The venue for the Michigan State Pinball Championship for 2015 was a bowling alley in Flint. Save your jokes; they've been made by people with better standing than you to make them. The venue changes each year. Next year it's to be at MJS's pole barn, where we had that New Year's Eve tournament which saw bunny_hugger finally dropped into 17th place.
We'd been there a few times. Never recently. Everyone else who could go was making trips there, of course. Every instance of a pinball machine is unique, in how it's worn, how it's leveled, how its settings are placed. You can walk up to a machine cold and play competently. But to play masterfully? Without knowledge of just how this particular table works? That's harder.
I was willing to accept that, though. We'd go to the bowling alley before the contest started, of course, and I could at least get one or two games in the day of play. bunny_hugger was worried; could I get any on-site practice in? The Sunday before the contest, she learned MWS was heading over to the bowling alley for practice. And that CST had been there earlier. It was already the evening, but Flint's only an hour away.
Oh, it happened to be Super Bowl Sunday.
What do you imagine a bowling alley to be like on Super Bowl Sunday, during the game? I would have guessed that it would be fairly crowded though not quite crazy. A bowling alley isn't as good a spot as a sports bar for an event like that, but it's still got a lot to appeal. There's huge TVs. There's greasy food and plenty of it. There's stuff you can do if the game has gotten boring. There's no need to clean up past the requirements of basic decency. I like my logic, but it was completely wrong.
The place was empty. It was utterly dead. Include us in the count. There were maybe a dozen patrons in the place, and half of them were there for pinball. Once, once, we heard a ball drifting down a lane and hitting something. Otherwise, picture your modern 40-lane bowling alley, all set up and with Cosmic Bowling lights flashing, and nobody there to do a thing. This would have been the time to film my Zippy the Pinhead fan movie. We got food out of the vending machines, because we assumed the kitchen was closed. No, they just didn't bother having the lights on or a staff person over there until someone came up and specifically asked. Eventually the game ended, and they went on to playing music videos, many of them from the 80s. When's the last time you saw the video for Devo's Whip It? It's even more like that than you remember. And we kept seeing it, for some reason.
But we got some time in on the machines, in the strange, not-exactly-tranquil, state of bowling alley desertion. We could get some feel, for example, of how tightly machines tilted. Or how the ball bounced out of the scoop and onto flippers. These are properties that can be adjusted, of course, and are. The tournament director is authorized and expected to adjust settings the day of the tournament, to lessen the home-field advantage local players have.
But adjustments are just light changes. We gained something from playing, nb, a couple games of Tron and working out how to get a fair ten million points on it. And time spent playing some of their more exotic games, like Stars or Dragon, was well worth it. We had some on-site practice, six days before the tournament, and that what we could reasonably hope to get to prepare.
Trivia: Buffalo, New York, was named the eighth city to have a Continental League baseball franchise, on the 29th of January, 1960. Source: Bottom of the Ninth: Branch Rickey, Casey Stengel, and the Daring Scheme to Save Baseball from Itself, Michael Shapiro.
Currently Reading: The Fundamental Physical Constants and the Frontier of Measurement, P W Petley.
PS: Who Discovered Boyle's Law? a not-technically-reblogging post to some mathematics/physics history.