends the ball rocketing out towards the left outlane or the center drain with no hope of recovering. I decide to go for it, though, and secure my ten million points. My thinking is that seasoned tournament players will, by habit, go for the long game, and on the tough settings of a Pinburgh machine will get caught by sudden tilts or not being able to find the scoops or something. The strategy isn't a bad one; we all have a very brief, low-scoring first ball and my sure ten million looks good.

The person before me, second ball, shoots the gumball machine to release the Powerball. This is potent and dangerous. Shooting the Powerball back into the gumball machine awards twenty-or-more million points to start. And it starts the Powerball Mania multiball. It has a jackpot, hard to get, that starts at forty million and grows easily. The Powerball is a ceramic ball, the same size as but very slightly lighter than a regular pinball. The result is it's even livelier than a regular pinball, and its relatively weird, fast action makes it a chaos agent in any game. He drains and I rub my hands with glee to see that the Powerball is returned to the shooter lane. All I have to do is make the nice easy right-orbit shot and collect my oh wait a minute where did the ball go?

I lose it, and the next player gets his chance with the Powerball. He can't do anything with it either. Neither can the fourth player. We get back around to the first player, everyone having had a very short ball two and the tantalizing feel of a Powerball jackpot, waiting for us and not at all there. We all grumble about the chance we all know we missed. Well, at least the first player has the moral claim on the Powerball; he's the one who got it out of the gumball machine in the first place. And then he goes and loses it again.

I'm back at the game, with the Powerball again. I need to not screw this up. I need the Powerball on the left flipper, to stop, aim, and shoot the right orbit. I make the hard plunge that skips my chance for the ten million points --- given the Powerball's lightness it's not clear I could hit that again --- and let the ball bounce out the Slot Machine, off the right flipper which I leave down --- the most terrifying move you can make in a pinball tournament, but so often the right one, is just letting the ball bounce without swinging --- and roll it onto the left flipper. It rolls back up the left inlane some, comes back slowly, and I figure to go for it.

I nail it.

25 million points for loading the Powerball. Now I figure to just keep the ball alive as long as I can. The Powerball Jackpot you get by shooting the right ramp, into this miniature playfield where flipper-button-controlled magnets might send the ball to the hole at the top. I figure there's no point trying to do that. Just keep as many balls in play as long as possible, instead. It's the sort of rapid-fire, many-ball, don't-bother-to-aim mode that's a lot of fun and that, oddly, I'm pretty good at. And what do you know, but I get a Powerball Jackpot after all.

Eventually it, as everything, ends. From now the high side of 200 million points I say to my opponents, ``Now, I took that one for the team,'' and they're amused and don't kick me or anything. And my score is good but it's not, like, unapproachably good. A regular multiball and a bit of luck and either of the two people left after me could beat me. If they dial in the ramps and gumball load shot, they could even get their own Powerball Manias.

But they don't. I finish the round, and the last day of Pinburgh, with a first-place finish, and can go home as if the whole day had been nothing but first place.

I went 7-5 for the round. (That fellow who went in sixth seeded only did 8-4.) It improves my record, a touch, to 63-57. I feel really good that I finished Pinburgh above .500.

I'm tied with MWS, and a bunch of other people, at 63-57. It's possible we'd made it to playoffs in our own right. It's more likely that we're on the margin, and would make playoffs if tiebreakers go our way.

We'll have to wait for all the rounds in C to finish, and be processed, before we'll know what happens. We meet up with everyone and share stories about how we were cheated on the way back to our hotel, and to wait for word about playoffs.

Trivia: The annealing --- the slow, 10-month-long cooling of the molten glass to room temperatures --- for the Mount Palomar 200-inch telescope mirror was interrupted when flooding caused two days of power failure at the Corning factory in July of 1935. Source: The Perfect Machine: Building the Palomar Telescope, Ronald Florence.

Currently Reading: Spaceships: An Illustrated History of the Real and the Imagined, Ron Miller. Really shows the science-fiction-fanboy influence when it tries to mention Asimov's dumb 1939 short story ``Trends''. It's a little bit based on something Asimov had just learned, about there being social reaction and resistance to major new technologies, so, here's the premise: the first rocket leads to society hating on and even banning rockets and also science because people are dumb about new technology and also the experimental one kind of blew up Jersey City. (All right, it only killed dozens of people, and that many just because the Angry Springfield Mob broke through the security fence but still.) The short story's important to Asimov's development as a writer. It's part of his learning to write the mock-historical story, one that looks at social evolution through individual characters. But as something that influenced development of the spaceship, or social attitudes about spaceships? No.

PS: Getting back to our rental home the last full day of the Omena trip.


One of the other stone sculptures at the Grand Traverse Lighthouse, made with a lot of rocks in the 1920s.


And then back home and looking out over the porch and ... wait a minute. Computer, enhance.


Well! A local native bunny, going over the same terrain that Stephen and Columbo nibbled on.

Tuesday, September 18th, 2018
12:10 am
'Cause times are pretty thin

I turned in my perfect[**] 4-0 scorecard. Met up with bunny_hugger. We waited for the next round. And waited. And kept on waiting. There's two and a quarter hours between rounds at Pinburgh; this is typically enough time for even the slowest group of four players to finish. This year they've even instituted a ``mercy'' rule. A tournament official can decide that someone has such an enormous score that they can't be beat, order them to stop playing, and just award them a first-place finish. But still, sometimes, there'll be that concentration of great players on a long-playing game that a quartet will still be playing when the official start time for the next round has come.

So it was for a group on Set 57, Evel Jumps Over The River. There's three Michigan pinball players in this set, AND, CST, and BIL (of basement-tournament note, around here). Evel Knievel is their early-solid-state game, yes. But the long-playing one here is World Poker Tour, the modern game. They're all A Division. AND took 14th place last year. The fellow not from Michigan would end the day in 7th place, A Division. Their games keep going on. And on. Fifteen minutes past the round start. Thirty minutes. A tournament official invokes the mercy rule for one of the players. A crowd gathers around to watch what what's holding everything up. Another player comes back to beat the mercy-rule-imposed score. He, too, is ordered to stop playing; both are awarded first-place finishes and screw logical consistency. Finally, about fifty minutes late, the last player finishes the last ball and the round can officially end. There's some time as the organizers work out the new standings, and print up score sheets, and we can all move on, finally, to Round 7.

MWS is on Set 44, I'd Like To Buy An A; it has the modern Wheel of Fortune game on it. He goes a great 9-3 for the round, getting up to 44-40 for the tournament. JTK is on Set 40, Hotter than a Convention Center on a Monday, which I played twothree rounds before. He does better than I did, too, and goes 6-6, raising his record to 39-45.

bunny_hugger is on Set 62, Of Of, Or Or. Its games are the Wizard of Oz (modern game), Spirit of 76 (electromechanical), Corvette (late solid state; it's really a modern game), and Super Orbit (early solid state), so you see why the set title makes sense. She's played all these but Super Orbit enough that she knows the rules. She goes 9-3, getting her to a 37-47 record.

I'm on Set 33, The ABCs of Flying. The early solid state is Gottlieb's 1980 Counterforce, a game of knocking down drop targets. But as time progresses a string of lights under the drop targets advances; the effect is a pretty convincing translation of Space Invaders to a pinball game. It takes us all a while to figure out what's going on. I do better studying the instruction card and learning from other people's work, and I take first place this game.

The modern game is Capcom's 1996 Airborne, a stunt-flyer game that nobody knows anything about because nobody ever sees Capcom pinball games on location. Even the skill shot is obscure and I have to watch about ten ball plunges before getting what I think is the point of it. Anyway, I come in last.

The electromechanical game is Sonic's 1977 Butterfly, and again nobody knows anything about Sonic games because they're from Europe Or Something. But electromechanicals are easier to parse; hit sets of drop targets and enjoy the crazy wild beauty of the backglass and all. I finish with what I think is a great score, and two other players go on to beat me. Third place.

The late-solid-state game is Williams's 1988 Jokerz!, another cards-themed game. It's a game everybody thinks they love because they're thinking of Joker Poker. Jokerz! is a lot of fun, though. One of the other guys gets the million-point shot going on his first ball and then, bafflingly, fails to collect. I joke to him, ``So, they used to have a Jokerz! where you play, huh?'' He insists he never touched the game before and has no idea how he did that, or how to collect that million. It's on the instruction card what to do, including how to collect. In the circumstances, I choose not to tell him what he's overlooked. (There's also a good chance that telling him would violate the rules about coaching. It's one thing for you to choose to help your opponent. But when there's two other people who didn't get to consent to the help you're giving?) Jokerz! has a famous exploitable trick. If you can send the ball up both ramps in the first ten seconds of your third ball, your score doubles. If you plunge just the right hardness, the ball will be launched to roll down the right ramp, which the game counts as getting the right ramp. Two of the other players try for this; I don't even try, because I've never known anyone who could get that to work, even with a game they've had practice sessions on. But that never-touched-the-game-before guy? ... He doesn't soft plunge. He sends the ball up both ramps within ten seconds playing legitimately. He takes first place and he's earned it; he's at about ten times my second-place score. Well, he deserves it, but I still don't tell him how to do that millions shot.

I go 6-6 for the round, taking my record for the tournament to 46-38. I'm happy with this. I've dropped from 14th seed in the division after my ``perfect'' round to 24th, but that's all right. If I finish in the top 40, I'm in the playoffs.

Round Eight, which starts just a little late, further spillover from that epically late first round. (While we waited for that round to start, a technician fixing something on Gottleib's Hoops shared with us appreciation for the weirdness of Game Plan's 1985 Andromeda.) MWS is assigned to Set 11, Trash Pandas Doodling, the set that bunny_hugger played ... five rounds ago. He goes 7-5, rising to 51-45 and getting to 37th seed. If he can hold the spot, he's in playoffs. JTK is on Set 70, Green Belt, Blue Belt, Purple Belt.... It's got the karate-themed Black Belt game in it. Also Harlem Globetrotters. And it's one of several banks on the elevated platform of the main stage, on games scheduled to be part of the A Division Finals the next day. He goes 3-9, dropping his standing to 42-54.

bunny_hugger is on Set 44, I'd Like To Buy An A, which MWS was on just ... one round ago. She knows three of the four scheduled games well. The modern game, Wheel of Fortune, grew to be an unlikely favorite of hers at Blind Squirrel League. The electromechanical, Jungle Queen, we know from MJS's pole barn. It's the game I lost the D Division tiebreaker on last year. The late-solid-state is Elvira and the Party Monsters. It's the late-solid-state Elvira game that bunny_hugger plays less often, but she still knows it well enough, and it's even got a reference on the playfield to our local arcade magnate Pinball Pete's. The early-solid-state is Volcano, part of my famous-to-me 0-12 round at the 2016 Pinburgh.

For all those good feelings going in about this slate --- she likes three of these games, after all --- she will go 3-9. Her record falls to 40-56. Even a perfect round wouldn't get her above .500, and making playoffs would require a fair number of the D Division players to suddenly fall dead, so this makes for some great talk over lunch.

I'm on Set 17, Gunfire Likely, with a bunch of people I don't know. The early-solid-state game is Gottlieb's 1978 Joker Poker, a glorious sets-of-drop-targets game that we all put up good games on. Two people put up great games. Third place for me. The modern game is Williams's 1995 Dirty Harry, reflecting the hit movie license of 1995? Well, I feel confident about it after all that good work at the Baby Food Festival, and moreso when I'm the only one who knows how to shoot the super jackpot from the start-of-multiball shot. I don't get my rhythm going, though, and I get another third-place finish.

The electromechanical is Williams's 1967 Magic City, which I've been playing at the Silverball Museum for up to a decade now. Also which I keep thinking of as the Apartment 3-G-themed pinball game. There's no good reason for this, but, boy, look at the art on it and then pre-collapse Apartment 3-G? You know? I'm the only one who quite gets their game together, and enjoy a first-place finish finally.

The late-solid-state game ... there's not really a late-solid-state game. We have Williams's 1993 Indiana Jones: The Pinball Adventure.. Not all the sets are balanced quite right, probably because they just need so many of them. Indiana Jones, in gameplay, is closer to a late-solid-state than, say, Dirty Harry would be. And, hey, definitely get guns depicted in the game, so there's that. And the good news: I know Indiana Jones: The Pinball Adventure! Love the game. The bad news: everybody at Pinburgh knows Indiana Jones: The Pinball Adventure! And they love the game too. Or would, if the table weren't set on Pinburgh-level-attendee-appropriate hard. None of us get a mode started, which isn't that rare --- the mode-start shot is hard, even on a table you're familiar with --- but only one person gets multiball started either, which is unusual. Indiana Jones you can go for modes, or go for multiball. Most people do at least one of them. Apart from the multiball person all our scores are under 60 million, which is about what the game gives you just for starting. I get another third place.

It's another 6-6 round for me, dropping my record to 52-44 going into lunch. But again, for me, that's just fine. I'm still 28th seed in the division. If I can hold to a .500 record I'll likely be in the playoffs. As the rounds in the day progress we play people closer and closer to our own record. The ninth round should be against people playing just about as well as I am. A 6-6 round would be exactly what I need. Any round above .500 is gravy.

I finish my round before bunny_hugger. Her group was delayed by various things, including one of the games going down and being replaced with the early-solid-state Lost World. She'd like to love that game, but not the way it's playing for her. More fun for lunch talk. We have an hour and five minutes until the group photo session, and an hour and twenty minutes until the post-lunch play starts.

