The New Year's Eve Ball Drop was set up as a four-strikes tournament, just as Silver Balls was. There would not be a side tournament. It wasn't a charity event. Instead, the top four finishers would be awarded cash payouts, drawn from the entry fees.
We arrived a couple hours before the start of the tournament, of course. We brought a cheese ball and Ritz crackers purchased from the Westlund's Apple Market, supporting a lovable local-to-us business and doing a little something to help the party out. MJS was providing food and drinks, and many people brought dishes as well. But we could contribute too.
The tournament drew fewer people than Silver Balls did. It was on the west end of the state, instead of the center of the lower peninsula, so it was less available. And it would be one's New Year's Eve event. And as much as we cajoled WVL and HMZ to carpool with us, they couldn't be talked into going to Kalamazoo. And for most of the top sixteen the best they could hope for would be adjusting their seeds. If you're indifferent to whether your first competitor in the finals is the 4th or the 5th seed, these make good reasons to stay home.
Some people we didn't know did come, though. One was CDS, who's presently the 21st-ranked competitive pinball player. Not in Michigan. In the world. He's only 19th-ranked in Michigan. He's the 13th-ranked in Pennsylvania, 12th-ranked in Kentucky, and 7th-ranked in West Virginia. Another was DF, 77th-ranked in the world and a top-sixteen player in Illinois, Nevada, Georgia, and Kentucky. In his day job he's a mild-mannered sports reporter, and he found a way to fold the New Year's Eve Ball Drop in to covering high school sports somehow. He had considered going to Silver Balls, too, but he didn't feel he could make the timing for that work out.
DF would be a curious fellow to know. He and I talked as naturally as possible considering I'm someone who would happily buy a third pop history about containerized cargo if I knew of a good one. But he had trouble, at least when we first met, in talking with bunny_hugger. There were a couple awkward moments where she was really talking with him, but he was answering back to me, as though he weren't sure that bunny_hugger were actually a pinball player. (There was at least one person there as girlfriend to one of the serious players. Not CST, though.) This even after he learned that bunny_hugger had been the organizer of Silver Balls, and that she was the one who livened up all the Michigan-area pinball Facebook groups with her talk about FunHouse.
Before you suspect DF of the sad casual sexism of altogether too many fandoms, though, there's the next day. And then, he didn't have any trouble talking to bunny_hugger directly and as one of the gang. He even went out of his way to point out something neat about some of the late-70s Stern pinball machines there. A good number of pinball machines have a center post between the flippers. The center posts are great tests of nerve: if you judge a ball's trajectory soon enough, rightly enough, you can let the ball scream down the middle and not flip or nudge or do anything. Instead you let the ball bounce off the center post, to somewhere nice and controlled and desired.
But on a good number of Stern games of the late 70s and early 80s, DF revealed to bunny_hugger, you can do more. Suppose you have the ball on one flipper, and would rather it be on the other. If the ball is rolling slowly, just leave the flipper down. The ball rebounds off the center post and onto the other flipper, at a nice slow controlled speed. And if the ball isn't rolling slowly? Give the flipper a little tap like so --- and he showed --- and it'll roll at just the right speed. And magically, it works.
This won't always work. Games since the early 80s, when they have center posts, put the posts too low to allow this effortless rebound. But what a secret to be let in on. Perhaps DF, like many of us, needs time to warm to new people, and perhaps he needed longer with bunny_hugger than with me. This I'd understand.
I don't mean to suggest I liked DF just because he gave out a tip that opened my eyes to new possibilities. I mention it as an example of DF being at ease talking with bunny_hugger in a way he wasn't initially, and without any obvious change in what he knew about her or the way she treated him.
We would play, by about the same rules as we had at Silver Balls. The setting was different, a pair of rooms filled with pinball machines and people, with a small kitchen area and semi-potluck. And a widescreen TV playing the college football games. I could relax and play just for fun. bunny_hugger and MJS would play to get into the state finals.
Trivia: The Apollo 1 spacecraft got to the launchpad the 21st of January, 1967, about six months beyond the original delivery date, and six days before the fire that destroyed the command module. Source: A History of the Kennedy Space Center, Kenneth Lipartito, Orville R Butler.
Currently Reading: Copts In Michigan, Eliot Dickinson.