I was surprised. He was surprised. Everyone was surprised. He maybe had slapped the machine a little hard, but nothing out of the ordinary, and nothing deserving of a tilt. But the tilt mechanism can't be argued with either: it ruled he had given the machine too strong a push and that was that.
The tilt mechanism in a pinball machine is a simple yet clever contraption. Most pinball hardware is. In this case it's a pendulum: a rod, dangling from a wire, within a metal ring. If the rod touches the ring, it makes an electrical contact. Meet the necessary number of contacts and you get a warning, or a tilt. This is why gentle nudging is preferred; it avoids making the pendulum swing too much. This is why when a machine gives a warning, players stop nudging, and why after a tilt they give the machine time to settle. They don't want to get an unfair extra tilt out of it.
So the next player, the one I didn't really know, waited. And waited. If you know where to look in a pinball machine you can spot the pendulum bob; it's usually on the left side of the case, kind of near the flipper button. If that's too hard to spot, you can swing the coin door open, because this was a machine in a guy's home and he didn't have that locked. The tilt was not just tight; it was taking forever to settle.
We had some serious debate here: was the tilt fair? Not really, although it seemed within the bounds of fair play. But if it tilted the other guy's ball too --- that's considered a tilt-through, and it normally disqualifies a player who tilted. But a tilt-through normally happens right away. We waited several minutes and the tilt bob was still swinging. Should we consider writing the table off as defective and replay the round?
Well. Of course. I had a selfish interest in saying no, we'll take the table as it stands. I'd probably win the match and tournament if we did. On the other hand, I don't want to be unfair if I can help it. And the other guy was taking a risk if he played. We did speculate whether the tilt bob could be safely stopped, but concluded that there wasn't any way to do that.
The other guy decided to risk playing, but with the caveat that another unprovoked tilt --- and I do want to emphasize, everyone playing or watching, me included, agreed the first tilt was unjustified --- would get the machine thrown out. And so I was again a vulture, hoping that the other guy played out a ball that lasted too little time for anything to go wrong, so I could put up a couple thousand points, hopefully, and win.
And that did go as I hoped. The other guy played a little bit, not enough to overtake me, nowhere near enough to catch the father. He didn't tilt, or get warnings or anything. The game would be up to me, on the one ball, to catch the father's score perhaps and win or lose on my own effort.
Trivia: In December 1634 the first (known) Dutch tulip contract selling bulbs by the ace --- a measure of weight, about a twentieth of a gram --- rather than by the bulb was recorded. The linen worker Jan Ockdz. purchased two Goudas weighing thirty aces for one and a half guilders per ace, and two Admiral van der Eijcks, paying 132 guilders for each bulb. Source: Tulipomania: The Story of the World's Most Coveted Flower and the Extraordinary Passions it Aroused, Mike Dash.
Currently Reading: Popeye, Bobby London.
PS: A Leap Day 2016 Mathematics A To Z: Lagrangian, a mathematics term that caries over to physics. So, not Lagrangian multipliers, not this time.