Trivia: The Wang Word Processing System, introduced in June 1976, had a cost (including hard disk storage) of US$30,000. Source: A History of Modern Computing, Paul E Ceruzzi.

Currently Reading: Spaceships: An Illustrated History of the Real and the Imagined, Ron Miller. Really like the subject matter, and there's a lot of great pictures. But the body text is this small medium-grey thing on a background that's short white-and-section-color horizontal stripes and, jeez, it's hard for me to read and my eyes are freakishly not-bad. Did no one at Smithsonian Books consider that people might try reading the thing?

PS: Some more storm clouds and we get heading back in at the Lighthouse.


And so this is about when we figured we should pack up before we had heavy rain smashing down on us and we might have to run.


We walked back past the Grand Traverse Lighthouse, which was closed for the day already; the park was still open.


Two of several ground sculptures made by Grand Traverse lighthouse-keepers, using the stones of the area.

Monday, September 17th, 2018
12:10 am
How could you dream that we were all made out of stone?

I would have sworn I wrote something besides comics posts on my mathematics blog this past week. Would I have been correct to do so?

Well, something I did write up is a little report. What's Going On In The Amazing Spider-Man? Who's Writing And Drawing Spider-Man? June - September 2018. There we go.

And now some play, and the end of play, at Lake Michigan, now:


At the Toy Harbor, bunny_hugger put down like two dollars for a tiny, pocket-sized miniature kite and here she tried it out!


The tiny kite really kind of worked, too, right up until it plummeted into the stones! But it flies surprisingly well for being such a little thing.


But it didn't fly that well, thus, the need to bring out the big kite.


Now, the parrot kite, that did well with the wind conditions.


Then I noticed the waves and the sun angle were such that we got this sharp bright horizon line.


And moments later a nice sharp black horizon line. Stepped the exposure way down to highlight the reflection on the waves, but it's still neat.


And now the horizon line's gone and doubled itself.


Wider view of the double horizon line. I love a good bit of refraction.


Oh yeah, also on the horizon: we thought this looked like it might be a little spot of trouble rolling in.

Trivia: Marshall Philippe Pétain requested his trial for treason after World War II. He was convicted and sentenced to death (a sentence never carried out). Source: Year Zero: A History of 1945, Ian Buruma.

Currently Reading: The Smithsonian Collection of Newspaper Comics, Editors Bill Blackbeard, Martin Williams.

Sunday, September 16th, 2018
12:10 am
No need to feel sad now

Friday. Second day of Pinburgh. The day which determines who goes on to playoffs. For the A through D divisions, this includes winning prize money. For the new E division, it's just a chance to win a medal. This is a change from last year. The D finals in 2017 set off controversy about whether the people in them, like me, were too good to truly play in the ``novice'' division. The sandbagging suspicion is fairly ridiculous. But the lowest division now having no cash payout pretty well settles the claim someone might stink up their first day to have an easier time winning something. The medals are nice, but you can just buy a nice medal that says anything you want. It's not even that expensive. It's not, like, new-door-key cheap, but it's still not that much.

MWS, who's in C Division with me, except that he earned his division, is on Set 58, Aeroguns, Aerogar. It has Aerosmith in it. He goes 5-7, his cumulative record dropping to 35-37. JTK also goes 5-7, but in D division; his record drops to 33-39. But he's on Set 50, Stoned Chicken, which includes the famous and weird Class of 1812. It's a comic horror theme and when you get multiball going, it plays through the refrain of the 1812 Overture. Then goes through it again, except this time, it's a chicken clucking the 1812 Overture. Why? Who knows. It's everybody's favorite. After the tournament ends, they turn the game's volume up to mega-earthquake levels so that everyone at ReplayFX gets to hear this and, honestly, never gets tired of it.

bunny_hugger is on Set 55, Things That Destroy Castles. The modern game is Medieval Madness, one of the most popular games of all time. It's extremely new-player-accessible; shoot the castle. Shoot it enough times and the castle 'explodes'. Repeat. If you find the castle shot, it's easy to win. If you're playing Pinburgh, you can do this all day, unless the table is set hard. The electromechanical is Williams's 1977 Argosy, universally named Agony because the table seems to drain way more than its layout suggests it should. The late-solid-state is Williams's 1989 Earthshaker, an earthquake-themed game that bunny_hugger has been warming to. The game's designed by Pat Lawlor and she's learning how to understand his style of game. The early-solid-state is GamePlan's 1985 Cyclopes, a monsters-and-awful-art-themed game which we know from MJS's pole barn. (Seriously, look at the anatomy of that woman over the cyclops's shoulder on the right.) bunny_hugger goes 5-7 for the round, but everyone in her group goes either 5-7 or 7-5. Her record rises to 28-44.

And me? I'm assigned to a three-player group on Set 66, Deep Space Homer. The name halfway makes sense. The modern game is Stern's 2003 Simpsons Pinball Party. The early-solid-state game is Williams's 1984 Space Shuttle, ``the game that saved pinball'' by selling about seven billion units when it came out. The theme evaporated for the other games. The electromechanical is Gottlieb's 1976 Volley, a tennis-themed game. The late-solid-state is a lovable and too-rarely-seen friend, Midway's 1990 Doctor Dude and his Excellent Ray. It's one of the few games in the 90s that I knew from playing on locations besides student unions. Pizza place near my parents' home had one.

Also evaporated: one of our opponents. I'm there on time, of course. So is A- L-. But the third guy just doesn't turn up. We get a bit worried as the ten-minute grace period ends. We go to get a tournament official, but slowly, giving a guy every chance we can to realize he's overslept and rush to the convention center. We think of how horrified we'd be if we were running late. But 10 am is the start time. It's not like the weird 6:15 start of the after-dinner round. And there's still nobody there by the time a tournament official reaches the tables, and he gets officially declared absent. All there is to do is print up a new, two-player score sheet. In a three-player group the raw scores --- the cumulative number of players you beat on the four games --- is multiplied by 1.5, so that the attainable high of eight wins matches the normal high of twelve. For us, the raw score --- potentially as high as four --- will be multiplied by three. It's dangerous stuff. I have a terror of another zero-win round.

But we have to play. First game, Space Shuttle. I decide going for the multiball is too dangerous, and shoot for spinners and bonus multipliers instead. Locking and getting multiball requires shooting a central drop target and it seems likely that a good solid hit would go in unpredictable directions; plus, I'm pretty sure your opponent could steal any balls you've left locked. I'm not a cutthroat player, but I'd rather not leave chances like that around. A- L- goes for multiball instead. I make the right call, scoring 381,730 to his 290,710. It could've gone the other way easily, but now I feel much easier: at worst, I'm getting credit for three wins this round.

Second game. Simpsons Pinball Party. I have an okay first ball. He has a great one, putting up about ten million points. That's about my average league score this game. I have to get serious. Simpsons has one obvious strategy: shoot the garage. This collects letters to spell out ``SIMPSONS'', which starts the D'Oh Frenzy, where every switch hit scores a flat 10,000 (or something) points. It lasts thirty seconds. A Frenzy is almost always the happiest mode in a game. It relieves you of needing to aim. Often modes will have a huge payoff for some shots, and nothing for others. Here, everything is as good as everything else. Of course it helps if you can aim, because a spinner or the pop bumpers will generate lots of points for your one shot. But the glorious thing is that in a Frenzy mode there's no wrong shot (apart from the one that drains). It's magnificent when you get it.

The other thing to do in Simpsons is start other modes. You can start a lot of timed-countdown things, such as Comic Book Guy's ``Hurry Up'' modes, giving you thirty seconds to reach some particular shot. These stack. If you're down to five seconds on D'Oh Frenzy, and start a Comic Book Guy Hurry Up, you now have 35 seconds and both modes going. There's a lot of modes, between Comic Book Guy, Otto, TV Episodes ... plus, a Couch Multiball and an Itchy And Scratchy Multiball. String them together and you can have a lot of scoring going.

Which was my second ball. I got the D'Oh Frenzy going, and then just kept on hitting things that extended the timer on it. And brought in multiballs. And the other multiball. All these things that carry score with them, and all going on, and on, and on. A- L- is amazed. Other groups are amazed too. When my ball finally ends, and I think it must have been ten minutes later, people clap. A friend comes over to pat my shoulder.

A- L- has a great second and third ball by any standards except that he's up against that score. He finishes at 21,382,220. I'm at 44,211,790. He was robbed. Anyway now I'm guaranteed six wins for this round, and can rest easy.

Volley, the electromechanical, is single-player. A- L- takes his privilege to go second, and learn what he can of the game from my play. Dropping a ball down one of the top lanes lights the same-colored drop targets for 5,000 points. I get the hang of this, more or less, and come away with 48,640. Not quite halfway to rolling the game, but pretty good. A- L- has two lousy balls, and then gets the hang of it. I hold my breath as he gets through the last ball. The bonus stops counting up at 37,130. I've got nine wins for the round.

Last game. Doctor Dude. The theme is building up an Excellent ray beam by shooting several component targets over and over. Multiball is started by this dangerous center-left ramp shot. I figure to skip that and just go for easy points, like the 1-2-3 target combination. Or shooting up the right orbit, which hits this target good for from 25 to 100 thousand points. I never quite feel in control of the game, but I do break a million points: 1,279,120. Still, A- L- could beat that as soon as he gets anything going. And he ... doesn't, really. He finishes at 702,640. I win our fourth game.

I won all four games. This will be counted as a perfect, 12-win, round.

I'm stunned. I can't quite believe it. A- L- is gracious, and congratulates me. I hug him, and apologize. I mean it, too. For me to have a 12-win round, he's suffered a 12-loss round. His day won't really recover; he'll finish with a 54-66 record, in a seven-way tie for 134th in the 167-player division. I tell him of how my first Pinburgh had a 12-loss round, and that in a full, four-person quartet. He's good-spirited about it. Later in the day, walking past with friends, he shakes me out of my self-absorbed cloud by saying, ``Heya, killer''.

And me? This wipes out the deficit I'd started the day with. It puts me in the six-way tie for 9th place in the division. If I can average .500 the rest of the day I won't just be in the playoffs again, I'll have a first-round bye. Even if I slack a little, I can make playoffs.

bunny_hugger had a perfect round at Pinburgh 2017. She insists on attaching an asterisk to that, on the grounds that she did that in a mere three-player group. I say that's nonsense; she had her perfect round against a real, serious, tough group. But now I have a perfect round that amounts to beating one person four times in a row? ... And that just doesn't feel right. I take to calling this a perfect round with double asterisks.

I mean, imagine there were a third and fourth player there. I would almost certainly have won Simpsons, and A- L- would almost certainly have gotten second. But Space Shuttle? Volley? Doctor Dude? I could accept that I'd have won one, maybe two of those, with the scores I had. But all of those? Nah. In a proper four-person round I'd probably have gotten eight or nine wins. And A- L- would have surely had no less than two, and likely four to six, everything else unchanged.

Controversy attaches to my ``perfect'' round. Not because of my play. In the ``Pinburgh 2018 Sob Stories'' thread on TiltForums we hear from our missing player. He says that his first day was such a trainwreck for himself and his partner that we ``voluntarily DQed ourselves for Friday''. And why would you voluntarily disqualify yourself from Pinburgh? His partner ``wound up in E division, which isn't really the place for someone with 5+ years tournament experience and past winner of Cincy league''. And there was family stuff needing attention. The reasons aren't received warmly.

I think the charitable reading is that his partner felt wrong playing as a ``novice'', and that he'd be sandbagging to play ``below his level'' so. He said that he had called a friend at the tournament's front desk to report they weren't attending, which --- done before check-in --- would have let them reshuffle the groups so everyone had three- and four-player groups. But they don't take telephoned reports that someone isn't coming, which avoids certain kinds of mischief. (After two missed rounds the players were dropped from the rest of the tournament.) And the wording as presented just set off a nice juicy little flame war, with a side where a moderator came in to try to clear things up but misunderstood exactly what was under discussion. Someone on the ``Pinburgh 2018 Sob Stories'' thread says how A- L- is a super nice guy who didn't deserve what happened to him. I agree: he got screwed.

Naturally I'm flattered to be the subject of heated debate at Pinburgh two years running now. If I were capable of self-esteem it would give me a fat head.

What can I possibly live up to this next year?

Trivia: The first record of Columba livia, the rock dove, in North America dates to 1606 on French ships landing at what is now Port Royal, Nova Scotia. Source: Superdove: How the Pigeon Took Manhattan ... And The World, Courtney Humphries.

Currently Reading: The Smithsonian Collection of Newspaper Comics, Editors Bill Blackbeard, Martin Williams.

PS: Stare even longer at Lake Michigan with me.


And then looking up a bit, so you can see the pebbles and the plants, with the Great Lake far beyond.


The same scene as before, except that a withered, ancient witch is poking her ghastly finger in from camera left.


Looking over my photo roll now, it seems I was really interested in the waters rolling in.

Saturday, September 15th, 2018
12:10 am
What more can I do?

So, lunchtime. I think the Thursday, the first day, we tried eating inside the convention hall, because they had a ramen place there. If not, we tried it Friday. We wouldn't try it again. We might be spoiled by our local hipster barcade having a ramen restaurant providing its food service. (Most days. Sundays, for reasons known to someone, they have a burger place working the kitchen instead.) But the ramen from the convention hall was ... all right. Kind of tepid. Not hot enough, in spice or in temperature, to be really good. Change of pace from eating vegetarian burgers or just lots of pretzels, at least. If they had hotter water it'd be good enough.

Round four. The after-dinner rounds start at 6:15. People often make the mistake of supposing it should start at 6:00, which seems reasonable and is a harmless mistake. Or 6:30, again reasonable but catastrophic. Nobody in our groups makes the mistake. It's easy to make, though. Last year one player who was a good bet to make A-Division finals came in late, and his standing never fully recovered. 6:15. That's the important hour.

bunny_hugger is on Set 25, Blackwater Multiballs. It's a set designed to raise her ire. The modern game is Stern's 2015 Game of Thrones, which has as its short-game multiball objective Blackwater Multiball. She has a basic handle on how to do that, if she can get the locks lit --- a hard shot, harder on tournament settings --- and shoot up the center. The electromechanical is Bally's 1976 Freedom, a bicentennial-themed game that's about drop targets and spinning targets, a comfortable stranger. The early solid-state is Gottlieb's 1982 Haunted House, the first game with three separate playfields and a game she loves, even if it doesn't necessarily love her. And the late solid-state game is Bally's 1988 Blackwater 100, so you see why this is a very cleverly named set. The rules of the game are obscure, but you start with a three-ball multiball and you see why this is an even more cleverly named set. bunny_hugger goes 5-7, including (I think) a good controlled Game of Thrones where she stuck to her objective and won it. Her record rises to 19-29.

And me? I'm on Set 40, Hotter Than A Convention Center On A Monday. It's got several quasi-friends. One is DAD, the father of the father-son team that's quietly taking over the eastside's tournaments. He doesn't seem to quite believe me that we're playing the same group of games. He also keeps wandering away, likely to check on his son. Also to consult with GRV, who's offering strategy. We start on the electromechanical, Gottlieb's 1977 Centigrade 37. I've played it in several venues, including the Silverball Museum. It's got a neat 70s-science-fiction women-in-sciencey-tubes theme. I take third place. Ah, but, I can make it up on the late-solid-state game, Gottlieb's 1988 Time Machine. I've played it some, at the VFW Ann Arbor Pinball Museum. bunny_hugger used to play it in her dorm but the ball got stuck every game, something she now wonders might have been a misunderstood ball lock making progress toward multiball. It's a Back To The Future ripoff theme. I do everything needed for multiball except getting multiball; it's good for second place. The early solid-state game is Williams's 1981 Jungle Lord, a game with playfield divided into upper and lower regions. The point of the game is to keep it in the upper playfield, something I learn after my first ball does not. I never figure out the trick, and get a last place. Well. The final game is the modern-era game, Stern's 2009 NBA. I have played this game once before, in 2017, in my third round, second day at Pinburgh that year. My perfect round. If there's any game I can take first in, it's this. There is not; I take third. I go 4-8 for the round, and my record droops to 24-24. But if I can go 6-6 this last round, I might yet make B Division; if I can get five wins, I can at least earn my guaranteed C Division standing.

MWS, on Set 19 --- One Cactus per Seashell, which bunny_hugger played two rounds earlier --- goes 5-7 and drops to 23-25, the first time all day he's been below .500. JTK is on Set 2, the extremely named Anansi Storytime, the Fairy Tale Audio Drama spiderstorytime.com. He has a catastrophic round, going 1-11. Had I known that at the time I'd have reminded him that at my first Pinburgh I went 0-12 one round. His record drops to 18-30.

Round five. bunny_hugger is put on Set 27, 60 Seconds On The Clock, which I had played two rounds earlier. I give her what intelligence I can. She goes 4-8, finishing the round --- and the first day --- at 23-37. She's placed in D, but because a player with as high a world ranking as she has isn't allowed in the novice E division. It's not a mercy; the highest D Division players have six more wins than she has, and making a net gain of that many on Friday will be hard.

I'm put in Set 42, One Cactus Per Dummy, which JTK --- stop me if you've heard this before --- had played two rounds earlier. It's a set with a couple of familiar games. We start with the early-solid-state game, Italian pinball maker Zaccharia's 1982 Pinball Champ. I've played it a little at the VFW. More in simulation, as the Zaccharia tables have an excellent simulator app. Also look at that backglass and try to not feel better about life. I come in last place. The modern game is Williams's 1998 Cactus Canyon, which again, a little VFW experience and more Pinball Arcade app simulated experience. I don't quite get my act together on the game, and the woman --- the first one I've played on Thursday, by the way --- after me has a great game. I get third place.

The electromechanical game is Williams's 1977 Liberty Bell. Most of the day I've been choosing to go second, because that's kind of my routine. But after several bad games in a row --- and a bad round before it --- I decide to break this up, and take my chance to choose to go fourth. I spend my time watching everybody else's play closely, with the laser-eyes that CST has noticed of my observation. It pays off: I beat everybody's score by more than fifty percent. Finally a first-place finish again.

The last game of the set, and for me of the first day, is Williams's 1990 Funhouse. On the one hand: hooray, Funhouse! My favorite game! On the other hand: also everybody else in pinball's favorite game! It's going to be set impossibly hard. I notice to start out that the mirror award is for Quick Multiball; this is great. A soft plunge of the ball, and it'll be set up to collect a nice easy two-ball multiball offering a chance for cheap millions. All of this works well except for the cheap millions; I never get near collecting any of them. Nor to getting to the ordinary, three-ball Midnight Multiball. But nobody else does, either; we put up a bunch of terrible scores. The highest of any of them is five million. The lowest of them is 2.6 million. It's mine. And just another 200,000 would have at least given me a third-place finish.

I had joked after my 11-1 first round that I had peaked for the tournament. But it's been so. Since then I haven't done better than 6-6 for a round. My fifth round I went 4-8, dropping my record to 28-32. I'm below .500 for the first time. I'm put into C Division. I haven't earned it. I was restricted into C, on the grounds of finishing in the top four in the D Division in 2017. By merit alone I belong in D.

I'm not as badly off, relatively, as bunny_hugger is. The lowest players who earned their way into C --- including pinball podcaster Nate Shivers, by the way, to drop a name you will not recognize --- went 29-31. And the top of C Division is only 32-28. It's still a net gain of at least three wins on the top of the division, though, to make playoffs. And against people who've been consistently better than me.

People like MWS. On set 59, You'll, Uhh... Find a Way (were you previously aware there's a Jurassic Park pinball?) he's gone 7-5, bringing himself back up to 30-30. He's in C Division, and fairly earned. JTK, on set 21, Steve Ritchie Is Kool, nearly wipes out his terrible round four. He goes 10-2, bringing himself up to 28-32. My record, but since he's not division-restricted he's placed into D.

It's late. We're tired. We get back to the hotel before its enclosed 7-Eleven closes, which it does at 11. (It opens at 6 am, although on weekends it waits until 7 am, just like they were taking themselves seriously.) It's a lot of time with me insisting that no, bunny_hugger is not a bad player and people don't think she is. After her disappointing finish in the Baby Food Festival it's hard convincing her, and I fail to do so.

Before we go to bed they've posted our scheduled games for the first round the next day. bunny_hugger's is all games she's played before, and knows tolerably well. One of them she's nicknamed Agony. Everyone else who plays it has nicknamed it that, too. Another is Medieval Madness, which, like Funhouse, everybody who plays pinball knows and loves. It's going to be set on impossibly difficult levels. And me? I know three of the games I'm supposed to be playing. The one I don't is the electromechanical. I insist there's reasons for us both to hope. We'll know in ten hours.

Trivia: The English East India Company's annual imports reached £ 800,000 in 1684. Following, among other things, the Moghul War (1686 - 89) they fell to £ 80,000 in 1691. Source: The Honourable Company: A History of the English East India Company, John Keay.

Currently Reading: The Smithsonian Collection of Newspaper Comics, Editors Bill Blackbeard, Martin Williams.

PS: Leelanau State Park, and the section of it right near the waterline.


Panoramic view of the edge of the shoreline, to the little spot where we set up camp, to the flora behind.


A look at the rocky beach underneath the region where waves crashed up.


And then a closer look from the ground at the water coming in.

Friday, September 14th, 2018
12:10 am
How could you dream that we were all made out of stone?

How's my humor blog looking? About like this:

So now back to our last full day up in Omena and the vicinity last year.


Back at our rental home: the big side garden and the steps up to the patio where bunny_hugger's parents stayed so much, given her mother's agonizing back pain.


Columbo taking another chance to patrol the grounds.


Keeping an eye on that volleyball just in case it needs to answer some questions.


Columbo keeping a respectable interest in me and showing off that big ol' ear.


If you look closely, you can see some bunny tongue.


Columbo wanting the volleyball to feel nice and secure before he turns to ask it a few key questions.


And then bunny_hugger and I went to Leelanau State Park, around the Grand Traverse Lighthouse, to have a little time on the beach and on the lakeside in the evening light.


We stopped at a not particularly sandy part of the shoreline (there is a sandy region, although this part of the state has a lot of rocky beaches). Anyway, here's the kinds of water and plantlife you get at the beach.


So yeah, I took a bunch of pictures of plants with Lake Michigan in the background. I like it.

Trivia: In 1847 there were about 335,000 workers employed in Paris. In 1848 there were about 147,000. Source: 1848: The Revolutionary Tide in Europe, Peter N Stearns.

Currently Reading: The Smithsonian Collection of Newspaper Comics, Editors Bill Blackbeard, Martin Williams.

PS: Reading the Comics, September 7, 2018: The Playful Mathematics Blog Carnival Is Coming Edition so here's a few more comic strips, just to wrap things up.

Thursday, September 13th, 2018
12:10 am
What more can I say now?

First day, first round of Pinburgh 2018. MWS and two strangers in my group. First game: Old Stern's 1980 Ali. It's the early-solid-state game. Themed to the draft resistor, hero, and boxer. Knowing nothing else of the game, I shoot for drop targets, and have a great game. MWS is slow to figure a strategy, but he finally gets one on the last ball. He comes within a hair of beating me but doesn't, and the other two are nowhere to be seen. MWS comes back on Modern Stern's Mustang. It lets you build from a three up to a six-ball multiball by completing banks of drop targets that spell out G-E-A-R-S. I go for the short game, figuring, it's Pinburgh; there is no long game. MWS goes for the long game, getting a six-ball multiball and blows over a hundred million points past my second-place score. The electromechanical is Williams's 1974 Triple Action. MWS and I have played it before, at tournaments in Flint. And I just have the groove for the movie-themed game's bonus-advance mechanism. I come just short of rolling it. The two strangers come close to my score, but fall short too. The late-solid-state game is Data East's 1988 Torpedo Alley, a naval-warfare-themed game. Between the advice on PinTips and the instruction card I have a good handle on what to do, and have a smashing game, one that nearly doubles everyone else's scores combined.

My first round and I have 11 wins, 1 loss. MWS apologizes for cheating me of my second-ever perfect round. Well, it's not like he beat me on a close game. MWS is 6-6, respectably enough. The two people we didn't know, and whom we joked suspected us of collusion went 3-9 and 4-8. I figure I've already peaked for the whole of Pinburgh. I am part of the 22-way tie for 13th place at the whole of Pinburgh, sharing a space with names like Steve Bowden and Robert Gagno, people that folks outside obsessive competitive pinball still wouldn't recognize. But seriously, like, they've been in ESPN Magazine and stuff. ... And I was just one game of Mustang away from being the thirteenth person with a perfect first round. Ah well.

JTK, meanwhile, playing the same tables bunny_hugger was on, but in a different foursome (three groups play on each set of four games) goes 6-6.

Round two. bunny_hugger is on Set 19, One Cactus Per Seashell. It includes Demolition Man, of course, a game she knows well and a movie she's never seen. Also Cactus Jack's, a danged goofy mid-90s Data East game I've turned her on to. Barracora, a body-horror-themed early solid state. Safari, featuring a tiger that I think the younglings would say looks ``thirsty''. She comes through all right, going 7-5, and raising her score to 11-13, respectably near .500.

I'm on Set 67, Aaaahhhh, Freak Out!. Its centerpiece is the electromechanical Freak Out, a custom-made reskin of Williams's 1968 Doozie. The reskinning obscures the rules for the targets and there's no instruction card, but I make do and get second place. The late-solid-state is Williams's 1990 Riverboat Gambler, which I know nothing about. But I do pretty well falling back on completing sets of targets to complete games. The third player squeaks past me, though. And the fourth player starts a multiball that just does not end, and crushes all our scores. I have a third-place finish. The early-solid-state is Old Stern's 1979 Dracula. I feel good about this one. Lots of standing targets, a couple drop targets in what look like nice easy places. I get a last-place finish. The modern game is Williams's 1994 Flintstones, also based on the movie. I know the rules well. I know the quick-dirty-point-grabs. I know where the major points are. I get none of them. My round is three wins, nine losses. I drop to 14-10, which is much closer to my true aptitude.

MWS goes 9-3 on his bank, bringing him to 15-9. JTK goes 5-7, bringing him to 11-13 with bunny_hugger.

Round three. The last one before lunch. bunny_hugger is on Set 11, Trash Pandas Doodling. Yes, the modern game is Stern's 2017 Grauniads of the Galaxy. The electromechanical is Williams's 1970 Dipsy Doodle, another version of slightly ironic favorite Doodle Bug. The late-solid-state is Williams's 1990 Diner, which she's gotten some time on at Chesterfield Pinball League at least. The early solid state is Williams's 1979 Flash, a sea-gods theme. bunny_hugger doesn't do the SRH correctly and goes 3-9, dropping her to an inconsolable 14-22.

And me? I'm in Set 27, 60 Seconds On The Clock. It's not a sports-themed set. The electromechanical, where we start, is Gottleib's 1969 Target Pool. It's one of eight jillion pool-themed games. It's single-player (nearly all the electromechanicals are). I have to go first, pathfinding for everyone else. GMG takes first place. Another of the players beats me on it too. Bally's 1990 Game Show is the late-solid-state game. The theme is almost tailor-made for me. I love the game but rarely get to play it. There's two things to do in it. One is to shoot the variety of targets to collect each of the game-show prizes, then launch a two-ball multiball. The other is to shoot the center ramp a hundred kerspillion times. Everyone does a bit of this. I do a lot of it, including getting the two-ball multiball going, and put up my personal-best game --- incredibly --- on a Pinburgh machine in tournament settings. 7.8 million. GMG, though, had an even better one, finishing at 8.3 million.

The early-solid-state is Gottleib's 1979 Count-Down. The gaming theme has drifted but at least we still have the memory of clocks in it. I've played it some. I'm more familiar with the art; a backglass of it is in Grand Rapids hipster bar Stella's, across the street from where the pinball league meets. The backglass, by Gordon Morrison, features an astronaut smiling at a space-woman outside the window of his spacecraft. It's an example of bunny_hugger's second-favorite backglass artist's ``Smiling Space People'' theme. I do very well focusing all my attention on one bank of drop targets, building them up to high value and staying there. The other players don't realize that's the game, at least not until the last ball when GMG beats my score by fifty percent.

The modern-era game is our last game. It's Williams's 1998 Monster Bash, and any theme has been wholly lost by now. I know the game well, but so does everybody. Repeat any shot to start a monster. The center shot starts a two-ball multiball; the Frankenstein shot starts a three-ball multiball. Starting all six monsters starts a four-ball multiball. After two catastrophic balls I reduce my strategy to just bashing Frankenstein and starting that multiball. I finish at 4.2 million. It's way below my average, but Pinburgh modern-era games are set tough. Someone else gets out with only 2.1 million, and the next-higher player gets 4.7 million. ... And GMG comes in at 32.6 million, for another first-place finish.

GMG, who's on his way to the A Division, and to finishing in a tie for 50th for the whole tournament, is one of nine players this round to have a perfect game.

Me, I had a 6-6 finish. Would rather have done better, but I figure any round I avoid finishing below .500 is a triumph. My record so far is 20 wins, 16 losses.

MWS follows up a 9-3 round with a 3-9 round, bringing him to a balanced 18-18. JTK, on Set 42, One Cactus Per Dummy --- not One Cactus Per Seashell; this one has the comic-western-themed Cactus Canyon rather than the comic-western-bar-themed Cactus Jack's in it --- goes 6-6, settling in at 17-19 overall.

Time for lunch.

Trivia: The expanse of the Louisiana Purchase was, for a time, officially on the French Revolutionary Calendar. Source: Marking Time: The Epic Quest to Invent the Perfect Calendar, Duncan Steel. (Steel specifically says it was on this for ``about three weeks'' and I just don't see how that could be. Three years seems more likely, as France nominally held sovereignty from late 1800 to late 1803, although I guess the administration was formally French from October 1802? Anyway, something's not adding up and I wonder if Steel didn't get his notes mixed up with the Paris Commune's use of the French Revolutionary Calendar, which did last for about three weeks.)

Currently Reading: Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI, David Grann.

PS: more of what we visited Saturday near Omena.


The Herb Shop! bunny_hugger stops in for some close pictures of interesting flowers before we see if they have any lavender cookies.


Real actual frog living in the small pond outside the herb shop.


A bit more context for the frog and his cozy little hangout here.

Wednesday, September 12th, 2018
12:10 am
But you know you can't win

Thursday. First day of Pinburgh. We meet up with MWS who's actually figured how to get from our hotel (the Doubletree) to the David L Lawrence Convention Center. Yes, these are Anthrocon locations. There wasn't obvious evidence of the furries around, just a few weeks after, but I kept looking. It's a different hotel from what we'd stayed at before, and the Pittsburgh streets around there are a maze we haven't figured out yet, which is one reason bunny_hugger and I don't pop back to our room for a break. By Saturday I feel like I know the area well enough to navigate back, at least.

First order of business: the Michigan Pinball Group Photo. We're better at getting out information regarding the time and location for people to be, and we still don't manage to get everyone together. Also hanging out there, while not competing in Pinburgh: GRV. We knew he'd be there because he just manifests any time an event this big happens. Could hear his laugh from far away. I'll see him a couple times through the event, often giving rules advice. He knows every rule to every pinball game ever, somehow, and has reached that level of pinball expertise that no table is ever in remotely playable condition.

Second order of business: working out this rumor that there's more space for ReplayFX/Pinburgh this year. It takes a while to be sure but, yes, there's more floor space. The convention and tournament have what sure looks like this whole wing of the convention center, compared to last year when the last block was partitioned off. Good for convention growth. Good for providing a little more space between competitor and non-competitor areas and reducing the chance for casual people to accidentally mess up tournament games. Bad for the area's Wi-Fi; the new section seems to be one that the public Wi-Fi doesn't reach. bunny_hugger and I, having been frustrated with the public Wi-Fi before, have our own Mi-Fi device. But only one of us can hold it at a time, so if we're playing too far apart, as we often are, one of us has to just hold our thoughts.

Third order of business: the greetings! And welcome to Pinburgh! And directions! I assume. I can't make out anything anyone on-stage says, but it all looks pretty positive. There's 840 people playing this year, a modest increase from last year, and we're ready to go. The first day is five rounds of four games each. Each round, roughly, is one modern-era game (roughly, 1991 to the present day), one late-solid-state game (roughly, 1985 to 1991), one early-solid-state game (about 1977 to 1985), and one electromechanical (about 1960 to 1977; older games are still electromechanical, just rarer and maybe not at the tournament).

While this is run by the Professional and Amateur Pinball Association, they don't use what's called PAPA-style scoring, where the first place finisher gets four points. Instead, you get a linear score based on how many people you beat. In a normal, four-person group, the person coming in first place on a game gets three points; they beat three people. Second place gets two points, third place one, and fourth place gets to claim they're sandbagging their way into the novice division. In a three-person group, your raw score's counted the same way, but to make your score comparable to the four-player groups, the raw score gets multiplied by 1.5. The effect is, if you get into a three-player group, first place still gets 3 points, and last place 0 points. But second place gets 1.5 points. So some people will have fractional point totals. A two-person group is obviously impossible so there's no sense wondering what they'd do for that.

The first day is playing for division. Players get sorted into what are now five groups, from the top players in A through to the new ``novice'' E Division. I'm seeded (arbitrarily) 285th. And also restricted. Last year in the then-novice division of D, I finished in the top four (the top two, in fact). So I'm not allowed to finish in anything lower than the C Division however bad I play this first day. There's that pressure off. But it does mean that if I play lousy, I'll be seeded way at the bottom of C Division on Friday, and have that much of a harder time making playoffs. I don't expect to make playoffs, but it would be incredibly sweet to make playoffs two years in a row.

bunny_hugger's seeded, again arbitrarily, 775th. I have no idea where these numbers come from. We didn't finish that far apart last year, and we're not that far apart in the world rankings either. She's restricted to D or above, based on her world rankings. MWS is seeded 241st. He's restricted to C or above, I believe because of his world ranking.

10 am! The first round. bunny_hugger is in set 47, Up Up Down Down Left Right Left Right B A Stars. They've replaced the constellation names for groups of games. Still, it's a bank with a couple of friends in it: Cirqus Voltaire, Doodle Bug, World Cup Soccer, and Stars. All but Doodle Bug she's played a lot. And Doodle Bug is everyone's favorite novelty act after last year; it's got a switch that triggers an inset ball that bounces back and forth and is just funny. It also has flippers you can't trap the ball on, something that she forgets at least once and loses a ball for. She gets 4 wins, 8 losses in the round.

Me? I'm on Set 10, The Greatest, And Also Ali. There's two or maybe three friends there. Mustang, which I know pretty well. My first friend. Triple Action, which I've at least played before. Call it my maybe-friend. TX-Sector, unknown to me. Ali, which I've seen the playfield for but never played. Also in the group with me: MWS. Yes, 839 other people at the tournament, and I'm put in with the only person besides bunny_hugger that I play pinball with eight times a month. Also, he's better than me.

Trivia: In 1933 Hershey began making a chocolate bar called Mild and Mellow. In 1934 they added the Not-So-Sweet bar. Source: Hershey: Milton S Hershey's Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams, Michael D'Antonio. (This was part of Hershey's recovery from the depression, which it had managed by 1936.)

Currently Reading: Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI, David Grann.

PS: Reading the Comics, September 5, 2018: Single Name Edition, more comic strips.

PPS: More rabbit, last year. Plus something else.


Columbo letting you know that you have his full attention, although not quite enough attention for him to be able to quite see you.


Now he's interested in you, or maybe in any other thing that's around.


Vintage car from outside the Fischer's Happy Hour Tavern. It's got a pretty good menu and brings a tray of all the reasonably imaginable fixings to your table when you order a burger (vegetarian patty an option). It makes me wonder so what do they do with all the other onion slices that've been on someone's fixing tray but weren't used? DON'T TELL ME.

Tuesday, September 11th, 2018
12:10 am
You'll try and you'll try again

We had big ambitions for Pinburgh this year. Winning it, of course. But also for doing stuff around it. It made good sense to carpool with MWS, who's in Flint and was also going. Also with JTV, from Grand Rapids, who also works for a hotel chain and used his employee discount to get us low-cost rooms. Besides that, both are amusement park fans. We had some great plans. Maybe go to Camden Park, in West Virginia, before the tournament; none of us have ever been and they have a 1920s-vintage roller coaster. Conneaut Lake Park --- which has fascinated JTV since we shared the good word of it --- and Waldameer afterwards. Maybe also Cedar Point, which neither had been to in years.

All these plans evaporated the weeks leading up to Pinburgh. We realized Conneaut Lake Park was only open Thursdays through Sundays. Pinburgh ran Thursday through Sunday. MWS's roommates, who would need to watch his dogs, were unavailable, one because he moved to another town, one for medical reasons. JTV had a summer course, the final of which was the day before Pinburgh. And then we had Penelope's illness and surgery and the decision to have her operated on and kennelled at the vet's if she survived. We all pared down days, wondering at how it was that we all had reasons to cut the side trips from Pinburgh.

And maybe cut it altogether. MWS found a vet who would kennel his dogs, but they needed shots. And one of the dogs had diarrhea; the vet wouldn't give her shots until that was treated. The diarrhea was diagnosed Saturday. Treatment for that was a five-day course. We were supposed to leave Wednesday. With pleading the vet was willing to give shots if the dog seemed to be mostly recovered Wednesday morning, so the night before we left, we were still not perfectly sure we'd be carpooling with MWS. And JTK would need to take an exam early, with the professor's forbearance. The professor had agreed to this, but it was still unclear just when he'd be able to take the exam. And, as we had hotel rooms through his employee existence, we couldn't go until he could go.

The dog's health was good enough, and was boarded. Penelope died. Sunshine we brought to bunny_hugger's parents. JTK found his professor and took the exam early, although an hour later than he would have had he known where the faculty lounge actually was, or were the lounge signed adequately. He drove to our house, where we transferred stuff from his car to ours. Then we drove to MWS's house and transferred everything to his, largest of the bunch, car.

And then to driving. Pre-convention check-in for Pinburgh closed at 11 pm. If we didn't make it, we'd have to get up earlier Thursday morning to check in. We'd rather sleep in later Thursday. But we had basically just enough time, according to MWS's satellite navigator, if we didn't have to make any long rest-area stops and if we didn't hit any dense traffic clusters along the way. We kept hitting dense traffic clusters, since most of the Ohio Turnpike is under re-construction still. And yet somehow the projected time of arrival kept hoving around 11 pm, like we might just make it even yet. We did our best to limit rest-area stops, of course. And even shaved moments of time off the pay routes as JTK had an E-Zpass we could use. (Although for some reason we can't understand we still had to take a ticket on entering the Ohio Turnpike at Maumee.) But it was still so close, and stayed so close. The last hour we all really could have used a bathroom break, but figured to hold it in, in the hopes of getting an extra half-hour of sleep in the morning.

And this turned out to be fine! We got into Pittsburgh --- with again the sweeping beauty of the downtown presenting itself to us at night --- and found the bar where Pinburgh had set up early check-in. We had about ten minutes before the registration officially closed, and there were even people who came in after us.

JTK had arranged for a couple of hotel rooms. One would be for me and bunny_hugger. One would be for him, MWS, MSS, RLM, and ADM. This might sound a bit much, but some rooms could be quite large. The one bunny_hugger and I went to, after taking one of the room cards at random. The other was tiny. Our two parties swapped. (MWS snores, we understand, with earthquake-like intensity and while I can apparently sleep through everything, bunny_hugger can't. JTK I don't remember the snoring data on.) Anyway, they got the bigger room and got an extra cot sent up. Also MSS requested a refrigerator and a microwave and who all even knows what else; it wa a pile of stuff. But he had stuff. Last year the joke was about how MWS brought in everything one could possibly need for a weeklong vacation or maybe to set up a base camp on any of the seven continents. This year, MSS bought enough food that come Sunday night he was asking if anybody knew someone who needed extra loaves of bread. We were still eating that a month later.

We got to bed at a reasonable hour.

Trivia: From 1914 to 1917 the population of Petrograd rose by about one-third, mostly from war industry expansion. Source: The First World War, Hew Strachan.

Currently Reading: Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI, David Grann.

PS: Saturday in our trip up north last year; more bunny pictures.


Columbo decided that he quite liked being inside bushes and could only be coaxed out with effort.


Pettings help. Here bunny_hugger's father strokes a big grey bun's back.


Columbo would take a certain interest in my jabbing a camera in his face, yes.

Monday, September 10th, 2018
12:10 am
How could you know that I lived in a desperate world?

Oh, I missed announcing one of the week's mathematics essays around here. You didn't miss it if you put that blog on your Reader page. Nor if you have my stuff on your RSS reader. But for all of you who don't, here's the past week's blog-writing:

And to the story strips! What's Going On In Judge Parker? Who's Now Dead In Judge Parker? June - September 2018 plot recap here.

And here's a little more of Traverse City.


Football scoreboard of dubious plausibility located within the Cherry Republic store in Traverse City. I mean, 86 points in under five minutes of play? Exactly how many turnovers are the Bananas allowing?


Baseball scoreboard within the Cherry Republic store in Traverse City, this with a score that's less dubious but that does invite the question: why did the home team Cherries go up to bat that last inning?


The lovely State Theatre with its classic old marquis and promise of the Traverse City Film Festival, which was a copule weeks after our visit.


And a quick stop inside Toy Harbor to enjoy some of their dragons. Here an adorable flower-tongued dragon.


And here's some dragon knights. We didn't buy any, for some reason.


Giant T-Rex, you say? This is tempting. Also I have to imagine the puppet theater could be made wider although I can't tell how from the picture.

Trivia: The ``turtle'' of the name for Manhattan's Turtle Bay neighborhood --- the vicinity of the United Nations building --- is a corruption of the Dutch ``deutel'', meaning dowel, which the now-filled-in bay loosely resembled. Source: The Island at the Centre of the World: The Untold Story of the Founding of New York, Russell Shorto.

Currently Reading: The Bicentennial History of Ingham County, Michigan, Ford Stevens Ceasar.

Sunday, September 9th, 2018
12:10 am
Under the sign of the triple cross, hey!

So the finals, as I saw them. I was in a group with JIM, who I knew but underrated, KAH from Edmonton whom I didn't know, and PCM from Indiana I think and again didn't know. We start on Dirty Harry, and find I do still have the rhythm for that Magna Force-to-Side Ramp-to-Headquarters-to-Magna Force shot. I score 431 million and feel pretty good about my chances; KAH sneaks out a 504 million point game, and I get second. Next: Iron Maiden. I'd said I was starting to get the hang of this game, and yeah: I put up 171 million. Not my best score on any instance of the game to that point. But close enough. I have a first-place finish and, with that, I'm already assured of advancing to semifinals. So is KAH. The only point of the third game is for JIM and PCH to learn their finishing positions (16th and 11th, respectively). But I don't know that, and pick 4 Square, wrecking bunny_hugger's plans. This is an electromechanical with wonderful simple rules. We have to take it one player at a time; it only has the one scoring reel. JIM puts up 1,393. PCH a really solid 3,231. I come in and toss off 5,128 in a game that feels like it's never going to end; this is more than halfway to rolling it. KAH closes us out with 2,609. I have the morale boost of going in with two first-place and a second-place win in the quarterfinals.

For the second round I'm in a more familiar group. One where I know all the players, pretty well. The drawback: it's AJH, PH, and MWS. They're all better than me. I can beat any of them one-on-one, yes. But in a three-game format? My real hope is that they split the first-place finishes and I can sneak through the round in second. It's a strategy that often works --- the PAPA-style scoring system, where a first place finish earns four points, second place two, third place one, and last place zero, helps this through --- but it depends on them cooperating.

First game. AJH's pick. Iron Maiden. No surprise; like RLM, he's got the combination of accurate shooting and deep rules knowledge that make this suitable. But I have a pretty solid game myself, putting up 117 million. MWS, going first, has some bad luck and never quite gets control; he spins out at 46 million points. Could easily have been me. AJH loses his game momentum when the ball rockets down the drain; it catches everyone by surprise. Also a surprise: he throws his ball cap at the floor hard enough it makes a snapping noise and slides across the room. Everyone's shocked by it, AJH included. He says he'd meant to just slap his hat on his leg, and lost his grip. It's good for me, though: he finishes at 102 million. PH, at 122 million, takes first place. But I've got the second-place I needed and, really, wanted.

Second game, PH's pick. Congo. Much like Dirty Harry, if you can get a good rhythm going you can keep going all day and score a billion points. Literally; the game is a high-scoring one, and a decent game is at least 250 million points. For example, PH does exactly this. I very nearly have this rhythm and get 612 million. MWS pulls in 260 million. AJH puts together 831 million, much of it on the last ball, dashing my hopes that I might secure myself with another second-place finish. PH, with two first-place wins, is through to the next round whatever happens. MWS is doomed unless he can get a first-place finish. AJH and I, both with a second- and a third-place finish, are tied. Whichever of us places higher will go to finals, unless MWS gets a first-place and PH a second-place on the last game.

MWS picks 4 Square. Given the rough time he's had this round, it's the way to go. Electromechanicals flatten out how much advantage a more skilled player has over the less-skilled. On this game our group is nearly enough a coin toss. AJH goes first, scoring 2,666. Nice, solid game. Could easily be a winner. I go second. I have the game of my life. The goal of 4 Square is to hit quartets of standing targets numbered 1 through 4. Each of these lights other targets, like bumpers and lanes, for ten times their normal point value. And I just keep the ball alive, and keep sending it up to already-lit bumpers and lanes. The game grows ever-more illuminated under me, and my game still doesn't end. I finish at 7,683, the second-highest score anyone's put up on the machine all weekend. I have crushed MWS under an anvil, then run over him with a steam roller, and then dropped a cruise ship on the steam roller.

He tries to rally, but nothing doing; he only gets 715 points and I think he might even have tilted, ending his game early. (Many electromechanicals end the game after a tilt.) He goes to lick his wounds while PH plays a ball that can't affect anything at all: he and I are through to the finals. He puts up 2,899.

Finals. Oh yeah wait, I'm in finals in the main tournament. I feel like I'm playing way above my skill level. I've managed top-four in the Baby Food Festival Classics tournament before. But the Main tournament --- this is by far my best finish. Anything I do will be a bonus.

I keep telling myself that after the first game, Knockout. Apart from one game the day before, and one terrible game in Classics finals, I haven't touched the game, other than for my stupid mistake resetting the game on MSS. I'm not just last place; I'm so far back in last place that if my score were doubled ... well, all right, I'd be in third place. But not by much. CST takes first place, and KAH is barely behind him.

Second game. PH's pick. Iron Maiden once more. One bit of hot gossip all weekend has been that the game has not just a skill shot, but a super skill shot, made by plunging the ball just enough that you land it on the left flipper, and then shoot up the center ramp. OK. But also that there's a super secret skill shot, made by plunging just hard enough your ball goes out the left drain, for twenty million points (and returning your ball to play). I had managed this once during the weekend, wild luck in, I think the quarter-finals round. CST had mentioned wondering if the version of the game code with the super secret skill shot had been installed on this particular game, and I told him it was. He got the super secret skill shot, playing this round.

He doesn't have a runaway game. He has a game that, up to that weekend, would have me intimidated, scoring 149 million. But I have a pretty good game myself and am frustrated that I top out at 137 million. PH has a solid run too, but his last ball ends at 129 million and I feel like I just might have a chance at taking a top-three position. KAH has some bad luck and gets only fifty million points. My recollection is he has a particularly infuriating bit of bad pinball luck, when he has the two balls in his multiball crash into each other, neutralizing their momentum, just as they're above the gap between the flippers.

With two first-place finishes, CST has won the tournament. PH, with two third-place finishes, and KAH, with a second- and a last-place finish, and me, with a last- and a second-place finish, are tied. Our order of finish on the last game will be the second through fourth place in the tournament.

The game choice: Dirty Harry. I haven't had an outright bad game on it all day. I feel great. I feel confident. I feel --- wait, where did my first ball go? None of us has a really good first ball. CST has the least-bad one, but it's still a shaky start. All right. Second ball, CST gets his game together and gets to several hundred million. No matter; the rest of us are playing each other. My second ball. I remind myself to relax. I focus on the flippers. I know when to flip to get the Magnum Force shot. To get the side ramp. To get the Headquarters shot. I just have to --- argh. And drain almost right away. The astounding thing is that KAH and PH are racing me to the bottom.

Last ball. CST continues his cool mastery of the tournament and finishes with 537 million. I step up and remind myself, I've done that. To get about 400 million in one ball is hard, but it's doable. I've done it before on this very table. I would do it again on this table four weeks later. All I have to do is not lose my head. The ball starts (as they all do) with my getting to pick a Skill Shot award. I can get a sure bonus multiplier of 2x. Or I can light the Mangum Force shot on the side ramp. Or I can try to load the gun, a shot that's worth a lot of points but that I never make. I've been going for the side ramp shot all day, because I always make it. But I think, would the bonus multiplier be the better shot? I need every point I can get; why turn down, in this case, at minimum an extra ten million points if I don't tilt?

But I disregard my complete failure to make the side ramp this game, and go with the Magnum Force shot, aiming for the side ramp. I miss it. And I brick it, my ball draining and my game ending at a weak and very vulnerable 120 million. I have no hope of PH not catching up; he's not just great, but he knows this table well. KAH, well, I might beat him yet. He's been having as bad a game as I have, and he's not from around here.

He picks the bonus multiplier for his skill award, and he doesn't drain right away. But near enough. When the bonus counts up, he has 129 million.

Yes, I know. I kick myself for not picking the bonus multiplier myself. If I just literally had ten million more points --- ah, but, I did. I thought this was so, and verify it later. Making the Magnum Force shot awards you 10 million points. You get that award, too, if you pick the Magnum Force award on your skill shot. So had I picked the 2x bonus award, yes, I'd have gotten about ten million more in my bonus, but I wouldn't have gotten ten million just for shooting the ball at all. Still it's hard not to convince myself I made a terrible mistake, and I don't actually get to verify that I did not until I get some time to test out Dirty Harry, next Fremont event.

Anyway, I'm resigned to a fourth-place finish. PH is in fourth place, yes. But he's too good a player, and too good at composing himself, to not beat 129 million. He's got a good shot at beating AJH's 537 million. He ... lowers his head into his hands, as the ball just suddenly isn't there anymore and his game ends at 98 million.

CST wins the tournament. KAH has second place. And me ... I've got third place. With a medal and everything.

It's my most valuable, points-wise, finish in any event this year. Probably the most valuable one I could have through to the end of 2018. It's 15.97 points towards the state and worldwide rankings, leaping me six or so places up in the state standings. Maybe a hundred in the world standings. It's a fantastic finish to have going in to Pinburgh, the biggest tournament of the year.

And for all that, I still torture myself with thoughts about how if I'd made one side ramp shot, I'd have second place and another four points in the rankings. (Which, based on how the state rankings look right now, might at best and if just the right things happen, move me up one further spot. Maybe.)

The pinball tournament starts breaking up, and cleaning up, and all that. I find MWS and we go next door to the Moose Lodge, to the Blind Squirrel Tavern. We put in games for the next round of the Blind Squirrel League play; this would be the finals that I missed two weekends ago to be at my aunt's wake. And we find bunny_hugger, who keeps apologizing for missing the finals when she was out getting fair foods.

It's been a long day, and it's two hours driving back for us, and an hour after that for MWS. We decide to go home, a plan foiled when it turns out my car's battery is dead. bunny_hugger and MWS push the car (and I steer) to a free spot where my hood will be available, so that we can get a jump from AAA or somebody. MWS realizes, oh yeah, he could just ask any of the very many people wandering around if they could jump our car and it happens the first person he asks was parked next to where we've rolled our car. And yes, I have jumper cables; after a similar accidental battery drain a few months back we got cables for both our cars. I have three false starts finding where I put them. They're in back of the driver's seat in my car, in a heap of stuff that seems like I should be able to clean out, but every piece of which seems essential. (Jumper cables, first-aid kit, reflectorized orange vest, jacket, bottle of water, roll of paper towels ... it seems like clutter, but can you point to any that shouldn't be in your car? And really, shouldn't I also have some cold-resistant, indestructible snack in there, and maybe a blanket?)

But I get through the false starts, and we get on our way, and have no trouble getting home. Apart from my incessant giggling at how ridiculous it was that I should have finished in third place. How could something like that even happen?

The next week we figure to be truly busy.

Trivia: In 1858 the governments of France, Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands, Piedmont, Russia, Sweden, Tuscany, and Turkey paid Samuel Morse a cumulative 400,000 French francs (about US$80,000) for rights to use the telegraph; each country put up a share based on the number of Morse telegraphs in use. Source: The Victorian Internet: The Remarkable Story of the Telegraph and the 19th Century's Online Pioneers, Tom Standage.

Currently Reading: The Bicentennial History of Ingham County, Michigan, Ford Stevens Ceasar.

More of Traverse City, the city.


Historical site Novotny's Saloon, built in 1886 and for decades a cornerstone of the social life of Traverse City, as a bar and as a social club and as a grocery and as a dance hall, until 1978 when the building was destroyed by fire. This, says the sign, is a ``near replica'' built within a couple weeks.


Lay Park, commemorating Albert Tracy Lay, the other founder of Perry Hannah. (That's what you were waiting for.) His park seems much larger than Hannah's, just a couple blocks away. But he hasn't got a statue, just a plaque on a rock. Lay's plaque mentions Hannah, although Hannah's says nothing about Lay.


Every time we visit Traverse City we remember this hobby shop too late to actually go inside. Anyway, here's the vestibule, including where the ``new'' floor has been worn down to reveal much but not quite enough of an earlier floor.

Saturday, September 8th, 2018
12:10 am
Down with the good guys, up with the boss

So now to pick up where I left off at the Baby Food Festival. This would be the end of Qualifying, where the top 16 players went on to A Division finals. The next eight, excluding some people too highly-placed to be allowed into B Division, would go to B. I was in at 10th place. bunny_hugger was in at 11th. She was also the highest-finishing female competitor, and so would win the Women's Division medal. This would not earn her Women's World Ranking Points, as the finish was determined entirely by competition that wasn't head-to-head. But it did earn her hardware, a nice big shiny gold-colored medal on a ribbon.

AJH gathered everyone to thank them for playing this charity fundraiser for T---'s Gang. And showed off T---, whom he took pains to point out was a real person. He was throwing shade at someone not there. A bizarre conspiracy theory that's infected the east side of the state (Fremont is, if it can be said to be near anything, near Muskegon, on the western shore of the lower peninsula) is that there's something shady going on with AJH's charity events. That AJH is entering phony players to boost his tournaments' value, for example. Not so; AJH's tournaments at things like the Baby Food Festival draw in people who don't play anything else in the state, no, but they do play. It's easy to convince a casual person to come in and pay a dollar to play a game for charity. The conspiracy grows vaguer: that AJH raises money for a charity group that doesn't exist. Thus why the emphasis on pointing to T--- as a person who's really there. More fog: that he doesn't donate all the money he claims he does. He's explained what he takes in, and what he keeps to cover costs. More doubts, and he's had enough; ``nothing will satisfy them,'' and he's done trying. Pointing out T--- is his teasing eastsiders who aren't there. It gives me the chance, later, to talk about England's King James II and the warming-pan baby, because that's the kind of person I am.

bunny_hugger gets into a tough group for the quarter-finals. It's a quartet with PH, RLM, and UNC. The two highest-scoring people would go on to semifinals. UNC we don't really know; he'd come up from Indiana and we would later talk Indiana Beach amusement park with him. But RLM runs and sometimes wins the Grand Rapids Pinball League; and PH helps run and often wins all the Fremont events, and is always a plausible candidate to win any league or tournament he's in. But bunny_hugger starts strong, winning the first game (Congo). She has a disastrous second game (World Cup Soccer), coming in last. For the third game --- and her lone pick --- she wants the comforting electromechanical game 4 Square. But I had just picked that for the group I was in, and she won't forgive me for that. She instead picked Rocky and Bullwinkle, and had a pretty solid game, taking second place. PH won the group. She and RLM were tied for the other advancing spot.

bunny_hugger feels doomed. It's not literally true that she's never won a playoff. It's near enough. RLM gets the pick of game, and chooses Iron Maiden. It's the correct pick for him. He's got the kind of precise shooting ability and deep rules knowledge that give him a huge edge on bunny_hugger. I try vainly to assure her the situation isn't hopeless, even as his score is ten times hers. I've been finally starting to understand the game this weekend, and try to pass on what I've learned. And insist that it's not hopeless. She curses me for preempting her pick of 4 Square. (In my defense, I didn't know she was about to pick, and the only thing that could have avoided the tie with RLM would be her winning whatever game she did pick.) She finishes with 23 million points, below her average. He finishes with just above 200 million.

She's done, taking 9th place in the main tournament. She goes outside to my car to grumble and listen to a podcast while getting back into a sociable mood. She also accidentally turns on the headlights in my car. When she does feel better she walks to the Gerber plant on the other end of town, to get to the company credit union's ATM. It's out of money, so she has to walk back to town to a regular bank ATM to withdraw money and get a basket of fried things from the fair concessions.

MWS is in a group with people he knows well. CST, one of the state's best, who's won the Lansing league every season we've held it. KEC, who's the only person in the state who played more events than MWS last year, but who's been hobbled by the change in rules that only twenty events count for state championship standings. DUB, who's reliably a top-ten finisher in the Grand Rapids league, but who doesn't play in enough variety of events, or finish quite high enough, to be in the running for state championships. CST takes two first-place finishes in a row, putting him safely through to the next round before the third game even finishes. MWS and KEC split the points that remain and tie for the other advancing position. On Rocky and Bullwinkle MWS doubles KEC's score, and she goes home, taking 10th place in the main tournament.

Meanwhile, in parallel, there's my group. I'm in a quartet also, with JIM who I know from past Fremont events. I feel good about my chances against him, because I haven't looked at the record recently; we're actually 4-3 in events in 2018 to this point. I'm also in a group with KAH, a person from Edmonton who's there for reasons I think we got at the time. He travels a fair bit; as of right now he's ranked in three states and two provinces. And is good; he's in Alberta's top-16, and is a top-25 for Saskatchewan. With a couple more events he could even qualify for Michigan's state championship for this year. Also in the group: PCM, another out-of-stater. I believe he's part of that Indiana crew that's somehow busy with us.

It's a strange place to be in. It's been a long time --- maybe since last Pinburgh --- since I was playing a group with so little (or, in JIM's case, such faulty) intelligence about who I'm playing, or what they might do well, or what their weaknesses are, or whether they have any.

Trivia: By the 12th of August, 1862, the Confederate War Department had ruled 5,718 railroad employees exempt and 413 deferred from the military draft, as essential in their railroad duties. Source: The Railroads of the Confederacy, Robert C Black III.

Currently Reading: The Bicentennial History of Ingham County, Michigan, Ford Stevens Ceasar.


Statue, in a small public park, of Perry Hannah, ``Founder of Traverse City''. Wait for it ...


OK, not this, but the Arby's logo on this sign caught our eye as a moment of ``the heck?''.


Handsome old service station that turns out is still (or again) servicing cars! Neat, huh? Love that corner door.

Friday, September 7th, 2018
12:10 am
Halley's Comet, I said a Halley's Comet

And on to my humor blog, and its past week of works. Here's what you missed.

This won't wrap up our Traverse City visit, but it will finish off the looks at Comet.


``But it's not sexist,'' cries the pinball guy we're rolling eyes at, ``Isn't the guy probably as naked as the girl strapped to the railroad tracks? I mean unless his shirt color's just faded in the light.'' (It's possible the woman's clothes have faded too. Still, hey look kids, breasts!)


More of the playfield chaos and mayhem on Comet. I'm not sure the guy in the front car there doesn't have bunny ears; the perspective and the art fade makes it a bit hard to tell.


Fun House? Bwah-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!


Bumper car ride, set between the jet bumpers. Really nice whimsy and it did make me wonder why bumper car tracks are always rectangles (or ovals); why not stranger shapes?


Rules card for Comet. It's telegraphic-terse but it does explain how to do all the high-value stuff in the game.


bunny_hugger pointing out stuff in this nice view of the whole playfield. Also note the price card: 1 play - 1 Quarter. 4 Plays - 1 Dollar. Good to have that sorted out.


The faded and somewhat battered right side of the pinball. It's far less badly faded than the left side, which faces the outside window. You don't see stencil art like this anymore.


Underside of the Comet, which shows off the left-hand side's fade and battered nature. I don't know why the halfhearted blue paint. But you see the main speaker and, in the far right corner, the power switch for the game.


And one last look at the playfield and the backglass. Note the crazy severe angle of the ground in the background; the roller coaster's going in a crazy direction. Do not look too closely at the black girl in the next-to-the-last row; the best we can say is, well, they surely meant well.

Trivia: In the fiscal year ending the 30th of June, 1942, the Works Progress Administration employed 1,034,629 workers in the United States (including Puerto Rico), the lowest number since its start. Source: American-Made: The Enduring Legacy of the WPA: When FDR Put The Nation To Work, Nick Taylor.

Currently Reading: To The Great Ocean: The Taming of Siberia and the Building of the Trans-Siberian Railway, Harmon Tupper.

I'm Still Looking For Fun Mathematics And Words, gathering attention for my two big mathematics-blog projects for the month.

Thursday, September 6th, 2018
12:10 am
We're gonna stick together, body and mind

My brother and his wife adopted another Chinese orphan, their second child, maybe a year and a half ago. It turns out I'm the first of my brother's siblings to be able to visit, news I greeted with a silly, ``Yes! I win!'' And the nieces were eager to see me, the few moments we had Sunday morning before my parents and I headed out. But I figured that's just because it's always exciting to have something shake up the usual, especially when school hasn't started.

So anyway this is as close as I'll ever get to being Guest of Honor at a convention. They were thrilled I was there and I'm not sure if they were competing for my attention. But I had just walked down from another goopy shower when the elder niece (eleven years old, which is impossible, since I know when I last saw her in January 2014 she was six, maybe seven) handed me a picture, a folding-over picture of a rabbit eating vegetables I guess? It was also for Aunt bunny_hugger. Both nieces were thrilled to learn of an actual adult who doesn't like the taste of coffee. I did confound them by admitting that I do nevertheless get a cup of coffee about once a week when I go to the farmer's market, for vegetables for our rabbit, because it's free. That this is true does not make it less daft.

So my free day ended up including a lot of playing with the nieces and, yes, worrying about the cold I would be bringing home from them. (I didn't, and I didn't pass one on to bunny_hugger, it seems reasonable to say at a week's remove.) A lot of this was showing off toys, some of which I knew well --- they've got a lot of Legos --- and some from reputation --- Minecraft stuff --- and some because I exist at all --- My Little Pony merchandise. ``This one talks,'' my elder niece said of a really big Twilight Sparkle doll. ``What does it talk about?'' I said. ``Mostly My Little Pony.'' ``I have friends like that,'' and I'm pretty sure she thought I was joking.

``Do you want to play dragons,'' they'd ask, and it's not like they need to ask me twice. Especially as they have several dolls of Toothless. That much I was on solid ground for. Trying to follow an 11-year-old and a 6-year-old's narrative sense was beyond me. I did feel I had to point out you can't really consider it proved that the Mean Dragon is mean just because she took someone's fish; she could just be hungry.

To get some sense what I brought to the play table, besides the assertion that it takes more than being labelled to make someone the bad guy, my nieces have an old-fashioned 80s-style desktop telephone as a plaything. The elder niece pointed out how you press the little plastic posts to hang out. And I asked if she knew why that was surrounded by that plastic cradle. She understood that it was so the receiver didn't slip off. But I pointed out the cradle goes up high enough that if the phone tips over by accident, the hang-up posts are protected. You can't hang it up by mistake. And I went on, pointing out all the surprisingly many clever little touches of the old phone to keep people from making mistakes on it. They were intersted to know about the dial for how loud the ringing should be and figured out how to get the phone to reliably produce a little ding.

As the day wore on and they wore down, or their mother worried they were wearing me down, they watched a movie. Boss Baby, which I hadn't seen because um, yeah. The movie turned out to be less bad than I anticipated. Annoyingly it kept trying to be interesting, with the suggestion that the whole story is an imaginary tale the seven-ish protagonist dreams up to process his feelings about the demanding new baby messing up his life. The times the flights of fantasy are made explicit were the most visually interesting parts, yes, but also prompted my younger niece to ask if they were really happening. Her mother explained which parts were imaginary, and also that you watched this move a hundred times already. (In a final diversion from being interesting the movie throws in a bit near the end where Baby Alec Baldwin has to Learn the Power of Imagination, which doesn't come from anywhere or go anywhere but suggests someone threw a pile of notes on the film after they'd animated the first act.)

After dinner --- where I had to sit next to my elder niece, since I'd sat next to the younger at lunch, and realized how much I had forgotten about kid politics --- they wanted to show off what they called the funniest videogame ever. This would be Octodad, if I haven't got it wrong, a game where you play an octopus who's fooled people into thinking he's a normal human male and he's got a family and a job and all that. You have to go around doing normal human tasks like mowing the lawn even though you're very wobbly and have no fine motor control. It is, as they said, a funny idea, and there's a lot of nice physical comedy in the gameplay. I didn't get a turn, but was also pretty fine with that.

So that's how the day went. The next morning I'd had to get to the airport, so we didn't have time for a further play session. They did want me to know I should come back soon, though, which is always glad to hear.

When I got to the gate for my Baltimore to Newark flight there was ... nobody there. Nothing. Even the TV screen that normally says when the flight will be taking off showed nothing but a message to please restart the computer. We got pretty near boarding time before anything happened, which was, someone coming out of the jetway to say that hadn't anyone announced the flight was going to be late? That the pilot hoped to take off around 2:00? ... Which would be a jolly exciting time for me since the flight from Newark to Detroit was supposed to start boarding at 2:20. Baltimore-to-Newark is a surprisingly short flight --- the reverse direction Saturday had been about 35 minutes in the air --- but still.

Eventually, around the time the doors were supposed to close, someone came to announce the flight was leaving late and to start dealing with people who were missing their connections. She also arranged a backup flight for me just in case I somehow wasn't able to get off this plane and to wherever the next plane was to leave from in the maybe ten minutes between our arrival and the doors closing on the next flight. The whisker-thin margin evaporated on the ground in Newark, since for some reason we were unloaded on the tarmac and had to take a shuttle-bus to the terminal. ... The correct terminal for my next flight, but still. Other people had it worse; the last half of the short flight one of the attendants was going back and forth to a passenger whose connecting flight was to Hong Kong. I wanted to offer my experience, which was that long-haul flights like that will hold a reasonable time for a passenger with delayed arrival, but (a) my experience is a decade-plus out of date and (b) the fact the attendant wasn't able to confirm that right away indicates my experience might not be relevant anymore.

The connecting gate for my backup flight was the lone one in that part of the terminal being renovated, so there was no space to sit around while waiting for any news about what might go wrong. Nothing did go wrong with it, happy to say. And I did get the promised seat for the backup flight.

So I got home at a little after dinnertime, as bunny_hugger was preparing for the school day the next day, and that was the end of a week I guess I had expected to have but without quite knowing when.

Trivia: A 1901 Christmas advertisement for Frederick Loeser's proclaimed it had stocked four million handkerchiefs for the holiday season, ``four for every man, woman, and child in Brooklyn''. Source: Service and Style: How the American Department Store Fashioned the Middle Class, Jan Whitaker.

Currently Reading: To The Great Ocean: The Taming of Siberia and the Building of the Trans-Siberian Railway, Harmon Tupper.

More pinball in Traverse City. The same pinball, but more of it.


View of more of Comet's layout. The center ramp represents the Comet roller coaster of the game's title, and the game's sequels of Cyclone and Hurricane have a similar center ramp. On the right there is another ramp which plunges into something they didn't do in the sequels, three holes of decreasing size but increasing point value. When lit.


The top hole promises the ``FIRST EVER ONE MILLION PINBALL SHOT''. It's not. There were some electromechanical machines with million-point shots, although those were also games that were ``really'' three-digit scores just inflated way up. But for solid-state pinball? Yeah, strangely enough. This shot was ``really'' worth 200,000, but you could get the playfield multiplier up to 5x so that it'd then be worth a million points, as promised. Given the helix ramp's brokenness we couldn't get the play field multiplier going and so never had a chance at the million point shot.


Renowned crazy person Python Anghelo did the art for Comet and he filled the playfield with a remarkably consistent bird's-eye view of an amusement park. Here's a shot of some of the crowd art including what's thought to be the first appearance of Pin-Bot on a game.

Wednesday, September 5th, 2018
12:10 am
And with emotional glue

The luncheon was set for 1 pm and in a town a fair drive over. My mother, driving efficiently to the place, got there early enough the staff was apologetic, saying, they had thought the event wasn't to start for another half-hour. My mother asked if she could just use the bathroom, and that got us in to the restaurant while they opened up the patio area reserved for the event. It had a lovely view of the harbor, and the suspension bridge, as well as the part of the lawn where a groundhog eventually came out to do groundhog chores. Across the inlet were expensive houses with private docks and, I would have sworn, one boat that looked like a big swan boat as at an amusement park. Probably it was just the walkway behind it merging with the boat's shape to suggest a neck and head, but, who can say? My aunt loved the restaurant, but never ate outdoors, where it wasn't air-conditioned.

The menu was meant to reflect some of my aunt's favorite meals there, which included a lobster roll. Another choice was a crab cake sandwich. The appetizers offered a choice of clam chowder or Caesar's salad. My parents were quick to assure me they could probably work out a vegetarian version of something, anything. I swore that I was fine; I try to eat vegetarian, but that's all, just trying. More serious is my brother, who's allergic to every kind of fish or sea product known to humanity. (Caesar's salad, made correctly, such as by a fine restaurant overlooking the bays of Rhode Island, includes anchovy.) Also they did have a steak-on-a-salad option. My brother got through lunch without needing his epipen.

We had lunch with my uncle's brother (where I learned his opinion of my textbook) and his daughter, plus a couple of other people whose connection I could remember for the length of the explanation. A couple times over the lunch my uncle, and my cousin, came over to talk with us; they were circulating among the tables and we didn't demand too much time from them.

We stayed through the end of the luncheon, and then got organized to go home. That is, back to my brother's place in Baltimore. The promise to my nieces that we would be back in two days was a simplification or a useful parental lie; we'd be getting back in after one day, but after their regular bedtime. So we had checked out of the hotel before setting out to the funeral home and, obviously, long before the luncheon finished.

We were not going to drive the six-plus hours from Rhode Island to Maryland in funeral-appropriate wear, though. My mother's plan: change into something comfortable for long car rides. Where? ... Well, the bathroom of the restaurant. I felt a bit weird doing this, since my comfortable-wear of cargo shorts seemed about four levels of clothing too casual even to just walk through the place. Could be worse. My brother's change of clothes was inside a duffel bag marked Property of Starfleet Academy, and I brought that in to him.

Our two cars started out driving back in loose tandem, as my father had the idea that one of us should call the other if we stopped for anything, like gas or food or whatnot. We stopped first, for fuel. (My brother drives a Prius and so is beyond such mortal needs.) And called to synchronize our stopping together at this Connecticut-area rest stop, after which we realized we didn't know why we were doing this.

Well, my brother and our father stopped in New Jersey at a White Castle, to try out the Impossible Burger sliders; they reported the burgers were really good, although hard to compare to a normal slider since they made them with jalapeno cheese and that's a different taste. My mother and I did't stop for White Castle (my mother never would), but we did stop at a rest area on the New Jersey Turnpike just far enough south that I could snag the year's brochures for Casino Pier and Wildwood and Story Book Land and a bunch of my and bunny_hugger's other friends.

As we were going into the rest area, some guy raced ahead of us and cut us off on the road turnoff. He kept going and came to a stop at the gas pumps, which left us baffled. We would be sympathetic to a desperate race to the rest area before one's bladder exploded, but, to hit up a Sunoco? Afterwards his car was parked, facing the wrong way, along the curb in front of the sidewalk entrance to the rest area instead of in the ample parking lot. Guy might have just been a jerk.

Still, it was --- past the Great Connecticut Traffic Jam --- a normal enough drive that went as quickly as reasonably could. We got back to my brother's house shortly before midnight and went in quiet as possible. I changed out of my cargo shorts to the maroon sweatpants I've been wearing to bed when it's cold lately. (Baltimore was hot, but my brother's family air conditioned the place to where penguins were rooting around the rec room.) I apologized to my sister-in-law that I couldn't stay up later, but I did ask her to look at my outfit --- maroon sweatpants and a purple t-shirt --- and admire my look of Starfleet Casual. She did.

And I nestled in in my guest room, the basement, to catch up online with bunny_hugger --- in the whirlwind of activity before the first day of classes --- and get some sleep before my big day with my nieces.

Trivia: New York City government costs --- poor relief, police, jails, street cleaning and repair, fire equipment, lamps, wells, and salaries --- rose per capita from $1.87 in 1790 to $4.29 in 1800. Source: Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898, Edwin G Burrows, Mike Wallace.

Currently Reading: To The Great Ocean: The Taming of Siberia and the Building of the Trans-Siberian Railway, Harmon Tupper.

PS: How August 2018 Treated My Mathematics Blog, reviewing the usual stuff.

PPS: Traverse City and its big secret.


And here, in this unsuspecting corner of Traverse City, did we find ... what might well be the only Comet (Williams pinball, 1986) on location anywhere in the freaking world.


bunny_hugger looking on with amazement at actually finding the table. For some reason this game, once omnipresent, is just impossible to find; it's not even at, like, the VFW Ann Arbor Pinball Hall of Fame, nor the Sparks Pinball Museum, nor ... anything, really.


Like many games Comet has lanes, in this case four of them (unusual but not too rare; three is more common), although their lights spell out the 1-9-8-6, since the game was made in 1985. (Allegedly Python Anghelo was thinking, hey, 1986, Halley's Comet returns. Fair enough.) Completing the lanes increases the playfield multiplier, up to five times. The catch: the easiest way to get the ball to the lanes is through that spiral ramp on the upper left there. And --- you see how you can see a light bulb burning there? That's where the ramp's plastic has broken so that a ball has almost no chance of getting to the lanes up there. I managed it once in the several games we played and I don't think bunny_hugger did it at all.

Tuesday, September 4th, 2018
12:10 am
But we'll pick up the pieces that scattered

While the alarm didn't go off at 7:30, I was awake. My brother too. I'm all but certain he had an alarm set on his iPhone. At least it started making this noise like rocks battering together. We didn't go to breakfast, a decision I thought sound at the moment since I still felt full from the previous night. My evaluation changed an hour later. I had made it through the wake and dinner the previous night without staining my good suit. On driving to the funeral home my mother noticed a little white streak on my pants. Source unknown, but rubbing it with the condensate from a small water bottle she'd taken from the hotel's breakfast removed it.

The funeral home was there for one last bit of people gathering to say goodbye. And for us as pall bearers to gather and start taking instructions, which the funeral director and assistants were good at delivering. My capacity to self-distract is boundless. By the water cooler (my uncle warned about drinking too much, since there's no bathrooms at the gravesite, and then patted my shoulder, chuckling but also offering that there was a bathroom at the church) I noticed old photographs of Island Park, and the wooden roller coaster at it. I didn't know of any amusement parks in Rhode Island. (The coaster --- named Bullet, an unusual choice --- and park were destroyed in the Hurricane of 1938, which I ought to have guessed.)

They had us stand in the entrance way for the last mourners to leave the viewing room and only accidentally block the bathroom (we let people through). Then they had us gather in the hall by the door leading directly out from the room. The funeral home attendants did the last cleaning-up of things, including ratcheting down the inclined bed of the coffin. They used a large metal socket, almost as if they were getting the lug nut off a stubborn car.

They wheeled my aunt's coffin out on a dolly to the small anteroom. There we all took a spot and lifted up the coffin, and stepped out the room and down the wood steps that suddenly seemed unnervingly slick. An illusion, surely, caused by my not wearing dress shoes often anymore. We set her in the coffin without incident and each of us went to our cars with instructions to, at the church, come right up to the hearse.

My brother and I rode together; my parents took their own car. We also ended up somewhat far back in the funeral procession. At the church the procession ended up in this long thread snaking around the parking lot, while one woman went slowly through each car giving some instruction. My brother asked if there were any reason we shouldn't just, you know, park. I couldn't think of any, so we did. After the service started I realized the reason: the procession would pick up again, leaving from the church and going to the graveyard. I didn't mention to my brother so don't know if he had the same realization. We did have to fumble our way back into the line of cars, which had (mostly) been left just snaking through the parking lot through the service.

At the hearse we gathered again to slide the casket out. It rests on rollers, so this is not as challenging as you might imagine. Then up the stone steps of the church, which again brought out my worries about the slickness of my shoes. We set the coffin on another dolly and stepped back for the sprinkling of the casket with holy water and the placing of the white shroud over her casket.

Friends sensitive to such things may have noticed that I'm that kind of apostate who grew up Roman Catholic. My aunt, my godmother, was still actively so and thus that's the mass which was read. I haven't gone to mass regularly in decades, and even intermittent masses have been rare things. But all that childhood training pays off: almost as soon as the priest began reciting the pieces common to ordinary masses it all came back to me. I could feel confident that I was respecting my godmother's memory, snappily answering offers like ``The Lord be with you'' with ``And also with you'' and the discovery that apparently they changed this to ``And with you in spirit''? This was unsettling.

There was a small missal at each pew, offering the prompts and responses and general order of mass. I kept not reading it, though, out of a sense that I should pay attention to what was happening rather than read about what was happening. I think that I carried through acceptably. Granted, it's hard to notice if someone isn't saying the right thing in this setting. The only real slip made where someone would notice was at the Eucharist, where I forgot to cross myself after taking the communion wafer and wine. And was in the first row so that I didn't have the prompt to this thing I'd forgotten; I could just watch (nearly) everyone else do it instead.

That's getting a little anthropological. Let me think more about the personal. I'd expected to tear up through the funeral and these moments came. At the singing of Amazing Grace, for example. At the singing of Ave Maria, and again at the recessional. Also at the eulogies, particularly talking about my aunt's commitment to what the priest described as the true Christianity, that determination to be kind and supportive and giving, which my aunt was. The singing of the Prayer of Saint Francis may be traditional. It also felt true to who she tried to be (and, honestly, to what I try to be). And was again hard to stay composed through.

The second eulogy, that by my aunt's son, had an odd personal surprise. He was talking about my aunt's desire to be interested in everyone she knew, and brought up me as an example. I'd given her a copy of one of the textbooks I wrote. He explained how she sat down and read every page of this book meant for upper-level or early-grad-school mathematics and physics majors, despite the main text getting pretty impenetrable, but just because she wanted to be a person who'd read my whole book. I had known she wanted to do it. One thing I didn't know --- and learned at the lunch afterwards --- was she handed the book to her brother-in-law, who did have a bachelor's in mathematics, to ask if it made sense. He thought it did. (This is all the feedback I've ever gotten on it.)

The funeral director's assistants wheeled her coffin back to the church's entrance. We pall bearers lifted it up and brought it back to the hearse. And then the funeral procession resumed, going through the twisty paths to a grave site that more than one person commented they didn't even know was there. My uncle said that when they were planning this, even the Catholic priest said, you know, there's no problem burying you in the Episcopalian graveyard. She wanted a Catholic one and that was that. As we were driving we passed the crushed remnants of one of the small, magnetically-attached flagpoles from some other car. My brother mentioned how he wouldn't really know if ours had fallen off, after all.

And the gravesite service was the last time we were tasked with lifting my aunt's coffin, and moving it places. The priest said a few words on this sunny, nearly cloudless Rhode Island day. And the funeral director reminded all that they were welcome to a luncheon in her honor, at another of her favorite restaurants. The moment broken, we all took our last looks and hugged whoever it felt right to, and got back to our various cars.

On the drive there my mother asked if we pall bearers had ever actually carried my aunt's coffin. Well, she had mostly seen funeral home staff wheeling the coffin along the inside of buildings. I affirmed we had, and that it was less heavy than you might imagine. Although having five other people bearing the load makes it less hard.

Trivia: As late as 1897 sailors in the British Navy were forbidden the use of knives and forks, as prejudicial to discipline. Source: Food in History, Reay Tannahill. (I ... would like to see this corroborated but don't have the energy to read an Aubrey-Maturin book right now.)

Currently Reading: To The Great Ocean: The Taming of Siberia and the Building of the Trans-Siberian Railway, Harmon Tupper.

PS: Friday in Omena opened with our stopping in Suttons Bay and that Radio Shack that was inexplicably still there. Also having lunch with bunny_hugger's brother.


80% off is a fantastic deal on stuff you didn't really want in the first place. Note the wireless microphone up front. To the left of the picture was a rack of Assorted Cables, $2 each. Also a popcorn machine.


Oh man, for 80% off of forty dollars and without the use of any tools you could use a space-age computer control to make your car annoy the entire neighborhood and run your battery down to zero when a branch of the tree you're parked next to brushes the rear passenger door!


Guys! I found just the thing to record all those Mystery Science Theater 3000 episodes on in SLP!

Monday, September 3rd, 2018
12:10 am
I'm going down to the central part of town

So technically I kept the mathematics blog going. If you didn't do anything with the RSS feed here's the posts.

And in comics, the orderly rotation of my comics was disrupted by a sudden retirement. Thus people are coming to my blog in very minor droves to ask What’s Going On In Alley Oop? Did Alley Oop End? June – August 2018. I give an answer. Now here let's close out Northport.


Also by the mill pond was one of whatever the heck these things are. There's no way of telling.


At the Northport beach we saw this kid be isolated and then set upon by a flock of geese.


Their work accomplished, the geese set to sea.


bunny_hugger goes looking for fossils and finds instead more modern nature, including a crab's blue claw.


The slow ongoing collapse of the grassy terrain near the edge of the Traverse Bay.


Any questions?

Trivia: Advertising for Ransom Olds's ``Reo the Fifth'' car, of 1911-1916, was advertised as ``My Farewell Car'', advertised as the limit of his 25 years of automobile design. Source: R E Olds: Auto Industry Pioneer, George S May.

Currently Reading: America's Humor: From Poor Richard to Doonesbury, Walter Blair, Hamlin Hill. Ah, and it does actually talk about Doonesbury some, although that's pretty near the only mention of comic strips in the whole book.

Sunday, September 2nd, 2018
12:10 am
We get bruised; we get battered

I drove myself to Detroit airport, figuring the long-term parking for a half-week would be cheaper than the Michigan Flyer ride to East Lansing. Maybe not. It did make scheduling easier. Flying to Newark was uneventful except for a very loud man in the row behind me explaining to his poor seat-mate how he worked out really cheap airfares by booking one-way flights to other cities with connections in the city he wanted to go to, and only taking carry-ons so he could skip the last leg of the flight. He explained this at length. It reminded me of the time ages ago that a paper-products manufacturer explained to a woman who (I thought) feigned fascination well about how toilet paper's designed to fall apart when wet while facial tissues are designed to hold tight. I wondered how it is every commercial air flight doesn't include a moment where some woman garrotes some man explaining things.

Flying from Newark to Baltimore was delayed some because I was flying United and this always happens, but I was able to keep my parents updated and they met me in the most confusing way possible: telling me what baggage carousel my luggage would be in, regardless of what the airline told me, and then meeting me at a door that as best I can tell was at the opposite end of the airport. Or just felt like it. We got to my brother's place --- the brother who was in Newark that day --- about midnight, and my parents immediately went to bed. I talked a little while with my sister-in-law while she also played some Xbox games I don't understand about blocky people doing stuff like throwing knives, or riding a boat while a shark comes after them. One was about hiding out from a killer clown for the four minutes of a simulated night. All right.

We were supposed to leave at 7:30 so I just assumed someone would wake me, like, 45 minutes to an hour ahead of time. I got woken at 7:15 and staggered past nieces incredibly excited to see me into the kids' shower upstairs, that I guessed was the one I was supposed to use? Couldn't find any soap, but they had about 42 bottles of body wash, so I could take a hurried and goopy shower before setting out just a bit late. My younger niece wanted to know why I wasn't staying and my parents promised that I'd be back in two days. I took this to mean we were staying in Rhode Island two days, and hurriedly grabbed an extra set of pants, underwear, and shirt for my duffel bag packed with what I thought I'd need for an overnight trip.

After stopping at a breakfast place that got our bagel sandwich orders two-thirds correct my parents and I drove up to New Jersey. The plan was my brother would join us and we'd all ride up together, but he couldn't get anyone to drive him to the service plaza somehow and so we ended up split, my mother and I in her car and my father and my brother in my brother's car, driving up I-95 and through the Great Connecticut Traffic Jam and yeah, I nodded off through some of that, but in fairness, NewsRadio 88 was getting really boring by then. Even the crazypants dubious financial-advice show wasn't all that interesting. I didn't remember news radio being quite this awful when I used to listen to it regularly.

The hotel was this pretty charming little place in an old-looking house with long twisty and imperfectly levelled hallways that I just assumed my parents had used sometime when they'd been in Rhode Island and found Evelyn for some reason unable to put them up. Not so; my brother had found it, using one of those web sites connecting you to hotels that have vacancies that night. Anyway we split up, getting dressed for the wake. There I learned the blue dress shirt I'd grabbed was too tight for me to wear. I momentarily panicked about what about the purple shirt I was going to wear at the funeral, but remembered: no, I tried that on the day before, before setting out to buy a tie. I'd just have to wear the purple shirt both days and hope that nobody noticed and that I didn't stain it in any important ways. I ended up going to the wake in the same outfit I'd wear at the funeral, except for the tie. My brother, who has a job that's split between telecommuting and meeting people who head divisions, wore one of his have-a-meeting suits.

The wake was ... well, kind of what you'd expect. Well-attended, certainly. I knew some of the people there, relatives of my aunt and uncle or friends whom I'd seen when they had some big event. Still my parents were very good about playing introduction so that I could have a person's name in mind from the moment my parents said it until the moment my parents had finished saying it. My other aunt, that is, the other of my mother's quartet from college, was there for an hour and my brother and I largely moved in her orbit through that. (She couldn't be at the funeral; she still teaches, and the next day, Monday, was the start of her classes.)

The casket was open and it wasn't until seeing my aunt's body that I really choked up, for the first of many times those two days. She did, as they say, look great, posed in the way that haunts you with the suggestion she might open her eyes and sit up, abashed at all the fuss. She was in her wedding dress; my uncle said to people how they had figured, you know, she'd only wore it the once. He thanked me and my brother for coming out, and for being pall-bearers, and again I choked up trying to say how I was glad that I could.

It was several hours of hand-shaking, and sometimes hugging, and telling people that I was glad to see them except for the circumstances. And saying a last farewell, or at least waiting for the chance to say a last farewell since a stream of people came to say their farewells. But we did have the chance.

Afterwards we went to one of my aunt's favorite restaurants, where my family got way too involved in the question of whether they could order an appetizer with meat in it and whether they dared order the antipasta. It was a great dinner and we ate probably too much, another of my aunt's favorite pastimes, and I got through it without staining my jacket or shirt any. We could hang them back up in the hotel room closet for the funeral the next day.

The hotel alarm clock was a hotel-model alarm clock, the sort with over 2800 buttons and no clear way to set the alarm time. I did my best to set the 'A' timer and couldn't. But as best I could tell the 'B' timer was set for 7:30 and since that was about when we needed to get up, that seemed fine. Also as best I could tell the 'B' alarm was set to sound, so that all seemed fine. The alarm did not in fact go off the next morning.

Trivia: By 1865 Great Britain was producing 225,000 tons of steel per year; Germany, 98,000 tons, France 41,000 tons, and the United States 14,000 tons. Source: Engineering in History, Richard Shelton Kirby, Sidney Withington, Arthur Burr Darling, Frederick Gridley Kilgour.

Currently Reading: America's Humor: From Poor Richard to Doonesbury, Walter Blair, Hamlin Hill.

PS: Some more Northport.


Looking over the stepped waterfall at the edge. I guess the small river runs into town and probably connects to that fake waterwheel at the restaurant, come to think of it.


Nature! We saw a whichever this is swimming across the mill pond, where it was far enough away we couldn't be sure what the heck it was.


So anyway I'm guessing beaver, based on these pictures and a short movie I got before it vanished into the edge of the pond.

Saturday, September 1st, 2018
12:10 am
I feel the blues coming on

So my Aunt Evelyn died last week. She was my godmother, one of my mother's core college friends. The second to die. It wasn't unexpected. She'd had cancer, and it had been getting worse. A few weeks ago they took her off treatments, and brought her to hospice. I'd tried to call her, to say something, but she wasn't able to answer the phone when I did call. I sent a card, thinking as I picked it out and wrote it that a get-well card, or get-well wishes, were just ... absurd. But I did anyway because what's there to do otherwise?

Last Friday I got e-mail that my uncle wanted me to be part of the ceremony. This shifted my thinking about going to the ceremony from ``could I possibly?'' to ``could I possibly not?'' and I figured, no; this is what I have savings for. I e-mailed bunny_hugger, then at work, to tell her of my plan and let her protest if this were impossible. And then in a tortured phone call with my mother worked out just how I might get to the Rhode Island ceremony. Flying to Providence was expensive. Flying to Boston and having my brother there pick me up --- oh, he's in Amsterdam this week on a family holiday. Flying to Newark where my other brother was, to visit friends, and riding up with him --- oh, Newark's crazy expensive. Flying to Baltimore, that brother's home, and riding up with my parents who were driving up from Charleston? That's possible and much more affordable. The flight went through Newark.

Flight booked, with a scary lack of comment from bunny_hugger (she was already heading home and didn't see my e-mail) I got to essentials. I have one good suit, the one I got married in, when I was six years younger about 25 pounds lighter. It still fit. My shirt fit too. My tie --- I didn't think a purple paisley tie would be appropriate. At the funeral my uncle would wear a dark purple paisley tie. But I knew one place to get a Good Quality Tie, the Men's Wearhouse on the east end of town. They were having a buy-one-get-one-free deal on ties. I couldn't imagine needing two black ties, but felt like, well, free tie? I got one that's completely smooth, and one that has a subtle diamond patterning. The clerk said they were lovely and asked what event I was buying them for. I felt trapped between my compulsion to answer honestly and not wanting to dump bad emotional stuff on someone who has to deal with the public. And then before working this out just said the honest, ``My aunt died and I need it for the funeral.'' She didn't act startled. They probably get a fair number of people coming in to make emergency purchases of grown-up clothing ahead of funerals.

I also popped into the Meijer's opposite that mall, there to get travel-sized toothpaste that I didn't end up using, and travel-sized deodorant that I didn't end up using (had enough left over from previous travels) and a little bottle of Listerine. I drove back, arriving home less than a minute before bunny_hugger, who it turned out had been at the same Meijer and the same time getting something from the Pharmacy department which, you might ponder, is pretty close to where you get travel-size toothpastes and deodorant and Listerine. Also while driving home we both listened to the same episode of the same podcast. Yet somehow we technically weren't there together.

I'd leave Saturday. This would cancel my attending a trivia-night league finals. MWS and his family go to restaurant trivia nights, and we sometimes go along, and they had made it to season finals. They needed a fourth for the event and thought I'd be perfect for it. Instead bunny_hugger had to go, messing up her plans to prepare for the coming semester. They didn't finish in the top ten, where the money prizes were. But not for bunny_hugger's participation; she kept a log of the questions and we worked out that, all else being the same, there was just one question she didn't know that I did, and she was more confident of the right answer on several questions than I was.

Also that I'd miss Sunday: pinball league finals, in Fremont. This would be another high-value event, although not so high as the Baby Food Festival whose story I'll get back to after all this. bunny_hugger and MWS would go to it, and she'd get a fourth and a sixth place in the two events. The fourth place should give her a good lift in the state rankings. The sixth place, eh, a slight boost. On their way back they were besieged by a massive storm, a nightmare of low visibility and downed branches and a storm that kept acting like it might let up and not doing so. I'd miss driving through all that, being, instead, at the wake and then a dinner afterwards at one of my aunt's favorite restaurants.

My aunt had a reputation as a Rain Goddess, as for a while in the 80s and 90s heavy storms and, in one case, a hurricane converged on events she was planning to attend. It's a bit nice to imagine she was thinking of bunny_hugger.

Trivia: In September 1803 Sunday was restored as the day of rest in France. Source: Mapping Time: The Calendar and its History, EG Richards.

Currently Reading: America's Humor: From Poor Richard to Doonesbury, Walter Blair, Hamlin Hill. Most startling minor discovery to this: 19th-century examples of an uneducated-westerner-type saying ``mistopher'', just like Snuffy Smith says. Like, it's not some weird comic strip convention apparently? Huh.

PS: Reading the Comics, August 24, 2018: Delayed But Eventually There Edition, getting me up to last Saturday on the comic strips at least.

PPS: Some more Northport.


And the waterwheel, which isn't functional, but which I think I remember bunny_hugger learned had never been functional and was just a bit of scenery for the attached restaurant.


Old style car, one of several parked at the edge of town. Going ahead and guessing my father owned one of these back in the day, but that's just playing the odds.


Approaching the old mill pond at the north end of Northport.

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